Luscious Salted Caramel Brownies

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Last week I was asked to make some brownies for work as it was one of my colleagues last day. I spent time browsing through my favourite site but didn't find anything that tickled my fancy. I wanted a brownie but not your run of the mill type brownie, something different. Then I had eureka moment, I remembered to check out my favourite baking blog run by Emma Gardner. She has given me at least two of my favourite recipes in the past, Lemon Drizzle Loaf and Tarte Au Citron and yet again she has given me a winner in her Salted Caramel Brownies

These brownies are truly glorious, however as Emma stressed to me on twitter they are not your regular brownies, they are truly dense sticky truffle like nuggets of pure heavenly goodness. The salted caramel gooey-ness makes these truly delectable. I have been reading for months now how people are coupling salt with sweet,  I am long time believer in salt and sweet, my father used to lambast me when I was a child for sticking my chips in to my strawberry milkshake in Burgerland on the rare occasion we get to go there. There is something though however about salted caramel that brings back fond memories of eating toffee, ( yes I was tubby kid and all I did was eat sweets, wait I still do ..... ) there would be the slightest hint always of salt to it, especially in Toffos if you remember them or McCowans Highland toffee.

Anyhow here is the recipe for you to make and send your friends into a chocolate stupor. My recipe is a double batch and I used a 40cm x 20 cm baking tray.

For the caramel:
150g white caster sugar
100ml double cream
20g unsalted butter
1/4 tsp fleur de sel/good sea salt

For the brownie:
200g unsalted butter
300g caster sugar
200g light brown sugar
150g golden syrup
550g quality 70% dark chocolate
8 eggs
140g plain flour
Method  (Makes about 32 small but rich squares)
  1. Tip the sugar into a big heavy-bottomed pan in an even layer. Place over medium heat watch to make the sugar doesn't start to burn. Wait until the edges start to liquify then gently start to move the sugar around onto the wet spots to try and get it to melt evenly - don't stir it. Don't worry if it starts to clump a little, it will melt down later. Keep gently moving the unmelted sugar into the liquid bits until you just have a liquid. Keep cooking until it reaches a deep golden-bronze, almost the colour of a penny. Immediately take off the heat and whisk in about 1/3 of the cream to stop the caramel cooking, be as quick as possible here as the syrup may harden on you so the key is fast whisking. Keep pouring and whisking until all the cream is incorporated. Add the butter in chunks and the salt and stir until smooth. Pour into a bowl to cool - at the moment it will pour easily off the spoon in thin ribbons.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F. Line a 40x20cm tin (at least 2.5cm tall) with paper. Get another big saucepan and add the butter, caster sugar, brown sugar and syrup. Heat until everything is melted together then beat until smooth. Take off the heat then add all the chocolate, the chocolate does not need to be pre melted here as it will melt soon as its added to the mix above. Stir until melted and uniform. Lightly whisk the eggs in a small bowl then incorporate them into the mix. Finally add the flour and beat throughly until very smooth. Pour into the prepared tin.
  3. By now your caramel should be gloriously thick. Spoon fairly evenly over the mix then use a knife to lightly swirl it through.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes then take out and leave to cool. When you take it out of the oven it will have a slight wobble, that is perfectly normal as it needs to be chilled for at least 12 hours. Once cool, put into the fridge overnight or the freezer until frozen solid. Slice up with a sharp knife dipped into hot water and cleaned between each cut. Serve cold, warm or at room temperature - up to you!

These brownies are the best I have ever made, thank you Emma for your great recipe.


Tales of a Monster Cake - Guest Blog Post by Jen Moran

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A couple of months ago with my Son’s first birthday approaching I decided to start planning a little party for him (ie us!) to celebrate it. Given that he doesn’t even know he has a nose, I couldn’t exactly ask him what sort of theme he might like, so off to Pinterest I went to find some inspiration. I stumbled across a very cute Friendly Monster theme which I loved, and from there the plans got underway. Monster themed paper plates and paper cups were sourced (from in case anyone is interested). I bought some of their paper plates, paper cups and the cupcake monster kits. I used Parcel Motel for delivery.

In rare wave of determined ambition I decided that I was going to become the next Mary Berry and make my own cake, based on a picture I had seen on Pinterest. Enter my baking expert good friend Will, who was appointed as my chief baking consultant whether he liked it or not! Of course, him being as lovely as he is seemed glad to help. Maybe not on the day of baking after panicked phone call number 264, but being the legend that he is he never once complained.

Why 264 panicked calls you might wonder? Well let me explain the baking adventures of last Saturday!

Firstly, here is the picture of the monster cake I had seen on Pinterest and this was what I was basing mine on.

I hadn’t a notion of what tools I might need – my extensive list of baking paraphernalia include a rolling pin (not needed), a square cake tin (not needed) and a sieve with no handle, but I did buy a mixer I had seen in Aldi a few months ago during one of my rare baking moods, which was still in the box…
Will to the rescue. He very kindly gave me a lend of his 8inch round cake tin, and also provided me with a fool proof recipe for a chocolate fudge cake and expertly directed me to what other utensils I would need for the cake and for the icing, and off I went.

The first hurdle I encountered was my oven. It’s an old oven we inherited when we moved into our house, with no manual. The recipe called for the oven to be set to 180 for fan. The problem was that I had 7 different fan options, all pictures of fans but they each had random lines around them, or circles around them. What the hell. I figured once there’s a fan on somewhere we can’t go wrong. So I picked the one we know definitely works for when we cook the Christmas turkey cos this is pretty much our only need for the fan oven. That’s how experienced I am at baking! So I set the oven to preheat and off I went.

Will had advised me to make sure I take the butter out of the fridge long before I actually started the baking so that it would be nice and soft. I helpfully only remembered this piece of advice at the very second I needed to add the butter. Oops. Be grand, I thought, I’ll stick it in the microwave. Then I thought, wait, Will made a point of saying this to me so maybe I’ll check with him. So I sent him a message, but as he is a normal person with an actual life, he didn’t reply within the first 5 seconds. Such a crap chief consultant!! So I thought ah feck it what harm would the microwave do. Just as the microwave dinged after 30 seconds of melting the butter, Will replied and said to use the microwave but stressed ‘ONLY FOR 5 SECONDS’!


Oh well. I ended up pouring the butter into the mix, but sure what harm could that possibly do at the end of the day. Instructions Shminstructions. Anyway, I’m the new Mary Berry and Mary knows what she’s doing. Proceed!

The recipe said to mix the cocoa with water and then to add the rest of the ingredients. I just basically threw things into the mixing bowl. It did strike me that maybe I should mix them or add things gradually, but in my defence, this is what the instructions said and I’m a stickler for instructions. (Except for when taking butter out of the fridge in advance).Despite this, things were looking good and my confidence grew a bit. I left it mixing for a few minutes while I battled with the cake tin and the baking parchment trying to line the tin. That was fun. Eventually the tin got lined and in went the mix, I gave the cake a little blessing to send it on its way to the oven and prayed I would see it on the other side. In it went.

Meanwhile back at Baking Headquarters, I needed to wash all the stuff to make up a mix for cupcakes. I just googled ‘cupcake recipe’ and happened to find Donal Skehan’s basic cupcake recipe so I used that. It seemed easy enough, so I repeated my expert method of putting everything into a bowl at once and mixing it. Just as I was getting smug about how good I was turning out to be at baking and wondering how I might go about applying for next year’s Bake Off, I detected a whiff of something burning.

When I opened the oven and pulled out the cake – it was not a good sight. The top of the cake had sort of set and was starting to burn, and underneath that bit was still basically chocolate goo. Panicked, I rang my chief consultant. I had to explain about the random fan buttons on the oven and I ended up sending him photos of each one of them! Obviously as he is not an oven technician he basically had to tell me what he thought each one probably was, we picked a new one, covered my poor cake with tinfoil and I stuck it back in. The smell of burning went away and was replaced with the smell of chocolate cake so all was well with the world again. For a while.

Cupcake mix complete, I stuck them in the cases and put them in with the cake. 20 minutes or so later and they were done – Mary Berry was back. Shortly afterwards (and many openings of the oven door to check which I now know is not a good thing to do) I took my cake out and stuck a knife in it. I vaguely remembered from my Home Economics days that if it comes out dry the cake is done. It was dry, yay! I managed to get the cake out of the tin (I now also know you’re supposed to leave it to cool a bit first), and I stuck it on a wire rack to let it cool. As my monster cake needed to be quite tall, I was planning to make a second cake and put them on top of each-other. As I only had Will’s trusty cake tin this meant doing all of the above again. But now I was an expert so I figured it would all be grand.

Utensils and mixers all washed again and off we went. This time I had taken the butter out already so no microwaving was needed. I even remembered to take out the butter that I’d need for the buttercream icing. Such a pro.

Second cake made, cake tin lined again, and off we went. This time seeing as I was still unsure about the fan options, I decided to try a different one. What’s the worst that could happen? After 5 minutes I checked the cake and there was no burnt bits forming on the top so I left it in and went off to decorate my cupcakes. For these I had just bought pre made orange and green buttercream icing in Aldi that they had in for Halloween. I had an old icing gun from years back so I just spooned the buttercream into it and squirted it out onto the cupcakes. I then used my monster cupcake kit that I had bought and decorated each one, and job done!

Back I went to check on cake no 2. I opened the oven and peeked in and it looked absolutely perfect! The knife test confirmed it was done, however, this time when I tried to remove it from the tin it was a lot harder to get out. Eventually I got it off but only to discover that the entire base of cake no 2 was actually cremated! Stupid stupid multiple fan buttons! Don’t panic, I thought, I’ll just let it cool down and then I’ll cut the burnt bits off, nobody will even notice.

I must admit I was getting pretty tired now, but I thought the worst bit was probably over and I could get on with the fun bit of icing the cake! Off I went to get my special nozzle and the cheapo piping bag I had bought in the Euro shop the week before. It hadn’t dawned on me to check the nozzle fitted the bag until approximately 10 minutes before I needed to use it. And naturally enough – it didn’t fit. The hole in the bag was too big. Of course it was. So, I thought, what would Mary Berry do? Naturally, Mary would fashion herself a new piping bag out of some Ikea ziplock freezer bags, what else?? So that’s what I did. I felt like I had evolved into some sort of Mary Berry/Bear Grylls baker survivor extraordinaire. Just call me Bear Berry. Or Mary Grylls sounds a bit more baker-y.

While the cakes were still cooling I needed to make the filling for in between them. It said to melt some chocolate and mix it with double cream, and when it has almost set, spread it on the cake. But before that I had to warm up some Apricot jam and spread them on either side. BUT before I did all this I had to cut off the burnt bits from poor cake no 2. Halfway through that job and disaster struck – the cake started to fall apart and so I had to abandon that and I used my apricot jam to sort of glue it back together. Nobody would notice a thing…..!
Meanwhile my filling was not setting as it should and was still very runny. I had no idea how to thicken it up but I had about 500 bags of icing sugar in stock (6) so I thought I’ll add some of that to it. After about half an hour it was still the same and the cakes were cold by now so I just slathered it on and stuck cake no 1 on top. Gradually the chocolate sauce was oozing out and onto the cake stand – disaster – so I ended up coating the sides and the top with chocolate sauce too and that seemed to do the job.

FINALLY it was time to make the buttercream to ice the cake – the fun bit! Off I went to get my butter which I had taken out of the fridge hours ago, only to discover that being the genius that I am, I left it right beside the hob where it had melted while I had been melting chocolate over a saucepan of hot water, and had basically melted into a huge puddle all over the top of the gas hob. Husband was dispatched in a panic to the shop just before it closed to buy more butter. At this stage stress levels were quite high so I was quite surprised he actually chose to come home instead of hopping on the first train out of there!

Will had given me very simple instructions for the butter cream: 1kg of butter (2 blocks) to 2kg of icing sugar. He said to cut the butter into smallish chunks and gradually add the icing sugar to the mixer. Easy. So off we went.
By the time all of the butter and icing sugar were added my poor mixer was under a lot of pressure and eventually came to a standstill. Panicked, I rang my chief consultant again who advised to split the mixture and if it was too stiff to add a drop of milk to make it easier. I split the mixture, and kept half in the mixer and decided to use my parent’s old electric whisk from the 80s on the other half. Because I had no free hands by now, I recruited Hubby to come over and pour a drop of milk to mixture two for me. However – I crucially forgot that his idea of a drop of milk usually equates to half a pint. Over he came and despite my clear instructions of ONLY A DROP he proceeded to glug half the feckin pint of milk in. Not gonna lie, there was almost killings. Hubs was sacked. Add in 2 more 50g bags of sugar and a bit more butter and I reckoned I had rescued the situation as well as I could have. I added some mint green food colouring to each portion of icing sugar and FINALLY I could get going on my favourite bit!

First I spread some of the buttercream around the outside and on top of the cake cos I thought the chocolate sauce might not help the icing stick to it. That resulted in an interesting mix of butter cream and chocolate which kind of looked like a melted mint Aero. Be grand, sure who is going to see that bit anyway.

Off we went with my home made Ikea ziplock piping bags. It worked! I started to pipe the monster ‘hair’ onto the cake, starting at the bottom along the edge all the way around. Just as I finished the first row of piping my trusty Ikea bag burst and I had to cut out my nozzle and make a new one, this time I sellotaped the bag to the outside of the nozzle. By the time I had half of the cake done, I was on my 5th Ikea bag. Getting a bit worried, I counted I had 7 bags left and prayed to God I could get the cake done before they all burst on me! The pressure was on.
Eventually, after making no less than 10 piping bags, the icing was done! By this stage the room was so warm after all that baking that bits of monster hair were starting to fall off, so I quickly cut out the shape of his mouth from some black ready to roll icing with a pizza cutter, along with three small triangles from the white block of ready to roll icing for the teeth. I had edible icing glue so I used that to stick the teeth to the mouth, then I stuck the whole mouth onto the side of the cake and hoped it would stick. Then I emptied half the fridge out (much giving out from Hubs about how his beer would get warm) and stuck the whole cake in, cake stand and all, then I left it to set for the night. The last thing I had to do for the cake was to roll out 3 balls of white ready to roll icing, with three black dots to make the eyeballs and I left them overnight ready to add to the cake for the party the next day.

My last job of what is now known as Epic Baking Day 2015 was to make little rice krispie bar monsters. Again, advice from Will was to melt some white chocolate, add some food colouring, and dip the bars in. I just used the Kellogg’s marshmallow Rice Krispie bars, dipped them into the dyed melted chocolate, then stuck little monster eyes on them made by ready to roll icing. Done!

Next morning I was very relieved to find that the buttercream had hardened a bit and the cake was still intact! I stuck my three eyeballs on some baking wire and stuck them into the cake – and my masterpiece was born! I was as proud as if I had given birth to the damn cake. So much so that I felt a strong emotional attachment to him and I named him George. I was so proud I almost shed a tear. When the guests arrived and saw George I was like a proud parent basking in all the praise. I knew people would want to eat him, and when the time came, I have to say I cried on the inside. Poor George! He was dead and all that remained were his three beautiful eyeballs J

RIP George, you’ll live on in my heart forever.

Huge thanks to Will and Joanne for all their patience last Saturday with all my phone calls and texts! And thank you to Will for having me write this post for his blog J

Chocolate Cake - Part 1 - Icing to Follow on Snapchat Thursday 8pm

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

This is Mary Berry's recipe I am simply spreading the love. You will love it!

You can find it here on Woman's Own.

Follow me on Snapchat if you want to see me make it , Username : Chongwill.

What you need :

1 x 6inch tin
50g cocoa powder 
12 dessertspoons boiling water
3 large eggs
50ml  milk
175g self-raising flour
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
100g margarine
275g caster sugar 

1kg of icing sugar sifted
4 dessertspoons of cocoa powder
500g butter softened

How you do it:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Grease your tin then line the base of each tin with baking parchment or grease and flour.
  2. Blend the cocoa and boiling water in a large bowl.
  3. Mix the margarine and sugar until light / fluffy.
  4. Add one egg at a time beating after each egg.
  5. Add your milk and cocoa, give a 10 second beat.
  6. Add your flour, baking powder and beat until smooth and thick.
  7. Transfer to the tin.
  8. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 55 minutes or until well risen and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack. 

  1. Whisk the sifted icing sugar in to the butter couple of spoonfuls at a time slowly.
  2. When all mixed add the cocoa, by now the icing will be quite stiff.
  3. Add enough milk to loosen the icing start with teaspoons at a time. 

Lovely White Bread - You cannot go wrong!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

I think we all know by now I disappear for long periods of time on my blog, so I best not say "oooh I am back blah blah". I will say this however, I feel throughout my whole time on the bake off I was churning out blog after blog for the sake of it thinking I was going to become some baking blogger bloke with a book. That didn't happen and I lost interest in blogging,  I am still a normal(ish) bloke working my day job cleaning data for a law firm, and now I am finally back to the hobby that this once was before I straight up forgot about it. The one thing about baking at least for a hobby is I need people to eat my stuff, especially the cakes, I really need to befriend my next door neighbours. Hmmm the neighbours might think I am an utter weirdo however, maybe I should stick with scoffing it myself and Joanne of course.

Anyhow here is why I decided to finally bake today. I was in Fallon and Byrne yesterday, their bread selection is fantastic but a smidgen dear, 9 quid for large rye loaf! I thought I should bake my own bread again, it is the one thing I love eating of my own stuff I make. Lets see if I still remember how do this baking malarkey cause it has been months. Straight in to the kitchen grabbing Mr. James Morton's "Brilliant Bread" book, it is the only bread book I own and value. Opening the book I pick the very first recipe, the easiest one at that which required no kneading whatsoever. Here is said recipe I hope you like it, I know I will be having it for breakfast in the morning with my new favourite thing, raspberry jam and banana. I had that this morning, god it was good.

By the way I did not adapt this recipe I flat out copied it, all credit goes to James Morton. Buy his book it is his first one, it's simply the best and accessible to the most novice of bakers.

What you need:
  • 500g strong white flour
  • 10g salt
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

How to do it:

  • In a large bowl, weigh the flour. Rub in the salt at one edge of the bowl and the yeast on the other side, as the salt can stop the yeast working.
  • Add 350ml tepid water and mix together to form a coherent dough (use your dough to mop up any flour sticking to the bowl).
  • Cover your bowl with a damp tea towel or clingfilm and rest in a warm place for 30-40 minutes, or until it has noticeably increased in size.
  • Wet the fingertips of one hand and slide between the bowl and dough. Fold the dough in half. Turn the bowl 90°; repeat until you have removed all of the air and it's noticeably smooth. Cover and rest for an hour, or until at least doubled in size.
  • Scrape the dough on to a floured surface, flour your hands and shape into a ball.
  • Place the dough on a heavily floured surface (like a chopping board), loosely cover and leave it for a final hour, or until it has doubled in size and springs back when pushed. (I like to use a proving basket, which makes a lovely spiral pattern on the top of the loaf.) Preheat the oven to 220°C, fan 200°C, gas 7, at least 20 minutes in advance.
  • Give your bread a few shallow slashes with a serrated knife. Bake on a lightly oiled baking tray on a low-to-middle shelf for 35-40 minutes, until a deep golden brown – don't be scared to let it get a good dark crust. If your oven cooks unevenly, turn the loaf so it browns all over.
Here is the ol cross cut of the bread once cooled:

Thank you for reading my blog and Mr. Morton's recipe.


Brainwashed by an Albatross

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Not an expected title but as I sit here in Alicante writing a blog post I have been listening to a song that seems to be on repeat on every Spanish radio station right now it is called "I'm an Albatraoz" by AronChupa. I think I have listened to it myself this morning alone about 6-7 times, it is one serious earworm. Make no mistake it's nothing special but it is a very catchy pop song. I am very weird with music,  I have been saying since secondary school when my mates in school would ask about what music I like "ooooh I don't have a music taste, my taste is eclectic" <------ pretentious knob. It is the truth though I could listen to pretty much anything, some music I listen to is embarrassing hence why I had to turn off the link between Spotify to Facebook, I want to keep my guilty pleasures to myself. I associate music with memories, I can go from listening to Led Zeppelin which transports me instantly to my childhood trying to record from my dad's vinyl player to cassette deck so I could listen to "Whole Lotta Love" on my Sony Walkman. I love Julio Iglesias & Demis Roussos because of my mum, she would clean the kitchen on Saturdays and always have one of these guys playing on vinyl.I switch on Guns N Roses "Use Your Illusion II",  I remember it being my first musical present my mum bought me. It was for my first visit to the dentist, strange I know especially as there are some choice lyrics on that album, it was 1992 and I was only 8!

I don't care who knows this next bit but I think around 1996 I got my first cd player, it was an ALBA mini centre, it was THE FUTURE! or at least for a couple of years it was. I had a few Oasis singles to start with but soon after my birthday my dad was over in Holland visiting my grandmother and he brought me back a present. It was the Spice Girls debut album SPICE, I bloody loved that album it was full of catchy pop songs and I am a sucker for them. There was a lot of strange purchases in that year, I would save up my pocket money and buy singles on cd or cassette. Oasis, Blur, the Spice Girls, Robbie Williams (his debut with Freedom), and chuck in some Bon Jovi. My music taste was all over the shop, oh and I cannot forget a bit of SCOOTER thrown in there for good measure. The next few years I was amassing a collection of classics and junk but I was hooked. In 1999 I remember the first time I had my first alcoholic drink, I think I was 15 in my friend Emma's house. Her parents were on holiday, and she invited me over with two of her other friends (girls), all I remember is "Baby one more time" by Britney Spears being played alot! oh and drinking Buckfast, lots of Buckfast. 

I remember the next bit vividly, it was April 2001 just before I graduated from secondary school. My mate gave me a lend of his Dr. Dre's 2001. It had the usual "Parental Advisory Explicit Content" on the front but I gave it little attention. I didn't know what to expect as I had never listened to Rap in my life prior to this. So it is a evening after school, and I put on the CD, I was hooked on these slick beats (haha I sounds so tragically un hip saying that ) but I was also hooked on the swearing, my 16 year old mind was blown. If my mind was blown, well my mum's wasn't especially when track 3 came on by Devin the Dude, go listen to it is why that album has an explicit label. My mum took the CD out and took it off me, she proceeded to confiscate my CD player. I didn't hear that album again until my graduation day 2 months later, where I drank a lot of beer in my mates house and listened to track 3 on repeat until the wee hours. I also learned that I was gonna need to buy a pair of headphones so I could listen to what I want with out bothering my parents with extremely explicit lyrics.

I remember when my brother first found rap music around 2004/2005. We used to always play FIFA on the playstation and he would stick on some songs he thought was cool, bear in my mind he is 4 years younger than me. We bonded listening to Notorious BIG. We know all the lyrics to Biggie's raps. There are days even now when we are in the car together and Juicy comes on, it goes on full blast and we go back to those days in our parents house playing FIFA. Music is all about memories and I would not change one of them as embarrassing as some of them may be. In a few years when my niece Ava is over in my house and I stick on some Rap music I hope Steve appreciates the history lesson Ava will be getting. Speaking of Ava she is doing well this week, a few ups and downs, she is starting to put on some weight which is fantastic. I picked her up some very cute presents in El Corte Ingles yesterday, which will be nice to see on her in a few months. I never thought I'd actually enjoy wandering around looking at baby clothes before. Keep those candles lit for her, she needs to know the lyrics to Juicy off by heart by the time she is 15. 

At the moment Joanne and myself are in Alicante getting some much needed rest from these past few hectic months. I love it here especially because of the food,  I wish I could say I was happy about myself putting some weight on like Ava but may aswell enjoy the food while I am here.

Here are some pics of my favourite dishes I have had so far.

Cafe Cortado : I have one of these every day, it is an espresso with a dash of hot milk.

Pan Con Tomate: I have this with my cafe cortado, simply toasted baguette with crushed tomato and olive oil.

Chorizo in Cider: incredible especially with bread for dippage.

Fresh mussels in white wine, a delicious classic.

Yummy Calamares (squid) with aioli.

Pintxo Moruno : spiced pork kebabs, so tasty.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, I am slower with blog posts, but I am doing this so I can look back on this in a few years and it also  takes my mind off things going on in real life.


April 28th 2015 - Life

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Good day (not in the Australian G'day sense bah you know what I mean),

I hope you are the best you can be right now. I have flipped around this idea in my brain for months maybe even longer than that, finally moving my fingers back and forth across a keyboard attempting to write a blog entry. Let me start in the year of 13'. An amazing year! it brought me many great memories, memories of family and friends gathering for something I applied a talent of mine to in the form baking on the telly (I still cannot fathom it even happened). The greatest thing that happened this year I opened up as person, I changed... I found a voice inside me telling me I can do things,  I could speak in public and not be afraid of messing up (ok I did mess up a bit in the beginning of teaching it was nerve wracking). I taught some lovely folk how to bake a bit of bread.... it was hectic, draining but incredibly rewarding seeing people produce bread from my instructions. We had our ups... our downs.... bread turned out amazing (up) but on occasion I forgot to line tins, cue bread got stuck inside (down). People I have learned are very forgiving when you have downs, it showed I was no different to them in their kitchens. Most importantly however people listened to me and asked me questions I could answer on how to bake which was amazing as I felt like saying "ah here I only know this from learning from my dad, mum and watching food tv shows I am no Mary Berry". 

2014 was a continuation of 2013 I taught, taught and taught some more in my free time and blogged when I could. In May 2014, the 29th to be precise I reached a pinnacle of what my life was snowballing toward, that day I married my best friend Joanne. I thought that day would have never happen, especially if you had asked me 5/6 years previous to that. It was the most incredible day it was like getting to the top of the mountain and thinking where to next, but for me I had reached the top and I cannot fly. My biggest life goal was reached and I dedicated my next few months in to being as a good a husband I can be (that sounds lovey-dovey but I just wanted to hang out and enjoy being married with my wife). Even though I kept teaching here and there my interest was starting to wain slightly, not because I did not want to do it, I love the teaching part but my interest was starting to wain in baking, cooking and blogging. For nearly 2 years I had been baking and churning out blog posts just to get views, I felt like I was just going through the motions with a few freebies thrown in a long the way from certain supermarkets. Posting on Facebook, tweeting, instagramming flooding social media with some sort of recipe just for the sake of it.  I was however beginning to close a chapter on an amazing part of my life, it was like placing it all in a photo album that can I look back when I am 75 ( or older of course, I dunno why I said 75, seems like a nice round number ) if I am here still here.

2015 did not go so well is something I feel I might be saying on the 1st of January 2016. Starting off it was ok as any January could go and all the way up to day 14 was plain sailing. Day 15 however there was a thunderbolt of doom, I had what could be called a mini stroke or TIA (Trans Ischaemic Attack). My balance went off kilter, wobbly if you will, I felt like I was going to topple over. I paid my gp a visit and for the next week I was tested inside out by the Neurology team in Beaumont (for future reference they have the best Neurology team). After 7 days I was released, given medication and told to rest. My diagnosis upon leaving was something called sticky blood (your blood over clots ... not good) and the possibility of another auto immune related disease. After being in hospital I thought I would be right as rain in no time but I had become incredibly slowed up, walking any great distance was leaving me shattered. It took the best part of 4/5 weeks before I was nearly back to normal. Up till mid March when my first out patient appointment was due  I had myself worried and stressed as to what I may have so much so Joanne bought me jigsaws to take my mind off the worry, it worked buy one they are incredibly therapeutic. The outpatient date arrived, it was a relief they had found nothing serious ( I dreaded being told I would have MS or Lupus) and I have been since referred to rheumatology for further analysis. 

My stress and worry had calmed down, however out of the blue another life event hit me like a freight train. In my 30 years I had lost my grandfather in Holland (my father's father) a man I did not know so well and I felt more upset for my dad. On Easter Monday my mum's dad passed away. The man was the nicest, caring, and talented man you could wish to meet. He was woven in to every part of my life and now he was gone. My earliest memory I have is going to his work shop in primary school(he was the school caretaker) before class when I was in junior infants. I was always scared and crying when my mum left me in the morning so he would bring me to the workshop before class sitting me down to talk about football. I am sure I have cried plenty of times as an adult but burying this man brought me back to those days as a 4 year old crying, my mum leaving me in the cloakroom waiting for class to start, I cried this day too. I had lost not only my grandfather but I had lost a friend.

Following death there is life, 9 days ago my brother's fiancee gave birth to the most amazing little girl named Ava and I became an uncle for the first time. Ava however is very premature born at only 23 weeks old but she is an incredible fighting little girl blossoming each day. Seeing my brother and his fiancee hold this miracle make me so proud of them both. If you pray please pray for her, if you light candles for her even if they are yankee candles light them, if you have positivity send it their way. She has a long journey but she will get there especially with the excellent NICU unit at Holles St.

There are days you think to yourself you wish you were 8 years old and all you had to worry about was homework. I am sure there are people out there with far more troubles in their lives but for me these past few months have marked a transition from youth in to adulthood. This entry for me is more about release and expressing where my head lies. If it can help me releasing the depression of these past few months I would rather do this than bottling it up inside.

I apologise for this departure from all things food.


Kerststol or Stollen - The Cook's Belly Returns

Monday, October 6, 2014

It has been quite a while since I blogged a recipe on The Cook’s Belly so I hope I still remember how to do this. First things first hello there my neglected readers l have been too quiet for far too long.I have been doing some teaching, which you will know about if you stay in touch with my Facebook page and I also got married to my best friend Joanne in May in Clonabreany House; so these past 10 months have been a little crazy. Although with the Winter months looming and me having some time back on my hands in the evening I finally have a chance to blog again. It also just so happened last week Lidl got in touch with me and asked would I like to try out their new baking products for Christmas. Naturally I said yes please and thought this is great as I knew this would whoop me in to baking and blogging again. Below are some of the products they sent me on, quite an array of ingredients to test and try out for the Christmas period which is after all only 79 days away. 

Myself and Joanne headed to Limerick this weekend so all my baking would be using my parent’s temperamental oven, it has a mind of its own however what follows turned out well. On the train down Friday evening with my test ingredients packed, I had a brain wave Lidl = Germany and what more suits the ingredients I received than the German Christmas bread loaf called Stollen. I love Stollen, I remember when Lidl first came to Limerick my dad would always buy Stollen at Christmas time as 1) it reminded him of home as the Dutch love Stollen and 2) it had our favourite ingredient ( note Karen my sister in law over @LovelyGirlieBits despises the stuff) MARZIPAN. 

I now needed a recipe so I searched my usual online resources and bingo! I landed on my favourite Dutch baking blog by Ramona at Ramona’s blog is one of my favourites and she always has the nicest of recipes. So rather than your usual Stollen Ramona has a fantastic recipe which I would like to share with you below adapted from the great Dutch baker Cees Holtkamp’s repertoire (Cees is my Dutch baking hero check out my blog here). It is the Dutch version of Stollen,  called Kerststol. I hope you love this recipe as much as my whole family did. 



300g raisins
100g ground almonds
100g glace cherries
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of white pepper 
1 vanilla pod
25g orange juice


8g instant yeast or 25g fresh yeast
100g cold (full-fat) milk
250g strong white flour
8g caster sugar
½ egg
5g lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
50g softened butter
6g salt

150g almond paste
1 pack of Lidl's KuchenGlasur icing
1 vanilla pod


1. Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl. Cover bowl and leave to rest for 1 hour.

2. Dissolve the yeast in the milk.

3. For the dough, combine flour, milk, yeast, sugar, egg, salt and lemon zest and knead for 5 mins. Add the soft butter and knead for another 5 minutes.

4. Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Knead the filling into the dough. Leave dough to rest for another 10 minutes in a warm spot. Shape the dough into an oval shape, then rest another 10 minutes. 

5. Roll dough out slightly, keeping the oval shape. Create a "furrow" for the almond paste by pressing a slim rolling pin into along the length of the middle of the oval shape. Roll your almond paste into a string to fit into the "furrow". 

6. Place the almond paste into the "furrow" and lightly roll one side of the dough over the other. Place stollen on a baking tray, greased or lined with baking parchment, cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes in a warm spot. In the meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180C/350F. 

7. Bake the stollen in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes. Once baked, remove the raisins that are too badly burnt for consumption (it happens) Leave to cool.  Glaze with kuchenglasur.


Blog Design by Nudge Media Design | Powered by Blogger