First of all, this is a not an homage to the Crunchie. It’s more like what happens when a Crunchie takes a trip to the dark side, rolls around in all manner of sexy toppings and turns up at the end of a dinner party, just in time to be served with the coffee. That type of thing. This is all because when I make caramel I take it pretty dark, cooking it past the golden stage until it turns a deep, burnt amber. This smokes up the sweetness of the honeycomb making it the perfect partner to dark chocolate and a sprinkling of something sharp, salty or sour.
Apparently, there are those that walk among us who don’t like mince pies. I know, Kanye cray, right? I love them, they are Christmas as far as I’m concerned – fruity, fragrant, flaky little friends that turn up every December, spreading festive cheer. That said, on top of my usual batch this year, I thought I’d try something altogether more French in an attempt to convert the haters. Inspired by a mince pie truffle that I devoured the other week, my chocolate mince pies are made with an orange sweet pastry, a traditional mincemeat filling and topped with swirls of milk chocolate ganache. Ooh la la!
She’s a bit of a stunner right? She knows it too. Of course, it would be impossible for a chocolate tart to ever look anything other than glorious, but this lady right here, what can I say, she knows that a smattering of pink and green goes a long way. Like all truly great accessories those freeze-dried raspberries and shards of pistachio are not just for aesthetics, both add texture to the gooey ganache filling and the raspberries help to cut through the chocolatey richness too.
I seem to remember from my uni days that revising for exams requires three things; self-discipline, a decent soundtrack and sustenance. It was with this in the mind that I set about making a batch of Nigel Slater’s chocolate and hazelnut cookies before curling up in a chair to confront the reams of pastry recipes and baking trivia currently fighting it out for space in my brain box. These cookies are perfect. They have the power to comfort, encourage, delight and boost a flagging spirit, whether you’re being beaten by the books or simply wishing the rain away.
I’ve just started my pâtisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu and it is equal parts incredible, terrifying, satisfying and exhausting. I’m in my element and could not be happier but after a double session in the kitchen making, plating and decorating baked custards, I was craving a cookie. Nothing fancy, in fact the exact opposite of fancy, and when the cookies call, this 10 minute miracle recipe never lets me down.
If Nigella is the Queen B of baking, then Nigel Slater is most definitely my king. Not only are his recipes a dream to follow and delicious to eat, it’s the way he writes them, gently coaxing you to the kitchen full of excitement at what you are about to create. His books are beautiful and tend to live on my bedside table, never quite making it to the book shelf, that’s how often I dip into them for inspiration. This week I was determined to face a fruity foe and turned to Nigel for back up. Bananas have been the bane of my baking life for as long as I can remember, fundamentally it’s a texture thing I think, mushy and stringy don’t really do it for me, and I’ve failed to find one recipe to change my mind – until now. Banana-phobes prepare to be converted, this cake has superpowers of persuasion.
Sometimes only chocolate cake will do and when the chocolate mist descends this is the recipe I reach for time and again. Why? Because I don’t think chocolate cake should be difficult, or fussy (this recipe is neither) and I don’t know about you, but for me there’s something deliciously informal about a loaf cake. You don’t serve delicate slices of loaf cake, you serve slabs, and this bad boy in particular, in all it’s moist, dense loveliness, demands greediness. Resistance is futile.