Chocolate Spider Cake

This cake makes a perfect, child-friendly dessert for a Halloween party. It’s not too in your face with the spiders but there are enough of them to make the cake look a little bit creepy. The cobwebs are also super fun to create which is always a bonus when baking. Hidden away beneath the spiders is a rich devil’s food cake sandwiched together with whipped cream. The cream cuts through the richness of the cake, helping to balance the flavour, and acts as a strong glue to keep the cake in one piece.

Devil’s food cake has been around for just over one hundred years. It is a variation of the red velvet cake and is generally distinguished from a classic chocolate cake by the addition of water as the primary liquid. This increase in water (and decrease in egg content) results in a very dense, rich, moist cake which I far prefer to a classic chocolate sponge cake, which can get very dry. The other main difference between a devil’s food cake and a classic chocolate cake is the addition of not only baking powder but also bicarbonate of soda. The raising of the pH by the bicarbonate of soda causes the cocoa to turn a far darker shade of brown, leading to the almost black appearance of the cake.

The decoration on this cake looks really cool but I would check with the people you are making it for because, although they are not real, the spiders on top can really upset some people. Arachnophobia is an interesting condition because it would have helped our ancestors to avoid contact with spiders – they knew that spiders were dangerous but didn’t know which ones could kill. It is interesting that such a small creature can pack such a powerful punch and it makes sense that a healthy fear of them keeps you alive longer. The thing about arachnophobia is that the extremeness of the fear is not healthy. Like all phobias, arachnophobia isn’t just having an aversion to arachnids, it is an overwhelming sense of fear and panic which is completely disproportional to the danger being posed. For some people, the sight of webs or a picture of a spider can cause heart palpitations, panic attacks or even fainting.

Spiders permeate many different cultures. From Arachne in ancient Greek mythology, to Anansi in African folklore, to Aragog from the Harry Potter series, spiders have woven their way into stories for thousands of years. They are usually representative of some sort of trickster god or betrayal – whether this came before the fear of spiders or after is a cause for debate – and rarely have positive connotations. It is interesting that such a small animal can have such a big effect on ancient stories and even how we act today.

Living in a country where you can almost guarantee that any spider you see will not be dangerous, I find it fascinating how strong a reaction some people can have to them. Even for people without a genuine phobia, the unease felt around spiders is what gives this cake its creepiness and what makes it perfect to serve up around Halloween.

 

Chocolate Spider Cake

75g cocoa

150g brown sugar

1 ½ cups (375ml) boiling water

180g unsalted butter

225g caster sugar

340g plain flour

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

 

For the filling and icing:

200g soft butter

300g sifted icing sugar

50g sifted cocoa

1 tbsp milk

300ml double cream

2 tsp vanilla

 

To decorate:

200g marshmallow

Small round chocolates (Halloween themed spheres and maltesers both work)

50g milk chocolate

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

Grease and line three eight-inch tins with butter, cocoa and baking parchment.

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Place the brown sugar and cocoa into a bowl together and pour over the hot water. Stir until combined.

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Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a bowl.

Add one egg and a spoon of flour and beat to combine.

Repeat with other eggs to mix them in.

Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder along with half of the remaining flour.

Turn the mixer onto slow to avoid covering the kitchen in a cloud of flour.

Once the flour has mostly mixed in, add the rest and beat again to combine.

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Finally, pour in the liquid chocolate from earlier and slowly mix together until you have a smooth, glossy, chocolaty batter.

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Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.

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Turn the cakes out onto a wire cooling rack and leave until they are cold.

 

To make the icing, beat the butter with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer until it is soft and fluffy. Using a stand mixer is far easier than a hand held one but if you don’t have one, any electric set of beaters will do!

Add half of the icing sugar and beat slowly until the sugar has been mixed in. Then increase the speed of the mixer and beat the icing for another minute.

Repeat the above step with the cocoa and then with the remaining icing sugar.

Tip in the milk and beat the icing for another five minutes to make it ultra fluffy.

Once the icing is done, add the vanilla to the cream and beat until the cream just reaches hard peaks. Make sure not to overwhip it or you will end up with butter!

 

To assemble the cake:

Level each layer of cake – it doesn’t have to be perfect as you can bulk out small dips with extra cream and icing (no one will mind).

Place the bottom layer on a cake board and pipe a circle of icing around the edge. Fill the centre with the cream.

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Add the next layer and pipe more icing onto it before filling the centre with cream.

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Finally, place the top layer onto the cake and cover the cake with the remaining icing. There should be enough to give a thin layer of icing on the top and the sides of the cake – you will still be able to see the cake layers through the side of the icing. If you want a completely opaque layer around the outside, multiply the icing recipe by 1.5 and make the layer around the cake much thicker.

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Place the cake into a fridge for at least half an hour to set the icing.

 

To decorate the cake:

Melt the chocolate.

On a sheet of baking parchment, pipe lots of little chevrons about 1cm tall and 1.5-2cm wide. These will become the legs of the spiders so make sure to pipe at least 9 per spider so you have a spare for when one of them inevitably snaps. Put these in the fridge to set.

Cut the base off each chocolate sphere (about ¼ of the way up the sphere)

 

Once the cake has been sufficiently chilled, you can make the webs.

Pour the marshmallows into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

Stir them and microwave again until all of the marshmallows have melted. You may want to stop heating when there are a few lumps left as these will melt if you stir the mixture.

Continue to stir the marshmallow for three or four minutes until it becomes super stringy.

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Pick up a blob and use all of your fingers (wash your hands first!) to stretch it out into a white sheet or a large number of strings. Wrap this around the cake and continue to wrap the strings or marshmallow around the outside until they snap.

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Continue to add layers of cobwebs to your cake until you are happy with the appearance. You want to still see the icing underneath as it gives a good contrast. (Wash your hands again to remove residual stickiness!)

 

Use the stickiness of the marshmallow to stick the balls of chocolate all over the cake and add eight legs to each of them. Pipe a small head at one end of each spider.

For added colour, brush a tiny amount of lustre dust over the back of each spider.

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This cake looks really cool and is perfect to serve up on Halloween for a party or just to an arachnologist at any point of the year. It can look super creepy and with multiple layers of cobweb, the 3D effect stops the cake looking too flat and boring.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for another Halloween recipe, check out my amazing brain cake – it’s super gory but looks really cool! Of course, if you want something a little bit more tame, why not treat yourself to a wonderful coffee and walnut cake – or even a lemon drizzle cake!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious lunch which is as good cold as it is hot.

H

Shortbread

January is an odd month. Many people spend it trying to be extra healthy after the indulgence of Christmas and New Year. Dry January and Veganuary are becoming increasingly popular as people try to cut back on unhealthy foods so it is a little sad that the National Shortbread Day is on the 6th of January when lots of people won’t appreciate it.

The first recipes for shortbread date from the 12th century; however the version which we eat today was actually invented in the 16th century and is accredited to Mary Queen of Scots Before her, shortbread was real bread which was covered in spices and sugar before being twice baked – Queen Mary replaced the yeast with butter which stopped the bread from leavening and turned it into a biscuit. The original flavouring in shortbread was caraway seeds – I am incredibly thankful that this is no longer the case – however now you can find vanilla, chocolate, orange and ginger shortbreads amongst many others.

One of the most distinctive things about shortbread is its texture. It is super crumbly as a result of minimal kneading. As the dough isn’t worked very much, gluten can’t build up so the shortbread stays very fragile. The addition of semolina or rice flour helps increase the crumbliness whereas cornstarch makes the biscuits denser and therefore harder. Adding semolina also a good way to prevent yourself from picking at the uncooked dough as it gives it a gritty texture which disappears during cooking but, whilst raw, is really quite unpleasant.

There are several classic shapes of shortbread: the classic shortbread finger (as given below), individual round biscuits (these are rolled to about half an inch thick and then cut) and the classic wedge. These are the easiest to make without any sort of tin as it involves pressing the shortbread into a large circle, baking it and then cutting the biscuits when they are removed from the oven but are still soft. The recipe below gives enough dough to make two large circles eight inches in diameter. The high butter content causes shortbread to spread in the oven which is fine if you are making circular biscuits – just make sure you leave enough room between them – but if you are making fingers, this can be very detrimental to the shape. The best way to get perfect shortbread fingers is to cut the dough but leave it as a block, do not separate the pieces. This prevents them spreading and when you remove the shortbread from the oven, you can just recut along the lines left over and neaten out the edges.

Although it started in Scotland, shortbread has spread around the world and for good reason – it is delicious! I hope you enjoy making it as much as I did and that it becomes favourite for you to bake and eat.

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Shortbread

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Makes about 20 fingers

 

225g (8oz.) unsalted butter

112g (4oz.) caster sugar

225g (8oz.) plain flour

112g (4oz.) semolina (or fine rice flour)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).

Cream the butter in a bowl.

Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Pour in half of the flour and half of the semolina and mix on low until they start to combine.

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The mixture of flour and semolina gives a fantastic texture.

Add the rest of the flour and semolina and slowly beat until all of the ingredients are just combined. You do not want to overwork the shortbread.

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Pour the dough onto a sheet of baking parchment and press out with your hands into a rectangle measuring 11”x6” (25x 15 cm).

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Cut the shortbread into 1”x3” (2.5×4.5 cm) rectangles. The easiest way to do this is one long cut lengthwise down the middle and then measure out one inch blocks along the edge of the dough before cutting. DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD!

Take a fork or a skewer and prick the dough all the way to the base with a pattern of your choosing.

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DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD LIKE I HAVE DONE HERE

Slide the baking paper onto an oven tray and place in the oven and bake for around 20-25 minutes until the shortbread turns a pale golden colour. Do not let it brown any more than this.

Take the shortbread out of the oven and slide the baking paper off the tray onto a cutting board.

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This is why you do not separate the shortbread fingers – they will lose their shape in the oven!

Cut along the lines of the biscuits as they will have sealed up during baking. By cutting the biscuits before you bake them, you will leave a mark in the final product which can then be recut to ensure straight edges and perfect shortbread.

Separate the biscuits and move them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

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These are delicious by themselves but are a real treat when dunked into a cup of tea. You could also jazz these up by dipping the ends into melted chocolate to make the biscuits really special. They make an excellent gift too. Just take a large sheet of clear plastic and place the biscuits in the middle. Gather up the ends and tie them off with a ribbon to make a beautiful present at Christmas.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you liked this, you should check out how to make macarons. They are a little more technically challenging but if you can master them, there is nothing you can’t do in the kitchen. If you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not treat yourself to some delicious onion soup? It’s easy to make and is packed full of flavour.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a fab on the go lunch

H

Chocolate and Hazelnut Tart

In the words of RENT, “525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?” One way for me has been this blog. With the 52nd recipe provided in this post, I have reached the end of my first year as a blogger. I will admit that there have been times when I have seriously considered giving up – there are few things more demoralising than realising at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon that I have to cook and write a post before heading out to orchestra rehearsals. However, even with all those struggles, it has been incredibly rewarding.

A couple of times this year, I have been chatting to someone and they will drop into conversation that they read my blog and have tried out a recipe or two – occasionally they even send a photo – and it is very satisfying to know that people are enjoying this. I had been thinking about starting thatcookingthing for a good two years before it became a reality and one of my main concerns was that no one would read it, so knowing that some people are reading the weekly posts and interacting with me is especially exciting. One of my main motivations to start writing was the decision that I want to go into media production. I will be starting a Masters course in Science Media Production in a couple of months and although this clearly isn’t a science blog, you may have noticed my passion for science slipping into the introduction to the recipe every now and then.

I wanted to finish this year with a bit of a showstopper. I know tarts are not very tall but they are definitely some of the most beautiful foods around. They are incredibly versatile – I have only given recipes for sweet tarts on here however I am partial to a caramelised onion and goats cheese tart or even a garlic tart when I don’t want any contact with people for the next week. The chocolate tart recipe below gives a crisp, slightly nutty pastry filled with a smooth, silky chocolate filling and topped with a gorgeous shiny glaze. The glucose in the glaze is what give it the lustre – rather like in a mirror glaze – so is an vital ingredient. This tart is beautiful to look at and tastes absolutely divine!

 

Hazelnut and Chocolate Tart

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves: 12

 

For the pastry:

100g hazelnuts (75g for the pastry and 25g for decoration)

200g flour

100g butter

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp iced water

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

For the filling:

170g dark chocolate

85g sugar

115g butter

80ml water (1/3 cup)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

 

 

For the glaze (optional):

2 tbsp glucose syrup

50g chocolate

25g butter

50ml boiling water

 

To prepare the hazelnuts:

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).

Place the hazelnuts onto a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for fifteen minutes, stirring every five.

Remove the hazelnuts from the oven. If they were already blanched and have had their skin removed, leave them to cool and skip to the pastry making step.

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If the hazelnuts still have their skins on, pour them onto a tea towel and wrap them up in it – it is easiest to do this by lining a bowl with the towel and then pouring the hazelnuts into the bowl.

Let them steam for a minute  and then massage the tea towel with the hazelnuts still inside. The steamy environment created by wrapping up the nuts will loosen the skins and rubbing them together will cause the skins to flake off.

Once the majority of the skins have come off, remove the nuts from the towel and leave them to cool.

 

To make the pastry:

Once your hazelnuts are cool, place them into a food processor and coarsely grind them. Measure out 75g and place it back into the food processor whilst keeping the last 25g for later.

Add the flour to the food processor and blitz it for around 30 seconds to grind up the last bits of the nuts to make sure the pastry is smooth.

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Cube the butter and add it to the processor. Pulse this until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the sugar and pulse to combine.

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Place the egg, water and vanilla into the processor and mix until the dough starts to come together.

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When the dough becomes sticky, pour it out onto a surface and squeeze it together with your hands to form a ball. Wrap this in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

 

Roll out the pastry to a couple of millimetres and drape it into a nine to ten inch flan tin.

Press it into the edges of the tin and trim off the excess pastry.

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If you have excess pastry, just make some mini tarts too!

Prick the base all over with a fork and place the tin back into the fridge for around ten minutes. This will help prevent the pastry shrinking too much in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (gas mark 5) while the tart case is resting.

Line the inside of the tart tin with baking parchment or foil and pour in baking beads to weigh down the pastry in the oven. If you don’t have baking beads, rice or lentils also work but you cannot use them for normal cooking after this.

Bake the tart for fifteen minutes.

Remove the baking beads and bake for a further 5 minutes to help dry the inside.

After five minutes, reduce the oven to 150°C (gas mark 2).

 

 

Once you have removed the baking beads, start to make the filling.

Heat the water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan until it is boiling.

Break the chocolate into a bowl and pour the water and butter mix over it.

Leave the mix for two or three minutes for the chocolate to melt, add the vanilla and stir together to create a smooth water ganache.

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Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl to break down their structure and then whisk them into the chocolate mix. It may thicken up and go a little gelatinous but keep beating it and it will smooth out again.

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Remove the tart tin from the oven and pour in the filling. Make sure there is enough room on top of the tart to add the glaze later.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes (at the lower temperature) until the tart is set about three inches from the edge but the centre is still a little wobbly. This is good as the residual heat will cook the centre of the tart.

Remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool.

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If you wish to add a glaze, place the tart in the fridge for at least an hour so it is fully set.

Heat the glucose, butter and water in a pan until it is boiling.

Chop the chocolate into smallish chunks and place into a bowl. This is because you are only making a little glaze so it will lose heat quickly and you want to melt the chocolate with the hot water.

Pour the liquid over the chocolate and leave for two minutes for the chocolate to melt.

Whisk the glaze together. If it is very thick, add a tablespoon of boiling water to help thin it down again. The glaze should be able to flow so it can be spread over the top of the tart.

Remove the tart from the fridge and pour the glaze onto it through a fine mesh sieve. This will remove any air bubble from the glaze giving the tart a completely flat top.

Tilt the tart to ensure the glaze fully covers the top and then leave it on a flat surface to set.

Use the hazelnuts set aside earlier to decorate the tart. You can also use raspberries, strawberries or any fruit of your choice!

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You can serve this with cream to cut through the chocolate but I like it just as a slice of tart on a plate.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe! Let me know if you have a go making it yourself – obviously you can just use normal shortcrust if you don’t like nuts and the glaze is another optional extra but I love to know how my recipes turn out for you guys! If you like this, then you are sure to love my quadruple chocolate and salted caramel tart too. If you are looking for something a little bit more on the savoury side, you should check out my recipe for a delicious salmon curry. It’s packed full of flavour and is incredibly fast and easy to make.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a meatball recipe which not only tastes great but keeps really well and can be batch cooked and frozen.

H

Chequerboard Biscuits

Biscuits are my Achilles heel when it comes to baking. They always seem to come out too soft or absolutely rock solid. Luckily, this recipe turns out well almost every time; you just have to be patient when letting the dough rest in the fridge – something I struggle with.

Having been around since the Roman era in one form or another, I feel that it is safe to say that biscuits are one of the oldest types of confectionary out there. Because they kept so well without going off, biscuits were very popular on long distance travels both by horse and on ships. These biscuits were made of just water and flour (sometimes with a little salt) and would be baked several times to ensure they were completely dry – the name biscuit arising from the Latin words bis and coquere meaning twice cooked. Often, they would have to be dunked in brine or tea to make them soft enough to eat! This level of dryness always strikes me as impressive because biscuits soften as they get older so the method of storage would have had to be pretty airtight to prevent the food spoiling over a long voyage which is quite an achievement over 2000 years ago.

One of the most interesting things about biscuits is how they age. This is also one of the main differences between a biscuit and a cake: stale cake goes hard but stale biscuits go soft. This distinction was one of the major factors in the McVitie’s vs HMRC case in 1991 in which the nature of the Jaffa cake was discussed in court to determine whether it was a cake or a biscuit. The argument arose because chocolate covered biscuits are charged at 20% VAT while chocolate covered cakes are not. After a lengthy case – in which McVitie’s baked a giant Jaffa cake to try and prove their point – the court ruled in their favour meaning, for tax purposes, Jaffa cakes are considered cakes.

The premise for chequerboard biscuits can be applied to many different designs. This gives you the chance to get creative. Pinwheels, where you place two rolled out colours of dough on top of each other and roll them up, are a classic. I even made music notes a few years ago. The trick is building the design out of one colour before packing around it in another colour and then slicing the dough to reveal the pattern on each biscuit.

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Good luck!

 

 

Chequerboard Biscuits

Makes: around 30

Prep time: 45 mins

Rest Time: 2hr 30 mins

Cook time: 10 mins

 

 

Vanilla Biscuit Dough:

250g butter (room temperature)

125g icing sugar

250g flour

1 egg (separated)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

Chocolate Biscuit Dough:

250g butter (room temperature)

125g icing sugar

50g cocoa

200g flour

1 egg (separated)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

 

To make the vanilla dough:

Beat the butter until it is soft and pale.

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Add the icing sugar and the salt and beat until the mix is light and fluffy.

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Mix through the vanilla extract and the egg yolk. Reserve the white for later when you are going to assemble the biscuits.

Add the flour in two additions and beat until just combined.

Form into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for an hour or until firm.

 

To make the chocolate dough:

Repeat the instructions above but add the cocoa at the same time as the vanilla and egg to ensure it is fully combined.

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Once the doughs have hardened, roll each one out into a rectangle 12 x 6 inches (30 x 15 cm) and leave them for another half hour in the fridge.

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Remove the dough from the ridge and divide each one up lengthwise into 9 even strips.

To assemble the biscuits, place a strip of cholate dough onto a piece of cling film.

Brush one side of it with the reserved egg white to help the different pieces stick together.

Align a piece of vanilla dough with the chocolate one and press them lightly together (we will press harder later to fully stick the biscuits together but you don’t want to deform the dough at this point).

Brush the vanilla dough with egg white and add another strip of chocolate next to this.

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Once the base layer is complete, brush the top with egg white and repeat with more strips of dough, alternating the colours, until you get a three by three block.

Tightly wrap this in cling film and then use a flat tray to lightly press down on the top to seal the dough strips together. Rotate the dough onto a different side and repeat. This will also help get sharp edges.

 

Repeat the above steps with the remaining dough (five strips of vanilla and four of chocolate) to get another log with alternating colours to the first.

Place both of these into the fridge for an hour to firm up fully before slicing.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (1600C).

Line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Remove one log from the fridge and slice it into quarter inch pieces (around 7 mm).

Place these onto a baking tray leaving about an inch and a half (around 4 cm) between them for the biscuits to spread in the oven.

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Bake for ten minutes.

Remove the biscuits from the oven. They will still be soft so slide the parchment off the baking tray and leave the biscuits to cool for five minutes to firm up a little before moving them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

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If you only have two baking trays like I do, slice up the dough and place it onto baking parchment on the counter top so when the tray comes out of the oven, you can slide the baked biscuits off it, run the tray under cold water to cool it down, slide the raw biscuits onto it and then bung it back into the oven.

 

If the chequerboard design doesn’t turn out well or everything falls apart as sometimes can happen, you can always squish the two doughs together and make marbled biscuits. Just make sure to squeeze them into a long round log and cool it before you start to slice the biscuits so you don’t deform them!

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy something of the more cakey variety, check out how to make a delicious, moist carrot cake or if you want a meal instead of a sweet treat, why not make yourself a luxurious smoked salmon risotto.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe involving hot water crust pastry.

H

 

 

Chocolate Fondants

A hot, gooey chocolate fondant is one of the most indulgent ways to end a meal and, like many baked goods, they are not as hard to make as most people think. There is something exciting about cutting into a cakey looking dessert only to have a chocolatey soup pour out ready to act as a sauce to the rest of the pudding.

Although fondants and lava cakes are relatively recent desserts in the grand scheme of things, appearing in the last 50 years unlike cakes and cheesecakes which are hundreds of years old, they have become incredibly successful. Many high-end restaurants serve them and they are a staple in the home bakers’ repertoire. They can be flavoured with fruit, coffee, caramel and all manner of different things so you can mix and match to make them perfect for you.

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Fondants, unlike lava cakes, are made by creaming butter and sugar before adding the eggs and flour and finally stirring in the chocolate. The high chocolate levels and low amount of flour make them dense and fudgy with a melt in the mouth texture. Perfectly cooked fondants will still ooze when they are cut but the centre is thick and viscous and incredibly rich. On the other hand, lava cakes are made by whipping eggs and sugar until thick before folding in melted chocolate and butter and finally the flour. This whipping gives the cake surrounding the centre a light and airy texture and the high butter content means the centre is super runny and flows out of the dessert when it is cut.

Lava cakes and fondants are ideal desserts for entertaining as they can be made up to two days in advance and stored in the fridge until needed when they can be whipped out and shoved into the oven just prior to serving. Even better is that as a result of the refrigeration, it takes far longer for the centres to set so you are much more likely to get the runny centre you desire which looks so impressive on the plate.

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This fondant has a salted caramel sauce and some double cream to cut through the richness of the chocolate

Perfecting the chocolate fondant is a matter of trial and error. If they split when you turn them out of their ramekins, try cooking them for a little longer and if they are solid all the way through, reduce the cooking time a bit. The hard part comes if they start to burn during baking as can happen in some ovens with white chocolate and green tea desserts. The best way to avoid this is to place a little foil over the top of the fondant but it must be loose to allow the dessert to rise in the oven! Using a combination of these  changes will allow you to get to know your oven’s preferred baking requirements for fondants and lava cakes.

These are so easy to whip up in a hurry – it only takes ten minutes and then the oven does the rest of the work. They are a personal favourite of mine and hopefully will become one of yours too!

 

 

Chocolate Fondants

Makes 3 cakes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 12 minutes

 

180g dark/white chocolate

25g butter

75g sugar

1 tsp Vanilla extract

2 eggs

30g plain flour

1 tsp matcha green tea (this is only for green tea fondants and you should use white chocolate for these)

 

Place a baking tray into the oven and preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC).

Line the base of three ramekins with small circles of baking parchment and butter and flour the sides.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave stirring every 20 seconds to prevent it from burning. Set this aside once it is done.

Cream the butter in a bowl and slowly add the sugar until they are combined.

Add the vanilla to the butter and sugar and beat again.

Add an egg and a tablespoon of the four and beat until everything has mixed together. Repeat with the other egg.

Add in the rest of the flour and beat together.

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(If you wish to make green tea fondants, add the matcha powder at this point and mix it through the rest of the batter)

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Pour in the slightly cooled chocolate and mix through – the chocolate should be a little cool to the touch but not have started to set.

Divide the batter between the ramekins.

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Bake for 12 minutes in the centre of the oven on the preheated tray. This will help ensure that the top of the fondants is fully cooked so they are less likely to split.

To turn them out onto a plate, run a knife around the inside edge of the ramekin. If the knife comes out with liquid filling, place the ramekin back into the oven for another two minutes. This is very important or the cake part with stick and the whole pudding will fall apart.

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I may have forgotten to loosen my green tea fondant from the ramekin before I tried to turn it out.

serve immediately with ice cream, double cream, salted caramel sauce or anything else of your choice – the possibilities are endless!

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I have discovered that to get the perfect melty centre, you need to make these a couple of times to get used to the oven as the cooking time can increase or decrease depending on the oven that you use.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy making a slightly less rich chocolate dessert, have a look at my recipe for a raspberry and white chocolate tart or if you are in the mood for a delicious main course instead, why not make a Thai curry? They are creamy and spicy and perfect to keep you warm over a cold winter (or at any other time of the year for that matter).

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a yummy vegetarian lasagne recipe.

H

Chocolate and Caramel Layer Cake

I recently realised that in all of my recipes which used chocolate as a main ingredient, I have never actually talked about its origins which is something I am about to change.

There is evidence of the use of chocolate in drinks from almost 4000 years ago. The ancient Maya and the Aztecs were known to use it in drinks however the chocolate they consumed was nothing like what we have today. Cocoa beans are incredibly bitter and need to be fermented before they begin to taste nice. Even then, we still dry them, roast them and add sugar before they get close to our mouths.

The name chocolate derives from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) word ‘chocolātl’. The Mayans used chocolate in celebrations and religious events. As cocoa beans grew so easily in Mesoamerica, chocolate was widely available and as a result everyone had access to it regardless of social status. Chocolate was so well thought of that there are paintings of the Mayan gods drinking it.

Cocoa Pod
A fresh cocoa pod

Like the Mayans, the Aztecs valued chocolate highly and also thought it had religious significance. They believed the removal of seeds from the pods they grew in was analogous to the removal of the human heart in ritual sacrifice. They would season chocolate with pepper and honey before they consumed it – almost like the world’s first chilli hot chocolate (except they drank it cold). Unlike the Maya, the Aztecs could not grow chocolate themselves as conditions were unsuitable so it was imported. As a result, cocoa beans were extremely valuable and were sometimes used a currency. When they conquered the Mayans, the Aztecs forced them to pay taxes (or ‘tributes’) in cocoa beans.

Since then, chocolate has become a world-wide phenomenon. It is consumed everywhere in, frankly, ridiculous quantities. Back in 2014, Switzerland held the crown for highest chocolate consumption per head with the average person eating 9kg of chocolate a year!

To produce chocolate, the beans must be roasted, cleaned, have their shells removed and ground up to create cocoa mass. This is then heated so that the cocoa butter melts creating a smooth, liquid called cocoa liquor. This is then either processed or left to cool in large blocks of raw chocolate which is then sold to different chocolatiers.

The raw chocolate can be re-melted and the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa mass. These are then recombined in different ratios along with sugar, milk and oils to create the chocolate we know and love. The cocoa mass must be ground up to very fine particles which is what gives the chocolate its smooth mouth feel and is why you can’t just add cocoa butter to cocoa powder and sugar to create chocolate – the cocoa powder has particles with almost four times the radius of those in professional chocolates.

The cocoa butter is also important to making good chocolate. When you make decorations, many recipes will call for tempered chocolate. This is where you melt the chocolate and when it is cooled, prevent the cocoa butter from setting, but stirring, until it gets to the right temperature. This is because cocoa butter has six different crystal forms only one of which is completely solid at room temperature and you don’t want your carefully crafted decorations to collapse before everyone sees them! One way around this is to buy compound chocolate where the cocoa butter is replaced with vegetable oils – this means that you don’t have to temper it!

Luckily, the recipe this week doesn’t call for anything super fiddly like tempering chocolate. It does make one of the biggest cakes I have created though. With four layers sandwiched with cream and caramel, this cake is incredibly indulgent, exceedingly decedent and definitely worth it. It’s perfect to feed a crowd and if you only want a small one, you can easily half the quantities and only make a two-layer cake!

Chocolate, caramel layer cake

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes (or 1 hour)

Cooling time: At least one hour

Decorating time: 30 minutes (plus 1 hour cooling)

Total time: 3 ½ – 4 hours

Serves 25

For the Cake:

100g cocoa (you want to use regular shop bought dutchy processed cocoa, not raw cocoa!)

200g dark brown sugar

500ml boiling water

250g unsalted butter

300g caster sugar

450g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tbsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

For the Icing:
½ batch of caramel (see Millionaire’s Shortbread recipe which gives instructions for the full batch)

200g butter (at room temperature)

450g icing sugar – sifted

¼ cup milk

For the filling:

300ml double cream

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180oC) and line four eight-inch baking tins (you may have to make the cakes in two batches if you have fewer tins and this will also help ensure the cakes all bake evenly). I like to butter the tins, put a circle of parchment on the bottom and then give it all a coating of cocoa.

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Place the cocoa and the dark brown sugar into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Whisk this together.

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Cream the butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes in an electric stand mixer.

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Stir the salt, bicarbonate of soda and the baking powder into the flour.

Add an egg and a tablespoon of the flour mix and beat it together.

Repeat this until all the eggs are added.

Add in half the remaining flour and mix it together.

Add the rest of the remaining flour along with a couple of tablespoons of the chocolate mix to prevent the mix turning into a hard dough.

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The moment it starts looking lumpy, add a little of the chocolate mixture

Add about a quarter of the remaining chocolate mix and make sure it is beaten through well so there are no lumps of while left.

Gently add the remaining chocolate mixture and slowly stir that through until all the mix is combined.

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Divide this into your tins and bake them for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool before filling them.

To make the icing, beat the butter for at least seven or eight minutes until it is light and fluffy. This step is imperative to making a smooth, spreadable icing.

Add half of the icing sugar and slowly beat it in to prevent covering the room in a layer of icing sugar.

Once it has been incorporated, beat the icing again on a medium to high speed for another five minutes.

Add the remaining icing sugar and repeat, beating for another five minutes. If the icing seems to be getting dry and clumping, add a tablespoon of the milk.

Add half of the caramel and beat it into the icing – the rest will be used later. The icing should now be smooth and delicious.

Once the cakes are cool, it is time to assemble them.

If the cakes are very domed in the middle, it’s best to level them a bit at this point. Us a sharp knife or a cake leveller to remove the top of each dome so the cake will be a more even shape.

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Whip the cream to soft peaks – it should be able to hold its shape but not have started to split!

Place the bottom layer on the cake board and pipe a circle of the butter cream around the edge.

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Spread the inside of the circle with one third of the cream and one third of the remaining caramel.

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Add the next layer of cake and repeat this until you only have one layer of cake left to add.

When you add the final layer, add it upside down so the top of the cake is a smooth, flat surface. You may have to build the icing wall up a little higher on the third later to support this if your cakes aren’t completely level.

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Cover the entire cake in a thin coat of icing and chill for an hour.

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Chill the cake after adding the crumb coat so the final product has a clean finish on the outside

Once the cake has chilled, cover it in the remaining icing keeping about 4 tablespoons back for decoration.

Use the reserved icing to pipe designs onto the cake. You can make them more visible by adding a little cocoa to the icing so it stands out.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe and that you love the cake when you try it! If you fancy a little bit more baking, why not have a go at making some Brandy Snaps or for a quick and easy meal, make yourself some One Pot Pasta!

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a delicious curry recipe – it’s even going to be vegan!

H

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Yule Log

To those of you who celebrate, have a very merry Christmas and to those of you who are not Christian, happy holidays! Whether you celebrate or not, one thing that you have probably taken advantage of is the myriad of festive foods which are available at this time of year. Whilst things like Christmas cake and Christmas pudding tend to divide people into the group that likes them and the group which thinks they were created by the devil in the eighth circle of hell, one thing that I feel almost everyone likes is the Yule Log.

The original Yule Logs were not cake. They were, in fact, a carefully selected piece of wood which was burnt around Christmas time. This started around 800 years ago in Europe. It was a huge lump of wood meant to last the entirety of the twelve days of Christmas; the stump left at the end would be used to kindle the log the following year. The stump would be kept in the house and was believed to ward off bad luck and illness.

The modern cake version of the log is a swiss roll masquerading as a tree stump by scratching the icing and often using leaves and berries as decoration. Whilst originally a plain Genoese sponge with a chocolate filling, nowadays you tend to find the reverse; a chocolate sponge with whipped cream inside. This is then slathered in chocolate ganache, buttercream or truffle mixture which is textured to look like bark. It is not uncommon to take a large slice and rest it on top of the log to resemble a branch.

I really like swiss rolls as they are incredibly simple to make. They can be created in 90 minutes and are certain to impress anyone you serve them too. As it uses a whisked sponge, the cake is very light and bakes in a short space of time. Whilst people always make a big deal about how to prevent the roll cracking, the answer is simple: don’t let it dry out! Avoid overcooking the sponge and make sure to place the damp towel over it while it cools. That’s all you need to do!

Although it is traditionally a Christmas dish, this cake is still perfect at any occasion during the year and owing to the speed at which it can be made and assembled, is a very good one to have in your baking inventory.

 

Yule Log

4 eggs

100g caster sugar

60g self raising flour

50g cocoa

 

For the filling:

300ml double cream

¼ cup caster sugar

¼ cup water

2 tbsp Bacardi or other white rum

 

For the ganache:

300ml double cream

300g dark chocolate

50g butter

20g dark brown sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

 

 

Line a swiss roll tin with baking parchment and preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until its thick and creamy (about eight minutes).

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5 vs 8 minutes – the extra few minutes makes all the difference in the thickness of the mix

Sift the cocoa and flour into the beaten egg and sugar and fold together taking care not to lose too much air.

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Before, during and after folding 

Pour into the tin and spread out evenly.

Bake for 8-10 minutes.

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Before and after baking

 

While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup.

Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved and place into the fridge to cool.

Lay out a piece of baking parchment larger than the swiss roll tin.

Remove the cake from the oven and flip out onto the parchment and remove the paper covering the base.

Place a damp tea towel over the cake to make sure it doesn’t dry out!

 

While the cake is cooling, make the ganache.

Heat the cream, vanilla and sugar until the cream is just about to boil.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter and leave for three minutes.

Whisk the ganache until everything comes together.

Set aside to cool.

 

Whip the cream to soft peaks – you do not need to add sugar as there is enough in the syrup and cake already.

Add the Bacardi to the syrup.

Remove the tea towel from the top of the cake .

Use a pastry brush to brush a layer of syrup onto the cake – this will help keep it moist and roll properly. You don’t need to saturate it, just give a nice coverage.

Spread the cream onto the cake going up to both long edges and one of the short edges – make sure to leave an inch along one of the short edges to start

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Use the baking parchment to start to roll the cake up. Lift from the short edge (with no cream) and fold the edge over, try not to crack the roll (but its fine if it does start to crack).

Continue to roll up the cake – try to get a nice tight roll.

End with the outside edge on the base so it doesn’t unroll!

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Once the ganache has started to set but isn’t hard – it should hold its shape when a spoon is dragged through it – cover the cake including the ends. The easiest way to do this is by placing lots of small blobs over the cake and then spreading them  out.

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Before and after adding texture to the ganache

Use a fork to make circles on the ends and run it up and down the length of the cake to make it look like a tree.

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This makes a perfect end to a Christmas dinner for those who don’t like Christmas pudding (or have both).

It is an ideal dessert if something goes wrong with your planned pudding as you can make the whole cake from start to finish in 2 hours.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Let me know in the comments if you try it at home or drop me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing. If you like this and want to keep with the Christmas spirit, check out my gingerbread house recipe. It tastes amazing and looks incredible. It’s a showstopper at any occasion! Alternatively, for a slightly more savoury meal, why not try your hand at making miniature beef wellingtons – a delicious dinner and surprisingly easy to make.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a healthy soup – ideal for a quick lunch and that new year health kick to make up for the Christmas guilt.

H