Christmas Chai Truffles


Rich and creamy with a hint of spice, these truffles are perfect for a home-made gift or to serve with coffee after your Christmas meal. They may not have the perfect roundness of shop-bought truffles, but the delicious flavour and the efforts you have made to create a home-made gift will be very much appreciated. To vary the recipe, omit the spices and add a little rum or brandy instead.

You will need 225g dark chocolate (use 70% as it really does taste better) chopped into small chunks 150ml double cream 1 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp ground cardamon 1/2 tsp ground cloves 1/2 tsp ground ginger 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper Cocoa powder for dusting, or melted milk, dark or white chocolate for decoration

1 Pour the cream and spices into a small saucepan and heat gently. As it approaches boiling point pour it over the chocolate chunks and stir well until the chocolate has melted.

2 Once cooled put the mixture in the fridge for 1 hour to set. Check it every 20 minutes as if it is too cold it will be difficult to handle.

3 Take 2 teaspoons or a melon ball scraper (dip in hot water first) and scoop out the chocolate. Mould the ball into shape with your hands. This can be messy – if you have plastic catering gloves it would be best to wear these!

4 Dust the balls at once with cocoa, or set on a wire rack and drizzle with melted milk, dark or white chocolate.

Keep the truffles in an airtight box in the fridge for up to 4 days

With thanks to Ivy and Neat for sharing this recipe

apple custard tartsGood things come in threes and these tarts have three parts to them…puff pastry, apple filling and custard. It’s a sweet and sour combo…delightful in every way! The tarts are modelled on the Portuguese custard tarts, pasteis de nata. The addition of a fruit layer cuts through the overall sweetness.

You will need 2 large Bramley apples Selection of spices such as ground cloves, mixed spice, ground nutmeg, 2 or 3 star anise, cinnamon stick Lemon juice Couple of knobs of butter 1 pkt all-butter puff pastry (either ready-rolled or block)

Custard 250ml milk 1 vanilla pod – split and seeds scraped out 3 medium egg yolks 60g caster sugar 5g plain flour

1 Grease a 12-hole muffin tin. Core the apples and cut in half and then into quarters and then divide again.

2 Drizzle lemon juice over the apples and put in a saucepan with the spices and butter. Cook until fluffy (the apples should still have shape and not have collapsed into mush). Remove from the heat and cool until required.

3 Dust the work surface with plenty of icing sugar. Roll out the pastry until 3mm thick, trying to keep a thin cover of icing sugar on the pastry as this will help it to crisp during cooking.

4 Use a pastry cutter or small saucer to cut discs big enough to fill the 12-hole muffin tin and just hang over the side a little if possible. Press down into the individual holes and place in the fridge to cool for an hour.

5 Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until smooth, then add flour and whisk again. Put the milk in a saucepan and add the vanilla pod and scraped seeds.

6 Bring the milk almost to boiling point and then add half the egg mixture, mixing it well in. Add the remaining mixture and bring to the boil, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat.

7 You can cool the mixture and keep in the fridge until required, or use the mixture once it has cooled down. Cover it to stop a skin forming on the top.

8 To assemble the tarts, retrieve the muffin tin from the fridge. Heat the oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6. Put a large teaspoon of cooked apple on top of the pastry; and then cover with a generous helping of custard. Sprinkle nutmeg over the top if required. Cook for 20-25 minutes until there is a brown, caramelised tinge to the pastry case and custard, but do not over cook. Once cooked, leave to cool for 5-10 minutes in the tin before removing.

To turn the recipe into more of a dessert, use shortcrust pastry for the base, and swap the cooking apples for another kind of fruit such as dessert apples, rhubarb or plums.

With thanks to Ivy and Neat for sharing the recipe.

apple and mincemeat cake

If you like to have a cake on hand to serve to visitors at Christmas, but you’re not a fan of Christmas cake, this could be your answer. It has seasonal ingredients but is not too rich and won’t leave you feeling bloated and full. It’s delicious made with home-made mincemeat; alternatively, use a really good quality shop-bought brand. For a change, substitute pears for the apples, they’ll give the cake a delicate aromatic flavour.

115g softened butter 115g soft light brown sugar grated zest of lemon 2 eggs beaten 200g self raising flour 1/2 tsp baking powder 175g luxury mincemeat 1 medium Bramley apple, peeled, cored and finely diced

1 Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin and preheat the oven to Gas 4/ 180ºC

2 Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy then gradually beat in the eggs using a spoonful of the flour to avoid curdling.

3 Sift together flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture with the apple and mincemeat

4 Transfer to the prepared tin and level the surface, making a slight dent in the middle. Bake for approximately 45 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

5 Leave in the tin for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle icing sugar over the top just before serving for a Christmassy flourish.

Keeps well in an airtight tin for up to four days.

With thanks to Ivy and Neat for sharing the recipe and photo with me….

Chocolate and Courgette Loaf

This is a moist and dense chocolate loaf with a rich, deep flavour, and a hint of marbling provided by the courgette. Otherwise, you would never know the courgette was there, in case you’re feeling anxious about the effect on the flavour. In fact, it’s simply a richly satisfying iced chocolate cake – but you could always tell yourself that the vegetable element makes it a bit healthier!

Ingredients 175g dark chocolate (preferably organic, 70% cocoa) 225g grated courgettes 200g plain flour (preferably organic) 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 1 tsp cinnamon 110g caster sugar 175ml sunflower or rapeseed oil 2 medium eggs

Icing 175g softened butter 350g icing sugar 50g cocoa powder Water or liqueur (eg spiced rum) to mix

1 Grease and line a 2lb (or 900g) loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 180ºC, Gas Mark 4. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Finely grate the courgettes.

2 Stir the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon together in a bowl and then add the sugar and the grated courgettes.

3 Put the oil and the eggs together in a small bowl and beat well. Add the melted chocolate and the oil/egg mixture to the dry ingredients, mix well together and put into the prepared loaf tin.

4 Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 55 minutes until well risen and a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for at least 20 minutes until the cake is cool enough to remove. Turn out very carefully  – it is a fragile thing!

Blackberry and Apple Cookies

These are the perfect cookies for late summer, making use of homegrown or locally available fruit. The flavour of the blackberries neatly counterpoints the sweetness of the cookie, and the apple adds a delicious and distinctive twist. The cookies are soft when they are first out of the oven, then crisper when cool. Keep in an airtight container in a cool place and eat them up within two or three days.

You will need 225g butter, softened (preferably organic salted) 225g caster sugar 170g condensed milk 350g self raising flour (preferably organic) Handful of freshly picked blackberries Handful of dried apple (you can buy this in health shops or dry your own by slicing up fresh apple and placing in a low oven until crispy)

Makes about 15 large cookies, or 20 smaller ones

1 Preheat your oven to 180ºC, Gas Mark 4. Line three baking sheets with baking parchment. In a large bowl cream the sugar and butter until pale and then blend in the condensed milk.

2 Add the flour and work the mixture into a soft dough with your hands.

3 Take a small handful of dough and flatten with your fingers. Push 2 blackberries and several bits of apple into the dough and fold it over the top of them.  Then add another blackberry and some more apple poking out of the cookie to add colour and interest to the baked cookie. Repeat with the remaining dough.

4 Place the cookies on to parchment-lined baking trays, spacing well. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes until they turn golden brown.

5 Remove from the oven and leave on the tray until they have cooled a little then transfer carefully to a wire rack.

When blackberries are out of season you can try some different flavours: hazelnuts and chocolate; cranberries and macadamia nuts; orange zest, raisins and cinnamon; fig and walnut; raspberries and white chocolate – is your mouth watering yet?


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