Chocolate Lace-Decorated Favourite Cake

This fabulous cake is based on the sponge recipe I used to create my ‘365 celebration cake’ all the way back in November 2015: it’s really chocolatey and is made even more heavenly by the inclusion of a butter cream containing melted dark chocolate – delicious.

Celebrating Easter as well as my birthday, this cake had hidden in its depths mini chocolate Easter eggs but it was the decorative chocolate lace that was the real incentive to create this showstopper (if I do say so myself!) and now that I know how easy it is to make, it will of course be adorning many a cake!!!! A cake worth celebrating and worthy of any celebration!

Serves 16+

What you need…

1 x 20cm loose bottomed cake tin, buttered and lined with baking parchment

1 x 15cm loose bottomed cake tin, buttered and lined with baking parchment

1 deep cookie cutter (I used a 7cm-wide one but you could use a wider one if you wanted more sweets/eggs hidden in the cake).

340g unsalted butter, room temperature

340g caster sugar

6 eggs, lightly beaten

1 dessertspoon vanilla extract

140g milk

225g self-raising flour

85g cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

for the chocolate butter cream

100g dark chocolate (ideally 70% cocoa) broken into pieces

200g unsalted butter, room temperature

400g icing sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the hidden filling

Mini chocolate eggs, Smarties, chocolate buttons, jewelry – whatever you fancy!

for the chocolate lace

1 x kitchen thermometer

2 x10cm-wide acetate strips, cut so that they will easily go around each of 20cm and 15cm cake sponges

150g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into chunks

What to do…

Preheat the oven to 180°c / 350° / gas 4 and turn your attention to the sponges.

Using a food processor, beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Whilst it’s still beating, add in the eggs, a little at a time, ensuring that each addition is thoroughly mixed in before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and milk and whizz together.

In a large mixing bowl, sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Then, tip in the ingredients from the food processor and, using a balloon whisk, fold together all the ingredients until they are thoroughly blended. Divide the chocolate sponge mixture between the two cake tins.

Bake the sponges in the oven for 45 minutes until the cake is firm and an inserted skewer comes out dry.

Allow to cool for 30 minutes in the tins and then turn out onto cooling racks to cool completely. (At this point, I normally wrap them in foil and freeze them until the day I need them).

Time for the buttercream. If you are doing it all on the same day, make the butter cream whilst the sponges are cooling.

Put your chocolate into a heatproof bowl and then into a steamer over a saucepan of simmering water. Gently melt the chocolate and then set aside until it is cool enough to touch.

In a separate bowl, sieve in the icing sugar and then beat together with the butter. Add the vanilla essence and then tip in the warm chocolate. Mix together using a small balloon whisk to ensure it is evenly and thoroughly blended. Set aside until you are ready to assemble the cake.

Take your larger sponge and cut it in half horizontally to create 2 sponge tiers. Lay one half on a serving plate. Use your cookie cutter to cut a hole in the centre of the remaining large sponge.

Spread butter cream evenly across the bottom sponge and then place the other half, with the hole on top. Also cover this one with a layer of butter cream.

Next, take the smaller sponge and slice it horizontally to create 3 sponge tiers. Use your cookie cutter to cut a hole in the middle of the bottom one and then place this tier in the middle of the larger cake, matching up the central holes as best you can (but don’t worry if they don’t match – no one will be able to see).

Spread butter cream across this sponge and then repeat the process with the middle smaller tier. Fill your stacked sponges with your choice of surprise (mini eggs etc), spread butter cream across this middle smaller sponge and then top with the remaining tier – assembly job done – the top and bottom sponges are ‘complete’ whilst the middle three have holes in them, now occupied by treats!

Spread butter cream evenly across the top and sides of the cake and then set aside.

To the lace! Break 100g of the plain chocolate into a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir the chocolate until it reaches a melting point of 47c / 115f. Remove the bowl from the heat, add the remaining 50g chocolate and stir until the chocolate has cooled to 31c / 90f.

Place your strips of acetate onto a flat work surface.

Pour the chocolate into a piping bag fitted with a narrow nozzle or tip it into a squeezy bottle also fitted with a narrow nozzle. Let the chocolate fall out of the nozzle whilst swirling up and down the strips of acetate to create a lace effect. Leave to cool until just set and firm enough to then wrap around the two sets of sponge tiers (about 15 – 20 minutes). Walk off and leave the acetate on for 1 hour. Gently and patiently peel the acetate away, leaving the gorgeous chocolate lace decorating your gorgeous chocolate cake….et voilà!

Serve to a completely wowed group – the lace really does look terrific, then there’s the surprise of the hidden treats and then of course, there’s the most important bit – the fabulously luscious flavour!

Tip…

I make the sponges in advance and then defrost them the day that I want to serve the cake. This way, the kitchen doesn’t look like so much of a disaster area and I can devote my energies to the creative bit. Also, the sponges are much easier to slice accurately when they are defrosting.

If you replaced chocolate butter cream with white chocolate ganache to decorate the sponges, the visual effect would be much more dramatic. However, this was my cake and I don’t like white chocolate!!!

How easy…

It’s all easy but does take time – not one to rush, this one!

Inspired by…

The chocolate sponge and butter cream combination are now a favourite in the Duffield house and have been practiced to produce various creations during the last 2½ years. The lace can be attributed to the BBC and is used to create a Paul Hollywood/Mary Berry showstopper.

Bakewell Tart

Such a joy this one: crisp pastry encircling the sweet, luscious and moist frangipane ‘sponge’ with a gorgeous little lip smacker of raspberry jam; all of which is topped with flaked almonds and a smattering of icing – absolutely delicious and something eccentrically and essentially English about the whole thing! Perfect for springtime, perfect with a cup of tea – an absolute darling of a pud!

Serves 12-14

What you need…

for the pastry

25cm x 4cm deep loose-bottomed tart tin, liberally buttered and lined on the bottom with parchment paper

250g plain flour, plus a little for dusting

50g icing sugar, plus a little for dusting

A pinch of salt

135g butter, straight from the fridge, cut into small cubes

1 large, happy egg, beaten

2 tablespoons ice cold water

for the filling

200g raspberry jam

250g unsalted butter, softened

250g caster sugar

2 large, happy eggs, beaten

80g plain flour

250g ground almonds

Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

40g flaked almonds

4 tablespoons apricot jam

2 tablespoons water

20-30ml amaretto liqueur

40g icing sugar

What to do…

First, to the pastry: tip the flour into your food processor. Sift in the icing sugar and salt. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Tip in the beaten egg and water and pulse until it comes together.

Dust your worktop with sifted icing sugar and a little plain flour. Gather the pastry up into your hands and then quickly knead it on your worktop to form a ball.

Roll out to just over the thickness of a £1 coin and line your tart tin and then pop in the fridge for 30 minutes. Trim away the excess pastry, prick the bottom of the pastry case with a fork and pop in the freezer for 10 minutes. I don’t know why I do this but it works this way. I can’t be doing with the chillin’ before the rollin’ – it just doesn’t work out for me – this way does! Whop your oven on to 180˚c / 350˚ / gas 4 and put a large baking sheet inside.

Line your pastry case with foil and then fill up with baking beans before popping in the oven onto the baking sheet for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and pop it right back for a further 10 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature and then spread over the raspberry jam.

Pop your baking sheet back into the oven.

To the frangipane filling: tip the butter and caster sugar into your food processor and whizz until pale and fluffy. Whilst still whizzing, slowly add the eggs little by little. Tip in the flour and whizz until incorporated. Then tip in the ground almonds, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Whizz until evenly mixed in.

Dollop the filling on top of the raspberry jam and level with the back of a spoon. Scatter over the flaked almonds and slide the tin onto the hot baking sheet and bake for 50-55 minutes until golden and just set.

Remove your tart to a cooling rack to start to cool.

In little saucepan, warm the apricot jam and water, stirring to mix together. Strain and then brush over the top of the still-warm tart.

Stir the amaretto liqueur into the icing sugar to create runny icing and then drizzle over the cooled tart. Leave to set for 10 minutes before serving. A lovely treat and absolute crowd pleaser.

Inspired by…

The pastry is my favourite recipe for sweet short crust pasty and the only recipe I use now: from Camilla Stephens, Higgidy. The main recipe is courtesy of Nathan Outlaw and was published in Delicious magazine.

How easy…

Very easy, now I’ve found a ‘no-fail’ pastry recipe. It takes time though, not that you need to be in kitchen throughout.

 

 

A Little Aside: Creamed Leeks with Chestnut and Thyme Crumble

Rich and comforting, this is a lovely alternative to the traditional vegetables that we usually have with our Sunday roast. I think you get to this time of year and, as much as the Sunday roast is a fabulous treat, a little variety is called for when we’ve been enjoying the meal most weekends since October! Also, joy of joys, most of the prep on this can be done in advance – always good news when a Sunday Roast is involved!

Serves 6 as a side dish

What you need…

for the crumble topping

100g butter, softened

150g plain flour

50g ground almonds

30g suet

1 happy egg yolk

50g cooked chestnuts, chopped (vacuum-packed or frozen work well)

5 tablespoons thyme, leaves picked

Sea salt and black pepper

for the leeks

1kg leeks, trimmed and chunked

100g butter

Sea salt and black pepper

200ml double cream

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

What to do…

First, to the crumble: tip the butter and flour into your food processor and whizz until the mixture resembles course breadcrumbs. Remove the mixing blade and stir through the ground almonds and suet until evenly incorporated. Likewise, the egg yolk and finally add the chestnuts, thyme, salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

Turning to the leeks: melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and gently cook the leeks with a little salt and pepper until softened. Pour in the cream and reduce until thickened. Tip into an ovenproof dish and allow to cool.

20 minutes before you’re due to serve your lunch, top leeks with the crumble and scatter over the nutmeg. Bake in a preheated oven at 160˚c / 325˚f / gas 3 for 15 – 20 minutes until crunchy and golden brown – absolutely delicious!

Inspired by…

Lee Bennett, crafthouse-restaurant.com and published by theguardian.com

How easy…

Very and I love that it can be prepared largely in advance.

 

Mary’s Kedgeree

So, I’ve made kedgeree before, albeit with hake because I couldn’t get hold of haddock (!) and thoroughly enjoyed it. But, when I saw ma’am making it as part of her current ‘Classic’ TV series, my interest was sufficiently piqued to give her version a go and….it is really, really good: rich and flavoursome – it tastes like an absolute treat and I’ll definitely be doing it again. Supposedly a recipe for an indulgent, leisurely breakfast, it works equally well as a lovely family supper (speaking from experience).

Serves 4

What you need…

A couple of splashes of rapeseed oil

3 onions: 2 thinly sliced and 1 finely chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

500g smoked haddock fillets (I used dyed but Mary specifies undyed)

100g smoked salmon

250g basmati rice

3 cardamom pods, split

3cm-long cinnamon stick

450ml cold water

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 large, happy eggs

30g butter

100ml single cream

2 tablespoons coriander, finely chopped

Cayenne pepper, to taste

Juice of ½ lemon

What to do…

Heat your first splash of oil in a medium-sized frying pan over a moderate heat and sauté the two sliced onions gently, for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until they are crisp and deep golden brown.

Season with salt and pepper, tip out on kitchen paper, and set aside in a warm place.

Put the haddock, skin-side down, in a large, deep-sided frying pan and pour over enough water to just cover. Simmer, covered, over a low heat for 5-8 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the heat. Lay the smoked salmon in the liquid, cover, and let stand for 2 minutes. Drain the fish, discard the skins and flake into large chunks. Set aside.

Wipe out your large frying pan with kitchen paper and then add your second splash of oil, warming over a moderate heat. Add the chopped onion, cardamom pods, and cinnamon and sauté about 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden-brown. Tip in the rice and stir through. Pour in the cold water and stir in the turmeric. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, stir, cover, and cook for 12-15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Take the rice off the heat and let it stand, covered, for 5 minutes before fluffing up the grains with a fork.

Meanwhile, boil your eggs. Pop them in a saucepan of boiling water and simmer for 6 minutes, a little longer if you like the yolks cooked more. Remove from the heat, drain then pour cold water over the eggs. When they are cool enough to handle, peel and quarter.

Remove the cinnamon stick from the rice and carefully stir in the butter, cream, coriander, fish, and eggs. Season with salt and cayenne pepper and squeeze in the lemon juice. Heat thoughly over a low heat, stirring gently once or twice, making sure you don’t break up the fish.

Serve your stupendously yummy kedgeree topped with the warm crispy onion: enjoy!

Inspired by…

Mary Berry

How easy…

Very easy and satisfying to make

 

A Little Aside: Parsnips in Creamy Juniper Sauce

This is a truly delicious way to serve parsnips and makes a great, slightly luxurious, change from the various roasted versions that we frequent. For some reason, the natural flavour of the parsnips is accentuated – not sure why but they are gorgeous. We’ve indulged in them with the ‘venison with red wine and chocolate sauce’ recipe: the combination was fabulous. They would also go down really well with a nice bit of steak I reckon. Whatever: enjoy!

Serves 4 as a side dish

What you need…

250ml hot water from the kettle

1 chicken stock pot (I use Knorr)

Splash of rapeseed oil

4 shallots, peeled and halved

3 large parsnips, peeled and cut into wine cork-sized chunks

4 garlic cloves, chopped

8 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked

15 juniper berries, lightly crushed

Sea salt and black pepper

125ml double cream

What to do…

Make some chicken stock by dissolving the chicken stock pot into the hot water, using a balloon whisk to help things along.

Preheat your oven to 180˚c / 350˚f / gas 4.

Warm the oil over a moderate heat in a casserole for which you have a snugly fitting lid. Chuck in the shallots, parsnips and garlic and sauté until lightly golden. Pour in the stock and stir, ensuring that any deliciousness stuck to the bottom of the pan is reincorporated.

Tip in the thyme and the juniper berries and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Whop up the heat and bring the sauce to the boil. Cover with the lid and pop in the oven for 20 minutes.

Place your casserole back on the hob on a high heat and reduce the liquid by half. Stir in the cream, check the seasoning and make sure it’s thoroughly hot before serving – quite simply delicious – I have been tempted to eat just a bowl of these rather than making them merely a little aside!

Inspired by…

The sauce was originally part of a pot-roasted partridge recipe, courtesy of Nigel Slater. I adapted that one, swapping finicky partridge for plump chicken thighs and then thought we’d let the parsnips have an exclusive moment wallowing in the delicious sauce – good call if I do say so myself!

How easy…

Very easy: hob, oven and then a bit of last minute hob that needs little attention!

Rhubarb Crumble with Nutmeg and Pistachios

I adore rhubarb and am loving the fact that recipes using the stuff currently abound. I was drawn to this one because of the inherent feeling of comfort that comes with a crumble pudding and because of its sheer simplicity. Then to the flavour: that fabulous tart sweetness that is unique to rhubarb, topped with a lovely, gently spiced crunchy crumble mixture that is an absolutely superb foil to the sweet filling – perfect for a cold winter’s day and ridiculously quick and easy: fast comfort food!

Serves 6

What you need…

for the rhubarb

1 x 2-litre ovenproof dish, buttered

800g rhubarb, trimmed and chunked into 3cm lengths

75g golden caster sugar

2 tablespoons self-raising flour

for the crumble

150g self-raising flour

150g golden caster sugar

150g ground pistachios

1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

150g unsalted butter, chilled and chunked

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 200˚c / 400˚ / gas 6.

Toss the rhubarb in the sugar and self-raising flour and arrange in the bottom of your ovenproof dish.

Tip all of the crumble ingredients into your food processor whizz to crumbs that are just starting to stick together. Scatter evenly over the rhubarb. Pop into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden and crisp and the luscious juices are starting to bubble up the sides.

Serve with a dollop of ice-cream, a smothering of warm custard or a swirl of double cream. Enjoy this stupendously simple, delicious pud!

Inspired by…

You magazine (Mail on Sunday)

How easy…

Stupendously!

Jambalaya

Honestly, the best way that I can describe this delightful supper dish is ‘a festival of fabulous flavours having a party with your taste buds!’ I was trying to describe it to my daughter, Maddie, who was not here to savour this latest culinary creation and said, ‘It’s a bit like paella but with more oomph!’ (Don’t get me wrong, I love paella and I personally think the two dishes should not compete with one another!) Anyway, then I googled it….see below. In the meantime, give it a go – flavour fiesta!

Serves 4

What you need…

Splash of rapeseed oil

4 chicken breasts, sliced

400g chorizo, chopped

2 onions, finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 red peppers, deseeded and sliced

2 celery sticks, chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon mustard powder

A few grinds of black pepper

300g long grain rice

1 x 400g tinned chopped tomatoes

300ml chicken stock

300g raw prawns

12 mussels

12 clams

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

5 spring onions, trimmed and sliced

What to do…

Use a heavy, high-sided frying pan to place over a moderate heat. Warm your oil and add the chicken breasts, cooking until they start to brown. Then add the chorizo and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, until it starts to brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove both from the pan and set aside.

Return the pan to the heat and add the onions, cooking until softened. Tip in the garlic, peppers, celery, thyme and oregano, stirring to evenly mix. Return the chicken and chorizo to the pan together with the garlic salt, paprika, cayenne, mustard powder and black pepper. Stir well.

Then, tip in the rice, tomatoes and stock and give the whole lot a good stir. Bring to the boil and then simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked through. It’s probably worth checking every now and then just to make sure it’s not sticking to the pan. Add the prawns, mussels and clams and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the shells have opened and the prawns have turned pink.

Sprinkle with parsley and spring onions and serve. Party on!

Tip…

When I added the rice, I walked off and left it for a while, to enjoy wine-time with hubby, popping back firstly to check it hadn’t stuck and secondly to switch the hob off and add the seafood. I gave it a quick stir, rammed the lid back on and went off for another 15 minutes to enjoy wine and good company. Just before we sat down to eat, I turned the heat up high and just warmed everything through (the seafood had gently cooked in my absence!)

A bit about Jambalaya…

According to Google, Creole jambalaya originates from the French Quarter of New Orleans, in the original European sector. It was an attempt by the Spanish to make paella in the New World, where saffron was not readily available due to import costs. Tomatoes became the substitute for saffron.

Inspired by…

Lisa Faulkner

How easy…

Very easy. Get the prep done and then it takes barely any effort at all!

 

 

 

 

The Ooziest, Naughtiest Chocolate Brownies with Melted Mars Bar Chunks

What can I say?! This version of ‘my’ previous brownie recipe hits new heights in gorgeousness with many exclamations of delight going down with each mouthful as well as some rather unbecoming behaviour as more little squares of oozy naughtiness are scrabbled for and scoffed. I have fellow foodie, Steve Gingell (and his son) to thank for this version, who I believe are both on a quest for the most sensational brownie – this might well be it!

Makes 20 largish or 30 smallish brownies

What you need…

250g unsalted butter

200g 70% dark chocolate

80g cocoa powder, sifted

65g plain flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

360g caster sugar

4 large free-range eggs

8 fun-sized Mars Bars, each cut into 4 chunks

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.

Lightly butter and line a 24cm square baking tin with parchment paper. Roughly break up your chocolate and pop it into a large heatproof bowl together with the butter. Put the bowl over a steamer, sitting in a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the butter and chocolate, mixing until smooth.

In another bowl, thoroughly mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar.

Take the melted butter and chocolate mixture off the heat and carefully pour into the dry ingredients, using a spatular to scrape in every last bit. Use a handheld electric whisk to mix all the ingredients together thoroughly.

Whisk the eggs and then tip them into the rest of the mixture, whisking them in until you have a lovely silky, glossy, smooth mixture. Tip in your Mars Bar chunks and gently stir them so that they are evenly distributed.

Pour your brownie mix into the baking tin and place in the oven for around 25 minutes. When done, your oozy chocolate brownie ‘tray bake’ should be slightly springy on the outside but still very gooey in the middle.

Allow to cool in the tin, then carefully invert the bake onto a large chopping board and cut into little or large chunky squares. Purely for quality control reasons, now is a good time to try one – just to make sure that they are OK – and ooooooooh, yummy, reach – not grab or scrabble – for another…

Inspired by…

The original brownie recipe was that of Jamie Oliver. However, the idea of including the Mars Bars was that of fellow foodie, Steve Gingell, whose son gave this version a bash – so pleased he shared!

How easy…

Child’s play. In fact, this seems to be a regular event during visits by grandkids and nieces – when do we make the brownies?!

 

Passion Fruit Melting Moments

Seriously melt in the mouth moment treats these – the wonderfully buttery biscuits are sandwiched together with luscious passion fruit-infused butter cream to create quite the sensation for the taste buds! Perfect for that mid afternoon cup of tea or just to snaffle at whim! Fabulous – must make more….x

Makes around 14

What you need…

1 x piping bag fitted with large star or plain nozzle

2 x baking sheets, each lined with baking parchment

6 passion fruit

250g salted butter, softened

60g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting

230g plain flour

75g cornflour

for the butter cream

100g salted butter, softened

150g icing sugar, sifted

Passion fruit juice (from those above)

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180˚c / 350˚f / gas 4.

Halve each passion fruit and scoop out the flesh into a sieve, pressing down with the back of a spoon to release as much juice as possible.

For the biscuits, tip the butter and icing sugar into your food processor and whizz until pale. Tip in the flour and cornflour together with 2½ tablespoons passion fruit juice and 2½ tablespoons of just-boiled water. Whizz until the mixture comes together, scraping down if needed.

Scoop the mixture into your piping bag and then pipe 28 x 5cm rosettes onto your baking trays, about 3cms apart and pop into the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes or until pale and golden.

Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets and then carefully transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the passion fruit butter cream. Wash out and dry your food processer bowl and blending blade. Tip in the butter, icing sugar and remaining passion fruit juice and whizz until pale and fluffy.

Sandwich together your biscuits with a generous dollop of butter cream, arrange on a pretty serving plate and dust with icing sugar. Any that are broken during the process have to be immediately scoffed (chef’s privilege!)

Serve with a cup of tea, ideally in the middle of the afternoon sat outside in flower-scented garden on a gentle summer’s day…or whenever you fancy a lovely little melting moment of a treat…

Inspired by…

Not sure – it’s a ripped out page from a magazine from last Easter!

How easy…

Ever so and they are truly delightful.