The Musette: Choco-coconut dream cake

I made my crack cake tasting team a danish cake called “drømmekage” which means dream cake which is famous for its baked caramelised coconut topping atop a rich vanilla sponge. It’s delicious and decadent and was well received but I wondered whether I could make a healthier more cyclist friendly version. I decided to go all bounty bar on it and combine cocoa with coconut.

After some trial and error, and important feedback from my willing volunteers, I adjusted the sweetness of the batter with an extra banana to come up with a cake that’s free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar. Plus, it tastes deliciously dreamy!

The cake is baked in two steps, first the base cake, and then you add the topping to finish it. You will NOT be disappointed with this recipe.

Ingredients (makes 12 large cup cakes)

Cake

  • 300g (1 1/2 cups) baked sweet potato
  • 2 medium ripe bananas
  • 4 large organic eggs
  • 45g (1/2 cup) rolled oats
  • 7 dates (pitted)
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
  • 100 ml (just under half a cup) almond milk
  • 75g (3/4 cup) dutch cocoa powder (any unsweetened cocoa will do)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 heaped tsp espresso coffee powder
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 100g (1/2 cup, less 1 tbsp) melted coconut oil

Topping

  • 100g (1 1/2 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 50g (1/4 cup, less 1 tbsp) melted coconut oil
  • 75g (1/4 cup, less 1 tbsp) maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan) and bake whole sweet potatoes on a baking tray with the skin on until they are completely tender. Cool them down before step 2.

2. Blend all the cake ingredients EXCEPT for the coconut oil until smooth. Then add in the cool melted coconut oil whilst blending at low-medium speed.

3. Grease and line your cake or muffin tins. Pour the batter into the tin(s).

4. Bake for 20 minutes turning the cakes twice during the baking time to ensure an even bake.

5. Heat up all the topping ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for about 2-3 minutes.

6. Take the cake(s) out of the oven and spread the hot coconut topping evenly on the top, then bake it for another 10 minutes until the coconut is toasted golden. Watch it so it doesn’t burn.

7. Remove the cake(s) from the oven and cool on a rack – you don’t need to wait until it’s completely cool – because it tastes sooooo good when it’s still warm.

8. The cake keeps for up to five days in the fridge, that is if you haven’t eaten it all by day two.

9. It also freezes well, however the topping may fall off once defrosted. If it does, just put it back on the cake, slap a dollop of cream on the top and pretend like nothing happened.

The Musette: almond marzipan batons

Hands down these are our favourite biscuits. Or, should that be biscotti since we generally buy them in Italy, made from almonds or pistachios, either as batons or more usually crescents. I’ve also seen way larger versions, tipped in chocolate, in Germany where they’re called Mandelhörnchen.

These satisfy my desire for something made with almonds, that’s dairy and gluten-free, and allows me to use up any egg whites lolling around in the fridge. Yes, I know I could freeze them but this is way more exciting. I also keep handy blocks of home-made marzipan in the freezer, as you do!

I’m not sure why I’ve never attempted to recreate these nutty crescents before, especially considering how easy they were to make. In any event, the texture was spot on: crispy on the outside with added crunch from the sliced almonds, with a soft and dreamy, chewy marzipan-like interior.

As I said, these were very easy to make, all you need is some some raw marzipan and the rest of the ingredients are easily thrown together.  You can, of course, use shop-bought marzipan but I recommend making your own (recipe below)  – cheaper and it tastes so much better!

Ingredients (makes 12 crescents)

  • 250g (8 oz) homemade or shop bought marzipan, chopped into small chunks
  • 120g (1 cup) blanched finely ground almonds
  • 125g (1 cup) icing (powdered) sugar, plus more for dredging
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g)
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed  organic lemon juice
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g) for brushing
  • 110g (1 cup) sliced blanched almonds

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/(325F/300F) gas 3½. In a food processor, grind the almonds to a flour, then add the sifted icing sugar, salt, lemon juice, marzipan, and egg white. Process in bursts until the mixture comes together in a thick and tacky, but not overly sticky, dough.

2. If it’s too sticky add a little more ground almonds and/or sugar to it. Wrap the dough in cling film (plastic wrap) and chill for at least 30 minutes (Note: this paste can be made days in advance).

3. When you’re ready to make the biscotti, break the dough off into pieces and roll them into golf-ball sized balls. Then roll each ball into a small log, tapering it off so each end is a little thinner. Or, for ease, just roll into short batons.

4. Use a pastry brush to brush egg white all over the dough.

5. Roll each biscotti into the slivered almonds. They don’t have to be completely coated. Now bend each into the shape of a crescent and place them on a lined cookie sheet leaving space in between, or just leave as batons.

6. Bake the marzipan almond horns/batons on the middle shelf for 10-15 minutes or until the tips are just starting to turn golden. Remove and let them cool completely before dredging in more icing sugar.

7. In theory these will last a week in airtight storage, in practice they disappear in nano seconds.

8. You can further embellish them with chocolate, in which case don’t dredge with icing sugar. Instead dip the ends or one half into melted chocolate (dark) or ganache. Place the biscotti back on the baking sheet or other surface to let the chocolate harden.

Homemade Marzipan

  • 180g (1 1/2 cups) blanched ground almonds
  • 190g (1 1/2 cups) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g)

1. Place the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined and any lumps are broken up. Add the almond extract and pulse to combine.

2. Add the egg white and process until a thick dough is formed. If the mass is still too wet and sticky, add more powdered sugar and ground almonds. Remember: it will become firmer after it’s been refrigerated.

3. Turn the almond marzipan out onto a work surface and knead it a few times. Form it into a log, wrap it up in cling film (plastic wrap) and refrigerate.

4. It will keep for at least a month in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before using it in any recipe.

5. Makes approx 400g marzipan/almond paste (approx 14oz).

The Musette: gluten-free chocolate cupcakes

My beloved expressed a desire for some chocolate cake and I decided to make a gluten and dairy-free version with some cooked basmati rice that I had in the fridge, using the same-weight method that one uses for pound cakes. I recall reading somewhere that you could substitute moist, cooked rice for butter.

Please note it makes a very liquid batter which you pour into the baking tin(s). This is what you need for cakes made with cocoa rather than melted chocolate otherwise they tend to be too dry. I speak from experience, bitter experience!  My beloved judged the cake(s) a success and this recipe will make a great addition to my arsenal of cyclist-friendly cakes.

Ingredients (makes 8 – 10 muffin-sized cakes or one loaf tin)

  • 250g (1 cup) cooked brown basmati rice, still nice and moist
  • 250g (1 cup) raw cane sugar
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 6 medium-sized organic eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g (2 cups) ground almonds
  • 50g (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
  • 2tsp powered espresso coffee
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Chocolate ganache

  • 100g (4 oz) dark (bitter-sweet) chocolate 70% cocoa
  • 100ml (7 tbsp) double cream or plant-based cream to keep it dairy free

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Grease the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm x  5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the cakes in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove the cake. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into fingers for serving. The French prefer to have a small taste of everything on offer! But, as these were for home consumption, I made muffin-sized cup cakes.

3. Combine and mix all the dry ingredients: ground almonds, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and coffee powder.

4. Combine and mix all the wet ingredients: eggs, vanilla extract and maple syrup.

5. Put the rice and sugar into the food processor and process until totally smooth.

6. Add all the wet and dry ingredients and process again until everything is incorporated and the batter smooth. Remember, this cake has no gluten, so it won’t get tough.

7. Pour batter into cake tin or cupcake/muffin papers (3/4 full) and bake for 40-45 minutes for cupcakes/ 60 minutes for cake until a skewer or tooth pick comes out clean. Leave the cake(s) to cool.

8. Heat the cream in a small saucepan or a jug in the microwave until warm but not boiling. Take off the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts. Once the cakes have cooled, spread the ganache over them and leave it to harden slightly – if you can wait that long – before eating.

9. These can be stored for a couple of days in an airtight container but they rarely last that long…………They’ll happily keep in the freezer for a couple of months without the ganache.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake(s) in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. You can use any type of rice (excl. wild rice), just so long as it’s still moist. If not, increase the amount of maple syrup, or equivalent.

4. For an even richer treat, spread a layer of salted caramel on the cake(s) before the ganache! This tends to work better on one large cake rather than the cupcakes.

The Musette: Nutella breakfast rolls

Nutella, or Nutella-type spreads are hugely popular in France. But who knew there were so many Nutella recipes? Not me! Anyway, given that Nutella is often enjoyed at the breakfast table, here’s my own Easter homage to the famous spread: Nutella breakfast rolls.

Nutella recipes

Ingredients (makes nine)

  • 500g (4 cups) strong white bread flour (T110)
  • 2 large organic eggs, weighing approximately 45g without shells
  • 100g (7 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 40g (¼ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 20g (⅛ cup) fine sea salt
  • 30g (1 oz) fresh yeast
  • 200ml (¾ cup) cold water
  • 200g (1 cup) Nutella
  • 100g (3½oz) dark (semi-sweet) chocolate melted in microwave or bain-marie
  • 90g (1½ cups) hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off in a tea towel and chopped
Weapons of choice (image: Sheree)

Method

1. Measure the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of your mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix gently to evenly distribute the ingredients.

2. Crumble the fresh yeast into the cold water and mix gently to dissolve. Add to the flour and continue to mix on low.

3. Add two eggs to the mixture, one by one, and continue to mix until the mixture starts to come together.

4. Now add the cold chunks of butter.

5. Continue to mix the dough on low until you have a smooth shiny dough – around 15-20 minutes.

6. Put the ball of dough into a glass bowl, cover with cling-film (plastic wrap) and a clean tea towel and leave to prove in a warm spot in the kitchen for a couple of hours.

7. When the dough has doubled in size, knock out the air and knead by hand for five or so minutes, return it to the glass bowl and recover. At this point I will generally freeze any dough I’m not intending to immediately use.

8. When the dough has once more doubled in size, take it out of the bowl, knock out the air and pat out using hands or gently roll with a rolling-pin into an approximately 30cm square.

9. Smooth Nutella (or similar) thickly over the surface of the dough and scatter over three-quarters of the chopped hazelnuts. Roll tightly into a roll, a bit like a Swiss roll. Cut into nine portions and place them three by three in a 30cm deep square baking tin, pre-lined with greaseproof (parchment) paper. Leave for a further 20 minutes or so before baking in a pre-heated oven  at 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 (400°F/350°F fan) for 30 minutes.

10. The rolls are ready when they sound hollow if you tap them on their bases. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

11. Once they’re cool, drizzle over melted dark chocolate with a spoon and add the remaining chopped toasted hazelnuts.

12. Enjoy once the chocolate has cooled – if you can wait that long!

An alternative to pain au chocolat (image: Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients, except the butter, should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the buns in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than they should take to bake and then check regularly.

3. For a slightly richer breakfast roll, add two finely chopped pears (either tinned or poached, but ensure they are drained properly) at the same time as the Nutella.

4. Alternatively, skip the Nutella – heresy, I know – and fill with spiced apple and Dulce de Leche for an even more decadent treat. To be honest, there’s no end to the possibilities  – sweet or savoury – when it comes to fillings for these buns!

The Musette: sinfully-rich brownies

The richer a brownie is, the better it tastes. Most people would far rather have a fat finger of something truly decadent than a large square of what is often just a squidgy chocolate cake studded with nuts.

Over the years I’ve made all sorts of variations with cheesecake, peanut butter, blondies – you name it and I’ve probably tried it. But this is one of my friends’ all-time favourite brownie recipes: dark, rich, fudge-like. It’s not for the faint-hearted! I typically serve them as part of an afternoon tea or as a tempting sweet mouthful to conclude a drinks party or as an after-dinner petit four.

A twist on the traditional (image: Sheree)

Ingredients (makes 32 fat fingers)

  • 115g (1 stick) salted butter
  • 340g (12oz) 70% dark chocolate, chopped
  • 145g (5oz) mascarpone
  • 200g (1⅓ cup) caster (super-fine) sugar
  • 3 organic eggs, weighing approx 45g (1⅔oz) without shell
  • 2 organic egg yolks
  • 120g (1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 tbsp instant espresso coffee powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3 (325°F/300°F fan).

2. Grease the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm x  5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the brownies in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove them. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into fingers for serving. This mixture fills two cake tins.

3. Melt together the chocolate and butter either in the microwave on a medium setting or in a glass bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water (bain-marie).

4. Put the mascarpone in a mixing bowl and whisk to lighten, then add the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Next combine the sugar and then the egg yolks, the whole eggs and the vanilla extract.

5. Now lightly fold in the sifted flour and coffee with a spatula.

6. Pour the mixture into the two baking tins and bake for 20-25 minutes. The top of the cake should be crinkly and a skewer inserted in the centre should have some mixture clinging to it.

7. Let the brownies cool in the tins and then refrigerate to firm up before cutting. Because of the fat content, I keep the brownies in the fridge for a week  – providing they’re well hidden – equally, they’ll happily sit in the freezer for a month or two.

Fudgey, squidgy, chocolate - what's not to love? (image: Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the brownies in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you don’t like your brownies to be this dark, substitute a chocolate with a lower percentage of chocolate.

4. I have made them with walnuts but I think they’re better without. These brownies are so rich that they need no further adornment.

The Musette: white chocolate, cinnamon and apple rocky road

Winner of Great British Bake Off in 2015, Nadiya Hussain is now a familiar figure on cookery and food related programmes on British screens. When I saw her prepare this recipe I knew immediately that the sons of some friends would love this, particularly with my teeny, tiny tweaks. I was not mistaken. But then hands up who doesn’t love rocky road? Exactly, no one.

Aside from my friends’ sons, I also made these for my beloved’s niece and her friends to eat after they’d completed the recent Nice-Cannes Marathon. They were well received.

Ingredients (makes 15 bars)

  • 200g (7oz) white chocolate chips or chopped block of white chocolate
  • 2 tbsp Grade A maple syrup/golden syrup/date syrup
  • 130g (4½oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g (7oz) cinnamon (Speculoos) biscuits
  • 100g (3½oz) white (preferably) mini marshmallows (if you can only find large ones, use scissors to chop them into small pieces)
  • 100g (3½oz) dried apple rings, chopped into small pieces
  • 50g (1¾oz) fat juicy raisins
  • 1 tbsp rum (optional)
  • 1 tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar for dusting

Method

1. Lightly grease the inside of a 23cm (9″) square baking tin with butter. Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof (parchment) paper or cling film (plastic wrap).

2. Gently melt the chocolate, syrup and butter in either a bain marie (heatproof bowl over saucepan with small amount of just simmering water) or microwave on low heat in 30 sec bursts.

3. Stir contents and as soon as the mixture is smooth and liquid, take off the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

4. Add the salt and cinnamon to the mixture. Warm the raisins in the rum in microwave on high for 30 secs.

5. Roughly crush the biscuits by putting them into a freezer bag and bashing them with a rolling pin – hugely satisfying! Empty the contents of the bag into the chocolate mixture and give it a good stir.

6. Add the marshmallows, apples and raisins and stir until everything is well coated.

7. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and use the back of a spoon to flatten and level it, not forgetting to press it well into the corners.

8. Put the tin into the fridge and leave it for at least 1 hour, or until set, before taking it out of the tin, dusting with icing sugar and cutting it up into 15 bars.

9. The bars can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks but they won’t last that long – trust me!

 Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If the chcocolate is too hot when the marshmallows are added, you will get into a sticky mess, so make sure you allow the chocolate to cool for 10 minutes.

2. Heating the rum on high in the microwave eliminates the alcohol but can be replaced with a tablespoon of hot water if you prefer. This makes the dried fruit juicier.

3. If you don’t use cinnamon biscuits (Speculoos), add another 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon to compensate.

 

The Musette: chocolate chip, oat biscuits

My Thursday evening English class were my first official guinea pigs. Now I agree that a bunch of teenage cyclists probably aren’t the most discerning of taste-testers. But mine were reasonably forthright and, while capable of inhaling their own bodyweights in baked goods, if they didn’t like something, I would be left with more than just crumbs. Unsurprisingly, anything with chocolate in it scored highly and they simply loved home-made biscuits and cookies.

These also found favour with a few professional cyclists who pretty much polished off the entire batch! I’m not sure exactly how many more kilometres on the bike were ridden to work off the surplus calories but safe to say it was plenty.

The recipe is based on one for shortbread type biscuits to which I’ve added chocolate chips – everything’s better with chocolate  – and oats for sustained energy.

You don't need many ingredients to make delicious baked good! (image: Sheree)

You don’t need many ingredients to make delicious baked goodies!

Ingredients (makes 24 biscuits)

  • 225g (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 120g (1 cup)  caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp of fine sea salt
  • 275g (2⅓ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 30g (⅓ cup) oats (oatmeal)
  • 100g (6 tbsp) 70% min. chocolate chips

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°Cfan/ gas mark 6 (400°F/350°F).

2. Line two shallow baking sheets with greaseproof (parchment) paper.

3. Beat the softened butter until it lightens. Use really great butter as it does make a difference to the finished product.

4. Beat but don’t whip in the sugar and vanilla extract then gently fold in the sifted flour, salt, oats and chocolate chips. Don’t overwork the mixture, which should be of a similar consistency to that of pastry. Indeed you can roll the mixture into logs, wrap in greaseproof (parchment) paper and freeze for baking at a later date.

5. I use a small ice cream scoop – equally you could use a soup spoon – to portion the dough and ensure the cookies are a similar size. Place the balls on the baking sheets about 1cm (less than ½”) apart, as they’ll spread slightly while baking, and flatten the tops. I found the dough made 24 biscuits, each weighing around 30g (1 oz) uncooked.

6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until they start to turn golden at the edges and they’re firm to the touch. Depending upon the size of your oven, you might need to rotate the sheets midway through the cooking process.

7. Remove from the oven and transfer to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, put them in an airtight container where they’ll keep for 3-4 days, providing you keep them out of reach of any cyclists, or enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.

Gone in a flash! (image: Sheree)

Gone in a flash!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the biscuits in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. I have also made the biscuits with milk chocolate chips but found them too sweet for my taste.

4. I’ve successfully substituted the chocolate chips for a similar weight of fat juicy raisins.

5. The biscuits work equally well with a mixture of 50g (1¾oz) tart chopped dried cranberries and 50g (1¾oz) white chocolate chips.