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.

 

This is a story I may have told before, but bear with me. Once upon a time, when I worked at a regional newspaper, a very, very angry reader drove all the way out to the office with a plate of biscuits he’d made. This wasn’t a gesture of generosity, but of rage. He’d made the biscuits to a recipe that was published in the newspaper and he was disappointed by the results. He complained that they were inedible and that we must have left the sugar out by accident. I apologised profusely and said I’d check the recipe with its author.

When I did, she was bemused. “No,” she said, “there’s no mistake. They’re just not very sweet biscuits.”

This is NOT a tiramisu – it’s the raspberry and lemon posset that appears alongside it in the original publication. We ate the test tiramisu too fast to photograph it (it’s that good!)

This was no comfort to the angry man, who was nearing apoplexy. After he calmed down a bit he revealed that he’d made the biscuits for the nurses who were looking after his ill wife in hospital. These nurses had then complained that they weren’t very nice (I know!). So really, it wasn’t about the biscuits at all. In the end we parted on good terms and the rest of the newsroom got some unexpected morning tea. He was right, the biscuits weren’t that nice, but they were made to the exact recipe.

I’m bringing this up now because this week I made a mistake in a recipe printed in The Dominion Post, the Waikato Times and The Press. I left an instruction out and this has made some readers very cross. I picked it up quick enough for it to be amended online, but once a runaway horse has bolted the print stable it’s very hard to get it back.

So, if you are looking at my recipe for Black Doris plum and white chocolate tiramisu and thinking, ‘where does the melted chocolate go?’, I’m sorry. The full recipe is below – with the missing instruction in bold. I wish I could say that there was a good reason for the error but the truth is, I’m only human. I will be more careful next time. Thank you to the people who have gotten in touch (even the ones who sent some rather cross emails) – I hope the mistake doesn’t put you off making the tiramisu because it really is delectable.

BLACK DORIS PLUM AND WHITE CHOCOLATE TIRAMISU
Serves 6-8
Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus 6-12 hours’ chilling time)
Cooking time: nil
A classic tiramisu is a heady confection of coffee and dark chocolate – delicious, but a recipe for a terrible night’s sleep. This fruity version is slightly lighter but no less delectable. To make it alcohol-free, use extra syrup from the plums as the liquid. Look for the Italian sponge fingers, also known as savoiardi, in the “international foods” section of the supermarket, or try a Mediterranean foods store.
1 x 825g tin black doris plums in syrup
200g white chocolate
4 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
250g mascarpone
5 tablespoons limoncello
16-20 Italian sponge fingers
Set a sieve over a bowl. Pour in the plums and leave to drain for a few minutes. Reserve the syrup. Remove all the stones from the plums. Mash them slightly with a fork and set aside.
Break up 150g of the chocolate and put in a small bowl that will fit snugly into the top of a small saucepan. Put about three centimetres of water in the saucepan and set over medium heat. Don’t let the water boil. As soon as the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat (being careful not to get any water in the chocolate). Set aside.
Put the egg yolks, caster sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Whip until pale, thick and mousse-y (using electric beaters is easiest). Fold in the mascarpone and the melted white chocolate.
Wash and dry the beaters, ensuring there is no egg yolk mixture left on them. Put the egg whites in a separate bowl and whip until they form stiff peaks. Fold them very gently into the egg yolk mixture.
Pour the limoncello and five tablespoons of the reserved plum syrup into a shallow dish. Dip about eight to 10 sponge fingers into this liquid, then fit them into the bottom of a glass bowl (the sort that your mum makes trifle in).
Pour half the egg and mascarpone mixture on top, followed by half of the plums. Dip the remaining sponge fingers into the liquid and arrange neatly on top of the plums. Spread the remainder of the plums on top, followed by the remaining egg mixture.
Roughly chop the remaining 50g white chocolate and sprinkle over the top. Cover tightly and chill for at least six hours (preferably overnight) before serving.

As much as I love a good kitchen-based project, there some things that I would rarely, if ever, bother to make myself. I’d put pastry pretty high on that list, especially when you can buy such fantastic stuff ready-made by companies like Auckland-based French bakery Paneton*. I’ve loved their products for years and the buttery, super-flaky puff pastry has saved me on many a desperate dinner occasion.  In exciting news for chocolate lovers, their chocolate pastry is brilliant too.

My go-to showstopper dessert for a big crowd of people is the Pecan Praline Tart in Dean Brettschneider’s Pie book – essentially, chocolate pastry filled with praline-studded milk chocolate ganache, topped with dark chocolate ganache and a scattering of praline crumbs. But on a long run recently (which is when I do my best thinking about food), I started thinking about something lighter that would have more of a contrast with the pastry. Here’s the result…

Easy Raspberry Ripple Tart

Raspberry ripple tart

I used the Paneton brand discussed above for this tart – it’s very dark, rich and buttery – but if you want to make your own I’d recommend the Dean Brettschneider recipe above. It will be delicious either way. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

For the raspberry curd:

2 cups frozen raspberries

1 Tbsp water

juice of 1 lemon

6 egg yolks

1 cup caster sugar

80g unsalted butter

For the tart:

About 300g chocolate pastry

1 cup cream

Extra raspberries, for garnishing

Start by preparing the tart shell. Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 30 x 10cm tart tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, leaving plenty of overhang. Chill for 20 minutes.

Bake blind for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and paper and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is dry to touch and crisp. Remove to a rack to cool. Trim any overhang (the resulting pieces are a good cook’s perk, though you will struggle to get any if there are little helpers around) and set aside.

To make the raspberry curd, put the raspberries and the water in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook for three to five minutes, until the fruit collapses, then remove from the heat. Push the raspberries through a fine sieve, discarding any seeds. This should make about 120ml (just under half a cup) of puree. Squeeze in enough lemon juice to make it up to 150ml. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, then pour into the saucepan you used earlier. Add the butter and raspberry-lemon juice. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly (this will take about five minutes). When the mixture is bubbling, remove from the heat. Stir well and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the tart.

About an hour before serving, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold in the curd to create a ripple effect, then pour this mixture into the pastry shell. Carefully put the tart in the fridge until ready to serve. Decorate with more raspberries before serving. A shower of grated chocolate – white or dark – wouldn’t go amiss on top, either. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

But wait, there’s more…

It’s highly likely that you’ll end up with some leftover pastry when making this tart. If you can stop yourself from eating it raw, I recommend turning it into easy ice cream sandwiches. All you need to do is cut the pastry into rounds, bake for about 10 mins at 180C and let cool. While you’re waiting, cut the ice cream into the same shapes and freeze. Sandwich the biscuits together with ice cream, dust with icing sugar and serve. This makes about 10 tiny ice cream sandwiches, which is just enough to leave them all wanting more.

*Please note, this is NOT a ‘sponsored’ post. In other words, I have not received any payment to say nice things about Paneton. In the interests of full disclosure, Paneton did send me a packet of their chocolate pastry to try recently. I was so impressed by it that I’ve since bought it twice more with my own hard-earned money (and I’ll definitely buy it again). I don’t think you can get a better recommendation than that!

If I was the sort of person who did things by the book, I’d be planting my garlic today. But after the failure of last year’s crop – I’ll never know if it was too much rain at the wrong time, the wrong sort of compost, or just bad luck – I’m a bit reluctant. Serves me right for being so smug and getting it in on time last year, I suppose. Traditional garden lore says it should be planted on the Shortest Day, but apparently it can be planted any time from May until the end of July. That’s especially useful information for people like me, who don’t fancy going out in the dark tonight to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in some extremely moreish black garlic grown and cured in Marlborough. Black garlic, or ‘garlic noir’ as it’s sometimes called, is fermented for a month to create a kind of super garlic that has double the antioxidants of the ordinary stuff. The fermentation process also changes the texture and flavour profile – black garlic is soft and almost chewy, with a sweet and smoky flavour that reminds me of molasses or fresh dates. It’s extremely moreish and I often find I have eaten a couple of cloves while slicing it up for something else.

 

The clever people who make it at Marlborough Garlic suggest using it as part of an antipasto platter, but I’ve also been adding it to vinaigrettes, or as a last-minute flavour boost to risotto, as it doesn’t need to be cooked. They also suggest dipping it in dark chocolate, which I was unsure about until a recent lunch at the sublime Wharekauhau Lodge where pastry chef Yannick Beaurienne devised a gorgeous black garlic chocolate mousse with kumara and pear brunoise, kumara ice cream and garlic caramel, as seen below.

Yannick’s version was beautiful, elegant (and extremely labour-intensive). Here’s my much-simplified version for the home cook.

Black garlic chocolate mousse with black garlic toffee
Don’t be afraid – the black garlic just deepens and enriches the chocolate flavours. This was a huge hit in my household, to the point that there was barely any left to photograph.

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate
2 cloves black garlic (about 8g)
400ml cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black garlic toffee:
3-4 cloves black garlic, finely sliced
4 Tbsp caster sugar
20ml (4 tsp) water

A little extra cream, for drizzling

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a heatproof bowl. Put half the cream into a small pot and heat to nearly boiling point. Pour over the chocolate and set aside for five minutes.
Mash the garlic to a paste and stir through the chocolate and cream until the mixture is smooth.
Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the cooled chocolate mixture,  then pour into a large bowl or divide between six small serving dishes (I use Great Aunt Shirley’s whisky glasses). Cover and put in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

For the toffee, spread the sliced garlic on a piece of non-stick foil or baking paper. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble away for five to 10 minutes, until it turns a dark golden colour (don’t wander off, this will happen sooner than you think!) Pour the toffee over the garlic and leave to set.

To serve, remove the mousses from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving. Break the toffee into pieces and use to decorate each one. Drizzle a little cream over the top and serve.

Are you planting garlic this winter? Do you have any top tips for failed growers?

I read something last week about how ‘invisible prisons’ – jobs, societal pressures, parenting, caring for older relatives – meant that modern women are shackled with more responsibilities than their mothers and grandmothers. I don’t know if that’s true. Personally, if that’s the price I have to pay for being able to vote, drive, own property and be generally free to do what I like, I’m fine with it. But last week I did find myself wishing I did a bit less. There’s nothing like racing home after work on the night of the school production and remembering en route that you were supposed to bake something for the cake stall to give you conniptions, is there?

Now, I know I could have ignored the cake stall request, or I could have been more organised and done it a few days in advance. But I didn’t do either of those things. Instead, I whipped up this slab of deliciousness in 20 minutes, while concurrently making boiled eggs for dinner and getting the child in and out of the bath. We then made it to the show on time, and all the lovely mothers (it’s always mothers, isn’t it?) who are so good they even RUN THE CAKESTALL cooed over the slice and wanted the recipe. In that moment, I felt a little bit less like a failure and more like a contributing member of society, even if my child was appearing in the show with a whopper of a black eye. But that’s another story.

Chunky white choc, orange and cranberry slice
There are a zillion versions of this slice and the world probably doesn’t need another one, but if you have weeks where the wheels are coming off and yet you still need to ‘bake’, this will save your bacon. Or bakin’. Or something.
Anyway, this version is better than all the others because it’s big and chunky, and therefore more satisfying to eat. It’s also slightly less sweet than some versions. If you’re very, very short of time, you may like to know that it’s possible to pre-crush the packet of biscuits with the full tin of condensed milk while you’re stopped at the lights. Also, if you don’t have quite enough biscuits, add a little more coconut. Or use less butter. If you’re reading this while running to the shops, a 200g packet of dried cranberries will give you enough for the base and the topping, while a 250g block of Whittaker’s white chocolate will fulfill all your chocolate needs.

100g butter
1/2 a tin (about 3/4 cup) condensed milk
300g plain sweet biscuits, bashed to large crumbs (keep a few big pieces in there for texture)
1 cup desiccated coconut
125g white chocolate, roughly chopped
zest of an orange
1 cup dried cranberries

For the icing:
125g white chocolate
50g butter
1 cup icing sugar
juice of an orange (use the one you zested above)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Line a 20 x 25cm tin (or thereabouts) with baking paper, leaving enough overhanging the sides that you can use to pull it out later.
Melt the butter and condensed milk together over low heat in a large pot. Let cool briefly, then tip in the biscuits, coconut, most of the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate. Stir to mix, then tip into the prepared tin. Press down (the overhanging paper will help here) to smooth the top. Put in the freezer.
Use the same pot to make the icing. Melt the butter and white chocolate over very, very low heat. Sift in the icing sugar and stir well, then squeeze in a little orange juice at a time until it forms a thick, spreadable mixture. Pour over the biscuit base, then sprinkle the cranberries and reserved orange zest on top. Return to the freezer for 5-10 minutes before slicing and racing out the door.
If your life is more leisurely, let the icing set in the fridge before slicing. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.