Easter ‘Bark’

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I don’t make sweets. I don’t actually eat many sweets. This is because I consider chocolate to be a separate food group from sweets. But when I saw this recipe for something called “Easter Bark” on Pinterest, I decided to give it a go. Marshmallows, white chocolate and pretty decorations: what’s not to like?

I scaled down the recipe significantly. If I had made the whole lot according to the original recipe, I’d probably have eaten the lot, which wouldn’t do me any good.

These are really pretty, helped by the use of pastel coloured decorative flowers. The pink and white marshmallows make them particularly appropriate for Easter. I’m sure that there are many more combinations of colours and decorations which could be used.

Incidentally, I’m a bit proud of this photo. I’ve been keeping my Easter resolution and playing around with Tim’s camera. No editing needed!

Ingredients 

  • 150g white chocolate
  • 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
  • Sprinkles

Method

  1. Line a suitable dish with greaseproof paper.
  2. Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl in the microwave. Mine took about a minute and a half, on Medium.
  3. Quickly add the marshmallows and stir well. The marshmallows will start to melt, so you need to work fast.
  4. Pour the mixture into your dish and smooth down so it is one marshmallow deep.
  5. Sprinkle your decorations over the top.
  6. Place in the fridge for several hours until solid.
  7. Cut into squares around 2cm square.

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The Most Amazing Chocolate Raspberry Layered Pavlova

Layered Pavlova

This recipe really does deserve the title above. We had it for dessert on Boxing Day, and it was a huge hit. I was looking for an idea which I could make ahead and then assemble on the day – I really didn’t want to be cooking on Christmas Day, or early morning on Boxing Day, so I made all the component parts in advance, kept the creme patissiere in the fridge, covered, until the morning of Boxing day, and then assembled.

The creme patissiere is actually very easy to make; the flour in it stabilises it. The hardest part for me was peeling the paper off the meringues without damaging them. I had to call for an extra pair of hands for the last one.

The raspberries in this are great – hidden in the meringue layers and arranged on top – they give little pops of sharpness in contrast to the chocolate.

Ingredients

For the meringues:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

For the creme patissiere:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 100 grams dark chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cream layers:

  • 400g fresh raspberries
  • 300ml double cream

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 140C.
  2. Line 3 baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Draw a circle 20cm diameter on each sheet (I just drew around a cake tin).
  3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar very slowly, beating again after each spoonful. Sieve over the cocoa powder and add the vinegar; fold this in.
  4. Spread the meringues onto the baking parchment circles. Bake in the oven for one hour. Then turn the oven off, and allow to cool. Note: I kept the meringues in an airtight tin.
  5. To make the creme patissiere, beat the egg yolks and sugar together, then add the cocoa and flour. Whisk together. Heat the milk and cream together in a saucepan. When it is hot, slowly pour the milk and cream onto the eggs and sugar, whisking constantly. Pour everything back into the saucepan and put it back on to the heat. Keep stirring. Don’t stop stirring, and bring it to the boil. It will thicken. Then take it off the heat and add the vanilla.
  6. Allow the creme patissiere to cool. Note: I covered it with buttered greaseproof paper and put it in the fridge.
  7. Whip the cream until it is firm.
  8. To assemble the meringue, place one meringue on your serving plate. Cover with a third of the creme patissiere. Then scatter over a quarter of the raspberries, then smooth over half the cream. Place the next meringue on top, and repeat with the chocolate, raspberries and cream. The final meringue just has chocolate creme patissiere, and half the raspberries arranged as you like.
  9. Like most meringue-based desserts, you don’t want to assemble this too far in advance or it will go soggy. However, this is a great dessert to impress a crowd; yesterday, this fed 8 adults, 4 children and there was still over a quarter left.

Classic French: Macarons

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I learned many things while baking these French treats. The first, and possibly most important, is that they are spelt ‘macaron,’ rather than ‘macaroon.’ They are, according to Wikipedia, different things. These are macarons.

I pinned this recipe months and months ago, but had really been putting off trying it – it looked fiddly, there was meringue, it involved piping – but the Classic French challenge spurred me on. This month’s challenge is the macaron.

Classic French is a baking challenge originated by Blue Kitchen Bakes. This month it is hosted by A Kick At The Pantry Door.

The original recipe by Felicity Cloake can be found here. I filled mine simply with whipped cream, because I wanted a colour contrast between the filling and shell.

I followed the instructions to the letter – I even opened the oven door half way through cooking time to let out the steam – and I thought they worked really well. I couldn’t tell you if it makes a difference to grind the almonds first, but Felicity thought so. The piping was much easier than I thought it would be – in fact, the hardest thing about macarons is keeping them in the fridge for 24 hours. I can confirm however, that it does make a difference.

Ingredients

  • 65g ground almonds
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 75g egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 100ml whipping cream

Method

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment, preferably one with circles drawn onto the other side to aid your piping.
  2. Put the almonds in a food processor or spice grinder and blitz for a couple of minutes to make them finer. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and repeat.
  3. Sift the almond mixture into a bowl.
  4. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. When it is holding together, add the caster sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff.
  5. Fold in the dry ingredients, and then beat the mixture vigorously until it’s of a consistency which falls off the spatula.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and carefully pipe on to the  using a 1cm nozzle. Pick the baking tray up and drop it on to the work surface a couple of times, then leave to rest for about 30 minutes until the macarons feel dry to the touch: they should not be sticky. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  7. Bake the macarons for 17 minutes until firm, opening the oven door briefly a couple of times during cooking to let off any steam. Once you’re sure they’re cooked, slide the baking parchment off the tray immediately to stop the macarons cooking.
  8. Cool completely on the paper, then carefully peel off: if they’re cooked, they should come away easily.
  9. When cool, whip the cream. Match up equally-sized macarons, and then, using a small palette knife or spoon, sandwich them together with whipped cream. Refrigerate for 24 hours, then serve at room temperature.

Basic Brownies

Brownies

I love brownies. For years, I’ve made Nigella’s Chocolate brownies from How to be a Domestic Goddess. But in these austere times, I’ve found the quantities and ingredients rather lavish, and, needless to say, expensive. 375g of best-quality chocolate could easily cost over £7.00, and that’s more than I really want to spend on home-made brownies.

So I’ve done a little bit of tweaking – well, quite a lot actually. So much so that the recipe below bears little resemblance to the original, except in the basic ingredients used. I’ve substituted cheaper alternatives, like margarine, but feel free to use butter. I now don’t feel quite so extravagant in making these. However, they are still expensive in terms of calories, so I probably shouldn’t make them that often.

Ingredients

  • 200g margarine
  • 100g dark chocolate (cooking quality is fine)
  • 3 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • Any additions – I added 100g of mini eggs for Easter.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C and line a brownie pan – mine is 20cm x 30cm.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt together the margarine and chocolate. When it is melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and mix in the sugar and vanilla extract.
  4. Beat the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix well.
  5. Stir through any additions you want to add.
  6. Pour into the brownie pan and bake for 18 minutes.
  7. Leave in the tin to cool for at least 15 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before cutting into small squares. I made 28 brownies from this mixture.

Mini Chocolate Sponges

Mini chocolate cakes

These are an adaptation of Jo Wheatley’s Mini Victoria Sponges. I’ve made them a few times and guests have always been impressed – I think they do look fairly impressive on the stand, but they’re actually quite simple. I guess you could make cake pops from the leftover cake, but I never have.

Ingredients

  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g margarine
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 25g cocoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 65g margarine
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method 

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C. Line one swiss roll tin with baking parchment.
  2. Cream together the caster sugar with the margarine.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, alternating with spoonfuls of flour. Add the rest of the flour and cocoa powder (sifted).
  4. Spread the mixture into the swiss roll tin and flatten with a palette knife as best as you can.
  5. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until cooked through.
  6. Remove from oven and turn onto a wire rack. Leave to cool.
  7. Put the icing sugar and margarine into a food processor. Blitz and add the milk and vanilla extract. Blitz again until smooth. Put into a piping bag.
  8. When the cake is cool, transfer it to a board. Cut out 24 x 5cm circles from the cake.
  9. Pipe the icing (I used a star nozzle) onto 12 cake circles. Top with the other 12.
  10. Dust with icing sugar on top.

Chocolate Pudding (in the microwave)

Microwave Pudding

I have never made a pudding in a microwave. In fact, I barely use the microwave apart from re-heating food.

However, I’m trying to make the most out of our kitchen appliances (more on that later), so when I wanted to whip up a quick pudding for after dinner, I had a look on the BBC Good Food website. I adapted their Fastest-ever Lemon pudding to a chocolate variety, and I have to say, it was dangerously quick and dangerously easy!

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 25g cocoa
  • 50g chopped dark chocolate

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Place into a microwave-safe bowl. I used a 2 pint pudding basin.
  3. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Leave to stand for 1 minute.
  4. Serve with ice cream.