Chocolate Espresso Brownie Bites

These are super fudgy, rich and indulgent little brownies and perfect to serve with coffee.

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You could cut larger pieces and serve as a dessert with cream, but I think they are best cut into small squares as a little treat with hot coffee.

These are very quick to make and rather than buttering and flouring the tin, I line with foil so there is no problem getting them out – just leave to cool and lift out.

I actually think they are at their best when they have fully cooled and been allowed to stand for a while. If you make them the night before, they will be perfect for coffee the next day.

If you want the full coffee taste, but not the caffeine, you could always use decaf.

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Ingredients
2 (100g) packs of good quality dark Belgian chocolate, broken into small pieces
120g room temperature butter, plus extra for greasing
2tsp vanilla extract
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
250g caster sugar
140g plain/all-purpose flour
3tbs good quality cocoa
2.5tbs espresso powder
½tsp salt
50g milk chocolate and chocolate espresso beans or chocolate covered coffee beans to decorate

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F and prepare a 20cm/8inch square tin by buttering and lining with foil, leaving a little extra either side so you can pull the bake out afterwards. Butter the foil to ensure nothing sticks.  A tin with square corners is best.

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Melt the dark chocolate and stir in the butter until both are melted, smooth and shiny. I do my melting in the microwave and the residual heat should melt the soft butter, but you might need an extra 10-20 seconds if it’s a very cold day.  Leave to cool a little.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together, add the vanilla and stir in the melted chocolate and butter mixture. Do not beat, just stir, you don’t want air bubbles in your brownies.

Sieve together the flour, cocoa and salt and gently mix into the wet ingredients until just combined – taking care not to over-mix.

Pour into the prepared tin and give it a few taps to release any air that might be trapped in the mixture.

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Bake for 35 minutes until the tops are shiny. The centres will be fudgy and moist.

Leave to cool in the tin to firm up, before lifting out and cutting into squares.

If you are decorating, melt the milk chocolate and either spoon or pipe a little onto each brownie and place a chocolate espresso bean onto each one. White chocolate would work well here too.

Espresso brownie bite

Peppermint Bark Bars

After the Halloween butterscotch bark bars here, I just had to use my bark moulds again! This is a pretty simple recipe, but still really good and perfect for a festive treat.

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I’ve used crushed up peppermint candy canes for my bars, but peppermint boiled sweets would be just as good. I also picked up some little candy cane sprinkles (I love using themed sprinkles!) and have used a few of them here.

Peppermint bark

The bars are fairly substantial, so you could break them into two, or if not using moulds at all, the slab can be broken into shards.

Just one thing to note, you have to be fairly quick after adding the peppermint extract as the melted chocolate can seize.  Don’t be tempted to try and melt the chocolate and the peppermint extract together – no good will come of this!

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This recipe makes 6 large bars

Ingredients:

200g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
400g white chocolate
1 ½tsp peppermint extract – I used Nielsen-massey Pure Peppermint Extract
Crushed candy canes, sprinkles or crushed peppermint sweets to decorate

Method:
Melt half of the white chocolate in the microwave. You can do this in a bowl over simmering water, but I have much more success melting in the microwave. I have had many a recipe ruined by chocolate that has seized up over simmering water – especially white chocolate.

Just stop heating the chocolate when there are still lumps and the residual heat will melt the remainder. Leave to cool a little before pouring into the moulds.

When you are ready to pour, stir ½tsp of peppermint extract and stir well to incorporate.

Divide the white chocolate equally and cover the base of each mould with a thin layer. Leave to cool, it will firm up quite quickly and you need it almost set before adding the milk and dark chocolate layer.

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Melt the dark and the milk chocolate together in the microwave in the same way as the white chocolate and leave to cool a little. The layers will not be defined if the chocolate is too warm and melts the base layer. As before, just before you are ready to pour, stir in ½tsp of the peppermint extract.

Divide the dark and milk chocolate combination between the moulds and leave to cool down.

When the middle layer is firm, but not hard, melt the remainder of the white chocolate, stirring in the final ½tsp of peppermint just before pouring.

When the bars all have their coating of white chocolate, sprinkle over the crushed candy canes and any other sprinkles you are using. Gently push them in to make sure they all stick into the chocolate.

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Leave to cool completely before turning out.

This can also be done in a square dish lined with oiled cling film or foil and broken into shards.

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These would make great homemade gifts or part of a homemade Christmas hamper. Just chop into bite sized shards and pop into a cellophane bag, tied with Christmas ribbon.

Smoky and Spicy Cheese Ball

Since I made my very first cheese ball here, it was so good, I have been needing an excuse to create new ones.

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With the festive season upon us, a cheese ball is the perfect make-ahead addition to a any party or buffet table. Served with cruditiés or crackers, they are really good for feeding a crowd and delicious to eat.

This one is all about smoky and spicy flavours. Smoky cheese, smoked paprika, smoky and spicy chipotle chillies and the crust has chopped smoky almonds, smoked paprika and lots of crispy shards of smoky bacon goodness. Like my first cheese ball recipe, I haven’t used any extra salt in this at all.

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Ingredients:
8oz/226g room temperature cream cheese
8oz/226g room temperature Applewood smoked cheddar, grated
Small bunch of chives, very finely chopped
1-2tbs of chipotle chilli paste.
1 roasted red pepper, skinned and finely chopped. You can easily cheat and use one from a jar for this.
2tsp smoked paprika – sweet or spicy, the choice is yours
Freshly ground black pepper

Crust:
1 pack of salted smoked almonds, very finely chopped
6 thin slices of smoked streaky bacon, cooked until crisp – then cool and finely chop
Freshly ground black pepper
2tsp smoked paprika
Crackers for serving

cheeseball slice

Method:
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the room temperature cheeses, peppers, paprika and chilli and mix on low speed until well mixed.  Add the chives and mix until just combined.

Place onto cling film and form into a ball. Refrigerate for at least two hours in order for it to firm up and be rolled in the crust ingredients.

On a plate, spread out the chopped almonds and bacon. Season the plate all over with freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle over the paprika so you have an even coating.

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Then just roll the cheese ball around in the crust ingredients, until fully coated. This is ready to serve immediately but will only get better if left to come up to room temperature. Otherwise you can refrigerate for up to 3 days.

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This could easily be made vegetarian by leaving out the bacon and using more of the other ingredients to coat the outside.