First bake: dark chocolate and cherry cookies

Dark chocolate and cherry cookies

I had a sudden urge to bake something with dark chocolate and cherries in it today (a very specific urge, I know, but that makes a nice change from my usual indecisiveness!). So I had a quick look on Google and came across a recipe for dark chocolate and cherry cookies that looked quick, easy and delicious.

Dark chocolate and cherry cookie mix

Dark chocolate and cherry cookie mix

I did make a slight change to the recipe I found – I wanted another excuse to use my fancy cocoa powder, so I added about 20g to the mix to turn the cookies a wonderful deep, er, chocolate colour. Unfortunately, that means the chopped glace cherries aren’t very visible, so they just look like plain chocolate cookies!

Dark chocolate and cherry cookies, pre-baking

Dark chocolate and cherry cookies, pre-baking

The cookies are indeed extremely chocolatey – you do get the odd cherry tang every other bite or so, but they’re very much one for chocoholics! I think the cookies could also have done with being flattened a bit more on the tray, or being baked for a few minutes longer, as they’re a little softer in the middle than I would have liked, but that’s just a minor quibble really. One to make again!

The recipe

From the Turquoise Lemons blog here –


First bake: ginger sponge cake

Ginger sponge cake

It looks like autumn has well and truly arrived – and what better way to keep warm than with a piece of ginger cake? This is a wonderfully quick and easy recipe for when you want a ginger fix pronto, courtesy of The Hairy Bikers’ Mums Know Best programme.

Ginger is one of my favourite spices to use in both sweet and savoury cooking. I’ve used it in various forms – fresh, in syrup, crystallised, ground – and usually more than one type at once, so I was slightly dubious when I saw this particular recipe called for just 1 tsp of ground ginger, and no other type. How gingery could the cake be?

Ginger sponge cake mix

Fortunately, my doubts dissipated on my first bite. That might have *something* to do with the fact I may have added a teensy bit more ginger than called for, but I also think the simplicity of this recipe really lets the pure ginger flavour come through. I was also pleasantly surprised by the texture; it’s a pretty low fat recipe (even though I used butter instead of margarine, as specified) yet the cake is pretty similar to a Jamaican ginger cake, although not quite as dense or spicy.

Ginger sponge cake

Overall, this is a brilliant little recipe that I would definitely make again. I think the cake would also be lovely warmed through, drizzled with syrup from a jar of stem ginger and served with custard or cream as a dessert. Yum yum yum!

The recipe

From the BBC Food website here:

First bake: spotted dog

Spotted dog

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I have been baking, promise! Here’s my first bit of evidence – spotted dog. This is basically a very simple fruit tealoaf from the bible that is BBC Good Food’s 101 Cakes & Bakes (I do use other books, honest). I’ve been meaning to bake it for a very long time, and finally got round to it last week.

I’ve never heard of a tealoaf being referred to as ‘spotted dog’, but I rather like the name. As you can see, the ‘spots’ come from mixed dried fruit, which is basically chucked in a bowl with the other ingredients and stirred for a bit before baking. There’s supposed to be some kneading, too, but my mix turned out a bit too wet for that.

Spotted dog mix

Spotted dog mix

It really was ridiculously easy to make. This is pretty much a cross between bread and cake, and I usually don’t do very well with bread (and with cake sometimes!), but this turned out perfectly. Well, it was a little lopsided when it came out of the tin, but that’s what I call ‘rustic’…

Spotted dog

As it turns out, spotted dog is delicious when sliced up, warmed through and spread with butter. Of course, a cup of tea is also a must. The tealoaf itself was a little denser than I expected, but not in an unpleasant way. It’s also surprisingly sweet considering that there isn’t much sugar in it, but that would be because of the dried fruit!

Buttered spotted dog

Buttered spotted dog, with a nice cup of tea

All in all, this is a lovely bake to try if you fancy something simple yet pleasing with your mid-morning/afternoon cup of tea. I might be tempted to add some gentle spicing to the mix next time – perhaps some ginger, mixed spice or cloves, maybe. But it’s pretty damn good as it is!

The recipe

From BBC Good Food 101 Cakes & Bakes and also available online here:

First bake: alchemist’s chocolate cake

Alchemist's chocolate cake

It’s been a bit of a funny weekend baking-wise. I made some salt caramel millionaire’s shortbread yesterday that didn’t turn out quite right, so I thought I’d blog about it the next time I make it (when it will hopefully be better!). I was desperate to bake something else this weekend, though, so I settled on this rather lovely chocolate cake recipe from Dan Lepard.

I think it’s called alchemist’s cake because it uses seemingly innocuous ingredients to create something rather decadent – it’s actually a low fat cake, but manages to be wonderfully moist and tasty despite the fact there’s no butter in it! The fat comes in the form of walnut oil, while the moistness comes from a bit of an odd ingredient – tinned pears.

You can’t taste the pears at all, though – it’s just a damn good chocolate cake. One of the things that probably elevates this over most other low fat chocolate cakes is the cocoa I used. I unexpectedly ran out of my usual bog standard cocoa powder and only had 25g of it left, so I topped it up with… *drum roll* … some Valrhona cocoa powder.

Valrhona cocoa powder

Valrhona cocoa powder

This is a top-end cocoa powder from a very highly regarded chocolate brand – Google it if you’ve never heard of it. I’ve never had Valrhona’s chocolate bars (apparently some aren’t as good as you might expect, but others are very good), but I bought this cocoa powder quite a while ago with the vague intention of using it in something special.

You can tell it’s of the highest quality – in the below photo, you can see the gorgeously dark, fine Valrhona on top of the paler standard cocoa powder I mixed it with.

Cocoa powder for alchemist's chocolate cake

Cocoa powder for alchemist’s chocolate cake

Anyway, the recipe was pretty easy, even though it involved a saucepan AND a blender! The result was a fantastic looking cake – you’ve got to admit it doesn’t look like a healthy option!

I decided to make things a bit more exciting by inventing a coffee and almond buttercream to layer it with (the original recipe just suggests serving as is, or with cream/melted chocolate). This was easy too – I gradually beat 70g of icing sugar into 50g of softened butter and 4.5 teaspoons of strong coffee (made with a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in a splash of boiling water). Then I mixed in a drop of almond extract.

Alchemist's chocolate cake

Alchemist’s chocolate cake

Et voila! One formerly healthy and now slightly fattening alchemist’s chocolate cake with coffee and almond buttercream. I haven’t had a whole piece yet, but I’ve, erm, ‘sampled’ enough of the cake mix and buttercream to know this is going to be delicious! The team I manage at work will probably be delighted to know I’m going to bring some pieces into the office tomorrow for some impartial opinions…

Update: I have now sampled a piece of this cake. I honestly can’t believe how good it is for a low fat bake! It’s really very chocolaty and moist. I would recommend this recipe if, like me, you’re keeping an eye on your weight (6 WeightWatchers ProPoints per piece when cut into 10 pieces without buttercream, 8 ProPoints with the buttercream).

The recipe

From Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, and also in his column for the Guardian (this version is slightly different though – the book recipe I used called for 3 medium eggs instead of 1 large egg!).

Recipes from around the web

Lots more baking recipes I want to try have recently come to my attention. I’ve only made the coconut and raspberry cheesecake from the last wishlist I posted, but I can’t resist adding even more recipes to my binder!

1) Spiced mango naan bread (Great British Bake Off)

I’m a huge fan of GBBO and, while I generally want to bake pretty much everything I see on this show, this particular recipe from the second episode of the current series is top of my list. Mangoes! Spices! Naan! What a great combination.

2) Almond spice cake (The Caked Crusader)

This blog never fails to please with its wonderful recipes. The Caked Crusader blogged about this particular cake in the same week I made my spiced honey cake – a sure sign we’re kindred baking spirits! Almonds are possibly my favourite nut to bake with, so this cake definitely has to be made.

3) Volcano cake (BBC Good Food)

What a wonderful idea for a celebratory cake! I love the lava spouting out of the top and the dinosaurs rambling around the volcano. I’m not sure when I’ll actually get a chance to make this, though – is there a National Volcano Day or something?!

4) Pistachio and pecan cheesecake with hot chocolate sauce (Come Dine With Me)

This is another food show I’m a massive fan of! This recipe is actually pretty old, but it’s been in my bookmarks for ages and I haven’t yet got round to making it – hopefully I will do soon. The sauce has to be a winner – melted Mars bars and amaretto? Genius!

5) Grasmere gingerbread (BBC Food)

I originally came across a recipe for Grasmere gingerbread in this month’s Asda magazine, and was immediately intrigued, as I love the Lake District and any recipe from somewhere that scenic – and that’s stood the test of time since the 19th century – has to be brilliant! I can’t find Asda’s recipe online, but this BBC Food version should give you some idea of the flavours.