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Category Archives: Chocolate

Warning: This Post Is Bad For Your Health

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Now I like a sugar high as much as the next person, but this past weekend there’s a good chance I took it too far. Brownie cookies. Jam doughnut muffins. I don’t even need to write anything more for you to understand the levels of butter and sugar needed for such baked goods. Much like Road Dahl characters, everything you need to know is all in the name. Miss Honey was always going to be an absolute darling and Augustus Gloop only ever a greedy bastard. And so brownie cookies and jam doughnut muffins are inevitably naughty. In my defence (although it would never stand up in court) I did have friends over for coffee, visited family and took part in a recruitment day at work so the goodies were shared. Spreading not only the love, but also the calories.

Brownie cookies then come from Smitten Kitchen, one of the newest additions to the collection. I’ve not yet ventured into the savoury section of the book, despite the fact that every time I dive in to pick a recipe I go in with the best of intentions. But the significantly sized sweet section of the book always draws me in and I conveniently forget the existence of the salad section. There is nothing sweet in the book that I don’t instantly want to cook. These cookies are an absolute doddle to make, although not owning an electric mixer puts you at an advantage if you want to build those biceps up whilst also working on your domestic goddess skills. One day I will have one of those beautifully glossy KitchenAid mixers (pistachio green is my current favourite) and so until then nothing else will do. If I were to compromise on a lesser model I would then be stuck with it for life, so I’m more than happy to save and continue to bake the hard way. I’m such a martyr.

The best part about making these cookies is rolling them out and getting the cookie cutters out of the drawer. I just don’t feel like I use cookie cutters enough, it’s immensely satisfying to feel the soft dough yield to the cookie cutter and to see the devastation you’ve inflicted upon that poor, innocent cookie dough. It’s like being a war lord, only without the dodgy morality and inability to sleep at night. These brownie cookies deliver exactly what you expect: they have the exterior crispness of a biscuit, the softness of a brownie within and taste purely of chocolate. They’re at their best on the day they’re baked, but are still all too edible 24 hours on. I should *warn* you that this recipe makes a lot of bite-sized biscuits (approx 70 using a 4cm cookie cutter) and also *warn* that the raw dough is even more edible than the end product. I *definitely* didn’t eat spoonfuls of the stuff while it was cooling in the fridge. No siree.

As well as this I made jam doughnut muffins. All the taste of a fried doughnut without the hassle of deep frying, right? Well, almost. These are in essence a plain vanilla muffin with a dollop of jam in the middle, then rolled in melted butter and sugar once cooked. They come from the wonderful mind of Nigella Lawson and can be found in HTBADG, in the kids section. Move over kids, these treats are wasted on you. I served these to a friend and her two year old daughter while they were still a little warm from the oven, which is probably the best way to eat them if you want to emulate the deliciousness of a freshly fried doughnut from a van at the fair. I thought they were nice, nothing amazing but certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if offered them. These went down pretty well with everyone who had them though out the day and I think if they were smaller they might be better. After the bite size brownie cookies I think there’s something to be said for mini versions of sweet treats. Although why I’m trying to perfect doughnuts I’ll never know, what with fairground doughnuts and Krispy Kreme already firm favourites on our fair isle, and Dunking’ Donuts on its way (The Boyfriend cannot get enough of DD coffee on holiday, so he is sure to be making regular trips once over here) making doughnuts at home seems completely pointless. Sure is fun trying though.

 

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Chocolate, Citrusy Goodness

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You can always tell when The Boyfriend’s gone on his travels again by the sugar content of whatever food I happen to be cooking and blogging about. If it isn’t putting you at risk of diabetes, I don’t want to know. Step forward brown butter, chocolate, orange and rosemary cookies from Gizzi Erskine’s Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts (no prizes which side this treat falls on). If chocolate cookies can’t lift the spirits, nothing can.

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t in love with cookies. Whether it was going through the biscuit tin after getting in from school or buying giant, fresh, gooey cookies from the canteen to get me though GCSE Maths lessons, cookies have been there. As an adult, Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream has soothed after disastrous job interviews (during a maths test for an interview with a bank I panicked, writing out completely non-sensical sums and getting the answers totally wrong, wishing I was allowed to use a calculator. Upon finishing the interviewer gently reminded me of the calculator I’d been told I could use, which had been placed right next to the paper covered in maths gibberish. No, I didn’t get the job. Don’t even ask about the role play element of the interview), soul destroying hangovers and terrible days at work. Cookies are the best. The frustration with cookies is that it’s so difficult to bake a batch that aren’t dry and crumbly, dry being the enemy of a cookie lover. You want gooey cookies when fresh out of the oven which turn chewy once out of the oven for a few hours. I don’t think it’s possible to get a homemade cookie that stays gooey for longer than a couple of hours, although if anyone knows of a recipe for one please send me it!

These cookies totally deliver. Taken out of the oven while still pale in the middle, they cool to a perfect consistency and taste wonderful. Orange and rosemary go really well together, you can’t pick out the taste of the rosemary but get a subtle savoury hint on the tip of your tastebuds to complement the sweet chocolate and orange. At risk of sounding like I’m on the payroll of Rosemary PR, rosemary is super good in sweet foods and you should definitely try it. I brought these into work today without mentioning the rosemary and everyone loved them. Rosemary aside, the chunks of milk chocolate are divine and the texture of these cookies can only be described as fudgey. These cookies are practically good for you, after all, rosemary is believed to help improve memory, is antibacterial, can lift your mood and help detox your liver, whilst orange boosts the immune system, regulates blood pressure and can protect the skin. I haven’t researched the nutritional benefits of sugar and melted butter, but how bad can they be? Oh, turns out very. Never mind.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in American, Baking, Books, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Chocolate Bomb Failure

All mouth and no trousers, that’s me. I’m forever saying or blogging that when The Boyfriend is back, I simply must cook him whatever delicious meal I’ve discovered while he’s away, or whip up a tasty dessert for a Friday night meal. And yet it never quite turns out like that. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking and I LOVE cooking for the two of us, but spending hours in the kitchen when I could actually be spending time with him seems pointless when we spend so much time apart. It’s not as if our current kitchen is suitable for relaxing in or cooking as a team (oh, but it will be, mark my words, it will be), what with it being small, run down and designed to suit those of a pensionable age, so the cook tends to be alone at the far end of the house. There are few things in life I enjoy more than getting my iPod out and pottering about for hours in the kitchen making bread, cakes, pasta sauces, casseroles or biscuits, but only when I’m alone and can be selfish.

The irony then of this selfish hobby is that the food I have time to cook when he’s away is also the food that is perfect to share with him. I’m not going to make a chocolate soufflé just for me (unlike cake you can’t take soufflé into work the next day to share) but I would deeply resent spending two hours of a Friday night in the kitchen making a soufflé when I could be binging on Breaking Bad and eating Malteser’s with The Boyfriend. This is what led me to make the simplest recipe from a hugely neglected cookbook for a Friday night dessert – chocolate mint bombs from Green & Blacks Ultimate Chocolate Cookbook. Expressing surprise at how a cookbook about chocolate came to be so abandoned? Me too, and I can’t for the life of me explain how I’ve had this book for nearly two years and not cooked from it once. A disgraceful oversight on my part. Especially as I’m head over heels in love with Green & Blacks chocolate, in particular the butterscotch flavour. Oh my god, just writing that has made me desperate for some. Do they deliver? The recipes in it all look scrumptious, you’ve got salted caramel chocolate torte, brownies, white chocolate millefuille, ice creams, soufflés, hot chocolates, truffles and so much more. It’s a chocoholics paradise. Whilst I really, really wanted to cook the chocolate soufflé, the workload for it put me off so I went for possibly the least labour intensive recipe in the book. The other half’s a huge fan of mint chocolate so it seemed like a no brainer. In essence, the ‘bomb’ is in actual fact just a cake mix wodged into a ramekin and baked in the oven. Easy to make ahead, yet there were very few clues as to what this dessert should turn out like. Was it supposed to have a runny centre, be turned out of the ramekin onto a plate? Who knew. Because of this, I’m not sure whether I overcooked it or not, as while tasting perfectly fine (although not as minty as I’d hoped) it was pretty unspectacular and had the texture of dry, heavy cake. Even if it was supposed to have a gooey centre, the cake surrounding it would still be lacklustre. I made the mistake of sacrificing flavour for time. As well as tasting unspectacular, it didn’t look much, so I tried to jazz it up by attempting to dust a teaspoon shape onto it with icing sugar. This failed miserably, and my pride forbids me to put photographic evidence out there.

This dull attempt at dessert then makes me think that maybe once in a while, dedicating some time in the kitchen to get a stunning dessert on the table might not be so bad after all if it tastes amazing. Just don’t expect me to be all that happy about it.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in Baking, Books, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Skinny Saturday

Every time The Boyfriend goes away I make a decision that at the time feels like a brilliant idea but in the end turns out to be a completely idiotic one. And the decision is always the same one, every time he goes. I know, I’m an idiot. You’d think I would have learnt by now, after all The Boyfriend is regularly working away and has been for two years now. Yet still I think that by spending my first weekend sans Boyfriend all by myself doing solely what I want to do and being completely selfish is the best idea since sliced bread. It isn’t. Oh, it’s all good up until about 7pm on the Saturday, when a quick glance at Facebook reminds me of all the happy couples spending their evening together, or groups of friends getting ready for a night out and makes me go “huh, I probably should have made plans for this weekend”. Obviously, being apart from the person you’re crazy about isn’t tough in the way that cancer is tough, or your house being burnt down is tough, but it still has its challenges that at times make me feel pretty sorry for myself despite the fact that one of the things I dislike most on this Earth are people who feel sorry for themselves. If he’s only back for three weeks like he was very recently, we have an absolute whale of a time. We cram in trips to the cinema, meals out, our favourite foods, catch up with all the friends and family he hasn’t seen for months, have a ridiculous row that we always laugh at a few hours later (the last one of these was fuelled by me drinking a tad too much gin and turning into a huge drama queen), work on the house, plan holidays and spend a lot of time in fits of giggles. In short, it’s awesome. So obviously when he goes away its a pretty spectacular comedown and I think my reasoning behind spending time by myself is that while he’s home I haven’t had any time at all to bake, read, blog, watch Disney films or Sex and the City and I crave some downtime. Maybe next time I’ll just give myself a day of no plans.

My self inflicted misery however has done wonders for this blog though. Every cloud! Not content with just one recipe to try out yesterday, I decided to really test Gizzi’s Skinny Weeks and try three of them: breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m aware I should be using more neglected cookbooks and believe me this week I will be using them, but I wanted to have a virtuous Saturday without denying myself that vital component, flavour, and I knew that Gizzi could deliver. Breakfast consisted of what Gizzi likes to call Elvis toasts, which is a far more heart friendly version of The Kings 2000 calorie mammoth fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Gizzi’s come in at a much more reasonable 284 calories, although as it was Saturday I used normal white sliced bread instead of sourdough rye, and a whole banana instead of half so that must bump up the calories a little. Still, for a healthy breakfast it’s scrumptious and comes with the added bonus of half a square of dark chocolate grated over the banana. Half a square may not seem like a lot but it really does go a long way. Who can argue with a chocolate fix at 9am?

Lunch, which came along pretty late after a Primarni binge, was pancetta, farro and bean soup and like most recipes in this book, was completely delicious. I couldn’t find farro in Sainsburys so had to substitute it with farfalline, which are tiny pasta shapes designed to be added to soups. You might look at the pancetta and think this soup shouldn’t be billed as healthy, but in addition to the pancetta the soup also contains onion, carrot, celery, garlic, tomatoes and cannellini beans so you’re getting a considerate amount of goodness from the hefty amount of veg and beans. I didn’t add quite enough stock so my version turned out more like a stew than a soup but tasted no less divine for it. Pancetta is the star flavour shining through, but you also get the sweetness of the tomatoes and plenty of crunch from the mirepoix. To make this soup even better, you’re allowed to sprinkle a small amount of Parmesan over your bowl of soup and you don’t need me to tell you that this takes the soup to diet perfection. I’m very please that I have three portions to take to work with me for lunch this week.

Last but by absolute no means least, for dinner I went with yoghurt chicken curry bowl. Well, it’s just not the weekend in my book (which this sort of is) unless a curry is included somewhere. Looking at the ingredient list it’s impossible to find an ingredient that’s bad for you (normally an ominous sign in a recipe) and yet this curry was one of the best I’ve ever made. You make a paste out of spices, chillies, onion, ginger and garlic, mix it with fat free yoghurt then marinade the chicken in the spicy yoghurt before baking in the oven. Paired with some brown rice and topped with a zingy mango salsa, this was the perfect dish to lift me out of my lonely blues (self inflicted, I must add). The curry on its own packed in lots of flavour and would have been perfectly acceptable without the salsa, but boy is the salsa immense. Don’t make this curry without it! The pairing of sweet yet sharp mango with mint, alongside onion (I should have used red but only had white), tomato and lime juice is phenomenal and made my tongue do a little jig in my mouth. Gorgeous. I want to put it on everything.

The real strength of these recipes is that regardless of trying to lose weight or not, I would cook them all again. And not just for myself either, I see no reason why these dishes couldn’t be served to guests, they are that good. Healthy food has long had a reputation for being dull, uninspiring and bland but Gizzi has completely turned that upside down and filled a cookbook with mouthwatering food that just so happens to be good for you. I’ve barely ventured into the naughty side of the book, and for a woman who likes a good pig out, that’s no small feat.

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Afternoon Tea, Minus The Tea

I don’t like tea. I’ve never liked tea, can’t drink it and I just cannot get my head around the nations obsession with the stuff. I realise I’m the only person in Britain who thinks like this and will probably end up in Pentonville for crimes against patriotism, but I am right. Give me a vanilla latte or frothy cappuccino any day over an insipid cup of tea. I’m prepared for the hate mail.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me then that I found myself knocking back a vanilla chai latte, and on pondering what chai actually was (if something sounds exotic and foreign then I’m a sucker for it, whether I know what it means or not) discovered through Wikipedia that it was actually a form of black tea. Yes, in a latte, you can imagine my confusion and also the horror that despite everything I stand against when it comes to tea, I found myself very much enjoying some. It helped allay my fears that it tasted absolutely nothing like tea. For those unfamiliar to Chai tea, it originates from India and uses spices like cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. In a vanilla latte it tastes very similar to a carrot cake although I can’t quite 100% work that out for certain. Its my new favourite hot drink and you can find tubs of Chai powder in the tea and coffee aisle, give it a go.

The best thing about discovering a new ingredient is finding ways to use it. This is what led me to bake up a slightly adapted version of Gizzi Erskine’s chocolate and Earl Grey cake when I had some friends over on Sunday. For someone who dislikes tea so much I’ve sure used it a lot this past weekend, I know, I’m a huge hypocrite. You can find the recipe for her cake in Kitchen Magic, I’ve never made it in its entirety but it looks absolutely fantastic. I turned this cake into cupcakes and instead of making a chocolate icing and an Earl Grey cream, topped half of them with a simple vanilla buttercream and the other half with a vanilla chai buttercream. Icing these cupcakes nearly gave me an embolism by the way. The buttercream was pretty thick so when I attempted to use my new piping bag set I ended up squeezing the bag too hard resulting in an explosion as the bag split. Suffice to say, the piping bag got binned and while my cupcakes look nowhere near elegant or sophisticated, seeing the bag in my bin did wonders for my stress levels. What with the buttercream being so thick, spreading it on the cupcakes meant the cakes crumbled at times and looked like something a child with poor motor skills would make. These cupcakes have the perfect texture, are moist, light and very chocolatey. I could only really make out the tea flavour on cupcakes that had no icing on whatsoever (I got fed up of ruining cupcakes pretty quickly) and the chai buttercream, whilst being absolutely gorgeous, detracts somewhat from the chocolate & tea flavour of the cupcakes themselves. Saying all that, it really is having your cake and eating it with the chocolate cupcake and the hints of carrot cake lurking in the icing. If you’d like to try this yourself simply add 1 tbsp of chai powder into every 2 tbsp of vanilla buttercream.

I couldn’t have such a heavy emphasis on tea in all this baking and not include some homemade scones, courtesy of Nigella’s HTBADG, aka, The Best Cookbook Of All Time. After all, it was sunny and I have a lovely garden, afternoon tea just seemed like the British thing to do on such an occasion. Although with the heat we quenched our thirst with squash and kept the tea in the cakes. As of yet I have no table but a duvet cover on the grass sufficed! I’d never made scones before but I can tell you now that I will be making them all the time, they are so ridiculously easy to make. Why anyone would ever buy those dry, heavy lumps in cellophane from the shops when they are a cinch to make from scratch and taste so dreamy whilst still warm from the oven I have no idea. They are ridiculously light for something that consists mostly of flour and butter. I’m not sure there’s another recipe that so eloquently highlights how simple and tasty home made baked goods can be. If you’re a beginner to baking these would be a great place to start: easy, tasty, moreish and guaranteed to get rave reviews from whoever you feed them to. Smothered in clotted cream and jam, there is nothing better to eat while enjoying a brief spell of English sunshine. Nigella calls these ‘Lily’s Scones’ in the book: Lily, whoever you are, I salute you.

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Let Them Eat Cake

Let no one ever say that I ever do things by half. Just one week into the oven being delivered and fitted and I’ve already made three cakes. Oh yes, my baking addiction is back on track which just goes to show that cold turkey really does not work. At least where the chemical reaction between sugar, flour and eggs is concerned, anyway. Taking a cake out of the oven and covering it in icing fills me with delight, whilst eating said cake and sharing with friends and family just makes me feel very happy to be alive. It sounds cheesy, but food really does bring people together and it’s rare to attend an event without food being at the centre of things. The best things about cakes beside the fact they taste scrumptious is that they are completely unnecessary; full of ingredients that are of no nutritional benefit and expensive to make, to me cakes embody just how much humans eat for pleasure instead of just simply surviving, at least if money allows. Life is short, lets eat well and enjoy what we put in our cake holes (a literal description of my mouth this weekend).

My first cake of the week was a red velvet, the much loved American cake topped with a cream cheese frosting. I got the recipe from my favourite food blog Smitten Kitchen which is basically the food blog all others aspire to be. You really should check it out although if you deign to come back here after seeing the perfection of SK I can only apologise for my sloppy work. I’m just not cut out to test, re-test and then re-re-test recipes for your cooking pleasure, but I’m very glad that SK does, her recipes are fantastic and her cookbook is on my wish list. This cake is made up of three layers so it is a big cake and all the more fantastic for that. The cake uses a lot of cocoa powder which means that you need to use a larger quantity of red food dye to overpower, if you will, the colour of the cocoa. I was 5 tablespoons short of what was needed dye wise so my cake was more brown velvet which was not as striking and attractive as the traditional version but so be it. Taste wise though it was great, with the cocoa coming through very strong which is not always the case with red velvet. The cream cheese frosting would not set despite my best efforts and while icing the cake crumbs would mingle with the icing, resulting in a lumpy and rather unattractive cake. No matter, it still looked pretty impressive and triumphant, standing there high and mighty in the true spirit of Americana.

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Not wanting to stop with the one cake, this weekend I cracked open the Nigella books. In my eyes it’s not home until a Nigella treat has been baked so to make up for lost time I baked two. Common sense, no? Feast gave me just what I was looking for, a chocolate Malteser cake from her Chocolate Cake Hall Of Fame chapter. I feel it should be obligatory for every cookbook to have a similar chapter as there is no finer thing to pull out of the oven than a chocolate cake. Although don’t quote me on that next time I’m extolling the virtues of a roast dinner. This cake is pretty decadent, what with being sandwiched and covered in a cocoa and Horlick’s buttercream icing and then studded with Maltesers. The cake itself is quite fudgey with a malty, chocolatey flavour but the real star is the icing. As you can well imagine I was full of despair when there was small amount of icing leftover in the bowl for me to eat, the taste is what I would describe as something along the lines of malty fudge with a chocolate undertone. This cake is a winner and I highly recommend you make it, however you’ll get no complaints from me if you were to only make the icing. Heavenly.

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Last by by no means least, I made raspberry bakewell slices from Kitchen, a pretty mammoth Nigella cookbook but one which has served up many delights in our home. Not strictly speaking a cake, instead a pastry base filled with jam, raspberries and frangipane (one of my favourite words ever, it just sounds so made up), but does it really matter? This recipe epitomises why I love Nigella so much. Other cookbooks would tell you to make a pastry, roll it out to a specific thickness and then drape over your baking tin, which is what can put people off pastry making because it is such a ball ache. Nigella saves the day by making it as simple as possible, just combine all your pastry ingredients and then press into the tin with your knuckles. Perfection itself and completely stress free. I think I took these out of the oven too early as on cutting into squares the middle fell apart and they aren’t quite as solid as they probably should be but they are by no means inedible. They are too edible in fact. Crisp, buttery, sweet pastry with a fruity, jammy middle topped with almond frangipane and flaked almonds, they are seriously tasty. Sour from the fruit but with enough sweetness to balance the whole thing out. I wish they’d kept their shape a bit more but all is forgiven when tasted. If you’re worrying about my arteries, cholesterol and waistline after this excessive and somewhat obsessive baking binge, fret no more as I had a steady stream of visitors today who I weighed down with cake whether they wanted it or not. I just can’t wait now for The Boyfriend to get back from his travels in Kiev so I can cook his favourite meals that until now have been out of reach. It’s safe to say that the slow cooker and George Foreman grill have been tucked well out of the way to gather years of dust. Good riddance.

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Tastes Like Mojitos

This time last year I rather perversely made an Easter bunny bolognese, which displeased me so much that it went straight into the freezer and there it stayed until we moved and it was chucked away. You’ll be pleased to know that the Easter bunny was spared this year and there was no seasonal symbolic cooking involving cute fluffy rabbits at all. They breed like wildfire, bite, spread vermin and wiped out a lot of native Australian wildlife so I’m not sure why people are so fond of them, but there you have it, we eat lamb but seem horrified at eating those poor baby veal despite the fact they’re killed at the same age sheep are for our Easter roasts. Our eating habits make no sense whatsoever which probably really tickles the French. The only concern I have about veal is that if you eat it it should be British as veal imported from Europe has in general had a pretty horrendous life and spent an awful lot of time in crates. I’m straying a little here seeing as I cooked neither lamb nor veal this weekend, but nevertheless it’s worth knowing.

What with it being a long weekend it felt only right to get stuck in to a bit of baking, using my dads oven. What with it being Easter I had to make something chocolatey, and craving some salted caramel I made Gizzi Erskine’s delicious salted and rosemary caramel millionaires shortbread. I made these last year and fell in love with the odd combination of rosemary and chocolate, yet didn’t quite manage to win anyone else around to them. I took these to a family get together and my cousins twin boys informed me that they would be much better if I used milk chocolate rather than dark. Chocolate is totally wasted on the young! However, I decided this time that maybe I should heed their advice and go for the less intense stuff. Kids, what do they know? While still utterly edible and moreish, these sweet treats need the slight bitterness of dark chocolate to take them from good to great, and being a bit richer its harder to over eat. With milk it’s oh so easy to just have one more. If adding rosemary to millionaires shortbread sounds like one step too far for you, I’d urge you to at least try it. The hint of rosemary stops the caramel from being too sweet and the slight umami taste alongside the chocolate and shortbread really adds something, but I can’t put my finger on what that is exactly.

As well as that, I made a lemon, mint and blueberry loaf cake from the April 2012 edition of Delicious. And Delicious it truly is. You make a simple loaf cake with blueberries, bake and while cooling pour over a mint and lemon sugar syrup and leave to soak up. The key to this cake is using real mint leaves instead of flavouring, and you end up with a soft, fruity cake that has a sharp yet minty crunch on top. Gorgeous, and tastes just like a mojito. In fact, I think this cake would be even better if the blueberries were replaced with raspberries, and the lemon with lime, resulting in what I’d like to call a raspberry mojito cake. Can you imagine anything more tasty than a cocktail turned into a cake? I can’t quite frankly and am now itching to make my own version. The blueberry cake itself is still very good and I love how it looks as though the blueberries exploded within the cake, leaving only a juicy blue stain as a clue that they were there. When you pour the mint syrup over the cake it looks like you’ve poured a delicious bright green sludge over it, but this soon gets absorbed into the sponge, leaving only crunchy sugar behind. Gorgeous.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Baking, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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