Hot Chocolate – the real deal

Hot chocolate is my go-to solution for many things. Ok, so it doesn’t actually fix anything, but it sure makes me feel better. When you’re sad – have a hot chocolate. When you’re mad – have a hot chocolate. When you’re tired or stressed – have a hot chocolate. The silkiness of the liquid and the richness of the chocolate calms the nerves and warms the soul. Well, it works for me anyway.

Hot Chocolate - the real dealAs I write this, it’s a rainy Tuesday afternoon and the end of another adventure. You see, as we continue our quest to renovate our lovely little home, the 23-year old carpet and pinky-terracotta kitchen floor tiles have been ripped out causing absolute mayhem. The tradesmen have been superb. They are lovely and have done a fantastic job, always cleaning up at the end of each day, leaving their tools in a neat pile in a corner of the room. But for anyone who has lifted tiles or had wooden floors ground and leveled with splotches of concrete mixture here and there, you will know how messy and dusty the inside of one’s home can become. A 4-day job turned into a 7-day one with the last of the skirting being nailed back into place this morning.

We had hoped the work would have been completed by the end of last week, but it wasn’t. So for the past week we’ve had our kitchen cabinets boarded up (so the shattering/lifting tiles don’t damage them). We’ve had the dishwasher in the bathroom; the stove in the family room; the fridge being moved around the dining area as it is too big to move to another level and won’t fit down the passage. Most of our furniture has been stored in the garage covered with tarpaulins, meaning the cars have been parked outside. Thanks to leaving a window partly open and a seasonal downpour, mine now smells musty, like wet carpet.

Yesterday the new carpet-layers arrived to replace the carpet in the family room so all that furniture had to be moved back up to the top lounge – what a palava! And no professional movers in sight – my hubby and I have found our muscles and done it all ourselves.

Step by step we inch our way closer to achieving our goal as each passing activity is ticked off the list. And with no stove or oven, we’ve lived on take-aways so I am itching to get back into my kitchen to be creative once again. In the meantime, I will sip on my delectably smooth hot drink while lying on our new carpet (as we have yet to return all of the furniture) watching the ever-changing weather outside as we progress from one of the warmest Autumns we’ve had in recent years, to the bitter-cold snap of southerly winds bringing their icy temperatures.

Hot chocolate doesn’t get easier than this, provided you have a few blocks of real chocolate. The powder is great, but this is glorious! Warm milk poured over chocolate blocks stirred together. A blob of freshly whipped cream and grated chocolate added on top can add to the decadence, but I prefer mine plain, with a marshmallow or two.

ingredients: (1 drink)
6 blocks of dark or milk chocolate
250 ml hot milk
15 ml whipped cream (optional)
grated chocolate to garnish (optional)
marshmallows (optional)

  1. Break up the chocolate and place it into a cup or heat-proof glass.
  2. Pour in the hot milk and stir well to combine – slowly.
  3. Serve topped with the whipped cream and grated chocolate or leave these off and add marshmallows instead.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate drizzled Profiteroles

I always think of Profiteroles as a bit of a throw back to the ’70’s, but they have been around a lot longer than that. They are little balls of choux pastry (pronounced “shoe”) that are filled with custard cream, ice cream or whipped cream and are often garnished with a sprinkling of icing sugar or chocolate ganache.

Chocolate drizzled ProfiterolesFor anyone who hasn’t worked with choux pastry before, the very idea can seem daunting but it really is one of the easiest pastries to master. My introduction to choux pastry was during Home Economics in high school.  In our final year we had to prepare a 3-course meal for a wedding or other formal engagement and as I’d seen my step mum make these a few times, it seemed like a fancy way to end off the meal.

Choux pastry is the basis for many French favourites including éclairs – those gorgeously decadent cream-filled chocolate-covered finger shaped treats. This is a cooked pastry which uses steam during the cooking process to puff the pastry instead of a raising agent. The mixture is then placed onto baking sheets, either by piping shapes or using two spoons to blob the mixture into place. I personally prefer using the piping method as often the spoons make me feel like I have an extra set of hands I can’t quite control. Using the spoons, I can also never get the right shape, but that could just be my lack of dexterity. You decide which method works best for you.

Once the little balls of pastry have baked and cooled, they are filled and then piled on top of each other making a tower. The chocolate ganache is then drizzled over the top. With a charmingly French origin, these Profiterole Towers are still quite popular in France today as wedding cakes, although those towers are lots bigger than the one I made the other day.

When catering for guests, allow 3 – 4 profiteroles per person. The little balls should be large enough that they can be filled easily, but small enough that they are popped into the mouth whole. Trying to bite off pieces becomes an embarrassingly messy affair with cream and chocolate escaping everywhere.

I’ve tried a few recipes and this is the one I keep returning to so I’ve just binned the others. It is super easy. One tip: work quickly combining ingredients in the pot. Don’t fluff around, you need to concentrate and focus. Also, don’t panic if the piped or blobbed mixture looks a little flat on the baking tray, it should rise beautifully in the oven.

Ingredients:
Basic Choux Pastry
65 g plain flour.
50 g butter, cut into small pieces
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs, well beaten (mid size, not too large)
150 ml cold water

Filling and Sauce
300 ml double cream (whipping cream)
1 Tbsp icing sugar (optional)
¼ tsp vanilla essence (optional)
225 g chocolate
3 Tbsp cold water

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a couple of baking sheets.
  2. Sift the flour and salt together onto a piece of baking paper.
  3. Put the butter and water together into a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and the mxiture is almost boiling, remove it from the heat and immediately tip in the sifted flour all in one go. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry comes together into a smooth ball (that’s how it is described, but isn’t always perfectly round) that leaves the pan sides clean – you’ll be amazed, it actually works!.
  4. Return to the heat to dry out the mixture slightly (about half a minute). Remove from the heat and gradually beat in the egg until the mixture becomes less solid but resembles a stiff paste. Again, the heat of the pastry begins to cook the egg. Make sure you don’t end up with scrambled egg. You shouldn’t be able to see any of the egg as it combines and becomes less solid, resembling a stiff paste. If you’re worried it is getting too runny, don’t add the last bit of egg.
  5. Either using the spoons or a piping bag, make small, round shapes.
  6. Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes and then increase the heat to 220°C and cook for another 15 – 20 minutes until the balls have risen and are a light golden colour.
  7. Remove from the oven and using the handle of a spoon, a sharp knife or even a cake tester, pierce the side of each choux bun to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven for a further 2 minutes to make them even crispier but watch that they don’t darken too much.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire tray. Once cooled, they can be stored in an air-tight container. I wouldn’t advise filling them more than 2 hours prior to serving as they will collapse and be too wet/gooey.
  9. To fill the buns, either whip the cream and use it as is or make a Chantilly Cream by adding the icing sugar and vanilla essence to the cream. I find it adds another dimension completely but the plain whipped cream is just fine on it’s own. Again, I find it easier to pipe the mixture into the buns as trying to spoon it in can become messy and you want to avoid breaking or handling the delicate buns too much.
  10. Melt the chocolate and water together in a basin over a saucepan of simmering water. Either dip the top of each bun into the melted chocolate or make a tower out of the buns (good balancing skills are required or you can cheat and “glue” each bun in place with a small dab of chocolate) and pour the chocolate sauce over the top. Serve at once.

Enjoy!

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Finding Contentment

Contentment. Do we really know what that means? Do we even know how to be content? In this busy mad crazy age where society encourages us to do more, have more, earn more, want more, take more, where do we draw the line and be content with what we have, who we are and where we are?

Gratitude and ContentmentI’ve made the decision to be content. It’s not something that will happen in a single moment, day or month. It is a journey that needs to be taken every day. And starting each new day being grateful is the best way to begin. Being content doesn’t mean putting up with nonsense or settling or just making do, it means enjoying what you have, where you are, who you’re with right now. We still need dreams and aspirations, but there has to be a conscious decision to never let those dreams or aspirations suffocate the memories we’re making and joy we could be feeling right now. In this moment.

When we choose to be content we choose inner peace. Anxiety or worries about health, family, friends, safety, bills, jobs can all eat away at us. They niggle and niggle, like an itchy itch that doesn’t go away. Eventually it can envelop us completely and we feel like we’re drowning, like it’s all getting too much. Our thoughts truly are our reality. Once negativity creeps in, it can take over if not managed. “But we need to be real and see things the way they are!”, I hear you say. “We can’t see the world through rose-tinted glasses and fool ourselves!” And yes, I agree…somewhat. There is a difference between being realistic and accepting our circumstances or situation; and making a conscious decision about how we are going to feel, think, talk and act about it. We are what we think.

I was wasting time on the internet the other day, as you do. I can’t even remember why I had hopped onto my device or what I had actually been looking for, I think it was a children’s book of sorts, but I stumbled across a write-up about learning to be content. This intrigued me so I followed the links and ended up reading an excerpt from a book titled “Calm My Anxious Heart” by Linda Dillow. She writes: What we are on the inside, what we continually think about, eventually shows in our words, actions, and even on our countenances.”

It’s so true! And so obvious! Common Sense! I had to have this book so ordered it and am not even half way through yet but what I have read makes me feel good inside. Makes me realise, even though I know these things inside me, but actually realise how easy it is to be content. To look around at my wonderful life and be at peace with where I am at right now. There will always be worries or concerns, but finding inner peace and trusting in the Lord that His way is the right way and we are not alone is truly a wonderful feeling. I wrote a list of the positive and negatives in my life, not because I’m feeling down or in a bad way, cos I’m not, but I wanted to see which of my lists would be longer. Once I started on the Positive list, things I have to be grateful for, things that I have been blessed with, it was hard to stop writing. Then when I moved on to the Negative list, I had 3 things. 3!! I could probably think of more but these summed up things pretty well and I felt so good about my positive list that I couldn’t really, and didn’t want to focus on thinking about negative ones. Try it. Pin it up somewhere or hide it away safely so you can pull it out when you need encouragement.

Today is a new day and I am happy to have woken up in a warm bed in a beautiful home listening to the sound of rain on the roof and the voice of an angel singing in the distance from his bedroom. Morning cuddles, a cup of tea and now the warm Autumn morning sun. Life is good. I’m happy to be alive and blessed, truly blessed.

Be happy and enjoy your journey of finding contentment.
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Chelsea Buns

I have enjoyed Chelsea Buns ever since I can remember. They were sold at our school tuck shop and it was always a great day when I could finally buy one and enjoy the sticky sweet treat layer by layer.

Chelsea BunsI don’t often make them as there is a little work involved, but if you have the time, it’s well worth the effort. They’re certainly not difficult, it’s just a case of preparing the dough, allowing sufficient time for it to rise, then working it again into the desired shape and placing the cut pieces into a baking tin; then once again waiting for it to rise a little more before baking in a relatively hot oven. Given that Mother’s Day is just around the corner, I’ve been toying with the idea of having a Mother’s Day Morning Tea for my friends, but with all the changes going on at home at the moment, this idea has remained only a thought – perhaps next year…

Now if I were to organise a Mother’s Day Morning Tea, which doesn’t have to happen on Mother’s Day, mind, because I’m sure that my friends would prefer to spend this day with their families, as would I. But it could happen any time and would really just be a good reason for friends to get together for a few hours to enjoy each other’s company, and pat ourselves on the backs for being such fabulous Mothers!

Chelsea Buns would definitely be on the menu, but they do need to be served up pretty quickly after baking as they don’t stay fresh for very long. I mean within 24 hours is fine, but don’t try to store them for a few days. Just goes to show that when you home bake instead of buying the store made stuff, the lack of preservatives and other additives doesn’t make for a very long shelf life, but Fresh is definitely Best!

This particular recipe is taken from an old New Idea magazine from years ago, but even without all the “How to” images, it is really easy to follow.

ingredients:
1 cup currants (I prefer to use sultanas if I have them)
25 g unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups icing sugar
1½ – 2 Tbsp milk

Dough:
1½ cups milk, warmed
2 x 7 g sachets dried yeast
1 Tbsp caster sugar
4 cups plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

Cinnamon Butter:
125 g unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind

  1. Begin with the dough: whisk the milk, yeast and sugar together until dissolved. Cover and allow to stand for 10 minutes or until it is frothy.
  2. Place the flour into a bowl (no need to sieve it). Whisk the egg into the yeast mixture and add it to the flour. Stir with a butter knife until the mixture starts to come together. Knead it gently in the bowl until a soft dough forms. I find it to be quite a wet dough so take care not to over work it. Transfer it to a large greased glass bowl – have fun getting it off your fingers! Cover it with cling film and allow it to stand in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until roughly double in size.
  3. Next, make the cinnamon butter: Beat all the ingredients in a small bowl until fluffy.
  4. Grease a 24 cm round cake pan and line the base and sides with baking paper cut to size.
  5. Once the dough is ready, punch it to deflate it. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes (the recipe calls for 3, but I don’t like saying exactly how long), just until it is smooth and elastic.
  6. Roll out the dough into a 30 cm x 40 cm rectangle. Spread half the cinnamon butter over the dough and half the currants/sultanas. Fold in the two short sides of the rectangle to meet in the middle. Fold in half lengthwise so you have four layers of dough in a long thin rectangle. Roll it out again to a 20 cm x 48 cm rectangle and spread it with the remaining butter mixture and currants/sultanas.
  7. Roll it up firmly from one long side. Trim the ends if necessary and cut it into 12 equal portions. Place side-by-side into the prepared pan, cut-side up.
  8. Now is the time to switch your oven on to 200°C.
  9. Cover the baking tin with a tea towel and stand in a warm place for 20 minutes, or until slightly risen and any gaps between the rolls have closed. Brush with the melted butter (listed second on the list at the top).
  10. Cook in the pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes or until cooked through, covering lightly with foil halfway through cooking so the top doesn’t brown too much. Stand in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack (I use a spring form tin so it’s easy to release and remove from the tin without having to invert it).
  11. Lastly, combine the icing sugar with enough milk in a bowl until it is smooth and can be easily poured. Spoon it over the hot buns and allow them to cool completely.

Enjoy!
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