Sweet sweet Friday: We Should Cocoa – Chocolate Caramel Bars

This week’s sugar high also doubles as my entry in November’s We Should Cocoa challenge, run by the beautiful and talented Chele and Choclette. If you’ve got a thing for chocolate, you should join in too. Every month these two set a recipe challenge, for something involving chocolate and a special guest ingredient. You can see the results of October’s challenge here, but don’t linger too long or your thighs might start expanding before your very eyes.
This month’s celebrity guest ingredient is caramel – which was music to my ears because whenever I ask the Boy Wonder if he has any special requests on the baking front, he invariably asks for these sticky, gooey, caramelly bars.

Chocolate Caramel Bars
These are a sort of deconstructed millionaire’s shortbread, with a crisp, buttery bottom, a gooey caramel middle studded with nuggets of dark chocolate and a crunchy top. Absolute decadence!

Base
225g plain flour
60g desiccated coconut
85g caster sugar
150g butter

Topping
1 tin condensed milk
2 generous Tbsp golden syrup
50g butter
80g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a slice tin with baking paper. Leave a generous overhang – this allows you to lift the whole slab out of the tin when it’s cooked and saves on difficult washing up.
Put the flour, coconut and sugar into a bowl and stir to mix, then rub in the butter. I find the easiest way to do this is to grate it in. You can also do this in a food processor if you’re so inclined. You want a mixture that clumps together rather than a smooth dough.
Press two-thirds of this mixture into the prepared tin and put it in the fridge while you prepare the topping. Set the remainder mixture aside.
For the topping, put the condensed milk, golden syrup and butter in a small pot and heat gently until melted. Cook for a few minutes more, just until it starts to catch on the bottom and turns a lovely golden colour. DO NOT leave it unattended – the consequences are terrible (and then you have to go out and buy more condensed milk). Pour this mixture over the prepared base, then sprinkle over the chocolate and the reserved base. Bake for around 30 minutes, until the house is filled with delectable aromas. Leave it in the tin to cool, then cut into bars.

Do you have a favourite end of the week baking treat? Link in to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

A lovely bunch of coconuts

Some things get lost in translation, especially in recipes. After a year in New Zealand it appears I have assimilated a little too much and am now causing a wee bit of confusion by referring to ‘coconut’ in recipes and expecting you to know what I’m talking about. So – a quick tutorial.

Desiccated coconut

The coconut referred to in the Best Ever Vegan Friendly Chocolate Cupcakes is supposed to be desiccated coconut (or ‘desecrated’ as an old flatmate once called it).

Long thread or shredded coconut

The coconut used in the super-decadent Raspberry Choc Nut Bars is what I call long thread coconut, but you may know it as shredded coconut. It’s just a longer, thinner version of ordinary desiccated coconut, kind of like its supermodel cousin, with better hair. Desiccated coconut is better in the cupcakes, but I think the long thread or shredded version works best when you need a bit more texture. Hope this helps. Happy baking!

Sweet sweet Friday: Vegan Cupcakes

I’ve been making lots of cupcakes this week – the Boy Wonder took some to work and I froze the rest for Erin the Amazing Babysitter. Erin came into our lives when I started making cupcakes for a local craft market and she became my unofficial tester. I try to have some on hand whenever she comes over, which seems especially important now that we’re leaving town. I asked her mother if we could take Erin with us and she said “No! You’re not taking your daughter and mine away from me!” Oh well. Maybe I can send them some cupcakes from our new kitchen.

Best Ever Vegan-Friendly Chocolate Cupcakes

Once upon a time I had a brief flirtation with veganism. It didn’t last (I didn’t miss meat or eggs, but a life without butter, yoghurt or ice cream? No thanks!) but I discovered lots of my favourite cake recipes were vegan-friendly anyway.
This is my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe. It’s dark, moist, quick to make and freezes brilliantly. The flavour improves the day after baking (if you can resist them for 24 hours).

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3/4 cup coconut
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups cold coffee (or water)
3 Tbsp vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put cupcake liners in two 12-hole muffin tins.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and sugar into a large bowl, then stir in the coconut.
Mix the wet ingredients in a jug, then pour them into the dry. Mix well. Pour the mixture in the cake tin, or divide equally between the cupcake liners (I usually get around 22 cupcakes out of it).
Bake for about 20 minutes. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.
This can also be baked in a 23cm cake tin, for about 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to crack a decent vegan icing – butter is just TOO important! These are fine dusted with icing sugar, but most of the time I use the Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. It’s almost worth the price of the book by itself – a silky, voluptuous frosting that adds a very decadent touch. Just beat 75g very soft butter, 30g sifted cocoa and 200g icing sugar until very light and fluffy (easiest in a mixer or with an electric beater). Add 150g fridge-cold cream cheese and beat until even lighter and fluffier. Try not to eat it all before you get some on the cupcakes.
Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

Sweet sweet Friday: We Should Cocoa – Raspberry Choc Nut Bars

Warning: this post may be dangerous to your health. But don’t blame me, blame Choclette and Chele of the Chocolate Teapot. They’ve started up We Should Cocoa, a monthly challenge to food bloggers (floggers?) involving chocolate and a special guest ingredient.

September’s guest star is raspberries, which was a bit tricky given that it’s wild, wet spring outside here and fresh raspberries are a distant dream. But then I remembered an Ottolenghi recipe that I’d lovingly lingered over but never made. Could it be adapted to include chocolate?

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. And, believe me, this little baby will knock your socks off. It’s got nuts, chocolate, raspberry jam and rather a lot of unsalted New Zealand butter. But there are whole oats in there too, plus some milk. It’s practically healthy!
Here’s the recipe, taken from the first Ottolenghi cookbook and tampered with here and there. Wishing you a sweet, sweet Friday and a joyous weekend.

Raspberry Chocolate Nut Bars
A crunchy nut topping, a soft berry middle and a crisp, buttery bottom. Delish!

Base:
120g plain flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter, diced
80g whole rolled oats (often called ‘jumbo’ oats)

Filling:
250g good quality raspberry jam
80g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Topping:
70g flaked almonds
70g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
50g long thread coconut
100g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
40ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence (I actually used brandy – because that’s the sort of woman I am, the sort that has plenty of brandy in the house but no vanilla)

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl, then rub in the butter with your fingertips until it forms crumbs. Stir in the oats to combine, then tip into the prepared tin. Don’t press down too much, so the base stays light. Bake for 20 minutes or until light brown.
While the base is cooking, place the nuts and coconut in a large bowl. Put the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla into a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this mixture over the nuts and stir well.
When the base has had its 20 minute sojourn, remove it from the oven and spread with the jam – be gentle or the base will break up everywhere. Sprinkle on the chocolate chunks, then pack the nut mixture evenly over the top. Return to the oven for another 25-30 minutes, until it’s golden brown.
Leave until cold to cut into bars. A little of this goes a long way…