Treat me: Chocolate prune truffles

My father loved chocolate of all kinds, but most of all the dark, rich, expensive sort. The first Father’s Day after he died I found myself in a posh chocolate shop trying to decide what to buy him. I was just about to make my selection before I remembered – there was no dad to buy them for. Even now I find myself looking at books or recipes and thinking, ‘Dad would love this’. I was thinking about his love of chocolate and dried fruit when I started tinkering with these truffles.

Chocolate Prune Truffles
These are child’s play to make – providing you have a child who likes supervised play that involves a food processor – and virtuous enough for the most health-conscious dad while tasting incredibly indulgent. Forget about your prune phobia and make them, now.

200g pitted prunes
100g ground almonds
2 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1 Tbsp honey
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped, plus 150g dark chocolate for dipping

Line a shallow baking dish or similar with baking paper and set aside.
Put the prunes in a food processor and whiz to a coarse paste. Add the ground almonds, cocoa, vanilla and honey and whiz again, then pulse in the 50g chocolate.
Take small teaspoon-sized blobs of the mixture and roll into balls. Put them on the prepared tray and put them in the fridge for about 15 minutes (longer, if you need to).
Carefully melt the 150g dark chocolate – a double-boiler arrangement is the safest option, unless you have a microwave – then dip the balls into it. Leave to set, then store in an airtight container in a cool place. Makes 24 small balls (allowing for a reasonable amount of sampling during the making process).

If you’re really not sure about chocolate and prunes, you could always check out the truffles other bloggers have been making for August’s We Should Cocoa challenge. Guest host Elizabeth and challenge creator Choclette have kindly let me slot this recipe in at the last minute – and from a quick look at some of the others, it’s in very good company.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and happy Father’s Day for Sunday to Antipodean dads everywhere.

Treat me: Chocolate mint bars

When I was a child and my parents went out for dinner, the next morning there would often be a gold-wrapped after-dinner mint on my bedside table – a treat from the night before. I’m sure Mum was the selfless one – Dad couldn’t go past any kind of chocolate – and I always thought it was incredibly glamorous (bearing in mind it was the early 1980s). Restaurants no longer offer after-dinner mints to departing diners (at least, not the restaurants I go to), which is a great shame because there’s something irresistable about that crisp chocolate shell and melty mint middle.
Anyway, the reason I started thinking about after-dinner mints was that mint is the special guest ingredient in this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, guest-hosted by Victoria of A Kick At The Pantry Door. Here’s what I came up with.

Chocolate Mint Bars
This is so easy – the hardest part is waiting for it to set. If you don’t have or don’t like Oreos, I think it could work with any Mint Cremes or any dark chocolate biscuit. If you’re using biscuits with a creamy filling, wait until the chocolate and cream mixture is quite cool before adding them or they will melt. Feel free to increase or reduce the peppermint essence (or oil, if you can get it). Either way, don’t measure it over the bowl – the laws of baking gravity will ensure you accidentally tip in much more than you intended.

150ml cream
150g dark chocolate (the darker the better – I used 70 per cent cacao), roughly chopped
150g Oreo cookies (a packet)
1-1/2 tsp peppermint essence to taste

Line a large loaf tin with baking paper, leaving enough of an overhang so you can pull the finished product out easily.
Put the cream and chocolate into a small saucepan and set over very low heat. Keep a close eye on it – as soon as the cream looks like it is about to simmer, take it off the heat and stir well until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Crumble the Oreos with your fingers – you want them in bits, not crumbs, so they add a crunchy texture – and add to the chocolate-cream mixture, along with the peppermint essence. Stir and taste – add more if you want it to be really minty.
Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top, then put it in the fridge to set (about an hour, best after two). Carefully lift out using the baking paper and cut into slender bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Have a great weekend, everyone! x

Treat me: Tropical Blondies

The checkout operator leaned conspiratorily over the trolley. “Are you sure you want those?” she asked, her hand poised above a tin of Thai mangoes. “I bought some last week and they’re not very nice.”
I looked at her, then I looked at the mangoes. “Not very nice in what way, exactly?” I said, using the eyes in the back of my head to keep track of the Small Girl as she climbed a mountain of packing boxes.
The checkout operator screwed up her face: “Too mushy,” she said. “Good for cooking though, I suppose.”
We both looked up as a loud crash sounded from the direction of the boxes. “That’s ok then,” I said as I gathered up the rest of the groceries and handed over my card. “That’s exactly what I want them for.”
Nothing beats a fresh mango, but the tinned ones do have their place. Specifically, they have a place in these light, luscious blondies. Would it be weird for me to take them to the supermarket to show the Doubting Thomasina on the checkout, do you think?

Tropical Blondies
Mango is the special guest ingredient in May’s We Should Cocoa challenge. This month, founder Choclette has handed the reins over to the lovely Shaheen of Allotment 2 Kitchen – who used to go by the nickname Mangocheeks. These days she goes by the name of Incredibly Busy Person, having mostly traded blogging for running a vegetarian cafe in Wales.
I’m no expert on Welsh cafes (let alone Welsh vegetarians) but I think these blondies would sell like hot cakes there. They’re very light and easy to eat, not least because I’ve used fruit – pureed mango and banana – to replace some of the butter, sugar and eggs in a normal blondie/brownie recipe. Little nuggets of dried mango add to the fruity flavours.

1 x 425g tin of mango, drained and pureed (about 230g mango flesh)
200g unsalted butter, diced
200g good quality white chocolate, roughly chopped
2 eggs
150g mashed banana (about 1 1/2 ripe bananas)
200g caster sugar
150g white spelt flour (or plain white or gluten-free, depending on your cupboards)
1 ½ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
60g dried mango, snipped into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a brownie pan (I use a tin about 30cm x 20cm).
Put the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl and melt gently by putting it into the warming oven. Keep an eye on it – it will take five to 10 minutes. This is a stress free, energy-efficient way of melting chocolate without having to worry about double boilers and the like.Let it cool slightly to room temperature.
Beat the eggs and sugar together until thick and fluffy (I do this with the whisk attachment of my freestanding mixer), then beat in the mashed banana. Add the cooled, melted chocolate and butter and the mango puree.
Sift over the flour, baking powder and salt, then fold in gently. Scatter over the dried mango and fold in.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 25-35 minutes. Timing is everything with brownies – you want them firm at the edges but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Leave them in the tin to cool for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Cut into bars when cold and store in an airtight container. These also freeze well (and can be eaten while frozen!)

Have a great weekend, everyone, and a very happy Mother’s Day on Sunday x

Treat me: Chocolate Honey Buns

No matter how hard I try, our Easter chocolate mountain is showing no sign of shrinking. I’ve a feeling chocolate rabbits are as prolific breeders as their furry counterparts – though I’m not sure how they produced the chocolate seahorses lurking in the pantry. In a bid to both use up some of the chocolate and make us a weekend breakfast treat, I’ve devised the following recipe. It’s also handily suitable for April’s We Should Cocoa challenge, in which honey is the special guest star ingredient.

Chocolate Honey Buns
I had all sorts experimenting with hiding different sorts of chocolate inside the dough when I made these, though not as much fun as my little assistant, who managed to swipe two buns off the bench while I was hunting for the camera.
Little, solid chocolate Easter eggs worked well, but anything with a truffle-y, toffee-y centre was less successful and tended to ooze out everywhere. ‘Normal’ dark chocolate is probably best in terms of flavour and keeping its shape..
This is a very sticky dough, so it’s best handled in a freestanding mixer with a dough hook. If you’ve got forearms of steel and lots of patience, by all means do it by hand.

450g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
275ml milk
1 large or 2 small eggs
70g butter, at room temperature, cut into small slices
12 – 24 squares of good chocolate – or small Easter eggs, seahorses, bits of bunny or other random chocolates
50ml milk, for glazing

Put the milk in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Stir in the honey and let cool to blood temperature.
Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in the bowl of a freestanding mixer. When the milk and honey mixture has sufficiently cooled, add it and the egg(s) to the dry ingredients. Beat well with a wooden spoon, then turn on the mixer and mix at medium speed for five minutes until a smooth and shiny dough forms. Add a slice of butter and wait for it to be amalgamated into the dough, then repeat with the rest until it is all in.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside in a warm place until it has nearly doubled – about an hour or so.
Heat the oven to 180C and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
Turn the dough out of the bowl and punch down lightly. Divide into 12 pieces. Roll each one into a ball, inserting a piece of chocolate as you go. Place in the muffin tins.
Brush the buns with milk and bake for 20-25 minutes, until well risen and golden brown. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a rack. These are at their very best eaten hot, while the chocolate is still molten, but they’re still good at room temperature. They also freeze well, but I doubt you’ll have many left over.

Have a great weekend, everyone

World famous chocolate recipes

OK, everyone, it’s time to pull on your legwarmers, leotards and headbands: it’s the We Should Cocoa Fame round-up. Since I’m writing this post with the Fame theme going round and round my head, here’s the link so you can listen along at the same time. Catchy, isn’t it?

We Should Cocoa usually asks participants to match chocolate with a special guest star ingredient, but this month I thought it might be fun to try something different. Instead, I asked everyone to come up with a ‘famous’ chocolate recipe – whether it was from a famous person, world-famous in their street, or just deserved wider recognition. Here’s what they came up with…

We Should Cocoa newbie Nicole Bremner dived in at the deep end and managed to reinvented the world-famous Oreo cookie not once, but twice. She’s made a vegan and a fructose-free version – and both look amazing. Nicole’s blog is new to me and it’s full of lovely things. You should check it out.

The always-inspiring Karen of Lavender and Lovage is famous enough in her own right (did you know she was a World Baking Day ambassador?) and she whipped up a treat with her usual joie de vivre. Her Famous Drinking Chocolate Cake took me back to the days of eating drinking chocolate out of the packet… come on, I know I’m not the only one to have done that!

And the similarly famous Dom of Belleau Kitchen, a legend in Lincolnshire, acquitted himself nicely with this Gluten-Free Chocolate Fudge Cake. Put this on your must-make list if you a) need something kosher for Passover next year and b) need to eat more vegetables (because it’s got potato flour in it. Cool, huh?)

Meanwhile, Craig of The Usual Saucepans chose a sachertorte by the lesser-known Delia Smith. And he made it for his Mum. Isn’t that cute?

Some guy called Nigel Slater, who apparently keeps some sort of kitchen diary (like Bridget Jones, do you think? Or Adrian Mole?) inspired Camilla of Fab Food 4 All to make this Pear, Ginger and Chocolate Crumble. Well played, Nigel old chap.

Mr Slater also inspired Kate of Turquoise Lemons – check out his (and her) Hot Chocolate Puddings. The man himself even tweeted her about them!

We Should Cocoa co-founder Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog was also inspired by a famous figure – and her post about Garibaldi Biscuits is a must for anyone who ever thought the Italian revolutionary had time to stop and bake along the way.

Phil of As Strong As Soup was inspired by some folks from a bit closer to home – the mysterious Debdens who apparently created this luscious Chocolate Pudding. Rumour has it the Debdens now own a weight-loss empire. Or they invented Photoshop.

Elizabeth at The Law Students Cookbook chose Nigella’s Chocolate Muffins – a recipe that certainly deserves wider fame. If you haven’t made these yet, add them to your repertoire, quick.

Caroline at Caroline Makes certainly deserves wider fame and fortune – she gets the prize for the cutest entry this month with her fabulous Pigs In Mississipi Mud Pie. Isn’t it brilliant? Check out her blog for close-ups of those pigs, which she made with her own fair hands.

Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe also slaved over a fabulously decorated cake – a Pirate Treasure Chest – for her daughter’s fourth birthday. Johanna is famous among her friends (and blog followers) for her incredible novelty cakes (last year she made THREE cakes for her daughter’s third birthday!) and this one deserves its place in her hall of fame. Read her post first if you’re considering making a cake of this nature in a heatwave as it may make you reconsider.

I wonder what Johanna, who hails from Melbourne, would make of the next entry – Caroline of Cake, Crumbs and Cooking took on Dan Lepard’s Double Chocolate Lamingtons. A version of his recipe drew a bit of flack when it was published on Australian website Good Food (some readers sniffed that these fancy pants variations weren’t real lamingtons) and Caroline did have a few issues with it. I wouldn’t say no to one though.

Suelle at Mainly Baking approached the task in a clever way – she chose a famous ingredient as the starting inspiration and poured a cup of Guinness into this Chocolate Guinness Cake. Just look at that icing!

Ness at Jibber Jabber UK had a similar idea – she also made Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake, but adapted it to suit a thrifty budget. We all need one of those, don’t we?

Claire of Under The Blue Gum Tree was among those who cursed me for my choice of theme, but after a few false starts she rose to the challenge brilliantly by making this Layered Cappuccino Mousse, apparently the dessert served at this year’s Golden Globe Awards.

Hannah of Corner Cottage Bakery was also inspired by the screen – she made this incredible Twin Peaks Tart after a bout of illness saw her confined to the sofa with Agent Cooper and his pals. Worth getting sick for, I’d say!

I also went for something inspired by the small screen – adapting English actor Martin Clunes’ recipe for Cold Dog Biscuits. I got so addicted to this I had to take it to work to stop myself eating it slice by tiny slice.

Meanwhile, Katharine of Leeks and Limoni delved into the fascinating history of the humble chocolate chip cookie, coming up with these gorgeous Chocolate Chip and Pecan Oat Cookies.

But if cookies seem too wholesome and you have a taste for the dark and rich, you’ll love this Mississipi Mud Pie, chosen by Cookbooks Galore

… Not to mention this incredible Better Than Nutella Cheesecake from The Taste Space – believe it or not this is made from raw ingredients (so hot – but not too hot – right now). I want some.

I also want a big slice of Susan of The Spice Garden‘s Peanut Butter And Chocolate Mud Pie. No, scratch that, I want two. Susan pays homage to Debbi Fields (of Mrs Fields’ Cookies fame) in her post, but one look at this pie and you’ll want to pay homage to Susan. Or at least find out her address.

I don’t know about you but I need a lie down and a cup of chamomile tea after all that lot. Oh, go on then, maybe I’ll have a hot cross bun too.

Have a great Easter weekend, everyone x