gooey chocolate stack

Do you ever flip open a cookbook and vow to yourself that one day you're going to make a particular recipe that catches your eye? I did that about eight years ago when I first received Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess! The recipe for Gooey Chocolate Stack had me at the name and by the time I had seen the photo with its triple layers of chocolate meringue and creme patissiere I knew that one day I would have to make it. Well my friends that time has come and let me tell you it did not disappoint!

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be made in two parts. In fact, I made the three meringue layers late one evening after I had put the kids to bed and made the chocolate creme patissiere the next day.

Gooey Chocolate Stack (Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

For the meringue discs:

6 large egg white

300 grams Golden castor sugar (I used white granulated sugar)

3 tablespoon(s) cocoa powder

1 teaspoon(s) Red wine vinegar

 

For the creme patissiere:

6 large Egg yolks

100 grams Golden castor sugar  (again, I used white granulated sugar)

2 tablespoon(s) cocoa powder

2 tablespoon(s) Plain flour

300 ml Full fat milk

300 ml double cream

100 grams dark chocolate melted

1 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract

20 grams Pistachio nuts chopped

Method:

Preheat the oven to 140ºC/280F

Line the baking sheets with parchment and draw a 20cm circle on each one. 

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, beating in well after each addition. Go slowly here. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar and then fold in gently but firmly.

Divide the dusky meringue between the 3 circles, spreading evenly. 

Cook for 1 hour, then turn off the oven, leaving the meringues in until cool.  And as long as you keep them airtight, with sheets of baking parchment in between, you can do these a good week or so in advance.

Now for the creme patissiere: beat the egg yolks and sugar together, then add the cocoa and flour, whisking well. Warm the milk and cream in a saucepan, then, whisking, pour this onto the eggs and sugar before pouring everything back into the saucepan on the heat and, stirring constantly, bring it to the boil. When the mixture has thickened, take it off the heat and stir in the melted chocolate and vanilla.

Let it cool now, but avoid putting it into the fridge as it will become too solid. You can stop it forming a skin either by covering with buttered baking parchment or greaseproof paper or by sieving a layer of icing sugar over. 

To assemble the cake, place one of the meringue discs on a flat plate spread with a third of the chocolate cream, then carry on layering. Scatter over the chopped pistachios. 

The end result as you can see is a rather scrumptious looking chocolate mass. It's sort of like eating sweet, chewy marshmallows dipped in rich dark chocolate pudding.

My one caveat is assemble this dessert right before you want to eat it since the creme patissiere eventually starts to weigh down the meringue crushing its delicate layers. Otherwise its relatively simple and definitely worth a try!

 

the best - banana bread

Banana bread falls into the category of comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or meatloaf with mashed potatoes. It's one of those dishes that fills your home with sweet smells and has everyone waiting in anticipation for it come out of the oven. Smothered with butter still warm it's one of life's small pleasures. It's also super easy to make. As the introduction to this recipe states if you've never baked before this is the perfect recipe to start with. My go-to recipe comes from Nigella Lawson, of course.  It's easily adaptable which I like. You can add nuts, raisins, coconut or chocolate to this recipe. (I always add chocolate!). I've also gotten into  the habit of making two loaves every time I make this so I have one to eat right away and another one in the freezer. It takes maybe an extra five minutes of prep time. And if you have  a helper like I do the stirring time is reduced by half!

You'll notice that my batters look a little different. To one I added chopped dark chocolate and golden raisins and to the other I added chocolate chips I had left over.

Banana Bread (adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

Ingredients:

  • 100g sultanas
  • 75ml bourbon or dark rum
  • 175g all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 150g sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 small, very ripe bananas (about 300g weighed without skin), mashed
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin, buttered and floured or with a paper insert

Method:

Serves: Makes 8-10 slices
  1. Put the sultanas and rum or bourbon in a smallish saucepan and bring to the boil.
  2. Remove from the heat, cover and leave for an hour if you can, or until the sultanas have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain.
  3. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/gas mark 3/330 F and get started on the rest. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium-sized bowl and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Then, with your wooden spoon, stir in the walnuts, drained sultanas and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. Scrape into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1-11/4 hours. When it's ready, an inserted toothpick or fine skewer should come out cleanish. Leave in the tin on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced, as you prefer.

Adaptations:

1. If I don't have bourbon or rum for the sultanas I use water. I sometimes omit the raisins all together.

2. For a chocolate version, substitute 25 g of the flour for cocoa powder and add 100g of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips. Or just add in the chocolate and skip the cocoa.

3. Any nut can be substituted for the walnuts. Or try adding coconut for another variation.

Of course, the best way to eat this is hot out of the oven with a salty butter just slathered on. I always hope a loaf will get me through the week but by Tuesday night the whole thing is usually gone.

 

around the house

Here are just a few things that have been happening around The Marion House lately. Last weekend, I found myself in Ikea shopping for a laundry basket and some storage boxes and instead came home with two Enje blinds for our kitchen windows. I've bought these blinds before, for the same windows in fact, but returned them when they didn't fit. If you're like me and live in an old house you probably have windows that are all slightly different in size. Case in point: the left hand window in our kitchen measures 31.5 inches and the right hand window measures 29 inches. Why, is beyond me!  Luckily, I had read this post by Anna at Door Sixteen the night before and thought I was up for a little DIY blind alteration. Anna does such an incredible job of explaining step by step how to do this that she makes it really easy and stress-free to do. We actually got both windows done in the time it takes H. to nap. Here's the before:

And the after (it's there look closely - believe me!):

As you can tell from the photo, the Enje blind isn't a totally opaque blind instead it just gently filters the light and gives us a bit of privacy.

In total, I spent $60 on these two blinds. If I had gone the custom route, I would have been lucky to walk out the door with less than $60 in fabric.

I think they look pretty good. It's a clean, simple look that works with our kitchen and just makes it look a little more finished off. They certainly help hide our less than attractive, useless windows. (One day, we will get around to replacing them!)

Our other big home improvement over the weekend came in the form of this new Dyson vacuum cleaner. The last time I bought a new vacuum was back in 1992. Yes, almost 20 years ago! Frustrated having to find bags for it all the time and disappointed in its sucking power I thought the time had come. This was one purchase, I was willing to spend a bit of money on because I figured if I had it for 20 years than the higher price tag would be worth it. I do believe you get what you pay for. Having said that, we didn't go top of the line with our new vacuum. We just bought the basic Dyson and I am thrilled with it.

Did you know that this vacuum is in the collections of both The Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum? Also, they send you email reminders every time your filters need cleaning and to top it all off they have a helpline in Toronto where real people with hands-on access to all the Dyson vacuum cleaners are standing by. Needless to say, that's service my old Panasonic never had!  Is anyone else out there a Dyson fan?

I've also been trying out some of the recipes in Nigella Lawson's new cookbook, Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home. You know how much I love, love, love Nigella! I enjoy reading her recipes as much as I love making them. She always gives a bit of her own perspective which I find totally engrossing. One morning last week, H. and I made these Blueberry Cornmeal muffins bright and early (like before I even had coffee!)

They were delicious and kept H. busy as he picked each blueberry out individually. I also found they were even better the second day which is always a nice surprise! The recipe is on my Facebook page here.

Finally, last week I visited a house in our neighborhood for an upcoming Hello! Neighbor tour and it reminded me so much of the eclectic, charming homes often seen in the British magazine, Living Etc. I love the relaxed but stylish feel of these homes where new and old mingle gracefully and bright wall colours lead the way. The two images below, both from Living Etc., remind me very much of the house I just visited.

What do you think? Are you tempted to paint your walls a bright colour after seeing these images? I have to admit when I left that home last week it did cross my fickle mind but then I thought back to my homework and stayed the course. I think what I need is another house to live out a different decorating fantasy in! You too?

super quick sweet treats

Awhile back, I helped a friend out who was in need of some sweet treats for a picnic her son was going to. Pressed for time, she offered to pay me an outrageous sum of money to produce the goods so she wouldn't have to. Since I love baking I jumped at the chance. My general rule is never try out a new recipe if it is for a party or event. If it doesn't turn out you're kind of stuck running to the nearest grocery store to find some kind of substitute. Well, this time I took a risk and tried not one but two new recipes.

The first is the classic Rocky Road Crunch Bars. It's a mix of marshmallows, cookies and lots of chocolate.

The second is called Lunch Box Treats. It's a mix of malt, oats, rice and corn cereal, sesame seeds and a wee bit of chocolate (only two ounces). Both recipes I took from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express cookbook. (Have you noticed I love Nigella - especially for her desserts!)

The reason I chose both of these recipes is because they are super fast to make and perfect for events like picnics or school fairs or birthday parties. These are recipes you can whip up in about fifteen minutes or less on a school night or a Saturday morning. The general technique is exactly the same. Melt some chocolate, butter and sweetener in a saucepan and then fold in your dry ingredients like cereal or cookies. It honestly doesn't get easier than this.

The difference between the two recipes I tried is that the Lunch Box Treats is packed with a lot more nutritional goodness for your kids than the Rocky Road square. I used organic, gluten free corn flakes, organic brown rice cereal, rice malt syrup, sesame seeds and oats. You could really add anything you want to the recipe. I can imagine any variety of seeds from pumpkin to flax to sunflower being a welcome addition or even coconut and raisins. They were so good I am actually going to make them for Henry's coop daycare this week.

The Rocky Road squares on the other hand are a decadent treat that children love mainly because of the marshmallows and chocolate. While they don't offer much in the way of nutritional goodness at least you know that they are eating a homemade dessert of quality ingredients. Forced to choose, I would swing in the favor of the Lunch Box Treats. I love their crunchy, crackly texture and malty taste.

Do you have any easy to make dessert recipes you call upon again and again for these kind of events? Any tricks for sneaking in wholesome ingredients?

Oh and the outrageous sum of money - I happily declined it. Sometimes, it's just nice to to do something for someone else. Plus I hate taking money for something I truly enjoying doing. I'm sure the favor will come back to me sometime.

Lunch Box Treats

Adapted from Nigella Express - Good Food, Fast - Nigella Lawson

Makes 25 treats or 12 cupcakes

1/2 cup rice malt syrup

1/4 cup butter

2 oz milk chocolate

2 cups crispy rice cereal

1 cup cornflakes

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1.Melt the syrup, butter, and chocolate gently in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

2. Add all the other ingredients, turning to coat well.

3. Using your hands, shape the mixture into walnut sized balls. You should get about 25; you could also make this using a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners to get 12 cupcakes.

4.Let them sit in a fridge for an hour or so, and they will keep quite happily in there for a week of treats.

Rocky Road Crunch Bars

Adapted from Nigella Express - Good Food, Fast - Nigella Lawson

Makes 24

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp soft butter

10 oz semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces

1/4 light corn syrup

8 oz plain hard and crunchy cookies like Social Tea's

2 cups mini marshmallows

1. Melt the butter, chocolate, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Scoop out about half cup of this mixture and set aside.

2. Put the cookies into a freezer bag and then bash them with a rolling pin. You are looking for both crumbs and pieces of cookies.

3. Fold the cookie pieces and crumbs into the melted chocolate mixture, and then add the marshmallows.

4. Tip into a 9-inch square aluminum pan and flatten as best you can with a spatula. Pour over the reserved half cup of melted chocolate mixture and smooth the top.

5. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

6. Cut into 24 fingers .