Last-minute chocolate fudge

If you are an organised person, you are probably sitting around shelling peas, roasting chesnuts on an open fire or performing some other seasonally appropriate cliched Christmas task. If you are not an organised person, you might be still at work, still asleep or still stuck in a line of traffic or angry shoppers.

If you fall somewhere in the middle, this post is for you. I thought I was an organised person, but then last week I was struck down by an evil virus (I’ll spare you the details) that made juggling parenting, work and the onset of Christmas near impossible. If it wasn’t for the miracle of online shopping and the fact that we are not hosting a Christmas feast (though I am cooking most of it), I think I would have cancelled the whole thing.

Now mostly recovered – and most importantly, with a mostly recovered child and a husband who is being force-fed vitamin tablets so he doesn’t succumb to whatever we had – I am actually looking forward to The Big Day. Sure, I have to cook a turkey and a chocolate roulade and a panettone and introduce some salads to a family who looks suspiciously at any vegetable that isn’t a deep-fried potato, but that’s all doable. Even more doable is this incredibly easy fudge, which doesn’t require any boiling or beating and can be made in an instant. If you are leaving all your Christmas shopping until the lastest of last minutes, don’t put yourself through it. Just make a double batch of this stuff and you’ll be regarded as a bona fide Christmas miracle.

Chocolate Almond Fudge
This recipe came to me from Tiny Happy, a blog so beautiful and serene that setting aside five minutes to read it is like giving yourself a little Christmas present every day. You can see Melissa’s most recent post about the fudge here. Here’s how I made it – with my time-honoured trick of using the oven as a chocolate melting device, because everyone’s oven is on at this time of year, isn’t it?

400g good quality dark chocolate (eg 200g Whittaker’s 50 per cent and 200g Whittaker’s 72 per cent chocolate, broken into pieces
1 400g tin of condensed milk
150g roasted salted almonds (or other nuts of your choice, or tangy dried fruit)

Melt the chocolate and condensed milk together – my favourite way to do this is to put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven (about 150C) for about 10 minutes. You could also do this in a double-boiler, or in a microwave, but the oven method is low stress and energy-efficient (if the oven has been on for something else, obviously). While this is happening, line a brownie pan or similar (about 30 x 20cm) with baking paper. Scatter half the nuts on the bottom of the tin.
As soon as the chocolate has melted, or nearly melted, take it out of the oven/double boiler and stir well until it’s well mixed. Pour this mixture into the prepared tin and press the remaining nuts on top.
Put it in the fridge to set – this will happen very quickly – then slice into small squares or bars. If you’re giving it away, make sure to tell the recipients to store it in the fridge. If you’re keeping it for yourself, retire to the sofa with the tin and a copy of Love, Actually or another Christmas weepie. You deserve it.

Merry Christmas! x

Treat me: Boozy figs

If you were beamed to earth from another planet at the moment you’d think all humans did was eat, drink and be merry. While the period between mid-November and early January is fairly intense on that scale, it’s pretty much always the season of entertaining at our house. And I love it, I really do, except for perhaps that tense 15 minutes just before the entertainees arrive and I feel in a state of complete chaos.

This year, with two fairly major entertaining events scheduled chez nous in the next fortnight, I’ve decided to take control. Firstly, I’m going to delegate a lot more (sorry, invitees, I understand if you want to pull out now) and secondly, I’m going to have something up my sleeve that I prepared earlier.

These boozy figs are an excellent do-ahead option at this time of year, whether you’re holding a soiree or you’ve been invited to one by someone like me who wants you to cross town with dessert in your handbag. The recipe is of unknown provenance – it’s out of one of my mum’s notebooks – and it is very simple. I’ve a hunch it is just the thing for this month’s Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by the ever-lovely Karen of Lavender and Lovage (with able support from Kate at What Kate Baked) – in which dried fruit is the theme.

Boozy figs
You can whip these mulled figs together in five minutes before you go to work, then when you come home they’ll be all plump and juicy. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, serve them warm over a slab of posh vanilla ice cream., if you’re in the southern, add strawberries. If you’re really, really organised, put them in a lidded jar in the fridge and they’ll be good for several weeks.

400g dried figs, cut in half (use scissors)
500ml fruity red wine
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 small orange, washed and halved
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 punnet of strawberries, washed and hulled (optional)

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and let bubble away for five minutes. Take off the heat and let cool. Then, either transfer to a bowl or jar, cover and put in the fridge. Or, if you’re planning to eat them in a few hours, add the strawberries before putting in the fridge. Serves six.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tea Time Treats

Treat me: Chocolate Mousse Cake

Our fridge, not to mention our bellies, are still recovering from an epic feast we had last weekend – dinner for six adults and as many children involving a three-kilo piece of pork shoulder, sacks of Turkish buns, a crunchy slaw made from a Savoy cabbage and several fennel bulbs and a vat of homemade barbecue sauce. Amazingly there were still lots of delicious leftovers, which is why I haven’t posted any recipes this week. There was even a bit of the show-stopping pudding left over, which I hid at the back of the fridge as a cook’s perk.

I dreamed this dessert up to celebrate the third birthday of We Should Cocoa – which this month has the thrilling theme of ‘Showstopping Cakes’. This one was such a showstopper that I couldn’t waste any time photographing it, which explains the slightly odd shot below.

Chocolate Mousse Cake
Take a look at the ingredients for this showstopper and you’d be right in thinking that it’s more like a heartstopper – with nearly a litre of cream involved it’s not going to win any Heart Foundation prizes. But it serves at least eight, with a generous slice left over for the cook to hide in the fridge to eat later. There are three stages, but none of them are particularly onerous. You must, however, make the pavlova the day (or night) before you want to serve the cake and allow at least four hours’ resting time in the fridge once you have assembled it. Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe – it’s not at all tricky to do.

For the pavlova base:
2 1/2 cups (560g) caster sugar
6 egg whites
3 Tbsp cocoa

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate (at least 60 % cocoa solids), roughly chopped
400ml cream. split into 2 x 200ml measures

For the topping:
500ml cream
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
50g almonds, roughly chopped (optional)

First, make the pavlova. Heat the oven to 180C and line a tray with baking paper. Put a 28cm cake tin on the baking paper and draw a circle around it – this will help be a guide for the pavlova.
Using a freestanding mixer or a very powerful electric beater, whisk the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar. Beat for 15 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. The mixture will be very thick and glossy. Sift over the cocoa and fold in, then dollop the mixture onto the prepared cake tin. Carefully put the tray into the oven, then bake at 180C for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 90C and leave the pavlova in the oven for 10 hours, until very dry and hard. Turn off the heat and let the pavlova cool completely in the oven.

When you are ready to start assembling the cake, get the mousse ready. To do this, heat 200ml of the cream in a medium saucepan until boiling point. Remove from heat and tip in the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute, then stir well until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool briefly while you whip the other 200ml of cream until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the cream and set aside.

Next, line the bottom and sides of the aforementioned 28cm springform cake tin with plastic wrap. Cut out a circle of the pavlova to fit into the tin. If your pavlova is very tall, slice it horizontally through the middle so you have two discs. Line the bottom of the tin with one of the discs of pavlova (or pack the bottom of the tin with the remaining pieces). Pour over the chocolate mousse, then top with the other disc or pieces of pavlova. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

Take a breather for a moment, then whip the 500ml cream to soft peaks. Remove the tin from the fridge and dollop the cream on top of the mousse and cream layers. Scatter with the roughly chopped chocolate and nuts. You can also crumble any remaining pavlova bits on top. Cover loosely with plastic and leave in the fridge for at least four hours to allow the mousse to set and the cream to soak into the crispy meringue.

To serve, carefully unclip the tin and peel away the plastic wrap before transferring the cake to a suitably glamorous dish. Serves 8-10.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Treat me: Overnight cupcakes

Last week, when I issued a desperate call out for birthday party food ideas, I was inspired by many of the responses. But my favourite by far was the suggestion by Janice of Farmersgirl Kitchen that I make her vanilla cupcakes.
Now, I know cupcakes are, like, soooo 2009 and eclairs are where it’s at in 2013, but I can assure you that for small children, little cakes with big amounts of icing will always be in vogue.
The other thing that intrigued me about this particular recipe is that it requires the batter to rest in the fridge overnight. Among other things, this means you can have freshly baked cupcakes for breakfast, which is a trend worth setting.

Overnight cupcakes
Janice originally used a recipe from Le Cookie, a book by French pastry whizzes Mickael Benichou and Benoit Castel, who set up luxury cookie brand Moon St. So this cupcake recipe, by a French chef who designs recipes for a bakery in New York, came to me from a Scottish food blogger. Don’t you love the internet? Here’s the New Zealand version. Just a note – the icing sugar in the cupcake batter is not a mistake. I’ve made them with caster sugar and icing sugar and the icing sugar version is definitely superior.

3 eggs
150g icing sugar
finely grated zest of two lemons
150g white spelt (or plain white) flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g butter, melted and cooled

Put the eggs, icing sugar and lemon zest into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and beat on high for five minutes, until the mixture is pale and very fluffy. Sift over the flour and baking powder and mix in on low speed for a minute or two. Fold in the melted butter.
Cover the bowl and leave overnight – or for at least eight hours – in the fridge.
The next day, heat the oven to 160C and put cupcake cases in a 12-hole muffin pan. Divide the mixture evenly between the cases, smooth the tops gently, and bake for about 15 minutes until risen and pale gold. Let sit in the tin for five minutes, then remove the cupcakes to a rack to cool completely.
When they are cold, ice as you see fit. The ones pictured above have swirls of raspberry buttercream – recipe follows.

Raspberry Buttercream Icing
This generously tops 12 cupcakes. Go ahead and use raspberry flavouring/pink food colouring if you like – I was just experimenting with ways to avoid it ahead of tomorrow’s birthday party mayhem. Leaving out the sugar would probably be a safer bet! Using a freestanding mixer is the easiest way to do this and gets the best results, though a food processor comes a close second.

150g very soft but NOT melted butter
300g icing sugar, sifted
6 raspberries (frozen is fine)
2 Tbsp boiling water

Put the butter and icing sugar in a freestanding mixer/food processor and beat on high speed until very pale and fluffy. Set the mixer going, make yourself a cup of tea and sit down for five minutes (getting up occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl). Crush the raspberries in a cup and add the boiling water. Keep the mixer going and drizzle in the raspberry mixture, about a teaspoon at a time, until the icing is very fluffy and light.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Tomorrow our house will be filled with the sound of a dozen children, at least a dozen adults, and popping balloons. I am going to spend Sunday in a darkened room with a cold cloth on my forehead. At least, that’s what I’m planning!

Party planning 4.0

There is a major event in our lives in a fortnight’s time and I need your help. The Small Girl is turning four (four! how did that happen?) and The Party is the subject of much discussion.

Previously, we’ve used her birthday as an excuse to entertain our friends – and in some cases, their children. This time it’s all about her friends – and their parents, some of whom are unknown quantities. Needless to say, I am nervous.

In part, this is for the obvious reason that inviting a dozen small children to rampage through the house on a Saturday morning is hardly conducive to a relaxing time of it. We’ve been to so many parties recently – most involving bouncy castles and pirates and pass-the-parcel where every child gets a fancy gift – that I feel expectations are getting higher by the minute.

Then there’s the food. Some people have separate food for the children and adults, some have a free-for-all. There is always a cake of extreme proportions – sometimes outsourced, sometimes lovingly created (and probably sworn over) by the adoring parents.

We seem to have settled on the cake – but then the other requests are coming thick and fast. She pores over the picture of the ‘Welcome Table’ groaning with a clove-studded ham, star biscuits and various other delights in Nigella Christmas and says, ‘can we have that when it’s my birthday please?’ Don’t even start me on the supermarket, where her eyes light up as we march at speed through aisles of rubbish. “We could have those biscuits/marshmallows/fizzy drinks at my party, couldn’t we?”

While there will be no bouncy castle at our party, nor any vile Cheerios (honestly, I can’t believe people still feed those to their children!), we are going to have fun things to eat. The question is, what?

What would you feed a dozen children and probably at least as many adults on a Saturday morning? And do you have a great cake/cupcake recipe that can be made a couple of days in advance?