Anglo-French rocky road

For reasons too complicated to explain in detail here, I recently found myself teaching four groups of school children how to make rocky road. In French. Yes, I know. I’m not sure how I get myself into these situations but once the gate clanged shut, there was no getting out. (Literally – French primary schools are like fortresses.)

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I’d been in similarily challenging teaching environments before (though I wasn’t sure this French primary school would enjoy being compared with a medium-security New Zealand prison, so I kept that to myself). Luckily, I also had help: an ex-nurse and a former army officer whose CVs were packed with far more useful and impressive feats than mine.

Image shows a bowl of rocky road mixture (marshmallows, chocolate, crushed biscuits) being stirred by five children (only their hands are visible)

I don’t want to go telling tales out of school, but trust me when I say that all three of us needed to be on our A-game. Fortunately, French school kids are used to being told off. Unfortunately, they’re like all other children (and adults) in the presence of chocolate. Suffice to say, it was an exhausting morning, much mitigated by a refreshing glass of cider at 11.30am in the staffroom afterwards. 

Should you wish to recreate this experience yourself during the school holidays, invite 10-15 children to come and make the following recipe with you. Make sure you’re in a classroom without aircon, preferably a few days before a record-breaking heatwave. For best results, have very rudimentary cooking equipment, at least two children who will be fighting at any one time, and eyes in the back of your head to stop them running with scissors and licking the bowl before you’ve finished mixing. Bon courage et bonne chance!

Two children stir a bowl of melted chocolate, condensed milk and melted butter. Only their hands are visible.

Rocky road

You can substitute other dried fruit or nuts for the cranberries and peanuts if you like.

100g butter
400g chocolate
1 x tin sweetened condensed milk
200g plain sweet biscuits
200g marshmallows
150g dried cranberries
150g roasted peanuts

Line a tin or plastic container (measuring about 20x25cm) with plastic wrap or baking paper.
Put the butter, chocolate and sweetened condensed milk in a large pot. Set it over low heat and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Put the biscuits in a freezer bag and crush them gently until they are crumbs. It’s good to leave some bigger pieces to make the rocky road crunchier.
Using scissors, cut the marshmallows in half or into thirds if they are large.
Put the crushed biscuits, marshmallows, cranberries and peanuts into the melted chocolate mixture. Stir well.
Pour into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Leave to set in the fridge for 1 hour. Cut into pieces and store in the fridge.

A boy licks biscuit mixture off a spoon.

‘Chemin Rocailleux’

Vous pouvez remplacer les cachuetes et les canneberges sechees avec des autres noix ou fruits secs.

100g beurre demi-sel
400g chocolat
1 x boite lait concentré sucré
200g biscuits du thé
200g guimauvres
150g canneberges séchées
150g arachides salées

Tapisser un moule ou un Tupperware de 20x25cm avec du film étirable ou du papier sulfurisé. Deposer le beurre, chocolat et lait concentré sucré dans un pot. Chauffer doucement pour les fondre, en agitant souvent. Laisser refroider 10 minutes.
Mettre les biscuits du thé dans un sac de congelation. Utiliser un rouler ou vos mains pour les éraser.
Couper les guimauvres en petit pièces avec les ciseaux.
Ajouter les biscuits écrasés, les guimauvres coupés, les canneberges séchées es et les arachides au chocolat. Melanger bien.
Verser dans le moule. Placer au frigo pendant 1-2 heures. Couper en petits pieces et garder au frigo. Bon appétit!

Need more school holiday baking ideas? Check out these ones.

Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I’ve had this recipe for more than 20 years. That’s not the same thing as saying I knew where it was – or even that I knew I had it – but I remember exactly when it appeared in my life. It came from my flatmate Kim’s half-sister Kirsty, but where she found it is anyone’s guess. Kirsty came to stay in our tumbledown flat in Mt Cook in about 1996. Kim was doing criminology Masters, Sally was working in a CD store, I was dying of boredom as an admin assistant and Steve was combining his Masters study with driving the cable car. We had no money and lots of good times.

I can’t remember why Kirsty turned up, but she was a curly-haired bundle of energy and a great guest. The flat, a creaky wooden two-up, two-down with a dodgy extension out the back, was the sort of place that felt like it would blow over in a strong wind. Now it’s probably worth a million dollars, but at the time it was pretty rough around the edges (and in the middle).

At some point during her stay, Kirsty produced this recipe, or Kim had it dictated to her on the phone by someone. It’s written on a coffee-stained piece of A4 that contains other, more cryptic, messages such as ‘optometrist, Tuesday’, an address in Howick and a note from Kirsty to Kim about borrowing clothes for tomorrow. Ah, they were simpler times.

Anyway, I still recall how incredible this was to eat – a big, fat slab of chocolate deliciousness. It turns out that it’s just as good as I remember. I thought I better record it here in case the piece of paper disappears (it’s taken me a major clean-out to find it and I’d rather not go through that again).

Kim and Kirsty’s chocolate slab

I know this contains huge amounts of butter, sugar and chocolate (the blessed trinity), but it makes a lot of servings and no one’s forcing you to eat the whole thing in one go, are they?

250g unsalted butter

1 Tbsp espresso coffee powder

1 ½ cups hot water

200g dark chocolate, chopped

2 cups caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups self-raising flour

¼ cup cocoa

Heat the oven to 160C and grease and line a brownie tin.

Melt the butter, water and coffee in a large pot set over medium heat. Remove from the heat, then add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla. Sift over the dry ingredients and fold together until combined.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 60-80 minutes, until the middle is set. Allow to cool before removing from the tin and cutting into generous slabs. Dust with top with a mixture of cocoa and icing sugar before serving. Makes about 25 large pieces.

Prison Bake Brownies & Good Bitches’ Truffles

I did a lot of cool food-related things in 2018. I wrote a book about burgers, I helped judge the second Outstanding Food Producer Awards and I ate in some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. But the very best thing I did was join a group of volunteers teaching baking at one of New Zealand’s largest prisons.

That might not sound very interesting in and of itself (though I can tell you, being behind the wire at a prison is a huge learning experience) until you realise that baking was a bit of a Trojan horse. What we were really trying to teach – along with a few tips and tricks about successfully making biscuits and cakes – was the redemptive power of kindness. The Prison Bake programme, which ran as a short pilot in August and then a three-week stint before Christmas, was the brainchild of Good Bitches Baking. This charity, set up by Marie Fitzgerald and Nic Murray in 2014, now has about 1600 volunteers baking for 135 different recipient organisations every week. Prison Bake is another way of reaching out to the community and spreading what Fitzgerald and Murray call ‘moments of sweetness’.

You might take a dim view of prison rehab, preferring to think of jail being a place where they lock you and and lose the key. You might not think baking a cake is much of a help to someone having a tough time. But it’s hard to argue with the feedback from the prisoners themselves. When asked what they’d learned during the pilot programme, one of them said he’d learned that he could be a kind person – and he didn’t think that was possible. You don’t have to be behind bars to have that kind of learning experience (but it’s even more remarkable if you are).

PRISON BAKE BROWNIES

These brownies were part of the pre-Christmas Prison Bake programme. They’re very simple to mix and make, and you can change it up by using different chocolate or fruit. I think dark chocolate chips and brandy-soaked prunes might be a good combo (though perhaps not quite so prison-friendly).

125g butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1 cup plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup frozen raspberries

1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a brownie pan (about 20x30cm) with baking paper.

Set a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and cocoa, stirring until it melts. Cook for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch (about 10 minutes).

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Fold together gently, then fold in the chocolate. Pour into the prepared pan and dot the raspberries on top (press them in lightly).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are set in the middle. Cool in the pan before slicing.

Of course, if going to prison isn’t your thing there are plenty of other ways to support Good Bitches Baking. They’ve got a whole bunch of cool things you can buy to support their fundraising efforts, including the most beautiful cake sprinkles I’ve ever seen. If you wanted to be a very kind person you could buy some sprinkles, make these truffles and then give them away to a person in need of cheering up. (It’s ok if that person is you – self-care takes many forms.)

GOOD BITCHES TRUFFLES

This is more-or-less a Julie Le Clerc recipe from issue 100 of Cuisine magazine (a deeply precious issue that sparks much joy).

250g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana)
50g butter
125ml cream
3 Tbsp dark rum (or brandy, or whisky, or a liqueur of your choice)
1 egg yolk
1 packet Good Bitches Baking Kindness Sprinkles

Put the chocolate, butter, cream and rum into a heatproof bowl and put into a low oven – or over a saucepan of simmering water, or in a microwave – and melt, stirring occasionally. The oven method is really easy, as long as you don’t forget it’s there. 
Let cool for a minute or two, then stir in the egg yolk until well mixed. Let cool for 10 minutes, then chill in the fridge until set (about an hour).
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls – this is a sticky job, don’t even think about answering the phone etc while you’re doing it – then roll in the sprinkles. Store in the fridge, eat at room temperature. Makes about 22 truffles if you don’t accidentally eat the mixture.

To learn more about Good Bitches Baking, visit www.gbb.org.nz

Common Household Biscuits & Slices Of New Zealand

Are you a ‘lickalda jamoffit’ kind of person? Or do you prefer a ‘picquanacium fuchsia’ to brighten up your morning tea break? Either way, I wager that you’ll be delighted by the new tea towel and poster edition of Common Household Biscuits & Slices of New Zealand.

This brilliant concept, which mixes scientific accuracy with subversive humour, caused quite a storm in a biscuit jar when it was first released as part of the beautiful children’s compendium, Annual 2, in 2017. Biscuit eaters across the nation (and from further afield) were gratified and grumpy in equal parts when they discovered that some of their most detested biscuits and slices had made the cut while their favourites had missed out.

For me, the icing on the, err, biscuits and slices is the Latin names found under each one. Illustrator Giselle Clarkson has used her Latin knowledge to come up with names like ‘Lestwee forgetum’ (the noble Anzac biscuit), ‘Custurdis betwixtus’ (the melting moment) and ‘Disappointus minora’ (the much-maligned sultana pasty).

You might not have done enough for a chocolatum rotunda, but you definitely deserve one of these tea towels or posters. And just think what good presents they’ll make…

The Common Household Biscuits & Slices of New Zealand tea towel and poster are available here.

SALTED CARAMEL CHOCOLATE COOKIES

Some people see the end of the financial year as a time to reflect upon their achievements and set their goals for the next six months. I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I’ve been sitting around doing nothing (so far this year I’ve made a book, written a lot of stories, held down a day job and managed to maintain most of my obligations to society), but it’s gone by so fast that I’ve barely had time to blink, let alone plan.

However, there is something I’ve been doing that I have every intention of continuing and that’s eating chocolate in large amounts (especially late at night while doing all the things listed previously). Reader, I have become seriously addicted to Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate. Seriously addicted. I have to forcibly stop buying the stuff because once the packet is in my hand I come over all Augustus Gloop-ish and can think of nothing else but ripping open the golden packet and shovelling it in. This chocolate, which the Whittaker’s Oompa Loompas spent THREE YEARS perfecting, came out in May and I reckon we’ve probably averaged a bar a week ever since. I felt a bit ashamed of this statistic at first but now I’m owning it proudly. If you’re going to comfort-eat, you may as well do it with the good stuff, right?

In between eating it out of the packet I’ve been experimenting with using this chocolate in baking (beyond chopping it up and sprinkling it over French toast). This recipe is the result.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookies

If you can’t get Whittaker’s (another reason to love living in New Zealand at the moment), try these with another caramel-filled chocolate. If you like cookies to be thinner and crisper, reduce the amount of flour a tiny bit (say, by a couple of tablespoons). They’re good either way!

125g softened butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 Tbsp golden syrup

1 small (size 6) egg

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour

18 squares Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate (or alternative)

Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease or line two baking trays.

Cream the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy. Add the golden syrup and egg and beat again until well combined. Sift in the flour and stir to mix. Take generous tablespoons of the mixture and stick a square of chocolate in the middle of each one. Roll into a ball (to enclose the chocolate) and place on the prepared tray. Repeat until all the mixture is used up. Leave lots of space between them as they will spread while cooking. Press each ball lightly with a floured fork and sprinkle with flaky sea salt before putting the trays in the preheated oven.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight tin.