River Cottage

Chocolate Chestnut Cake

This is a good chocolate cake!  I have been meaning to make it since Rachel made it and that was a whole year ago. It had been on my to make list before that as I had looked at it longingly in Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Year, which believe it or not I have had in my possession for seven years.  How time flies, and what a long to make list I must have.

It’s a great cake for this time of year, when chestnuts feature heavily on market shelves and in Christmas cooking.  But to be honest it’s a great cake for any time of the year.

It’s easy to make too and can be enjoyed warm for dessert or cold with a cup of tea (or coffee, or a mulled wine).

250g good quality dark chocolate
250g butter
250g peeled and cooked chestnuts (I use vacuum packed as life is too short)
250ml milk
4 eggs, separated
125g caster sugar

Grease and  line a 25cm round cake tin.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a pan over a gentle heat. In another pan heat the chestnuts and milk together until it just comes to the boil.  Remove from the heat and mash the chestnuts into the milk until smooth.

Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together until combined.  Pour in the chocolate mixture and the chestnut mixture and whisk together well. I used a balloon whisk to do this.

In a very clean bowl whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks  and then carefully fold into the chocolate and chestnut mixture.  Pour the mixture into the tin and place in a preheated oven at 170°c, gas mark 3, or the baking oven of the Aga for 25-30 minutes, until it is set, but it will still have a little wobble in the centre.

Leave in the tin to cool a little if you are serving warm or leave to cool completely.  Sift cocoa powder over the top.

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Chelsea buns

These were last weekend’s breakfast baking.  As I have said in earlier posts, the girls get me up early, so at the weekends I have used the opportunity to try baking or cooking something new.  Chelsea buns make a very decadent breakfast, but a very delicious one too.   The recipe again comes from Daniel Stevens’ Bread book (River Cottage Handbook No. 3).  I think next time I will bake them a bit longer than I did this time, as they were a little bit doughy, but I was very pleased with them.  They were lovely and buttery and were still good the next day.  All you need to accompany these is a good cup of tea.

For the buns:

550g (1lb 6 oz) strong white bread flour
50g (2oz) caster sugar
7g (1 sachet) of easy bake yeast
10g (½oz) salt
150 ml (¼ pint) milk
225g (9 oz) butter
1 egg

For the filling:

25g (1oz) melted butter
100g (4oz) caster sugar
200g  (8oz) currants

For the glaze:

50 ml (2 fl oz) milk
50g (2 oz) caster sugar


You will need a deep sided 30cm square baking tin, buttered and coated with a sprinkling of caster sugar.

Place the butter and the milk into a pan over a gentle heat until the butter melts and the milk gets to hand hot. In a large bowl, mix the flour, caster sugar, salt and yeast and then add the egg and the butter and milk.  Using your hands mix to a sticky dough.  Knead the dough, as described in the spelt bread recipe until the dough is silky and smooth. Rinse the bowl clean and dry well and place the dough into this bowl, cover with clingfilm or a plastic bag and leave to double in size.

Place the dough onto a floured surface and roll to a rectangle measuring 60cm x 40cm or as close as you can get to this. Brush with the melted butter, leaving a 2 cm border along one of the longest edges.  Sprinkle the sugar all over the butter, top with the currants and then press them lightly into the dough.  Roll up the dough like a swiss roll, starting with the edge opposite to the one on which you left the 2 cm border. Brush the border with water and seal the edge well.  Slice into 9 pieces, place each piece into the tin, leaving space for expansion between each bun and flatten slightly with your hand.

Preheat the oven to 200°c (gas mark 6, bottom of the roasting oven of the Aga ) whilst you cover the tin with the clingfilm again and leave to prove for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again. Sprinkle with a little caster sugar and bake for about 20-25 minutes (mine needed 25 minutes but I was a bit too eager) until golden brown.

Just before the end of the cooking time warm the remaining caster sugar and the milk together in a pan over a gentle heat and when the buns come out of the oven, brush them immediately with this mixture to give them a delicious sticky glaze.  Leave to cool a little but make sure you enjoy at least one whilst it’s still warm from the oven.

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Spelt bread

It has been almost a week since my last post… where has the time gone?  Life has been busy, but I have been cooking (lots).  I just haven’t managed to sit down and write about it, so deciding which adventure I should share with you first was difficult.   I (or should I say we, as I don’t seem to do much cooking without the help (?) of little hands) have been cooking chelsea buns, brownies, chocolate cupcakes (decadently decorated, as only a three-year old can manage), pizza and cabbage and potato gratin.  However, this bread is something I am very proud of.

I think I am becoming a bit obsessed with bread.  Last year I blogged about my success with a loaf of white bread, after many years of trying.  Since then I have been practising and experimenting on a regular basis.  My aim is to become so good at making bread that I never have to buy a loaf again.

I won a £5 Amazon voucher over Christmas when I pulled a virtual cracker sent to me by Made Media (thank you Made) and so took the opportunity to buy a few more cookbooks (it was the perfect excuse!).  In my haul was the River Cottage Handbook No. 3 on Bread by Daniel Stevens and it is a great book; full of really good advice on how to achieve the perfect loaf.   There are lots of pictures accompanied by excellent descriptions to walk you through the process.

Since finding the Chocolate Log Blog I have been inspired by Choclette to use ingredients that I have never previously used, including spelt flour, hence the inspiration for this loaf.

Spelt flour is low in gluten so I followed Daniel Stevens’ advice and mixed it with strong plain flour to make a lighter loaf than a pure spelt loaf would be. The spelt is deliciously nutty and just adds that extra bite to the bread, making it taste like homemade bread should. I was really pleased with the result and Mr OC complimented me on it, so it must have been good. The loaf rose a little unevenly, so there is room for improvement, but I am looking forward to continuing practising and moving towards the holy grail of homemade bread.

300g strong plain flour
200g spelt flour
1 sachet (7g) fast action yeast
10g salt
300ml warm water

Extra flour for sprinkling ( I used rye)


Mix the flours in a large  bowl, add the salt and the yeast and pour in the warm water.  Mix with your hands to a soft dough.  There should be enough liquid to easily pick up all the flour in the bowl, but it shouldn’t be too sticky. Take the dough out of the bowl and on to a lightly floured surface (preferably wood).  If you are right-handed hold the dough with your left hand and using your right hand push half the dough away, trying to stretch it a full arm’s length away from you.  Then fold the stretched dough back on to that left in your left hand and repeat the kneading process making quarter turns of the dough every other stretch. (If you are left-handed then please substitute that hand for the right-hand).  Continue in this way for about ten minutes until the dough feels more elastic and you can’t really stretch it very far when you are kneading.  Fold the dough under so that it forms a ball.

Rinse the bowl clean, oil lightly, and place the dough into the bowl and cover with cling film or a large plastic bag. Leave in a warmish place, free of draught, until the dough doubles in size. The time this takes will depend on the temperature of the dough and of the room.

Preheat the oven to 250°c (gas mark 10) and Daniel Stevens’ tip is to buy a paving stone that fits into your oven to use as a baking stone and heat this in the oven and then use a bread peel (a flat board with a handle, like the one they use for placing pizzas into a pizza oven) to place your loaf directly onto this. I had a bit of a daft revelation in that I realised for the first time that if I placed the loaf directly on the floor of the roasting oven of my Aga I would achieve the same effect. I have always baked my bread on the tin that I have proved it on before and I think this new technique has helped.

Gently flatten the dough with your fingers, rather than punching the air out (again a change in technique for me) shaping it into a square.  Roll the dough much like you would a swiss roll and then using your fingers seal the join very well. Stretch the dough lengthwise until twice as long.  Fold over one-third to the middle and then fold the remaining third on to the top. Flatten again into a square with your fingers and roll up again as before, sealing well and then rolling gently into an evenly shaped baton loaf.  I then sprinkled mine generously with rye flour.  Leave to prove for about twenty minutes.  This time you want it to get bigger but not double in size again.

Slash the tops gently.  Place on to the baking stone and bake for ten minutes without looking.  Check the loaf and adjust the heat of the oven, if the crust is still pale then turn down to 200°c (gas mark 6), if it is already browning then 180°c (gas mark 4).  Cook for another 20-30 minutes. I left mine on the floor of the roasting oven of my Aga for thirty minutes.  It should sound hollow when knocked.

Leave to cool completely before slicing.

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