Milk chocolate praline cookies

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There is a very dangerously placed Ben’s Cookies that stands between my office and the tube platform, and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that restraining myself from nipping in for one of their milk chocolate praline numbers is a daily battle. But everything is better for you if you make it yourself, right? Thus, inspired by Ben’s, I gave my usual Eric Lanlard cookie recipe an update. Here’s the result – soft, chewy, chocolatey, nutty glory.

Ingredients
100g blanched, roasted hazelnuts
175g unsalted butter, melted
200g soft dark brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, plus 1 yolk
250g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g milk chocolate chunks
1 box Guylian shells (or similar), chopped into chunks

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Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan and line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Divide the hazelnuts into two batches of 50g. Using a food processor, blitz one until the nuts are in small, rough pieces. Blitz the second to a fine grind. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the melted butter and two sugars together until smooth. Then add the egg, yolk and vanilla extract and beat again until the mixture is light and creamy. Next, sift in the flour, ground hazelnuts and bicarb and mix until combined.

With a wooden spoon, mix in the roughly chopped hazelnuts, chocolate chunks and chopped Guylian shells.

Drop heaped dessert spoons of the dough onto the prepared baking trays, around 6 cookies per sheet (they spread a lot). If you want to get your cookies perfectly round, I recommend using a small ice-cream scoop or melon baller to get a sphere of dough. Don’t flatten them out – they will do this themselves in the oven.

Bake for 17 minutes, or until the edges are golden. They will feel very soft when you first take them out of the oven but will harden up as they cool so don’t be tempted to leave them in for longer if you want that lovely gooey centre.

Cool on baking trays and tuck in!

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Crunchie Caramel & Chocolate Crown Cake

IMG_7400What a lovely lot of Cs that is. This cake was inspired by the humble Crunchie bar – a firm favourite – for a friend’s birthday. I vamped up my usual chocolate sponge with darker sugar for a slightly moister, fudgier cake, then layered it with caramel sauce, covered it in milk chocolate honey icing and finished it with chunks of Crunchie and a ‘crown’ of gold and silver candles. It’s a beaut.

Ingredients
50g cocoa powder (I find Green & Blacks gives the best colour)
3 eggs
50ml milk
175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g margarine
175g soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar

180g caster sugar
120ml double cream
24g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g milk chocolate, ideally Dairy Milk
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g clear honey
50ml milk
500g icing sugar

2 Crunchie bars, cut into 1-2cm pieces (use a sharp, strong knife and stand, putting all your weight behind the blade, to get a clean cut)

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To make the sponge, preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line two 18 inch cake tins. Meanwhile, boil the kettle.

Take one large bowl and add the cocoa powder, then pour 6 tablespoons of just-boiled water and mix until it forms a smooth paste. Add the margarine and beat until smooth.

Then add the rest of the sponge ingredients to the bowl and mix, divide equally between the two cake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until a knife into the middle comes out clean.

While the sponges are cooling, make the caramel sauce. Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat and cook until it melts. Don’t stir it, do swirl the pan gently to help melt all the sugar. Once it’s all melted, continue to cook until it reaches a deep copper colour.

Remove from the heat, then quickly stir in the cream, butter and vanilla extract. It will froth as the cold cream hits the hot sugar, but keep stirring and it will calm down. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

To make the icing, gently melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a bain-marie, then leave to cool slightly. Place the softened butter into the bowl of a standalone mixer (or into a mixing bowl with separate hand mixer) and beat until smooth. Then add the honey, milk and melted chocolate and beat to combine. Lastly, add the icing sugar – a little at a time to minimise icing sugar clouds – and beat for a couple of minutes.

To finish, place one sponge on a plate and spread the top with the caramel. Sandwich with the second layer and leave to set for 15 minutes or so at room temperature to prevent the top from sliding around as you ice it. Spread the icing around the sides and top of the cake with a palette knife. If you find the icing becomes too stiff to work with after a while (as it cools the chocolate will harden, making it more difficult to spread), place a couple of spoonfuls in a separate bowl and microwave to loosen for about 30 seconds, then stir back into the main bowl to loosen it up.

Finish the top in a loose swirl with the palette knife, then top with a ring of Crunchie pieces and candles, if wished.

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