Matchmakers

I was thinking about Christmas confectionery when I was making the After Eight Bars, and it made me think of the sorts of gifts my mum, as a teacher, received from her pupils. Suddenly my mind was filled with thoughts of Matchmakers, Terry’s chocolate oranges and quality street. Ohh, i did like matchmakers. I’ve not thought about those crunchy chocolate sticks enhanced with flavoured sugar crystals for years, do they even still exist? Either way that thought was the inspiration I needed, I had to recreate Matchmakers. I thought they’d be tricky but actually they’re the easiest homemade chocolate recreation I’ve ever made. Basically tempered chocolate with added flavoured sugar crystals and then cooled quickly to get the right set/crunch. Even though I say it myself, these are a resounding success. I’m definitely going to make them often 🙂

Feel free to change the flavour, all you need is to sub the peppermint essence for orange, coffee, strawberry or caramel and you can recreate your favourite matchmaker flavour. I’d say this recipe makes about 16-20 sticks.

Matchmakers

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

2 tbsp Demerara sugar or course grained granulated sugar

1/2-1 tsp essence

85g dark dairy-free chocolate (i like Nomo)

  1. Add the essence to the sugar, stir well and leave to dry out for 10 or so minutes. I’d advise tasting the sugar once the essence is added, as you may want more depending on flavour.
  2. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment and place in the fridge, or better still, the freezer to chill.
  3. Melt the chocolate, following these directions. Let it cool so the sugar doesn’t melt.
  4. Stir in the sugar. Transfer to a piping bag, snip off the very tip and pipe long straight lines on the chilled and lined baking sheet. Immediately place in the fridge to set. They’ll be ready after 30 minutes or so.
  5. I’d recommend keeping these in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them.

Chocolate and Candy Cane Biscuits

I’ve seen a lot of tempting bakes using candy canes this winter. There’s something about the eye catching red and white stripes that really sand out and make these bakes look all the more tempting.

I initially had visions of rolling chocolate truffles in crushed up candy canes but sadly the canes were a bit too soft and sticky once crushed and it didn’t work out. Then this idea popped into my mind – dark, cocoa rich cookies dipped in snowy white chocolate and then sprinkled with the crushed up candy canes. It turns out that it was a great idea – the flavours really work – bitter, sweet, smooth with crunchy bits that have a hint of peppermint. A bit like an after eight mint in cookie form! These could now be one of my favourite festive after dinner treats. 

For those who are less keen on a minty flavour profile, then these work just as well as simple white chocolate dipped chocolate cookies and decorated with some pretty sprinkles.

Chocolate and Candy Cane Biscuits

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

 

makes 15-20

  • 115g or 1 cup of plain flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsps cornflour
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of baking powder
  • 55g or 1/4 cup hard vegetable fat 
  • 55g or 1/4 cup dairy-free margarine 
  • 100g or 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp dairy-free milk
  • 30g dairy-free white chocolate
  • 1-2 candy canes, crushed and/or Christmas themed decorations
  1.  Sift together the flour, cocoa, cornflour, salt and baking powder.
  2. In another bowl whisk together the fat, margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the milk and whisk again.
  3. Add the flour mix and carefully combine
  4. Roll out and cut out shapes with cookie cutters, small rectangles work well.
  5. Place on a lined baking sheet and bake at 180 degrees for 10 minutes
  6. Cool on the sheet before moving to a wire rack.
  7. Melt the white chocolate over a bain-marie and half dip each cookie into the melted chocolate
  8. Place back onto the lined baking sheet, sprinkle with decorations or crushed up candy canes and leave to set

Brownies with a Biscoff Swirl

Brownies are such a popular and useful sweet treat. They work equally well as a cake, snack or a pudding; we particularly like a warmed brownie with ice cream and caramel or magic chocolate sauce – mmmmm pure pudding heaven. Since it was chocolate week on the Bake Off and brownies were one of the challenges I had to post a brownie recipe. In the show the contestants went for decorated brownies which mainly ended up too sweet and sickly. In my opinion a brownie doesn’t feed much adornment – instead it’s all about the chocolate flavour.

However, this version with a subtle Biscoff swirl manages to look gorgeous and also enhance the flavour without overpowering the chocolate. Since these brownies are extra rich and decadent with plenty of melted chocolate stirred in, the sweet Biscoff swirl works a treat, adding a smooth sweetness than plays well against the chocolate. The resulting brownies are luxurious, intensely chocolatey with a super Biscoff swirl, what could be better?

Brownies with a Biscoff Swirl

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

4 tbsp cocoa powder

150g self-raising flour

110g caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

5 tbsp flavourless oil, I use sunflower

250ml dairy-free milk

100g dairy-free chocolate, melted

4 tbsp Biscoff spread

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Line a brownie tin with parchment
  2. In a bowl, mix together the cocoa, self-raising flour, caster sugar and salt.
  3. Pour in the oil, milk and vanilla and mix to form a smooth batter
  4. Stir in the melted chocolate (this will make the batter much stiffer)
  5. Transfer to the lined brownie tin and level off.
  6. warm the Biscoff spread so it becomes runnier, dollop over the brownie batter and using the handle of a wooden spoon swirl it though
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes. It should be a bit gooey looking in the middle. Cool fully in the tin before cutting into portions.

Homemade Lindor style truffle filled chocolates – dairy-free

I think lockdown is a time for looking after yourself and others, for putting well-being and mental and physical health at the top of the agenda. What could be better a promoting a sense of feeling good than a luxury homemade chocolate to raise the spirits and feed the soul.

We decided on these Lindor style chocolate because i’d been given some and both girls were “ooh they look nice, I wish we could eat them’. Well these home-made versions are almost spot on – the filling is maybe a little softer than the originals, and the coating is darker but that’s my preference because then i can get a lovely shiny chocolate!

Enjoy, look after yourself and your tastebuds and stay safe and well x

Homemade Dairy-free Lindor Chocolates

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

makes about 20

for the shells:

150g dairy-free chocolate

for the truffle centres:

100g dairy-free chocolate, I used a creamy version

2 tbsps dairy-free mik

2 tbsps golden syrup

pinch of salt

The process:

  1. First make the truffles: Melt all the truffle ingredients in a microwave or over a bain-marie. Stir until smooth. Place bowl in the fridge for the ganache to fully set.
  2. Next start making the shells: first temper the chocolate. In a microwave or over a Bain Marie, only just melt the chocolate, then stir until all the pieces are melted. You need to bring it down to degrees either by stirring in the bowl until the temp had reduced or pouring out onto a cold work top ( I have a marble board which is perfect for the job) and move it around with a palette knife until it has cooled and has turned beautifully shiny.
  3. Pour a blob of chocolate into each mould and evenly coat all the sides; a small brand new paint brush may help. Leave to set for a few minutes and then paint on another layer if it looks thin or has any gaps. Place in a cool spot to firm up.
  4. One the truffle mix is firm enough to spoon, fill each mould and then seal with a layer of melted chocolate.
  5. Leave to set and then unfold. We find it best to keep them in the fridge 🙂

Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns

This time of year is just wrong without Hot Cross Buns. I eagerly await the criss crossed beauties appearing in the shops, and very year there’s a new variety to tempt and inspire. These days I wouldn’t buy a Hot Cross bun as I’ve not found any safe ones (I know vegan versions exist but they’re generally not free-from enough for us) and so come March I make batch after batch of buns. I’d really recommend giving it a go, they’re not hard to make and the satisfaction of a house filled with a spicy aroma and perfect buns appearing from the oven is second to none!

I’ve made many friendly hot cross buns and they’ve become a firm favourite, so much so that Little S has them for breakfast if she gets the chance. For some reason my children have an aversion to dried fruit, so I concocted this variation that appeals more to them.

The addition of chopped chocolate may be slightly unconventional, but the resulting buns are delightfully aromatic and tasty with the bonus prize of the chocolate going oozy and gooey when the buns are toasted. The added bonus is that they freeze beautifully. Simply defrost and then warm in an oven or toaster, and enjoy perfect hot cross buns anytime 🙂

Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns

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

 

makes 9-12

500g strong bread flour

1 tbsp dried yeast

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 or 2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

500ml warm dairy-free milk

2 tbsps melted dairy-free margarine

100g dairy-free chocolate, chopped

for the crosses:

2 tbsp flour

3 tbsp water

for the glaze:

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp water

  1.  In a large bowl mix together the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and spices. Make a well in the centre and pour in the dairy-free milk and dairy-free margarine, bring together to form a dough (adding more flour if too wet, or more liquid if too dry)
  2. Knead for about 5 mins until the dough is smooth
  3. Place in a bowl and cover, leave in a warm place to double in size
  4. Knock back, knead again and then form into 9-12 even sized balls. Place well spaced on a baking sheet lined with grease proof paper
  5. Leave to rise again for 10-20 minutes
  6. Mix together the water and flour to make a paste and pipe onto the top of the buns in crosses
  7. Bake at 190 degrees/Gas Mark 5 for 20 minutes until risen and the buns sound hollow
  8. Make the glaze by dissolving the sugar in the water and boiling briefly. Brush over the hot buns.
  9. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
  10. These buns are best kept loosely covered or the glaze will make them go a bit soggy.

 

Rocky Road Bars

Do you ever have baked goods emergencies? Sudden needs/requests for a sweet treat when time is pressing? They happen to me all the time! Is it just me??

Take one of these scenarios: there’s a last minute email that it’s a class-mates birthday and ‘can you just provide a safe alternative’; you decide to go on a picnic and the snack section of the larder is totally bare but you know that energy will be required to last the day; or it’s bedtime and they suddenly remember it’s cake day the next day. Well other mums I come across laugh about last minute trips to the corner shop or petrol station for something to fit the brief. That’s not really an option for us, unless I wanted to send in a bag of sweets, so, on goes the oven and the baking begins. Normally just when I’m feeling more like settling down with a nice chilled glass of wine 😉

The perfect option is a non-baked treat, one that can be whipped up with store cupboard ingredients, left to set in the fridge and then cut into squares. So coming up in the next week are a couple of absolutely blinding no- bake recipes. These generally seem to be some of the most popular things I make, so I’m guessing they’re pretty yummy. I’d advise to keep these recipes close to hand, for the last minute emergencies, and you can rock up with some wow goodies which are much finer that the petrol station offerings, the friendly option will certainly be the most popular!

First up is rocky road, certainly a childhood favourite for many, which never fails to please. My version has Rice Krispies as well as crushed up Bourbon biscuits for added crunch, mini marshmallows (use veggie or conventional whichever are your preference) for soft squidgy pillows and honeycomb pieces for little luxurious sweet nuggets to contrast with the rich dark chocolate.  These are little bites of pure indulgence – nothing healthy here I’m afraid, just little sweet delights!

Rocky Road Bars 

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

makes 20 or so

300g dairy-free dark chocolate, roughly chopped

120g dairy-free margarine

50g golden syrup

200g chocolate biscuits, roughly crushed (I used Tesco Bourbon biscuits that are dairy, egg and nut-free)

50g Rice Krispies

50g mini vegetarian marshmallows (or use normal if you’re not vegetarian/vegan)

50g honeycomb pieces

  1. Line a rectangular  brownie tin with non-stick parchment
  2. Melt together the chocolate, margarine and syrup, either in a microwave or over a bain marie
  3. Stir in the crushed biscuits, Rice Krispies, honeycomb and marshmallows.
  4. Evenly spread into the tin and press down.
  5. [Optional] scatter over some sprinkles for an extra dose of fun
  6. Leave to set in the fridge.
  7. Dust with icing sugar and cut into bars.

Gooey Chocolate Fudge Cake

Well, the summer and holidays seem well and truly over – it’s dark in the mornings and evenings and the leaves are turning golden with a vengeance. Time for thoughts to turn to comfort and cosy warming dishes to keep the spirits up, I think.

Chocolate fudge cake which is rich and gooey with a sticky chocolate glaze, surely that’s going to lift our spirits? This is a fabulous quick but indulgent recipe, perfect for an after-school treat which will be much needed in this first full week back. My, we’re all going to be tired come this Friday if this weekend was anything to go by!

This cake which is perfect as either a teatime treat or a wicked pudding with ice cream is a family favourite. It is a very simple recipe to make, and I’ve included the ingredients in grams and tablespoons so the younger members of the family can easily participate in making this moreish cake and still result in that all important wow factor. It is certainly gooey enough for the most diehard chocoholic – and who can resist a slice of gooey chocolate fudge cake…. I know I can’t.

Gooey Chocolate Fudge Cake 

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

 

makes a 2 lb loaf

9 tbsps dairy-free milk

1.5 tsps bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp vanilla essence

200g self-raising flour

4 tbsps cocoa powder

pinch of salt

4 tbsps granulated sugar

4 tbsps soft brown sugar

50g dairy-free margarine

4 tbsps golden syrup

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 Degrees Centigrade conventional oven/Gas mark 5
  2. Line a 2lb loaf tin (or 2 1lb tins, or half the mixture to make 1 1lb cake)
  3. Combine the dairy-free milk, bicarb and vanilla and set aside.
  4. Cream together the dairy-free spread and sugar. Mix in the syrup.
  5. Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt.
  6. Alternating between the dry ingredients and the soya milk mix, add too the creamed spread. When fully combined and smooth, fill the loaf tin.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. Cool in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack.

Chocolate Fudge Icing 

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

 

make enough to cover 1 loaf

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

2 tbsp dairy-free milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

  1. Melt together the dairy-free margarine, milk, cocoa and sugar.
  2. Bring to a rolling boil and bubble furiously for a minute or two, stirring all the time.
  3. Cool, stirring now and then. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. Once cool, spread over the top of your cake.

Strawberry Creams

One thing Little S dreams of but has never been able to indulge in is a box of chocolates. A pretty box filled with an array of beautiful chocolates with delicious fillings… well, who wouldn’t want such a thing? So I’m on a mission to make one for her birthday as a little surprise (Shhhh!)

We have a great fondness for Choices caramels, but they’re all one flavour which isn’t quite the same as the surprise and choice you get from a selection. I want to recreate the thrill of looking at the mini chocolate menu and choosing your favourite!

So these strawberry creams are the first in a series of filled chocolates and one of my very favourites. In my opinion the flavours of dark chocolate and berrry flavoured fondant are a match made in heaven. They’re also as simple as can be – as long as you have a chocolate mould and some patience you too can make shop worthy chocolates.

The fondant filling is simple: icing sugar (I used Sugar and Crumbs flavoured icing sugar as it’s totally safe and adds an extra oomph of flavour) mixed with a fresh strawberry purée, what could be easier!

Strawberry Creams

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

1 tbsp fresh strawberry puree (or maybe a little more)

1 cup icing sugar

100g dairy-free dark chocolate

  1. Melt the chocolate following the instructions here. It needs to be tempered to get a lovely shiny finish.
  2. Coat the moulds with the about 3/4s of the chocolate. Leave to set.
  3. Meanwhile make the strawberry fondant filling. It needs to be like very thick icing, so start with 1 tbsp of puree and add more if necessary.
  4. Pour the fondant into the set chocolate moulds.
  5. Cover with the remaining chocolate and leave to set.
  6. Try not to eat too many at once 😉

 

Dairy-free MilkyWay Chocolate Bars

Chocolate – it’s ubiquitous isn’t it? Everywhere you go there are tempting, brightly packaged chocolate treats enticing you to buy them… at the check out in most shops. Chocolate really must be the sweet treat of choice for most of the population…. and, I’m certainly a big fan.

The desirability of chocolate seems to start very young, even tiny tots are regularly seen clutching some child targeted chocolate bar, perhaps with the rest smeared over their face. Those chocolate wrappers are so bright and tempting.

Not only that, but any ‘family trail’ will have a chocolate treat at the end, most school prizes seem to be bars of chocolate, any seasonal date in the calendar has its own dedicated chocolate (easter, Christmas etc). So it’s everywhere. So it’s bit of a disappointment that you can’t enjoy the same sweetly seductive chocolate bars as your friends. It’s certainly a good way to feel different from your peers. I know it’s something Little s is feeling keenly at the moment, she often wonders what it would be like to pop into any old shop and scoop up an exciting and delicious chocolate bar. She sees people eating whatever bar it is and comments on how nice it looks.

Dairy-free chocolate bars are certainly improving and becoming more ‘fun’ looking, but often those vegan equivalents of well known brands ‘may contain milk’ – not helpful if you avoid ‘may contains’. I know the ‘may contain’ label is  a contentious issue (thanks again to that no-longer twitter follower who decided to rant at me about how may contains means nothing and I what did I know!) but we have always been advised to avoid may contains due to the risk they may pose. So once you’ve removed many of the exciting options you’re left with a meagre selection of fairly serious-looking bars which are only available in specialist shops – not quite like the chocolate display in the corner shop!

Armed with my trusty chocolate bar moulds I’ve experimented with a few bars and had some successes I’m rather proud of. I’m looking at you, gorgeous shiny KitKats but certainly there have been many experiments which I haven’t got quite right. Lately I’ve been experimenting with soft nougat and was intending to make a homemade Double Decker bar but my moulds are far too shallow for the double layer. So I ditched the crispy bottom layer (shame really because it tasted pretty nice) and ended up with a homemade MilkyWay. In the UK a MilkyWay is a soft nougat enrobed in chocolate, without the addition of caramel that the US version has. When I was growing up MilkyWays were particularly targeted towards children, so just the right kind of chocolate for me to recreate for the girls 🙂

The nougat isn’t hard to make but you will require a sugar thermometer for accurate temperature reading, and a silicone chocolate mould will certainly help to give the proper bar effect. My nougat is maybe a little softer than commercial nougat but keeping them in the fridge or even the freezer irons out that problem. It’s another recipe where I’ve used ‘aquafaba’ to good effect – something the world seems to have heard of now.

Dairy-free MilkyWay Bars

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

 

Makes 8-10

80ml/1/3 cup water

2/3 cup/80g liquid glucose

175g/1 cup caster sugar

50ml/just under 3 tbsp aquafaba

pinch of cream of tartar

40g dairy-free chocolate melted (optional)

for the coating:

100g dairy-free chocolate melted and tempered

  1. Line a baking tray (approx 30×20 cm) with foil and oil
  2. Place the sugar, water and glucose in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer until it reaches 116 degrees Centigrade or 240 degrees Fahrenheit
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the aquafaba and the cream of tartar until you have peaks and lots of volume like a meringue mix.
  4. Also, melt the chocolate
  5. Once the sugar mixture has reached the correct temperature, slowly incorporate into the meringue mix. I poured it into my running KitchenAid using the paddle attachment. Stir in the melted chocolate if using.
  6. Pour into the greased baking tray and place in the fridge to set.
  7. Then melt and temper the chocolate (instructions here)
  8. Using three quarters of the chocolate, coat the moulds with the chocolate and leave to set
  9. Cut the nougat into batons – this is tricky and I’d recommend a quick freeze beforehand to make it easier – and place inside the chocolate coated moulds.
  10. Cover with the remaining chocolate and leave to set.
  11. Ideally keep in the fridge (or freezer of you are after a frozen treat) until ready to eat.

 

Homemade Crunchie Bars – dairy-free

 

Thank Crunchie it’s (almost) Friday!

Whilst the range of dairy-free chocolate is getting better all the time, it pales in comparison to the ‘regular’ chocolate selection in any shop. So regular blog followers will know that every now and then I try to experiment with an everyday and iconic bar to enable the girls to get a taste of what their friends eat.

The most popular so far have been my dairy-free KitKats and Creme Eggs – I was pretty pleased with both of those (excuse the boast). This time I thought I’d experiment with Crunchie bars, yet another ‘classic’ and a childhood favourite.

Homeycomb in itself is pretty easy to make, and it’s lots of fun watching the caramel turn into a bubbling volcano of sugary foam ( but do be extremely careful as honeycomb is burning hot).

It’s also very easy to make uneven shards of honeycomb but I wondered how to make it into even bars like real crunchies. The answer is to pour the honeycomb into oiled silicone chocolate bar moulds and once set you have the most perfect honeycomb bars. Not that it makes any difference to the taste but as my goal is to recreate the original as best I can, it seems important.

I know original Crunchies are coated in milk chocolate but the dark chocolate contrasts really well with the ever-so-sweet honeycomb and actually makes a far better bar. Have fun dipping the honeycomb into the chocolate… messy but satisfying.

Dairy-free Homemade Crunchie Bars

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, can be soya-free, can be gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 12 bars

200g caster sugar

 4 tbsp golden syrup

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g chocolate, melted

  1. Oil the chocolate moulds, or a baking tray with sides.
  2. Gently melt together the sugar and syrup (in a high sided saucepan which has plenty of spare space) until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to a bubble and simmer until it turns lightly golden (this won’t take long).
  3. Remove from the heat and pour in the bicarbonate of soda, stir briefly to ensure the whole thing is foaming.
  4. Pour into the moulds or onto the baking tray. Leave to set.
  5. Un-mould or break into shards.
  6. Melt the chocolate and dip the bars/shards to totally cover.