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chocolate raisin cake with chocolate ganache









Three words: Giant. Chocolate. Raisin.

Oh boy.

How about two more? Chocolate. Ganache. (OK, I know I’ve already said ‘chocolate’ but I’m highly excited and prone to repeating things.)

Oh boy, oh boy.

That description – minus the ‘oh boys’ – is how Julie Le Clerc grabbed my attention. Chocolate raisins were one of my favourite sweets when I was a young ‘un and I’m a sucker for a good line of copy. (Julie’s exact words being, ‘Believe it or not, these little cakes actually taste exactly like a giant chocolate raisin!’. Come on – that’s someone throwing down the gauntlet if ever I heard it.)

The result is tooth-achingly sweet, more like a giant squishy brownie or a chocolate fondant that’s been allowed to cool down and slathered with more chocolately wonderful-ness. Stuffed with raisins.

Just don’t do what I did and get so excited by the prospect of all your raisin-chocolate dreams coming true that you forget to line the muffin pan and then find that you can only prise two of the little buggers out in one piece.

How many times have I said ‘chocolate’ and ‘raisin’ in this post? That’ll be all the sugar then…

Little chocolate raisin cakes from Simple Café Food by Julie Le Clerc  

Makes 6

For the cakes:

125g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup raisins, chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
1½ tablespoons plain flour
½ cup chocolate raisins (optional but fun)

For the ganache:

½ cup dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line 6 extra large muffin tins with circles of non-stick baking paper and grease well.

2. In a saucepan, gently melt the butter and chocolate, add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the raisins. Take off the heat, allow to cool a little and then carefully add the beaten eggs and finally the flour.

3. Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes should still be slightly soft in the middle.

4. Cool slightly before carefully removing from the tins. Serve topped with chocolate ganache…

5. Gently melt the chocolate and cream in a double boiler. Stir to form a thick sauce. Allow to cool and thicken then spoon mounds onto each little cake.


rhubarb and walnut muffins

If you’d been a fly on the wall, or rather in the car, at the weekend, you’d have heard this passionate defense of my native county:  

‘But, but, but… the rhubarb triangle of Yorkshire really does exist!’

Mr B. didn’t believe me. (In fact, he was laughing so hard at the idea of a triangle dedicated to rhubarb that he nearly crashed the car.) And even now, I think he’s humouring me the way you do with kids and Santa (‘Sure, honey, of course it exists… Whatever you say…’).

Ah well, us true believers will have our day 🙂  (Check out this, this and… this if you’d like to know more.)

In the meantime, we can celebrate with these plain but rather tasty muffins – the sweet/sharp tang of the rhubarb plays nicely off the walnuts, and the handful of wheatgerm makes you feel a little bit virtuous and able to justify them as breakfast treats (although I very rarely need to justify eating delicious baked goods…).

Rhubarb muffins from It’s Raining Plums by Xanthe Clay

Makes 12 muffins

You’ll need:

250g soft brown sugar
120ml vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
225ml buttermilk or plain yogurt
170g rhubarb, diced into 1cm pieces
80g walnuts, chopped (optional)
280g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
40g wheatgerm

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200C/400F. Grease or line a twelve-cup muffin tin.

2. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, oil, egg, vanilla extract and buttermilk or yogurt.

3. Stir in the rhubarb and nuts.

4. Sift over the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, and add the wheatgerm. Fold together until just blended but still rather lumpy and uneven looking. Spoon into the muffin tin and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Leave for 5 minutes to cool before removing from the tin and scoffing.

Cook’s notes

I can’t find any forced rhubarb. I’ve had my eyes peeled for the last couple of months but I’ve seen nothing. Apparently, there’s no difference in taste between unforced and forced rhubarb, but the latter is much prettier for cooking with, being that much pinker. And it’s probably just my imagination but the unforced version tastes a bit more sour. Anyone else know where I can get some of the good stuff?

Butternut squash isn’t something I ate as a kid but after trying it a few years ago I came to love it, love it, love it. I’ll throw this versatile veg into soups, salads, stews, risotto, eat it roasted as a side dish… However, I’ve never used it to make anything sweet rather than savoury. High time, then, to remedy the situation.

Which brings us back round to Jamie Oliver’s latest book,* in which he has a recipe for butternut squash muffins. Bingo. He mentions that the result is a bit like carrot cake, which had me hooked straightaway, seeing as that’s one of my favourites (along with all the other favourites…). And, as if I needed an extra reason, there is cinnamon involved – oh yes, count me in. What I wasn’t so sure about was the fact that you use the entire butternut squash, skin and all.

What? Grate the whole lot? All I could imagine was encountering bits of hard squash rind in the middle of an otherwise perfectly delicious muffin. Why? Why would you do that to yourself?

But Jamie’s rarely set me on the wrong path before so I gritted my teeth, trusted the recipe and got on with the grating.

After some skinned knuckles and a bit of swearing, I realised that everything would turn out ok. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the skin on a butternut squash is pretty thin. So it would just melt into the batter as the muffins cooked – exactly the same as carrot cake. Hurray!

Of course, this means you’re sneaking in an extra bit of fibre too. But sssssssssssh – don’t tell anyone 😉

Butternut squash muffins from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

Makes 12 muffins

You’ll need:

300g, plain flour, unsifted
350g light brown soft sugar
sea salt
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
175ml extra virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
400g butternut squash, skin on, deseeded and grated
a handful of walnuts, chopped

For the frosted cream topping, which I clearly didn’t use:

zest of 1 clementine
zest of 1 lemon and juice of half a lemon
140ml soured cream
2 heaped tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
optional: lavender flowers or rose petals
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and line your muffin tin with paper cases.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil and eggs.

3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mix and stir until just combined. Then add the grated squash and chopped walnuts. Stir to combine but being careful not to overmix.

4. Fill the paper cases with the muffin mixture and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to rest for five minutes and then take the muffins out of the tin and leave to coo on a wire rack.

5. Icing: Place most of the clementine zest, all the lemon zest and the lemon juice in a bowl. Add the soured cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds, and mix well. Taste and adjust the balance of sweet/sour by adding a little more icing sugar or lemon juice as necessary. Spoon the icing over the muffins once they’re completely cold.

Cook’s notes

As you can see from the photo above, I didn’t bother icing the muffins. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit lazy.

Next time I’ll add some raisins or sultanas too, making it even more like carrot cake.

If I’d read the blurb at the beginning of the recipe properly then I would have seen the sentence, ‘The skin of the butternut squash goes deliciously soft and chewy when cooked, so there’s no need to peel it off.’ And then I wouldn’t have worried in the first place. Guess I was in too much of a hurry to make those muffins!

*I renewed the book from the library – there are a few more things I’d like to try 🙂

This is something I used to dream about in my last job, staring at a watery cuppa and a stale bun, wondering how I was going to cram all the work in unless I developed several clones. One day, I quietly vowed, on that tantalisingly out-of-reach day when I have nothing much to do except please myself, I will make delicious muffins. And I will take the chance to slow down and appreciate them properly, fresh and warm from the oven – every last soft, rich, chocolatey bite.

Today was that day.

And they were goooooooood.

Ok, I’m not working at the moment but I’m not completely free to please myself forever – unfortunately my bank account won’t allow it 😦 So now I have to find a new job. But at least I’ll have some proper muffins to help me through any stressful times!

Chocolate choc-chip muffins from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 12

90g unsalted butter
110g dark chocolate (around 70% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
2 cups plain flour
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 190C/ gas mark 5. Butter or spray a 12-hole muffin pan or line with paper muffin cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

2. Melt the butter and half of the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or do this in a microwave). Remove from the heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb of soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together until well combined.

4. Pour the liquid ingredients, as well as the melted butter-chocolate mix, over the dry ingredients and with the whisk, or a spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter.

5. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from the pan.

Cook’s notes

I chopped up the chocolate into pieces that were a bit to small – so most of them melted into the batter as the muffins cooked. But they still tasted fab, so no biggy.

However, I’d probably crank up the chocolate chunk quotient next time. I’d say use 55g for the melted choc that becomes part of the batter, as per directions above, and maybe 100g for extra chocolatey chunk goodness.

Well, they do kind of look like they’re marching somewhere, don’t they? Not a better future anyway, just our bellies!

Sometimes I’ll become hooked by an ingredient and keep using it like a woman obsessed until I can eat no more (and then feel a little bit sick as a result – you’d think I wasn’t a grown-up or something). Last week, it was the turn of the humble lime.

Maybe there’s not enough vitamin C in my diet and my body is trying to tell me something, maybe it’s the lack of sunshine which is triggering some deep-seated need for fresh, zingy flavours, perhaps I just like the colour green a lot – who knows. But I wanted to sneak limes into everything we ate last week. And I nearly very nearly succeeded. So this recipe, and probably the next one too, is all about limes.

I first came across Robin Asbell when Heidi at 101 Cookbooks posted this recipe for red rice salad. Heidi loves wholegrains and hearty, healthy fair, as does Robin. So much so that she’s written a book called The New Wholegrains Cookbook. Because I’m always interested in shoehorning some more fibre into my diet, I made a mental note to look it up when it eventually travelled across the Pond (American publications sometimes take a while to reach the UK and Ireland, if ever). So I was a bit suprised to see it in Waterstones* on Dawson Street just a couple of weeks later.** Of course, I snapped it up… It’s cooking that’s good for me, see? It’s not an indulgent purchase… Honest!

And lo and behold, there was the recipe that (temporarily) satisfied my lime mania – lime coconut banana muffins made with wholewheat flour. The original recipe contained macadamia nuts. I didn’t have any but the lime lust was so strong that I didn’t feel that I had time to go out and buy some. I needed those muffins yesterday.

The results didn’t disappoint. Strongly lime-flavoured, complemented by the coconut with just a hint of banana in the background. The wholewheat pastry made for a slightly tighter crumb but not the dense rockiness you might associate with ‘healthier’ treats of yesteryear.

I was sated – for the time being…

Lime-coconut banana muffins with macadamias from The New Wholegrains Cookbook by Robin Asbell

You’ll need:

½ cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
2¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsweetened coconut, shredded
2 large over-ripe bananas
1 cup brown sugar
4 limes
1 large egg
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup icing sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper cups.

2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt and coconut. In a separate bowl, mash up the bananas and whisk in the sugar.

3. Grate the zest from the limes and add to the dry mixture, then juice the limes and measure 1/2 cup of the juice for the batter, reserving 2 tablespoons for the glaze. Add the 1/2 cup lime juice, egg and oil to the banana mix and beat in thoroughly.

4. Stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture, then fold in the macadamias. Divide the mixture into the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

5. When the muffins are completely cool, put the icing sugar, two reserved tablespoons of lime juice and vanilla into a bowl. Stir thoroughly to make a stiff paste. If it is too dry, add a few more drops of juice. Drizzle the glaze across the top of each muffin and leave to set before serving.

*OK, I was in Waterstones but my new bookshop allegiance is to the excellent Hodges Figgis. Although, reading that Wikipedia entry, it seems all my money is going to the HMV group, whichever shop I buy from.
**Although it’s probably coincidence, it tickles me to imagine that there’s someone at Waterstones who reads Heidi’s blog and buys in books on her recommendation.

OK, I don’t usually claim to have god-like qualities or wizardly talents (although reading the last Harry Potter book gave me some funny dreams) but I think I may have summoned the sunshine by baking these lovely orange and blueberry muffins.

I made them on Sunday when the world was grey, dull and a bit chilly – real pull-the-duvet-back-over-your-head-and-forget-about-it weather. However, by the time I pulled these zesty treats out of the oven, everything had changed for the better and stayed sparkly the whole day long. And what do you know – it’s sunny today as well.

I think you’ll agree that the evidence presented is highly credible, cause and effect has been clearly established and the link is undeniable.

Unfortunately, my new-found powers didn’t stop most of the blueberries sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Ah – I guess every gift has its dark side.

Orange and blueberry muffins from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 12 muffins
You’ll need:
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
About ¾ cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons of honey
110g/ 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup of sugar
2 cups plain flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup of blueberries
1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 200C/gas mark 6. Butter/spray your muffin pan and place on a baking sheet.
2. Put the orange juice into a measuring cup and add enough buttermilk to make up 1 cup. (See cook’s notes below.) Then put this mixture into a bowl with the eggs, honey and melted butter. Whisk together.
3. In another bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange is strong.
4. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
5. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and work quickly to blend (but be careful not to overblend or the resulting muffins will be tough).
6. Gently stir in the blueberries and divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups.
7. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden and springy to touch – and a thin knife inserted in the centre of the muffins will come out clean.
8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for five minutes before removing the muffins from the tin.

Cook’s notes
My orange yielded about ¾ cup of juice, which was clearly going to make for a soggy muffin. So I just chucked in ¼ cup with the ¾ cup of buttermilk specified and drank the rest of the juice. Waste not, want not and all that.
And yes, I could have rolled the blueberries in flour to stop them sinking in the muffin batter but this particular omnipotent being is grumpy/forgetful in the mornings and was concentrating on summoning back the good weather rather than fruity aesthetics. It’s supposed to be a bad sign when you start talking about yourself in the third person, isn’t it? Oh dear.

A rare opportunity to curl up on the sofa on a hazy spring morning and eat breakfast while watching what’s going on in the park across the road.

Kids setting up the posts for their Saturday football practice, some hanging around on the sidelines and not looking quite so keen (I can sympathise). Joggers cracking a fair pace across the square in ones and twos. A toddler running at full pelt across the grass, his arms bouncing up and down, his smile broad – he hasn’t quite worked out how to stop without falling over. And it looks like a bit of a shock when he does (but dad comes to the rescue). Cherry and apple blossom slowly falling off the trees dotted around the park – white and pink petals drifting gently in the breeze to land across the street in the tiny scruffy strip of garden around our flat. People wandering past with the papers and a pint of milk from the corner shop – off to do the same thing as me and watch the world go by.

It’s a beautiful place and I’m going to miss it so much.

Yes, I was starting to fall into my own navel with introspection. So I scarfed down the rest of my breakfast and retreated to the boxroom kitchen (no window = no chance of depressing thoughts) to make muffins for Veggie Kate and D, who were coming round for a cuppa.

Veggie Kate is a slight misnomer as she’s actually vegan. I looked at what was lurking in the fridge and what Isa Chandra recommended in her fantastic book Vegan with a Vengance. Recently published in a UK edition, it’s a sign of the times that you can find it readily available in any good bookshop near you. (And it’s doing quite nicely on the veggie page at Amazon.)

The fridge rummage turned up some carrots, so…

Carrot and raisin muffins
From Vegan with a Vengance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

You’ll need:

75g raisins – soaked in hot water to plump them up
175g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground/freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
250ml of rice or soy milk
4 tablespoons of rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
4 medium carrots, grated.

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 4. Spray a 12-hole muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or lightly grease with oil.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour. baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and salt.

3. Create a well in the centre and add the milk, oil and vanilla. Mix until just combined. Fold in the grated carrots and raisins.

4. Fill the muffin tins three quarters full. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes until a cocktail stick/knife inserted in the centre of one comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack.

Cook’s notes

Of all the things I was expecting a vegan muffin to taste like, it wasn’t eggy. I think it was the brand of soya milk I used, so I’m going to experiment with some others to see. But it wasn’t overpowering-ly eggy – just a background taste. Mainly just lots of lovely cinnamon and carrots. Mmmmm.

Also, it only made enough batter to fill six large muffins holes in my tins (mini carrot cakes really) – the alternative was 12 small wide pancakes. So I need to get some cupcake tins or double the recipe. Either way it’s a winner.


I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
July 2018
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