Sunday, 30 June 2013

"Reese's" peanut butter bars

This is probably one of my favourite recipes, as the bars taste so good and they’re so quick and easy to make. They taste almost identical to Reese’s peanut butter cups – if you’ve never tried them, just make this recipe and you’ll know what they taste like. Unless you don’t like peanut butter… in which case this recipe probably isn’t for you.

Makes enough to fill a 7in x 7in pan (or equivalent size, I’ve used 6 x 8.5 here)

Gather your equipment
Essential equipment:  Mixing bowl, 2 microwave safe bowls, Ziploc bag, mixing spoon as well as smaller spoons, and a lined baking tray (or cupcake cases)
Optional equipment: Spatula, rolling pin
  • A clean wine bottle works well as a rolling pin
  • With a small adjustment this recipe can be used to make peanut butter cups instead of bars, so feel free to use mini/regular cupcake cases to shape your cups. 
Gather your ingredients
For this recipe you'll need: 140g icing sugar, 100g digestives, 190g peanut butter, 130g butter/margarine, 150g chocolate
Optional: Switch 40g of the peanut butter for an extra 40g of chocolate if making peanut butter cups instead of bars – so you end up with 150g peanut butter and 190g chocolate
  • You can use crunchy peanut butter if that’s what you’ve got – I use smooth as that mimics the Reese’s version better than crunchy does
Prepare to bake
Line your baking tray if you haven’t already, and finely crush all your digestives using the Ziploc bag and your hands/rolling pin/wine bottle/whatever you can find
‘Combine’ digestives, icing sugar and peanut butter
Weigh your icing sugar into your mixing bowl, then add your crushed digestives and stir well. Add just 150g of your peanut butter but don’t stir yet as it will get very messy.
Melt butter, add to the bowl
Melt your butter in short bursts in the microwave, then add straight to your mixing bowl and stir well. The hot butter will melt the peanut butter and make it easier to stir than if you had stirred in the previous step, leaving you with less of a peanut-buttery mess.
Pour into baking tray, refrigerate
Once everything is smoothly combined, pour it into your baking tray and press it right into the corners. Use a spatula (if you have one) to get all of the mix out of the bowl and into your mouth the baking tray. Refrigerate for half an hour, or freeze for 5-10 minutes.
Top with the chocolate mixture
Melt together your remaining peanut butter and the chocolate in the microwave using short 20 second bursts and stirring each time. You can use a mix of dark and milk chocolate; it’s up to you. Remove the tray from the fridge/freezer and pour the chocolate on top, spreading right into the corners. Refrigerate again.
Cut into pieces!
Once the chocolate has cooled, cut into pieces. The chocolate layer should stay slightly soft because of the added peanut butter – this will also make them easier to cut. You will not be able to stop at just one of these, so you might like to cut them into small pieces to make you feel better about eating 7 in one sitting. But maybe that’s just me.
Peanut butter cups option
If you want to make peanut butter cups, just leave the peanut butter out of the chocolate when melting it – this means the chocolate can hold the cup shape a lot better. Drop a teaspoon of chocolate into your cupcake case and spread it around and up the sides. Refrigerate briefly, then fill with your peanut butter mixture and top with more chocolate to close the ‘cup’. This does take ages though, and works a lot better with mini cupcake cases. Alternatively you can just make ‘layered’ cups – see a few variations above.

And here is the obligatory close-up...

Reese’s peanut butter bars: - fills a 7in x 7in pan
130g butter/margarine
100g digestive biscuit crumbs
140g icing sugar
150g peanut butter
150g chocolate
40g peanut butter

  1. In a bowl, combine the icing sugar and digestive crumbs. Add the first measure of peanut butter
  2. Melt the butter/margarine, then add it to the other ingredients and stir
  3. Pour into a lined baking tray and refrigerate
  4. Melt the chocolate and remaining peanut butter together and spread onto the bottom layer
  5. Refrigerate again, then cut into bars

Recipe originally from:

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Coffee and walnut cake

This is simple, but moist and delicious – even my sister, who claims to dislike coffee and walnut cake, says she likes this one. There are 3 components to it – the cake itself, buttercream icing to sandwich the layers together, and a simple glaze – and each part contains coffee essence. You could go out and buy coffee essence, but if you have instant coffee granules you can just make your own – as you’ll see below.

Makes one double-layer 7in cake

Gather your equipment
Essential equipment:  Lined cake tins, mixing bowl, mixing spoon, fork, measuring spoons, scales, small bowls for mixing your icing, small glasses for preparing your ‘coffee essence’
Optional equipment: Spatula, electric whisk
Gather your ingredients
For this recipe you'll need: 200g plain flour, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, 200g butter/margarine, 200g sugar (brown, caster, or a mix of both), 3 eggs, coffee essence/instant coffee, 100g chopped walnuts, 1-2tbsp milk. 
For the icing: 60g butter/margarine, 120g icing sugar, coffee essence/instant coffee. 
For the glaze: 100g icing sugar, coffee essence/instant coffee
Optional: Cocoa powder and walnut halves for decoration, and/or you can switch some of the walnuts in the cake for hazelnuts, pecans etc.
  • If you're using butter, leave it at room temperature to soften for a few hours
  • I like to use a half-and-half mix of soft brown sugar and caster sugar in this recipe, but I’ve also used the full 200g of caster sugar or just Demerara sugar in the past
Prepare coffee essence
This part is a bit like chemistry... but a lot easier; you just need to make 3 different very small dilutions of coffee. I like to make them all at the same time before I even preheat the oven, then just leave them on the side until I need them. You could just do them as you go along though, if you prefer
  • If making your own: the cake needs a dilution of 1tbsp coffee to 1tbsp boiling water. The icing needs 2tsp coffee to 1tsp boiling water. The glaze needs 2tsp coffee to 2tsp boiling water.
  • If using readymade coffee essence: the cake needs 50ml. The icing needs 2tsp. The glaze needs 2tsp.
Prepare to bake
Preheat oven to 180°C, line your cake tins if you haven’t already, break your walnuts into pieces (they are so soft that you can just use your hands). Weigh out your flour and baking powder and mix them together (use a sieve if you’ve got one).
  • I get ‘walnut pieces’, which are mostly already chopped, but there may be some walnut halves remaining in the bag – I take these out and use them for decoration.
Cream together butter and sugar
Beat just 200g of the butter until it’s smooth and creamy, using an electric whisk if you have one, or a fork if you don't, then add your sugar/sugars and mix everything together very well.
Add eggs with some of the flour
Add one egg at a time, with a spoonful of the flour/baking powder. Beat well after each addition, and continue for each of the 3 eggs. The mixture will be very runny at this stage.
Add coffee essence
Add your 1tbsp coffee/1tbsp water mixture (or 50ml of the shop-bought stuff) and stir well
Mix flour and walnuts, then stir into the mixture. Add milk
Mix the walnuts into the remaining flour until they’re all coated, then add the flour roughly half at a time to the mixing bowl. Stir with the mixing spoon, using a ‘folding’ motion (mixing from the bottom of the bowl to the top, rather than going ‘round and round’). When all the flour is incorporated, add a splash of milk – usually 2tbsp should be enough to bring it to the right consistency. You want the cake mix to be able to drop from the spoon without having to shake it too much.
Pour into tins, bake
Pour the cake mix into two tins, spread out and smooth down using a spatula, then bake for 25-30 minutes. Insert a cocktail stick/skewer into the centre of the cake to determine if it’s done – if it comes out clean, it’s ready. Leave to cool in the tins.
Make the icing
Meanwhile, make the buttercream icing which will sandwich the two cakes together. Make up a standard batch of buttercream icing (60g butter to 120g icing sugar). Add your 2tsp coffee/1tsp water mixture (or 2tsp of the shop-bought stuff) and stir well.
  • If you’ve only just made your coffee essence, the heat of the boiled water may melt the icing a little – if so just leave it to cool slightly and it’ll be fine.
Sandwich the cakes together
Trim the top of one of the cakes if you want a flatter surface, then spread the icing on top and sandwich the two cakes together.

Prepare the glaze and decorate
Sift 100g icing sugar into a small bowl, add your 2tsp coffee/2tsp water mixture (or 2tsp of the shop-bought stuff) and stir well. Add enough water to get a spreadable consistency. Spoon over the top of your cake and spread around. Decorate with walnuts and a dust of cocoa powder, if you like.
  • When making the glaze I like to add just enough water to make it spreadable, but not so much that it runs off the edges of the cake – this is quite a delicate balance, and as you can see from the picture above I added far too much water! If you do add too much water you can add more icing sugar if you can be bothered, but I usually just let it drizzle over the sides - you could do this on a wire rack so that the drizzled glaze does not 'pool' on the cake stand/plate as it has in the picture above.
And here’s what the final cake looked like:
This particular one was sold in the cafĂ© where I work; the Red Onion in Ruislip, where it always goes down very well! This is also the reason for the unattractive foil-covered paper plate, making for easier transport.

And here's what it looks like when it's a bit neater...

Coffee and Walnut cake: - makes a 7in two-layer cake
200g plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
200g butter/margarine
100g light soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar
3 eggs
50ml coffee essence (or 1tbsp coffee/1tbsp water)
100g chopped walnuts
1-2tbsp milk
For the sandwiching icing:
60g butter/margarine
120g icing sugar
2tsp coffee essence (or 2tsp coffee/1tsp water)
For the glaze:
100g icing sugar
2tsp coffee essence (or 2tsp coffee/1tbsp water)
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Sift flour and baking powder together, set aside
  2. Cream together butter and sugars
  3. Add 1 egg at a time with a spoonful of flour, stirring after each addition
  4. Stir in the coffee essence
  5. Fold in the remaining flour and walnuts
  6. Add sufficient milk to bring to a soft dropping consistency
  7. Separate between two tins, bake for 25-30 minutes
  8. Meanwhile, combine the butter, icing sugar and coffee essence to make the buttercream icing for sandwiching
  9. Sandwich together the two cakes
  10. Top with the glaze – the final measure of icing sugar combined with the coffee essence and enough water to give the desired consistency
Recipe originally from: River Cottage Baking

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Warning – these have been called the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Ok, so that came mainly from people who are related to me but the comment still stands; you may not be able to stop at just one. Don't say I didn't warn you. This recipe makes a pretty good imitation of Millie’s Cookies – they are very sweet, but you can use dark chocolate instead of milk if you prefer, to bring down some of the sweetness. Alternatively, you can switch some (or all) of the chocolate for an equal weight of dried fruits and nuts… cranberries and walnuts go particularly well together.

Makes enough for 12 large cookies (roughly)

Gather your equipment
Essential equipment:  baking tray (lined with foil/baking paper), chopping board, mixing spoon, weighing scales, sharp knife, fork, teaspoons, mixing bowl
Optional equipment: electric whisk, ice cream scoop, measuring spoons
  • Use an ice cream scoop to measure out the dough if you want really uniform-sized cookies

Gather your ingredients
For this recipe you'll need: 100g brown/caster sugar, 100g butter/margarine, 150g self-raising flour, 85g chocolate, 1tbsp golden syrup, ½ tsp vanilla essence
Optional: Replace the 85g chocolate with an equal weight of something different, or add 1 or 2 tbsp of cocoa powder
  • If you're using butter, leave it at room temperature to soften for a few hours

Prepare to bake
Preheat your oven to 180°C, weigh out your ingredients, and cut the chocolate into chunks – the easiest way to do this is to perform a ‘stabbing’ motion with the point of a sharp knife.

Beat together butter and sugar
Using a fork, or an electric whisk if you have one, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. ‘Smoosh’ the lumps of butter/sugar against the side of the bowl to make this easier.

Add vanilla essence and golden syrup
Add the vanilla essence and golden syrup and mix again. If you don’t have measuring spoons, you can just guess the rough amount – above you can see what 1tbsp of golden syrup and ½ tsp of vanilla essence roughly look like.

Add half the flour
Add roughly half of the flour and mix well using a wooden spoon (or just use the same fork as before)

Add rest of flour and chocolate
First mix the chocolate chunks with the rest of the flour, just to coat them – this makes them easier to incorporate. Add to the bowl and mix well. At this stage if you proclaim this the best cookie dough you've ever tasted, whisk the bowl away to the sofa and spend the entire evening watching film marathons I wouldn’t blame you. (It’s ok because it doesn’t have egg in it, right… right?!)

Shape the cookies
If you manage not to eat all the raw cookie dough, shape the cookies now. You can do this however you like – using tea spoons, an ice cream scoop, or your hands, but here are some rough guidelines:
  - squash down each cookie in the middle slightly
  - leave a fair amount of space between each cookie
  - try not to leave the chocolate chips facing upwards (see above – and the reason for this will become clear in the next step)
Bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile give your mixing spoon a wash. After the 10 minutes are up, take the cookies out of the oven. They will have risen a little and spread out a lot. Use the back of the baking spoon to squash each cookie down again (if you have lots of chips facing upwards this step can get pretty messy with all the melted chocolate). Put back in the oven for 2 more minutes, then remove and squash again. Leave to rest for 5 minutes on the tray, before transferring to a wire rack to cool (if you have one – the wire rack is not essential)

The cookies above were rolled by hand - this gives them really smooth edges. Below you can see what they'll look like if shaped by teaspoons - a little messier but still delicious. The 'squashing' step after baking is essential - it condenses the chocolate chunks into an ooey-gooey mess and makes the cookies more compact.

Recipe: - enough for 12 cookies (roughly)
100g softened butter/margarine
100g brown/caster sugar
1tbsp golden syrup
½ tsp vanilla essence
150g self-raising flour
85g chocolate chunks

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy
  3. Stir in the golden syrup and vanilla essence
  4. Stir in half the flour, then add the remaining flour and chocolate chunks at the same time
  5. Form the cookies and space them well apart on a baking tray
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and ‘squash’ with a spoon, then bake for 2 further minutes
  7. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack

Rocky road bars

These are seriously addictive. Make lots and prepare for people to ask you for the recipe. Traditionally rocky road has cherry pieces in it but you can swap this for raisins, or leave out the fruit entirely. (Does fruit really have any right to a place in a chocolatey snack? Some people feel quite strongly about this). You can add in pretty much anything – crushed up Crunchie bars would work well, but here I've made mine with Rolo chunks and raisins.

Fills a 7x7inch pan, which makes roughly 12 large bars

Gather your equipment
Essential equipment:  small baking pan lined with greaseproof/baking paper, microwave-proof mixing bowl, smaller bowl, scales, mixing spoon, Ziploc bag
Optional equipment: rolling pin, spatula, measuring spoons
  • Use a roughly 7in x 7in pan if you can; I used a 6in x 8.5in pan here, which made quite thinly spread bars
  • You can use a clean wine bottle as a rolling pin
Gather your ingredients
For this recipe you'll need: 150g dark chocolate, 60g butter/margarine, 1.5tbsp golden syrup, 100g digestives/rich tea biscuits, 50g marshmallows
Optional: extra add-ins (such as rolos, crunchie bars, raisins, cherries, chopped nuts) or decorations (such as vermicelli sprinkles, icing sugar)
  • Mini marshmallows are much easier to use in this recipe but normal marshmallows will also work
  • I used a mix of dark and milk chocolate in this recipe, just because it was what I had to hand
Prepare to bake
Weigh out your marshmallows and biscuits. If you’re using regular marshmallows, chop them up into smaller pieces. Take roughly half the biscuits and crush them to fine crumbs using the Ziploc bag and rolling pin/wine bottle, or simply use your hands. Break the other half into small chunks. Measure the chocolate, butter and syrup straight into the microwave-proof bowl. If adding any extras, get them ready now too.
Melt together the chocolate, butter and syrup
Microwave in short 30 second bursts, stirring each time, until everything is smoothly melted together and smelling very appetising. Alternatively, melt on the stove in a heavy-based saucepan, using a gentle heat.
Reserve some of the melted chocolate
Remove a few spoonfuls of the chocolate mixture and set aside in the extra small bowl. This will be used to give the bars a nice smooth finish later – if you don’t mind messy presentation, feel free to skip this step.
Add the biscuits and marshmallows, stir, then pour into the pan
Stir the biscuits, marshmallows and optional extras into the melted chocolate, then pour it all into your baking pan and smooth down into the corners. Pour the reserved chocolate on top and smooth down again. Use a spatula, if you’ve got one. If decorating with sprinkles, add them now.
Chill and cut
Leave in the fridge for roughly 2 hours (or if you’re impatient like I was, put the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes or so). Then use a large knife to cut into as many bars as you are willing to share. Dust with icing sugar at this point if you like. 

Here’s an up-close shot of the gorgeous rocky road babies:

And here are some I've made before… you can drizzle or pipe over some white chocolate as extra decoration. Doubling the recipe or using a smaller pan will obviously give you fatter slices.

Recipe: - enough to fill a 7x7in pan
150g dark chocolate
60g butter/margarine
1.5tbsp golden syrup
100g digestives/rich tea biscuits, half crushed, half broken-up
50g chopped/mini marshmallows

  1. Melt together the chocolate, butter and syrup
  2. Reserve a few spoonfuls of the chocolate mix and set aside
  3. Stir the biscuits and marshmallows into the chocolate mixture
  4. Pour into a lined baking tin and smooth down
  5. Pour over the reserved chocolate, smooth down again
  6. Refrigerate for 2 hours, then cut into chunks
Recipe originally by Nigella Lawson

Buttercream Icing

Here's one for those with a sweet tooth. You really only need icing sugar and butter to make a good smooth icing, but it will be massively improved by adding different flavourings. My go-to additions are vanilla essence and golden syrup, possibly with a sprinkle of cinnamon (for covering a carrot cake, for example). But you can experiment with flavours, add whatever you have to hand - think about separating a little spoonful of icing into a small bowl and testing out a flavour, if you're not sure whether or not it'll work.

Makes enough icing for 12 cupcakes (roughly)

Gather your equipment
Essential equipment:  big fork, mixing bowl, sieve
Optional equipment: weighing scales, measuring spoons, electric whisk, piping set
  • Scales are optional for this recipe because you can pretty much estimate the amounts of sugar/butter you use, according to taste.
  • A sieve is essential as icing sugar tends to form clumps very easily. If you don't have a sieve, your icing may be lumpy or take a bit more work to bring together (but it will still taste great).
Gather your ingredients
For this recipe you'll need: 120g icing sugar and 60g butter/margarine
Optional: Various colourings and/or flavourings eg. Vanilla essence, golden syrup, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutella, lemon juice, coffee essence etc.
  • If you're using butter, leave it at room temperature to soften for a few hours
Beat the butter, then add the icing sugar
Using your fork (or electric whisk, if you have one) beat the butter together until it becomes creamy. Sift in the icing sugar a little at a time and mix well after each addition. (If using an electric whisk it's worth mixing with a fork first for a few minutes, unless you want a faceful of icing sugar... which does taste nice to be fair). Once it's done it should look pale and smooth. Go on, have a taste. And a bit more.
Add flavourings and colourings
You could just use the icing as it is, but if you do have any interesting flavourings/colourings on hand, experiment! You can keep it simple with vanilla essence or cocoa powder, or add any of the suggested flavourings above. Adding a couple of spoonfuls of golden syrup will give a thicker consistency, and you could use it in addition to cocoa powder/nutella/vanilla essence/coffee essence and so on.
  • If the icing is not yet at a spreadable consistency, you can add a splash of milk to thin it slightly
Here I'll talk about decorating cupcakes specifically, rather than larger cakes. You can use a piping bag or just a knife, or the back of a teaspoon, to spread the icing onto each cake. I will post at a later date about piping/spreading/icing techniques, but for now, keep those cupcakes looking messy and it doesn't matter, because you can just cover it all up with...
Sprinkles... so many sprinkles. If you don't have a completely mental sprinkle-collecting habit like I do (and serious congratulations to you if you don't) then you can still use pretty much any confectionery to decorate cakes with. Maltesers/rolos/smarties/m&ms etc. - all these work well! And you can eat any leftovers. Win win. 

Here's the end result...

And here are some I made earlier...

Buttercream icing - enough for 12 cupcakes
60g softened butter/margarine
120g icing sugar
Optional: flavourings/colourings

  1. Beat the butter until creamy
  2. Add the icing sugar in small amounts, beating after each addition until the icing comes together with no lumps
  3. Add flavourings and/or colourings, and if necessary a splash of milk to make the icing more 'spreadable'