Tag Archives: chocolate

Recipe: Walnut and Chocolate biscuits and a fundraiser

Every year, I organise a team of colleagues to do the Global Challenge, a pedometer-based challenge where you have to get a certain number of steps per day.  My team of seven has changed every year, but there are three people who have been in it every time, and more who have taken a year or two off and come back.  This year, we have my three regulars, someone who is back from last year, someone who is back from four years ago, and two newbies.

During the Global Challenge, there are certain weekends where we have ‘mini-challenges’, that encourage us to beat our personal best, or reach some arbitrary number of steps as a group, etc.  Traditionally, I try to organise long walks for these challenges – we’ve walked from Black Rock to Saint Kilda, up along Merri Creek to Fawkner for doughnuts, from Parkville to Williamstown to go on a ghost tour, from Brunswick to the CBD to go on a chocolate walk, and all the way from the mouth of the Moonee Ponds river up to Pascoe Vale, where we got caught in a thunderstorm. 

I was looking for some activities for us this year, and after getting a hard no on my belly-dancing plans, and establishing that several of our walkers couldn’t do really long walks this year for health reasons, I started looking around for more sensible options.  Which is when I spotted the ad for the Cancer Council Relay for Life… which just happened to fall on one of our challenge weekends.

This is a 24-hour relay to raise money for the Cancer Council, but it’s also about remembering people lost to cancer, and it has a fair bit of symbolism attached, in that nobody walks for 24 hours straight, but teams try to have someone on the track at all times.  If one person can’t continue, someone else will carry on for them.

I suggested this, only half-seriously to my lot. (Fine.  You don’t want belly-dancing.  How about a 24-hour relay, then?)  They were in.  And I mean, IN.  I was… appalled.  But also the team captain, so I got us signed up, and went recruiting for more team members.  My feeling was that we wanted two people rostered on at all times, in case someone needed a break, and ideally, I wanted the shifts to be offset so that someone was always fresh.  Fortunately, I was able to recruit 13 people, with two more joining us on the day, which meant that we each did two 2-hour shifts, and most people stayed on a bit before or after their shifts to help out.

Teams are encouraged to have costumes, themes, etc.  I was still recovering from the conference I’d just finished organising, so I was pretty much planning to just make sure people showed up and leave it at that, but I organised a bake sale to fundraise, and during the bake sale, our team plan evolved.  We would wear lab coats!  We would Engage With The Community!  We would have a science fair booth, with experiments that people could participate in!  We have a purple and yellow dragon onesie which is the same colours as the Cancer Council’s logo!

And we did.

I have to say, the day was a lot more fun than I had expected (I had not expected it to be any fun at all – I have dodgy knees which were playing up that week, so I knew it was going to be painful, and that’s about all I knew).  Cancer Council was delighted to have medical researchers participating.  The other participants – especially the children! – were delighted by our activities.  There was a silent disco overnight, which was hilarious to watch – between the people singing along and the people dancing to music only they could hear as they went around the track, it was quite something.  The lab coats turned out to be both warm and highly visible.  We realised early that we wouldn’t be winning the 4x100m sprint activity, so we turned it into a onesie costume relay with the costume having to be worn by each successive participant – and lost convincingly, dramatically, hilariously, and to sustained commentary from the organisers, who found the whole thing hysterical. 

Me, pretending to be a scientist. You should see me pipetting!

There were also some serious moments – the carers and survivors lap at the start, and the candlelight ceremony in the evening, which remembered people who were fighting cancer and people who had passed away from cancer recently.  It was very moving.

And I was very proud that, while other teams slowly shrank in size over the course of the event (I felt bad for one team where almost everyone went home at 9pm, leaving three people to carry the subsequent 13 and a half hours alone), my team mates all turned up on time, full of energy and enthusiasm, and walked, ran or danced their shifts, no matter what hour of the day or night. 

You probably didn’t come here for an extended report on Relay for Life, and I promise that the recipe is coming up next.  But while you are here… if you are currently feeling inclined to support a really good cancer charity in Australia, I’d love it if you’d sponsor meOr my team, who really were fantastic.

My awesome team, who totally deserve your sponsorship

And now for the recipe!  Which is linked, tenuously, to this post by the fact that I invented it for our fundraising morning tea.

This was a bit of a pantry special – I needed something for the people who couldn’t eat lactose or fructose or gluten (of which I have quite a few at work), and I needed something that was quick and wouldn’t require me to go to the shops.  I had half a packed of crushed walnuts and half a packet of cashews.  I had cocoa, and cinnamon.  And I had leftover vegan chocolate ganache from making Sachertorte cupcakes.

So that was easy.  This is basically my almond biscuit recipe in yet another iteration, but I found that without almonds, it made a pretty sticky, sloppy dough, so I added some rice flour to help hold it together.  I did find that I needed slightly damp hands to shape it, even so.  But the results were really delicious, so it was worth the minor hassle.

Very few pictures, I’m afraid – I was too busy trying to make the biscuits in time after a very long day at work – but if you scroll down to the bottom I *will* tell you how to make a rainbow carnation. 

Your shopping list

100 g walnuts (crushed is fine, you will be pulverising them anyway)
100g cashews (ditto)
50 g cocoa
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
75 g caster sugar
1 egg
1-2 tbsp rice flour, if needed
1/4 cup soy milk
125 g Lindt 70% chocolate
30 ml maple syrup Continue reading

Recipe: Fierce Strawberries (and tentacle cake)

A while back, one of my Professors welcomed me back from long service leave with a copy of Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad, by Christine McConnell.  I was particularly taken by her recipe for Screamberries, and my brother and I originally had evil plans to make this as a birthday cake for Elisabeth’s first birthday (just think of the photos!), but for some reason (possibly because my mother was appalled?) we decided to make the orange and banana cakes instead.

Well, this year, what with one thing and another, it became practical to have my brother’s birthday party and my niece’s both on the same day.  Obviously, this necessitated two cakes, and when I asked my brother what he wanted for this cake, the answer was ‘tentacles’.

So that was easy, then.

I made a few modifications to McConnell’s recipe.  Vanilla mousse seemed boring, so I filled the waffle cups half with vegan chocolate mousse and half with berry mousse.  Stabilised whipped cream seemed like way too much like hard work for a relatively small result, so I didn’t do that.  And my first batch of waffle cones weren’t great, so I had to make another double batch in the hour between getting back from cantoring in Middle Park and leaving for birthday shenanigans in Canterbury.  So I signally failed to follow the instructions and just dumped everything in together.  I can’t claim that they were brilliant waffle cups, but they were fresh and they did the job.

And really, who cared about the waffle cups?  The mousse was delicious, and really, we were all here for the strawberries and the tentacles, right?

Incidentally, you can make this recipe in advance and take the components in separate boxes to wherever you are going, at which point it takes about ten minutes to put together.

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Recipe: Chocolate Truffle Cake Pops That Really Should Be Vegan

Why yes, this is indeed another Wedding Cake Leftovers post.  Is anyone really surprised by this?  This time, the cake bits in question were the vegan sachertorte cakes.  I also had leftover dark chocolate, leftover milk and leftover cream – which is why these cake pops didn’t turn out vegan.  But there is no reason why yours shouldn’t be!  I was really just trying to avoid wasting ingredients, and decided that on this occasion, that was more important than feeding my vegan scientists.  I’ll make something for them next time, don’t worry.

This is another super easy recipe, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out – the cake pops really taste like chocolate truffles, but they are much easier to make, because the cake crumbs make them a bit less sticky than pure ganache, and a lot more inclined to roll into nice, neat balls.

Because I had what seemed like acres of chocolate cake crumbs, I wound up dividing my mixture in two and flavouring half of it with freeze dried raspberry powder that I had discovered in my freezer, and the other half with six little peppermint candy sticks leftover from Christmas, which I found in my pantry.  So despite being an extremely decadent, rich, fudgy chocolate truffle recipe, this also counts as an extremely frugal recipe!!!

Yeah, that’s not so convincing, is it?

But it is quite a good pantry-and-fridge-clearing recipe, which counts for something, I think.

 

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Recipe: Vegan Sacher-cupcakes

Calling these cupcakes Sacher-cupcakes is probably an insult to Austrians everywhere and they will never let me go back to their country, let alone that hotel, but I do think it’s a fair description. 

Sachertorte is a light chocolate sponge covered with apricot jam and chocolate glaze.  These cakes are also light and chocolatey, filled with apricot jam and covered with chocolate ganache, and they are really delicious.  I’ve made this recipe quite a few times in the last year or two for work events, because it’s incredibly easy and fast to make, works with gluten-free flour mix if it needs to, and once you fill it with apricot jam and load it with ganache nobody will believe that it’s vegan.

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Recipe and Review: Blood Orange Jaffa Cakes and Deceptive Desserts

When I got back to work after my long service leave earlier this year, I discovered a cookbook on my desk, courtesy of one of my Professors.  This is an excellent way to come back from long service leave and I highly recommend it to any who are considering such a thing.  The book was  Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad! (which I see is actually discounted at the Book Depository right now), and it is a rather brilliant collection of recipes for ill-advised treats – face-hugger cake, cannoli with little kitten faces, Frankenstein’s monster cake, terror-mi-su, cinnamon buns shaped to look like serpents ready to strike, cat-lady jello, and my personal favourite, screaming strawberries in vanilla mousse with chocolate tentacles.

It’s kind of like someone watched a lot of 1980s Dr Who and then read the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book right before bedtime, and then had nightmares.

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The illustrations are truly a thing of beauty – Christine McConnell, who is a stylist and photographer as well as a baker, photographs herself in vintage costumes that coordinate with her various disturbing desserts, with the occasional cat in the background, looking appalled.

The recipes are also nicely varied – it isn’t the sort of cake book that gives you six basic recipes at the start and then focuses on how to decorate them; there are recipes for sugar cookies (decorated to look like gravestones), waffle cones, various mousses and jellies, lime meringue cakes, devil’s food cakes, donuts (disguised as fried chicken and vegetables), banana bread, caramel popcorn, peppermint brownies, and apple pie, to name a random assortment.  I would note that the recipes are American and thus tend to have rather more sugar than I prefer in my cakes, but this is a minor quibble for an extremely fun and comprehensive book.

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Eating Good Things In Paris

I am, in fact, still writing my travel diaries, but adding pictures on this laptop is an absolute pain in the neck, and they still come out sideways half the time, so I probably won’t post any more of those updates until I’m in Australia again.  (And have dealt with the 16 ungrouped independents on the Senate ballot, aargh.)

But since tonight is my last night in Paris, I thought it was timely to write a post about the best meals I’ve had here, and also about the best patisserie I’ve had here.  I will add photographs at a later date, but good food information is always urgent, and now you will know why I will be radio silent until after the election, probably.

Edited on October 14 – I have finally added the photos!  Sorry this took so long.

Excellent Meals In Paris

I have to admit, I have found some terrible meals in Paris.  I had quite the run of bad luck last week, culminating in Café Panorama in Montmartre, which managed the brilliant combination of really poor service and really terrible food (I didn’t know you could make steak that tough and dry), with the waiter then getting terribly offended that I didn’t stay for dessert, even though I’d paid for it.

But I have also had some amazing meals.

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Recipe: Chocolate THING that is basically evil but really yummy

A couple of Thursdays ago, I read an article in the paper lamenting the fact that many Australians would be letting down their employers by taking a sickie on the Monday before Australia Day.  (The article did, at least, point out that employers should be reasonable about granting annual leave on this day, but something about the way it was written still left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.)

My scientists work ridiculous hours, and don’t tend to take sickies, even when they probably should (leading to the fun phenomenon of the Lab Lurgy – we are a sharing sort of team on 5 West!), but I thought that if others were getting a four day weekend, legitimately or otherwise, we should do something to make it worth coming in to work that day.  Accordingly, I proposed a casual lab lunch – anyone who wanted could bring a plate to share, and we’d set up in the meeting room for a couple of hours, with people dropping in, chatting and eating when they had time.

It turned into a smallish but pleasant gathering – certainly worth doing again, with an interesting variety of food ranging from Turkish bread and dips provided by our German lab head and vegetarian sausage rolls from one of our British postdocs, to a proper Gallette des Rois, brought in by one of our French scientists. 

Normally, I would make Nonna’s pizza for this sort of occasion, but my left wrist is still giving me a lot of trouble, and kneading is definitely beyond me.  So instead, I decided to pursue my current favourite confectionery strategy of melting a lot of chocolate, and then opening the pantry and flinging any sweet contents that seem plausible into it.  The results were very tasty – it’s quite a sophisticated, dark chocolate thing, full of glacé and freeze-dried fruits, but I also couldn’t resist pouring in some popping candy, and I got a great deal of glee out of hearing people go “oh, this is really nice – ooh!  Oh my God what is that?” at irregular intervals through the afternoon…

All in all, an excellent way to liven up the day before a holiday.

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Your Shopping List

500 g good dark chocolate (I used half Lindt, half Green and Blacks, both 70% cocoa)
250 g glacé fruit (I used pineapple, peach and apricot, but cherries, pears, oranges, or anything else that takes your fancy would work.  Probably not citron, though.)
50 g crystallised ginger
35 g freeze-dried fruit (I used strawberries and blueberries, but again, pick your own preferred flavours)
35 g popping candy
100 g praline paste (I used almond, but use whatever you prefer)

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Recipe: Vegan Cheeseburger Cupcakes

This is the time of year when bloggers do their retrospectives, but I don’t feel like doing a blog retrospective for 2015.  For one thing, I did hardly any blogging, and barely kept up with reading other blogs.  For another, the end of 2015 was made absolutely horrible for us by the disappearance of our beloved cat, Mystery.  She slipped out on the evening of December 22nd, and has not been seen since.  We’ve letterboxed and doorknocked and rung vets and visited shelters, but to no avail, and at this stage, we hold out little hope.  It’s been a painful and distressing way to end an exhausting year, and it’s very hard to look ahead and come up with plans, resolutions, or even hopes for 2016 at this point – because right now we are all too aware that life is uncertain and cannot truly be planned for.

mysteryposter4

So no perspectives from me, just a remarkably silly recipe, inspired by Rosanna Pansino’s Nerdy Nummies Cookbook.  She has a very fun recipe for a cupcake that looks like a cheeseburger, with a brownie patty, coconut lettuce, and buttercream piped to resemble cheese, tomatoes.

It’s very cute, but it also looked terribly sweet.  Also, I was cooking in part for Steph, so I needed a vegan recipe, and frankly, I found the idea of a vegan cheeseburger cupcake absolutely hilarious and thus irresistible, so off I went.

To avoid the excessive use of buttercream, I decided it would be more fun to give the burger a fruity sort of theme. Mango fruit leather strips make an excellent (and truly revolting-looking) substitute for plastic cheese, jam makes a fine substitute for tomato sauce, and tinned plums replace the beetroot that is a necessity in any Aussie hamburger. Mint leaves made a delicious substitute for lettuce, and at that point, you’re done.

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Recipe: Cherry Ripe Cookies (Gluten Free, Vegan)

Look!  It’s a slightly different (but still dead easy) biscuit recipe!  This time, it’s vegan!

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I love the idea of two ingredient cookies, where you get a sweetened nut butter and some flour – or chocolate tahini and rice flour and make a biscuit and then bake it.  But let’s face it, sometimes two ingredients isn’t enough.   I found myself eyeing off one of those chocolate and coconut butter spreads in the supermarket and thinking, you know, add a glacé cherry and you’re kind of half way to a cherry ripe here.  And then I thought, yeah, but you need a bit more coconut.

And… that was it, really.  So here you have them – cherry ripe cookies that are vegan and gluten-free.  They are a little chewy and only just barely sweet – most of the sweetness comes from the cherries – but they are nicely chocolatey and coconutty.  (There is a definite air of chocolate crackle to these, too.  That whole coconut and chocolate thing will do that.)

Ooh, and I just realised how you could make vegan gluten-free LAMINGTON cookies, by replacing the cherry with jam!  The possibilities are endless…

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Your shopping list

150g chocolate coconut spread (I used Pure Harvest Coco2Almond spread, which purports to be a health food, but don’t worry, there’s nothing healthy about these cookies)
100g almond meal
50 g shredded coconut
12-16 glacé cherries

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Recipe: DIY Brownie Packet Mix (gluten-free)

OK, after yesterday’s exploration of the truly disgusting things one can create while in pursuit of dessert, I thought we deserved something a bit less traumatic. So here, have a soothing brownie.

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Is it not beautiful?  Does it not inspire meditation?  Or, indeed, imitation?

Or even levitation?  This brownie is not, in fact, levitating, but you wouldn't know it to look at this photo.

Or even levitation? This brownie is not, in fact, levitating, but you wouldn’t know it to look at this photo.

The good news is, you can plan this brownie ahead of time and eat it whenever you like.

This brownie mix grew out of the fact that at certain times of the month I desperately, desperately crave chocolate cake and brownies, but am generally feeling far too unwell to do the culinary work required to create them.  This leaves me with the option of buying brownies made by someone else  – and I don’t have any good sources for those in my vicinity – or resorting to packet mixes (I use the Donna Hay ones because the ingredients are actually proper cake ingredients).  Only then I feel guilty about resorting to packet mixes, and then I need to eat more chocolate brownies.  This cycle serves nobody (except, perhaps, Donna Hay).

But I am breaking the cycle!  I am breaking the cycle by creating my own packet mix, that can be put together on days when I actually feel like measuring stuff, and then stashed in the pantry, ready to be made up when I need it.

This packet mix is gluten-free, and can be made in a variety of flavour profiles.  I haven’t yet figured out how to veganise it, but I suspect this would not be too difficult for anyone with practice in the matter.  That will be my next brownie experiment.

In the meantime – enjoy!  Enjoy very, very much. Continue reading