Easter Celebration Cake

Happy Easter everyone! And if you don’t celebrate Easter, then happy long weekend to you. I hope you enjoy the extra time home with your families and loved ones.

Chocolate Easter Celebration Cake

Easter came early this year and took me a little unawares I have to admit. Seems silly, I know, but normally it falls in with the school holidays in NZ and we have heaps of time to plan, but not this year. All of a sudden the shops were filled with chocolate and I only got to enjoy my first hot cross buns last weekend! Let’s hope they stick around in the shops for a few more weeks. I have my own ones that I make, but haven’t even had a chance to make them this year. I really must get myself into gear!

This isn’t one of my normal cakes. It is a chocolate oil cake with a tiny bit of almond essence added. The egg whites are whipped separately and folded into the mixture, so not your standard “butter-and-sugar-creamed” cake. The cocoa is also mixed into boiled water and then allowed to cool, so a little more fiddly so I keep this one for special occasions. It is, however, well worth the wait and delicious. It is quite a dense cake so this time I opted to bake it in a single cake tin, slightly larger in diameter than the 2 x 20 cm round ones that the recipe calls for. My plan was to pour the hot chocolate fudge icing over the top so it runs gooily down the sides of the cake and then smother it in crumbled flake chocolate bar and Easter themed characters and eggs on top. Looks pretty darn good if I say so myself. Can’t wait to tuck in.

My suggestion would be to allow the cake to cool for a few minutes in the tray before removing to a cake rack where it should be allowed to cool down completely before adding the fudge icing. You can also add whatever icing you prefer, I just haven’t made this rich fudge icing in a while and by pouring it over the cool cake while the icing was still slightly warm, it creates a thin coating so a great option for those who might otherwise find the fudge icing too rich if spread on too thickly. But – if you prefer a thicker covering, then allow the icing to cool completely before using a off-set spatula to spread it onto the cake.

Another tip would be to ice the cake while still on the cooling rack, but place the rack into a baking tray first so any icing that runs over the sides, is caught by the tray and can either be used again or stored for something else. Then when you’ve made it look gorgeous and the icing has set somewhat, you lift the cake carefully and position it onto your serving platter so no mess around the edges.

20 g cocoa powder
100 ml boiling water
140 g cake flour
a pinch of salt
10 ml baking powder
4 eggs
180 g icing sugar
60 ml oil (mild flavour – wouldn’t advise olive oil as too strong)
5 ml (1 tsp) Vanilla extract
2 ml (½ tsp) Almond essence

For the fudge icing:
100 g milk cooking chocolate
50 g butter
1 egg
175 g icing sugar (sifted)

  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Grease and line 2 x 20 cm round cake tins or 1 slightly larger tin (make sure the sides are deep enough to accommodate the rising cake if you opt for a single tin).
  2. Blend the cocoa and boiling water until a smooth paste forms and set aside to cool.
  3. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl.
  4. Beat 1 egg and 3 yolks well and gradually beat in the icing sugar. Continue beating until the mixture thickens and is creamy. Add the flour mixture, oil, cocoa/water mixture, essences and stir/beat briefly to combine.
  5. In a separate bowl, whip the 3 remaining egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage (mixture must be thick enough that when you lift the beaters out, the mixture forms a stiff peak where the top doesn’t fall over). Do not over beat or the liquid will separate – not good.
  6. Using a metal spoon, fold the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Do not stir, you want to keep the air and volume the whipping has incorporated.
  7. Pour into the prepared tin/s and bake until firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.
  8. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

For the icing:

  1. Place a heat resistant bowl (I prefer a glass bowl so I can see the water through it) over a pot of gently simmering water. The bowl should fit snugly so no steam escapes and the base of the bowl should not be touching the water.
  2. Place the butter and chocolate into the bowl and stir gently while it melts.
  3. Add the egg and beat until combined.
  4. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat in the sifted icing sugar until the mixture is smooth.

For a smooth finish, as mentioned, pour over the cake when still warm. For a thicker covering, allow the icing to cool and then ice as normal.

Then decorate as you see fit with a selection of themed treats. in this case, more chocolate to celebrate Easter.


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Chicken & Sweet Potato Curry

This is one of my favourite dishes, but as my husband isn’t a fan of sweet potato, also known as Kumara in New Zealand, I don’t get to enjoy it as often as I would like to.

Chicken & Sweet Potato Casserole

One thing I’m not a fan of, is very hot curry, so this is dish should probably be described as more of the mildly spicy kind, not the blow-the-top-of-your-head-off kind of curry. It isn’t even made with traditional curry spices, just a blend I buy off the shelf. I must have copied this recipe into my book about 20 years ago and I honestly can’t remember where I got it from, but the original list of ingredients calls for hot curry powder, but use mild if you prefer, or a selection of your own if you know what you’re doing. I don’t, when it comes to mixing up great curry powders so I leave it to the professionals. I have a friend who will nurse a curry for hours, adding fresh spices and chillies at various times, but he is really into the very hot kind. If you prefer a milder version like me, then perhaps we should refer to this as a casserole instead of a curry.

Did you know you shouldn’t refrigerate your sweet potato? Apparently it alters the flavour during cooking. They are best kept in a well-ventilated, cool, dry environment. In New Zealand we have three main varieties: the most common is the red-skinned, which has a creamy white flesh and is sold as Red; gold kumara has a golden skin and flesh, and a sweeter taste than red; and the orange, which has a rich orange flesh and is sweeter than both red and gold. It is a root vegetable which, if history is to be believed, originated from central and south America around 5,000 years ago and was brought to New Zealand by early Maori settlers via the Pacific Islands about 1,000 years ago. The leaves are sometimes eaten as greens, but I haven’t tried that. I stick with the sweet bulbous root. Once washed, I enjoy baking them in the oven in their skins. Once cooked, the skin is a little shriveled, but the flesh is soft and packed with flavour, and the skin comes away easily.

about 1 Tbsp oil
30 ml hot curry powder (or whichever you’d prefer)
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 kg chicken, cubed (or pieces, but will take longer to cook)
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
200 g sweet potato, peeled and cubed
100 g carrots, peeled and sliced
4 tomatoes, chopped (or use a tin)
1 litre chicken stock (preferably heated)
100 g peas / green beans
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oil in an large saucepan and sauté the onion and curry powder for about a minute until the onion is translucent and the curry powder fragrant.
  2. Add the chicken and fry until browned. Add the garlic, sweet potato, carrots and tomato.
  3. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.
  4. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add the peas/beans and season. Cook for a further 15 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
  5. Serve with rice and a salad.


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Chocolate Peanut Bars

Autumn is once again in the air. We’re still enjoying beautiful warm, sunny days but I have noticed a chill in the early morning air. A relief from the humidity of the last few weeks, but I’m not ready for Summer to leave us just yet.

Chocolate Peanut Bars

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of my dear friends who I’ve known for 11 years. We met shortly after I moved here and started working at the company where she was just about to go on maternity leave with her eldest. One of those “instant clicks” with someone. We’ve shared a lot together since we met: kids, job losses, loved ones passing on, new jobs, moans about bosses, laughs, tears, new homes; been shoulders to lean on for each other. I am truly blessed to have Stacey in my life. As our life paths have taken us on slightly different courses, we still make the effort to get together every couple of months for a few hours of chatter, laughter, catch-ups and fun. The hours fly by.

Do you have a special friend like that? I hope so, special friends are gifts from God. They are sisters from other families who come into our lives to make them better; whole. If friendships aren’t uplifting or balanced, they cannot last. She always gives 100% of herself to whatever she has committed to. She is organised, level-headed and kind; can be an absolute hoot at times and always makes me laugh – just being down to earth, chatty and friendly; she is infectious. Long may our friendship last Stace!

A great friend is like chocolate I think; sweet or even bitter-sweet as you share each other’s experiences; makes you feel good; can never get enough; you can always do with a bit more – but it has to be the good sort. Some friendships can be a little like compound chocolate – not the best quality, a little fake, possibly disappointing and perhaps a let-down. So whether it’s chocolate or friends, don’t waste time on anything that isn’t absolutely the best. It always has to be a two-way thing.

So whip up a batch of these simply delicious chocolate peanut bars and share them over a cuppa with a friend or two. You might want to double the recipe – just saying…

90 g butter
100 g soft brown sugar
60 ml (4 Tbsp) golden syrup
few drops of vanilla essence
175 g rolled oats
90 g plain chocolate (good quality)
75 ml (5 Tbsp) peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
45 g raw peanuts, chopped

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180°C and line or grease a 23 cm square baking pan. Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until well mixed. Add the golden syrup, vanilla and oats.
  3. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and place in the oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  4. Melt the chocolate and peanut butter together, either in a double boiler or in short bursts in the microwave taking care that it doesn’t seize. Spread it over the cooled base. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts.
  5. Chill in the fridge before cutting into bars.


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Chocolate Choc-Chip Cookies

Ever have those moods where chocolate should just beware? Anything chocolate will do, but the “chocolatier” the better. Our treat-box stock levels were running dangerously low just prior to my fortnightly grocery shop, but my craving for chocolate wasn’t going to be put off.

Chocolate Choc-Chip Cookies

While doing a quick glance round the pantry, I realised we were also out of milk and dark chocolate chips, but there was about half a bag of white ones ready and waiting. Now white chocolate chips in a white chocolate chip cookie would probably be just fine, but as I said, the “chocolatier” the better.

By replacing a little of the flour with cocoa powder, voila! Chocolate Choc-Chip Cookies were born. My son loved this idea, and freshly warm from the oven, we even converted my husband.

250 g butter, softened
½ cup sugar
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla essence/extract
2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1½ cups white chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and line 2 – 3  oven trays with baking paper.
  2. Cream the butter until light and fluffy, then add the sugar and cream until dissolved and the mixture is a very light cream colour.
  3. Add the condensed milk and vanilla extract and mix to combine.
  4. Sift in the dry ingredients and fold through the butter mixture until well combined.
  5. Mix in the chocolate chips.
  6. With lightly floured hands, roll generous ping pong/golf ball size amounts into balls and place them on the prepared trays, making sure they are far apart enough to spread during baking. Use a fork dipped in flour to flatten the balls slightly.
  7. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the biscuits are firm and starting to colour (although you won’t notice this as much as with the light cookies).
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the trays for a few minutes before transferring carefully to a wire rack.


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Butternut on the Braai

I love Butternut! Besides it’s gorgeous colour, it is a versatile vegetable that is super healthy and has far more flavour than pumpkin. It is naturally sweet, but is delicious as a savoury, main meal or side dish. It can be peeled, diced and boiled or steamed until soft and then mashed; cut into sticks and grilled in the oven as a type of chip; roasted; grilled; pureed in soup – you name it.

Braai baked butternut

One of my favourite ways of cooking and enjoying it is to cut it in half lengthwise before cooking. Scoop out and discard the seeds using a metal spoon (only because it has a sharper edge and you don’t waste too much of the flesh). Sprinkle it with a selection of spices or plain old salt and pepper. Wrap it in tin foil and place it on the braai grid. You could also pop it in the BBQ while you’re cooking your meat but it does need a fair bit of time to cook through. By wrapping it in the tin foil, the flavours and juices remain inside the parcel and it steams.

Some people like to put it straight onto the grid, but again, it takes a while to cook through so my preference is to treat it kindly and give it the time it deserves.

As a side dish to any week night meal, I often prepare it in the same way but leave it out of the tin foil. Simply put it directly onto an oven tray and season as you wish, then bake it in a pre-heated oven (approx 180°C) for 45 minutes until it is gorgeously cooked through and the edges caramelise. Then slice off a chunk and dig in. The skin becomes soft during cooking so I eat that too, an added bit of fibre, but my family prefers to remove the skin off theirs so I leave that up to them.

In some countries the butternut, along with other members of the pumpkin family, are traditionally animal food on the farms and not eaten by people. Our friend who visited from Canada recently said that he had grown up with it being a sweet/pudding, like the famous Pumpkin Pie. To be honest, that sends shivers down my spine! But I’m willing to try it, just not today when I plan on enjoying it in all it’s savoury glory. Adding a little butter to it before baking takes it to a new dimension. So come on people, get experimenting with those butternuts that you see in the supermarkets but aren’t sure what to do with. Just take care when cutting through them as their skins are thick and knives can slip – ask me, my fingers know all about it.

Butternut is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. It is also an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin E.


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