Chocolate Brown Eyes

Madeleine: Beautiful eyes or ‘beautiful frying pans’ as Andrew once said trying to impress me with his amateur Spanish skills when we first met! He was holding a bunch of broccoli with a ribbon tied around it behind his back instead of flowers. Apparently the florist was closed but the grocers weren’t.  I couldn’t stop laughing, I knew I’d found the right man for me!

As I’m sure anyone reading this knows; Andrew is obsessed with eyes. He spends all day looking at them, cutting in to them or researching things related to them.

With the baking challenge set, and with a clear “focus” on eyes, I needed to develop a “signature eye bake”. I really wanted this bake to celebrate the beauty of eyes on presentation and taste, not that I’ve ever eaten any eyes, although Andrew once asked me to collect a bag of pre-ordered eye balls from our local butchers for him to practice a new surgical technique on, you should have seen the other customers faces! My first attempts at piping didn’t work too well but I was very happy with the taste.  Lucas got involved stirring and sieving the flour…aside from getting the mixer down from above the cupboard, it is possible to make most of this recipe with one hand…i.e. Lucas on my hip!  However twirling the eye-cake in the chocolate definitely should have been done with two hands! It was a little quicker when I made the batch for Andrews fellow eye lovers once he was snoozing.

Andrew: Madeleine crept in to bed at gone 1am last night. The kettle bubbling away and the Kenwood Mixer whirring at an ungodly hour. I knew there was going to be something interesting awaiting me in the morning. I came down to find our corridor kitchen (not designed to fit more than one person) was not the bombsite that usually follows one of Madeleine’s late night frenzied baking sessions, in fact, all was calm and sat on the counter were these beautiful chocolate brown eyes. Madeleine gently lowered them into neatly packed boxes having been close to a break down when two dropped and broke, ready for transporting to be shared with my workmates at the International Centre for Eye Health.

I think it was fair to say they were a big hit amongst my fellow eye lovers.

RECIPE

Ingredients:

Cake:

110g soft butter (I use Lurpak Unsalted)

275g soft dark brown sugar

2 large eggs – beaten (3 if the eggs are small)

175g self raising flour (Technically I don’t think you are meant to use 3 raising agents, I’ve always made this cake this way for no particular reason!)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1tsb bicarbonate of soda

50g cocoa powder (preferably good quality)

200ml cider, Guinness or milk, your choice. Guinness gives a lovely malty taste and help keeps it moist.

Icing…

…to mix with cake crumbs to make cake eye ball – apologies for non-metric weights…this is how I’ve always made this icing.

1/2 oz butter

1tbsp water

1/2 tbsp castor sugar

2.5 oz icing sugar

1/2 oz cocoa powder

200g of good quality milk chocolate like green and blacks

50g of dark chocolate over 70% cocoa

50g of white chocolate

20 plastic lolly sticks/cake pop sticks (you can buy these from Amazon)

1. Start by making the cake.  Turn the oven on to 180̊C̊.  Grease two 15cm cake tins.  Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy, the dark sugar will look at least a shade lighter.

2. Gradually beat in room temperature eggs – room temperature helps the eggs not to split.

3. In a separate bowl sieve the flour and raising agents.

4. Weigh the cocoa and sieve into a separate bowl, measure out the cider/Guinness or milk and gradually mix into the cocoa until you have a chocolaty paste.

5. Carefully fold in a bit of chocolate mix and flour alternately until it is all well folded in.

6 Divide into the cake tins, shake gently to flatten mixture evenly throughout the tin and place in the oven for 20mins until the sponge is slightly coming away from the sides of the tin and a knife remains clean when poked into the sponge.

7. Let the sponge cool.

8. Whilst the sponge is in the oven.  Break up the dark chocolate and melt over steaming water in a robust glass or small dish.  Draw out an eye to use as a stencil.  Cut an approx A4 sheet size of baking parchment. Fill a piping bag with the melted dark chocolate with a small nozzle. Place the stencil under the baking parchment and pipe the outline and eyelashes of an eye.  Repeat this 20 times, you may need more baking parchment.  Place in the fridge to firm up.

9. Crumble up the cooled cake from one tin (The other can be used as spare or a separate mini cake, or practice).

10. Make the icing, gently heat the butter, sugar and water and stir until melted and combined, at this point add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and beat in off the heat, but go back to the heat if you need, until smooth.  Next mix in the crumbled up cake, until one combined gooey mixture.

11. Roll 20 cake balls to the size you require, about an inch (2.5cm) in diameter, don’t make them too big, they may be unstable on the lolly stick and they don’t look as dainty!

12. Once rolled, place the cake balls either in a cake pop mould or on baking parchment and place into the fridge.

13. Melt the white chocolate. Using a piping bag pipe the whites of the eyes and place the eyes back into the fridge.

14. Once the eye cakes have been in the fridge until cool, melt the milk chocolate, dip the lolly stick into the melted chocolate then into an upside down cake ball, press into the cake ball about 2/3, careful not to pierce through the cake ball, put back into the fridge until chocolate is set.

15. Whilst the cake balls are back in the fridge, pipe the milk chocolate for the iris and pop back in the fridge.  They set quickly; afterwards, pipe the dark chocolate pupil, put back in the fridge then pipe on the white reflection.

16. Once the lolly sticks are set into the cake balls remove from the fridge and dip into the milk chocolate (I found by using a glass the chocolate was deeper so it was easier to coat the cake ball) turn around until chocolate firms and there are no drips, leave to harden.  I found it hard to balance the cake eyes at this point, but by putting some kitchen roll in the bottom of a mug it just raised and steadied the cake balls so the chocolate coating could firm.

17. Very gently lift up an eye from the baking parchment and stick to the chocolate coated cake ball.

18. Voila …beautiful brown eyes!  Just don’t knock a finished glass over…they are a bit fragile and so was my patience by this point!….enjoy…!

Times of Change

Madeleine: Starting school, friends’ babies arriving, Autumn coming and moving to Kenya around the corner – it is a time of change.  We have been sorting and packing our cupboard of doom (the one under the stairs – I’m sure you all have one!), weighing and calculating our luggage allowance. It has been a full-on week of staying up late, packing and being woken up regularly throughout the night (by Lucas who seems to have a mouth full of teeth working their way through all at the same time). After a good coffee this morning, I surveyed our garden with Lucas in tow. We picked a handful of fresh mint and a ripe, home-grown courgette and made for the kitchen. My inspiration for this recipe comes from one of my new favourite recipe books ‘Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache’ by Harry Eastwood.  Andrew loves these delicious cupcakes, so with Lucas “helping” we made some for him and for our friend whose son had just started school… We thought ‘healthy’ chocolate would sort out those new term blues…and they’re yummy!!

Mint Choc Chip Courgette Cakes

This has made the list of 100 for Kenya…once I’ve found a courgette substitute!!..exciting!

Ingredients (for 12 muffin-sized cakes cooked in a muffin tray).

Cupcakes:

3 eggs (Lucas runs down to the bottom of the garden in the morning and picks them from the coop. More make it back to the house then they used to. We will miss the girls! At least Granddad will look after them!)
160g castor sugar
200g finely grated courgette
90g rice flour
100g ground almonds
2 heaped tsp good cocoa powder
A handful of finely cut fresh garden mint 2 tsp baking powder Pinch of salt 100g 74% (or similar) dark chocolate

Icing:

50g softened, unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
50g quark (fat free soft cheese)
3 tsp good cocoa powder
Small handful finely chopped fresh mint

Method:

1. Pre heat oven to 180°C.
2. Line the muffin tray with paper cases.
3. Whisk up the eggs (yolk and white – I use my beloved Kenwood Mixer) with the sugar for approximately 5 minutes until quadrupled in volume.
4. Add the grated courgette and whisk again.
5. Whisk in the flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder, mint, baking powder and salt ’til all are well mixed in.
6. Use scissors to chop the chocolate into small chips and add to the mix with a wooden spoon.
7. Evenly distribute the mixture to the cases.
8. Place in the oven for 20minutes; don’t worry if they come out a bit flat.

9. Whilst they are cooking make the icing.

10. Whisk up the butter until pale and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar, quark and cocoa powder and beat together.  Mix in the fresh mint and then put the icing mix in the fridge.

11. Once the cupcakes are cooked and cooled, spread the icing evenly (no more then 5mm thickness needed).

12. Finish with a sprig of fresh mint.  Enjoy… These are as close to fat free chocolate cakes as you can get.

Andrew: Times of change indeed. Things seem to be happening so quickly that I rarely get chance to reflect on it. I’ve always found myself in that tension between wanting life’s comforts yet feeling quite stagnant and bored with all that brings, and wanting to be challenged and out of my comfort zone. Well, I am certainly out of my comfort zone at the moment and feel this constant buzz (might just be all the coffee we’ve been consuming) as things are piece-by-piece coming together. It’s going to be a close call having all the equipment ready in time (never mind the airline being okay with it all!) and the house emptied and cleaned.

This moment is one of those rare occasions where I have had 5 minutes to reflect, the unbelievable mint choc chip cake in my hand is making me very comfortable and very happy. This is definitely one of my favourites.

Preparation has begun – Safari flatbreads

Madeleine: The flight is booked, it has been on the cards for months/years, but now we actually have a ticket. We leave on the15th October! It’s real!

The preparations to move have begun.  Although packing the house up is not easy it does gently focus the mind in preparation for upcoming events. We have decided to start the blog in our preparatory phase for Kenya and will include some practice bakes – these won’t count towards the 100 in Kenya.

Coriander Flatbreads with Roasted Carrot Hummus

It has been a time of mixed emotions. Sometimes I have a great sense of adventure and excitement of what is to come, at others it is apprehension that is the dominant emotion with so many unknowns. We will be leaving our lovely home, close family, friends, familiarity and the English countryside that I love. We will no doubt have times where we feel uncomfortable and hesitant in a completely new environment in Kenya.  But at this moment it is excitement I’m feeling which makes this a good time to write our first entry. Lucas, our son, now 16 months old, loves wildlife and the outdoors and can rarely keep still. When he eats, it is just to take on board enough fuel to move again. He’s a fan of bread, especially my freshly home baked stuff so it didn’t take me long to think of making the first recipe for this blog. “Safari Flatbreads with roasted carrot hummus.”

Andrew: Years of dreaming about one day working in Africa, now so close its hard to believe. It has always been this idea for “the future” but now we are packing up the house and I’m ordering the final bits of equipment for the project in Kenya. 
Madeleine has put her career on hold and has embraced the challenge ahead including taking her baking hobby to the next level.  

Here I am tapping away at my computer when Lucas calls “Dada” to get my attention from downstairs. Awaiting me are my beautiful son and wife tucking in to animal shaped flatbreads and carrot hummus. I know the next year is going to be tough but I am also certain that as a family we will do it to the best of our ability and hopefully have lots of fun and eat lots of baked delights on the way.

Recipe 

Ingredients:

Flatbreads:

250g malted bread flour, 100g strong white bread flour and 150g wholemeal bread flour.

5g dried yeast (I avoid the fast action dried yeast as it has additives in, my preferred is Doves farm or Allinson in a tin), if you use fresh yeast double the weight.

5g salt with no additives (this can be increased to 10g but I prefer to bake with low salt to be toddler and heart friendly).

300mls warm water

Roasted Carrot Hummus:

1Kg of peeled and roughly chopped carrots

Glug of olive oil

Small handful of a mix of fresh chopped thyme and basil…to taste

Tablespoon of dry roasted coriander seeds..again to taste

2 shallots or one small onion and two garlic cloves roughly chopped and sautéed in a knob of butter (unsalted)

Black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

Squeeze of lemon

Tablespoon dry toasted sesame seeds

Method

This makes loads so the left-over is ideal to store in the fridge for another day or be used as ‘old dough’ when making bread in the next few days.

1. Dry fry a handful of coriander seeds. You can always do more then keep them for another day in the cupboard.

2. Mix flours, half of the coriander seeds, yeast, water and salt, the knead until smooth for about 10mins. Lucas likes to help knead so I break a little ball off for him…whilst standing on a chair he likes to either poke lots of holes in it or just keep throwing it on the surface…I love his enthusiasm!

3. Leave to prove for 30mins to 1 hour depending on temperature etc. then knock back and roll out a small handful to desired thickness, use a little flour sprinkled on surface if needed.

4. Use cutter to cut out animals or generally whichever shapes you fancy or the little one loves! We had giraffes, bears, and hedgehogs.

5. Pre heat frying pan then dry fry animals/shapes until puffed slightly and crisp, turn over to dry fry other side.

6. Whilst bread is proving, peel 1kg of carrots (if anyone has mastered peeling and holding a toddler please let me know! If you have chickens remember they are always fans of the peelings.  Chickens have to be in the top ten of baking equipment and they produce such yummy eggs…such a shame we cant take them!).

7. Roast with a glug of olive oil, finely chopped fresh thyme and basil along with coriander seeds and back pepper if needed. (No salt as it’s toddler and heart friendly).

8. On the stove gently brown two shallots and 2 garlic cloves finely chopped.

9. Add the roasted carrots, shallots and 2 tablespoons of yogurt to the blender, along with a fresh handful of coriander.  Squeeze the lemon and a tablespoon of dry toasted sesame seeds, then chop to desired consistency.

10. I arranged the flatbreads on a plate with a hill of carrot hummus, a sprig of thyme for a tree and stood the giraffe so he was eating the leaves from the thyme tree!

We had great fun with Lucas in the high chair making giraffe, bear and hedgehog noises. Until he bit the giraffe’s head off with a giggle using his new two front teeth.   It was a yummy pre-dinner snack for me and Daddy was able to join us.  I think it was a welcome break for him after a day of amendments for a paper on macular degeneration.