A Birthday Indulgence – Chocolate and Amaretto Cake

Of all the family traditions we seem to have collected over the years – they range from the bizarre to the utterly ridiculous – one of my favourites is the birthday cake. if you’re at home on your birthday (or about the right time) you get an exciting and customised birthday cake – home-made, of course. This has led to many interesting creations over the years, like a 7 with the long part as runway with plastic fighter jets on it Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cake(my then life’s desire), a zoo with a chocolate finger fence and a jelly penguin pool, a chocolate and orange cake (made with some liqueur brought back from some Spanish holiday), and a Martian-green After Eight cake – to name but four of mine from over the years. But these masterpieces are almost always created by my mum; this leaves us a problem when her birthday comes around. The last couple of years I’ve been around, and so the predicament of what to make has fallen to me. Last year, after much debate, I made a chocolate and ginger cake with orange icing, so the pressure was on to come up with something original for this year.

Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cakeHaving flicked through a couple of cook books and put them back on the shelf with as much inspiration as before, I turned to my trusty childhood toy box (a big wooden box, covered in stickers, which once held all manner of games and jigsaws) which has now been recycled into an alcohol cabinet. It was here I came across my trusty bottle of amaretto. It’s a sweet, almond liqueur from Italy and as well as being very tasty as a drink it also works fantastically in baking – I use Disaronno, others are available but they’re not as good (I’d specifically warn against the other, cheaper, brand that Tesco sell – that experience was not pleasant).

I’ve also been watching a ridiculous amount of the Great British Bake Off recently (well, I had to catch up on the episodes I’d missed whilst on holiday!) so I got a little bigger than my boots and let ambitions reach some lofty heights (for me, that is). And so the matter was settled – I would make a Chocolate and Amaretto cake with a whipped Dark Chocolate and Amaretto ganache. Simple…Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cake

The recipe for the sponge is adapted from the blog of a former GBBO contestant, Holly Bell, and the ganache was made up as I went along from a combination of GBBO watching and recipes I found online. My ambitions may have got the better of me when it came to piping the ganache, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, and as the rest of my family are terrified of piping bags the thought and effort was noted, rather than the final presentation. Clearly I need to make more cakes with piped ganache on top!


For the sponge:

150g castor sugar
175g butter (room temp.)
150g plain flour
3 large eggs (room temp.)
2 tsp cream of tartar
35g cocoa powder
35g Greek yoghurt
40ml amaretto

For the ganache:

300ml double cream
200g (good) dark chocolate (broken/cut into little pieces)
20ml amaretto (or other alcohol of your choosing – or no alcohol, if you’re so inclined)Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cake


1. Butter and line two cake tins; put the oven on to 180ºC (GM 4).
2. Cream together the butter and the castor sugar – I was lazy and used the mixer – until the mixture’s light and ‘fluffy’. Then add in the flour, cream of tartar, bicarb soda and cocoa powder and combine.
3. Add in the eggs and Greek yoghurt slowly until the mixture comes together. Then add in the amaretto – I might have been slightly more liberal with the measurements than the volume stated above.
4. Mix for about 3 or 4 minutes, or until the mixture is light and smooth. Scrape into the two lined cake tins and shake gently to level.
5. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until risen and bouncy. (My oven appears to be playing up at the moment and over heating – the originally suggested 30 mins in the oven – so keep an eye on them!)
6. Allow the cakes to cool – do not ice until completely cooled as you’ll melt the ganache.

7. To make the ganache pour the cream into a saucepan and heat until it starts to bubble. Then add it into a large bowl containing your chopped up chocolate.
8. Stir the chocolate-cream mixture until the chocolate is fully melted, then add in your amaretto – again I might have taken a liberty on quite how much amaretto went in.
9. Allow the ganache to cool until it has semi-set. For a glossier finish you’re meant to do this at room temp., but I was short on time so chucked it in the fridge, where it took about 20 mins.
10. Once the mixture is thick enough, whip it until it forms soft peaks, then put a couple of spoonfuls in between the two sponge layers and spread almost to the edges. Pipe the rest on to the top of the cake in whatever fashion you chose.

Give it a try – it’s a pretty simple recipe and tastes absolutely wonderful, even if I do say so myself.


Gin, Cheese and Laughter: Adventures at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival

Let’s face it, I just can’t be trusted when it comes to events involving food. Or gin. The bad idea bears just take over. But then again, a weekend of wine, gin, cheese, cooking demos and then a bit more gin is a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, it was Foodies Festival time once again.

Having encountered 6 litre bottles of Hendrick’s and much more besides when I went last year it was a certainty that I would be getting tickets again this time round. But this year I got one better online with the three-day ticket – not just one day of supreme over indulgence, a whole weekend. Win. Sadly though, I could only use Saturday and Sunday – but for the sake of my wallet and liver, that’s probably not such a bad thing, even if it was moved to Inverleith Park this year and I could walk there.

Open coconut with a straw at it.I made a rash promise at the end of last year’s blog post saying that when I went this year I would focus more on the food – not the wine and gin – and you’ll, of course, be overjoyed that I stuck to my guns and didn’t drink a drop. Who am I kidding, I almost forgot about the food again. That might have something to do with our rum-filled coconut on Saturday afternoon, although I can’t quite recall…

That’s not entirely true, I tried samples from many companies – mainly those relating to cheese – as well as lunch of a kangaroo burger with spicy tomato relish and rocket (Skippy loves a good bit of rocket) and a hog roast roll (not both on the same day, I should add). I even ended up buying some cheese, shock horror.

Smoked fish in a shed smokerThe foodies festival has now been around for quite a few years, and is growing in size and popularity every year. And it’s really not hard to see why. This year there were over 100 stalls, ranging for tiny little artisan producers right up to recognisable national brands. There were also a few off-the-wall stalls as well, such as the seaweed selling man with three teeth and a woman selling “her precious cultures” who couldn’t understand why we weren’t more interested in making our own version of Yakult…

Interestingly (/upsettingly) I would say that there were fewer gin companies there this year – the lack of a Hendrick’s stand being particularly notable – but they made up for it with more unusual culinary stalls, like those selling ‘homemade’ Thai curry and satay kits (they were delicious, even if their paper cup did rip and give my t-shirt an interesting coloured stain). There were also some of the big name sponsors there too – not quite sure how many cars BMW sold, but I wouldn’t bet on too many – as well as a few ‘pop-up’ restaurants and Lavazza coffee, whose samples I will be drinking for a long time to come.

The less formal eating stalls, all conveniently in a row up the back, ranged from noodles to crepes, via hog roasts, jerk chicken and kangaroo – each of which was equally tempting, making it rather hard to choose which to go for. It also made me feel slightly sorry for the man selling burgers, which seemed a little tame by comparison. I later learnt they were wild boar and venison, and then didn’t feel quite so bad for him.

I’ll gloss over some of the details or I’ll be here forever, but like last year I advise you avoid Cassilero del Diablo at all costs, owing to its disgusting taste, and would recommend that unless you like peaty whisky don’t opt for Black Grouse. We also avoided the stand selling cakes that were ‘free-from’ pretty much every ingredient that makes a proper cake. We did, however, make friends with a couple that owned a farm (she was an ecologist, he a zoologist by degree) and made wonderful sausages, the man that owns the gorgeous Edinburgh Gin (we did taste the elderflower and the raspberry about twice each, and I might have accidentally come home with a bottle of the Elderflower), and the people from the Cheshire Cheese Company (their presence makes their following me on Twitter last week slightly less odd) who have a sticky toffee cheddar – shouldn’t work, but it really does – and a caramelised onion and Rioja ‘gourmet cheddar’ which has found its way into my fridge and lunch for the next couple of days. My favourite stall, however, has to be the company who have – genuinely – named themselves ‘I Heart Sausage’. And if that weren’t amusing enough to my immature sense of humour, they have a variety of sausage called – I kid you not – the ‘Chucklesnort’. Try keeping a straight face when talking to them after a few gin samples…

I commented last year that I thought the theatre events were a bit rubbish, because it seemed impossible to get tickets; well this year we cracked the system. It involved a bit of queueing, pretending that we were two sets of people, not part of the same group, and going back a little later and picking up whatever was there. Through this we went to see Norman Musa (a Malaysian chef), someone from Callander who used the words Stephen K Amos at Foodies Festival‘blanched’ and ‘OK’ far more often than was necessary, Steve from the Ning Chinese restaurant, the founder of the Backyard Jerk Company (who make Jamaican jerk sauces), a bartender/mixologist from Hendrick’s and Stephen K Amos. Not too bad a haul.

The three of those worth mentioning are definitely the last three. The Backyard Jerk Company were the last thing we did on Saturday and – once we got over the initial introduction of the Welsh accent – was great fun. Informative, entertaining and the food tasted fantastic. Sunday started of with Stephen K Amos, billed as ‘chef and comedian’, which rapidly turned out to be more accurately titled as ‘comedian’. I have never laughed so much in a cooking demo in my life. He was hilarious, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be going to see his Fringe show soon. Our last event was a short history of gin and cocktails, from the wonderful Hendrick’s. Plagued a little by technical problems and the guy knocking stuff over, this lighthearted hour about gin was one of my favourite parts of the weekend – informative without facts being rammed down your throat, seamlessly funny, and of course full of gin cocktails.

Sitting on the hill above Inverleith pond, gazing out towards Edinburgh Castle with our plate of churros and dipping chocolate on Sunday evening, the pair of us had a good laugh about the weekend. Yes, we probably drank a little more than necessary, and it’s true that we probably took advantage of the free samples a little too much in some places (especially the ones we didn’t buy anything from); however, that’s what these sorts of festivals are all about – good, honest food and drink without pretentiousness, for those who love them. A fantastic weekend, well worth the food-and-drink-induced stupor that I watched the Olympic Closing Ceremony in and had through most of today at work. When can we get tickets for next year?


Cheers Dad: Fathers’ Day Chocolate and Tia Maria Cake

The recipe in this post has moved to The Usual Saucepans.

Socks? No. Tie? Too boring. Toblerone? Done it quite a few times. Then what would be a suitable fathers’ day gift to say thank you?

Icing dribbling over the side of the cakeFor Mothers’ Day we (my brothers and I) cooked dinner – including chocolate and mango mousse – but that doesn’t really seem like being helpful as he’s not cooking tonight. As a compromise we’ll take him out for lunch. Not today as my esteemed siblings are absent (and every dad and his dog will be getting treated to same-y, rubbish menus today) so we will take him out later in the week when we can all enjoy it.

That just leaves one problem. Being the bestest of the bestest son (and fabulous with grammar) how on earth do I tell him that we’ve done nothing except get him a card of a meerkat mowing the lawn (seriously)? The logical solution (in my head) was to make him a cake, one which he would enjoy.

Fathers’ Day Chocolate and Tia Maria Cake

[Please find the recipe for the Chocolate and Tia Maria Cake over on The Usual Saucepans]
Dad in coffee beans on his cake



Rocky Road Muffins – Cheering Up the Bank ‘Holiday’

In case it somehow passed you by (I can only assume you’ve been in the wilderness without a diary [not sure why you would take a diary to the wilderness, but that’s irrelevant] or in a coma) last weekend was Easter. I, not being of a religious persuasion, marked the occasion by making Chocolate Easter Nests (because I’m really grown up like that) and laughed at fun marketing ploys. Possibly more important to most people than my C.E.N. recipe was the fact that the Easter Weekend gives us two bank holidays. Yay for a long weekend! Except mine wasn’t.

Rocky Road Muffins, Muffin, Chocolate, MarshmallowsOur office is quite flexible for bank holidays and stays open, meaning that if you wish to be off you can, but if you would like the extra holidays at a time when you’re not just going stuff your face with chocolate (let’s be honest you can – and I did – do that in the office) you can work through. This sounded a great idea to me (it’ll give me the option of a day off when I move house, if I so wish) and so I opted to work. It was a great theory, but sitting in an office with fewer than half of the people that are normally there wasn’t quite as good an idea as I thought it would be. On Good Friday I had ‘that Friday feeling’ with a great big dollop of ‘why am I working on a Bank holiday’ feeling on top. Not fun. There was an obvious remedy for Easter Monday – make cake and take it in so we could eat even more chocolate and enjoy being at work when everyone else was away having fun.

I’ve been meaning to make Rocky Road Muffins for a while, so with all the other chocolate about it seemed like the ideal opportunity… They come from my favourite muffin recipe book (OK, I only have one) Muffin Magic, which I was bought on a whim a couple of years back and have been chuckling about ever since*. They were a great success – if a little sticky – and drew many a jealous look when I carried them in a transparent tupperware box on the bus. I think they also went down quite well with those in the office, as I have been told that future baking will be gratefully accepted. Pity only 11 actually made it as far as the tupperware…Rocky Road Muffins, Muffin, Chocolate, Marshmallows

What you need:
300g Self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp Cocoa powder
95g milk chocolate, chopped (or cheat and use chocolate drops/buttons)
75g mini marshmallows
150g soft brown sugar
200ml milk
2 eggs, beaten
75g butter, melted
You can also add in chopped nuts if you so desire – use 50g and take 25g off both the chocolate and the marshmallows quantities above.Rocky Road Muffins, Muffin, Chocolate, Marshmallows

How to do it:
It makes about 12 large muffins, and needs the oven to be at 200’C/400’F/G.M. 6

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a large bowl, and combine well.
  2. Pour in about two-thirds of both the marshmallows and chocolate chips (and the nuts, if using) and mix.
  3. Combine the sugar, milk, eggs and butter in a separate bowl/jug until they are well mixed; then our this mixture into the dry ingredients slowly, whilst stirring.
  4. Once the mixtures are fully stirred together spoon large dollops into your prepared muffin pan.
  5. Press in the remaining marshmallows and chocolate chips into the tops of each muffin, then bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they’ve risen and are firm to the touch.

And then you can enjoy these fluffy, chocolatey muffins. They are probably best when they’re still slightly warm, but are perfectly good cold. They certainly cheered me up and got me through to home time.

Bring on the national holiday for the queen’s diamond jubilee!


*If you’re more mature than my friends and I are and don’t get why it funny, I suggest you use urbandictionary.com and discover an alternate definition for ‘muffin’, and then combine generously with the word ‘magic’ until you get the, ahem, picture…

Easter ‘Baking’: Chocolate Nests

It’s Easter Monday! This means two things: it’s a bank holiday and it’s probably raining. For once the latter of these doesn’t bother me as I decided to work and take the two days (I was working on Friday as well) off at another point when I’m actually going to do something more than stuff myself with chocolate. Actually, I can do (and am doing) that in the office. In fact I’m currently eating a rocky road muffin (the keyboard’s getting a bit messy) — the recipe for which will be up here on Thursday from lunchtime.

Chocolate Easter NestsEaster – the only holiday in the calendar entirely dedicated to chocolate and fluffy baby animals* – is one of my favourite holidays for food. And by this I, of course, mean chocolate. I love chocolate and spent most of Easter Sunday eating various chocolate things: Easter Egg (a bit of a dark mint Green and Blacks and a couple of Hotel Chocolat Dark Ginger Egglets, in case you were wondering), half a chocolate/rocky road muffin (making sure they weren’t poisonous before bringing them into the office, obviously), a slice of chocolate tart (as part of dinner), and the obligatory – a chocolate nest.

Chocolate nests are, in my eyes, an integral part of Easter. Partly because there’s something quite childish about them, but ultimately because they are just very satisfying to eat. And I know they’re not technically baking (as you don’t actually bake them), but as I don’t really see what other category they come under it will do for now.

So, if you’ve not eaten enough chocolate already this weekend why not make some Chocolate Nests.Chocolate Easter Nests

200g half decent milk chocolate
40g (or there about, I didn’t really measure mine) butter
5 or 6 shredded wheat ‘pillows’ – don’t crush until they go in (you can also use cornflakes, but they don’t make for such a good texture)
1 tablespoon of golden syrup
Mini eggs to decorate
Spotty bun cases (optional, but it adds to the childishness)Chocolate Easter Nests

These are really simple to make, and eggcellent (sorry) for making with kids.
1. Break up the chocolate and heat in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
2. Once (and only once) the chocolate has melted add the butter, stir it in and then do likewise with the golden syrup.
3. Stir gently until this forms a glossy, runny liquid.
4. Crush in the shredded wheat ‘pillows’ one by one and mix until they are fully coated in chocolate — you might not need the sixth, depending on how runny your mixture is.
5. Spoon into bun cases and add a few eggs on top to decorate.

These nest will take a while to set, and unlike those made using just chocolate they will not set solidly. This slight softness to them gives them an almost fudge-like quality too, making them even more addictive than their pure chocolate counterparts. You can also add in raisins/sultanas alongside the shredded wheats, if you feel you need a little fruit in there. I’ve also heard of some people adding a splash of brandy in as well, although I cannot vouch for the results as I have never tried it.

Once cooled, pretend you are under the age of ten and munch them like you’ve not eaten a single crumb of chocolate all weekend.


*chickens are not just animals, I know, but ‘fluffy baby creatures from the kingdom animalia’ sounds a little too biologically correct for this blog… Oh and there’s the whole Christian and Pagan ceremonies as well…