salted caramel chocolate brownie tart

Since we are in December now, it’s totally okay to start talking about Christmas, and by that, I mean what we are all planning to eat on Christmas. In my family I am put in charge of the menu each year and the pressure to start planning is applied as early as September.

Even though I like to use Christmas as a time to experiment with new recipes, I know there is a lot riding on everything coming off as a success. Desserts are always the area that make me the most anxious – it’s not as easy to wing it with something that requires a strict set of ingredients, so I decided to do a test run of my planned salted caramel chocolate brownie tart.


The name of this recipe is a bit of a mouthful, and it’s just as much of a process making it – a chocolate biscuit base, a layer of gooey caramel topped with a rich, dark chocolate brownie and glazed with a layer of even richer chocolate ganache.


I adapted a recipe from the Akaroa Cooking School and used a sweet pastry base for my test run because I had some I needed to get rid of and wasn’t sure if all of the chocolate was going to be a sensory overload.

While the pastry was blind baking, I heated a can of condensed milk with 75grams of butter and several tablespoons of honey. I also added a teaspoon of sea salt because I love that salty juxtaposition. Once the butter was melted and the condensed milk had morphed several shades darker, I poured it over top of the base and baked for 10 minutes at 170°C. The caramel comes out another shade darker and had thickened nicely.


While the caramel was cooking I got started on the brownie – 150grams of melted butter, ½ cup of cocoa powder, ¾ cup of sugar combined to a thick paste. I whisked in two eggs and folded through a cup of flour, a pinch of salt and another of baking powder. This makes a rather thick mixture and since I want it to pour evenly over the caramel layer, I might thin it with a bit of water next time.


I popped it back into the oven for another 20 minutes before leaving it to cool.


The ganache is simple enough; ½ cup of warm cream and 200grams of dark chocolate poured over the cooled brownie and refrigerated until set.


This slice of heaven is definitely a chocolate lover’s fantasy, and while the pastry base is a nice touch I think I will be making a chocolate base come Christmas time – in my mind, you can never have too much chocolate!


peppermint chocolate cake – an experiment with italian meringue

Recently, a friend of mine and I decided that it would be a good idea to establish a local chapter of the Clandestine Cake Club but following my recent botched attempts at cake-making, I thought it wise to give myself a little more practice before unleashing any more of my creations onto the general public. I was also recently gifted a bottle of peppermint syrup. These two mutually exclusive factors coincided over the weekend into a chocolate sponge cake with peppermint meringue icing. I can now say that I will never be making Italian meringue ever again.


The cake itself turned out rather well, aside from forgetting to add any baking powder to the batter. I actually think I prefer it without too much spring, the batter still comes out light and fluffy; pillowy like a sponge cake but not as aerated – it still feels substantial as you sink your teeth into it. Unlike the last attempt at sponge cake, the sea of pots and pans that is my kitchen cupboards parted to reveal the electric mixer, which makes beating together eggs, flour, sugar and butter easy and breezy. I definitely recommend it.


The failures began with the cake icing. For starters, I didn’t have any icing sugar so I wasn’t able to make a standard icing. Instead, I opted for an Italian meringue icing because I could use regular sugar to make syrup and I like how it spreads like a thick layer of cloud.

Whisk one egg white to firm peaks, soft peaks won’t cut it and you will end up whisking for what seems like days. I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of peppermint syrup.

Heat 200grams of sugar with a ¼ cup of water to make a boiling simple syrup. Once it is as clear as glacier water and looks like molten glass, it’s ready. One of the (only) draw cards of Italian meringue is that there is no need to cook it, so you need the syrup to be terrifyingly hot to cook the egg whites. The heat also gives the egg fluff that little shock it needs to puff up nicely.


I thought that was the final step; ready to lather over my perfect chocolate circle. Not the case. The meringue needs to be whipped until room temperature; by getting as much air into it as possible we get the fluffiest, smoothest result. This result is not achievable in less than 15 minutes, by which stage my arm was numb and my kitchen was covered in pale flecks of meringue from each time I lost control of the beater.

What an ordeal. And after all of my struggle, I realised that I had far too much meringue – out of fear of having too little, I doubled the recipe. Isn’t it always the way?


Luckily for me, it freezes well and coincidently makes a great base for sorbet… watch this space!

chocolate chipotle chicken

I need a holiday. The only time that I’m not thinking about lying on a gleaming beach of white sand, the sun in my eyes and a cocktail in my hand is when I am having nightmares about all the things that could go wrong at work in the foreseeable future. I definitely need a holiday.

To get me though the dreary weather that is just around the corner, I am going to start planning my escape. Planning, in this scenario has a rather liberal meaning as it will no doubt entail looking at brochures for resorts I cannot afford and private islands I have no superyacht to get to. But my imagination and bank account have agreed on the general destination: Mexico.

I love Mexican food, the creativity and vibrancy, combined with the loud flavours and subtle textures is something that I am desperate to explore further. And I’m not talking about soggy nachos and over-spiced chilli con carne here, I am talking the real deal; sweet and spicy, flashes of colour and hearty as ever. To begin my planning, I had to get my stomach in the mood; so I whipped up this little number, my interpretation of a chipotle mole negro.


Like I have said on multiple occasions previously; France doesn’t do spicy – I once witnessed a gentleman describe salt and vinegar crisps as piquant and I couldn’t contain my laughter. Keeping this in mind, I had to be a little interpretive with my recipe. Many recipes I found called for a combination of guajillo, habanero, mulato and chipotle chillies. How do you think I went about finding these, short of ordering them in from Mexico? It is impossible to find them at an ordinary supermarché so I settled for a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – smoky jalapeño peppers in a dark, salty sauce.


The slow cooker is fast becoming my favourite kitchen appliance (sorry coffee machine!); it takes so much of the work out of cooking – you can put it on before heading out for the day and return to a house brimming with the comforting smell of dinner.

Begin by dicing an onion and half a head of garlic cloves, yes, that many because even though your pores will be leaking garlic for days, it is well worth it. If you have the time I suggest you roast them first, but it’s not at all essential. Add to the pot, along with a teaspoon each of cinnamon, toasted cumin seeds, coriander seeds, a tablespoon of cocoa powder or a couple of pieces of chocolate and a bay leaf. I also stumbled across a recipe on Gourmet Traveller which used hibiscus flowers – another ingredient I had no time to try and source, so I used some of my dried orange peel for a subtle fruity hint of flavour. I also added a handful of cashews for the hell of it! Mix through a can of kidney or refried beans, a can of diced tomatoes and as much of a can of chipotle peppers as you wish – I used the whole lot!


Brown a kilogram of boneless chicken thighs (or any part of the chicken) in a really hot pan on both sides; no more than 30 seconds per side, and add to the pot. Submerge the chicken in the sauce, turn the slow cooker onto low and leave for 6 to 8 hours.


By the time you get home from work, the chicken will be falling apart and the contents of the sauce will have melted into each other. Shred the chicken with a fork and serve over hot rice, or use to make enchiladas or burritos. These are all perfect meals for day dreaming about taking a trip to Mexico, ideal for eating while flicking through a Lonely Planet guide or looking at beautiful beaches on Pinterest.


If anyone has any insider tips on things to do in Mexico, I would love to hear them!

nostalgia moment: slutty brownie

I know I have been a little bit slack on my ‘Will Write for Food’ posts recently, I haven posted anything since the beginning of Blogging 201 but I am back, with a vengeance, and some nostalgic culinary anecdotes.

“Maybe you didn’t flush meringue down the toilet, but surely you have some stories about food that readers would enjoy.”

Using this statement as a springboard, the ideas that come to mind are endless, some of which are too embarrassing or ridiculous to mention – I want to maintain a certain level of dignity, providing hilarity is important, but dignity is paramount. However, one particular failure stands out above the rest, a failure of quite epic proportions. Everyone who doesn’t currently live under a rock has heard of Slutty Brownie, but for anyone not so familiar, let me enlighten you; a layer of cookie dough, a layer of Oreos and a layer of chocolate brownie. Gooey goodness dripping with naughtiness.

“oh so easy, and more than a little bit filthy”

It sounds rather straightforward, doesn’t it? Rosie uses one box of cookie dough mixture, a couple of boxes of Oreos and a box of brownie batter. All you need to do is add a couple of eggs. A student at the time, I decided to make my own batters – more economic than buying the boxes of mixture, and you know what’s actually going into it. So that’s what I did.

Worst mistake ever.

I don’t know what to blame; the variation in density, the quantities I used, maybe a slight difference in ingredients or just my dumb luck. The air in our tiny flat was dense with  chocolaty aromas and the scent of burning sugar, the minutes ticked by, and with our noses but an inch from the oven’s blackened door, we deemed the brownie done. It seemed like it took hours to cool, when in reality it was really only 15 minutes. I tapped the top, noting the satisfying crunch but because of the layer of cookies inside, I couldn’t get a knife the whole way in to test the baked-ness of the cookie dough.

I held the bottom of the tray steady, Flatmate 1 and 2 slowly guided the outside of the tin down while Flatmate 3 watched in glee and excitement. A look that quickly turned to horror as liquid cookie dough rushed in every direction possible. The result was what I can only describe as the most liberal interpretation of Eton Mess you can imagine, and floors, arms and faces smeared with raw cookie dough. Delicious, yet disastrous. Flatmate 4 did not seem amused when she emerged from her room to four messy grownups eating the mixture straight out of the mixing bowl, licking our spoons with the joy of children who are given pudding before dinner.

I still have never built up the courage to try making Slutty Brownie again, I prefer to keep the three elements separate when possible.

chai-infused poached pears

I hate pears. They are the only fruit that I don’t like, there is something about the inaudible lack of crunch as you sink your teeth into them that I find oh so unappealing. Subconsciously I associate them with pigs; as a child my cousins and I use to feed their pigs pears, catching them as they fell of a nearby tree when they were in abundance and throwing them into the pen. However, my distain of pears ends as soon as they are poached, when I think they are wonderful.


Today’s recipe is the ultimate dessert in any weather, and anything drizzled in chocolate is fine with me. Poire belle Hélène are simple to prepare but will wow any guest with their elegance. Note: the elegance is only included if you are moderate with the chocolate drizzle, I am not.

Traditionally in poire belle Hélène, the pears are poached in a simple sugar syrup, but I decided to get a little funky with it and poach mine in a chai infused syrup. Masala chai originates from India, it is black tea infused with a range of spices; these vary from place to place, but can include any of the following: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, cumin and turmeric. I used ginger, cinnamon, fennel and coriander seeds, nutmeg, turmeric and cayenne pepper.


Combine any number of the aforementioned spices in a relatively deep saucepan, the amount all depends on how many spices you are using, and how many pears you are poaching. I used about half a teaspoon of each which was the perfect amount for three pears. Over a medium heat, lightly toast the spices; only about one minute or they will start to burn. Add 1/8 cup of sugar and ½ a cup of cold water for every three pears. If you don’t have the spices, or the time to collect them all, but still want the wispy chai flavours, you can add a chai teabag to water and sugar while the pears poach.


Pears are generally an early autumn fruit, so the middle of summer is the perfect time for this recipe; if you can get your hands on some slightly under-ripe fruit, you can peel them without the juice running everywhere. Unfortunately I have no advise for peeling ripe fruit without creating a mess, sorry. Leave the stalks attached for presentation, and more importantly, easy handling.

Once the sugar has dissolved, sit the pears in the warming liquid, cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Check them sporadically; once a breadknife can slide into the pale flesh of the pear with little resistance, they are done.

Fish each pear out of the syrup by the stalk and set aside to cool. In my opinion, they are better served cold, but if you are in colder weather, or just can’t wait, then they will be delicious hot too!


Pears and chocolate make a great pair, pears and coffee are an even better match. To make the sauce, reheat the sugar syrup (strain it first to get rid of the spices), while the spices were infusing with the pears, the pears were infusing with the syrup, so the sauce will not only be speckled with pinches of spice, but will also have a lovely undertone of pear – so you could even save it and use it with something else. Once the syrup has heated, add ¼ of a cup of finely chopped or grated chocolate and stir constantly until melted. If you are a coffee nut like me, you can add a shot of espresso as well, or replace the chocolate with espresso sauce.


Drizzle (or pour) the sauce over top of the pears, for an extra touch of elegance, dust with icing sugar, toasted almond flakes or ground almonds.

bitter sweet coffee sauce

Since arriving in France, my dependency on coffee has increased dramatically – last winter involved a self-enforced intervention when a colleague pointed out that I had guzzled a grand total of 10 (!) shots of espresso in one working day. Any French person will tell you that French coffee is one of the finest crafted beverages you will ever encounter, this is not the case. As a vase and wide spreading generalisation, I have found that the French often burn their espresso and boil their milk, and even though the standard is rather below par, I still enjoy wrapping my hands around a café allongé, imbibing the steaming, sweet aroma, or sipping a dark, smoky espresso after a meal.


Like I said the other day, hot drinks in sticky weather aren’t the best combination, so I have had to get inventive in order to get my caffeine fix. This idea developed from an iced coffee; the obvious choice for a cold coffee craving, without all of the sugar and whipped cream that so many places add to it. My coffee sauce is strong and bitter, creamy with a real punch of flavour.

I like my coffee strong, strong like the Italians drink it kind of strong, and I wanted this recipe to reflect that. I began with half a plunger of leftover coffee and slowly simmered it down to half a cup; a little time consuming but well worth it in the end.

In a separate pot, combine 50grams of melted butter with 2 tablespoons of corn flour over a medium heat until it forms a thick paste that smells like baking dough; a good roux will help make your sauce full-bodied and thick. Whisk in ½ a cup of cream or condensed milk, whisking will help evenly combine the roux and aerate the mixture. Stir constantly over a low heat until it begins to thicken, then add the coffee.

Continue to stir the mixture to avoid it boiling – this could lead to it splitting! How long you leave it really depends on how you like it, I kept mine relatively runny so that I could easily pour it over vanilla ice-cream but you may want to thicken it to make a dipping sauce or even the base of a cake icing.

cafe chocolate con churros

If you were to say the first thing you thought of when I said ‘Spanish food’, what would you say? My guess is either ‘churros’ or ‘paella’. While I don’t think that I have the willpower to correctly make a paella; it involves not stirring the pan while it simmers and I am far too hands-on for that, I do have the willpower to make churros!

chocolato con churros
chocolato con churros

Spanish cuisine has not expanded into the mainstream Western world to the same degree as Italian or faux-Chinese, and even though most people would not be able to differentiate between Spanish and Mexican styles of cooking, I would say that 9 out of 10 people have tried churros before.

Before travelling to Spain, I had only ever eaten churros as a dessert, you can imagine my glee when I discovered these crisp, sugary treats are eaten at any time of day, even breakfast!

I recently had churros at a night market with a friend who is somewhat of a self-proclaimed churro aficionado and gladly shared with me some of her pointers on what makes a good churro. Like any traditional food; a pizza in Italy, a croissant in France, you will not find a churro as good as a Spanish churro anywhere but Spain. The ratio of sweet dough and runny chocolate sauce for dipping has to be just right, it must easily coat the golden batter and not be too thick like a paste – in Spain the churro is treated as an accompaniment to hot chocolate rather than the other way around.


What I find most important is the dough, it needs to be crisp and golden, but often I find it has been deep-fried for too long, and while it is aesthetically perfect, the scent of caramelising sugar and the crunch as you bite into it are let down by the dry centre, and the disappointment at realising that crunch that you initially savoured is there the whole way through.

I kept this in mind when I decided to make my own, instead of deep-frying mine, I wanted to oven-baked them. Because of the slight moisture levels in an oven, I could save them from drying out, and in order to achieve the quintessential golden colour; a few minutes under the grill after they have baked through.


Heat 1 cup of water in a medium size saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 170grams of butter and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the butter is completely melted and the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and mix with 1 cup of flour and leave the mixture to cool slightly. While you are waiting, whisk 2 eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla extract until the egg begins to foam up. Mix the contents of both bowls together and the batter is done.


Now comes the fun part!

Transfer the batter into a piping bag with a serrated bit and a width of about 2cm. If you don’t have a piping bag, cut the corner off a zip-lock plastic bag, it won’t have the jagged edge that is usually associated with churros but it will work nonetheless. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and pipe the dough into sticks about 8cm in length, it is helpful to have a second pair of hands with this step as the dough in incredibly thick so get an assistant to chop them with a pair of scissors as you pipe them – the bribe of fresh churros should be tempting enough!


Bake at 220°C for 10 minutes before switching the oven’s settings to grill for 5 minutes. Such a hot temperature will almost steam the insides of the churros, while the butter will liquefy and provide an even golden shade. Once they have crisped up nicely, turn the oven off and leave the tray in for a few more minutes. Remove from the oven, dust with sugar and cinnamon and leave to cool.


I served mine with a simple espresso dark chocolate sauce: a shot of espresso, 50grams of finely chopped dark chocolate and just enough milk to thin the chocolate out, gently heated until melted and gooey.


Serve your churros with strawberry jam if chocolate isn’t your thing, or you want an excuse to make them for breakfast. They are even delicious eaten by themselves.

How do you like to eat your churros?


crème au chocolat noir

DISCLAIMER: I promise that this post will be my last Christmas-related post until it becomes acceptable for Christmas to be an appropriate discussion topic. I promise that I will finally put Christmas behind me and move on to focussing on the year that is now, very much happening.

But before we do that, I just want to talk about this little gem that I whipped up for Christmas dessert.

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Even though the name is French, I discovered this little beauty in País Vasco; the Basque country in the North of Spain. Traditionally the Basque region sits on both sides of the French-Spanish border so it possesses an amazing blend of culture, which obviously has transcended into the culinary realm. My last stop on my Spanish Summer was San Sebastian/Donastia, which is famous for having some of the most beautifully presented food in the world, a subway that crosses the border into France and is a must-see destination for looking like this:


It is less well-known as the city where I missed my bus and had to spend a night at an open-air bus station, but that, my friends, is another story for another day.

Right, where was I? San Sebastian; beautiful beaches, amazing countryside and yum food.

This recipe is so easy to make, all you will need is:
10grams of cornflour (V IMPORTANTE)
50grams of sugar
200ml of milk, if you don’t go full fat, you will regret it
100ml of double cream
85grams of dark chocolate
a bit of butter
and crème fraîche to serve

Firstly, cut the chocolate into the smallest pieces you could possibly imagine, better yet; grate it. Smaller pieces equals smoother mixture. I know a lot of people don’t really like to use chocolate that is above 70% cocoa but I say use the highest you can possibly find, higher cocoa percentage will make a richer flavour and that little bit more comforting. Just stay away from the 98% stuff, it tastes like chocolate flavoured dirt.

Place the sugar, cream and milk in a pot with the cornflour, MAKE SURE THE CORNFLOUR MIXES IN or it will not set and you will be left with a failed pudding (but a lovely and unhealthy hot chocolate mixture). Whisk over a medium heat until it begins to thicken and bubble slightly, take it off the heat and mix in the chocolate and butter.

Transfer into a greased serving bowl or four ramekins; six if you aren’t a glutton like me. The unFrench thing about the Basque country ids that they are not afraid of a bit of spice; I like to mix a little chilli powder in with my crème fraîche for an extra kick. You can also just leave it out all together.


This dessert is perfect for any season; the richness of the chocolate and the spice in the cream make it lovely for winter but the texture if quite light and refreshing; good for summer. And it’s chocolate so its great for all the time in my opinion.