Mars Bar Cake

Mars Bar Cake

Don’t skip by this, thinking that it’s only for children. It’s most definitely not. Of course, children love it, but so does every grown-up I’ve ever given it too. This is another recipe that I’ve been making for years, although this one without much tweaking, since I’ve never felt the need to mess about with it. Although, having said that, I do have a hankering to try it with Snickers bars, just to see what happens. But that’s a recipe for another day. Obviously this is a treat, both tasty – it really is more than the sum of its simple parts – and a little bit naughty – you probably shouldn’t eat this every day, although it, to me at least, is highly addictive. Now, a couple of bossy instructions. The chocolate layer on top wants to be thick, hence the 300g in the recipe. You could probably get away with 200g, just, but as the old saying goes, if you’re going to get wet, you may as well go swimming. And, with all of that butter and everything else, a little extra chocolate will hardly hurt. Which leads me onto my second directive: use butter, proper butter, and not margarine or sunflower spread or anything else. However, when buying your chocolate, do bear in mind that, given the other ingredients, it would be a little redundant to go all out for the finest available. Use your favourite confectionary milk chocolate, and perhaps save the very best stuff for something a little more high-brow. That is not, however, permission to use anything labelled ‘cooking chocolate’, or worse still, ‘chocolate flavoured cake topping’.

3 Mars bars (about 60g each)

75g butter

2 tablespoons golden syrup

100g puffed rice cereal, e.g. Rice Krispies

300g milk chocolate

Chop the Mars bars into smallish pieces, and cut up the butter. Dump the Mars bars and butter into a large pan with the golden syrup, and melt over a low heat, stirring often. I usually do this in a large, deep cast-iron casserole, but any large pan would do. You do have to keep an eye on it though, and keep stirring, not being tempted to turn up the heat to try and hurry things along, or the mixture may burn. It will take a while, but if you are more patient and can stand to stir for a little longer to minimise the risk of burning (which I haven’t yet managed, so don’t worry too much), you can melt everything together in a large bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Note that the three layers within the Mars bar, the butter and the golden syrup all melt at different speeds, so while everything is slowly melting, the contents of your pan may look a little disgusting and lumpy for a while. Stick with it, and keep stirring. Eventually, you’ll end up with a thick, glossy chocolate sauce.

Stir the rice cereal into the chocolate. You may need slightly more, but you should be able to coat 100g well enough, using a wooden spoon and a little elbow grease, with neither excess chocolate left in the bottom nor uncoated Krispies spoiling the sticky, shiny look of the finished bars. Tip into a 20cm square tin, lined with cling film or baking parchment, (just to make it easier to remove) and press down firmly to give an even-ish layer and a flat-ish top. Stick in the fridge to set until firm, perhaps about an hour.

When the base is set, break the milk chocolate into pieces and gently melt, stirring occasionally, in a suitable bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. When the chocolate is melted, pour over the base and spread to the edges with a silicone spatula. Return to the fridge and allow the chocolate to fully set, before removing from the tin and slicing into 16 chunky bars. I would add that these will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, although I doubt they’ll last that long, but do benefit from a little while at room temperature so they are not completely solid when you bite into them.

Mars Bar Cake


Nigella’s Coconut Cake

Coconut cake

Although I don’t really make sponge cakes that often, this is one of my favourites, and it always seems to be popular. And don’t be put off by the photo, admittedly it isn’t my best work. Having said that, the cake is never going to be a showstopper, at least appearance wise, but that isn’t really the point here, this is a comforting, old fashioned sponge sandwich. The cake itself is two really moist coconut sponge cakes, sandwiched with a coconut buttercream and topped with coconut flavoured royal icing, and is taken from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess. The coconut flavour in the icing comes from Malibu, or coconut flavoured white rum, and as Nigella notes in her own introduction to this recipe, Malibu is quite useful for cooking with since good coconut flavouring can be quite hard to come by. If making two different types of icing seems like a bit of a faff, then I would recommend tripling the recipe for the coconut buttercream, using a third to sandwich the sponges, and the other two thirds to cover both top and sides. If you wish, you could also add a smearing of good cherry jam inside too.

From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, softened

225g caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 eggs

200g self-raising flour

25g cornflour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

50g desiccated coconut, soaked in 150ml boiling water

For the coconut buttercream

25g dessicated coconut

75g soft unsalted butter

150g icing sugar, sieved

1 tablespoon Malibu

For the icing on top

2-4 tablespoons Malibu

125g instant royal icing (which may be labelled ‘royal icing sugar’)

Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan and butter and line two 20cm sandwich tins. As always, make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before starting. Boil the kettle, put 50g of desiccated coconut into a small bowl or jug, and pour over 150ml of boiling water. Leave this to stand and let the coconut soak up the water.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour between each, beating in well. Then beat in the vanilla. Add the remaining flour, cornflour and baking power, and fold until all is combined. Finally, give the coconut a stir in its boiling water and then tip the whole lot into the batter. (If you wish, the original recipe does say you can whizz everything bar the coconut and water in the processor until you have a smooth batter, whizzing in the coconut at the end, but here I think the slightly longer way gives a better result.)

Pour the batter into the prepared tins, and cook for 25-30 minutes. (The original recipes says 25, I found mine needed 30, although check a 25 – a cocktail stick or cake tester should come out more or less clean.) Leave to cool in their tins for ten minutes, before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

While the cakes are cooking, toast the 25g coconut for the buttercream in a dry pan, shaking it now and then, until it is nicely golden and smells delicious. Tip it onto a plate to stop it toasting further, and allow it to get completely cold before you make the buttercream. Keep watching it – it will turn from nicely toasted to black in not much time at all.

To make the buttercream, cream together the butter and icing sugar. When you have a smooth paste, beat in the Malibu and then the cold toasted coconut. Spread onto the bottom cake, to about 2cm from the edge to allow for splurging, and then place the other cake on top, pushing down gently.

For the royal icing, add two tablespoons Malibu to the instant royal icing (basically following the liquid-to-sugar ration from the packet) and whisk (preferably with the aid of machinery) until smooth and just runny enough to coat the cake. You may need the other 1 or 2 tablespoons of Malibu to achieve this – I did. Pour the icing onto the centre of the cake, and allow it to spread out, helping it along the way with a silicone spatula if needed. Let the icing set before serving the cake.

Coconut cake

Cheddar and onion bread

Cheddar and onion bread

This is one of my favourite breads to make, delicious soft white bread topped with strong cheddar and onions. It started off as a homespun version of a lazy treat, those pappy white cheese-topped rolls from the supermarket in-store bakery, but it goes without saying this is infinitely better. A loaf is easily a meal in its own right, and I often just eat this, still warm from the oven, sliced, with plenty of butter, or perhaps with some caramelised onion chutney and maybe some extra cheese. It is also the bread I, not always but often, make to dunk in and soak up the sauce from a tomato-y pasta, lasagne, and, my favourite for this bread, these meatballs. It’s really a simple adaptation of my basic white bread, and you could use any relatively hard cheese, but my favourite is a strong, mature cheddar, and that’s what I most often have to hand at any rate.

I generally make two smaller loaves, rather than one larger one, or eight rolls. For the batch I’ve photographed, I made one loaf and four rolls, as I made it to have with meatballs, the loaf for slicing and dunking, and the rolls for meatball sandwiches with the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Sliced cheddar and onion loaf

500g strong white bread flour

1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

glug of good olive oil

300ml warm water

a little milk, to glaze

150g mature cheddar, grated

2 smallish or one large onion, halved and sliced, and a little oil for cooking

Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and 50g of the cheese into a bowl and give it a couple of turns with a spoon to mix everything up. Add a good glug of olive oil. Tip in the water, and mix everything together with a table knife or wooden spoon, trying to get as much of the flour mixed in as you can. Tip the contents of the bowl onto a lightly floured worktop, scraping out any bits of dough stuck to the bowl. Knead the bread, either by hand for 10 minutes or for around 5 in a freestanding mixer with a dough hook. When the dough is smooth and springy, it’s ready. Shape the dough into a ball. Quickly wash up the bowl, drop a little oil into the bottom and smear it up the sides. Plop the dough into the oiled bowl, then turn it over so the entire surface of the dough is lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a clean tea towel, and leave until doubled in size, either an hour or so on the kitchen side or overnight in the fridge, letting it come back to room temperature before you proceed.

Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan. Heat a glug of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, tip in the onions and a pinch of salt (which will stop them from browning as they fry) and cook the onions, stirring now and again, until softened. Put to one side to cool a little. Deflate the dough by pushing it down with your fingers, then on a very lightly floured surface, divide the dough into two even sized pieces, and shape into round or oval shaped loaves. Place each onto a very lightly oiled baking tray dusted with flour. If you would rather have rolls, at this point divide the dough into six or eight smaller pieces, forming them into either round or oval shapes. Place these onto, again lightly oiled and floured, baking trays, spaced slightly apart so they have room to rise. As they rise and subsequently cook, they will join together, but be easily pulled apart, giving you lovely soft sides.

Brush the tops of your loaves with a little milk, scatter over the remaining 100g grated cheddar and then the slithers of onion. Cover loosely with a piece of lightly oiled cling film or a clean tea towel, and leave to rise until doubled in size again – this can take anything from half an hour to an hour and a half. Once risen, stick in the oven and bake for 25 – 35 minutes. Check at 25 to see if it is done, by (carefully) knocking on the underside of the loaf – if it sounds hollow, it’s finished. If not, put it back for another 5 minutes. Rolls may need slightly less, loaves slightly more. If you do choose to make one big loaf, it might need upwards of 40 minutes, but do start checking before then.

When out of the oven, cool on the tray, under a clean tea towel – this will keep the crust nice and soft. Eat fairly soon. As if you wouldn’t.

Cheddar and Onion Bread Rolls

Sticky caramel pecan Danish pastries

Now, it wouldn’t be strictly correct to say that these were the result of a happy accident, but they were neither what I intended to make, nor did they turn out exactly how I expected them to. But that’s good, as were these – really good. The other half of the Danish pastry recipe I had made for my tarte tatin was calling to me from the depths of the freezer. I knew I wanted to use it up, and soon, and I had a vague idea that I wanted to make cinnamon rolls, of sorts, those spirals of pastry with a buttery cinnamon filling that go so well with an afternoon latte. So with this in mind, I first flicked through the ‘yeast’ section of Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess, from whence the original Danish pastry came, and these are heavily influenced by the Schnecken therein, combined with a few ideas from a quick Google of Cinnamon Roll. Finally, I had an idea in my head of what I wanted to end up with, including some pecan nuts for crunch.

You’ll notice there’s no cinnamon in either the name of these, or the recipe below. I absent mindedly forgot to include it when I first made these, intending to include it in the sugar and nut filling, and now I don’t want to change these, to take anything away from their, to my mind, sticky, buttery perfection. I was expecting a runnier caramel topping, but the result here was a rather pleasing hard caramel. Not teeth-shatteringly so, but crunchy nonetheless, and sticky too, which works really well with the soft, almost melting pastry beneath.

1/2 portion of this Danish pastry, thawed if previously frozen

For the caramel

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons demerara sugar

7 tablespoons golden syrup

50g pecans

For the filling

25g butter

50g caster sugar

50g demerara sugar

50g pecans

Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan. First make what is going to become the sticky caramel topping. Beat the butter, preferably with the aid of machinery, until soft, light and airy. Beat in the sugar and golden syrup. Roughly chop the pecans into large pieces. Divide the butter mixture between the cups of a 12 hole muffin tin, and drop a couple of pecan pieces onto the top of the mixture in each.

Next, make the filling for the pastries. Melt the 25g butter and leave to one side. Blitz the pecans into a sandy rubble, and mix together with the two types of sugar.

On a well floured surface (and see the introduction to the Danish pastry post), roll out the dough into a rectangle around 50cm by 30cm, with the long edge facing you. Brush the surface of the pastry with the melted butter, and then sprinkle over the nutty-sugar filling, going right up to the edges. Now you want to roll up the pastry, rolling up the long edge, away from you, pressing down firmly enough so you end up with a not squashed but tightly rolled sausage. Slice this into 12 pieces, and pop a piece, cut side up, into each cup of the muffin tin, pushing it down a little into the butter and nuts. Put to one side for around 20 minutes or so, to let the rolls rise a little. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Meanwhile, line a baking tray, larger than the muffin tin, with foil or baking parchment.

Once the pastries are out of the oven, place the upside-down, parchment or foil lined tray over the muffin tin. Using oven gloves and a balance of caution and bravery, turn the whole thing upside-down, so that the muffin tin is now at the top of the pile, bottom up. Carefully lift off the muffin tin, leaving the rolls, now with their caramel-nut tops, on the lined tray. Spoon any nuts or caramel left in the muffin tin back over the rolls. Let them cool slightly, if you can manage it.

Makes 12.

Easy home made white bread

I love home made bread, and unashamedly so. When you tell people this (for it naturally comes up often in conversation!), some people do look at you as though you are a little off your rocker, and let you know that it must be difficult, or time consuming, or both. And anyway, why would you bother when you can now buy such good bread? Well, it isn’t really too difficult, and actually not time consuming either. Sure, you don’t get instant results, but for much of the time it takes to make your own bread, it is doing its own thing and you can be doing yours. The benefits too are twofold. Firstly, much of the pleasure is in the making, the process of producing your loaf, mostly in the quiet, almost therapeutic kneading, but also of course in the aroma of a loaf baking in the oven filling the house. Secondly, in my opinion, there is little that beats thickly smeared salty butter melting onto a hunk of bread straight from the oven.

Most recipes for a basic white loaf are much of a muchness. A similar list of ingredients in similar quantities, and the method doesn’t vary much either. I generally go for the overnight rise, mixing and kneading the dough the night before I intend to bake the loaf, simply because it seems to me that this makes the process easier, less rushed. The result is generally also a more strongly flavoured, more ‘yeasty’ bread. Good flour makes a difference too, and if you can, it’s worth getting organic, although if this is the deal-breaker, then don’t let it put you off. And finally, for the kneading, I doubt my technique is anything like that of a professional baker! I generally stretch the dough by holding it down with the heel of one hand and pushing it away from me with the heel of the other, then fold or bring it back together, and repeat! Works for me. Get stuck in and have a go.

500g strong white bread flour, preferably organic, plus more for kneading

1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon sugar (optional – I have just always added this)

2 teaspoons salt

1 glug good olive oil

300ml warm water

Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using, into a bowl. Add the oil then tip in the water and mix everything together with a butter knife or a wooden spoon. Try and get as much of the flour incorporated as you can. At this stage, you’ll have a stringy, sticky dough in your bowl. Flour your worktop, tip the contents of the bowl onto it, including any flour not worked into the dough, and knead away, for at least 10 minutes. If you’ve got a freestanding mixer with a dough hook attachment, then you can let it knead for you, and it will probably only take about 5 minutes, but where’s the fun in that? As you’re kneading, you’ll feel the dough changing from a sticky, wet mixture into something smooth, far less sticky, and quite elastic – when you push the dough away from yourself, it will start to spring back.

Form the dough into a ball, and smear the inside of a large bowl with a little oil, spreading it up the sides. Drop in the ball of dough, turn it over so both top and bottom are lightly oiled, cover the bowl with clingfilm and whack in the fridge overnight. I’ve left dough for up to 24 hours, and never had a problem with it. If you’re not going for the overnight route, leave your bowl in a warmish place, not in a draft, for an hour, maybe a little more. In both cases, it’s ready when it’s twice the size, or therabouts, it was before.

If you’ve left the dough in the fridge, get it out and let it warm a little, then remove the cling film and press the dough with your fingers (or punch it with your fists!) until it deflates. Switch the oven on – 220C/200C fan -then knead the dough for just a minute. Form it into a ball (and don’t worry too much about this, however round my loaf goes into the oven, it always comes out looking slightly misshapen, or as I would have it, rustic and home made). Place the ball into a baking sheet, and generally I use one that is lightly floured, again more out of habit than reason, although I suppose it is notionally non-stick, cover loosely with clingfilm, and leave it for another half an hour to double in size again. Remove the clingfilm, and bake in the preheated oven for around 40 minutes. To see if it’s done, carefully lift up the load and wrap the bottom with your knuckles – if it sounds hollow, it’s done, if not, give it a few more minutes.

Once it’s out of the oven, you can do one of two things. For a crusty loaf, let it cool on a wire rack, and for a slightly softer crust, let it cool on it’s baking tray covered by a clean tea towel. The steam it gives off will keep it a little softer. Once cool, keep it in an airtight tin, and eat it as soon as possible. It won’t last as long as a shop-bought loaf. That’s a good thing, though.