Peppermint Squares

This post goes out to my brother, not only because this is one of his all-time favourite things to get from Cheshire Gap bakery, but also because he has a broken leg at the moment, so obviously deserves lots of cakes and chocolate!

These peppermint squares have a chocolate shortbread base, a fondant- type peppermint layer and a dark chocolate topping. They’re the perfect bake, partly because they only contain 7 ingredients and partly because they’re very simple, but very tasty! If you’re not so much of a mint fan, then this recipe can be easily adjusted to make chocolate orange squares, or maybe even cherry squares (because cherry and dark chocolate is amazing!), a bit like the Quality Street combinations. If you’re making these for a party, why not make some of each, with the addition of different food colouring so guests can tell them apart? Or maybe even without, making a chocolate squares roulette?!

This recipe was adjusted from a Waitrose recipe card (how middle class of me!), but I found that their recipe made the layers too thin, and that I needed to adjust the quantities of some of the ingredients. This recipe does include a lot of chilling time, so make sure you have plenty of time, or do something in the middle (some suggestions: wash up, dance around the kitchen, make tea, pretend to be Adele while singing, watch 2 episodes of Friends…)

Peppermint Squares

Cooking Time: 15-20 mins
Preparation Time: 15 mins
Cooling/ Chilling Time: 1 hour and a half or so (between stages)

Makes approx. 28 pieces

Ingredients

350g Butter
170g Light Brown Sugar
400g Plain Flour
4 tbsp Cocoa Powder
600g Icing Sugar
5-6 tbsp Water
1/2 tsp Peppermint Extract
400g Dark Chocolate
A small amount of butter (roughly 20g)

Baked in a 25 x 38cm brownie tin.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line the tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and cocoa powder until all the ingredients are fully combined.
3. Spread out in the tin, pressing down with the back of a spoon until the base is level and covers the whole tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 mins until spongy, but only just set, then place to one side to cool.
4. To make the peppermint layer, beat together the icing sugar, 5-6 tbsp of water and peppermint extract until you have a mixture which is smooth and quite firm. It should resist when your stir it, and not be of easily pour-able consistency.
5. Spread the peppermint mixture over the shortbread base, spreading right to the edges of the tin and until level. Chill to firm (about an hour is ideal, but probably could be done in half an hour if needs be).
6. Break up the chocolate and heat in the microwave until melted. Melt the butter in a separate bowl in the microwave, then add to the chocolate and mix until fully combined. Once the peppermint layer has firmed, pour the chocolate over the filling, and spread until the chocolate covers all of the base layers. Chill for 30 mins or so before serving.

Handy Hints

Light Brown Sugar– Alternatively, use Caster Sugar and 1 tsp of Vanilla Essence.
Peppermint layer– You may need to adjust the amount of icing sugar in order to create the right consistency for this layer. If it’s too runny, add more icing sugar. If it’s too stiff, add a tiny bit more water. The balance will change more depending on the extract used, and if you use any colouring or not.
Base layer– When transferring this into the tin, it can be a bit of a pain to spread out to make it cover the whole tin. Use your (washed I hope!) hands to press down sections of the base, and grease the back of a metal spoon if using this to press the mix down.
Cooling time– Make sure you take the time to let things cool properly- if you add the middle layer while the base is too hot, it will make the icing runny, if you add the chocolate when the icing isn’t set, it will mix with the peppermint when you try to spread it.
Chocolate layer– Let this cool a little bit before pouring over the rest of the bake- if it’s too hot it will melt the middle layer!
peppermint-squares1

Peppermint Square (top), Orange Square (middle), Cherry Square (bottom). As you can see, my squares are not particularly even (Mary and Paul would be disappointed) and my icing is running out on the bottom layer, hence the comments about being patient with the cooling process!

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The Best Brownies

Hi everyone! Before I start this post properly I’d just like to say a big well done to everyone who got their A level results and GCSE results in the past two weeks! My sister was among the terrified sixth formers waiting to desperately log on to UCAS to find out whether she’d got into uni or not, something I remember all too well! I’m very happy to say that she got great results and got into her first choice! I do want to quickly say to any of you reading who may not have got the results they were hoping for that it’s OK and that you’ll love whichever uni you end up going to when you get there! Don’t lose confidence, keep your head held high and don’t give up on your goals.

So, cheesy bit of this post over, the A-level commotion got me thinking about the first recipe I baked in my new flat, for my new flatmates at Lancaster uni, which was my favourite brownie recipe. Brownies are super easy to make and aren’t that expensive, and I happen to have what I believe to be the best brownie recipe I’ve ever found! I’m yet to meet anyone that doesn’t love these brownies, including my brother who’s quite selective about which puddings he likes (strange boy!). So, although this recipe has only been given to a select few (I like to call them ‘the chosen ones’) before, here I am publishing it for all of you. The thing I love most about these brownies is the fudgy centre and gooey quality to them- they’re quite rich which makes them good for sharing as they cut into slightly smaller pieces (if you want to share, no judging if you don’t!).

The Best Brownies:
The recipe for these brownies comes from a cookbook called ‘Divine: Heavenly chocolate recipes’ which is an amazing recipe book produced by Divine chocolate (a brilliant Fairtrade chocolate brand). I’m a big supporter of Fairtrade, so when I got this book I had high hopes, and it didn’t disappoint! There’s even some savoury chocolate recipes in there for you brave ones…
http://www.divinechocolate.com/uk/shop/chocolate-for-baking/heavenly-chocolate-recipes-heart

Baking time: 20 mins
Production time: 15/20 mins
Cost: £3.11

Ingredients:
200g Dark chocolate (unsurprisingly Divine’s dark chocolate is really good for this, but that’s not the chocolate I used to calculate the price- sorry!)
100g Butter, softened
250g Caster Sugar
4 Eggs
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Essence
60g Plain Flour
60g Cocoa Powder

This recipe fits into a 20.5 x 25.5cm baking tin, which needs to be greased and lined with greaseproof paper.

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. Melt the chocolate (it says in the recipe to do it over a bowl of water but I just melt it in the microwave). When it’s smooth and completely melted, put it on one side until needed.
3. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the vanilla essence. At this point, it’ll look a bit runny- don’t panic!
4. Add the cooled melted chocolate and mix in thoroughly (this is the bit where it starts to look a bit more appetising). Add the flour and cocoa powder to the mixture and gently stir in.
5. When all the ingredients are completely combined, spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread the mixture evenly (using the back of a metal spoon seems to work best for that).
6. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. It should be firm to touch but still be a bit fudgy. If they’re done, they’ll have a thin chocolate-y crust on the top which is lighter then the middle. Take them out of the oven and leave to cool, as the chocolate will continue to cook a bit when you’ve taken them out of the oven.

Handy Hints:
Accompaniments- These go great with ice cream, or cream if you’re more into cream on its own. They’re great if you eat them slightly warm with ice cream (if they’re not fresh, stick them in the microwave for about 10 seconds).
After Eight Brownies- A great addition to these is to make minty brownies. You’ll need a box of After Eights as well as the normal recipe ingredients. All you need to do to make these is alter the bit where you put them in the tin. Instead of adding all the mixture to the tin, add half and smooth it down. Then line up the mints in lines on top of this layer of brownie and add the rest of the brownie mixture on top, making sure that you cover all the mints.
Chocolate chips- These taste great with some chocolate chips, I tend to add white chocolate ones, but make sure they’re cut into small pieces as these brownies are quite thin.
Portions- These cut into about 20/25 pieces.

I’m very sorry I don’t have a picture of these- the last time I made them they got eaten before I could snap a picture! Next time I make them I’ll add a picture to this page!

Starting Simple- Cake in a mug

All this week I’ve been wracking my brain for the perfect first bake to post on here. I wanted to start with a bake that was simple, cheap and didn’t take much time, basically so it suited students perfectly. I had loads of ideas, but it was actually a birthday present from my family that gave me the idea in the end. If there’s one bake that perfectly defines the student lifestyle, it’s the cake in a mug. For those of you that haven’t come across this wonderful creation before, it’s exactly as it sounds- you bake a cake in a mug! For the student baker, the mug cake is a blessing- they require minimal washing up, contain cheap ingredients and are fully baked in a few minutes. This isn’t the best thing about them though- the best thing is that all this can be accomplished in the microwave. For many students (sometimes including myself) the microwave is where all meals are cooked, so why not cook pudding in there too?

I realise for all you more experienced bakers out there, this may seen a little too basic, but I wanted to start small with the ultimate lazy bake. Much though I love baking, sometimes we all feel lazy or don’t have much time, so for me this is the ultimate bake for those occasions. If baking was a sport, this would be the warm-up, or maybe even just the walk to the gym. For anyone that’s not used to baking, this is the perfect start. This recipe is also perfect for students as you can buy mugs specifically for making mug cakes, which have the recipe written round the outside, and have lines inside marking how much of the ingredients you need. Not surprisingly, this is the birthday present that inspired this post. The one I have is from Lakeland and can be found in their stores or online at this link: http://www.lakeland.co.uk/43746/Cake-in-a-Mug

This year I have tried many recipes for mug cakes, all of which have ended in disaster. One particular attempt looked like this and exploded all over our microwave, which took a lot of cleaning up! Not what you want when you were just after an easy bake.

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The best recipe I’ve found in all my efforts is by far the one on the cake in a mug from Lakeland, so I worked out the amount of each ingredient you need and the price. So, here it is!

Cake in a mug
Overall price to make: 58p (yep really)
Time taken: Overall= 6 minutes
Preparation= 3 minutes
Baking= 3 minutes

Ingredients:
50g Self- raising Flour
52g Caster Sugar
18g Cocoa Powder
One egg
9tsp (45ml) milk
9tsp (45ml) oil (I used vegetable oil)
2 Squares of milk chocolate

Method:
1. Put all the dry ingredients into the mug (the flour, the sugar and the cocoa powder)
2. Add the egg (I found it was easier if the egg was beaten first) and mix around. At this stage it’s easiest to incorporate all dry ingredients so make sure you get right to the bottom and mix it all in- the last thing you want is a mouthful of flour when you get to the bottom of the mug!
3. Add the milk and the oil and mix again until all the ingredients are well mixed. I found that mixing with a fork was easier than a spoon as you could mix the ingredients more easily.
4. Push the pieces of chocolate into the middle of the mix (this gives the cake a gooey centre, which is amazingly tasty!)
5. Put the mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes on the highest setting (not on defrost which I accidentally cook things on all the time).
6. Voila, your easy-peasy bake is done!

Handy Hints
Firstly, when baking with cocoa powder, I like to get the Bournville one, so you can bake this for slightly cheaper then I’ve put. Also, because this is my first post I’d like to point out now that the price is worked out by the grams needed of each ingredient, so to buy say, a whole pack of flour will be more expensive, but the price when you have all these ingredients is the one above. I hope that makes sense, please comment if it doesn’t!
A note about cocoa powder: I rarely have cocoa powder in stock, so if you can’t get your hands on cocoa powder you can use hot chocolate, or so I’ve been told. If you do however, you need to reduce slightly the amount of sugar that you add to the recipe. The maths can be worked out by the fact that hot chocolate powder is usually 2/3 cocoa and 1/3 sugar. So, you need to add one and a half the amount of cocoa powder in this recipe (so 27g) and reduce the amount of sugar by half the amount of cocoa (so reduce by 9g in this recipe, making the overall total sugar amount needed 43g).
Finally, this cake with ice cream would be amazing! (Ben and Jerry’s is currently £2 in Asda- stock up while you can!)

The finished bake looks like this:
cake in a mug3cake ina mug1Cake in a mug

 

Sorry this post has ended up quite long, it seems to have become a bit chatty, future recipes will usually be shorter, sometimes with just the recipe and sometimes with some added chat at the start or end. Let me know by commenting if you think the chat is useful or interesting, or even just kind of amuses you or whether you think I should cut down on it- I welcome constructive criticism! I hope you enjoy baking this recipe!