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Cover: Loco for cocoa

Less than 1 hour

20Jul 12

Chocolate Gingerbread Animals

 

Chocolate Gingerbread AnimalsChocolate is my passion, and my niece loves it too, so we often find ourselves playing with it together when she comes round for the day, even when she visits with her mum and dad. We girls get busy in the kitchen, leaving mum and dad to relax together a while – a much welcome break for them; and loads of fun for us! Here’s one of our favourites; chocolate gingerbread animals. We make animals because they are the shapes we happened to find on a shopping trip together. But we also have heart, circle and square cutters – and you can make this recipe into gingerbread people too and decorate them with icing, chocolate and smarties if you like. (Also try this sugar-free gingerbread recipe.)

We had a family gathering recently with my parents, brothers, sisters and of course my little niece, and we rustled these up. My dad, with his Canadian roots, particularly enjoyed munching his way through the moose.

Chocolate Gingerbread Animals
Author: 
Recipe type: Desserts
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
 
A classic gingerbread biscuit with the added delight of chocolate…
Ingredients
  • 30g unsweetened good quality cocoa powder and a little for dusting
  • 310g plain flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 190ml golden syrup
Instructions
  1. Grease a baking sheet with a little butter and preheat the oven to 190ºC.
  2. Measure out and sift the cocoa powder, flour, ginger powder and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl and combine.
  3. Chop the butter into small cubes and then work it into the powder with your fingertips, creating a fine crumble-like texture.
  4. Now add the sugar, the golden syrup and the egg. Combine the mixture together with your hands to create a firm dough.
  5. Cut the dough ball in half and roll it out on a lightly cocoa powder dusted surface, then cut out the shapes of your choice.
  6. Bake the biscuits on the tray in the oven for between 10 and 15 minutes, until you see them just beginning to darken around the edges. Let them sit on the tray for a couple of minutes cooling before transferring them to a cooling rack. Once cool, you can decorate as you wish.
  7. Repeat the rolling, cutting and cooking processes with the other half of the dough, or wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge if you prefer to make another fresh batch the next day.

 

 

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09Jul 12

Fruity Milk Chocolate Florentines

Fruity Milk Chocolate FlorentinesAs the name suggests, florentines originated in the Italian city of Florence. The Italians make excellent desserts in the Tuscany region, including Biscotti de Prato.

Florentines are fragile, fruity sensations that are often made with dark chocolate, but I prefer them with milk chocolate.  The trickiest bit of the process is getting a good round shape to your biscuit, so I think it’s best to be relaxed about that, and enjoy the biscuits a little uneven around the edges.  They’ll still taste just as wonderful!  You can enjoy fruity milk chocolate florentines as a rather special biscuit snack; or dress them up for after-dinner with creams, sauces and liqueurs, for a rich or romantic dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 150g good quality milk chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 30g glacé cherries
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 30g sultanas or raisins
  • 55g flaked almonds
  • 20g candied peel mix
  • 2tsbp plain flour

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and lightly grease a large non-stick baking tray with a pat of butter.
  2. Chop the cherries into rough pieces and set them to one side.
  3. Melt the butter and the sugar together in a saucepan on a gentle heat until melted, stirring them together.  Then bring the temperature up until the mixture boils.  Remove from the heat and whilst the mixture is still hot, add in the dried fruit, almonds, flour, glacé cherries and the double cream.  Combine the ingredients together.
  4. Lift teaspoonfuls of the mixture out and place them on the prepared baking tray, spaced widely apart so as not to touch and stick when they spread.  It’s best to cook the biscuits in 2 batches or more and really give them plenty of space.  Pop each batch in the oven for around 8 minutes.  Remove them and push each biscuit into a neat circle using a round, oiled biscuit cutter.  Bake them again for about 2 minutes before transferring them onto a clean sheet of grease-proof baking parchment to cool.
  5. Melt the chocolate in a pan.  Once the Florentines have cooled, turn them upside-down and use a palette knife, or large blunt knife to spread the melted chocolate across the flat surface of the biscuit which is now on top.  Transfer the biscuits to a clean sheet of paper to set.

Time: 15 minutes to prepare, 25-35 minutes to cook

Cocoa Treats: 12-15

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25Jun 12

Chocolate Chip Muffins

Chocolate Chips

I’ve made chocolate chip muffins many times with my little niece.  It’s one of our staple favourites when she comes round as she always asks to help me make them. The last time she visited and we baked this recipe together, I have a feeling that more chocolate chips went straight into her tummy than into the muffins themselves. 

Chocolate chips contain less cocoa butter than traditional baking chocolate, giving them a higher melting point, which is what helps them to keep their shape during cooking.  We are all very familiar with the good old American-English muffin, which has become so very popular these days, and can be found in all sorts of sizes and varieties.  But the palm-sized chocolate chip muffin must also be high on the list of all-time favourites. (Also try these choconana muffin nests, perfect for Easter!)

Ingredients:

  • 90g self-raising flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 90g butter
  • 75ml milk
  • 50g dark chocolate chips, or good dark chocolate, broken into pieces.

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC, and grease a 6 muffin mould baking tray with a sliver of butter.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together over a large mixing bowl and stir.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and the sugar together until light and creamy.  Add the milk, and whisk until well-combined.
  4. Gradually beat the butter and sugar mixture into the flour mixture, and when evenly combined, stir in the chocolate pieces.
  5. Bake the muffins in the oven for around 20-25 mins.  Remove the tray from the oven and cool the muffins on a wire rack before enjoying them with a fresh cup of tea and the company of children.

Note:    Normally, muffins are eaten once cooled, but have you thought of trying them warm, drizzled with chocolate sauce and with a dollop of ice cream for a wickedly rich pudding?  Or try eating them straight from the oven with chocolate custard.

Time: 15 mins to prepare, 25 mins to cook

Cocoa Treats: 6 large muffins

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19Jun 12

Pear and Chocolate Tart

Chocolate and Pear TortI sometimes make this pear and chocolate tart on a Sunday as a All Postsgreat pudding to follow a roast ham or pork meal.  Pear, chocolate and almond flavours play really well together, and serving this dessert warm with ice cream simply adds to the pleasure.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large, soft, ripe pears
  • 155g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 2 tbsp almond liqueur
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 340g puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten, for the glaze
  • Icing sugar to dust
  • Cream or ice cream to serve

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.  Lightly grease a baking tray and sprinkle it over with a little water.
  2. Melt the chocolate gently in a saucepan over a low heat, add the almond liqueur and stir together until smooth.
  3. Cut the pears into quarters, remove the cores, and then cut into thin slices.  Put the pears into a bowl and cover them with cold water, adding the lemon juice to the water to stop the pears from going brown.
  4. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll the puff pastry out into a standard pie dish.  Place the pastry into the prepared dish and create circular edges around the pastry with a sharp knife.
  5. Spoon the melted chocolate onto the surface of the pastry and spread it evenly on top.  Drain the pear slices really well, patting the surface very lightly with kitchen paper before laying them out over the chocolate, keeping the pear from touching the sides of the pie tin. Make little indent marks with the back of a sharp knife all around the top of the pastry edge for decoration before brushing the edges with the beaten egg to create the glaze.  Pop the tart in the oven and cook for around 20-25 minutes until the pastry has risen and goes golden brown.
  6. Take the tart out of the oven and turn the temperature up to 230ºC.  Sift a plentiful dusting of icing sugar over the pears and pop the tart back in the oven to brown for 5 minutes.  Keep a close eye at this point so as not to burn it.  Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes before serving with cream or ice cream.

Time:   25 minutes to prepare, around 30 minutes to cook

Cocoa Treats: 6 servings

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13Jun 12

Almond and Chocolate Orange Biscotti

Almond and Chocolate Orange BiscottiAlmond and Chocolate Orange Biscotti – Italian style biscuits that are wonderful accompanied by a rich roast cappuccino. It’s the perfect complement to round off your Italian meal. (Try this pancetta and pea gemelli recipe.)

Ingredients:

  • 200g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 25g unsalted butter, softened
  • 110g light muscavado sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 55g polenta, or ground semolina
  • The zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tbsp orange liqueur (or swap for 1 tsp vanilla essence)
  • 1 egg
  • 110g almonds
  • A little icing sugar to dust

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC, and grease a baking tray with a little butter.
  2. Put the almonds in a plastic sandwich bag, or wrap them loosely in clingfilm, and place them on a wooden board.  Using a rolling pin, bash them gently to break them into rough pieces.
  3. Melt the chocolate and the butter slowly in a saucepan, stirring them together.
  4. Take a large mixing bowl and sift in the flour and baking powder.  Mix in the sugar, polenta, egg, orange zest, orange liqueur, and finally the almonds.  Work in the butter and chocolate mixture and form a biscuit dough.  The dough should be a good consistency, but if it is a little moist, sift over an extra little bit of flour; and if it is a little dry, add another splash of orange liqueur, or a tiny bit of water.
  5. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and divide the dough into 2 halves.  Create a log shape out of each half, about 25cm long.  Lay out each sausage of dough on the baking tray, flattening them with your palms to about 1.2cm high.  Bake for 25 mins in the oven, or until the dough rises and feels firm to the touch.
  6. Set the partly baked biscotti to one side to cool.  On a wooden board, slice each log diagonally into 10 biscuits (about 1.5cm thick) and place them back onto the tray, leaving a little space between each one.  Return the tray to the oven for about 10 more mins, crisping up the biscotti.  Remove them and once cool, dust over with the icing sugar.

Time: 20 mins preparation time, 35-40 mins cooking time

Cocoa Treats: 20

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06Jun 12

Choc Chip Flapjacks

Choc Chip FlapjacksFlapjacks are such a classic old favourite.  They are also a great way to get the benefits of oats into children who can’t bring themselves to enjoy porridge. (If they do like it, try this wholesome oats recipe.)  And let’s face it; we never really grow out of the comfort of a home-baked flapjack, even when we’re all grown-up.

Oats are a good source of some B vitamins, and also contain iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, amongst other nutrients.  The humble oat is packed with soluble fibre which is thought to help reduce high blood cholesterol levels.  They also have a low GI (glycaemic index) so they are absorbed slowly into the blood stream, which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable. As you can see, oats offer some good health benefits for all age groups.

We have to admit here; however, that once those little oats are coated and doused in golden syrup, butter and sugar, that yes, they are rather full of calories.  But as afternoon snacks go, you can be sure you’re getting some good energy and nutrition into your body too.  And well, I couldn’t give you a flapjack recipe without including chocolate could I?  So here’s how to make some very yummy choc chip flapjacks.

Ingredients:

  • 400g porridge oats
  • 230g unsalted butter or margarine
  • 230g light muscovado sugar
  • 300g good quality milk chocolate bar chopped into small pieces, or milk chocolate chips
  • 180g golden syrup

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the sugar and the golden syrup, mixing well as the ingredients melt, and then leave the mixture to cool completely.
  2. Grease a baking tray with a little butter and preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the porridge oats and the chocolate together. Gradually fold in the syrupy mixture and stir well until all of the ingredients are very well combined.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the baking tray and level off the surface with a wooden spoon.
  5. Bake the giant flapjack in the oven for about 20-25 mins until the edges of the mix begin to turn a golden brown.  Remove and leave to cool in the tray.  Once cooled, transfer the large biscuit onto a chopping board and cut into small bars.  They are delicious served freshly baked, but you can also store them in an airtight container.

Time: 20 mins to prepare, plus cooling time.  20-30 mins to cook

Cocoa Treats: 20-24 pieces

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29May 12

Iced Fruit Mountains and Hot Chocolate Snow

Iced Fruit MountainsFor this recipe, I’ve combined two recipe favourites into one – meringue with fruit and cream and iced forest fruits with hot chocolate sauce. My recipe uses white chocolate and contrasts the tartness of the dark berries with the sweetness of the meringue and chocolate cream sauce. It’s great because you take the hot sauce to the table and let your guests pour as much or as little as they like over their fruity meringue mountains. (Also try frozen berries with white chocolate sauce, which is very similar but doesn’t use meringue.)

 

Iced Fruit Mountains and Hot Chocolate Snow is a sumptuous melting pot of a dessert. It looks and tastes heavenly, and makes a great finish to a special meal. It’s also achingly easy. Small fruits definitely work best for this because larger ones (like strawberries or large blackberries) take too long to defrost. If you really want to use larger fruits, you’ll need to defrost them in advance so that they’re not hard and cold in the middle – then they should be perfectly defrosted as the hot sauce pours over them.

Ingredients:

  • 4 small individual meringue nests
  • 400g frozen berries, small raspberries or fruits of the forest
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g white chocolate

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. 15-30 minutes before you want to serve, place the meringue bases on individual serving dishes or plates, and heap the frozen berries onto them to create little mountains of fruit. Keep at room temperature so the fruit begins to defrost.
  2. Break the chocolate into small pieces, and put in a heatproof bowl.
  3. Pour the cream over the chocolate, and heat this mix over a pan of simmering water for 10-15 minutes until hot and blended.
  4. Pour the hot chocolate cream into a warmed jug and take straight to the table together with the meringue fruit mountains.
  5. Let your guests pour on the melted ‘snow’.

Note:    You can freeze your own selection of fruit throughout the year for this and other desserts by laying fresh berries on a tray in the freezer, freezing until solid, then bagging up. This process stops them from solidifying into large clumps that are difficult to thaw or separate. It also makes it easier for you to extract the berries a bit at a time without damaging their appearance.

Time:   15-20 minutes to prepare

Cocoa Treats:  4 servings

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08May 12

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip CookieI love to make these chocolate chip cookies with my niece.  I put on my duck egg blue apron – the one she loves with ice cream and lollipop prints on it – and she puts on the one with zoo animals.  We get covered in flour and plenty ends up on the floor, but that’s all part of the fun.

The best moments are popping the mixture onto the tray, watching together through the oven door (from a safe distance) as the cookies spread, and the crowning moment – eating the cookies together when they are still warm, cosied up together on the sofa with a big glass of milk.

These are the real thing; rich, gooey and melty.  The secret to melt-in-the-mouth cookies is not to overcook them. (Try these yummy chocolate chunk and raspberry cookies.)

Ingredients:

  • 355g flour, unsifted
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 175g soft brown sugar
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 eggs
  • 325g dark chocolate chips, or bar, broken into small pieces

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
  2. Put the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl and combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, bind together the sugar, butter, brown sugar and the vanilla essence.  Add the eggs and cream them into the mixture, then gradually work in the flour until well mixed.  Finally add the chocolate and stir it in.
  4. Sprinkle a little flour onto your work surface, lift the dough out of the mixing bowl and split it into 2, rolling each piece out into thick sausage shapes each about 6cm in diameter.  Once the shapes are formed, you can store the dough in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm until you want to use it.  This way you can grab a bit of dough each day over a few days to make totally fresh cookies whenever you want to enjoy them.
  5. When you are ready to bake some cookies, take the dough out of the fridge.  (You don’t have to cool the dough; you can bake it straight away after making it).
  6. Cut the dough ‘log’ into 2cm thick slices and space them fairly widely apart on a greased baking tray so that they don’t touch when spreading during cooking.
  7. Pop them in the oven for 9 to 11 mins.

Time: Less than 30 mins preparation time.  9-11 mins cooking time for each batch of cookies

Cocoa Treats: Makes 12 – 20 cookies

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01May 12

Dark Chocolate and Orange Mousse

Dark chocolate and orange mousseThis exquisitely intense dark chocolate and orange mousse is very simple and quick to put together.

But first… a little background story…

Quetzalcoatl and the cultivation of cocoa

We have to thank the ancient Mayan people for their gift of chocolate to the world.  The Aztecs originally gave it to the Spaniards because they mistook them for gods.  Maybe this is because the Spanish wore armour, and their commanders sported helmets with plumes – which would in the eyes of the Aztecs have linked them to the plumed serpent and guardian deity of the precious cocoa plants, Quetzalcoatl.  Legend has it that Quetzalcoatl was the one who revealed the secrets of the cocoa plant to his worshippers.  He showed them how to cultivate the tree and harvest and prepare the beans.  Quetzalcoatl is the father of all dark chocolatedesserts such as this trifle of four chocolates.

So, in honour of the tale, here is a fittingly dark chocolate Mousse.  It really is a pure celebration of taste and flavour.

Ingredients:

  • 150g good dark chocolate, Lindt 70%, or a darker one if you prefer, broken into pieces
  • 100g bar of Lindt Orange Intense chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 150g marshmallows
  • 50g butter, softened
  • 284ml tub of double cream
  • 45ml hot water, from a kettle that has boiled and left to cool a little
  • 3 tbsp Cointreau – optional… if you happen to have it in the house… if not, the recipe is perfectly scrumptious without it, just up the hot water content to 60ml.

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. Melt the chocolate, butter and marshmallows together over a gentle heat in a heavy-based saucepan, stirring occasionally.
  2. Whilst the mixture is melting, pour the double cream into a mixing bowl and whip it into a thick consistency.
  3. Once the chocolate mixture is molten and combined, take the pan off the heat and stir in the Cointreau.
  4. Fold the cream gently into the cooling chocolate until smoothly and evenly mixed.
  5. Portion the mousse out into 4-6 serving dishes and either enjoy it straight away, or pop it in the fridge for later, or even the next day – if you can wait that long!
Note: For a nice presentation, try placing orange slices on the bottom of the glass as well as one on top.

Time: 30 minutes preparation time

Cocoa Treats: for 4 – 6 people

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02Apr 12

Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate PuddingThis is the kind of pudding that takes me back to childhood. Those midweek nights of fish fingers and beans, when Mum filled the house with the wonderful smell of chocolate baking in the oven.  She’d put the dish on the table on a big wicker mat and ladle out this chocolate pudding into our eagerly clutched bowls, as long as we’d polished off the whole of our first course…. of course!

 

We loved eating it hot with a dollop of choc chip ice cream. (Check out the recipe on my blog for this ice cream, as well as another chocolate pudding option chocolate fondant with cherries and vanilla anglaise.) This recipe serves 2-3 people, so just double up the quantities if you have a bigger family, or if you have friends coming round.

Ingredients:

  • 150ml milk
  • 125g good dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 75g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 12g cocoa powder
  • 12g self-raising flour
  • Dusting of cocoa powder

Preparation Guidelines:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  2. Gently warm the chocolate and the milk together in a saucepan until the chocolate melts completely.  Remove from the heat and stir together until smooth and cohesive.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar into the butter until light and creamy.  Mix in the separated egg yolk, cocoa powder and flour.  Then gradually add the chocolate and milk mixture until evenly combined.
  4. Whisk the egg white in a clean bowl until it is stiff before spooning and mixing it into the chocolate mixture.
  5. Spoon the mixture into a 1L capacity oven-proof dish and set the dish inside a roasting tin.  Boil a kettle of water and pour 2cm water into the roasting tin all around the chocolate dish.
  6. Bake in the oven for around 30 mins, until the top of the mixture has crusted but the mixture underneath remains a little soft. Dust with cocoa powder and serve with whipped cream.

Time:   20 mins to prepare, 40 mins to cook

Cocoa Treats: 2-3 servings

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