17 January 2020

SOFT CHEDDAR BREADSTICKS

Years and years ago, in one of the first cookbooks I ever read, there was a whole chapter dedicated to treats you can bake quickly, when unexpected guests arrive. Today, whenever I write about or develop a quick recipe of that type, I have that in mind. Quick savoury treats are always welcome, whether it truly is to host an unexpected gathering, or just to have a snack while enjoying a glass of cold beer.
These particular breadsticks take no longer than 30 minutes to be done, and they are very cheesy, as their name says. The cream cheese in the dough itself gives them slight tanginess, and the lovely mild white Cheddar only emphasises that flavour. They are quite forgiving, too, simply handle the dough only until it comes together, and they will be flaky and perfect. Equally delicious piping hot right off the baking sheet, or slightly cooled, with a bowl of rich tomato soup or a nice dip.


Ingredients
300 grams plain flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
120 ml tepid milk
100 grams soft cream cheese
50 ml vegetable oil
75 grams white Cheddar cheese

Take a large bowl and add in the cream cheese, milk, and oil, and blend well with a wire whisk. It may seem like it will not come together, especially because of the milk an oil, but vigorous whisking will blend it into a smooth paste. Add in the baking powder and salt, and blend again. Sift in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until a very soft dough forms. It should be smooth, and not sticky to the touch.
Divide the dough into 20 pieces, roll each piece into a thin breadstick, and arrange them on a large baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Coarsely shred the cheese and sprinkle it all over the breadsticks, making sure that each one has an equal amount of cheese on it. Bake immediately, in an oven preheated to 200°C, for about 15-20 minutes. Let them cool down slightly, and serve. Yields 20 medium breadsticks.

10 January 2020

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER TIFFIN

Quick no-bake sweet treats, such as this lovely tiffin, have always been a welcome addition to any dessert platter or simply as sweet treat after a week day meal. Dark chocolate melted in a pool of double cream, flavoured with vanilla, and enriched with lots of biscuits.
Opt for differently sized biscuit pieces; those will give a better texture to the tiffin. The smaller ones will melt into hot, melted chocolate, while the larger ones will give a bit of crunch. And speaking of crunchiness, honey roasted peanuts are such a lovely little surprise, especially if left whole.
There is no need to add any additional sugar, as the chocolate provides more than enough sweetness, and pairs wonderfully with the peanut butter. Feel free to use any smooth peanut butter you like, be it homemade or from a store, even including a chocolate-flavoured one.


Ingredients
250 ml double cream
150 grams baking chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids)
75 grams unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
250 grams vanilla biscuits
75 grams honey roasted peanuts
100 grams smooth peanut butter


Place the biscuit crumbs in a large bowl, add in the peanuts, either chopped or whole, and mix them around. Take a heavy-bottomed pot, place it over medium heat, and pour in the double cream. Let it start heating up, then add in the chopped up chocolate and diced butter, and gently mix until everything is melted. Crush the biscuits into pieces, leaving some slightly larger pieces for texture. Once the chocolate batter is ready, remove it from the heat, mix in the vanilla, pour everything over the biscuits, and mix until combined.
Take a small square cake tin (18x18 cm) with a removable bottom, line it with baking parchment, and transfer in the batter. Level it as much as possible, and set it aside briefly. Melt the peanut butter until it is still thick, but pourable, and drizzle it all over the surface of the tiffin. Using a skewer or a butter knife, make swirls through the batter until you are happy with the pattern. Tap the tin gently on the surface for the biscuits to settle nicely, and then place it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Slice into squares and serve. Yields 16 servings.

03 January 2020

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Baking egg-free sweets can be fiddly, especially when it comes to texture-sensitive treats, such as cookies. Cakes can be more forgiving, but cookies are delicate.
These have been my favourites for years now, because they are very easy to make, do not require many ingredients, and yield a relatively small batch, which is perfect for us. Especially with large dark chocolate callets or pieces of a good milk chocolate bar.
These do require a bit of chilling, though. Chilled dough has a deeper flavour, a stronger aroma, and a better, chewier texture, which is what we like. I usually make them right after breakfast, so they are nice and ready to bake after lunch, for a nice sweet treat. You can refrigerate them for up to eight hours, so they suit your baking needs.
Even though many enjoy them with a glass of cold milk, my preferred way of enjoying them is with a cup of espresso. The strong, almost bitter coffee flavour is a perfect match with a sweet, fragrant chocolate chip cookie.


Ingredients
120 grams plain flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
60 grams dark brown sugar
45 grams granulated sugar
50 ml vegetable oil
30 grams vanilla yoghurt
1 heaped teaspoon vanilla bean paste
50 grams chocolate callets or milk chocolate pieces


Preparation
Take a large bowl and add in the vegetable oil, yoghurt, and vanilla, and whisk vigorously until blended. Add in the sugars, and whisk again until it is all mixed in, and the sugar starts to melt slowly. Sift in the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix until the dough just comes together. Add in the chocolate callets, and mix into the dough. Using a cookie scoop, place eight mounts of the dough on a large baking sheet lined with baking parchment, at least five centimetres apart, since they will spread during baking.
Snugly cover them in cling film, but be careful not to press them down, and place them in the refrigerator for at least an hour, and up to eight hours. When you are ready to bake, uncover them, and bake in a preheated oven, at 180°C, for 8-10 minutes. Watch them carefully, as they are small and can overbake easily. If you like your cookies soft, take them out of the oven after the edges have started browning lightly. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes or so, and then serve with milk or coffee. Yields 8 cookies.
Baker's note: These can be made fully vegan, by using beet sugar, soya yoghurt, and vegan chocolate callets.

27 December 2019

MILK AND COOKIES CHOCOLATE CAKE

With the end of the year being so very close now, I think it is time for chocolate cake. Nine layers of dark chocolate cake, white chocolate filling, and a gorgeous cookies and ganache topping.
Milk and cookies are a classic dessert combination, for many the first they experience, and pairing it with chocolate felt like the right decision for this lavish holiday cake. It does not have to be a holiday cake; it can very well accompany a hearty Sunday lunch or compliment a brunch, with a glass of fine dessert wine.
Beauty in simplicity and plenty of chocolate. And if you are anything like me, and love ice cream cakes, place it in the freezer about 15 minutes before serving, and it will have a marvellous, frozen texture.


Ingredients
For the cake layers
400 ml tepid water
45 ml vegetable oil
100 grams jam
100 grams ground walnuts
150 grams granulated sugar
250 grams plain flour
15 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
For the filling
500 ml whole milk
60 grams plain flour
40 grams cornflour
50 grams granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
100 grams white chocolate
200 grams unsalted butter, softened
50 grams icing sugar, sifted
50 ml cold milk, for brushing
For the topping
150 ml double cream
100 grams dark chocolate (60% cocoa solids)
200 grams chocolate chip cookies
For the decoration
100 ml double cream
30 grams icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
assorted cookies


Preparation
Start by making the filling, as it takes a bit of time for it to cool down completely. Take out about 100 ml of the cold milk and pour it into a medium bowl. Sift in the cornflour and the plain flour, and whisk until smooth. Pour the rest of the milk into a heavy-bottomed pot, tip in the sugar, and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Once it starts to boil, pour in the cornflour mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly with a wire whisk. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, still whisking constantly, or until thickened. Remove from the heat, and add in the vanilla bean paste and the white chocolate. Whisk vigorously until the chocolate is melted, and then cover the surface with cling film, and let it cool down to room temperature.
To make the cake layers, pour the water into a large bowl, add in the oil and the jam, and whisk until the jam is dispersed. Add in the ground walnuts and the sugar, and mix again. Finally, sift in the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Whisk until combined. Line four small round cake tins (15 cm), and divide the batter evenly between them. Bake, in a preheated oven, at 180°C, for about 12-15 minutes, or until it springs back when lightly touched. These will bake very quickly, so watch them carefully. Once they are baked, let them cool slightly in the tins, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool down completely.
When the filling has cooled to room temperature, beat the softened butter with the icing sugar on the highest speed until light and fluffy, and then, beating constantly, add the cooked custard, a tablespoon at a time, to the butter. The filling should be completely smooth and creamy when completely blended. If you wish, level the cake layers if needed, brush them lightly with cold milk, and then gently place the first layer on the cake platter. Wrap a tall layer of acetate around it, and then place a cake ring to hold it in place. Spread one fourth of the filling on the cake layer, top it with another cake layer, and repeat until all of the cake layers are used up, and the last layer is covered in filling. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least an hour, to firm up.
For the topping, chop up the chocolate and place it into a large bowl. Heat up the cream until very hot, but not boiling, and pour it over the chocolate. Gently mix until the chocolate is melted, and set it aside. If the cookies you are using are particularly soft and chewy, place them in a hot oven, at 180°C, for about 5-6 minutes, until crisp, and let them cool down. If they are already thin and crunchy, just place them in a food processor, and pulse until coarse crumbs are formed. Add the cookie crumbs to the ganache, fold them through, and pour everything over the chilled cake. Return the cake to the refrigerator, for at least 4 hours. For the final decoration, whip up the double cream with the icing sugar and the vanilla, decorate as desired, and arrange some more cookies on top. Serve well chilled, in thin slices. Yields 16 servings.

20 December 2019

MINCE PIE BROWNIES

Mincemeat, a lovely, fragrant mix of dried fruit, citrus peel, and brandy, just smells and tastes like Christmas. Other than the classic, beloved mince pies, it can be used in a variety of other desserts, with the same delicious results. These brownies being one of the quickest desserts you can make.
Fudge brownies, embellished with a traditional filling, on top of a flaky, buttery pie crust. Colourful dried fruit, a speck of vanilla, some spices, and a splash of good brandy make these mince pie brownies a true delight. A lovely little Christmas treat, best served with a cup of hot coffee.


Ingredients
For the pie crust
120 grams plain flour
50 grams icing sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
75 grams butter, cold
20 ml Vodka, ice-cold
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the mincemeat brownies
50 grams dried apricots
50 grams raisins
50 grams chopped almonds, optional
50 grams mixed candied peel
50 ml brandy
100 grams dark chocolate
100 grams icing sugar
120 grams unsweetened applesauce
120 grams vanilla yoghurt
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
100 grams plain flour
15 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon mixed spice
½ level teaspoon cinnamon

Preparation
To make the crust, sift the flour, icing sugar, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl, and add in the diced butter and cut it into the dry ingredients until it resembles fine crumbs. Add in the vanilla and the Vodka, and form a dough that is soft, but not sticky. Place it into a bowl, cover with cling film, and leave it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
While the pie dough is being chilled, chop up the dried fruit and the candied peel, and soak it in brandy for 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate for the brownies, add in the icing sugar and the applesauce, and mix well. When the chocolate is slightly cooler, add in the yoghurt, orange and lemon zest, as well as vanilla bean paste, and mix very well. Add in the dried fruit and any remaining brandy, and mix again. Finally, sift in the flour, cocoa powder, and the spices, and gently fold everything though.
When the dough is ready, take a small, square baking pan (18x18 cm) with a removable bottom, and line it with baking parchment. Place the pie dough in the centre, and gently roll it out evenly to fill the bottom of the pan, and bake, in a preheated oven, at 180°C, for about 10 minutes, until it is puffed up and starting to turn golden. Once baked, let it cool down enough to stop bubbling, and then pour in the brownie batter, and bake, at the same temperature, for 20-25 minutes. Check for doneness around the 20-minute mark so they do not overbake and become dry. Once baked, let it cool down to your liking, slice it up, and serve. Yields 16 servings.
Baker's note: These can be served slightly frozen, too; the pie base will not freeze solid.