Tag Archives: chocolate

Baked chocolate port pudding (self-saucing)

17 Jun

A warm, comforting, unpretentious chocolate pudding with a rich chocolate port self-saucing bottom. I served it here with macerated mulberries and a glass of De Krans Cape Ruby on the side.

 

Winter has arrived in full swing and with it comes the urge to cozy up and indulge in a few comforts. Two of my favourite winter comforts in the Boland are steamy baked puddings and fortified wines. But if I can combine the two, I’m in heaven.

I’ve seen quite a few recipes for baked puddings with Cape Tawny, but I haven’t yet come across a baked pudding featuring Cape Ruby. De Krans makes one of the best Cape Ruby‘s out there – an award winning wine that doesn’t come with a debilitating price tag. At R85 a bottle it’s affordable, and once opened it can last on the shelf for a few months. I’ve created a self-saucing chocolate pudding featuring De Krans’s Cape Ruby in the sauce. The result is a dark, sultry chocolate pudding with the underlying flavour nuances of fortified red fruit – amplified with the addition of a glass of Cape Ruby on the side.

It’s easy to make and you can optionally serve it with vanilla ice cream and/or some poached red fruit like mulberries, black figs, cherries or plums (canned fruit is also fine) – even quince or pears will work.

This is a wonderful pudding to make for this weekend’s upcoming Father’s Day celebrations. Remember to rather underbake this pudding (like a fondant) than overbake it – otherwise the saucy business at the bottom will disappear. For extra sauce lovers, I’ve included a simple chocolate sauce recipe at the bottom that you can use to elevate the sauce levels upon serving.

Hope you’re staying safe and warm this winter.

Note: While most self-saucing chocolate pudding recipes serve 6, I’m always looking for leftovers. That’s why this is a bigger pudding – not necessarily to serve more people, but to have more servings for the few who are already enjoying it.

A glass of De Krans Cape Ruby is the perfect pairing for this pudding.

 

Ingredients: (serves 8)

For the batter:

  • 1,5 cups (185 g) cake flour
  • 1,5 (7,5 ml) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2,5 ml) salt
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) cocoa powder
  • 90 g butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • 1 XL egg

For the topping:

  • 1 cup (250 ml) De Krans Cape Ruby
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) water
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) cocoa powder (plus more for dusting, optionally)
  • 1/3 cup (70 g) caster sugar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 160 C and grease a large deep baking dish (about 2 liter capacity) with non-stick spray.

Make the batter: In a large bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cocoa powder together. In a second bowl, whisk the melted butter, milk, vanilla and egg together, then add it to the dry ingredients and stir until well mixed. Pour into the prepared dish and smooth the top.

In a small pot over stovetop, heat the Cape Ruby and water to boiling point. While it is heating, mix the cocoa powder and caster sugar together and spoon all over the top of the batter. When the Cape Ruby and water mixture reaches boiling point, pour it all over the cocoa sugar topped batter. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is solid and the inside is a little still soft.

Serve warm, dusted with a little cocoa powder, with (optionally) poached/macerated fruit and vanilla ice cream.

For an even saucier option, make a simple chocolate sauce on the side:

  • 60 g/ml butter
  • 1 cup (200 g) white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3/4 (180 ml) cup water
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and cocoa powder and stir until well mixed. Add the water and stir well, then bring to a simmer. Stir often and simmer for 2 minutes, taking care not to let it boil over the sides. Remove from the heat, then add the vanilla and salt and stir to mix. Serve warm over ice cream and puddings. Will keep regfrigerated for at least a week.

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Chocolate eclairs with salted caramel custard and pecan brittle

28 Apr

 

During lockdown, many of my readers have shared how they are cooking recipes from my blog. It’s such a wonderful feeling – to know that my recipes can provide others with a little pleasure and inspiration during a very uncertain and serious time! Thank you so much for all of your feedback, photos, comments and shares. It makes me feel warm and valued, and it is a shining beacon carrying me through this uncertainty with all of you.

I am at a point where I’m searching for recipes that will bring the most amount of joy, for the least amount of money. With a limited spectrum of recreation and entertainment available during lockdown, baking and cooking has become just that: a recreational activity. Yet with limited funds because of limited (or no) work opportunities, many of us need to get really creative in making the most of what we have, while still feeding our families. Every now and then, a special homemade treat can provide some kind of light hearted escape from the gloom that otherwise hangs over all of us. And for me, in allowing myself this special joy, I choose hope.

One of my friends, Anele Horn, recently sent me a photograph of her homemade chocolate eclairs – she used a recipe from my blog that I haven’t made in years. Then I remembered that basic eclairs (choux pastries) are made of a handful of very simple ingredients: water, flour, eggs, sugar, salt. I also remembered that a custard filling can be made of very simple ingredients too: milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cornstarch. I found a recipe online for making salted caramel flavoured custard, because hey, it sounded like a good idea. With the addition of a simple caramel syrup (made from sugar and a little water) and some salt, I made a salted caramel custard perfect for piping into the choux buns, without buying a single exotic ingredient. So when my husband went to buy a few essential fresh supplies, I asked him to buy 2 slabs of the cheapest dark chocolate he could find (they costed R11,99 each) for the topping. I found a handful of pecan pieces in our cupboard (the last of my “lockdown” nut supply) and with a little extra effort I made a simple nut brittle (using just sugar and the nuts) that I chopped up for decoration at the end.

 

These were some of the best sweet treats we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in the past 5 weeks, and we only spent R24 (excluding the cost of the basic ingredients that we had in the house). The recipe makes about 21 medium size eclairs. I do hope that you’ll try it – SO worth the effort!

Notes for substitutions: You can also use whipped sweetened cream to fill the eclairs, and a very economical cocoa glaze for the top (if you have cocoa powder and icing sugar in your pantry). And yes, you can certainly also use cheaper peanuts for the brittle!

Notes on effort/skill levels:

  • The choux buns are moderately easy to make, but the following tools will make the process easier: a digital scale, an electric mixer (stand mixer) and a piping bag. Without these, you’re going to apply some decent elbow grease for mixing, and you won’t be able to pipe rows (just use two spoons instead to create round choux “balls”).
  • The salted caramel custard requires medium skill levels and time. It is best to make it the day before you want to make the eclairs, to split the effort into 2 days. Make the caramel first, let it cool, and then use it to make the custard. Let the custard cool completely before making the choux buns.
  • The nut brittle requires medium skill levels, but only because you’re working with very hot melted sugar that requires timing – otherwise it’s a simple recipe with only 2 ingredients. It is an optional extra, but I promise you it delivers BIG on added texture, luxury and flavour.
  • To melt chocolate: I do it in the microwave, so it should be easy enough. Just follow the instructions and be patient.

 

Ingredients: (makes about 21 medium size eclair buns)

For the salted caramel custard filling: (recipe adapted from Jo The Tart Queen)

  • 200 ml (170 g) white granulated sugar
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) tap water
  • 80 ml (1/3 cup) hot water from a recently boiled kettle
  • 500 ml (2 cups) milk, preferably full-cream
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • 125 g egg yolks (about 7 XL yolks)
  • 50 g (about 7 tablespoons or 105 ml) cornflour
  • 50 g butter, cubed
  • salt, to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt flakes, but if you’re using fine salt, use less)

To make the caramel: place the sugar and tap water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Let it come to a boil without stirring, only tilting the pan now and then. Boil until it changes colour to a light golden, and get your hot water ready. When it reaches a darker amber caramel colour, carefully add the hot water all at one (if will splutter!), then remove from the heat at once, tilting it from side to side to mix. Set aside to cool completely – you’ll use it later for the custard.

To make the custard: Place the milk and vanilla in a medium size pot over medium heat. While it is heating, whisk the yolks with the cooled caramel in a mixing bowl, then add the cornflour and whisk again to mix well. When the milk just starts to simmer, pour it carefully into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Now pour the mixture back into the pot and place over medium heat. Stir constantly, until the custard starts to thicken. Continue stirring until it makes a few slow boiling bubbles, then lower the heat to very low and cook for at least another minute or too until it becomes very thick. Remove from the heat, then  stir in the butter.  When melted, season with salt – you don’t want the salt to be overpowering, but you want to taste it. Transfer the custard to a wide container and cover with a layer of clingfilm to prevent a skin from forming, then leave to cool fully. Keep refrigerated until ready to use (will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator).

For the choux pastry:

  • 250 ml (1 cup) water
  • 2,5 ml (1/4 teaspoon) salt
  • 10 ml (2 teaspoons) sugar
  • 65 g (1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon) butter, cubed if cold
  • 140 g (250 ml / 1 cup) white bread flour or cake flour
  • 3 XL eggs

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220 C. Add water, salt, sugar and butter to a small saucepan. Heat until the butter melts, then bring to the boil. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, cooking the paste until it thickens and pulls into a ball (it takes about 20 seconds for the mixture to form a ball). Remove from the heat at once and transfer the ball to the bowl of an electric mixer (if doing by hand, transfer to a large mixing bowl). With the K-beater fitted, turn on the mixer on medium-low, releasing steam from the hot flour mixture. Now add the eggs one at a time, mixing until it comes together before adding another (it will look like it is splitting at first, but be patient, it will come together). Continue until the mixture is smooth and glossy but still stiff enough to hold shape. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, then pipe buns of about 8 cm long and 2,5 cm wide on a greased/lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between them for swelling (or use two spoons to drop balls of paste on the baking sheet). Bake in a pre-heated oven at 220 C for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 160 C for 25-30 minutes (smaller buns will take 10-15 minutes) until the buns are golden brown and crisp to the touch. Remove from the oven and pierce with a small sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Leave to cool completely before filling.

For the nut brittle: (optional)

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecan nuts

Have a small baking tray ready, lined with non-stick baking paper. Place the sugar in a small pan or pot over moderately high heat. Leave until the sugar starts to melt (without adding any liquid), gently tipping the pan from side to side. When the sugar has melted, it will change colour. Watch it carefully, gently tipping the pan now and then, until it is a deep amber colour. Remove from the heat and add the nuts at once, tipping the pan to coat all over (only a few seconds). Tip out on the lined baking tray, using a silicone spatula to remove from the pan (work quickly before the caramel hardens). Use the spatula to flatten the brittle slightly. Leave to cool completely, then chop into smaller pieces for topping your eclairs. (Preferably don’t make this too long ahead, as it will become sticky again on standing. Keep in an airtight container, when completely cooled.)

For assembly:

  • about 150-180 g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

Remove the cooled custard from the fridge, use a whisk to mix it to a smooth consistency, then transfer to a piping bag. Cut the buns open on one side horizontally, then pipe the filling into each one. To melt the chocolate, place it in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds at a time, stirring inbetween with a spatula. After about the third or fourth session, it should be warm enough and fully melted. Spread each bun with chocolate on top (or transfer the chocolate to a small plastic bag or piping bag, and snip off the one corner to neatly pipe onto the buns). Top with a few shards of brittle. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

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Oat and bran digestive cookies

28 Mar

Baking is a form of self-care for me. It’s one of my happy-place activities, something I do when I really have time on my side, not feeling rushed or restrained. I’d much rather bake than read (although I love reading), because there’s a tangible end result to baking – an edible reward.

With many recipe developers confined to their homes at the moment, all across the world, there’s an endless stream of recipe inspiration to be absorbed and enjoyed for everyone who has access to the internet. One of these stream comes from Bon Appetit. I subscribe to their newsletter, and their recent recipe for digestive cookies was delivered straight to my inbox. Theirs looked so perfect, I couldn’t look away. I absolutely adore digestive cookies, especially when they’re covered on one side in chocolate, and these looked delectable. So when I scanned the ingredients list, I realized that I missed 2 key ingredients: wholewheat flour and wheatgerm. It turns out you can substitute the wheatgerm for toasted oats (according to the recipe writer, because many people didn’t have wheatgerm in their pantries), and I made my own plan with the wholewheat flour, using a mixture of unbleached stoneground white bread flour and wheat bran (wheat bran is the same stuff that you’d use to make bran muffins). I needed a little less milk than the original recipe stated, but the rest worked like a charm. Incredibly “short” and crunchy, almost like wholewheat shortbread, just sweet enough, tasting very very similar to original digestives. What a triumph!

 

 

I only had enough chocolate to partly cover about 3/4 of my cookies, but hey, nothing wrong with a few plain digestive cookies either.

You’re going to need a food processor for this recipe, as well as a rolling pin and a cookie cutter. The rest is quite literally childsplay.

Ingredients (slightly adapted from Bon Appetit’s original recipe, developed by Sohla El-Waylly)

  • ½ cup regular oats, toasted in a dry pan
  • 90 ml or 6 tablespoons (75 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
  • 1 cups (125 g) white bread flour*, plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup wheat bran* (about 25 g)
  • ½ cup (125 g) cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) milk
  • about 100 g chocolate (milk or dark), chopped (optional)
Method:

Place two oven racks in upper and lower thirds of your oven and preheat to 180°C. Using a food processor, add the oats, flour, bran, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl. Process until very fine. Add the butter and pulse until it is well incorporated, then add the milk little by little and pulse until a crumbly dough forms (add just enough milk, you don’t want a dough that’s too sticky).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a ball. Now flatten it into a disk. Roll out on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thickness (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Lightly flour a cookie cutter (I used a 45 – 45 mm square cutter with round edges, you can use whatever shape you want) and punch out cookies, dusting lightly with more flour as needed to avoid sticking. Dust any excess flour off the cookies with a dry pastry brush.

Using a spatula, transfer cookies to 2 baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper. Gently knead the scraps together, reroll, and punch out more cookies. (Bake any smaller scraps as is and crumble over ice cream!)

Prick each cookie 3 times with a fork and bake, rotating baking sheets top to bottom halfway through, until bottoms and edges are browned, 15–18 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets (cookies will crisp up as they cool).

If using, melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave in 20-second increments, stirring after each burst, until almost fully melted, about 1 minute total, then let it stand for a minute to fully melt. Stir, then eave to clool for about 10 minutes before using.

Using a small offset spatula or butter knife and working one at a time, spread about 1 teaspoon of melted chocolate over the flat underside of each cookie. Using the side edge of the spatula, tap a few lines into the chocolate to make a slight pattern. Chill cookies on baking sheets until chocolate is set, about 10 minutes.

Cookies will stay fresh for at least 3 weeks. Store airtight at room temperature.

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Chocolate chunk cookies

3 Mar

Nine years ago, one of my first blog posts was a recipe for chocolate chip cookies by Sannie Smit. Although the photograph showed that I still had a lot to learn (I’m being kind to myself here), it remains one of my blog recipes that I’ve returned to most over the years. I even have it bookmarked on my phone. If done right, they have a crispy edge and a chewey centre that reminds of a buttery blondie – the ultimate goal of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The slightly larger chocolate chunks give another textural layer apart from the actual chocolate flavour, so I prefer to eat them cooled and not warm. My daughter and I just love baking these together and the dough tastes just as good as the baked end result. It is choc chip cookie decadence at its best.

I’ve always found that the quality of chocolate chips (the small round ones, for baking) that we find in regular South African supermarkets is far inferior to what I actually want to taste, so I’ve resorted to mostly chopping my chocolate for these cookies from a slab of my choice. This way you also get some really chunky pieces of chocolate here and there, and each cookie is different. I made this batch with Valrhona’s Equatoriale Noire 55% chocolate – it comes in a catering size bag in the shape of bean-like discs, easy to chop with a knife. You’ll find these Valrhona disks in specialty stores like Wild Peacock in Stellenbosch, but you can certainly also use any good quality eating chocolate from your local supermarket, especially local brands like Afrikoa or De Villiers Chocolate (I prefer dark chocolate with a minimum of 55% cocoa, but some people prefer milk chocolate – the choice is yours).

Chocolate chunk cookies goes down so well with a glass of cold milk. 🙂

 

 

Ingredients: (makes about 26 medium size cookies)

Note: Recipe adapted from The A-Z Guide to Food and Cookery in SA by Sannie Smit and Margaret Fulton.

  • 125 g (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) tightly packed brown sugar
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) white sugar
  • 1 XL egg
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 300 ml (1 cup plus 3 tablespoons, or 160 g) cake flour
  • 1 ml (1/4 teaspoons) baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 2.5 ml salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 100-200 g good quality chocolate, chopped (don’t use less than 100 g, but 200 g is the maximum that I use)

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 180 C. Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper.

In a medium size bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together in a second bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into wet mixture with a spoon or spatula until just combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate until just combined.

Drop tablespoons full of dough onto a greased baking tray,  leaving enough room for spreading. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown (do not overbake). Remove from oven and leave to cool on baking tray for a few minutes, before removing and cooling further on wire racks (they will still be very soft when straight from the oven, but will firm up on cooling). Store in an airtight container and enjoy within a few days.

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Chocolate berry cake

3 Feb

Chocolate cake drenched in mulberry coulis, topped with dark chocolate buttercream and fresh raspberries. Not perfect by a long shot, but incredibly satisfying – just like my blogging journey.

 

This is a celebratory post: The Food Fox blog is officially nine years old! Happy birthday to my digital baby!

Nine years is a long time, friends. The Food Fox was the start of a crazy ride in 2011, one that I jumped into with blind faith in the hope of carving out a way to create a sustainable income while being surrounded by food and writing. I learned that you can figure out almost anything via Google, made incredible connections online and in real life and actually found my tribe (coming from someone that’s fiercely independent, it was quite a revelation). Although the hustle is still very real – you’ll know what I mean if you’re a self-employed creative in a niche industry – I couldn’t have dreamt of a life that would reward me with this amount of freedom: creative freedom, freedom to schedule when and where and with whom I work, freedom to spend time with my family. Freedom, it might seem, turned out to be one of my most valued fundamental needs in life – something that I only realized over the past few years.

Although this blog probably won’t live forever, it has already opened so many doors of new possibilities. To celebrate this 9 year milestone, I baked a cake that resembles my journey over the past few years: far from perfect and certainly not as smooth on the surface as I’d hoped it to be, but rich, multi-layered and very rewarding. It’s a slight adaptation of a recipe from the book The Italian Baker by Melissa Forti, that I bought in December 2019 before embarking on a two-week catering marathon for an extended Italian family. I bookmarked the recipe for “Torta al cioccolate e lamponi” (chocolate and raspberry cake) because when anyone touts a chocolate cake to be the best they’ve ever eaten, you’ve got my attention.

The cake-part is one of the most deliciously moist chocolate cakes I’ve ever tasted, and I’ll definitely keep it in my repertoire. It includes buttermilk, oil and bicarb, and it’s very easy to put together. It also features a strained berry coulis made from raspberries blended with a simple sugar syrup and a dash of raspberry eau de vie (which I substituted with mulberries from our tree that I froze in December for a special occasion like this, and a little dash of aged brandy). The coulis makes the cake a little more expensive and time consuming, but it adds even more moistness and some stunning berry flavours that work incredibly well with the dark chocolate. Then, the chocolate frosting was quite a find: Melissa uses less butter than a normal buttercream (I would usually use 1 part butter to 2 parts icing sugar, or in this case 250 g butter for 500 g icing sugar), but she uses 170g butter with 560 g icing sugar, adds a whopping full cup of cocoa powder, and mixes it with 80 ml milk to soften it. This results in a very soft and creamy buttercream that can be refrigerated after you’ve frosted the cake, without turning brick hard (because with the February heat in Stellenbosch, and a cake topped with fresh berries, you’re going to want to store it in the fridge).

A slice of cake – it slices beautifully when refrigerated. Thank you Tasha for the use of your beautiful plate that stayed behind from a previous shoot!

 

I iced and photographed the cake when it was still a little luke warm, which you shouldn’t do. I was just being hasty because I’m a total glutton and couldn’t resist tasting the cake. After eating three messy but super delicious slices and then refrigerating the cake, it turned out to be much more stable for slicing (I then photographed the neat slice above). Do refrigerate it in warm weather for a beautiful result when cutting.

I’m feeling ready for renewal and growth in 2020 (definitely still involving a lot of writing, recipes, photographs and videography) and I look forward to sharing the changes and exciting new additions with you as we go along. In the meantime, I’ll be honing my photography skills with my new (well, second hand) 100 mm Canon lens – something that I’ve been yearning to own for years, and finally got to do so end of 2019. I’ve also enrolled in learning Italian on a nifty little phone app – quite fun, and a sure way of finding inspiration for saving up to FINALLY visit Italy.

I wish you all a year of finding freedom, creative inspiration and the courage to follow your true path.

 

Ingredients (recipe adapted from Melissa Forti‘s The Italian Baker)

For the cake:

  • 250 g cake flour
  • 400 g (2 cups) caster sugar
  • 80 g (3/4 cup) good quality cocoa powder
  • 10 ml (2 teaspoons) baking powder
  • 5 ml (2 teaspoons) baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) salt
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 250 ml (1 cup) buttermilk
  • 250 ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 5 ml vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease 2 x 20 cm loose bottom cake tins and line the bases with non-stick baking paper. In a large bowl, sift the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and salt together. In a second large bowl, add the eggs, buttermilk, water, oil and vanilla and whisk together using an electric whisk (or stand mixer with whisk attachment). Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until just combined, scraping the bowl. Divide the batter into the two tins, then bake for 35 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before turning out to cool completely on wire racks.

For the berry coulis:

  • 100 g caster sugar (use less if your berries are very sweet)
  • 45 ml water
  • 340 g frozen berries, thawed (raspberry or mulberry or mixed red berries)
  • 5 ml raspberry liqueur, optional (or brandy)

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the sugar has completely dissolved, then remove from the heat to cool for 15 minutes. Add the syrup and berries to a blender, process to a puree, then strain to remove the seeds, then stir in the liqueur or brandy (optional). Refrigerate the strained coulis until ready to use.

For the chocolate frosting:

  • 180 g butter, softened
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • 105 g (1 cup) cocoa powder
  • 80-100 ml milk, at room temperature
  • 500 g icing sugar, sifted

In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the softened butter and vanilla until creamy. Add the cocoa powder and mix for about 15 seconds, then add a little milk and mix. Continue by adding a little icing sugar, then milk, then icing sugar, beating until it is very smooth and creamy and a soft spreadable consistency (if the mixture is too stiff, add a little more milk, if it is too runny, add a little more icing sugar).

To assemble:

  • about 125 g fresh berries, for topping (or more, if you want to cover the full top surface of the cake)

Slice the rounded tops off both cake layers if you want a neat, flat result (I always ice the off-cuts and eat them while icing the rest!). Place the first layer on a cake plate and top generously with the coulis (it will continue to penetrate the cake on standing). Top with a generous layer of frosting, then place the second cake layer on top. Use the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake, using a spatula to neatly scrape the sides to form a smooth-ish surface. Cover and refrigerate for best slicing results; best eaten at moderate room temperature.

Note: Melissa spreads the coulis only on one cake layer, before topping it with the other half, but I cut each layer horizontally to spread it with more coulis – it’s not necessary but the choice is yours. The cake is very soft when freshly baked, so handle with care.

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Best cocoa brownies from Food52 Genius Desserts

30 Sep

 

Last year December, I bought Food52‘s incredible book, Genius Desserts. To say that this book is an inspiration, is an understatement. It is one of the best baking books out there for people with a serious sweet tooth that want to explore decadent, professionally tested, winning recipes. It also specifically resonates with me, because it is written in a language that speaks to my word-obsessed, food-adoring, recipe-focused brain.

As I’ve declared before: I. LOVE. BROWNIES. I dream about them. I search for them. I inhale them. I have long conversations about them. I sometimes bake them, but I more often test other people’s offerings. I’ve eaten some incredible versions in my life, but I don’t have a go-to version recently, to be honest. This post will rectify that, I assure you. So let’s start with the facts: brownies should be decadently chocolatey, fudgy and squidgy, not overly dominated by nuts, but with the addition of a soft walnut/pecan crunch here and there for texture. It should be cakey only in the way that it’s not completely dense like a no-bake chocolate fudge square. But dense enough to be considered almost underbaked, like a flourless chocolate cake, but less fragile. There’s that fine line between a great brownie and a perfect brownie, and I think I’ve just found the recipe (written by Alice Medrich) that allows you to create simple perfection. As the book states: “Alice knows chocolate. It speaks to her. We’re lucky to have her as a translator.”

 

The incredible thing is this: the best brownies are usually made with good quality (expensive) chocolate, but this recipe only uses cocoa powder and a few other simple ingredients – butter, flour, eggs, vanilla, salt, walnuts. The magic is in the way it is mixed and heated, starting over a water bath and later vigorously beaten for an exact “40 strokes”, leaving you slightly breathless yet exhilarated with your bowl of rich, thick, oozing, dark treasure. It is baked for a mere 25 minutes at 165 C, resulting in something that you might consider under-baked at first. But when it sets to room temperature, it is just perfect: intensely chocolatey, so moist that it will actually be spreadable if you try, but holds together just barely enough to be cut and held. Lastly, the added salt flakes provide lyrical depth.

Here it is – apart from the slightly finicky water bath, the rest is straight forward wooden spoon stirring. If you’re prepared to follow the recipe to a T, you will be richly (ahem) rewarded . For brownie connoisseurs, this recipe is an incredible find, and a must-try.

 

Ingredients: makes 24 square brownies (recipe slightly adapted* from Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies via Food 52 Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore)

*Notes: I don’t own a square 20 x 20 cm pan, so I made a batch that’s 1,5 times the original to fit a more commonly found baking tin size in South Africa, namely 20 x 30 cm. I also used salted butter instead of unsalted, upped the added salt and vanilla ratios slightly and used XL eggs instead of large. I chose to bake with Gideon Milling’s stone ground cake wheat flour, which is in my experience the best substitute for American recipes calling for all purpose flour.

  • 230 g salted butter
  • 375 g sugar
  • 125 g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ml vanilla extract
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 100 g cake flour (see notes above)
  • about 100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • salt flakes, for garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 165 C. Line the bottom and sides of a 20 x 30 cm rectangular baking pan/tin with non-stick baking paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water (the bowl can touch the water directly, in this case, but should “sit” on the edges of the pot and not on the bottom). Stir with a wooden spoon from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. (It might look gritty here but don’t worry, it will smooth out later.) Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts. Spread evenly in the lined pan, edging it into the corners.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter. Let cool completely on a rack in the tin.
  5. Lift up the ends of the lined paper, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 24 squares. If your room temperature is very warm, refrigerate the brownies before cutting for a more neat, even edge. Serve at room temperature, optionally sprinkled with salt flakes just before serving (can be stored in a covered container for a few days, without the salt flakes as they will draw water and “melt” into the brownies).
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Chocolate swirl individual pavlovas

1 Jul

Individual chocolate swirl pavlovas topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

This is a recipe that I originally created in 2017, but failed to ever publish here. I’ve created so many different recipes for pavlova on my blog – it never disappoints when ending off a celebratory feast in style. So let’s make room for yet another one: chocolate swirl individual pavlovas with cream and dark berries. It covers all the bases of a great dessert in one go: chocolatey, crunchy, gooey, creamy, tangy, sweet and indulgent.

Now that we live on a berry farm on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, it seems only apt to be celebrating the fruit of our neighbours’ labour. We see their teams working in the berry orchards often, pruning and plowing in the winter mud to get ready for a new season. The recipe was created during January some years ago, so those dark berries might not be locally in season right now (although I’ve seen some amazing berries in some local supermarkets recently). Keep this one up your sleeve for when you find nice big batch of fresh seasonal berries in store. The chocolate meringues are decadently sweet and indulgent, so they definitely need an unsweetened whipped cream or double thick yoghurt topping, and some tart berries. A sifting of dark cocoa powder makes them mysteriously dreamy.

Ingredients: (makes 6)

  • 4 XL egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar
  • 5 ml white vinegar
  • 10 ml corn flour (Maizena)
  • 80 ml 50-70% dark chocolate, melted
  • 250 ml fresh cream, whipped to soft peaks (or thick double cream plain yoghurt)
  • about 2 cups fresh mulberries and blue berries
  • about 1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted
  • cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 150 C. Line a standard baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk until white and foamy (soft peaks).
  3. Start adding the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time every 30 seconds or so, whisking on high speed. When the sugar is well combined and the mixture is stiff and glossy, add the vinegar and corn flour and whisk until well mixed.
  4. Turn the mixer off. Add the dark chocolate to the bowl and use a spatula to quickly swirl it into the meringue mixture. Do not mix too much, one or two quick turns will be enough as you want to keep the dark chocolate swirls visible (and it will continue to mix when you spoon it onto your baking tray).
  5. Spoon the mixture onto the prepared baking tray in 6 individual round shapes. Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 120 C. Bake for 50 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the pavlovas in the oven without opening the door to cool for at least 3 hours (or overnight).
  6. When completely cool, serve dusted with cocoa powder, topped with whipped cream, fresh berries and toasted almonds. Serve at once. (Unassembled meringues can me stored in an air tight container for up to 3 days.)

Individual chocolate swirl pavlovas, before adding your toppings. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

Note: Your can store the pavlovas (without toppings) in an air tight container for a day. After this, they will still be edible for another day or two, but they will lose some of their crunch and might collapse in the middle. If you want to pack them for a picnic dessert, opt for double cream yoghurt instead of whipped cream, and assemble them on location instead of ahead.

Also check out a few of my other pavlova recipes:

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Chocolate fondant for two with my LG Neochef

31 Jan

This recipe makes two large chocolate fondants. Serve with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream – it’s the ultimate indulgence! (golden teaspoons by Hertex HAUS)

 

There are very few recipes out there that are written for two people only. As a standard, most serve four or six. So when you’re planning a special dinner for two, it can be very frustrating to sit with more leftovers than what you actually served, or worse – paying for ingredients for a party of six when you’re only hosting one guest.

I’ve made things easy for you by creating a recipe that saves you money time and energy. These chocolate fondants were baked in my LG Neochef microwave oven that also doubles up as a Smart Inverter oven. It heats to 160 C in only 2 minutes 50 seconds (!), using far less energy than most conventional larger ovens, perfect for cooking smaller batches. Melting chocolate with it’s microwave function is a breeze, as it only takes 30 seconds (read the recipe method below, you’ll see).

I have a massive sweet tooth and dessert is usually a huge priority when I serve a special dinner. If you feel a 250 ml dessert will be too big for you, make this recipe in four smaller ramekins and freeze the extra two for another time (the mixture freezes exceptionally well, just add 5 minutes to the baking time and bake from frozen).

Over the past few months I’ve explored more and more functions of my LG Neochef. I’ve even defrosted, proofed and baked croissants in about 35 minutes in total, with incredible results. This machine makes the impossible possible, using little energy and saving space. Find more info, see my recent review post.

Ingredients: (makes 2 large or 4 smaller fondants)

  • 15 ml butter, melted, for brushing
  • 10 ml cocoa powder
  • 60 g good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped (preferably 70% cocoa)
  • 60 g butter
  • 1 XL egg
  • 1 XL egg yolk
  • 75 g caster sugar
  • 15 ml brandy/whisky (optional)
  • 15 ml brewed espresso or very strong coffee (optional)
  • 60 g cake flour, sifted
  • a pinch of salt

Method:

  1. Using 2 x 250 ml size ramekins (or 4 x 125 ml ramekins), use a pastry brush to brush the insides with melted butter, then place in the freezer for 2 minutes. Brush the ramekins again with butter and dust all over with cocoa powder, tipping the powder all around the insides and into the next ramekin as you go. Refrigerate the ramekins until ready to use.
  2. Place the chocolate in a large deep mug and place the  butter on top. Place in the Neochef and press “start” (it microwaves automatically at max strength for 30 seconds) then remove – the butter would have melted and the mug would be heated, so tip the mug from side to side to cover the chocolate all over with the warm butter. Leave to stand for at least 5 minutes before starting to stir with a spatula. Leave to stand further until fully melted and smooth.
  3. In the meantime, place the egg, yolk and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix well with electric beaters until creamy and light. Give the chocolate mixture one last stir to make sure it is completely melted, then fold it into the egg mixture.
  4. Place the low rack in the Neochef and preheat to 160 C (press the “cook mode” button until it shows 180 C, then turn the knob down to 160 C and press “start” twice).
  5. Add the brandy, espresso (both optional, but adds great flavour), flour and salt to the mixing bowl and fold in carefully. Divide the mixture between the two (or 4) ramekins.
  6. The Neochef should play a tune to let you know it is heated to the correct temperature. Press the “stop/cancel” button, then turn the knob to the right until it displays 18 minutes (for smaller ramekins, turn to 12 minutes). Put the ramekins on the low rack, close the door and press “start”.
  7. When the time is up, remove the ramekins with oven mitts, run a knife along the edges and turn out carefully on 2 plates. Dust with more cocoa powder and serve with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. I’ve also added some chopped pistachios, but that is totally optional. Serve immediately to enjoy the full lava-ish effect – absolutely heavenly.

Note: Chocolate fondant is meant to have a lava-like melted interior. Do not overbake this dessert, as it won’t have the same charm. If you’re nervous about turning it out, rather underbake it slightly and serve inside the ramekins – no stress!

PS: If you are baking these in a conventional oven on fan mode, reduce the baking time slightly as oven fans tend to heat a little higher than regular ovens. All ovens are different, so it might take more than one take to get it perfect!

(I have received an LG Neochef as part of a collaboration project, which I am enjoying fully. All views and opions are my own.)

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Exploring terroir with DV Chocolate at Spice Route

5 Oct

Last week I was invited to join a curated chocolate and wine tasting with a special focus on terroir at Spice Route, hosted by DV Chocolate‘s Pieter de Villiers.

Surrounded by some serious wine experts, it was such an enlightening experience to be exploring the unique terroirs of DV Chocolate‘s single origin organic 70% dark chocolate bars paired with Spice Route’s 2014 and 1015 Grenache. Flavours of citrus emerged from Magadascar, earthy tones from Uganda, raspberry notes from Dominican Republic, rose buds and coconut from Peru, and incredible balance from Panama. After the tasting we were treated by a chocolate-inspired lunch prepared by chef Philip Pretorius of Barley & Biltong next door.

DV Chocolate is making waves as a proudly African bean-to-bar chocolatier. They keep expanding their range with exciting products, the latest being a dark chocolate truffle with a longer shelf life and a spicy chocolate bark made for sharing with bigger crowds around a festive table. Apart from their chocolate shop at Spice Route, their full range of chocolates are now also available from an exclusive booth in the Woolworths Waterstone store in Somerset West, and a limited range at most other Woolworths stores countrywide.

Here is my visit in pictures. Be sure to stop by DV Café at Spice Route for a cold chocolate shot or a freshly baked chocolate muffin, as well as their chocolate tasting room (Monday – Sunday, 09h00-17h00).

Greeted by freshly baked chocolate muffins at DV Café.

Interior at DV Café.

One of the iconic chocolate label designs that DV Chocolate is known for.

A perfect coffee at DV Café.

They also sell single origin coffee beans.

My choice to start the day: an ice cold chocolate shot. This was incredible!

Welcome to DV Chocolate’s factory at Spice Route.

DV Chocolate’s owner, Pieter de Villiers, tells us more about single origin beans and bars.

Chef Philip Pretorius cooked a chocolate-inpired lunch for us. (picture from spiceroute.co.za)

Pork belly and lentils in a spiced dark chocolate sauce. So rich in flavour – a stunning dish.

Dusted dark chocolate truffles with a longer shelf life – a brand new product from DV Chocolate.

The spiced chocolate bark, also a new product from DV Chocolate.

The popular DV Chocolate tasting centre at Spice Route.

Hand crafted chocolate from DV Chocolate’s chocolate shop.

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Caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne & tiramisu jars with Galbani Cheese

3 May

Caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne and individual tiramisu jars – my ultimate Italian-style feast! Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

When it comes to laid-back, festive, scrumptious food that’s packed with flavour, the Italians just know how. I’ve taken a few tips from their most popular traditional cheese-themed recipes to come up with my favourite three-course Italian-inspired feast: an over-the-top caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne (made with mozzarella, cheddar and mascarpone) and individual tiramisu cups with chocolate flakes and fresh raspberries. You can assemble the lasagne and tiramisu ahead so that you have more time to spend with your guests – the most important thing when hosting friends and family!

All my recipes serve 8, because they deserve a crowd. If you’re keen on a smaller gathering, just halve the ingredients to serve 4.

And don’t miss my video below – it shows how to make this killer lasagne.

Buon appetito!

My ultimate caprese salad with soft mozzarella, an array of tomatoes, fresh basil, pesto, toasted pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, salt flakes and ground black pepper. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Ultimate caprese salad (serves 8)

  • 3 very big ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • about 400 g smaller tomatoes on the vine
  • a handful baby tomatoes, halved
  • 3 x 125 g Galbani soft white mozzarella, sliced into rounds
  • a handful fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan
  • 3-4 tablespoons basil pesto
  • extra virgin olive oil, for serving
  • balsamic vinegar, for serving (optional)
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the tomatoes on a large platter, interleaved with slices of mozzarella. Scatter with basil leaves and pine nuts, then drizzle with pesto (add a little olive oil to the pesto if it is very thick). Serve with olive oil and balsamic on the side, seasoned with salt & pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: The tomatoes will wilt on standing, so this salad is best served straight after assembling.

Triple cheese beef lasagne (made with mascarpone, cheddar and mozzarella). Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Triple cheese beef lasagne (serves 8)

For the beef Bolognese sauce:

  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 1 onion, skinned & finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled & finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 kg lean beef mince
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, stalks removed & finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried origanum)
  • 375 ml (half a bottle) dry red wine
  • 1 beef stock cube dissolved in 250 ml boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cans whole Italian tomatoes, blended to a pulp
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

For the white sauce (béchamel):

  • 80 g (80 ml / 1/3 cup) President Butter
  • 80 ml (1/3/ cup) plain/cake flour
  • 1 liter full cream milk
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • a generous tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 250 g Galbani Mascarpone
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

For assembling:

  • 1 batch Bolognese sauce
  • 1 batch white sauce
  • 500 g fresh/dried pasta sheets
  • 200 g President Cheddar Cheese, grated
  • 300 g Galbani Creamy Mozzarella (semi-hard), grated

For the Bolognese sauce: Heat the olive oil in a wide, large pot with a heavy base. Fry the onion, carrot and celery over medium-high heat until soft and lightly brown. Add the garlic and stir. Add the mince and stir, breaking up any lumps and scraping the bottom to loosen any sticky bits. Add the rosemary and thyme. Continue to fry on high heat to brown the meat slightly, then add the red wine, stock, tomato paste, canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and stir well. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 2 hours, stirring every now and then.

For the white sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat, then add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the milk and stir with a whisk until the mixture becomes smooth and thickens slightly. Add the nutmeg, mustard and mascarpone and season well with salt & pepper. Set aside.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 180 C. In a large rectangular roasting tray or oven dish, start with a thin layer of white sauce, then a layer of pasta sheets (they will swell so don’t fit them too snugly), a layer of meat sauce, more white sauce, a layer of cheddar, etc. Continue and repeat, ending with a layer of white sauce and the grated mozzarella on top. Bake for 45 minutes until golden on top, then let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Note: I sometimes chop my onion, carrot and celery together in a food processor to save time. The cooked lasagne will continue to stabilize on standing, becoming firmer and easier to serve. The assembled lasagne (cooked or uncooked) freezes well – thaw completely before returning to the oven.

Individual jars of tiramisu, made with mascarpone, brandy and some chocolate flakes. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Individual tiramisu cups: (serves 8)

  • 5 XL eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
  • 2 x 250 g Galbani Mascarpone
  • 1 Italian-style sponge finger biscuits (Boudoir/ladyfinger)
  • 375 ml strong coffee, warm
  • 75 ml brandy
  • cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 2-3 chocolate flake bars, for serving
  • fresh raspberries, for serving

Place the egg yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl. Use and electric whisk to mix until it is very thick and creamy. Add the mascarpone and whisk until smooth.
Clean and dry this whisk, then whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff. Add half the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and fold in with a large spoon, continuing with the second half and folding until you have a smooth, creamy, mousse-like mixture. Set aside.
Working quickly, cut the finger biscuits into thirds, and divide the pieces into 8 groups of 9 pieces each (for 8 cups of 250 ml capacity each). Place the coffee and brandy in a shallow flat bowl, then dip 4 cookie pieces at a time into the coffee mixture, and place them into the bottom of each dessert glass/jar. Top with a dollop of the mascarpone mix, then a sifting of cocoa powder. Top with a second round of 5 dipped biscuit pieces, then place the remaining half of the mascarpone mix into a piping bag and pipe dollops of the mixture at the top of each glass to cover the biscuits. Dust some cocoa powder over the top, then cover with plastic or lids (not touching the mixture) and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
To serve, add some chocolate flakes and berries on top and serve straight from the fridge.

Note: The biscuits need time to soften in the fridge. If you serve them too soon, the cookies will still be tough. The tiramisu cups keep very well in the fridge for up to 3 days and the flavour improves with time.

(This post was created in collaboration with Galbani Cheese.)

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