This is the month of Hallowe’en of course, and it seems to be celebrated by more and more people every year. When my children were small we always gave some kind of party for them and their friends (including various spooky games and, of course, a Hallowe’en cake) and I still put a carved pumpkin outside the house and have some sweets ready for trick-or-treaters. And most years I’ll make a cake for one or another of my grandchildren - who love them to be the more creepy or yucky the better. In a couple of weeks I’ll have a wonderful cake to show you, thought up by Abi, who works here at Home Bargains and who created the brilliant cake last year that was full of spiders…. So watch this space.
Meanwhile, I’ve been testing…. Everything in my range is what I use or will use myself at home, so whenever we add something new I try it out extensively to make sure I’m happy with it. It’s my aim to be able to give you not only some brilliant kitchen equipment, food mixes and lovely tableware, but also the best of ingredients at the best price, and that means making sure I’m happy with everything under my name.
This month I’ve been testing cocoa samples. There’s a lot more to cocoa powders than meets the eye, and by no means all of them are equally good. I always have some in the cupboard as, in spite of all the posh recipes calling for packets or chips of seriously dark chocolate for baking, I think cocoa powder often gives the best, most chocolaty taste, and it’s essential for quickly turning a plain sponge or cupcakes into chocolate ones - in fact you can turn almost any baking recipe chocolaty by substituting a couple of tablespoons of cocoa for the same amount of flour. It’s also supposed to be very good for you - antioxidants and all that - but I can’t vouch for that, especially by the time you’ve added enough sugar to make it delicious…
The choices for me to test had been shortlisted to two, and this weekend was the time I chose to bake with both of them to see which I and the family thought made for a better taste. I made myself little cups of cocoa and assorted icings with the two different powders, but I decided that the best test of quality and taste would be to bake them into chocolate cookies - leaving out the chocolate chips to avoid distraction from the pure taste of the cocoa.
One of the powder samples was darker than the other, and my instinctive feeling was that I’d prefer that one. Let’s call it sample A. It tended toward the colour of dark chocolate, and sample B was more milky-looking. I used an easy recipe which I’ll add at the end of the blog.
I put butter and sugar into my mixer (yes, of course you can make this kind of recipe by hand, but I love my electric mixer and at the weekend, which is when I tend to bake, if it gives me a better texture more quickly then I’ll use it: life’s too short to stand beating with a wooden spoon while there are grandchildren to play with or The Archers omnibus to catch up with). Next the eggs went in, and finally the flour and cocoa. I had a good taste of the raw dough as you can often get a real sense of how good a recipe is that way - and anyway it’s delicious - and I already had a feeling of which way I was heading…
The dramatic outcome of the experiment, and I’m sure you’ve been in a state of tension waiting to know my decision - was that the cookies made with sample B not only had a much better taste and texture but also came out looking darker than those made with sample A… I’m sure that can be explained scientifically, but it sure surprised me.
So, once we get this magnificent cocoa powder on the shelf in the store in a few weeks, do try a few recipes with it and let me know how you get on. I think it gives a fabulous taste and a great colour and I’m proud to put my name on it.
Here are the results - the lower ones were made with the winning cocoa powder
You can see my Easy Chocolate Cookies recipe here.