We Should Cocoa: The Fame Challenge

This month I have the honour of hosting We Should Cocoa, a blogging challenge created by Chele at Chocolate Teapot and Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog. We Should Cocoa usually asks participants to pair chocolate with another ingredient (you may remember the chocolate and coffee edition last June) but this time I want you to share a famous chocolate recipe. It could be Jennifer Lawrence’s chocolate cake, or the chocolate ice cream most favoured by Brad Pitt. You might be famed for your never-fail chocolate mousse, or your neighbour might be renowned for her chocolate muffins. Either way, I want you to share the recipe.

Taking part is easy. The full rules of engagement are here – but essentially all you need to do is make something involving fame and chocolate, write about it on your blog (including a link to this post, and to Choclette and Chele). Then, come back and add your post to the linky thing below. Tweet me when you’re done (using the hashtag #weshouldcocoa) and I’ll spread the word. In the meantime, let me introduce you to a recipe that deserves wider fame and fortune.

Martin Clunes’ Cold Dog Biscuits
When I was about seven, one of my brothers dared me to eat a dog biscuit. I still recall how it tasted – like a dry, wholemeal slab with a hint of beef stock – but what I remember more was the absolute fear of opening the massive drum the biscuits were stored in in the garage. Seven-year-old girls don’t much like the taste of Tux dog biscuits, but rats love them. I was petrified of opening the drum and a rat jumping out (or worse, wriggling down to the bottom, waiting to jump out or nibble my fingers).

I hadn’t thought about that experience until recently, when a pencil-scrawled recipe fluttered out of an old notebook. It was for Martin Clunes’ Cold Dog Biscuits – a recipe I’d copied out of The Independent in 2005. Then, Martin Clunes was omnipresent on English TV and at work our TV writers were forever going on set visits to Cornwall to watch him make Doc Martin. I couldn’t stand the show and detested that we devoted so much time and energy to the cult of Martin Clunes on behalf of Britain’s newspaper readers. This recipe though, was enough to make me hate him a little bit less. I just wish he’d explained why they were called Cold Dog Biscuits, because they are absolutely delicious. The chocolate is soft and velvety, punctuated by nuggests of cherries, walnuts and smashed up biscuits and pretzels. Just one and you’ll be like one of Pavlov’s dogs as soon as you see fridge door opening.

175g plain sweet biscuits (Rich Tea, Superwine, Digestive – that sort of thing)
50g pretzels (or use more biscuits)
100g glace cherries, halved
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
225g good quality chocolate
225g butter
2 eggs
2 Tbsp caster sugar
1 Tbsp rum or brandy

Line a brownie pan – about 20cm x 30cm with baking paper and set aside.
Put the biscuits and pretzels in a thick plastic bag and seal tightly. Bash the bag with a rolling pin until the biscuits are broken, but not pulverised into dust. Set aside.
Melt the butter and chocolate together over very low heat. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together, then add the rum. Stir this mixture into the chocolate, then add the smashed biscuits, along with the cherries and walnuts. Mix until well combined, then scrape into the prepared tin. Smooth the top, then put in the fridge for at least two hours to set.
Slice into small pieces – a little goes a long way – and store in a covered container in the fridge.

Have a great weekend, everyone. If you’re in Wellington, come and buy some baking from me at the Newtown Street Fair on Sunday. If you’re somewhere else, get your We Should Cocoa thinking cap on…

Treat me: Chocolate ginger lychees

When I was about 11 or 12 one of my favourite cookbooks was The Australian Women’s Weekly Chinese Cooking Cookbook. I don’t ever remember my mother cooking anything out of it, but we did eat out at Chinese restaurants and I based my whole understanding of the menu at Chopsticks and Hoo Wah on what was on offer in that book.
It was probably quite sophisticated for the time and it had all the information I craved on how to make curly spring onions and deep-fried ice-cream balls. None of which I can remember now, of course, but one image from the book has stayed with me. The star of the dessert section, apart from the aforementioned deep-fried ice-cream, was the chocolate-dipped lychees. Some 25 years later, I have finally made them. And boy, were they worth the wait.

Chocolate ginger lychees
These couldn’t be simpler – or more delicious. The only thing you need to be careful about is draining the lychees really well. Handle them with care – dry them with kitchen paper like you’re handling a baby after a bath – and you’re away. Quantities are slightly approximate because some tins of lychees contain more than others. I’m sure you won’t be too stuck for ideas if you’re left with lychees, ginger or chocolate left over.
As well as being the ultimate trip down memory lane for me, this recipe is also perfect for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge. The February We Should Cocoa is being hosted by Jen of Blue Kitchen Bakes, who has chosen ginger as the special guest ingredient.

1 x 450g tin lychees in light syrup
20 small nuggets of crystallised ginger
200g good quality dark chocolate, at least 60 per cent cocoa solids

Drain the lychees in a sieve, then dry carefully with kitchen paper. Leave them upside down on more kitchen paper to dry out while you melt the chocolate.
Melt the chocolate over gentle heat – in a double boiler arrangement is probably safest. Line a tray with baking paper.
Insert a piece of ginger into each lychee. Using a fork, a skewer or a dipping spoon, carefully drop each stuffed lychee into the chocolate and roll it around to coat. Remove from the chocolate and place on the lined tray. Repeat until all the lychees are coated.
Put the dipped lychees in the fridge to set firm, then transfer to a lidded container. Store in the fridge. They’re also good straight from the freezer – it’s like having a chocolate-ginger-lychee sorbet. Makes about 18.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Chocolate for your garden

In the week before Christmas I realised I had become hugely dependent on chocolate. Like an alcoholic who needs to keep topped up throughout the day to stay functioning, I was at the point where I was reaching for the 72 % proof almost as soon as I got out of bed (and I was getting up seriously early). So on Christmas Eve I gave myself a stern talking-to and since then, apart from accidentally eating a choc-dipped ice cream, I’ve been chocolate-free.

For the most part it’s been extremely easy and it wasn’t until I was watering the garden last night that I realised why. Just before Christmas we spread sackfuls of cocoa bean husks over large sections of our garden and for most of the ensuing month it has smelled like Willy Wonka’s place.

The cocoa mulch was the idea of this clever gardener and it comes from the Whittaker’s chocolate factory 20 minutes away (though we buy it from here, if you are keen to get some). As well as smelling amazing – for a while everyone who walked up our path arrived at the house expecting some sort of chocolate extravaganza) – it’s very good nutrition for the soil and it’s good for the gardener because it suppresses weeds. You can use the sacks it comes in as weed mat too! The fact that it totally nullifies any desire on the part of the gardener to eat chocolate for breakfast has been an unexpected bonus.

Have you been doing anything creative with chocolate this month? This month’s We Should Cocoa is all about using chocolate in recipes that don’t contain any cane sugar – I’m looking forward to see what people have come up with. In the meantime I’m going to content myself with deep sniffs of the chocolate in my garden (and making miniature wine glasses from the chocolate wrappers discarded by everyone else in my house).

Treat me: Christmas Mazurka

Don’t worry, I’ve recovered from my bout of Christmas-itis. The pohutukawas are coming out, the sun is shining and the realisation that there’s only a week more of work (that is, the work I get paid for) before December 25 has improved my outlook remarkably.

The other thing that’s cheered me up is nibbling on this Christmas mazurka. I’ve got no idea why it’s named after a Polish folk dance, but it does put a spring in your step. If you’ve yet to get any festive baking underway, this could be your saviour. One batch yields about 10-12 long bars, which you can wrap appropriately and give out as the mood strikes you. Or you can just stash it in a tin and eat it all yourself, which is what we’ve been doing.

Christmas Mazurka
This is a slightly fiddled-with version of something from an advertising supplement. If you haven’t made your Christmas cake yet (there is absolutely NO shame in that, it’s very hip this year), then you could always make this instead. Just a thought…

1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped crystallised ginger
1/2 cup mixed peel
1 cup chopped dried papaya or pineapple (or dried apricots)
1 1/2 cups roasted almonds, roughly chopped
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (125ml) runny honey (if you don’t have liquid honey, warm it over gentle heat)

Heat the oven to 150C. Grease and line a brownie tin with baking paper.
Put all the fruit, nuts and chocolate into a large bowl. Sift in the dry ingredients and stir well to combine.
Mix the eggs and honey together as best you can, then pour this mixture over the fruit and nuts. Mix well – it’s easiest to do this with clean hands – then press into the prepared tin.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the slice is firm in the middle. Let cool completely before turning out of the tin. Slice into bars or squares and store in an airtight tin. Keeps well.

The other great thing about this slice is that it fits neatly with the theme for December’s We Should Cocoa, which mixes cinnamon with chocolate. Be sure to visit Choclette’s blog at the end of the month (if not before) for more cinnamon-infused chocolate goodness.

Have a great weekend everyone. Hope your Christmas plans are under control… x

Treat me: Triple Chocolate Bagels

I’ve been thinking about making chocolate bread all year, ever since my triumph in the sandwich making contest (for which a lot of the credit must go to this delicious stuff). The November edition of We Should Cocoa – in which the theme is bread – has finally made me do it. If you fancy the idea of a dense, chewy, chocolate-studded bagel for brunch tomorrow, here’s how to make it happen.

Triple Chocolate Bagels

Triple Chocolate Bagels
Credit where it’s due: these chewy, chocolatey bagels owe something to Dan Lepard’s recipe and something to my own ingenuity. (And something to Nazima at Franglais Kitchen, this month’s We Should Cocoa host. Thanks too to Chele and Choclette for their continued WSC inspiration.)
They taste like they’ve got buckets of chocolate in them but it’s really quite a modest amount. Use the very best cocoa you can – once you’ve tried the good stuff, the supermarket variety seems very bland. If you are using the latter, I’d bump the quantity up to six tablespoons and maybe increase the water content accordingly. See how you go. These take about two and a half hours to make, from getting the flour out to sitting down with one in your hand.

500g strong white flour
4 Tbsp good quality cocoa – I used this one (you can buy it in 5kg sacks, imagine!)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
350ml warm water
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
100g chocolate – a mixture of dark, milk and white – chopped

Put all the dry ingredients – except the chocolate – in a large bowl and mix well, then tip in the water and vinegar. Mix it to a dough, then cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it to sit for 10 minutes.
Tip the dough onto a lightly oiled bench and scatter the chocolate over the top, then fold the dough in on itself, one corner at a time. Cover with the upturned bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Repeat this twice more, then wash and dry the bowl before greasing it with a little oil. Return the dough to it, cover with plastic and let rise for an hour. Don’t clean the work surface, you’ll need it later.
Tip the dough out onto the bench and cut into 10 pieces, each weighing about 80g. Roll each one into a ball and place on the greased bench. Cover with a teatowel and let rest again for 15 minutes after you shaped the last one.
At this point, heat the oven to 220C and line a baking tray with nonstick paper. Get a large pot of water, sweetened with a few generous tablespoons of golden syrup, boiling on the stove.
When the proto-bagels have had their 15 minute rest, take the first one you rolled into a ball and poke your finger through it. Stretch it out with your fingers – the hole should be about 2cm – then drop it into the boiling water. Poach it for 30 seconds on each side, then remove with a slotted spoon and place on the waiting tray. Repeat this process with the remaining bagels. You can poach up to three at a time, depending on the size of the pot, but any more than that gets unwieldy. The chocolate might get a bit sticky, but don’t worry about it.
When all the bagels are poached, bake them for 25 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then split and eat with lashings of cold cream cheese and good jam. These bagels also freeze and toast well, though I suggest slicing them in half before freezing to make thawing easier.

Have a great weekend, everyone. I’m going to spend mine coaxing my tomato plants to grow and thinking about Christmas…