My sister and her family are due to arrive at any moment for a slightly un-eastery
feast of roast chicken, but at least the day began in traditional fashion – boiled eggs
and a frenzied hunt for the gold rabbits hiding in the garden. Happy Easter!
The girls are being a little trying at the moment. Although it’s only been a week or so since they went back to school, the fact is they’re still tired. Christmas is never really much of a holiday is it? Not in the rest sense anyway. So they are grey-faced, grumpy, and would rather be hibernating. Feet stamp, eyes roll, doors slam and voices are raised. But I’ve discovered something quite remarkable: they’ll do virtually anything for a gold coin.
Not a shiny, golden one pound coin, but a cheap as chips chocolate coin in a foil wrapper. The kind that cost £1 for twenty, and taste like chocolate flavoured wax crayons. I found several net bags of these hidden in a drawer, obviously left over from Christmas. I am eeking out the stash as I’m not sure if they are still in the shops – maybe they’re available all year round, I don’t know. Anyway, they are offered in exchange for various things: getting out of bed quickly, eating the vile poison that I’ve served up in place of supper, taking abandoned coats and shoes to their rightful homes and so on.
The Nanowrimo challenge grinds on, and it seems to get harder every day. I am now over 30,000 words into the task and despite the pain, boredom and frustration that I experience each day, I am enjoying the process. I can’t bring myself to call what I’m writing a novel, as currently it’s just a thicket of ideas with barely a squeak of a plot, but a story of sorts is emerging. Obviously this calls for more biscuits.
These chocolate and nut bars have proved very popular with the girls too, which is a surprise as they all claim to hate nuts. The recipe is from a very old cookery book, The Cook’s Companion, by Josceline Dimbleby, which my mother gave me twenty years ago, and which I still turn to on a regular basis. These little bars can be run up in ten minutes or so as everything is made in a pan, and they take twelve minutes to cook. Although only the thickness of a biscuit, they have a slightly cakey consistency which I think means they occupy that part of biscuitdom normally only inhabited by the Jaffa Cake. They are great on their own, but brilliant with ice cream. I have used toasted hazelnuts as the recipe suggests, but I think any nuts would do.
Chocolate and Hazelnut Thins
125g butter; 25g plain chocolate broken up; 1tsp instant coffee; 75g soft dark brown sugar; 1tsp vanilla essence; 1 egg beaten lightly; 25g plain flour; 1/2 tsp salt; 50g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and chopped up.
Preheat oven to 190/375 gas 5; Butter (and I also line) a 25 x 30cm Swiss roll tin.
Melt the butter and chocolate together over a low heat, stirring all the time. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla essence and then the egg. Sift in the flour and salt and mix until smooth.
Pour the thick mixture into the tin and spread evenly, or tilt the tin to get it to level out across the base. It will look like a very scant amount, but don’t worry. Sprinkle with the chopped toasted hazelnuts. Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning the tin halfway through to ensure that it cooks evenly.
Leave in the tin for a few minutes before lifting to a wire rack to allow them to cool. Alternatively, eat them straight away, whilst still warm.
NB – late addition here: I didn’t bother with the 1/2 tsp of salt as I used lightly salted butter rather than unsalted.
This afternoon, a bored daughter and a glut of hazelnuts resulted in a hefty jar of homemade Nutella. A quick trawl of the internet threw up loads of different recipes, all with rave reviews. In the end our choice was made for us because a number of recipes called for ingredients we either didn’t have, and hadn’t heard of. Luckily there is always a can of condensed milk lurking in the back of the cupboard (key ingredient for excellent ice-cream recipe), whilst good dark chocolate is a staple of the baking shelf, and of course we had lots of hazelnuts.
I had to adjust the recipe as it was all in cups, but you can find the original here, or follow my amendments/approximations below.
50g hazelnuts (shells off); 180ml condensed milk; 90g chopped dark chocolate; 3tbsp honey
1) Preheat oven to 200/gas mark 6, and spread the nuts onto a baking tray. Bake for around 10 minutes, but do check as you don’t want to burn them – the aim is to loosen the skins so that they rub off.
2) Meanwhile, combine chopped chocolate, honey and condensed milk in a heavy-based over a low flame. The recipe mentions double boilers and pans of water, but that really isn’t necessary. Just keep stirring and the condensed milk will stop the chocolate catching and burning.
3) When nuts are ready, place them on a clean tea towel and rub the skins off. Don’t worry if a tiny bit remains here and there, just tell yourself it’ll deepen the flavour.
4) Process the nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Again, the recipe says this will take 5 mins. But it took a lot longer. You will need to keep stopping in order to scrape the nuts back down to the bottom of the bowl. You want to keep going until it becomes a paste. This will seem hopeless, but it will get there.
5) Once the hazelnuts have become a buttery paste, pour the chocolate mixture into the processor and blitz the ingredients together. This took no time at all.
6) Pour into an airtight container. Apparently this will keep in the fridge for a month.
Now, I may have got my quantities slightly out, but to my mind, delicious though this is, it could do with a larger quantity of hazelnuts. I think I will experiment with this again and I already have and idea about one or two tweaks I’d like to try.
Icing the Christmas cake part 1: Marzipan
I used the marzipan recipe from the brilliant Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool, by Jenny Baker. So easy and so delicious. Even if you think you hate marzipan, in fact, especially if you think you hate marzipan, I urge you to try this. It tastes sublime – nothing like the shop-bought stuff. It takes a matter of minutes to make – I do mine by hand, but it can easily be done in the mixer, if you prefer.
350g ground almonds, 225g icing sugar (sifted), 3 egg yolks (save two of the whites for icing which I’ll post on the 21st, which is when I’ll do it), juice of 1 lemon, apricot jam (2-3 tbsp)
Mix ground almonds with the sugar, in a large mixing bowl. In separate bowl beat together the juice of the lemon and the egg yolks. Now pour lemon and eggs into the almond and sugar mixture and combine, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands. Very quickly it will come together as a slightly sticky pastry – a tiny dusting of either sugar or almonds will make it easier if you’re finding it difficult to handle. Leave it to rest in a ball whilst you prepare the cake for covering.
Take two or three tablespoons of jam and warm them in a pan with a tiny splash of water, and stir until it is runny enough to brush over the cake. Jenny suggests sieving it, but I don’t bother.
Once you have spread the jam evenly over the top and sides of the cake you can roll out your marzipan. Split the ball into two pieces, one roughly twice the size of the other. This will go on the top once you have rolled it out. I often find that it drapes down the sides of the cake too, and then I use the other piece to patch in the gaps. I usually have enough marzipan left over to make tiny sweets. I roll it into small balls which I then dip in some melted chocolate. It is worth making them quite small, Malteser-size say, as once coated in really good dark chocolate, they are very rich, and very moreish. Brilliant as a last-minute present.