This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, in which tea is the special guest star ingredient, had me really stumped. I could only look on in awe as other bloggers created incredible cakes and puddings and was just about ready to throw in the towel altogether.
In a last-ditch effort, I idly Googled ‘tea and chocolate’ and somehow ended up at a site advertising chocolate and green tea face masks. Now, we all know chocolate makes us more beautiful thanks to its powerful antioxidants and green tea is often heralded for its detoxifying properties, but did you ever think of mixing them together and slapping them on your face?
While I was playing around with a homemade version – mixing a bit of green tea that I’d smashed to bits with a mortar and pestle with cocoa and a spoonful of manuka honey (also good for the skin) – it occurred to me that this trio could also make a delicious drink. In the time it took the kettle to boil I’d spread half the chocolatey goo on my face and scooped the remainder into a tea cup. I’m not sure that it made me any more beautiful but my skin did feel nice afterwards – and the chocolatea was delicious.
We drink buckets of peppermint tea at our house and so a peppermint version was the logical next step. I didn’t spread this one on my face (there’s only so much beautifying a Kitchenmaid can take in a day), but the tea smelled and tasted like a liquid After Dinner Mint. If I could distill this into a perfume I reckon I’d make a, err, mint…
Beautiful Chocolate Honey Tea
If you’d prefer to spread this on your face than drink it, here are a few handy hints. Use green or peppermint tea from a teabag (or matcha tea powder, if you’re posh) to save yourself the trouble of grinding up leaves in a mortar and pestle. Otherwise you’ll end up with scratchy twiggy bits on your face, which will be rather more exfoliating than you may like. Just mix the cocoa, tea and honey into a paste (add a drop of olive oil if it seems too thick), spread it on your face and lie down for 10 minutes. Wash off gently with a facecloth.
2tsp green or peppermint tea (about a teabag or two’s worth)
Put all ingredients in a fine china cup and mix to a paste. Add just-boiled water and stir briskly. Sit and drink while thinking beautiful thoughts.
I woke up yesterday and remembered I hadn’t made anything for Maison Cupcake’s ‘Seduced by Chocolate’ Forever Nigella challenge. I fretted about what to make for about five minutes, then Hana the Super Nanny rang and said she was too sick to look after the Small Girl and suddenly my day became a lot more complicated.
As it turned out, my lovely boss was understanding and the Small Girl and I had a really fun morning. Then the Boy Wonder rang, sounding panicked. “It’s Christchurch. There’s been another earthquake. I don’t know when I’ll be home tonight.”
The news from Christchurch is just horrible. The September 4 earthquake was bad enough, but then it was just about buildings. Now it’s about mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, colleagues and friends, who have lost their lives due to an incredible dose of bad luck.
It’s pathetic, but the only thing I felt I could do last night was make a batch of Nigella’s chocolate chip muffins for the Boy Wonder and his workmates, who have put aside their own personal attachments and worked through the night to deliver news that nobody wants to hear.
Comforting Chocolate Muffins
I couldn’t find the recipe for this on Nigella.com, so here’s my slightly tweaked version. I hope you won’t mind me suggesting this, but maybe you’d like to consider making a batch of these for your colleagues and asking them to donate to the Christchurch earthquake relief fund at http://www.salvationarmy.org.nz/. Thank you.
2tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
160g caster sugar
150g dark chocolate, smashed into little bits
6Tbsp melted butter, cooled (about 100g)
Preheat oven to 200C. Put paper cases in 10 holes of a standard muffin tin.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, then stir through most of the chopped chocolate. Mix the wet ingredients together in a jug, then pour into the dry mix and fold together until just combined. Add a little more milk if it seems a bit dry. Sprinkle the rest of the chopped chocolate over the top. Bake for 20 minutes, until they are springy and pass the skewer test. Cool for five minutes before taking them out of the tins and setting on a rack to cool completely.
You know how it is when you’re first really lovestruck with someone or something – a boy, a girl, a baby, a handbag – and you can’t stop gazing at them? That’s how I feel about these bars. It’s taken me ages to choose a photo of them for this post because they look so good from so many angles. It’s ridiculous – not only is my computer jammed with 40 million photos of the Small Girl, but now I have hundreds of pictures of cakes. In fact, I probably have more photos of food than I do of my beloved. Is this a bad thing?
Chocolate Prune Bars
I’ve been making variations of this for years, ever since I copied it down from a North & South magazine column by Michael Lee-Richards. I was a bored personal assistant to a public servant and surreptitious recipe retrieval was one of the things that kept me going. This is my current favourite incarnation.
100g butter, melted
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tin condensed milk
handfuls of roughly chopped dark chocolate, prunes, dates, walnuts – you can vary these to suit your tastes but extensive research on my part over the years has found that it’s best to have a 2:1 ratio of fruit to nuts. Introduce chocolate to the mix and you can get away with a 1:1:1 ratio. Am I blinding you with science?
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a slice tin with baking paper. Mix the butter, sugar, flour, coconut and baking powder together and press into the tin. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and scatter the chocolate, prunes and nuts on top. Drizzle the condensed milk over the top, then return the tin to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing and eating – you don’t want burned lips the weekend before Valentine’s Day, do you?
The Oxford English Dictionary recently decreed that the pavlova, that airy confection of egg whites and sugar named after a Russian ballerina, was invented in New Zealand rather than Australia. This caused no end of celebration on this side of the Tasman, where we have insecurity complexes over just about everything. The Aussies have a better cricket team (yes, really), a better economy and soon they will even have more New Zealanders living there than there are at home, so it was quite a boost for our feeble collective self-esteem.
In any case, I can’t feel too sorry for the Australians because they already have a national dessert to call their own. The humble lamington, which was reportedly invented as a way of using up stale cake (that’s Ocker ingenuity for you), is often claimed as a Kiwi creation, but given that today is Australia Day I’m willing to let it go. There are many variations – just visit Mr P for some incredible interpretations – but this is one situation where I’m strictly a traditionalist.
Australia Day Lamingtons
This is how my mother-in-law makes lamingtons, which are the best I’ve ever tasted. Admittedly, she’s not an Australian, but she must have learned this recipe from one. Antipodean supermarkets and bakeries sell square or rectangular slabs of sponge that are tailor-made for this purpose – the cardboard packets of trifle sponge sold in UK supermarkets isn’t quite the same, but it will do at a pinch.
Trifle sponge – preferably the sort that looks like insulation foam, cut into large blocks.
2 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup milk
around 1 1/2 cups desiccated coconut
Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Heat the butter and milk gently until melted, then mix with the dry ingredients. Let cool briefly.
Put the desiccated coconut into a shallow bowl. Dip each piece of sponge into the icing (pretend you are a plasterer), then dip into the coconut until it is evenly coated. Put on a serving plate and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve. They can also be frozen. If you’re being fancy, cut a slit in each lamington and fill with whipped cream and a dab of raspberry jam.
I’m in two minds about this post. January’s We Should Cocoa challenge is to make something using something leftover from the orgiastic Christmas food fest. I was at a bit of a loss – we’ve eaten all the good stuff – then I spied the box of Weetbix I’d bought a few months ago in a bid to reintroduce them to the Small Girl. She wasn’t keen (and as I detest Weetbix too, I couldn’t find it in my heart to insist she ate them). I’ve been surreptiously crumbling them into muesli occasionally but the box has been sitting there, annoying me.
The internet, or at least those creepy lobotomised Mum forums, is full of recipes for Weetbix slices so I bit the bullet and chose one. I tweaked it a bit to suit our cupboards but it’s not my finest creation by any means, which is why I wasn’t sure about posting it here. I think my real problem is that it tastes like the sort of thing that the women’s mags perkily say that busy, frazzled housewives are supposed to make – and while it’s slowly dawning on me that I AM a busy, frazzled housewife, I’d rather comfort-eat bread and butter than this kind of thing. So while I have an existential crisis about my place in the world, see what you think of this…
Chocolate Weetbix Slice
This is quick, easy and uses up a few dreaded Weetbix. If you can, make this with some raisins or dried fruit tossed in. It’ll be really boring otherwise.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1tsp vanilla essence
2 Tbsp cocoa
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)
3/4 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup crushed Weetbix (2-3)
1 cup icing sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2tsp vanilla essence
Preheat oven to 160c and line a slice tin with baking paper (leave an overhang so you can lift the whole thing out afterwards).
Melt the butter in a large pot, let cool briefly, then throw in all the other ingredients and mix well. Press firmly into the prepared tin and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool completely.
For the icing, sift the cocoa and icing sugar into a bowl, then add the vanilla and milk. Add a bit more milk if it’s not runny enough. Spread over the slice and cut when set. Drop it off at a coffee morning for exhausted mothers.