Sweet sweet Friday: Sweet Hana’s Raspberry Syrup

Where did 2010 go? Am I the only one who feels like the end of the year has sneaked up on them? Most people I’ve spoken to recently seem glad to see the back of 2010 and I can understand how they feel. It’s been a tough old year in lots of ways that I won’t bore you with now, but we’ve survived relatively unscathed and for that I am extremely thankful.

Portrait of the artist as a demented soak

One of the things that’s happened to our little family that I’m most grateful for is that we found Hana, who looks after the Small Girl when I’m at work.
Before we moved and I started my new job I told people I was looking for a Mary Poppins-alike. They all laughed and told me horrible stories about prison-style childcare centres or nightmare nannies, assuring me that I was looking for a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding Hana – a modern Mary Poppins – was so easy that we still can’t believe our luck. The Small Girl loves her to bits and we think she’s brilliant.

Last week Hana turned up with a pile of presents for us all (see, I told you she was lovely!), including a whole stocking-ful of treats she’d made. This pretty pink syrup was one of them. The Boy Wonder has been sneaking it to pour over strawberries and yoghurt for breakfast, but we’re saving the rest to splash into glasses of bubbles tonight for a fruity toast to 2010.

Here’s hoping we all have a sweet, sweet end to 2010 and much happiness in 2011. See you in the new year!

Hana’s Raspberry Syrup

1 cup raspberries, plus a few more to garnish
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
juice of half a lemon

Bring all ingredients to the boil in a medium saucepan. Keep boiling until the mixture thickens slightly. Strain through a sieve into a jug, then pour into sterilised jars or bottles in which you have placed a few whole raspberries. Seal and allow to cool. This syrup can be stored for about two months unopened, but store it in the fridge and use within a week once you’ve opened it. Makes about 400ml.

Do you have a favourite end of the week – and in this case, end of the year – sweet treat? Add it here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

The best brownies in the world, ever

It’s a big claim, saying you make the best brownies ever, but I do. At least, that’s what various sets of workmates in two hemispheres have told me when I’ve turned up with these little beauties at Christmas time. There’s something about these particular brownies that makes everyone go all sort of dreamy and dazed and happy. Then they tell you how amazing you are, so everyone’s a winner!

Lucy’s Brownies

This recipe, which came from my mum and is possibly an Annabelle White recipe originally, is especially dedicated to my dear former colleague Andy, a talented writer and a brilliant cook who has impeccable taste in music and makes the best cups of tea in the world. Andy, I’ve promised you this recipe for years – now, here it is. Merry Christmas!

The trick with brownies is to undercook them ever so slightly. They should be wobbly in the middle (like Santa) but set around the edges. My trick is to freeze them when they’ve cooled – eliminates any fears about them being too runny and ensures a fudgy texture. This recipe makes LOTS so it’s ideal when you have a lot of brownie lovers to pamper.

450g dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa solids)
350g butter
1tsp vanilla essence
2Tbsp instant coffee (powder)
2 cups caster sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 cups cashew nuts (roasted and salted or not, as you prefer)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a large baking dish – like a roasting dish – or several brownie pans.
Put the chocolate, butter, vanilla and coffee into a large saucepan. Melt over gentle heat, stirring occasionally. Let cool to room temperature, then add the sugar. Mix well, then whisk in the eggs. Lastly, fold in the flour and nuts. Pour into the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes (check earlier if you are using small pans), until the edges are firm to touch but the middle is still soft. Let cool in the pan. Turn out carefully, then wrap well in cling film or foil, then put in the freezer. If you’re taking them to work for morning tea, take them out of the freezer just before you go. They thaw quickly (and taste fabulous frozen!). Pile them onto a platter and shower with icing sugar. Add strawberries if seasonally appropriate and serve with love.

Do you have a special end of the week – or working year – treat? Add a link to it here and spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Sweet sweet Friday: Truffle Fudge

Do you know how hard it is to get a babysitter at this time of year? Trust me, it’s more difficult than getting your hands on the latest Marc Jacobs handbag or sending all your Christmas cards on time. It’s been touch and go, but The Boy Wonder and I are off to a Christmas bash on Saturday night, thanks to dearest Sally stepping into the breach. I’ve promised her dinner, wine, season six of Peep Show, and a shopping mission on Sunday in return. The cherry on top is a box of this dreamy fudge – which also doubles as my entry in this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge. 

Without a doubt, this is the easiest thing I have made all year. It requires about as much effort as making a cup of tea or opening a bottle of wine. In fact, with just three ingredients and a little bit of melting involved, you can probably make it while you’re boiling the kettle or looking for the corkscrew. The hard thing is knowing when to stop eating it…

Dreamy Date Truffle Fudge

250g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa), roughly chopped
1/2 cup date syrup
1 cup peanut butter

Put all ingredients in a pot and melt together over low heat. Stir well, then pour into a lined dish. Smooth the top (put another piece of baking paper over the top of the mixture and smooth with your hand for the neatest result). Let cool for 10 minutes, then put in the fridge to set (about 20-30 minutes). Turn out and cut into squares. Dust with cocoa if the mood takes you, then pack into a pretty box. Store in the fridge.

Do you have a sweet treat for the end of the week? Post a link here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Sweet sweet Friday: Honeycrunch Breakfast Bars

Christmas may be a-comin’ but that doesn’t mean real life is on hold. Oh no. This week, for example, while I was trying to remember where the Christmas box got stashed when we unpacked and patting myself on the back for making our traditional Christmas cake, the Small Girl needed a late-night doctor’s visit and the Boy Wonder ran out of muesli bars.

Despite what you might think, the former is less serious than the latter. The Small Girl was fine after lots of cuddles and a splash of paracetamol, but the Boy Wonder without food is another matter. We even have a word for it in our house – hangry – which describes the acute sensation of being so hungry that you lose all perspective and rationality. I’m particularly prone to this condition too, which is why I end up in the kitchen so much.

The Boy Wonder often eats breakfast at work (homemade muesli, yoghurt, berries) but lately he’s been so busy that he needs something he can scoff one-handed. I’ve been trialling various recipes to avoid buying those noxious packets of muesli bars, with mixed results. The first lot was very worthy – no butter or oil, no sugar, no nuts, no eggs – but also rather depressing to eat (and they grew furry mould within days, which was even worse). But this recipe, even though it has negligible nutritional value, is a winner. These bars are sweet, sticky and just the thing for a busy superhero, as long as he doesn’t eat too many of them in one sitting. Lycra is very unforgiving…

Honeycrunch Breakfast Bars

The rice bubbles give these sticky bars their brilliant light, crunchy texture – and you get to hear them go snap, crackle, pop when you’re mixing them. Add nuts, seeds and dried fruit as your pantry supplies allow.

125g butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups toasted muesli
2 1/2 cups rice bubbles
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts/seeds
1/2 cup dried fruit

Put the butter, peanut butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan and melt gently together. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, without stirring.
Put all remaining ingredients into a large bowl, then add the hot liquid. Mix well, then press into a slice tin lined with foil. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then put in the fridge to set. Slice into bars and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Makes about 18 hearty bars.

Sweet sweet Friday: White Chocolate Plum Mousse Cake

I don’t know much about parenting but I have learned in the last 18 months that it’s not a good idea to attempt complicated kitchen manoeuvres when the Small Girl is awake. So I don’t know what came over me a couple of Saturdays ago, when I decided to make a cake I’d spotted in Cuisine magazine for a dinner party we were going to that night. The Boy Wonder was hanging around, having breakfast and reading the paper, and I figured he and the Small Girl could amuse themselves while I played happily on the other side of the island.
They both have an unerring talent for choosing their moments to really need me when I really need them to be not needing me, if you get my drift – and so I made more than a few cock-ups along the way because I wasn’t concentrating on the task at hand. But even though I fretted about it all the way to the party, this cake was a winner. Six adults demolished it in seconds and hailed me as some kind of kitchen genius. Perhaps I should cook with the Small Girl around more often.

White Chocolate and Black Plum Cake
This cake, which I have adapted from one by Ginny Grant in the September 2010 issue of Cuisine, is like a softly set mousse. It contains no flour, making it ideal for the gluten-intolerant.
It might look a little flat when you turn it out of the tin, but the incredible combination of lightness and richness soon makes up for that. Good with a generous dollop of whipped cream (who says your thighs need to have a gap between them?)
Black Doris Plums are a very New Zealand ingredient – the sort of thing that you can’t buy from orchards any more, only in tins. If you can’t find a suitable plum to substitute, I suggest trying tinned apricots.

850g can Black Doris plums (a dark purple plum, similar to an Omega), drained, halved and stones removed
250g good quality white chocolate
150g butter
150g caster sugar
4 eggs
zest and juice of one orange

Preheat the oven to 120C. Line a 22cm round cake tin with baking paper and grease with butter. Line a large roasting dish (big enough to hold the cake tin and around 5cm deep) with a tea towel and put the prepared cake tin on top.
Place the plums in the prepared cake tin, cut side down. Set aside while you make the batter.
Place the chocolate and butter in an ovenproof bowl and put in the low oven to melt. Keep an eye on it – about five-10 minutes should be enough. Remove from the oven.
In the meantime, put the orange juice into a measuring cup and top it up with water if necessary to reach 75mls. Pour this into a small saucepan and add 100g of the sugar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has come to the boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes, then add this to the chocolate and butter mixture.
Beat the eggs with the remaining 50g of sugar until very light and fluffy. Pour in the chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Carefully pour this batter over the plums in the prepared cake tin.
Pour just-boiled water from the kettle into the roasting dish (that the cake tin is sitting in) until it comes halfway up the sides of the tin. Carefully put this in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, or until the cake has just set. Let cool in the water bath before turning out onto a plate. If you’re making this in advance (which is advisable, unless your guests are fine with being ignored for about half an hour), then put the cake in the fridge and turn it out just before serving.

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