Chocolate factory: Chocolate, chillies and Cobh
Sweet treats are welcome any day of the year, says Brenda Costigan, so take a break from counting the calories and spoil your loved ones with a little of what you fancy
Nothing says loving like something from the oven, as they say in the United States. And it doesn't have to take Valentine's Day, Father's Day or Mother's Day to want to make someone feel loved. Chocolate treats are always welcome, even if it's only an extra-special hot chocolate made with real chocolate -- see my recipe below.
And if you're looking for the perfect end to a dinner party, you won't go wrong with either the chocolate, prune and Armagnac cake or the crunchy chocolate Bakewell. Remember, a little of what you fancy does you good, so don't count the calories of these recipes. Anyway, as some wise woman remarked, "How could chocolate have calories? Isn't it a vegetable?"
CHOCOLATE, PRUNE AND ARMAGNAC CAKE
This is a classically French combination of ingredients, and this cake make a wonderful 'adult' cake for a special occasion. Do try to get the genuine prunes from Agen if at all possible. These are steeped in a generous amount of brandy and they are then buzzed to a paste to make a filling for the cake. The sponge consists only of eggs, caster sugar and cocoa powder. It is very light and somewhat fragile, but makes the perfect contrast to the filling and topping of chocolate. This version of the classic recipe is inspired by Delia Smith's version from her How to Cook cookbook.
You will need:
6 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites
150g (5oz) caster sugar
50g (2oz) cocoa powder, sifted
350g (12oz) of pitted prunes d'Agen soaked overnight in 120ml (4fl oz) Armagnac, or any brandy
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
150ml (5fl oz) fresh cream, whipped and very lightly sweetened with caster sugar
To finish the cake, you will need:
200g (7oz) dark chocolate (preferably 70 per cent cocoa solids), broken in pieces
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
Two sandwich tins, 20cm (8in) wide, 4cm (1 1/2in) deep. Grease the tins and line the base of both with a circle of baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4.
You will need two bowls, one for the egg yolks and another for the egg whites. Both bowls must be clean, dry and have no traces of grease or fat in them or else the egg whites won't stiffen. Add the caster sugar to the egg yolks and whisk them until they are just beginning to turn a paler colour and to thicken. Don't overbeat them. Next, stir the sifted cocoa powder into the egg yolk-and-sugar mix and gently fold it in.
With a spotlessly clean whisk, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, though not so stiff that they become dry. Using a metal tablespoon, mix one spoon of the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and mix well, to loosen it a little. Then gradually add the remaining egg whites and gently and patiently stir and fold until they are mixed through; try not to burst the little air bubbles. Divide this mixture between the two tins. Bake near the centre of the oven for about 15 minutes. The cakes will look set, and puffy and springy in the centre. Leave the cakes to cool in their tins, standing on a wire tray. The sponges will shrink. When they are cold, gently invert them onto a board -- I invert each sponge individually on to a round bread board and then gently lift off the tin -- then strip off the base of baking parchment.
Ideally, soak the prunes in Armagnac overnight -- although if I forget to do this, I simply cover the bowl of prunes in Armagnac with clingfilm, pierce it with a few holes, and pop it into the microwave on a medium setting for 1-2 minutes to plump the prunes up quickly! Lift them out and put aside about 6-8 of the prunes to use as decoration. Put all the rest and their juices into the food processor with the creme fraiche and buzz everything to a puree.
Gently place one of the sponges on a serving plate, with its flat side down. Spread the prune puree over it. Spread the sweetened, whipped, fresh cream in a layer on top. Then put the second sponge upside-down on top, placing it so its flat underside is facing upwards.
To finish, melt the pieces of dark chocolate with the creme fraiche in a bowl over simmering water (or in a microwave on the defrost setting). When the chocolate has melted, stir well until the mixture is smooth. Spread this melted chocolate mixture over the sponge, keeping back a little. Dip the reserved prunes into this remaining melted chocolate and arrange them on top of the sponge. Allow the cake to stand in a cool place for at least an hour before slicing with a very sharp knife.
REAL HOT CHOCOLATE
When it's cold outside, give the one you love some TLC with a cup of real hot chocolate to wrap his/her hands around. Easy to make, this uses real chocolate and full-cream milk, and a little whipped cream for good measure. Serves 2.
You will need:
50g (2oz) dark chocolate (ideally 70 per cent solids)
300ml full-cream milk
A little whipped cream, to serve
Tiny pinches of cinnamon and ground cloves, or mini marshmallows, to serve
Break up the chocolate and melt in the milk in a little saucepan over a gentle heat. Then whisk it until smooth. Put a spoonful of whipped cream into the warm mugs and pour in the hot chocolate. Sprinkle the tiniest pinch of cinnamon and ground cloves on top, or serve with mini marshmallows.
Brownies are an American speciality that have become widely popular. Texture is important -- they should be fairly chewy and dense. A high proportion of sugar gives them a crunchy crust. The following version is inspired by Darina Allen's recipe, which is in her book, Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course.
You will need:
50g (2oz) dark chocolate
100g (3 1/2oz) butter
200g (7oz) caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g (3oz) white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
110g (4oz) chopped walnuts
Use a square tin, 20.5cm (8in) wide, lightly greased, and line the base with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4.
Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water (or on defrost setting in a microwave). Meanwhile, beat the butter and the caster sugar and then beat in the lightly whisked eggs, the vanilla extract and the melted dark chocolate. Lastly, stir in the white flour, the baking powder and the chopped walnuts. Spread the mixture out in the tin. Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes. Cut in 5cm (2in) squares.
CRUNCHY CHOCOLATE BAKEWELL
This cake could be described as a cross between a tart and a cake. Rich and moist, it keeps for at least a week. I love it, in fact it features on the cover of my cookbook, 100 Favourite Recipes. This recipe contains no flour -- just butter, chocolate and eggs with both ground and chopped almonds. I have eliminated the pastry base normally associated with a traditional Bakewell recipe and instead I use crushed biscuits and melted butter (just as for a cheesecake), which is much easier to prepare. Serve the slices with a fruit of the forest sauce, see the recipe below, and whipped cream. Serves 8.
For the crushed biscuit base, you will need:
225g (8oz) crushed digestive biscuits
110g (4oz) melted butter
For the filling, you will need:
150g (5oz) dark chocolate
4-5 tablespoons soft blackcurrant jam
175g (6oz) butter
175g (6oz) caster sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
100g (3 1/2oz) finely chopped blanched almonds
100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds
Small handful of flaked almonds
Fruit of the forest sauce, to serve, see recipe below
Whipped cream, to serve
Use a springform tin 23cm (9in) in diameter. I like to line the base with a large piece of baking parchment that is actually caught in the tin itself when assembling. This makes it easy to slide the finished cake off after baking.
Mix the crushed digestive biscuits and the melted butter and spread in an even layer over the base of the tin, being quite sure to reach the edges all around. Stand the tin on a flat baking tin, to catch any escaping melted butter that might burn on the oven floor.
Bake in the oven -- preheated to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5 -- for about five minutes, to lightly crisp the biscuits. There will be no change in the appearance. Stand the tin on a wire tray while you prepare the filling. Reduce the oven to 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3.
To make the filling, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave on defrost setting. Allow to cool a little. Meanwhile, spread the soft blackcurrant jam carefully in a layer over the biscuit base, taking care not to upset the base.
Beat the butter and the caster sugar together in a bowl until they become soft. Then add in the eggs, one at a time, and the almond extract and beat well. Mix together the finely chopped, blanched almonds and the ground almonds and stir into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir the melted chocolate through. Pour into the tin over the biscuit base. Scatter the flaked almonds over the surface. Put in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes or until the mixture has become quite set on the outside but is still a little wobbly in the centre. Allow to cool, standing the tin on a wire tray.
Remove the springform sides from the tin and, using the baking parchment lining, gently slide the cake on to the serving plate. You should be able to gently slide out the paper from underneath. Serve with fruit of the forest sauce and some whipped cream.
FRUIT OF THE FOREST SAUCE
The sharp, sweet flavour of this sauce makes a wonderful contrast to the delicious, rich chocolate Bakewell.
You will need:
Juice of 2 oranges
350g (12oz) frozen fruit of the forest
50-75g (2-3oz) caster sugar
1 heaped teaspoon cornflour
Put the orange juice into a saucepan and add in the frozen fruit of the forest. Cook gently to thaw the fruit and add in the caster sugar and stir to dissolve it. Blend the cornflour with a dribble of water, add some of the hot liquid from the saucepan to it, mix, and then stir into the saucepan. Bring to the boil to thicken. If a thicker consistency is required, more cornflour can be added in the same way. Serve sauce hot or cold.