Sunday, 30 September 2012

Dark Chocolate Date Bars

Yes, you guessed it: I'm still busy with "Project Chocolate"- trying to use up the glut of baking chocolate I have in my cupboard.
I'm off to the baking supply shop tomorrow, though. So I will no doubt be buying more chocolate, and this will be an ongoing project.
Nothing wrong with more chocolate recipes, though, is there?!

This one sort of made itself up as we went along ("we" being the chocolate and I).

It started off with a sludge of chocolate and butter that was meant to be a glaze (see the Triple Chocolate Cheesecake recipe last week), but the chocolate obviously had other ideas and sat in the bottom of the saucepan sulking. Not glazing at all.
But - despite the glut of it - I never throw chocolate out (hmmn, perhaps that's why there's a glut??). So,    it was sitting there for a few days waiting for a re-invention of itself...and this is what emerged:

Crisp on the outside, dense chewy chocolate on the inside. Sort-of like a brownie, but sort of not.
I could perhaps clarify that, however I'd need to taste one again, and I can't because they are all gone...

Dark Chocolate Date Bars 

300g dark chocolate chopped into small pieces
100g butter
2TBS golden syrup
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
100g chopped pecans
100g chopped dried dates
pinch salt
vanilla extract
(no leavening agent)

Preheat oven to 175'C
Spray a 20cm square baking tin with non-stick cooking spray.

In a saucepan, over low heat, melt together chocolate, butter and syrup. It doesn't matter if it seems to seize up a little : )
Allow to cool once all the chocolate has melted.

Beat together sugar, eggs and yolks.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour  the chocolate mix into the eggs and sugar mix.
Add vanilla extract (1 tsp or 10 drops, depending on what kind you are using).
Sift in the flour, salt and cocoa. Mix at low speed until combined. Stir in pecans and dates.
Spoon batter (it is stiff) into the pan; spread out evenly with a spatula.

Bake at 175'C for 35minutes, until just "set".

Leave to cool in the tin.

Cut into bars, sprinkle with icing sugar, serve and enjoy!


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Creative Cookie Cutters

 I have a small problem: I seem to have an irrepressible desire to own every cute cookie cutter out there. (Just in case I need to use them all, someday).
This is probably going to land up being an expensive habit. But I guess that there are worse addictions to have!
It's not always easy, though, to find the cookie cutters used to create the amazing cookies that people from all around the world are posting pictures of on Flickr and Pinterest.
Every now and then I just cannot stop myself and I order something from the States or UK. The fact that the shipping costs more than the goods is a real downer though!

But I really wanted needed these Russian Doll cutters a few months ago...

...I know I'm not the only one out there with a thing for Russian Dolls!

Anyway, thankfully I have my cookie classes to justify all these cutters, and we actually had a really great Mother's Day class making Russian Doll cookies...

But you will notice that I have a set of three cookie cutters, but there are 4 Russian Doll cookies in that picture. And that's where the "Creative Cookie Cutters" comes in.  

This is my large Russian Doll cutter...


And in March, when I wanted to make hedgehog cookies for our Autumn Woods class, looking through my selection of cutters, this is what I found: a sea shell

...but, it made some cute hedgehogs...

(I still haven't used that one to make sea shell cookies...but I'm sure I will, someday!)

So, here's how (really simple):

Want a cookie like this, but don't have the cutter...

Look through your basic shapes...

(bonus points for being able to use the imported Russian Doll cutter again!)


Squash the parts together, no glue necessary...

And bake. 

(See here for some cookie baking basics.) 

And if the giraffe doesn't mooove you...  : ) 


If you want some more ideas on using cookie cutters, please visit Sweet SugarBelle . That is where I got the inspiration for the giraffe, as well as the whole "Jungle Fever" theme we are doing in tomorrow and next Saturday's class.  

It's going to be wild!

Happy creating!


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Triple Chocolate Cheesecake

I have nearly worked my way through 5 kg's of chocolate in the past month. Okay, I didn't exactly eat it personally (although some days it felt like I came close!).
 I've used it in brownies, icing, ganache, cake pops, more cake pops and more ganache. And finally - and quite easily the best use of it so far - in a triple chocolate cheesecake.
I like baking with cream cheese (have I mentioned that before?!) and a new baked cheesecake recipe is something that I just can't resist. I have a recipe book full of them, which I'm slowly making my way through. But when I saw the pictures of a triple chocolate cheesecake on the net, it became an instant must-bake. And it conveniently uses up another  400g of chocolate  (only!)

I have made cheesecake with melted chocolate before, but as delicious as it was, you felt after the first bite that you'd have to run the Comrades Marathon to atone for it!
So, I've changed a few things from the original recipe:

Firstly for the crust, instead of biscuit crumbs I just used cookie dough.

Secondly, the sugar. Cheesecake shouldn't be so sweet that you loose the subtle savoury my opinion : )  so I routinely reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for.

Thirdly - this is something I usually do, too - I replaced the cream with buttermilk, just to lighten it up.

And, finally, I simplified the topping, just drizzling a bit of white chocolate, rather than making a glaze.

It turned out well, very well. The few slices left seem to be shrinking by slivers every time the fridge gets opened!

So, for the original recipe, go here. But for something lighter, but incredibly delicious, read on:

Triple Chocolate Cheesecake:

Oven temp. 150'C
Prepare a 20cm square pan (not too shallow) with baking paper: make a cross with the sheets extending above the sides of the pan.

Basic or chocolate cookie dough* or 11/2 cups cookie crumbs and 55g butter

3 x 250g tubs of firm low-fat cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
2 TBS corn flour
3 large eggs
3/4 cup Buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
120g white chocolate (and some extra for dribbling over the baked cheesecake.)
120g milk chocolate
120g dark chocolate

*If you are using cookie dough as your crust, depending on how thick you want your crust to be, you will need at least 600g raw dough.
Roll it out, cut it to size and place in the prepared pan. Bake for approx.15 minutes at 180'C. Allow to cool.
(Or mix cookie crumbs and melted butter together, press firmly into the bottom of the pan, and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool. )

Then reduce the oven temp. to 150' C

For the filling:
With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the cream cheese sugar and corn flour until smooth.
With the mixer on medium on low speed, add the eggs 1 at a time. Scrape down the sides of the mixer between additions of egg.
Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Mix until smooth.
Divide the batter evenly between 3 bowls.

Melt the chocolate separately.
It takes about 2 1/2 min on low power in the microwave to melt the chocolate. Don't use 100% power!

Add the white chocolate to one bowl of batter, the milk chocolate to another, and the dark chocolate to the third.

Pour the milk chocolate batter over your crust in the pan.
Spoon the white chocolate batter over this one and smooth carefully - taking care not to mix the layers together.
Then repeat with the dark chocolate batter.

Place in the oven and bake for 1hr. Cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar.

Drizzle melted white chocolate over the surface of the cheesecake (or see the original recipe for a dark chocolate glaze).

Refrigerate at least 3-4 hours, or overnight before serving.

To remove from the pan, lift up by the extended edges of the baking paper.
Cut into square/ rectangular portions.
Put aside a slice to savour in peace one your guests have left ; )

Unfortunately the photo's I've taken don't do it justice - in terms of appearance, I just couldn't slice it cleanly enough not to smudge the colour between different layers . Next time (and there will definitely be a next time, and a next for making this one...) for cosmetic sake, I will put the white chocolate layer between the milk and dark chocolate ones, as in the recipe.



Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Index and Calendar

Just a quick note to point out that I have added an Index page - so you can link directly to recipes and tutorials on this blog from there.
And the calendar is now updated until the end of the year with all the upcoming classes.
Hope you'll be joining us!


Caramel Cream Icing

You might have realised by now that I have a penchant for cream cheese icing.
If you haven't: I do!
I make mine slightly differently compared to other recipes (see here) in order to get an icing that it firm enough to pipe and maintain its shape.
And it is very conducive to having different flavours added to it:
I like it plain...with lemon zest...with vanilla....with cocoa...with melted chocolate (oh, yes!)...and now with caramel (double yes!!)

When I was in university residence, one of the lunch options was a "Cottage Cheese Platter" - basically half a tub of cottage cheese with a few crackers (it might not sound appealing, but it was a welcome alternative to all the mass-produced hi-carb meals!)
Sometimes we'd add some strawberry jam to the cottage cheese to create a wishful-thinking-cheese-cake. Desperate times!

You'd much rather be combining cream cheese - rather than cottage cheese -with sweet flavours.
It may seem like a strange combination - cream cheese and caramel - but the cream cheese just takes the edge off of the sweetness of the caramel, while adding a soft creaminess to it.

Caramel Cream Icing:

100g butter at room temp.
250g cream cheese (the dense kind like Lancewood, Woolworths or Philadelphia) - chilled
3/4 cup sifted icing sugar
2-3 tablespoons caramel*
Vanilla extract
Caramel essence

With an electric mixer, beat butter until soft and pale. Add the sifted icing sugar.
Beat well.
Add the cream cheese, vanilla and caramel essence. And add the caramel (2-3 tbs - depending on how sweetly caramel you want it.)
Beat together.
Refrigerate if not using immediately.

*I use the kind of caramel you get in the tubs from baking supply stores
If this is particularly stiff, zap it in the microwave for a few seconds on medium power. When you add it to the rest of the mixture, you want it to be soft, but not runny - and certainly not warm. Just a few seconds in the microwave is enough.

Pair this icing up with vanilla or chocolate cakes / cupcakes - it compliments both beautifully; and it has a scrumptious soft golden colour...


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Last Sunday was such a glorious day in this part of the world (a welcome hiatus to all the Spring rain we're having), that when the need to go out for a coffee hit (as it regularly does), I decided that it had to be at an equally gorgeous outdoors venue. Thankfully we have quite a few in this area - but one is fast becoming a favourite: Makaranga.
Originally designed to cater for wheelchairs, its paths and ramps have now become just as well suited to prams. A tranquil Japanese garden, waterfall and labyrinth are just a few of the attractions. And when the children have tired of exploring the gardens, the jungle gym and kids activities area situated just off the restaurant/ deli will keep them occupied for just enough time for mom and dad to get their caffeine-fix.

But...this isn't a restaurant or hotel review ; )
The point I'm getting to, eventually, is that while I opted for nothing more exotic than a decaf cappucino, the friend that I was with had a Cookies & Cream Milkshake. How deliciously decadent! (She's allowed to - she's breastfeeding!) I especially liked the way it looked - all speckled; and the tasty tiny crunchy bits in the thick, creamy shake. Mmmmn mmmn!

So, when I was thinking what to do with some cream I had left over from making ganache, the idea to make Cookies & Cream Cupcakes arrived in my head ... and just wouldn't leave ...
I could, of course have just added the cream to some soup, or frozen it...but what fun would that have been?!

So, this is what I did:

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes:

2 cups cake flour
120g butter in small cubes, at room temp.
1 cup white sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup cream (whipping cream / the 35-36% fat kind)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites (oh, dear...have to find more ways to use up egg yolks)
8 Oreos, finely crushed (I used my blender)


Heat oven: 180'C
Prepare 2x12-hole muffin trays with cupcake cases.

Sift together dry ingredients. Use a hand whisk to mix.
Add in butter, and beat with paddle attachment of mixer until combined.
Add in the cream and vanilla and beat for about a minute; then the egg whites. Beat for another minute - until well combined.
Stir in the crushed cookies.
Spoon into cupcake cases in muffin trays (about 1/2 - 2/3 full).
Bake at 180'C for approx. 20 min, or until a skewer inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.

Cookies and Cream Icing:

250g cream cheese (the denser kind - like Lancewood, Woolworths or Philadelphia)
1 1/2 cups cream (whipping cream), cold from the fridge
3 Tbsp caster sugar
4 Crushed Oreos for garnishing.
1 tsp vanilla extract.

In a cold mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and sugar. Add the vanilla, blend.
Then, slowly pour in the cream, and continue to beat until the mix can hold a peak.

Pipe this onto the cooled cupcakes, and garnish with the crushed cookies (if finely crushed, the cookies can also be gently folded into the icing,  but I liked the contrast between the speckled cupcakes, white icing and dark crumbs on top.)

I hope you enjoy eating them as much as I enjoyed creating them!


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Packaged Macarons

Finally...I have filled and paired up the macaron shells that  have been accumulating in my freezer over the past month. Now their flavours can mature over a couple of days before being given away at Grandparents Day. 

(Pink: rose water with white choc ganache centres. Blue: vanilla with dark choc ganache. Choc - with Nutella centres).

It took dozens and dozens to get some good-looking ones : [

I did the chocolate batch today. 
My first attempt at chocolate macarons this weekend was an out-right failure: I'd followed a suggestion to replace a third of the icing sugar with cocoa. Way too much cocoa! It was such a sticky, heavy mixture that it had no chance of rising. Nice chewy chocolate biscuits though!

Still using the macaron recipe I posted before here,  this time I  replaced just 15g of the icing sugar with 15g of cocoa powder - bearing in mind that the cocoa powder I favour is a very dark, rich kind (kapong - mean anything to you?!) that I get from Bake-a-Ton. If you used regular supermarket cocoa, you'd probably have to use more. 
The first tray came out the oven looking good, the second tray were all cracked. All. 
It was probably the temperature - which I'd fiddled with between trays. 
Yikes, these things are fussy!

Anyway, a pretty ribboned box disguises all manner of defects ; )

(These boxes were custom made for me by Cutting Crew in Pietermaritzburg. Email me if you'd like their details.)


Monday, 10 September 2012

Secret Centre Cake Pops

Last week I was chatting to a friend who was battling to find an important email she had been drafting on her iPad. The final conclusion was that it was probably irretrievably lost. I was feeling bad for her, and at the same time quite relieved that it wasn't me (sorry, Lauren!). Little did I know that at the exact time we were having this electronic conversation, my iPad was downloading the latest software and systematically deleting all the photos and recipes that I had accumulated, albumned and archived over the past 9 months. Grrrr!!
I was using an app called Photo Manager Pro, which had a great filing system. But no back-up. I'm quite technologically naive, so I didn't ever consider doing a manual back-up. And the software upgrade deleted the entire app - photos, recipes, tutorials, everything - including the app itself, off the iPad. Grrr grr!!

So, I was feeling a little gut-punched last week: in need of some serious chocolate solace.
Chocolate cupcakes, chocolate cake pops and chocolate macarons. (The latter didn't turn out looking much like macarons, more like chewy choc biscuits. But they were good enough to be eaten!)

And I decided to be a little decadent with the cake pops: rich chocolate cake with creamy caramel secret centres.

I will share the chocolate cake, and creamy caramel icing recipes with you shortly, but for now - just a quick how-to for the cake pop secret centre:

First, take 1/2tsp-fuls of caramel, and place on a baking tray; put this in the freezer for an hour, or until solid. (This just makes the blob of caramel much easier to work with.)

Use a basic Cake pop recipe  , scoop up your cake pop mix and make a small well.
Put the blob/ nugget of caramel in the well, then compact the cake pop mix around it.

If the caramel starts getting too soft to work with, then just re-freeze.

Put the cake balls in the freezer for 15minutes, then continue with the rest of the cake pop assembly as normal.

Chocolate makes the world a sweeter place : )


Friday, 7 September 2012

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Many cake batters seem to work out just as well as cupcakes. This carrot cake is no exception. 
It's a real 24 karat recipe ; ) 
Moist, yet not too heavy. 
And just the right amount of nuts and spice, and all things nice! 

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

2 cups cake flour
2 tsp bicarb. of soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon, or 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp mixed spice
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 cups shredded carrots
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecan nuts
1 can crushed pineapple, discard excess juice

Preheat the oven to 175'C
Prepare 2x 12-hole muffin pans with cupcake cases.

In a large bowl:
Sift together flour, bicarb, baking powder and spices.
Mix in sugar.
Make a well, pour in oil, lightly beaten eggs, and vanilla.
Add in pineapple, carrots, coconut and nuts.
Mix until smooth.

 Spoon batter into cupcake cases - about 2/3 full.
Bake for +/- 20-25min, until a skewer comes out clean.
Take cupcakes out of the muffin pans, and allow to cool.

(These cupcakes freeze well).

Cream Cheese Icing:
(this cream cheese icing pipes very well!)

100g butter, at room temp
3/4 cup sifted icing sugar
250g Low fat plain cream cheese - use the denser kind (Woolworths, Lancewood, Philadelphia) - chilled
1 tsp lemon zest

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the icing sugar, mix thoroughly.
Add the cream cheese and lemon zest. Blend together.
...and pipe onto the cupcakes when they are cool.



Monday, 3 September 2012

Simply Cake Pops

After all my failed batches of macarons, I've been feeling a little skittish about trying something new.
But cake pops are something that you just can't avoid for very long, aren't they?!

The idea of a piece of cake on a stick never really appealed to me. Especially not cake that has been man-handled into dense balls...
But I'm an inveterate re-cycler at heart. That applies to food, too. (Sorry for you if you don't like left-overs in this household!) So, cake pops are actually right up my alley...

I tried a new chocolate brownie recipe this weekend. I already have 2 great recipes for brownies, but one uses Lindt dark chocolate - which doesn't hang around for long in our cupboard, and the other requires Bar-Ones - which I didn't have.
I do, however -  for a reason I can't clearly recall - have blocks and blocks of baking chocolate at the moment.  So I wanted to use it up. Well, some of it...

That new brownie recipe isn't one that I will bother to share.
And by today the cake (because it was definitely more cake than brownie) was really only good for one thing - crumbing up and re-inventing.

Enter the Cake Pop.
I'm sure that that is actually why they were first invented -  a parsimonious baker just had to come up with a cool way to use up left-over or off-cut cake.
I mean, would you really take a perfectly decent, fresh whole cake and demolish it??

(In my youth- ahem! - I waitressed...briefly... at a coffee shop that made bread-and-butter pudding out of old cake. The owner was very parsimonious!)

I only had 250g of crumbs, but they made 8 good sized cake pops. I used chocolate flavoured butter icing, and made it slightly softer than normal piping consistency.  (I did that by adding the cocoa powder to warm milk and beating that into the butter icing.)

This is how I did the rest:

250g cake crumbs (crumbed cake, rather...don't go gathering the crumbs off their cake plates once your guests have left!) - ideally use a food processor to get very fine crumbs
+/-2 level tablespoons of butter icing* (soft, chocolate butter icing) - to get a consistency of just-starting-to-clump-but-still-looks-crumbly mixture. Don't overdo the icing!
300g white chocolate
cake pop sticks
powdered food colouring, if desired.

(You can obviously double these quantities to make more pops; or use whatever amount of cake you have. Just adjust all volumes accordingly.)

Use a scoop to measure out equal amounts of mix. About 30g per cake ball is a good size

Compact them, and round them into balls in your hand. And place on a tray.

These look like they could pass off as meatballs (is it only in South Africa that we know Frikkadel?! Sounds very SAfrican, doesn't it...frrrr-rolling your tongue-rrrikkadel??).

Okay, back to the point:

Pop the pops in the fridge for 15minutes. (This step is debatable - if you are finding that your chocolate is cracking after dipping, rather omit this and accept that the chocolate will take longer to set on the cake pop).

In the meantime melt your white chocolate.
You can use a double boiler, but if you are cautious, the microwave works fine: just do it at low power for a 30sec at a time, stirring with a plastic spoon in-between.
It takes 3-4minutes in total to melt this amount of chocolate.  You want a thin, easily pouring consistency.

Add your powdered colour to all, or half the chocolate.
Don't use liquid food colouring, the chocolate may seize.

Pour the chocolate into a deep narrow container - this makes the dipping easier. I used a perspex 240ml jug.

Dip the pop stick into the chocolate, then stick the stick into the pop ; )

Now dip the cake ball...all the way in. Give it a swirl and tap it on the side of the container to get rid of excess chocolate.
 Once this coat has hardened, you can dip for a second time, or partially dip into another colour.

Sprinkle on the sprinkles, vermicelli, coloured sugar, etc immediately - before the chocolate hardens.

Stick the pop-stick into a styrofoam block to set.

That was fun!

I am definitely going to be looking for excuses to demolish cakes from now on!