The Very Best Chocolate Cupcakes

These are not just any cupcakes, these are the very best chocolate cupcakes. A deep chocolate flavoured light and fluffy sponge, topped with a rich and intense chocolate buttercream, even Marks & Spencer’s would market these as the best! If you’re stuck a home today due to the massive storm, you might want to make these (you’ll likely have all the ingredients in) and cheer everyone up.

I’ve got out of the habit of making cupcakes; I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I don’t so often cook for whole classes of children anymore. I used to bake a sweet treat for the girls classes every Friday when they were in junior school, now it’s more like once a term and cookies often trump cupcakes because they’re so much easier to transport. But there is nothing like a good cupcake, and these double chocolate delights are a class above. 

This recipe serves 6 or so, just the right amount for a houseful on a Friday night after school, but you could easily multiply the recipe if you have more to feed – after all, no-one would want to miss one of these!

The Very Best Chocolate Cupcakes

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, soya-free, vegetarian and vegan)

 

Makes 6-8 cupcakes

150ml dairy-free milk

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

60g dairy-free margarine, melted

140g self-raising flour

3 tbsp cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

100g caster sugar

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.
  2. In a jug combine the milk, lemon juice, vanilla (if using) and bicarb. Set aside.
  3. Melt the dairy-free margarine, set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa and salt. Stir in the sugar
  5. Pour the melted margarine into the milk mixture and give it a good stir. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together to form a smooth batter. 
  6. 2/3rds fill each cupcake liner and bake for 18-20 minutes until risen and a knife comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the tray and cool on a wire rack.

 For the chocolate buttercream:

enough to generously cover the 6-8 cupcakes in the recipe above

75g dairy-free margarine

250g icing sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

½ tbsp dairy-free milk

 

  1. Whisk the margarine until it is light and fluffy
  2. Add the icing sugar, cocoa powder and dairy-free milk and whisk until you have a light buttercream.
  3. Pipe or spread a generous amount onto the top of each cooled cupcake

Iced Buns

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2014 photo!

Here we have another updated recipe. I rarely make Iced Buns but this has been another recipe that has gathered a lot of great comments and likes over the years, so it needed revisiting, updating and embellishing with some shiny new photos! (Although I have kept one of the previous photos just for my own nostalgia – haven’t cameras improved over the past years!)

Iced buns, viewed in the window of any English bakery, are a must for a collection of comfort food. For some reason they make me think of roaring fires and cosy knitwear – odd I know! Apparently some iced buns found in supermarkets are dairy-free, but I’ve never found any that are also nut-free – if you know of any safe brands please let me know?

Anyway, these iced buns are the perfect tea time treat, and this recipe will give you authentic but friendly buns to please your friends and family. They certainly go down a treat in this house 🙂

Iced Buns 

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 6

  • 150ml dairy-free milk
  • 50g dairy-free margarine
  • 260g strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3g or 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 50g caster sugar

for the icing:

  • 175g icing sugar
  • 1 to 2 tbsp water

– Melt the margarine into the milk (don’t make it more than tepid though)
– Place the flour, salt, yeast and caster sugar in a bowl and pour in the warmed milk and margarine mixture.
– Bring to a dough and knead until smooth and bounces back when you press a finger onto the surface.
– Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to double in size in a warm place.
– Divide into 6 even sized pieces and form into balls, then roll out to sausage shapes, trying to make them nice and even.
– Place about 1cm apart on a lined baking sheet, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes
– Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade/180 degrees fan, or gas mark 4
– Bake for 15 minutes until golden, risen and they sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

– Meanwhile, make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and water to form a very thick, smooth icing. Start by adding 1 tbsp of water and gradually add more as required.
– Once the buns are cool top with the thick water icing.

Caramelised Roasted Banana and Chocolate Loaf

A good banana loaf recipe is a winning addition to any baking repertoire, and this update of a 2013 recipe, it’s one you definitely need in your life. I have others, but this loaf is a cut above the rest with the additions of Lotus Caramelised spread (you could use peanut butter), roasted bananas and large chunks of rich, dark chocolate. By all means use nuts or dried fruit instead of the chocolate, or even just leave them out, it will still work nicely, but make sure you roast the bananas for that extra special banana flavour. That’s the key to this one.

This is a beautiful loaf just plain, but if you want a bit of pizazz then i’d recommend either a water icing drizzle, or the extra special biscoff drizzle.

Caramelised Roasted Banana and Chocolate Loaf (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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makes 1 2lb loaf

  • 100ml or 1/2 cup oat milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 125g or 1 cup plain flour
  • 85g or 3/4 cup soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp flourless oil, I use sunflower
  • 2 medium roasted bananas, mashed
  • 75g or 1/3 cup Lotus caramelised spread
  • 50 g or 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate (optional)
  • glaze: icing sugar and water, or 1 tbsp biscoff spread, 3 tbsp icing sugar and 1 tbsp water whisked til smooth

– Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 4

– Halve the bananas lengthways and roast for 20-30 minutes. Mash and cool.

– Line or grease a 2 lb loaf tin

– Add the lemon juice to the oat milk and set aside.

– Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar.

– Add the bananas, caramelised spread and oil to the oat milk mix. Stir well

– Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix until all the ingredients are well combined. Add the chopped chocolate (if using) and gently stir to make sure they’re evenly distributed.

– Fill the loaf tin with the mix.

– Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden and a knife comes out clean.

– Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

– Drizzle with a simple water icing.

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Bounty flapjacks

Well , doesn’t it truly feel like we’ve been in January for about 3 months so far? What is it about the post Christmas/New Year period where everything seems to slow down and weeks drag on forever?

It also means that we’re well back into the routine of packed lunches and working lunches, so I needed some tasty additions to pop in along with the usual sandwiches. Flapjacks are a brilliant packed lunch option – they’re slow release energy oats but also bundles of sugar to keep the spirits and energy levels up. People seem to presume that flapjacks are healthy because they’re made of oats, all I can say is that they surely have never made their own as they’d know how much sugar/syrup they contain!

We particularly like coconut flapjacks, and this recipe is a riff on that, Bounty flapjacks featuring a coconutty flapjack base and then a dark chocolate and coconut topping. These little bites of paradise will certainly help you get through the never ending January days!

Bounty Flapjacks

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

  • 200g dairy free margarine
  • 200g demerara sugar
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 400g oats (preferably not giant oats)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (preferably fleur de sel)
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 85g dark dairy-free chocolate
  •  
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Centigrade
  2. Line a 30×20 cm (approx.) baking tray with parchment
  3. Melt together the dairy free margarine, sugar, syrup and salt
  4. When the sugar has dissolved mix in the oats and coconut (keeping aside 1 tbsp of coconut for the topping)
  5. Spread into the lined baking tray
  6. Bake for 15-20 mins until golden
  7. Cool well before cutting into bars/squares.
  8. Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the bars, sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top

Tomato and Olive Focaccia

Are you getting to that post Christmas stage when you’re running out of bread and all the fresh stuff? We were in desperate need of bread for lunch today and this recipe is just perfect. It’s quick to make so can be rustled up in a morning and you can use either plain or bread flour depending on what you have in the larder.

Since our lovely (if eventful!) meal at La Pala d’Oro in Malaga (see my post on Malaga with allergies), Little S has taken to olive focaccia; and as she’s recovering from a nasty bout of Covid (gosh, it really is an unpleasant virus) and an upsetting isolation over Christmas 😢, I wanted to make her something she’d really love. It’s not surprising that she finds olive focaccia delicious, as the salty olives give a wonderful pop of savoury flavour in the soft oily bread, it’s a match made in heaven. However, Big S is also no fan of olives, in fact nothing will persuade her they’re nice. So here we have a tomato focaccia half studded with olives and half without – then everyone is happy! This loaf is perfect served with a bowl of soup on a wintery lunchtime but also makes a superior snack at anytime, especially when dipped in a good quality oil and balsamic – yummy!

If you can find Belazu tomato and balsamic paste you will notice the difference – like all their products I’ve tried, they really do make exceptional pastes, sauces etc that add depth and interest to any dish.

 Tomato and Olive Focaccia

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 1 loaf

  • 250g plain or bread flour
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste, I used Belazu tomato and balsamic paste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 150-160ml cold water
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp oil and sea salt for the top
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • A handful of olives
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast and salt.
  2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the olive oil, tomato paste and water.
  3. Bring together to form a slightly sticky dough, then knead well to make it smooth and silky. If you have a mixer with dough hooks, it would work perfectly.
  4. Drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the oil and knead well again until the oil is incorporated into the dough.
  5. Place in a bowl and cover. Leave to double in size. This will take an hour or two.
  6. Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment.
  7. Knock back the dough and press into the lined baking tray, making sure it reaches the corners. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  8. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Centigrade/210 fan/Gas mark 7
  9. Drizzle the tomato and oil mix over the dough and then dimple the top of the focaccia with your fingertip and press in the olives and scatter on some sea salt and the oregano.
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden. Brush with a little more oil to give a lovely sheen and cool on a wire rack.
  11. Best eaten fresh, but will keep for a couple of days if well wrapped in parchment. Also freezes brilliantly.

Lebkuchen

I’ve made it – 12 recipes of advent for Christmas 2021 completed just in time! At one point I didn’t think I’d get there, but somehow I have ended with plenty of recipes on hold until next Christmas! Wishing all my readers a very Happy, safe and healthy Christmas. Thank you for all the comments, views and interaction, and making it all seem worthwhile 🙂

I’ve wanted to recreate these traditional German gingerbread cookies for a while, as to me they seem extremely festive and quite exotic. I haven’t eaten many in my life so I’m hoping this is an authentic recreation to add to the festive repertoire. We found them to be how one would imagine an old-fashioned gingerbread cookie to be, which is no bad thing. Lebkuchen often have a heavy dosing of cloves but I didn’t have any in the cupboard, so I’ve opted for a touch of mixed spice for an extra Christmas vibe.

 You can ice with either the water/lemon icing that hardens to a crisp crust or with melted chocolate, or maybe both to please all tastes?

 

Lebkuchen

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

 Makes about 12

125g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

50g soft brown sugar

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp mixed spice

2 tsp cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp flavourless oil

1 tbsp golden syrup (or honey)

70ml dairy-free milk

For the glaze:

50g icing sugar

1 tbsp water or lemon juice

And/or:

50g dark dairy-free chocolate, melted

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade fan/180 degrees centigrade non-fan. Line a cookie sheet with non-stick parchment.
  2. Mix together the first eight dry ingredients. Add the oil, syrup and milk and milk to form a soft dough.
  3. Roll out to 1cm thick and use festive cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Place spaced apart on the cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.
  5. When cool, mix together the glaze and/or melt the chocolate and coat the cookies.

 

Egg-free Vegetarian Christmas Stuffing

Stuffing is an essential part of Christmas lunch but it so often contains egg, nuts or other allergens (or meat and so I avoid it!). This year we’re having Christmas at home and I wanted to make some veg stuffing to add to the meal, so I’ve been playing around with flavours and binders , and finally I’ve come up with a combination I’m happy with.

These little stuffing balls based on breadcrumbs and are flavoured with onion, garlic and herbs, then given a savoury tang from some soy sauce and a couple of sneaky mushrooms (top hint: don’t tell the kids and they’ll happily eat them!) and bound with mustard. The mustard is the genius feature, you get flavour and punch whilst also binding the ingredients together. If you can’t have mustard then I’d recommend another similar condiment such as horseradish, or perhaps a sauce or even a vegan mayo.

 

I’ve chosen to make then as small balls and only a small amount, but do multiple as desired.

 

Egg-free Vegetarian Stuffing Balls

 (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

Makes 10 mini balls

 

2 slices of fresh bread, whizzed up into breadcrumbs

1 tbsp olive oil

½ onion

5 sage leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh thyme

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 mushrooms, roughly chopped

Small handful parsley, chopped

½ tsp soy sauce

1 and ½ tsps. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

 

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion until soft (5-10 minutes), stir in the mushrooms, sage, thyme and garlic and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are well cooked. Taste, season and cool.
  2. In a food processor, blend together the breadcrumbs with the fried onion and herb mix. Add the parsley and blend again. Add the soy sauce and mustard and pulse until it comes together. You want to keep some texture.
  3. Form into small balls and place in a baking dish that has been drizzled with oil. Cover the dish with foil.
  4. Bake at 180 degrees centigrade with foil on, then remove the foil and cook for another 5-10 minutes, depending on how crunchy you’d like them, These also freeze brilliantly once cooked. Just heat from frozen for 10-15 minutes, covered in foil.

Samosa Santa’s Sacks

I used to make Santa’s sacks for the girls every year in the run up to Christmas. Back when they were much younger with less sophisticated taste buds I made them filled with mashed potato and sweetcorn to represent the gold coins/toys in Santa’s sack. Every year they’d eagerly await the roll out of Christmas cooking with iced gingerbread, yule log and Santa’s sacks all top of the wish list!

 Whilst they still get the same excitement from the introduction of Christmas foods, this year I’ve decided to make Santa’s sacks more flavourful, and worthy of starter position in our Christmas lunch. We love homemade samosas, so I’ve filled the little parcels with a gorgeous curried pea and potato mix and I am going to serve them with a swoosh of mango chutney. If you don’t want to make sacks the filling makes a fabulous traditional samosas which can be baked and then frozen to reheat at a later date.

Another great starter for Christmas day are my cauliflower cocktails (a.k.a. veggie prawn cocktails), especially if you like a slightly retro vibe! What starters are you having on the big day?

Samosa Santa’s Sacks

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

Makes about 15-20

2 baking potatoes

1 tbsp oil

1 onion, finely shopped

1 tsp yellow mustard seeds

3cm ginger, finely chopped or grated

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp garam masala

¼ tsp chilli powder (optional)

½ tsp amchoor (or use 1 tsp lemon juice)

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp water

1 cup cooked peas

2 tbsp dairy-free margarine, melted

1 pack filo pastry

 see the photos below for the processes…

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Centigrade non fan/180 degrees fan. Bake the two potatoes for an hour or so until totally cooked through.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions and mustard seeds until starting to turn golden. Add the ginger and continue to sauté. 
  3. Add all the spices and fry for a couple of minutes, then add the water and stir, turn off the heat.
  4. Scoop the potato out of the jackets and roughly mash. Stir in the onion mix and add the cooked peas. Mix well and taste, adding more salt and/or lemon juice as required
  5. Cut the filo into squares about 15cm squared. Place one sheet on the work surface, brush with the margarine, place another square onto at an angle so it looks vaguely star shaped. Brush with the margarine.
  6. Place 1 tbsp of filling in the centre of the filo star, bring up the edges and pinch together to form a parcel shape. Transfer to a baking sheet and brush with more melted margarine. Repeat until all the filling has been used up.
  7. Either chill at this point and cook later. Or, bake for 15 minutes until golden and crisp. Tie a chive around the neck of the sack if you wish and then serve with condiments of choice.

Homemade Twiglets

You’ve gotta love Twiglets! Those gnarly little marmite flavoured sticks that are the perfect accompaniment to pre-dinner drinks. Probably a very British snack (they are flavoured with divisive marmite after all), I reckon anyone would have a hard time not enjoying these little savoury sticks.

Problem is they’re not safe for us, as they may contain milk, eggs and sesame. We’ve always bemoaned this as Big S loves marmite and they would have been the perfect non crisp snack for her. I just know she would love Twiglets.

So, I started thinking, could I recreate Twiglets just in time for Christmas? I wasn’t sure, but I did some research and came across a few recipes online. Good start, but these didn’t ring true to me – Twiglets are essentially very crunchy so simply baking a dough as these recipes opted for was not going to work, in my opinion. Then my mind turned to the little crunchy tomato taralli biscuits I made last year. They were super crunchy and moreish so maybe the same technique would work? Wow, it really did work! By adding the boiling stage before baking you get wonderfully crunchy little sticks that keep well and have just the right Twiglet crunch! It is essential to use the wholemeal flour as Twiglets have a wheaty taste as well as the marmite flavour. Even D, who is a true Twiglet expert said these little marmite sticks are incredibly authentic and delicious 🙂

It may be a faff to make your own Twiglets, but if you’ve missed them as much as us, it’s well worth the extra effort

Homemade Twiglets

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegan and vegetarian)

makes about 80

125g wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp salt

40ml water

40ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp marmite

to glaze: 1 tsp marmite mixed with 1 tsp dairy-free milk, flaky salt crystals

  1. Stir in the salt into the flour. Add the marmite, olive oil and water and bring together to a soft dough.
  2. Knead until silky and smooth.
  3. Wrap and rest in the fridge for at least an hour
  4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade Fan, 190 degrees non-fan
  5. Grab small grape sized pieces of the dough and then roll into half cm wide sausages. Cut into stick lengths and try and make them uneven and gnarly. Place on the lined baking tray while you shape the rest.Bring a pan of water to the boil. Drop in the Twiglets, ten or so at a time and boil until the rise to the surface. This will take a minute or two.
  6. Place back on the lined baking sheet.
  7. Brush with the glaze and sprinkle with the salt. 
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and crispy. 
  9. Cool on wire rack. These will get more crunchy as they cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week (if they last that long!)

Spiced apple galette

This is the perfect last minute pudding for when you have nothing planned or unexpected guests. it’s maybe the easiest and prettiest tart you could make, and I guarantee everyone will be impressed by your fine pastry skills!

I’m not a particular fan of apple pie, but this galette is a class above and has a delicate refined taste.

I’ve added cinnamon and the biscoff spread for a Christmas vibe, but feel free to mix it up. Apples straight onto the pastry is good, as is a layer of apricot jam.

Spiced Apple Galette

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 1 tart, which serves 4-6

  • 1 pack of puff pastry, shop bought is fine as long as its definitely dairy-free
  • 10g dairy-free margarine, melted
  • 1-2 crisp eating apples, I used Jazz apples
  • 2 tbsp Biscoff spread
  • 2 tbsps caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Icing sugar, to sprinkle
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 6
  2. Roll out the pastry to 1/2 cm thick, then score round a dinner plate to make a perfect circle.
  3. Transfer to an un-greased baking sheet.
  4. Score a circular ring round the pastry, 1cm from the edge. Spread the Biscoff spread over the centre
  5. Quarter and core the apples (no need to peel unless you really want to), cut into very thin slices.
  6. Decoratively arrange the slices onto the pastry circle.
  7. Brush the pastry and apples with the melted margarine.
  8. Generously and evenly sprinkle the caster sugar and cinnamon over the top of the tart.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden on top and the pastry is cooked through.
  10. Dust the top with icing sugar. At this point you can blow torch the icing sugar to give an extra cramaleized top, but it’s fine if you want to miss out that extra step.
  11. Serve warm or at room temperature with dairy-free ice cream, custard or pouring dairy-free cream.