I remember the first time I made chocolate self-saucing pudding was as a child of around 11 or 12.  Even from the perspective of a kid who had never made much pudding before, that this recipe would turn into a pudding with sauce seemed just highly improbable.  I’d be grateful for any information out there about how – scientifically, I guess – this recipe works: from some pantry and fridge basics you make a melt-and-mix cake batter, then sprinkle over some sugar and cocoa, and then pour over some boiling water.  It is the last part that seems weird.  But this recipe is dead easy and yet wonderfully comforting and satisfying.  We thought that we grown-ups needed a bit of extra indulgence this time around so added some Pedro Ximinez-soaked prunes as well – we can definitely recommend it.  We ate it as is on the first night, with leftovers enjoyed throughout the week warmed with an extra splash of pedro on top and a blob of custard.

NCRmay09And if you may be starting to think that our house seems to have been a house of desserts of late, you are right.  On that note I would like to say my warm thanks for supporting my entry (a warming dish of winter berries) to May’s No Crouton’s Required event.  I’m chuffed to now sport the winner’s badge for the month!  It’s lovely to receive this encouragement from readers, and I’m particularly grateful to the event organisers Lisa and Jacqueline, who apart from organising the event also maintain inspiring food blogs themselves.

I promise that we have been eating our greens at dinner, but today we’re still talking about icky and sticky desserts, so here’s the pudding recipe.  Enjoy!

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Chocolate self-saucing pudding with drunken prunes
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander

125g plain flour
pinch of salt
1/4 castor sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
40g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
dash vanilla essence
1/3 cup prunes, sliced roughly
3 tbsp Pedro Ximinez sherry (or brandy or cognac or whatever you have handy)

For the topping
180g brown sugar
2tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 180C.

Soak the prunes in the sherry and set aside.

Mix the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and cocoa in a large bowl.  In a jug mix the melted butter, milk, egg and vanilla.  Tip the wet into the dry and mix thoroughly.  Stir through the prune mixture with the juices.  Tip into a 1.4L baking dish.

For the topping, mix together the brown sugar and the cocoa in a small bowl.  Scatter over the pudding batter.  Then carefully pour over the boiling water.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.  Serve hot with custard and extra sherry.

Yield: 6-8 servings.

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It’s a time of year when there’s been no shortage of sweet treats. I certainly feel like I’ve eaten a huge amount of indulgent celebratory food since I made these cookies a few weeks ago, but perhaps it bodes well for the new year that this first post’s recipe will keep you (or set you!) on a path of healthiness.

Since I am a person who, whatever the season, feels the pangs of a snack attack most afternoons, I’m particularly grateful for the invention of this “healthy cookie”.  Initially I wasn’t sure about the recipe for many reasons: I’ve never really ventured into vegan baking, I was a bit sceptical about whether the words ‘healthy’ and ‘cookie’ could legitimately be used to describe the same food item, and I was unsure about using coconut oil*.  However, the simplicity of the recipe and the many positive comments about it encouraged me, and I now want to spread the word.

These yield a tasty,  soft cookie that you can put together in a matter of minutes (seriously, the measuring out takes the longest time). I made a few alterations to the original recipe: replacing some of the banana with apple puree to make the banana a bit more of a background flavour, and replacing half the chocolate with raisins.  I’m sure you could do many other variations, and even – amazingly – make the cookies sugar-free by omitting the chocolate altogether and substituting your favourite dried fruits.

Also, in a blitz of new years’ assiduousness, I have made an index of the recipes on this blog (see the link on the top right of this page).  I hope it helps you to locate recipes a little bit more easily.  Happy new year to all!

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Surprisingly virtuous choc-oaty cookies
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 ripe banana, well mashed (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup unsweetened apple puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil (warmed just enough to be stirrable; or you can substitute olive oil)
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (a heaping half cup)
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 170C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.

Into a bowl mix together the banana, apple, coconut oil and vanilla.  Into another bowl mix the oats, almond meal, shredded coconut, cinnamon salt and baking powder.  Stir in the fruit mixture into the dry mixture until well combined.  Fold through the chocolate and raisins.

Drop into bite-sized mounts onto the baking paper, a few centimetres apart.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans if needed, until the bottoms of the cookies are golden and they have firmed up a little.  The cookies will continue to firm up a bit more on cooling.

Yields: about 40 bite-sized cookies

* While many promote the positive health benefits of coconut oil, and health food shops seem to readily stock the stuff, it does seem like there are just as many people who aren’t sure if it is any better than other kinds of saturated fat.  Following the guidance of the trusty Harold McGee on the kitchen-scientific (I’ve mentioned him before), I’m content to cook occasionally with good quality coconut oil (I used organic extra virgin),  and enjoy the riches of the coconut in small doses.  Also, I think that in this kind of recipe it adds a subtle coconut flavour to the whole thing which I rather like.  And what’s 1/4 cup of oil anyway divided between 40 cookies?

I thought I’d share a couple of ideas that we’ve tried out recently, which are really just variations on two old favourites in this sweets-loving household: hot chocolate and baked rhubarb.

Rum-spiked hot chocolate
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

500mL milk
50g* dark chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick cinnamon
A dollop of honey and a bit of brown sugar (less than 1/2 tsp each, or to taste)
2 tbsp gold or dark rum

Put all ingredients except the rum into a saucepan and gently bring up to simmering point, stirring well to melt the chocolate. Once it is heated through, pour into mugs and stir 1 tbsp rum to each mug before serving. Yield: 2 large mugs

*This is half the amount of chocolate in the original recipe. Of course, feel free to up the quantities as you wish, and of course the richness would also depend on the chocolate you use – but be warned, 50g seemed a good amount to us. The original recipe also calls for more honey and brown sugar but we felt this wasn’t needed either. See how you go!

Maple-baked rhubarb

Trim 1 bunch of rhubarb into 5cm lengths. Place in a baking dish and toss in 1/4 cup maple syrup. Bake for 20 minutes in a 200C oven. That’s it.

Something I enjoy about staying with my husband’s family is that every morning a smorgasbord of cereals is set out on the side kitchen bench, ready for whenever we come down for breakfast. I was contemplating this array one morning, and in talking with my mother-in-law about porridge, she discovered that somehow, I had the idea that oats came from wheat. But oats are oats, she said, and wheat is wheat!

I’m happy to report that the ancient Greeks and Romans were similarly mistaken about oats, as they considered oats to be a diseased form of wheat, or a weed. This I learned from Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2004), an illuminating and entertaining reference work that contains not only encyclopaedia-style entries on foodie items (for example: dairy, vegetables, sauces, and beer), but also other tidbits such as the chemical structures of polysaccharides, a structural diagram of ice-cream (revealing its status as a ‘semi-solid foam’), and curious articles such as ‘Why Some Fish Seem To Dry Out Faster Than Others’, ‘Olive Oil Can Make Crazy Mayonnaise’ and ‘The Logic of Cream Puff Pastry’.

McGee confirms that oats, indeed, are just oats. It is also clear that since antiquity, oats have also enjoyed a somewhat minor status among the grains (unlike wheat, which is a superstar grain). Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary defined oats as “a grain, which in England is given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”. But even if I was mistaken about its classification among grains, I’ve always been a huge fan of eating oats in just about any form: in biscuits, loaves, granola, muesli, porridge, you name it. There’s something hearty and affirming about oats that combines comfort and healthfulness.

I hope you enjoy this recipe for Chocolate Bircher Muesli as much as we do. Admittedly, the chocolate element is something that the reputed inventor of bircher muesli, Dr Maximilian Bircher-Benner, would likely not have included for the version he served to his hospital patients in Switzerland. If you want, of course you can skip the chocolate and instead experience the ringing virtuousness that comes from a supremely healthy oaty breakfast. But the chocolate version is good, and is a nod to that other germanic breakfast treat, Schokomuesli.

img_1450.jpgThis is my entry for Weekend Breakfast Blogging #20, hosted this week by Mansi of Fun and Food. This month’s theme is ‘Balanced Breakfast Meals’, and this bircher recipe contains representatives from all 4 categories for all-round brekky wholesomeness (fruit, grain, dairy, protein). Mansi asked for recipes that are both wholesome and delicious – so for extra deliciousness, I am submitting this chocolate version. This recipe serves 2, and the quantities are just a guide: the most important thing is the 1:1 ratio of oats to milk. It’s easy to make and easy to remember, and you can use whatever berries or nuts you have on hand (fresh blueberries are great, as are pistachios).

Chocolate bircher muesli

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup milk
40g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (about 2 heaped tablespoons)
1 green apple
1/2 cup low-fat greek-style yoghurt
125g strawberries, sliced (about 1/2 a cup)
2 tablespoons raw natural almonds, roughly chopped
Honey, to serve

The night before you want to serve this, put the oats, milk and chocolate together into a bowl and stir. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

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To assemble the dish: grate the apple (including its skin) and stir this through the oaty mixture, before the apple has a chance to discolour. Make sure you also put in any of the juice that runs out of the grated apple. Serve out the oaty mixture into 2 bowls. Top with the yoghurt, sliced strawberries and chopped nuts, and a light drizzle of honey to taste.