Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Chocolate Pecan Pumpkin Cake for Halloween

Chocolate Halloween Cake
For years I've raged against the invasion of the very American Halloween and associated trick or treating; in the UK, we have All Hallows Eve, from which Halloween is derived. Just five days later we have our very own Guy Fawkes Night, with its pagan effigy burning associations - OK Guy Fawkes was a catholic, but never mind. Well, finally I've come to the conclusion that if you can't beat them you'd better join them! In fact I had no choice as this month's We Should Cocoa theme is Halloween.

For Random Recipes this month, Dom has tasked us with picking a recipe from the internet. His suggestion was to type a theme into the search box and then pick a recipe randomly from the first ten that appear. I was game. To bag several challenges in one, I searched for chocolate and pumpkin, thereby getting We Should Cocoa in as well as Tea Time Treats which has vegetables as this month's theme.  The recipe that popped up was Dan Lepard's pumpkin chocolate mud cake - perfect.

Pumpkin Halloween Cake
It's been a while since I made a Dan Lepard recipe, or should I say tinkered with one. I did of course change things around just a little by replacing vanilla with fennel, adding coffee to the mix and changing the quantities. I included some maca powder as I often do, just so I can tell myself the cake is good for me. I also added cream cheese to the icing to give it a bit more character and make it less sweet and sickly.

This is how I made:

Chocolate Pecan Pumpkin Cake

  • Melted 175g unsalted butter and 225g of dark chocolate (72%) in a large pan over gently heat.
  • Removed from the heat and beat in 275g sugar (half dark and half light).
  • Beat in three duck eggs (can be replaced with large hens eggs).
  • Stirred in 3 drops of Holy Lama fennel extract.
  • Beat in 275ml warm coffee.
  • Grated 120g butternut squash (the only pumpkin I could get) and stirred this in together with 100g chopped pecans.
  • Sifted in 250g flour (half wholemeal, half white), 3 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp maca powder.
  • Stirred until just combined then scraped the mixture into a deep 9" silicone mould and baked at 180℃ for 55 mins.
  • Left to cool for 15 mins, then turned out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Melted 20g unsalted butter.
  • Mixed into some of the 160g icing sugar.
  • Beat in 50g cream cheese, followed by a little more of the icing sugar.
  • Added a slug of rum and mixed in with some more icing sugar.
  • Added 50g double cream, followed by the rest of the icing sugar and beat until smooth.
  • Placed the cake on a stand and spread the icing over the top.
  • Attempted to create a spider's web on top with some ready bought black icing I happened to have acquired. 
  • Added some chocolate pumpkin faces for good measure.

Pumpkin Halloween Cake
The cake was such a success, I shall be making this one again. It was soft, light and mousse like with a welcome crunch from the pecans and the fennel note gave an intriguing, "what is this?" It wasn't overly sweet, which is good because the icing was. The rum icing may have been sweet, but it was nonetheless delicious and complemented the cake well. An added bonus was that it lasted well over a week and was just as good at the end as at the beginning.

Finally giving in, I have made a Halloween bake  and it's all down to the devilish Hannah over at Honey & Dough, who is guest hosting We Should Cocoa this month.

Random Recipes was the driving force behind the bake with the theme of something sweet  randomly selected from the internet. This is a splendid monthly challenge from Dom over at Belleau Kitchen where we never quite know what recipe we will land up with next.

Ensuring I would get a recipe containing pumpkin meant I could also send this off to Karen over at Lavender and Lovage for her Tea Time Treats, where the theme is vegetables this month. This monthly challenge is co-hosted by Jane over at The Hedge Combers.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Chocolate Week: Day Seven

Well, it's been a busy seven days in the chocolate world and Chocolate Week has culminated in the prestigious Chocolate Show in London this weekend. For me, the grand culmination is a box of bean to bar chocolates from around the world. I'm very excited.

The team at Cocoa Runners have a particularly difficult job it seems. They spend their time travelling around the world in search of less well known artisan bean to bar (or even tree to bar) chocolate makers. They get to try a myriad of different chocolate products and then select the best for our delectation. They are specifically interested in small batch craft bars, single origin bars and rare chocolate that is ethically produced. Real chocolate is their passion and they are not interested in mass produced offering or ones that contain palm oil and other unnecessary additives. Many of the bars are hand wrapped as well as hand crafted.

Based in the UK, though I couldn't work out if it was in London or Newton Abbot, Cocoa Runners offer three different ways of buying chocolate to those of us based in the UK and Europe.

  1. a monthly chocolate club box which is posted through your letterbox at £14.95
  2. gift boxes to suit whatever occasion you may require them for 
  3. a "chocolate library" from which you can choose any of the three hundred craft bars stocked.

The box I received was a discovery tasting one and when I broke into it, a whole new world of chocolate opened out before me. I found a pleasing selection of bars from different producers, most of which were beautifully packaged in foil and cardboard and all with varying tastes and textures; I'd not come across any of them before. A set of cards indicating the type of chocolate and background accompanied the box as did some guidelines on how to taste this food of the gods. Some of the cards were missing from my pack, which meant I didn't get the detail on everything I had.

I used to think that the darker the chocolate, the more bitter it would be. Since starting this blog and having the opportunity to try a number of different chocolates from around the world, I have subsequently realised my error. Some of the dark chocolate in this box is less bitter and far more palatable than many types of chocolate I have tried with a lower cocoa content.

I am seriously impressed by the box I received from Cocoa Runners (missing cards aside), I like the concept, the ethos, the packaging, the chance to taste lots of different artisan chocolate bars and the stories behind the companies.

Menakao Milk Chocolate (44%) - launched in 2006 by a fourth generation member of the Cassam Chenai trader family who settled in the North-East of Madagascar, Shahin took the name Menakao from the word mena meaning red, which is the colour of the soil that Madagascar is famous for. With the cocoa beans being bought and processed locally, the Madagascan economy benefits from four times the income produced from fair trade chocolate.

As a lover of dark milk chocolate, I was really looking forward to this one. The scent of tobacco reached my nostrils first. The chocolate, which was slightly grainy in texture released different layers of flavour as it melted. Notes of tobacco with fruity tones mixed with chocolate tasting of caramel was an interesting combination. Madagascar is well known for its fruity chocolate, so this I was expecting, but I hadn't bargained for its earthy nature which left an unfamiliar taste in the mouth. Is this the taste of Madagascar's soil? As with all good chocolate, this is not a bar to be wolfed down but to be eaten over a period of time and savoured. The combination of flavours grew on me as I went along.

Akesson's Madagascar (75% Criollo) - another bar made from beans grown on Madagascar, but this time, produced in Switzerland. The beans are grown organically on the Ambolikapiky Plantation in the North-West of the country. I could smell the fruity notes of this one immediately. I also tasted them as soon as the chocolate hit my mouth with citrus being to the fore. This is a very smooth bar, that melts beautifully on the tongue and really has very little bitterness to speak of. I can see why it won silver in the Academy of Chocolate awards in 2013. The only thing that let this bar down for me was the plastic packaging - the only bit of plastic to appear in the whole box.

Marou Bars from Vietnam - Soya, gluten and dairy free, these dark chocolate bars contain only cocoa solids and cane sugar. Why then, I wonder, do other chocolate bars all contain emulsifiers, usually soya lecithin? These were all wonderfully smooth and had a good snap and shine to them - a conundrum indeed. The Tien Giang 70% has a spicy and fruity scent but tastes very strongly of honey. I couldn't quite believe that there wasn't honey in the actual ingredients. It's very smooth, not at all bitter and leaves the flavour of honey behind in the mouth long after the chocolate disappears. I couldn't get enough of this one and despite milk chocolate being my first love, this was my absolute favourite bar. I'm saving the Lâm Dōng 74% and Bària 76% for another occasion as I want to appreciate the flavours they have to offer and not be overwhelmed by too much chocolate. If the first is anything to go by, I am in for a real treat.

Also included in the box was a little 8g square of organic single origin milk chocolate 53%, which I really loved.  It was smooth and rich with fudgy notes. The square disappeared far too fast and I was sorry not to have  received a much larger bar. There was no tasting card for this one, but it did state on the wrapper that it was produced in San Francisco by TCHO.

Found drifting at the bottom of the box was a tiny square of Le 100% from French chocolatier, Pralus. I have tried 100% chocolate made with no added sugar before and whilst I find it interesting and not at all unpalatable, I think it best used for cooking or making hot chocolate. The chocolate was dark in colour but smelt rich and fruity. It tasted a little bitter but the fruity citrus notes sang out. However, it was strong coffee that lingered on the palate.

Original Beans - this pack contained four 12g bars all made in Switzerland, but from beans sourced from different parts of the world. The chocolate is certified organic and as in the Marou bars, the ingredients are minimal and contain no emulsifiers. Likewise, the bars are smooth, shiny and have a good snap. I tried one of the three dark bars, the Beni Wild Harvest 66% from the Bolivian Amazon. This fairly fizzes on the tongue. The scent of tobacco belied the fruity notes with floral and minty tones. The combination made for an intriguing experience. The Piura Porcelana 75% from the Peruvian Andes, the Cru Virunga 70% from Eastern Congo and Esmeraldas Milk 43% from the Ecuadorian rainforest, I'm keeping for later.

Thanks to Cocoa Runners for sending me one of their chocolate boxes to try. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Chocolate Week: Day Six

All this blustery and quite frankly miserable weather we've been experiencing down here in the last few days means that warming comfort food is required. What could be more comforting than wrapping your hands around a mug of steaming hot chocolate in cheery defiance of the weather gods?

Luckily I have both hot chocolate and some rather fine goat's milk in plentiful supply.

The goats at St Helen's Farm in East Yorkshire have been producing fresh milk for the last 27 years. Many people who find themselves unable to drink cow's milk, are able to tolerate the goat version. Do watch out for future goaty posts where I will be trying out other products from the farm. I'm not normally a fan of skimmed milk, or even semi-skimmed milk, but I did like both of these in goat form and they do work remarkably well with chocolate. There is a slight goaty tang, but it's not too strong and adds another dimension to the drink which I could become quite addicted to.

Chocolate Week has brought me many delights and one of these was a chocolate bar from Barry Callebaut with my name iced on the top. This put a big smile on my face. It wasn't long, however, before the bar disappeared. Half of it went into a pan of skimmed goat's milk to make the hot chocolate you can see above and the other half was shared with CT a little later.

Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate

Back in May, I reviewed Hans Sloane Natural Honey and Rich Dark drinking chocolates and was favourably impressed. I was hoping to try their award winning Madagascar and Ecuador single origin varieties, so I was delighted when a fragrant parcel arrived in the post. CT and I girded our loins and got down to the difficult business of doing a compare and contrast exercise. It was difficult to see much difference in the appearance of these two chocolates but when it came to smell and taste the resemblance disappeared. Thick and rich as these drinking chocolates are, I decided to taste test them with water once again. The shiny chocolate beads melt beautifully this way and the flavours are not masked by dairy.  I found, with absolutely no surprise whatsoever, that we liked both of them. We did, however, both have the same preference.

Madagascar 67% - a rich and fruity aroma wafts up from the packet on opening. It has a strong fruity taste with aromatic cardamom notes. It's also a little bitter and leaves a slightly drying sensation behind in the mouth.

Ecuador 70% - the fragrance is more of tobacco in this case. It has woody notes with liquorice tones that make it quite robust. It is less sweet, richer and drier than the Madagascar which makes it our favourite.

There is currently a 20% discount on the Ecuador, so now is a good time to try it. You'll find this on the Hans Sloane website.

Mortimer Chocolate Powder

Some of you may be aware that I'm a big fan of Mortimer's chocolate powders. They are fabulous used in bakes where chocolate is called for, as no melting is required; the chocolate is ground down to a powder so can go straight into the mix - less fuss and less washing up. The powders also make excellent hot chocolates. Not only do they taste good, but the chocolate melts quickly and easily. The dark chocolates are both 70%, but come from two different continents: one from Ecuador and one from West Africa. I have reviewed these in a previous post, so I won't repeat my findings here. The fruity West African, however, worked particularly well in these rich chocolate scones.

The white couverture powder is equally impressive and contains 40% cocoa solids, which is much higher than many brands. Flavoured with natural vanilla, it is free from both gluten and soya. I've used it in various recipes, but you can find specific mention in my red gooseberry cakes and burnt butter cupcakes. I have to confess that I've not tried this as a hot chocolate, but for those with a sweet tooth, I expect it would make a very nice drink indeed.

Thanks go to Hans Sloane, Mortimer Chocolate Company, St Helen's Farm and Barry Callebaut for the various samples. I was not required to write positive reviews and as always, all opinions are my own.


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