Tag Archives: We Should Cocoa

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits

I’m afraid that I’ve rather neglected the We Should Cocoa blog challenge over the last few months – another victim of my general disorganisation and just that whole life thing.  I had planned to sneak back into the challenge last month, with a knock-your-socks-off mango and chocolate twist bread (the special ingredient was “mango“).  I was, however, thwarted by my general inability to successfully work with yeast, and the bread came out a complete failure.  So much for that plan.

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits 1

We Should CocoaThis month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Victoria of A Kick At The Pantry Door, and she has chosen the marvellous ingredient of “mint“.  I have always been a fan of the truly fabulous combination of dark chocolate and mint, and was a champion Bendick’s Mint Crisp and After Eight snaffler as a child (and totally not still as an adult, ahem).  Luckily, this month I actually have an entry to send in, in the form of some rather scrumptiously adorable crème de menthe and chocolate sandwich biscuits.  Which I realise is quite a wordy recipe title.

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits 2

These biscuits go in for a double chocolate whammy – there’s cocoa powder in the biscuits themselves, and the filling in the middle is white chocolate based.  I know that white chocolate and mint can be quite sickly, but it’s only a thin layer, so actually it works, balanced by the cocoa powder in the biscuits.  The mint flavour is quite subtle, which I like.  The original recipe referred to them as wafers, but I feel that suggests that they’re quite crisp, whereas actually they’re more on the chewy side of the biscuit spectrum.  I love the little holes in the top biscuits – I think they’re rather cute.  I’d wanted to use a fluted cutter so that the holes would be all pretty and scalloped, but discovered that I didn’t have one small enough.  Next time!

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits 3

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits

Makes 45-48 sandwich biscuits
Adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies

If you don’t have any crème de menthe (or don’t want to use alcohol), you can also use peppermint extract, though in lesser quantities, particularly in the filling – taste as you go.  The biscuit dough can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to three days, or frozen up to three months.  To freeze the biscuit dough, form into a log, wrap in baking paper, followed by tin foil and seal in a ziplock bag or airtight container.  You might need to cut the log in two to fit.  The finished biscuits will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Ingredients

For the biscuits:
225g caster sugar
190g all-purpose flour
70g unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
200g unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp whole milk
2 tsp crème de menthe

For the filling:
150g white chocolate
1-2 tsp cream
1 tsp crème de menthe

Directions

To make the biscuits:
1.  Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and stir together.  Rub in the butter with your fingers.

2.  Mix the milk and crème de menthe in a glass or ramekin.  Whilst mixing the sugar mixture with an electric whisk, pour in the milk mixture.  Mix until the dough clumps around the beaters.  Knead for a few minutes with your hands to make sure it is evenly mixed.

3.  Spread a 50cm piece of baking paper or tin foil out on the work top.  Roll the biscuit dough into a 40cm long log of about 4cm in diameter.  Wrap in the baking paper and twist the ends.  Refrigerate for at least 1h until firm.  The dough can be refrigerated for up to three days, or if keeping for longer, it can be frozen up to 3 months.

4.  Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C/fan 155°C.

5.  Once the dough is ready, slice into 4mm slices and space them at least 2cm apart on the prepared baking trays.  Refrigerate any slices not going straight into the oven.  Bake for 12-13 mins (they will puff up in the oven and are ready about 1½ mins after they’ve deflated again).  Using a bottle cap (a wine screw cap works excellently – I found that beer caps were a bit more difficult to get a grip on.  An apple corer would also work in a pinch) cut a circle in the centre of half of the biscuits.  Leave the cut-out centres in until cool – take care as the biscuits are quite fragile.  Remove the biscuits to wire racks to cool fully.

To make the filling & assemble:
6.  Once the biscuits are completely cooled, prepare the filling.  Break or chop the white chocolate into small pieces and add to a heat-proof bowl with the cream.  Melt together over a saucepan of barely simmering water.  Once the white chocolate is smoothly melted, remove the saucepan from the heat, and stir in the crème de menthe.  Don’t worry if the chocolate seizes up.

7.  Spread about ½ tsp of the filling onto each of the base biscuits and top with one of the biscuits with a hole.  Allow to set before serving.

Enjoy!

PS – The raw biscuit dough is really quite tasty.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Happy ever-so-slightly belated Chinese New Year!

I’m afraid that life has completely gotten in the way of blogging.  Again.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past few weeks in the lab fighting the incredible slowness of the one computer that runs the programme that I need for my research.  Which doesn’t really make me want to come home and spend more time staring at a computer screen.  Then there’s the minor detail that I’ve decided to move up to Leigh permanently (well, until the end of my MSc) because I love it so much here.  So I’ve been back and forth between Auckland and Leigh over the past two weeks to pack up my Auckland flat and also deal with visa extension applications and other such joys.  And between all of that, please don’t hate me too much (especially if you’re in the northern hemisphere) but we’ve been having such a wonderful summer that it’s been impossible to resist the call of the outdoors.

Any post with dragons in is automatically awesome, right?

Today’s post should have gone up about two weeks ago.  For Chinese New Year.  Evidently that didn’t happen.  However, since today is the Chinese Lantern Festival, which is still part of the New Year celebrations (from what I understand), I’m totally letting myself off on that one.  We went to the Lantern Festival in Auckland yesterday, and there were some super awesome lanterns (funny that).  Including a whole montage of penguins and polar bears, which, before anybody gets upset about the ecological inaccuracy of that (I totally did before I read the explanatory panel), was apparently meant to symbolise China’s scientific interest in both polar regions.  Still not sure how that’s quite relevant to New Year, but it sure looked awesome!

Penguins and polar bears – always so closely with Chinese New Year…

One of my housemates is Chinese and another is Chinese-Malaysian, and they cooked a big Chinese New Year’s Eve meal for us (which was totally amazing).  I was asked to make a dessert (it took my housemates about a week to figure out that I’m not half bad in that department).  I wanted something fairly light and bite-sized – I had no idea how many people would be coming, but was sure that the main meal would be pretty filling – that I could preferably prepare the evening before so as not to get in the way of my housemates’ preparations on the day.  In the end I settled on that most Chinese of desserts: chocolate and ginger macarons.  Because ginger is totally a Chinese flavour, and I made the shells red and piped Chinese characters in gold on the top of each macaron, which means they’re clearly Chinese New Year-themed.  Ok, so it’s a little tenuous, but everybody loved them and they went down an absolute treat.  (Phew!)

A very Chinese dessert.  Ahem.

I didn’t just pick some totally random Chinese characters by the way.  One of them is which means prosperity or blessing – obviously an important symbol for New Year – and the other is shé which means snake – because it’s the year of the snake.  My housemates wrote them out for me to copy, so any mistakes are totally not my fault.  I’m really happy with how they turned out though – adding the characters really just made them that little bit extra special.

Mad Chinese piping skills!

We Should CocoaI’m submitting these macarons to this month’s We Should Cocoa, which is being hosted by Jen over at Blue Kitchen Bakes, who has chosen “ginger” as the special ingredient to be combined with chocolate.  An awesome choice, might I add, since I do love ginger.  The bitterness of the dark chocolate in the ganache cut through the heat of the ginger wonderfully and also went some way to counterbalancing the sweetness of the shells.  The ganache is pretty intensely chocolatey though, so if you’re not a huge dark chocolate fan, be warned that you might not be able to wolf down a whole batch.

These all disappeared rather quickly over the course of the evening

Chocolate & ginger macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves
Royal icing recipe adapted from Joy of Baking

Colouring the shells and piping Chinese characters on them is obviously totally optional.  The recipe for the royal icing decorations on top makes far more than you’ll need, but any leftovers will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a few weeks.  The ganache can be a little finnicky and is best if you can avoid cooling it in the fridge as it may cool too quickly and harden. If you do need to cool it in the fridge, just make sure not to forget about it!  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Red food colouring paste or gel (optional)

For the ganache filling:
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
20g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
40g Frangelico (or Amaretto)
1 tbsp ground ginger

For the royal icing decorations:
1 egg white
1 tsp Frangelico (or Amaretto)
250–280g icing sugar
Yellow or gold food colouring paste or gel

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add a few drops of the red food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well to get the shade of red that you wish.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the butter and chocolate chocolate (broken into pieces), the Frangelico and sift in the ginger.  Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if absolutely necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

9.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair. Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

10.  Leave in the fridge for a few hours in an airtight container to set before piping decorations on top.

To decorate the macarons:
11.  Prepare a piping bag with a very thin round tip.

12.  Sift 250g of the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl, and add the egg white, Frangelico (or Amaretto) and a drop or two of the food colouring gel (the amount to add will depend on how intense you want the colour to be, obviously).  Whisk them together with an electric mixer until the mixture is stiff and can be used to pipe without running.  If the mixture is not reaching a stiff stage, add more icing sugar a little at a time and keep mixing.

13.  Transfer the mixture to the piping bag and pipe the decorations on top of the set macarons.  Allow the mixture to set before returning to the fridge so that the macarons have spent at least 24h setting before serving (I know, it’s difficult! But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Peanut butter & cocoa nib cookies

January – the month of resolutions.  The month that going to the gym or pool becomes a real mission because they’re full of people being all resolute.  The month that when you bake things, people tell you they’re on a diet which involves eating three slices of melon as a main meal (because there’s nothing tastier than an unseasonal melon), snacking on a cherry tomato should they get peckish and finishing the lot off with a tub of ice-cream for dessert.  You might think I’m kidding, but I have actually encountered somebody who followed a similar meal plan.  It didn’t do them much (any) good.  Anyway.  I digress.  January can be a tough month for bakers if people start refusing offered cake (what an idea).

No melon or cherry tomatoes in sight

We Should CocoaLuckily, Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, who is hosting this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, has come up with a solution by choosing the theme “sugar-free” – a theme which, I must admit, horrified me when I first saw it.  Not because I’m a sugar addict, but because I hadn’t finished reading the rules so I hadn’t realised that “natural” sugars such as honey or maple syrup were fine, and I was drawing an utter blank in terms of inspiration – I absolutely refuse to use artificial sweeteners.  I had visions of something like this:

I've no idea how one would make cake without any ingredients either…

I have no idea what “no ingredients fruit & nut cake” is either, but it made Kat and I laugh when we stopped off at a café in Cambridge (that’ll be Cambridge, NZ) on our way to Hobbiton.  In the end, Kat and I decided to make cookies for the challenge – the start of our friendship due to chocolate chip cookies, so it seemed fitting.  We followed the rules, but we did it the Mel way – sure, we didn’t use any sugar, but we did add a shit-tonne* of honey instead.  Totally allowed.

No sugar, but tonnes of honey.  Totally good for you, right?

These cookies gave me the opportunity to try out the cinnamon cocoa nibs that I won from the lovely Lucy over at The KitchenMaid a few months ago – cocoa nibs don’t have any sugar added to them, so they also fitted the rules perfectly.  Since we’re both fans of the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, we decided to substitute peanut butter instead of butter in the cookies, but I think this might be why they came out a little dry.  They’re excellent for dunking into a glass of milk or cup of tea though, so they were still yummy.  Next time, I think I’ll add about 25g of butter to the mix just to make them slightly moister.  I really loved the little bursts of intense cocoa flavour from the cocoa nibs – I’d never used cocoa nibs before, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

Peanut butter & cocoa nib cookies

Makes about 24 cookies
Adapted from Nana Clare’s Kitchen

These cookies came out fairly dry (not inedibly dry though!), so I’d suggest perhaps adding 25g of unsalted butter at the same time as the peanut butter in order to remedy this.  Dark chocolate chips would also work really well instead of cocoa nibs.  These cookies will keep for a few days in an airtight biscuit tin.

Ingredients

170g runny honey
130g natural crunchy peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
190g all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
20g cinnamon cocoa nibs (or normal cocoa nibs with 1 tsp ground cinnamon)

Directions

1.  Butter a couple of baking trays.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven.

2.  In a large bowl, cream together the honey and peanut butter with an electric whisk.  Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract.

3.  Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt (and ground cinnamon if using) into the peanut butter mixture and whisk until just bended.  Fold in the cocoa nibs.  Form teaspoons of dough into balls and place on the baking trays, spaced out a little so that the cookies have space to spread.  Flatten each ball slightly with a fork.

4.  Bake for 8-12 mins until golden (check they don’t catch), then turn out onto wire racks to cool.

Enjoy!

* Shit-tonnes are actual SI units by the way.  (Ok, fine, they’re really not.  But they should be.  Might make certain papers a little more entertaining to read…)

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Aztec roasted pumpkin seeds

Those spiced sweet potato cupcakes that I mentioned on Friday did indeed get rid of my October pumpkin-baking itch, but they also opened up a whole new little obsession: roasted pumpkin seeds.  I’d never tried roasting pumpkin seeds before, mostly because I never have pumpkin seeds to roast.  In fact, I bought pumpkin seeds for the first time a couple of weeks ago, on a whim.  I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds are appetite suppressors (but don’t take my word for it – I can’t remember where I read it), so I thought it might be a good idea to keep a packet in my desk for when I get peckish mid-afternoon but didn’t bring a snack.  A flawless plan but for the teeny tiny minor detail that I discovered that I don’t really like raw pumpkin seeds.  To me, they’re bland and a little bit chewy and not particularly enjoyable to eat.  Oh.  Bummer.

So what do you do with a pack of pumpkin seeds that is taking up cupboard space?  You add spices and a little bit of sugar and roast them.  Obviously.  After my first successful attempt last week, I decided that roasted pumpkin seeds were the way forward, and started to think of other flavours to try out.  I remembered that the special ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge (which is being hosted by Nat at HungryHinny) is “pumpkin.”  Now, pumpkins and other squashes aren’t in season here anymore, but pumpkin seeds also count…  So what about roasting pumpkin seeds with some cocoa powder?  (Which I realise may actually be the most basic and straightforward way to combine pumpkin and chocolate.)

I decided to take a leaf from the Aztec flavour bible and add cinnamon and chilli powder to the cocoa powder.  I was already familiar with the marvellous combination of chocolate, cinnamon and chilli, and adding the flavours to pumpkin seeds turned out to be a fabulous idea, even if they do look as if they’d just been dug out of the earth (thanks cocoa powder!).  I particularly love the gentle, but satisfying, crunch of the seeds followed by the aftertaste of warmth from the chilli powder.  Now I keep a little tupperware box of roasted pumpkin seeds in my desk and they do the trick nicely if I get the mid-afternoon munchies.  The chilli is especially handy on a cold day.  Oh and they take about 3 minutes to prepare (plus roasting time), so it’s an easy snack to throw together.  So easy and straightforward in fact, that I almost feel like I’m cheating by sending this in as my entry to We Should Cocoa – it’s hardly even a recipe!

Aztec roasted pumpkin seeds

Makes about 100g
Based on Serious Eats

This recipe would work with fresh pumpkin seeds, too – don’t worry too much about cleaning them perfectly as the stringy pumpkin bits will just add flavour (although try to get rid of any big stringy bits as this will make it easier to mix).  You can adjust the amount of chilli powder depending on how much you enjoy spiciness (I’m not a huge spicy person, so the amount specified is just right for me) – I’d suggest tasting the seeds before roasting and adjusting the spices as necessary.  The roasted pumpkin seeds will keep for about two weeks in an airtight container.

Ingredients

100g pumpkin seeds
20g unsalted butter
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
¾ tsp cocoa powder (at least 70%)
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
Just under ¼ tsp chilli powder

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with tin foil.  Preheat the oven to 175°C/fan 155°C.

2.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Place the pumpkin seeds in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Add the melted butter and stir until the seeds are fully coated in melted butter.

3.  Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon and chilli powder to the seeds and stir until well mixed and coated.  Spread in a single layer on the lined baking tray and bake for 30 mins, stirring every 10 mins.

4.  Allow to cool on the baking tray (the popping noises are normal) and serve or store in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

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Cocktail in a Macaron: Mojito

A friend who came up to visit from Wellington about ten days ago asked if I could show her how to make macarons when she was here.  Of course I agreed – it may be a little time-consuming, but I do love making macarons.  We just had to decide what flavour to go for.  Which, considering the near-endless possibilities when it comes to macarons flavours, wasn’t quite as straightforward as it might sound.  We wanted something colourful and for some reason green kept popping into my head, which I kept associating with mint.  And suddenly it struck me: mojito macarons!  Of course!!

There’s something so summery and refreshing about mojitos, and I love them.  They taste like they should be sipped on the beach or by the poolside, whilst on holiday.  It’s not the first time that I’ve made mojito-based baked goods – I made mojito cupcakes a while ago (which, incidentally, I thoroughly recommend if you’re also a mojito fan).  And I’ve actually made mojito macarons before, about a year and a half ago, but with a buttercream-based filling rather than the white chocolate ganache that I used this time.  The buttercream version was just a little too sweet when combined with the already sugary shells, so between the two I much prefer the ganache version.

My initial mojito macarons were made with bright minty green shells since half the fun of macarons is being able to make them all colourful, but it actually looked rather garish and I wasn’t happy with them (one of the reasons I never blogged about them).  I tried swirly shells for the first time when I made kir macarons a few weeks ago, and I loved the swirly shells so much that I decided that I wanted to try them again for these macarons.  The swirly idea turned out to be the perfect way to make the shells colourful without being lurid, and I really think it’s just the right amount of green.  What do you think?

I must confess that I totally forgot to add lime to the ganache.  I was so focused on the mint that the lime just completely slipped from my mind (woops).  So I’d suggest adding the zest of a small lime and about 1 tsp of juice to the ganache to make it more mojito-like, although despite the omission the macarons still tasted just like a mojito (albeit a rather sweet version) and felt all summery whilst we wait for summer to get its skates on and hurry over to the southern hemisphere…  I’m fed up of winter!

After my friend had left to go back to Wellington, packed off with a little box of macarons and the knowledge of how to make more, I looked up the blog challenge themes for this month.  Imagine my pleasant surprise when I read that the theme for this month’s We Should Cocoa, hosted by Choclette at the Chocolate Log Blog, is “cocktail-inspired” – a special theme chosen to celebrate two years of the challenge.  Happy birthday to We Should Cocoa!!!  Mojito macarons clearly fit the bill perfectly – the ganache is made of cocktail, white chocolate and cream – so I’m submitting them.  I then discovered a new blogging challenge started by Janine at Cake of the WeekBaking with Spirit which this month involves baking or cooking with “rum.”  I’ve already entered my banana, hazelnut and spiced rum upside-down cake but I’m also going to submit these macarons since they involve white rum which is just so different to spiced rum (no kidding).

Mojito macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by me

Whilst I forgot to add lime, it would make these even more mojito-y.  I’d suggest adding the zest of a small lime and 1 or 2 tsp of freshly-squeezed lime juice to the ganache at the same time as the rum, and decreasing the quantity of rum so that you’re only adding 40g total of liquid (excluding the cream), otherwise the ganache will be too liquidy to set.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
Green food colouring paste or gel (optional)
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Raw sugar or golden granulated sugar, to decorate

For the ganache filling:
Small handful of fresh mint leaves (about 4-5 sprigs or 10g)
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g white chocolate
40g white rum
2 drops mint extract (optional)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.  Brush two or three lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy.  I did three stripes, so if you want your shells to have slightly less green, then just paint two stripes).

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Remove the mint leaves from their stalks if necessary, and finely chop.  Set aside.

9.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces), the rum and mint extract and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Once smooth, stir in the chopped mint leaves.  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge (or freezer if necessary).

10.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

11.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Chocolate, cherry & hazelnut cookies

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Janice over at Farmersgirl Kitchen, and she has chosen “cherry” as the special ingredient.  I got all excited about this, because I adore cherries.  My enthusiasm deflated slightly when I remembered that it’s very much not cherry season here, so I’m a little jealous if you live somewhere with fresh cherries in abundance.  But whilst fresh cherries might be off the cards for me, there are plenty of other options: dried cherries, glacé cherries, preserved cherries and kirsch.  Adding kirsch is one of my favourite ways of jazzing up anything chocolatey – I nearly always add a (liberal) splash of kirsch when making chocolate cake, and when we made Craig’s meerkat cake, the chocolate meerkat cookies were decorated with kirsch icing.

As much as I wanted to make something combining chocolate and kirsch, frustratingly I’ve yet to actually find kirsch here (I heartily welcome any information on how to resolve that).  Luckily, I’ve had a recipe for chocolate and cherry cookies lodged in my brain for the past few weeks, and this was the perfect occasion to try it out (not that I really need an excuse).  It comes from The Boy Who Bakes which I borrowed from the library a few weeks ago, and I’ve been wanting to try it since it jumped out at me as I first flipped through the book, particularly since it uses dried cherries so I wouldn’t have to wait until cherry season.  A flawless plan, but for one minor detail: the small supermarket that I usually shop at apparently doesn’t sell dried cherries.  Dried goji berries, no problem.  But dried cherries, nope, I’d have to make a trip to the larger supermarket that’s further away.  Not in itself a huge problem since it’s still within walking distance (though not so much with heavy shopping), I just needed to find the time.

Having finally stopped off at said larger supermarket on my way back from the aquarium yesterday, I stocked up on dried cherries which meant it was time to (finally) try out the cookies.  It seems to me that adding toasted hazelnuts to chocolatey baked goods is the logical thing to do with it’s cold and windy outside, so I threw some in for good measure.  A smashing idea if I might say so.  Appropriately for We Should Cocoa, these cookies are very chocolatey, so if you’re not a big chocolate fan then these probably aren’t for you.  The dried sour cherries cut through the intense chocolate nicely and the cookies themselves are just a little gooey in the middle, which I love.  A little post-publish addition: these cookies went down an absolute storm with my labmates during our afternoon coffee break – one of them never has seconds for sweet things and ate two, and another is eating vegan all month but decided to make an exception because they looked so good… she also ate two.  Actually, I think everybody ate two.  I can’t give you a better recommendation than that!

Chocolate, cherry & hazelnut cookies

Makes 25 cookies
Adapted from The Boy Who Bakes

To toast the hazelnuts, spread them out on a baking tray, place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and roast for 10 min, until they smell toasty (be sure to keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).  Rub the hazelnuts in a clean tea towel to remove most of the skins, and allow to cool fully before using.  These cookies are delicious accompanied by a cup of coffee to wash the chocolateyness down.  They will keep for a few days in an airtight box.

Ingredients

350g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
130g all-purpose flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
60g toasted hazelnuts
100g unsalted butter, room temperature
150g light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g dried sour cherries

Directions

1.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

2.  Melt 200g of the chocolate by breaking it up and placing in a heat-proof bowl over a bowl of simmering water (ensure that the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl).  Remove from the heat once melted and allow to cool slightly before using.

3.  Meanwhile, roughly chop the remaining chocolate and the toasted hazelnuts and set aside.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a medium-sized bowl, stir together and set aside.

4.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and two sugars using an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Whisk in the eggs one by one until well incorporated.  Beat in the flour mixture a third at a time, until just incorporated.  Slowly pour the melted chocolate into the mixture with the electric whisk on medium speed, beating until combined.  Stir in the chocolate pieces, hazelnuts and dried cherries.

5.  Form heaped tablespoons of dough into balls and place on the prepared baking trays, with up to six per tray.  Bake for 13-15 mins until crisped around the edges.  Cool for 5 mins on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

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Cocktail in a Macaron: Kir

If you read my Sunday Smiles post, then you already know that today’s post features swirly-shelled macarons.  You also know that these macarons are my entry to two different blog challenges…  The random letter for this month’s AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “W” and upon reading that, I immediately thought of white wine.  This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Choclette at the Chocolate Log Blog, and she has chosen “blackcurrant” as the special ingredient, which are very much not in season here at the moment.  This was minorly problematic for all of about ten seconds until I my eyes settled on my bottle of crème de cassis, which is a blackcurrant liqueur.  White wine and crème de cassis…  The stars have aligned and I have been presented with a kir…  Recipe challenge win.

I’m not sure how well known kir is outside of France.  Phil from As Strong as Soup correctly guessed that today’s macarons involve crème de cassis (well done Phil!), and also mentioned kir in his comment, but I gather he’s spent a fair amount of time in France, so he might have a bit of an advantage.  I feel that kir royale – champagne with crème de cassis – might be a little better known, and kir is basically its forebear (I think).

Now kir is technically supposed to be made with Bourgogne aligoté (a Burgundy made with aligoté grapes), but I doubt it’s particularly easy to find outside of Burgundy, and so I’ve always made do with whatever white wine I happen to have.  Incidentally, if you’ve got some white wine that’s a little past it’s best or that perhaps didn’t taste as wonderful as you expected, adding some crème de cassis vastly improves matters (there are limits however…  Wine so much past its best that it’s turned to vinegar or Tesco Market value “wine” are both far beyond the help of crème de cassis).  I was a little heavy-handed with the crème de cassis when I was made the one in the photos (woops…), so it’s not usually quite as dark.

So far, I’ve found that best way to transform a cocktail into baked goods is in the form of macarons…  I might even go as far as saying that it’s one of my specialities.  Kir macarons were a no-brainer, and I knew since the beginning of July exactly how I was going to make them, right down to the swirly shells, and the exact proportions of the ganache – I went with a white chocolate base (which also starts with W – do I get bonus points for AlphaBakes?) and a 1:2 ratio of crème de cassis to wine – but I just had to find the time.  I love macarons, and I enjoy making them, but they are time-consuming.  I finally tried them this weekend though, and boy were they worth making the time for.

I was a little nervous because this was the first time I’ve tried macarons in my oven here, but they worked well.  The feet could have been a little more developed, but that’s more of a macaronnage issue than an oven issue – I guess my technique is a little out of practice.  I’m really happy with the swirly effect though – I’d never tried it before, and I love how they turned out!  I’ll definitely be playing around with that again.  The white wine flavour is more of a very subtle undertone and doesn’t quite cut through as much as it would in a kir, but that was a deliberate choice on my part since I love the flavour of crème de cassis.  If you want more wine flavour, you can just adjust the ratio of the two alcohols to your personal taste.

Kir macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe adapted from Pure Gourmandise

These are quite strong on the crème de cassis flavour – if you’d prefer a stronger wine flavour, then just adjust the ratio of crème de cassis to wine, ensuring that the total amount of alcohol doesn’t exceed 45g max (otherwise the ganache really won’t set).  The macaron shells and the white chocolate in the ganache are already very sweet, so choosing a wine that will cut through the sweetness is ideal.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
Purple or pink and blue food colouring paste (optional)
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar

For the ganache filling:
40g double cream
150g white chocolate
30g white wine
15g crème de cassis
Purple or pink and blue food colouring paste (optional)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.

2.  Mix together a little bit of pink and blue food colouring paste in a small ramekin to get the shade of purple that you want (or just use purple food colouring paste).  Brush three lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy.  Purple hands are totally hot though, so no need to worry.  I forgot to take a photo before filling the piping bag, but you get the idea from the photo below.  If mixing your own colour, keep what’s left for the ganache if you want the same shade of purple.  The swirls are totally optional, but it just adds a bit of colour to the macarons, and it’s also kind of fun.)

3.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

4.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

5.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

6.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

7.  Leave to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

8.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
9.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces), the white white wine, crème de cassis and a few drops of purple or pink and blue food colouring paste (the food colouring is optional, but adds a bit of fun colour), and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge (or freezer if necessary).

10.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

11.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

PS – Apologies for the super long and rambly post…  Well done if you made it all the way to the end!!

 

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How to accidentally feed a small child caffeine…

Coffee breaks are a big thing in my lab.  Before I elaborate, I should probably explain my work situation (work as in uni work).  As a postgrad, I have a desk.  A whole desk all to myself, which is kind of exciting.  I mean I effectively had my own space in the computer lab in the last few weeks that I was writing my dissertation (of doom) in St Andrews, but that was more because I claimed it by spending about 18h a day there and leaving my papers and files scattered around it for the 6h that I wasn’t because I was sleeping or eating, but now I have a desk that’s actually mine and doesn’t require scattered highlighters and papers to mark my territory.  I’m clearly going up in the world.

Now this desk is located in the fairly large marine lab, half of which consists of postgrad desks and the other half is the actual lab bit with lab benches and microscopes and chemicals, none of which I actually use.  Other than an invisible line there’s no separation between the desk-filled half and the proper lab half of the room, so the whole thing is classed as a lab.  Food and drink aren’t allowed in labs.  Thus, no food and drink at our desks.  Which means… no coffee.  Which is an issue.  And explains the importance of the coffee break.  The lab is also quite cold, which makes it all the more frustrating that we can’t have hot drinks at our desks.  Coffee breaks mean that we get to venture upstairs where it’s a bit warmer.  Coffee breaks are also ideal for bringing in baked goods that you don’t want to eat an entire batch of by yourself.  And baked goods are a great way of making friends with your labmates.

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being guest hosted by Lucy of The Kitchen Maid and she has chosen “coffee” as the special ingredient, which is an excellent choice because I love the combination of coffee and chocolate.  In fact, they almost pair a little too well, and I actually found it rather difficult to choose what to make because there are just so many possibilities.  I think that coffee and chocolate complement each other best in something fairly rich, so after much indecision I finally settled on coffee and walnut brownies.  The walnuts were the result of some last-minute inspiration, but they go so well with both coffee and chocolate, that they just seemed like they’d make the perfect addition.  And they really did work wonderfully, adding a little bit of crunch and balance to the soft, rich chocolateyness of the brownies.  The coffee blends perfectly with the chocolate – you can definitely taste that it’s there, even if it’s not a distinct flavour and you can’t quite put your finger on it.  I think this might be my favourite brownie recipe ever.

I brought the brownies in for yesterday’s afternoon coffee break and they went down a storm.  One of the guys who works in an offshoot of the marine lab further down the corridor had his kids in with him so they joined us for our coffee break.  I think they’re about 5 and 8 years old.  Whilst their dad was making his coffee and whatever drinks they were having they were eyeing up the brownies sitting on the table, but clearly too scared of all the adults they didn’t really know to ask for some.  I didn’t want to offer them some without first checking that nuts were ok though – I hear that inducing somebody’s child into anaphylactic shock is considered rather bad form.  The fact that there’s caffeine in the brownies totally didn’t cross my mind until after they’d each had half a brownie and their dad said “these are so good, but they taste a bit different to standard chocolate brownies, what’s that extra flavour?”  “That’s probably the coffee.  Oh my gosh, coffee.  I just gave caffeine to your kids.  I am so sorry!!”  Awkward.  I don’t have any younger siblings or young cousins, so I’ve had minimal experience with small children…  Can you tell?  We concluded that there was probably less caffeine in a brownie than in several sips of coke, so they probably wouldn’t go totally crazy.  He even let them have another half each when they asked for more.  Since I’m spending this morning at the aquarium, I won’t have seen him by the time this post publishes, so I’m not sure how that worked out…

Coffee & walnut brownies

Makes 20 brownies
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

If you’re not a huge fan of coffee or you want a slightly more subtle flavour, you can decrease the amount of coffee down to 1tbsp dissolved in 2 tbsp of boiling water.  You can also use freshly-brewed espresso rather than instant coffee if that’s what you have at home.  These will keep for a several days in an airtight container, though they’re so moreish that I doubt they’ll last that long!  These are probably best enjoyed with a coffee.

Ingredients

140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp espresso-style instant coffee
4 tbsp boiling water
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
70g walnut pieces or halves
60g all-purpose flour

Directions

1.  Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 170°C.

2.  Break half the chocolate into pieces and add to a medium heat-proof bowl with the cubed butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  In a little ramekin or glass, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water.  Add to the chocolate and butter mixture and melt together, stirring occasionally.  When all melted together and smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Sift the flour into a small bowl.  Roughly chop the remaining chocolate into small chunks and stir into the flour, along with the roughly chopped walnuts.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until well mixed and a little foamy.  Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula then pour into the prepared baking tin.  Smooth the top of the mixture if necessary and bake for 15-20 mins until a knife point comes out with a little mixture still stuck to it.

5.  Cool for about 20-30 mins in the tin until just warm, then remove and allow to cool fully on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Enjoy!  And uhm, perhaps avoid feeding them to small children…

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Chocolate & almond crackle cookies

I bookmark a lot of recipes, but then never quite get around to making them – I don’t have enough time, something else comes up, I have other things to bake.  Basically, life happens.  Usually I forget about the recipe, and that’s that, although if the recipe is lucky, I’ll happen across it completely by accident a few months later and then actually try it out.  If life doesn’t intervene once again.  Not this recipe though.  I first saw it about three weeks ago, and it’s been on my mind since then.  I was just so intrigued by the appearance of the cookies – they look so… arresting.  A bit of a dramatic description for a cookie perhaps, but I don’t really know how else to describe the wonderful contrast between the dark chocolatey inside poking through the cracks in the white icing sugar shell.  But true to form, every time I thought to myself right, I’m going to try those cookies out this evening something else came up and it just didn’t happen.

Then the other day I got my act together.  It was a bit of a miserable weather day – the rain started about an hour after I left the flat, so I wasn’t very prepared for it (though thankfully I always have an umbrella in my bag – a necessary habit after living in Scotland for four years).  And every time I stepped outside it poured.  I also accidentally got fish guts on my jeans whilst I was feeding my eagle rays at the aquarium in the morning.  Unfortunately, the rain didn’t wash that out.  So not only did I get to the lab slightly damp, but smelling faintly of fish, too.  I really go in for the whole attractive thing, you know?  It turned out to be quite a long day, so by the time I got home (still smelling slightly fishy) I was a little fed up.  I decided that it was time to try these cookies.  Fun fact: “crackle cookies” is rather fun to say (if a bit of a tongue-twister when said too quickly), and I find it really difficult not to smile when I say it.  Automatic mood-lifter.

The original recipe is just chocolate crackle cookies, and I was actually initially going to add hazelnuts, but then at the last minute realised that almonds would also work.  And then I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to use hazelnuts or almonds.  I’m the most indecisive person ever, so I consulted with Craig (luckily he’s used to random baking ideas/questions/panics being thrown into the middle of a conversation about something completely different.  Or just out of the blue.  Some things don’t change, even if you move halfway across the world*), and he suggested almonds.  Which is rather convenient, because “almond” happens to be the secret ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa, which is being guest-hosted by Laura over at How to Cook Good Food.  The cookies turned out to be utterly delicious, and were the ideal counter to what was essentially a damp and fishy day.  A little crunchy on the outside and fudgy on the inside – perfect.  The almond flavour definitely goes with the chocolate, but then the combination of dark chocolate and almonds is always a winner.  I brought the cookies into the lab and everybody loved them.  Everything about them actually – the appearance, the texture, the flavours.  Definitely a winner of a cookie!

Chocolate & almond crackle cookies

Makes 20-25 cookies
Adapted from Cuisine, May 2012

These cookies get coated in icing sugar and go into the oven looking a bit like truffles.  As they expand in the oven, the icing sugar coating “cracks” to form their distinctive appearance.  The outside will be crunchy but the middle should stay a little bit fudgy.  The amount of icing sugar required will depend a lot on how big a ramekin or bowl you use when coating the balls of dough – a small ramekin is best.  The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days (if they last that long!).

Ingredients

40g slivered blanched almonds
175g caster sugar
100g all-purpose flour
60g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
60g unsalted butter, chilled
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp icing sugar, for coating (this is just a rough guide)

Directions

1.  Roughly chop the slivered almonds.  Set aside.

2.  Sift the caster sugar, flour, cocoa powder, ground almonds, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir together (you may need to push the ground almonds through the sieve with the back of a spoon).  Dice the butter up into small cubes and add to the bowl.  Rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the chopped almonds.

3.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Add to the flour and almond mixture and stir together with a metal spoon until incorporated and the mixture begins to come together into a ball (it takes a little while, but it does happen).  Wrap in cling film (or cover the bowl in cling film) and refrigerate for 30-45 mins.

4.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 180°C.  Sift 3 tbsp of icing sugar into a ramekin (don’t put it away yet, you may need to sift more icing sugar later).

5.  Remove the dough from the fridge, and split into walnut-sized balls.  Drop each into the ramekin of icing sugar and roll around to coat well, so they look a bit like truffles (your hands will get messy from the dough, so I suggest using a teaspoon to manoeuvre the balls of dough in the icing sugar and then transferring them to the baking sheets.  Sift more icing sugar into the ramekin as you need it).  Place about 5cm apart on the baking trays.

6.  Bake for 10-12 mins or until just set when lightly touched.  Allow to cool for 5 mins on the baking trays before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Enjoy!

* Thank goodness for the existence of WhatsApp.

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Fig, goat’s cheese & chocolate tartlets

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge ingredient, hosted by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, is “cheese.”  That’s right, we’re supposed to make something involving cheese… and chocolate.  I think the most obvious way of combining the two would be in the form of a cheesecake, but I’m not a fan of cheesecake (to put it mildly).  I have made cheesecake a grand total of once in my entire life, as a birthday gift for somebody who absolutely adored cheesecake.  However, the cheesecake, which, by the way, was delicious – and I know that for a fact because Kat and Craig tested the trial run for me, and I definitely trust them to tell me the truth, especially in this particular situation – suffered a terrible fate which I’m just going to refer to as the “cheesecake incident” (but if you desperately want to know what happened, I’ll refer you to point number 4 in this post) and move on, because the incident still irks me, over a year later (in case you couldn’t tell).  Somewhat ironically, the white chocolate and lime cheesecake in question was my entry for the We Should Cocoa challenge back in March 2011.

Since it’ll clearly be a while before I ever attempt another cheesecake, I had to come up with some other way of combining cheese and chocolate.  I’ve just remembered the cream cheese Kahlúa brownies that I made a few months ago – they would also have been perfect for this challenge (a bit late to think of that now though!).  Now I must admit that I’m what can only be described as a cheese fiend, but I have never considered combining cheese (proper cheese, not cream cheese) with chocolate and I was at a bit of a loss.  For inspiration, I looked the combination up in the Flavour Thesaurus, which only had an entry for chocolate and goat’s cheese, but said that they went surprisingly well together.  Initially I wasn’t sure how I could combine the chocolate and goat’s cheese, but then I hit upon the idea of a chocolate pastry case and a goat’s cheese filling of some sort.  My inspiration sort of stopped there though, and it wasn’t until a few days later that somebody mentioned something about figs and I suddenly thought of the roast figs with honey and goat’s cheese that I’ve previously posted, and wondered if I could do something similar… but in a chocolate pastry case.  There was only one way to find out…

I picked up some delicious figs at the Farmers’ Market this morning, headed home, dug out a chocolate shortcrust pastry recipe, and gave it a go.  Conveniently, the pastry requires some resting time, so I got some reading done (though unfortunately it was really boring – the biochemical workings of elasmobranch electroreceptors anyone…?  No?  You surprise me.).  I’d never tried the pastry recipe before – it tasted good, but it was very fragile, possibly because I might have rolled it a little too thinly, so I had difficulties getting a couple of the tartlets out of their tins in one piece.  I’ll have to try it again but not rolled as thinly to see if it’s a problem with the pastry in general or just this particular attempt.  The chocolate isn’t an overpowering flavour in the tartlets, but you can definitely taste it, and it goes wonderfully with the fig and goat’s cheese filling.  All in all, except for the pastry, I’m really pleased with how these turned out!  And they would definitely make an unusual but super-tasty dessert.  Since figs are in season here (did you know that they grow figs in NZ?  I didn’t!), I’m also submitting this to the Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food – although the pastry is a bit of a faff, they’re actually super simple to throw together.

Fig, goat’s cheese & chocolate tartlets

Makes 6 tartlets
Pastry recipe from Petits plats entre amis
Filling recipe from my imagination

The number of figs required may differ depending on the size of the figs that you are using.  The rosemary is totally optional, but it adds a subtle flavour that’s a little different and unexpected.  For the chocolate pastry, make sure not to roll it too thin as I found that it’s very fragile and quite difficult to get out of the tins without breaking.  Mini springform pans would be ideal, or silicone bakeware that can easily be “peeled off” the tartlets.  The pastry needs to rest for 2h before being used, so remember to plan accordingly!  The pastry recipe makes twice the amount required for the recipe, so either double the filling ingredients or make something else with it (it works for biscuits).  These tartlets won’t keep very well, so they are best eaten the day they are made.

Ingredients

For the pastry (makes double the amount required):
250g all-purpose flour
200g unsalted butter
120g icing sugar
50g cocoa powder
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cold water

For the filling:
12 medium-sized figs
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary (optional)
100g crumbly creamy goat’s cheese
6 tbsp walnut pieces
6 tbsp honey

Directions

For the pastry:
1.  Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the middle.  Add the rest of the pastry ingredients, and mix together with a fork.  Then, knead together until the pastry comes together and is well incorporated (don’t worry if this seems to be taking a while – it does come together eventually).  Form into a ball, wrap in cling-film and rest for 2h in the fridge.

Assembling the tartlets:
2.  Remove the pastry from the fridge, and allow to acclimatise a little for about 10-15 mins.  Meanwhile butter six 10cm tartlet tins and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

3.  Split the pastry into six even pieces, and roll each one out individually to fit a tartlet tin.  Make sure not to roll it too thinly (no less than about 6mm).  Line the tins with the pastry, and prick it with a fork.  Line each pastry case with a piece of baking paper and some baking beans, and bake blind for 12 mins.

4.  Meanwhile, quarter the figs.  When the tartlets have been blind-baked, remove from the oven, and remove the baking beans.  Make sure that the pastry case loosens from the tin.  Arrange the fig quarters in the pastry cases (8 quarters per tartlet).  Strip the sprigs of rosemary and sprinkle the leaves evenly between the tartlets, followed by the crumbled goat’s cheese and walnut pieces.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of honey over each tartlet and bake for 15-20 mins.

5.  Once baked, allow the tartlets to cool a little in their tins (the liquid will bubble down a bit and become a little less liquid-y) before turning out onto a wire rack.  Eat warm or cooled.

Enjoy!

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