Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes

A wet Saturday in early autumn seemed like a good time to make some cupcakes for afternoon tea. These decadent little chocolate brownie cupcakes hit the spot.

Cakes:
80g butter
180g dark chocolate, broken into squares
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
2 Tbs cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
100g ground almonds (see note below)
Icing:
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
2 Tbs cocoa
100g dark chocolate, melted
To decorate (optional):
Chocolates or chocolate almonds

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place cupcake liners in a 12 hole muffin tray.

Cakes: place chocolate, butter and sugar in a bowl over simmering water and heat until just melted, stirring from time to time. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, the ground almonds and finally add the dry ingredients through a sieve and fold in thoroughly. Divide mixture between the cupcake liners and smooth the tops. Bake for 12-20 minutes or until risen and firm on top, but still a bit moist inside. Ovens vary and it’s best to err on the side of undercooking. Cool.

Icing: mix cream cheese with sifted icing sugar and cocoa, then lastly mix in the cooled, melted chocolate. Once they are cold, pipe or spread icing onto cakes and decorate as desired.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Substitutions: use butter or mascarpone instead of cream cheese in the icing.

Note: you can either buy the almond meal or make your own, which allows you to make it coarser than what you buy. Just blitz almonds, with or without skin (I used with) until fairly fine.

Chocolate Orange Cake

I’ve always liked the combination of orange and chocolate which works well in this quick and easy cake. It’s moist and keeps for several days in a sealed tin.

140g butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs
1¾ cups SR flour
1 rounded tsp baking powder
1/3 cup milk
Grated rind 2 oranges
Syrup:
2 Tbs sugar
Juice 2 oranges
Topping:
75g dark chocolate
Piece of Copha the size of a walnut (or substitute butter or 2 tsp oil)

Preheat oven to 180°C (170°C fan oven) and grease and line a loaf pan.  I used a silicone pan which you don’t need to grease.

With electric beaters or in a food processor, mix butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add sifted flour and baking powder and lastly the milk and orange rind. Scrape into loaf pan and smooth over the top with a knife. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, risen and firm to the touch in the middle. Leave cake to cool in the pan.

Meanwhile, place sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan and heat until sugar has dissolved. Boil for 2-3 minutes. Pierce cake all over with a skewer and spoon syrup evenly over the top. Place chocolate and Copha (butter or oil) in a bowl and stand the bowl in simmering water until melted. Cool a bit so it’s not too runny, then when the cake has cooled, drizzle chocolate all over the top,

Keeps in a tin for several days.

Walnut Cake

This cake, of Middle Eastern origin, is delicious with a cup of coffee or as a dessert, with a dollop of cream. It will keep in a cake tin for 2-3 days. Being doused in a sugary syrup, you would think it would be very sweet, but it’s not. The syrup helps to keep it moist.

125g butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 heaped cups walnut halves (or pecans)
1¼ cups self-raising flour, sifted
Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 Tbs lemon juice
Piece of cinnamon bark
1 Tbs brandy
To serve:
Whipped cream or sour cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and bottom line a 22cm (9 inch) cake pan. I use a silicone pan which doesn’t need to be greased or lined.

Place butter and sugar in food processor and mix well until smooth and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides. Separate the eggs. Add the yolks to the food processor, with the cinnamon and salt. Lastly add the walnuts and process to chop them, but not too finely, stopping to scrape down the sides. With electric beaters, whip the egg whites in a large clean bowl, until they hold soft peaks. Scrape the mixture from the food processor into the whipped egg whites and add the sifted flour. Fold all together gently but thoroughly, then scrape mixture into the cake pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until light brown and firm to touch. Don’t overcook. Remove from the oven and spoon the cooled syrup evenly over the hot cake.

Syrup: while cake is baking make the syrup. Place sugar, water, lemon juice and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then boil for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon bark, add brandy then leave to cool.

Cool the cake and serve as it is or with whipped cream or sour cream (my favourite, shown in the photo).

Serves 10

 

Lemonade Scones

This famous Australian recipe for scones was invented decades ago by a rural country women’s association. I’ve often wondered what they taste like.

Then the other day a news programme featured a 92 year old lady called Muriel who has been making these scones forever. I decided it was time to have a go.

The recipe uses just three ingredients: self-raising flour, cream and lemonade. Converts swear that once you’ve made these scones you won’t go back to your old recipe which involves rubbing butter into flour and then adding sugar and milk. The milk and butter components are covered by the cream and the subtle sweetness comes from the lemonade. If you go onto Google and type in lemonade scones you will find that there are heaps of recipes and slight variations.

I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t have any lemonade so I used diet tonic water which worked fine. In less than half an hour I had 18 perfect scones to serve with homemade jam and whipped cream. They were as light as a feather and delicious.

4 cups self-raising flour
300ml cream
300ml lemonade (or sprite, Seven Up)
Pinch of salt
Milk to brush
To serve:
Whipped cream
Berry jam (raspberry, strawberry, blackcurrant or blackberry)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Sift the flour into a large bowl (Muriel sifts it three times!) then make a well in the centre and mix in the cream and lemonade, using a knife. When the mixture has all come together, tip it out onto a floured surface. Use your hands to lightly flour any sticky areas and form the dough into a round shape. Lightly pat it to an even thickness of about an inch or 2.5cm. Handle lightly and do not knead. This is not bread dough. Cut out scones using a round cutter, or if preferred, just cut the dough into squares.

Place on a lightly greased baking tray, brush the tops with milk, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown, well-risen and cooked.

Serve with whipped cream and jam.

Makes about 18

Sponge Cake with Jam and Cream

Hill House is a dairy farm located on the heather-clad moors of County Durham, in the very north of England. I learnt to make this sponge cake when staying there in my early teens. Unlike a Victoria Sandwich, an egg sponge doesn’t contain any butter.

My Dad’s cousin, whom we called Auntie Vina (pronounced Vyna), taught me to make many of the cakes I still make today. My first sponge cake turned out so well I made another one and entered it into the Butterknowle annual agricultural show’s cooking section and won First Prize. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. The sponge in the photo got a bit overcooked on the sides, as you can see in the photo, but it still tasted good. I always think of my dear old Dad when I make this cake as it was one of his favourites.

3 large eggs
2 tbs warm water
¾ cup sugar
1 cup plain flour
Filling:
¾ cup raspberry or strawberry jam (preferably homemade)
1 cup cream, whipped
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and water until very thick and tripled in volume. Add flour through a sieve and fold in carefully with a metal spoon. Scrape into a 20cm cake tin, greased and bottom lined with baking paper. Bake for 20 minutes or until well risen, golden brown and firm to touch in the middle. Don’t overcook. Cool in the tin for a few minutes, then run a knife around the outside and invert carefully onto a cake rack.

When cold, remove paper from the bottom, then turn over. Cut sponge in half horizontally, then cut the top layer into 8 slices – this makes it easier to cut the cake after it has been filled. Fill with jam and whipped cream. Place the 8 slices back onto the uncut bottom layer and sieve some icing sugar over the top.

Chocolate Sponge: use ½ cup self-raisig flour, ¼ cup cornflour and ¼ cup cocoa. Omit the jam and fill with whipped cream.

Note: if you make the cake in a tin with a larger diameter you need to increase the ingredients, otherwise it comes out thin and unimpressive. So for example with a 22cm tin use 4 eggs, 3 Tbs water, 1 cup of sugar and 1¼ cups of flour.

Ebelskivers – Danish Apple Pancakes

We bought this antique copper dish in a market in Damascus in the late 1970s.
The photo shows the back of it. I’ve always used it as an ornament and it never occurred to me to use it for cooking.

In Syria it was probably used for cooking eggs. It certainly wasn’t for making Danish apple pancakes, but I decided to give it a try.

Ebelskivers are traditional Danish pancakes with applesauce in the middle. Danes eat them with red jam and cream, but we ate them as they are, coated in cinnamon sugar.

I halved the recipe I was given by a Danish friend while we were living in Copenhagen and made 21 little pancakes in my Syrian baking dish. I cooked the first seven on the stove top, but it was difficult to control the heat and they got a bit overcooked. The next two lots of 7 were baked in the oven and came out perfectly.

The good news is that having brushed each hole with melted butter the pancakes didn’t stick, which was my biggest worry. My Syrian copper dish has been moved into the cupboard with the other baking dishes. If you don’t have a special tin for making ebelskivers use a muffin pan.

1 cup SR flour (or 1 cup plain flour and ½ tsp baking powder)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cardamom (optional)
1 Tbs sugar
Pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk
2 egg whites
50g butter, melted
Apple sauce (apples cooked with sugar and some spices and pureed)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
To serve:
Red jam
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom, sugar, salt, egg  yolks and buttermilk in one bowl and the egg whites in another. Using electric beaters whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Then mix the ingredients in the other bowl using the same beaters.There’s no need to wash them, but it’s important to do the whites first, while they are clean. Fold whites into batter.

Brush each hole in the baking tin with melted butter. Spoon a tablespoonful of pancake mixture into each, then about half a teaspoon or so of apple sauce, then another tablespoon of pancake mix. Bake for 10 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Coat each pancake with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.

Serve warm as they are or with jam and cream.

Makes about 20

Chocolate Brownie

Delicious as a snack with a cup of tea or coffee, or as a dessert with cream and berries, everyone needs a good chocolate brownie recipe. The last time I made this with my granddaughter Natalia, we swapped the chocolate chips for M and Ms, at her suggestion. She rushed off on her bike to buy a packet.

½ cup butter (125g)
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1¾ cups self raising flour (or plain flour and 2 tsp BP)
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup cocoa
1 cup chocolate chips or chopped nuts (e.g. walnuts, macadamias, pecans) or a mixture

Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter a 9 inch or 22cm square tin and line with baking paper. Or use a silicone pan which doesn’t need greasing.

Place butter and sugar in food processor and mix well, scraping down the sides halfway through. Or use electric beaters in a bowl. Add eggs, mix, then gradually add the sifted flour, salt, vanilla and cocoa, scraping down the sides again halfway through.  Add chocolate chips or nuts and process very briefly, just enough to mix them in.

Scrape into tin and smooth the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Don’t overcook as it’s better undercooked than overcooked.

Cut into 16 squares

Kladdkaka – Swedish Sticky Chocolate Cake

Crisp on the outside, with a soft and gooey centre, this traditional Scandinavian chocolate cake is a bit like a brownie. Kladdkaka means sticky cake in Swedish.

Serve it on it’s own, with a dusting of icing sugar and a cup of coffee, or with whipped cream or ice cream and a few berries as a delicious dessert.

In the photo it’s served with homemade strawberry ice cream, using a very quick recipe and substituting frozen strawberries for the frozen raspberries.

2 large eggs
1½ cups sugar
½ cup plain flour
¼ cup cocoa
pinch of salt
125g butter, melted
1 Tbs vanilla extract
Extra cocoa powder
To serve:
Icing sugar
Fresh berries such as strawberries or raspberries
Whipped cream or ice cream

Prepare an 8 inch (20cm) cake tin by lining the bottom with baking paper, then buttering the bottom and sides and giving a good coating of extra cocoa powder, shaking out any excess. Preheat oven to 180°C.

In a large bowl with electric beaters whisk eggs and sugar until thick and pale. Fold in sifted flour, cocoa and salt and lastly the butter and vanilla. Scrape into cake pan and bake for 20 minutes. The top of the cake will be firm, but it will still be soft in the centre. The cake will sink as it cools.

Cool cake then dust with sifted icing sugar. Serve as it is, or with berries and whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves 8

Caramel Slice

I was staying at Hill House, a dairy farm in County Durham in my early teens when I learnt to make this recipe. They called it Triple Decker Slice and everyone loved it. There are heaps of versions online, often called Millionaire’s Shortbread, but this is my version. I’ve added the salt flakes, which weren’t in the original recipe, but appeal to anyone who likes salted caramel.

This slice is high in sugar and calories, so I don’t make it often, but when I do it always puts a smile on Matthew’s face.

If you can find dulce de leche or Nestle Top n Fill, make Filling (1). If not then make Filling (2).

Shortbread:
125g butter at room temp
½ cup soft brown sugar
1 cup plain flour
½ cup cornflour
Filling (1):
250g dulce de leche or Nestle Top ‘n Fill
125g butter
½ cup soft brown sugar
Filling (2):
1 can condensed milk
2 Tbs golden syrup
125g butter
½ cup soft brown sugar
Topping:
250g dark chocolate
2 Tbs Copha or butter
To finish:
Maldon sea salt flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 170°C. Mix butter and sugar in food processor. Add flour and cornflour and process till mixture sticks together into a ball. Press into a greased shallow rectangular baking tin measuring about 25x30cm, lined with greased baking paper. You don’t need to roll it out, just drop lumps evenly over the tin, then press with your fingers till you have a more or less even thickness. Bake 15-20 mins. It should be very lightly coloured, not brown.

Heat filling ingredients (1 or 2) and when bubbling cook gently for 2-3 mins, stirring. If using Filling (2) you will need to cook it a bit longer, say 5-7 minutes, to achieve the caramel colour. Pour over the shortbread and spread evenly. When caramel has cooled, melt chocolate with Copha or butter, pour over and spread evenly. If liked sprinkle with salt. Cut into squares when cold.

Makes about 20

Plum Cake

I’ve been making this cake for nearly 30 years from a recipe published by Stephanie Alexander, which she calls Mieze’s Plum Cake after the friend who gave it to her. I have slightly adapted the method but the end result is the same.

The best plums to use are blood plums which have dark purple skins and flesh, but unfortunately they’re only in season for a very brief period. The recipe works well with any plums you can get, or peaches, apricots or, as you can see in the photo, with nectarines.  You could also try making it with canned fruit if you’re housebound and that’s all you have.

I make this cake in a 22 cm (9 inch) square tin, so each serving has half a piece of fruit on top. This involves increasing all the ingredients in the original cake mix (but not the topping) to make a bigger cake which serves 16. For a smaller cake use the original recipe (see above link). I like to grind the nuts in a food processor and leave them slightly chunky, rather than buying ground nuts which are more like flour.

Serve with a cup of tea or as a dessert with a dollop of cream.

250g butter at room temp
250g sugar
200g plain flour
200g self-raising flour
pinch salt
3 eggs
½ cup milk
1 cup ground almonds or walnuts
8 blood plums, halved and stoned (or use apricots, peaches or nectarines)
Topping:
½ cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
60g butter
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 170°C. Process nuts coarsely in food processor then tip out. Process butter and sugar till fluffy, add eggs one at a time, sifted flours, salt, the nuts and then the milk, stopping to scrape down the mixture halfway through.

Spread into 9″ (22cm) square cake pan, greased and lined with paper. Arrange the plums, cut side up, over the cake and push them in a bit. The 16 halves should fit exactly. No need to wash the food processor before using it to mix all the topping ingredients. Pour topping evenly over the fruit. Bake in the centre of the oven for an hour, or until a skewer inserted in the middle (cake not fruit) comes out clean. If outsides are getting too brown, turn oven down a bit, but don’t overcook or the cake will be dry.

Variation: Use peeled and halved juicy pears instead of plums and add a tablespoon of fresh ginger to the topping.

Serves 12-16