Chocolate Fruit Cake

This gorgeously rich and dark Christmas cake could only be the result of Nigella’s mind. And so it is! This is that time of year when they are showing her Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen show on TV and all of the lights, the friends, the food and the festive atmosphere make you want to start pottering about in the kitchen. This cake, in particular, described as dark, moist and squidgy (it’s the prunes, says Nigella), caught my attention because you can (and have) to decorate the top yourself. So why not indulge in some chocolate-cum-glitter fun?

I have to say, the addition of cocoa powder to an otherwise fairly standard fruit cake is new on my table too, but it really works. Rather than steeping the dried fruit in brandy, sherry or other festive liqueurs, this recipe calls for slow and relaxing stirring over the hob. The heat will infuse the fruit with the coffee liqueur – graciously counteracted by the dark treacly sugar and the honey – to do in 10 minutes what normally would take months. Genius, pure genius. A little word of warning, if I may. Please line the tin as instructed, making sure there the baking parchment is twice as high as the cake tin itself. This will help protect the cake and avoid any possible burning. Also, keep an eye on this one. I baked it for 2 hours exactly, but the top was already starting to look a bit scorched…

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 350g soft dried prunes, chopped
  • 250g raisins
  • 125g currants
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g dark muscovado sugar
  • 175g honey
  • 125ml coffee liqueur (I used Kahlua)
  • 2 oranges, zest and juice
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/s tsp bicarbonate of soda

Ingredients (for the decoration – my version)

  • 3 tbsp of apricot jam, warmed through with 1 tsp water and sieved
  • chocolate stars (MilkyWay)
  • soft gold pearls
  • white shimmer pearls
  • Cadbury minstrels
  • gold and silver glitter
  • white chocolate chips

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 150C. Grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin with baking parchment, making sure to line the sides too.
  2. Place the dried fruit, orange zest and juice, sugar, honey, coffee liqueur, spices, butter and cocoa into a wide saucepan. Melt over a low heat until fully combined, then bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Once cooled slightly, add the eggs. It’s important to cool the mixture before adding the eggs or you will end up with scrambled eggs in the mixture. Not nice.
  4. Mix those in, then fold in the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and bicarb. Combine all of the ingredients together to obtain a light brown mixture. Tip that into the cake tin and bake on the lower shelf of the oven for about 2 hours.
  5. Check the cake is cooked all the way through with a skewer. This should come out clean.
  6. Place the cake on a cooling rack and leave to cool completely in its tin.
  7. Once cooled, remove from the tin, unwrap the baking parchment and sit on a cake platter/dish.
  8. Brush the whole cake with the sieved apricot jam. Decorate with the sweets and the glitter the way you want. I opted for chocolate stars and white chocolate chips on the outer edge, chocolate minstrels in the middle, pearls all around and a final scattering of silver and gold glitter. You need to be your own artist here!

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3 Liqueur Cupcakes

These were the lucky outcome of a small experiment in the kitchen. It all started when I set off to make the Espresso & Brandy cupcakes from here. I soon realized, however, that I did not want to have to make some coffee just to use 1 tablespoon (especially as I have a 6 cup caffettiera). Instead of using coffee, I thought, why not use a coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua? Unfortunately (or luckily?), my liqueur cabinet is always adequately stocked. Not that I sneak downstairs when my partner is fast asleep and drink in the solitude of the night, but I do keep a good assortment of booze for baking and cooking. You would be amazed at how many uses a bottle of brandy can lend itself to. Anyway, I decided to slightly change the frosting recipe too, thinking 5 tablespoons of liqueur would have made it exceedingly runny. Therefore, I decided to match the flavour of the cupcake by adding some Kahlua, followed by some Brandy (the only one in the original recipe) and, weirdly enough, some Malibu (a coconut flavoured liqueur). The result was a deep success, with my partner (who doesn’t like sweet things) even declaring the icing reminded him of ice-cream. Yippee!

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Ingredients (for the cupcakes)

  • 185g unsalted butter, softened
  • 185g golden caster sugar
  • 185g self-raising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp Kahlua

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g full-fat cream cheese
  • 400g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tbsp Kahlua
  • 1 tbsp Brandy
  • 1 tbsp Malibu
  • cocoa powder, optional

Method

  1. First of all, line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases and pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, then slowly add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Incorporate the flour and the salt, then pour in the liqueur and beat well until very smooth and pale.
  4. Divide the batter between the paper cases (I used an icre-cream scoop), then bake for 35 minutes, until the sponges spring back when lightly pressed.
  5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
  6. In the meantime, prepare the icing. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter with the cream cheese, then slowly add the icing sugar and use a rubber spatula to mix that in with the butter and cheese mixture.
  7. Using the paddle attachment, beat the icing on high speed until very light and fluffy, then gradually add the liqueurs, mixing well after each addition.
  8. Transfer to a piping bag with a star nozzle attached and, once the cupcakes are cooled, pipe big swirls on the top surface, trying not to break the flow and to pipe moving from the outsides to the insides. Dust with some cocoa powder if you want to.

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Cappuccino Eclairs

I think we all need to experiment and try things in life. My obsession being creating the perfect éclair (and croissant, bun, loaf of bread and so forth), I decided to take a standard recipe and try adding my own twist to it. I had been in the kitchen the whole morning to make pastry delicacies for a housewarming party of a friend of ours (task I thoroughly enjoyed) and making some homemade éclairs looked like the perfect ending to a baking marathon.

Now, all I did was adding some espresso powder to a homemade custard and voilà! the perfect coffee custard was born. As for the decoration, I really wanted to try and make some royal icing, so that I made. Piping it was, well, interesting. I think this kind of icing is probably more suitable for dunking and/or spreading. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, royal icing is a type of icing made from raw egg whites, lemon juice and icing sugar. The definitely superior amount of icing sugar in the mixture lends the hardness and pliability to the icing, which really looks like a suppler version of marzipan. You can pipe it very easily, provided you loosen the mixture up by adding some more egg white or food colouring.

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Ingredients

  • 1 quantity of choux pastry
  • 1 quantity of homemade custard cream
  • 200g double cream
  • 2 tsp instant espresso coffee powder (I used Nescafé Azera)
  • 3 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 quantity of royal icing
  • cocoa powder, to dust (optional)

Method

  1. Pipe your éclairs on your prepared baking trays and bake according to your favourite recipe. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely at room temperature.
  2. Once you remove your custard from the heat and transfer it to a bowl to chill it, mix in the espresso powder and the sugar. Gently fold the ingredients in until the mixture darkens in colour. Cover with clingfilm and leave to cool at room temperature, then transfer to the fridge until thoroughly chilled.
  3. Once the custard has nicely set and is properly chilled, in a separate bowl whip the double cream until stiff peaks form, then fold in the custard. This will be your cappuccino custard to fill the éclairs.
  4. When the éclairs have cooled down completely, use a small knife to make two holes on the bottom of each one (these will be used to fill them).
  5. Fill a piping bag with a small nozzle with the cappuccino custard, then pipe in the éclairs using the two small holes. Do not overfill them or the custard will ooze out. Turn upside down and prepare to ice them.
  6. Transfer the royal icing to another piping bag equipped with a half star nozzle (you are more than welcome to choose your own icing implement), then pipe three parallel stripes on top of each éclair and finish with a diagonal one.
  7. Arrange the small buns on a tray, then lightly dust with cocoa powder using a small sieve, serve and enjoy.

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Chocolate, Macadamia & Coffee Torte

This is a weird cake as the sponge is made entirely from macadamia and contains no butter. The nuts are finely ground and then mixed to the other ingredients, and their natural oils provide the ‘fat’ base for the cake sponge. The final decoration really is up to you, I merely followed the recipe as in the GBBO book and experimented with feathering. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this refers to a particular type of icing whereby a ganache is decorated with feather-like shapes, obtained by tracing horizontal lined with a darker ganache on the smooth base surface and then drawing the surface with a cocktail stick to leave a trail behind and bend the horizontal lines. The result is pretty much self-explanatory.

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Ingredients (for the sponge)

  • 200g macadamia nuts
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 200g white chocolate
  • 2 yolks
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp milk

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 1 tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar

Ingredients (for the ganache)

  • 170g white chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2 tsp brandy
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder

Method

  1. First of all, start with the sponge. Line and grease two 20cm sandwich tins and set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
  2. Coarsely grind the macadamia nuts in a food processor until they start to clump together. Tip onto a plate lined with kitchen paper, spread out and leave to dry for about 5 minutes, then mix with the ground almonds.
  3. Melt the white chocolate over a pan of simmering water, then leave to cool.
  4. Put the 8 egg yolks (6 eggs + 2 extra yolks, remember!) into a large mixing bowl with the vanilla extract and whisk with an electric mixer (I swear by my KitchenAid) until the mixture is very thick and the whisk leaves a ribbon-like trail when lifted from the bowl. Use a big spatula to fold in the nuts, then fold in the white chocolate and milk.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gently fold those in too in batches.
  6. Divide the mixture between the two tins, then bake for 35-40 minutes. Check the sponges are cooked using a skewer, then remove from the oven and leave to cool in their tins.
  7. Move on to the filling. In a mixing bowl, stir the brandy with the espresso powder until dissolved. Add the mascarpone and the icing sugar, then mix to combine. Chill until needed.
  8. Last step, the ganache. Put the white chocolate in a bowl, then heat the cream until almost boiling. Pour onto the chocolate in a thin stream, whisking constantly. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the brandy. Spoon a quarter of the mixture into a separate bowl and stir in the espresso powder. Cover both bowls and leave to cool until needed.
  9. To assemble the torte, put a small blob of the filling on the serving plate/platter, then set one of the sponge layers on top. Use the rest of the filling to cover it, then top with the other sponge layer. Once the ganache has cooled down, spread over the top of the torte and let it drip down the sides. Spoon the coffee ganache into a piping bag and snip off the end, then pipe uniform horizontal lines on the now iced surface of the cake. Using a cocktail stick, draw vertical lined across the ones made with the ganache alternating upwards and downwards movements. Leave to set until needed.

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