Hotel Chocolat Easter treats

Easter is almost upon us and in this house that means an Easter Egg hunt on Easter Sunday. I  (cough) The Easter Bunny writes a load of clues and hides them round the garden, each clue having a little pile of eggs next to it. The girls love it, although the eldest might feel a bit old for it this year. However, the Easter Bunny stands for none of this “I am too old now” malarkey.

It was a great treat, then, when I received a gorgeously presented package in the post from Hotel Chocolat.

Hotel Chocolat gift bag

Especially when hiding inside were their Dozen Quail Egglets. These are very tempting bite sized (if you have a big mouth like me) chocolate eggs. Two each of Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter, Raspberry Supermilk, Hazelnut Praline, Strawberries & Cream and Mousse au Chocolate.

I admit to having snaffled most of them all by myself, well, the girls will have enough chocolate eggs next Sunday. All of the chocolate eggs are as delicious as the next. My favourite though is probably the peanut butter flavoured. I am a sucker for anything that has peanut butter in it.

Hotel Chocolat has a fantastic range of Easter goodies available and they come in such lovely gift bags that whoever you buy for will feel very spoilt indeed.

NB: This post is a review of an item sent to me for free for review purposes by Hotel Chocolat. All opinions are my own and are honest.

 

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Coffee cake

coffee cake

This is a cake that I make a lot, but for some reason, not known even to me, I have never posted it here. Sometimes I add 50-100g walnuts to make it into a coffee and walnut cake. Either way, it’s a firm favourite in this household. I have a bread making class this evening and this is the cake that we will be sharing in between kneading and shaping loaves. Then if there is any left the girls will demolish the rest.

The cake follows the rules of the Victoria Sandwich, in that you weigh your eggs and then use that weight for your other ingredients. So today my 4 eggs weighed 220g, so I used 220g butter, 220g sugar (I went with half caster and half light brown sugar), 220g plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder (or for convenience use self-raising flour and then there is no need for baking powder) and a scant cup of strong espresso. You can, of course use instant coffee dissolved into hot water to make a strong coffee solution, or coffee essence.

4 eggs (weigh them in their shells and use that weight for your flour and sugar too)
Softened (room temperature) butter (same weight as your eggs)
Sugar (I used half caster sugar and half light brown, my eggs weighed 220g today so I used 110g of each sugar)
Plain flour (same weight as your eggs)
1 tsp baking powder
Scant cup of strong espresso or instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp of water (cooled)

Method
Preheat your oven to 180°c, gas mark 6 or use the centre of the baking oven in a four oven Aga. Grease and line 2 sandwich tins.

Weigh your eggs in their shells and use that weight for your butter, sugar and flour.

Whisk your butter in a large bowl or free-standing mixer until soft and fluffy. Add the sugars and beat well until the mixture is soft and fluffy. This always takes longer than you think it will so be patient and give it time. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well between each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle add a spoonful of flour to the mix and it will come together again. Add the espresso and beat well. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in using a large metal spoon carefully but thoroughly. Divide the mixture between the two sandwich pans and spread gently to the edges of the tins. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cake has started to shrink away from the sides of the tin and it feels springy when you lightly touch the top with the tip of your finger. Leave to settle in the tin for a couple of minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Sandwich the two cakes together with a coffee butter cream.

Coffee buttercream
100g softened (room temperature) butter
200g icing sugar
2 tbsp strong espresso (cooled)

Method
Beat the butter until soft, add the icing sugar and beat gently until combined and then whisk until fluffy, add the coffee and beat until well combined. Use half the mixture to spread on the bottom of one of the cakes. Lay the other cake on top and use the other half of the buttercream on top of the cake. Decorate with chocolate coffee beans or your choice of nuts.

Coffee cake

A cheeky slice for quality control purposes.

 

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Whey cake

Whey cake

Warm walnut and cinnamon whey cake

I have been making a fair amount of my own soft cheese lately, experimenting with recipes before I run a course on Home Dairying at Acton Scott next year. The benefit of all this cheese making is the whey that you are left with. I have been using it to make bread, replacing the water with the whey, and it makes a lovely tender crumb. I use it to make scones, you get the bonus of having the soft cheese to spread on top. This is especially lovely if you jazz the soft cheese up by adding a bit of soft brown sugar and some chopped nuts. You can use it to make pancakes, the Scotch or American kind, too, or add it to your waffle mixture. Whey is a versatile ingredient, so should you fancy a bit of soft cheese making at home, please don’t throw away the whey (now, there’s a sentence).

There are two types of whey; a sweet whey resulting from the use of rennet in cheese making, and an acidic whey resulting from the use of lemon juice in the making of soft cheese.  In this instance I have used an acidic whey, but either can be made use of here.

This cake was inspired by this one at King Arthur Flour but I have made some changes to make it my own. I have reduced the quantities to make it a more manageable loaf cake rather than a large tray bake. I have reduced the sugar in the cake batter too, as it seemed like a lot of sugar. This hardly makes it healthy though as there is still plenty of sugar in the cake and topping.  I have substituted walnuts for pecans and added cinnamon instead of vanilla. It is delicious warm, just add a bit of cream or sweetened soft cheese and you have a lovely pudding.

50g soft butter
150g light brown sugar
1 egg
150g liquid whey (mine was acidic from the addition of lemon juice in the cheese making process)
175g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

For the topping
40g melted butter
100g light brown sugar
25g milk
pinch salt
50g walnuts (or the nuts of your choice)

Method
Line a 2lb loaf tin and preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or use the middle shelf of the baking oven of the four oven Aga.

To make the cake beat the butter and the sugar together well. It won’t become soft and fluffy because there is a lot more sugar than butter, but it should be well mixed. Add the egg and continue to beat. Add the whey. It will curdle, especially if you have used an acidic whey. Don’t worry about it. Add the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt and beat well, until all is combined and you have a soft batter. Pour into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for about 25 -30 minutes until just lightly browned and starting to firm up. In the meantime make the topping as this is spread on top for the last five minutes of cooking time. Combine all the ingredients for the topping. When the cake is nearly cooked bring it out of the oven and pour the topping over the top. Place back in the oven and cook for another 5 minutes. The topping will be bubbling and you should be able to insert a skewer into the cake and it will come out clean (except for a bit of the topping that will inevitably stick to the skewer). Leave to cool in the tin. Enjoy a slice warm or eat cold, depending on your fancy.

 

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Dotcomgiftshop

Dotcomgiftshop recently listed twenty-five of their favourite baking blogs and I was thrilled to be included in the list. They also kindly sent me one of their recipe tins, which is very handy for keeping all of those cuttings in order, and a voucher to choose some lovely things off their website. They have a wide selection to choose from. I was most interested in their kitchen and baking related items but there really is something there for everyone in your family. So, if you still have that special person to buy for get yourself over to dotcomgiftshop for a look. Ordering is easy and delivery was quick.

These are the items that caught my eye.

Dotcomgiftshop items

I love those little milk bottles. If we manage to sort out something for friends over Christmas I plan to serve a cocktail or two in them. The sugar pourer is something I have been coveting for years. I always get a little over excited when I  find one on a café table. The butter dish appeals to my nostalgic side. We had one very similar when I was a child. The tea cosy will be much used and is very pretty. There are lots of matching items available in the same paisley pattern too.  I might have added a few extra items to my basket too but as they are destined to be under the tree on Christmas morning I thought it best to not show them on here.

Disclosure: I was sent a voucher to buy items for this review. All opinions are my own and are honest.

 

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Make it Easy Cookbook

Make it easy cookbook

I was kindly sent a copy of Jane Lovett’s Make it Easy Cookbook to review. The introduction to Jane’s book leaves you in no doubt that this is a woman that you can trust to deliver recipes that will work for you. Having been classically trained at Cordon Bleu she has worked at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, run her own catering company and has tested and developed recipes for cookery books, magazines and TV. She runs regular cookery demonstrations from what looks like a beautiful home and garden in Northumberland.

The book is designed to help you plan ahead with your cooking, and will give confidence to any unconfident cook. It is brimming with top tips, hints and do’s and don’ts to help you cook a dinner party from scratch without fuss and ending up frazzled. Every one of the recipes has a tip on how to get ahead, perhaps by preparing it a day ahead,  and most recipes have a hint or tip which helps guide the novice cook, or the more experienced, towards success.

Jane Lovett Cookbook

The recipes that struck me as must-makes included her stuffed marrow recipe, a great way to use up that glut for the veg grower. Her recipe for slow cooked Chinese duck legs sounds delicious and easy and can be made two days in advance and happily sit in the fridge developing a richer flavour.

For dessert I would be hard pushed to choose between the stem ginger ice cream or the ginger creams with pistachio brittle. I have a thing for ginger.

Jane’s book is full of wise advice and would make a great Christmas gift for the keen cook in your household and would prove endlessly useful for those times when you need to plan a meal ahead.

Jane Lovett’s Make it Easy Cookbook is published by IMM Lifestyle books and is available at all good high street and online retailers priced at £12.99.

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of the book for the purposes of this review. All of the opinions are my own and are honest. 

 

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Green tomato and marrow chutney

Green Tomato and Marrow Chutney

I am sure that I normally make my chutney earlier than this, but this autumn has been so unseasonably mild that my tomatoes have just continued to give. A week or so ago I knew that it was finally time to pick the last of the tomatoes.

Last of the season's tomatoes

The tomatoes have done well this year, we have had a good harvest. I couldn’t say the same for our sweetcorn or our cabbage or our borlotti beans. But every year is different and that is part of the joy of vegetable growing. These beauties were destined for chutney, along with a marrow and some bramleys.

I made a very similar chutney last year and was very pleased with the result. This year’s seems promising. Of course, it is too early to tell what its real flavour might be once it has sat in the cupboard for a month or two and matured. At the moment it has too much vinegary  astringency to be sure. But underneath its immaturity I can sense its sweetness and the potential for a lovely chutney.

Chutney takes much longer to cook than you first imagine it might. Patience and a gentle simmer is needed and it is only ready when the vinegar has all but disappeared and in its place a thick sludge remains. It will take about three or four hours and your house will smell vinegary, spicy and fruity. I like it, the girls don’t. The Aga makes life easy because you just bring the pan to a simmer and then place it in the simmering oven for a few hours. A slow cooker might work, but I have never tried it so can’t say for sure.

Chutney cooking

The chutney nearly there and ready for potting

You can add whatever fruit and veg you have to this chutney as long as you remember that you need 1 part vinegar to three part fruit/veg. Then sugar in a similar amount, perhaps slightly less. You can use whichever spices are your favourite or you have in the cupboard, just make sure you tie them in a cloth that has been scalded in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes. That way you don’t experience an unpleasant bite into a whole spice when enjoying your chutney. I add walnuts to my chutney because I love the slight bite they retain, but feel free to not include them.

Here is what I have in mine this year.

1kg marrow
1.5kg tomatoes
400g bramley apple
350g onion
3 cloves garlic
150g sultanas
100g walnuts
15g salt
600ml vinegar (I used a mix of distilled and cider as that is what I had in the cupboard)
500g soft brown sugar
Spices to tie in a cloth bag:
1 chilli, left whole or cut in half depending how hot you want your chutney
1tsp mustard seed
4 cloves
5 cardamom seeds
1 tsp coriander seed
5 allspice berries
1 bayleaf
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fresh ginger, sliced

Method

Chop all the fruit and vegetables to an even size. Slice the garlic. Place all of this in a large preserving pan. Add the sultanas and the walnuts. Tie the spices into a bag and place in the pan. Sprinkle the salt over. Add the sugar and pour the vinegar over everything. Place the pan on a medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer until the fruit and vegetables are tender and the vinegar has become a thick sauce.

Pour into warm sterilised jars. Seal and store for a few months before enjoying and bringing back memories of your summer.

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Banana, chocolate and walnut cake

Banana, chocolate and walnut cake

Just one of the  bonuses of running bread making courses if that I have to make a cake to take along to each one. This week’s choice was easy. I spied a couple of bananas on the side that were turning the wrong side of eating-ripe. If I am going to eat a banana (and I do, most days) a good eating banana is just a little underripe. But if I am going to make a banana cake then it needs to be at that “mash me now” stage, and these two were.

Dark chocolate and walnuts both have a wonderful affinity with a banana. They both have that slight bitterness that undercuts the sweetness of the banana. I topped the cake with a chocolate ganache for a bit of extra indulgence, but really it doesn’t need it.

This cake will also sit quite happily in a tin waiting to be eaten. In fact, I made this one on Monday for the course on Tuesday and I am just enjoying a slice of it today (Friday).

I am linking this with this month’s We Should Cocoa, hosted this month by Choclette over at her wonderful blog Tin and Thyme, which has  the theme of bananas. How very fortuitous. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with Choclette then get yourself over to her blog immediately and indulge yourself in her many wonderful recipes, many of them on a chocolate theme and all of them vegetarian.

Banana, chocolate and walnut cake 

Two medium-sized bananas
3 eggs, 2 separated
50ml milk
100ml sunflower oil
75g dark brown sugar
75g caster sugar
175g spelt flour (or you could use wholemeal or plain flour)
50g walnuts
4 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
50g dark chocolate, chopped roughly

Method

Preheat the oven to 160°c, gas mark 3 and use the centre of the oven or place the rack on the bottom runner of the baking oven of the Aga. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment making sure there is a rim of at least 2cm over the top of the tin.

Mash the bananas until smooth in a large bowl or jug. Add the whole egg and the two yolks, the milk and the oil. Mix together until well combined.

In a scrupulously clean bowl beat the two egg whites until stiff peaks are formed.

In another large bowl mix together the sugars, the walnuts and the chocolate. Sift over the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and the baking powder. If you are using wholemeal then make sure you tip in any bran left in the sieve.

Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Add one-third of the egg white and mix well to loosen the mixture. Carefully fold in the rest of the egg white.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Check after 45 minutes and it may take 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Chocolate ganache

80ml double cream
100g dark chocolate

Method

Chop the chocolate very finely or pulse in food processor until fine. Heat the cream in a heavy based saucepan until just simmering. Remove the cream from the heat, tip in the chocolate and leave for a minute. Stir until the ganache is smooth and glossy. Decorate the top of the cake with a thick layer of ganache, swirling the top.

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