Sunday, 24 March 2013

Chocolate caramel shortbread

I'm always looking for new things to bake, so after a request for these from a colleague I thought I'd step out of my cookie-shaped comfort zone and try something new. The caramel was labour-intensive but tasted great. I'd use more chocolate next time, but as you know I am a chocoholic, so you might be happy with just using a 200g bar. I'll try a salted caramel shortbread next time too, these need a bit of a kick-although you could sprinkle flakes of sea salt over the top.
      For the shortbread:
      340g plain flour
      120g caster sugar
      240g butter
      For the caramel:
      1 (397g) tin condensed milk
      2 tablespoons golden syrup
      60g caster sugar
      120g butter
      For chocolate topping:
      1 (200g) bar milk chocolate, melted
      Preheat oven to 170 degrees C or gas mark 4. Lightly grease or line a 30cm square cake tin.
      For the shortbread: 
      1. Sieve the flour and sugar into a large bowl. 
      2. Rub the butter into the mixture until it comes together in dough. 
      3. Press it into the bottom of the cake tin, spread evenly and prick with a fork all over. 
      4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
      For the caramel: 
      1. Pour the condensed milk, syrup, sugar and butter into a saucepan. 
      2. Cook over a low heat, stirring all the time. This takes a while but has to be done carefully otherwise it will stick to the pan and burn. 
      3. When the mixture turns a deep caramel colour, remove it from the heat and pour it over the shortbread.
      4. Allow it to cool for around 30 minutes
      For the topping:
      1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 10 seconds to ensure it doesn't burn.
      2, Pour the chocolate over the caramel, smoothing out with a knife. 
      3. Transfer to the fridge to set  for another 30 minutes-1 hour  before slicing into squares.

      Note: These will keep for around 5 days if stored in an airtight tin or the fridge, or you could just eat them all at once. 

    Saturday, 23 March 2013

    Gooey Double Choc-Chunk Cookies

    The way to a man's heart? Well, the way to mine anyway
    As some of you will know, my love-life has been a bit of a rollercoaster recently. To celebrate the latest doomed dating situation I made these cookies, which are better and far tastier than any man, let me assure you. What could be better to ease the heart than fudgy chocolate chunks melting away underneath crumbly biscuit? These are basically a brownie-style cookie, so you get the best of both worlds. If you are a chocoholic these cookies are going to be your best friend-be warned though, the recipe makes around 35 cookies, so you might want to share. I took them into work and I've never been so popular. Perhaps I'll take them to my dates in future?!

    225g butter, softened
    200g granulated sugar
    100g soft light brown sugar
    2 large eggs
    Could anyone resist these gooey cookies?
    280g plain flour
    65g cocoa powder, sieved
    0.75tsp bicarb
    0.5tsp salt
    Bar of good quality chocolate, broken into pieces (I used Bourneville 70%)


    1. Preheat the oven to 180C. 
    2. Cream the butter and sugars together in an electric mixer on a medium speed until light and fluffy.
    3. Add the eggs and beat well.
    4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, bicarb and salt.
    5. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mixture until completely blended together.
    6. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a baking tray, evenly spaced apart to allow for some spreading. 
    7. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
    8. Cool and transfer to a wire rack.

    Friday, 22 March 2013

    Chunky Raisin Cookies

    I bought this fabulously-titled book Bite Me and ever since I have been obsessing over the beautiful pictures and immense recipes, which produce amazing results. These cookies are soft and chewy on the inside with just a hint of crunch on the outside, and are super easy to make. So go make them!

    115g butter, softened
    100g granulated sugar
    100g soft light brown sugar
    1 large egg
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    210g plain flour
    Here's a close-up for you-everybody say "tasty"
    0.25tsp bicarb
    0.25tsp sea salt
    100g raisins

    Optional extra of your choice-e.g. choc chips, nuts, peanut butter. I sued PB2, a fat-free peanut butter replacement, it tastes amazing in these!

    1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
    2. Beat the sugars and butter together in an electric mixer on a medium speed until combined.
    3. Add the vanilla extract and egg and beat until fluffy.
    4. Add the flour and mix on a low speed along with the bicarb and salt.
    5. Add in the raisins and anything else you fancy and mix together on a slow speed.
    6. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a baking tray so they are evenly spaced apart.
    7. Bake for 10 minutes until the edges are golden brown.
    8. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

    Saturday, 2 March 2013

    Confessions of a Chocoholic afternoon tea at the Podium, Hilton Park Lane

    Just when you thought you couldn't beat a champagne afternoon tea, they go and make one for chocoholics, aka, me. The Podium is tucked away in the left corner of the Hilton on Park Lane, and is great for a stop after shopping in Harvey Nicks, or a stroll around Hyde Park. The decor isn't amazing, and the restaurant does need a spruce-up, but the pianist twinkling the ivories in the corner makes for a mellow vibe, and after a glass of cham you won't notice the peeling wallpaper, honest.

    The tea menu is extensive, but you can of course have coffee. Sandwiches come as standard with prawns, smoked salmon, egg & cress, cream cream and the obligatory ham. Staff are very obliging and ask which ones you would like, so feel free to be fussy. Sandwiches are served first on their own, after which you are presented with a rather substantial-looking platter of cakes and scones, which come with their own pots of chocolate, jam and clotted cream. Choc-chip scones are a nice addition to the usual fruity and plain versions, and they come served warm so eat 'em fast.

    If you have room for more (you're a better man than me) you have a selection of treats in store as you work your way up the tower. Never fear, this is one afternoon tea venue where you're actively encouraged to take home the goodies, in a Bea's of Bloomsbury-style cardboard carrier to show everyone you've been for a really lavish cake-fest.
    The middle-layer includes a rather luminous looking battenberg, red velvet and vanilla cupcakes and a linzertorte. Phew, keep going.

    If you make it to the top of the tower you slay the dragon. reach a plate made of chocolate which is completely edible and must be some sort of Krypton Factor/Man V Food mash-up test of foodie willpower. Atop the choccie plate is a pistachio macaroon (mmm), a raspberry cheesecake (double mmm), a weird choux bun replete with icing butterfly (no idea) and a space-candy, fizzing sherbet situation in a shot glass with a popping candy ice cream cone sticking out of it. Downright odd. Here's another shot of that so you can appreciate just how out of the box it is:

    All in all, a pretty spectacular afternoon tea, and well worth the price, given it includes champagne. You'll need that walk/run around the park afterwards-just don't forget to collect the doggy bag on your way home again.

    Peanut butter & choc chunk cookies

    Putting two of my favourite things together in a cookie was probably a bad idea, and I'd like to refer to these from now on as the Best. Cookies. Ever. I went mad with the peanut butter, whole peanuts (salted, because I love a bit of salt with chocolate) and smashed up Bourneville dark chocolate, all baked into a heavenly mess of cookie-related goodness. It's a wonder I gave some away to a lovely friend of mine, although better for my waistline. Be warned, PB fans, you will not want to share!


    125g butter
    150g soft brown sugar
    125g chunky peanut butter
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    150g plain flour, sifted
    0.5 tsp baking powder
    100g peanuts,
    80g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces


    1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
    2. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.
    3. Add in the peanut butter, egg, flour and baking powder and stir to combine.
    4. Stir in the peanuts and chocolate chunks (tip: break the chocolate in the packet by hitting it against a work surface, it's much easier that breaking every chunk by hand, and far less messy).
    5. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a lightly greased baking tray, evenly spaced to allow for spreading during cooking.
    6. Bake the cookies for around 10 minutes, or until golden. 
    7. Leave to cool on the baking tray for 2 minutes then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely. 
    8. Store in an airtight tin, if you can manage to resist eating them all in one go (ok, this makes quite a few, so you might need to invite friends round really. If you can bear to share...) 

    Virtuous Vanilla Cupcakes

    For my recent housewarming party I made these delicious vanilla cupcakes. Now, anyone who knows me will know I have a thing for chocolate, so why - I hear you ask - vanilla? Exactly. But some of my friends (and, yes, I am asking myself how I can be friends with these crazy people as I type) don't like chocolate. WHAT. With this challenge in mind I found this recipe which almost makes the lack of chocolate (or caramel, or salt) palatable. As you can see I added chocolate buttons (easily removed, by me!) for fun, and because life with no chocolate at all is just no good.

    For the cupcakes
    330g plain flour, sifted
    320g caster sugar
    1.5 tsp baking powder
    pinch of salt
    175g butter
    3 eggs
    190ml milk
    1.5tsp vanilla extract

    1. Preheat the oven to 180C. 
    2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. 
    3. Beat in the butter until you have  a fine, breadcrumb-like mix.
    4. Add the eggs and beat on medium, then high until they are well mixed-in.
    5. Add the milk and vanilla extract and beat again until you have a smooth mixture. 
    6. Pour the mixture evenly into the cupcake tins and bake for 25 minutes until golden.
    7. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely. 
    For the icing
    100g unsalted butter
    300g icing sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    75ml double cream

    1. Beat the butter on it's own for 4-5 minutes on high.
    2. Add the sugar, vanilla and cream and beat on a low speed setting to bring it all together, then beat on high for a couple more minutes.
    3. Spread onto the cooled cupcakes and even out with a knife (or pipe onto the cakes) 
    4. Top with your choice of delectable ornamentation-preferably chocolate!

    Monday, 7 January 2013

    Chocolate Peanut Cookies

    This is a Paul Hollywood (aka legendary, fit "Master Baker" from the Great British Bake-Off) recipe from his new book "How to Bake". Despite me avowing to make some of his wonderful bread-based recipes (not just bread, there's danish pastries, scones, crumpets... all manner of wonderful carb-based delights) from the book, I found the simplest thing I could to knock-up to cheer up my Monday evening.

    These chocolate peanut cookies have raisins in the original recipe, but that sounded far too healthy for me, so I just went with 2 of my favourite things: nuts and chocolate. The recipe also states you should bake the biscuits for 15 minutes, but the first batch I made were cremated into a treacly death with this amount of oven-based action, so I reduced the time to around 9 minutes. This gave a soft, crumbly texture, a bit like a brownie, which we really enjoyed. The crunch of the peanuts was a nice contrast and I had to hide them in an airtight container to ensure my tasting companion didn't devour the lot in one go!

    200g dark chocolate, chopped
    60g unsalted butter
    1 tbsp golden syrup
    170g caster sugar
    1.5 tsp vanilla extract
    200g peanuts, toasted and chopped
    40g plain flour
    2 tbsp cocoa powder

    1. Heat oven to 170C. Lightly butter a baking tray
    2. Put 80g of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the butter, sugar, golden syrup and vanilla extract. Set over a bowl of simmering water and heat gently, stirring occasionally. until the mixture is melted and smooth.
    3. Mix the remaining chopped chocolate with the peanuts in another bowl. Sift the flour and cocoa together and stir everything together.
    4. Place tablespoon-sized balls of the mixture on the baking tray, squeezing them together a little to form balls, and space evenly apart so they have room to spread.
    5. Bake for 8-10 minutes. They will be soft when you remove them from the oven-keeo an eye on them so they don't burn at the edges. Leave on the baking tray until they have hardened a little, then place them on a wire track to cool completely.