PERFECT FOR EASTER, or any special occasion, these three chocolate desserts by food editor TRISH DESEINE are sure to impress …
How do you take your chocolate? Are you an intellectual nibbler, seeking out the rare and obscure, simultaneously challenging your brain and your palate to find the slope in the corner of the plantation on the island off the tiny sub-tropical country on which your bar’s motherbean was birthed? Or perhaps you are more of an epicurean traveller; determinedly, selfishly selective about your choccy delights? For you, enjoying your chocolate fix is a holistic experience linked to place as much as taste. You want your churros crispy, burny-fresh from the oil, dusted in sugar and ready to dip in thick hot chocolate in a low, wide cup; but only in San Sebastian. Your towering, half-kilo slice of cloying cheesecake must be delivered from the hands of a grumpy waitress in a loud New York deli and if your milk chocolate and passion fruit macaron is not a Pierre Hermé Mogador served on the terrasse of his new sensorial palace on the Champs Elysées. “Non merci, ce n’est pas la peine.”
You might also have joined the ever growing ranks of PEACE (Politically and Ethically Aware Chocolate Eaters). They are easily spotted, looking puzzled in front of the chocolate section, earnestly Googling the blurb on wrappers and saying things like: “Ok ok, this one’s vegan but what if the almond milk isn’t organic?” In Ireland, just like the rest of the world, we now have nebulously-named “Irish artisan chocolatiers”, with their bags of low-grade Belgian Callebaut just out of sight in the back of the van, at pretty much every tourist spot.
Then there are the bean-to-bar evangelists, the steampunk trainspotters of chocolate love, who are instead obsessed not only with the origins of the bean, but also with every detail of chocolate production mechanics. Forget any virtual bathing in Willy Wonka’s chocolate river, you’ll need to pass a Chem Eng PhD level questionnaire before the smallest square can satisfactorily pass your unworthy lips.
At the other end of the spectrum are the emo-guzzlers, those who worship at the altar of sugary, creamy mouthfeel, who don’t consume chocolate as much as “use” it. Their chocolate intake can embrace all sorts of chocolate-laced or flavoured pastry, biscuit, bar or crumb, or melded with any other compatible substance. These include nuts, fruit, caramel bits, marshmallows and, cannibalistically, any type of crushed or miniaturised chocolate candy. In Northern Ireland, these practices have been elevated to cult level in the chocolate “traybake”, now available in every size from gigantic Rice Krispie slabs at the local café to gourmet bite form on your four-star Belfast hotel welcome plate. I bet you a Mars bar that right now, somewhere in Northern Ireland, there’s a deconstructed chocolate traybake lurking on a ten-course tasting menu.
In the end, the most wonderful thing about chocolate is how accessible and egalitarian it is. In Ireland, our home grown bean-to-bar producers like Wilkies, Hazel Mountain Chocolates and The Proper Chocolate Company are growing in number and the quality of their produce improving. Meanwhile, in Ballymena, we’re only a Wispa away from a Fairtrade, dairy, gluten, nut, soy and free, single origin, bean-to-bar, artisan traybake. I’ll have mine with hot chocolate sauce and sprinkles!
Chocolate Malt Cake
A nod to the regressive taste of Maltesers and an easy way to decorate a cake when your Bake Off skills are non-existent. (Like mine)
15 minutes preparation
25 minutes cooking
1 hour resting
10 minutes decoration
For the cake:
250g unsalted butter, softened
200 self raising flour
75g unsweetened cocoa powder
5 medium eggs at room temperature
For the icing:
350g salted butter (or half unsalted and half salted if you prefer)
250g icing sugar
For the decoration:
1 large packet of Maltesers
Put all the cake ingredients into the bowl of the mixer and beat for a minute or two until the batter is smooth and even.
Scoop the batter into two buttered cake tins, 18 or 20 cm.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are firm to the touch and a knife or skewer comes out clean.
Take them out of the oven, let them cool a few minutes then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Put all the icing ingredients into the bowl of your mixer and beat until the icing is soft and fluffy.
With a spatula, cover the top of one cake with icing, set the other cake on top and then cover the entire surface.
Press the Maltesers and chocolate buttons into the icing, leave to rest and harden slightly in the icing before serving.
Gluten free chocolate, almond and olive oil cake
I’m using the term “gluten free” here in the same opportunist way you see it on crisp packets. In other words, it’s an accident of the ingredients, not a deliberate attempt at (dubious) virtue. You can use wheat flour instead of ground almonds, and either way, it’s a lovely cake to have in your repertoire.
15 minutes preparation
25 minutes cooking
150g good quality dark chocolate
60ml olive oil, not too strongly flavoured
75g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
Fine sea salt or fleur de sel
Break the chocolate into pieces in a mixing bowl then melt it gently in the microwave
or over a bain-marie. Add the olive oil and mix well.
In another bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the ground almonds. Then pour this into the chocolate mixture and blend the two together.
Oil or butter a 20cm round cake tin and pour in the batter.
Bake for 25 minutes or so, the centre of the cake should stay soft. Test it at the sides with a skewer or a knife, and make sure the edges don’t burn.
Take it out of the oven and let it cool slightly before unmoulding. Sprinkle with a little sea salt – just a touch! – before serving.
No Bake Fig, Date and Pecan Traybake
Here’s an interesting way of combining healthy ingredients with chocolate; the finished traybakes can be cut large or small!
Makes around 30 small squares
15 minutes preparation
1 hour refrigeration
For the base:
300g digestive biscuits
7 or 8 dried figs
5 or 6 dates, Medjool if possible
120g pecan nuts, chopped roughly
75g butter, melted
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
For the ganache:
200ml whipping or double cream
350g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
Make the base. Crush the biscuits, add the cocoa powder, fruits and nuts. Pour the melted butter in and mix well then press this mixture into a tin or silicone mould roughly 20 x 28 cm. (The traybakes should be about 2 cm high.)
Put the tin in the fridge while you make the ganache.
Heat the cream until it is almost at boiling point. Let it cool just a minute then pour it over the chocolate and coffee. Leave to rest a few minutes then stir the chocolate and cream together until you have a smooth and glossy ganache.
Pour the ganache over the biscuit base. Let it all cool and harden for around an hour in the fridge before cutting into squares and serving.
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