Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël

When I signed up for the Plymouth Chamber Christmas Bake Off, all I really wanted was to do well enough to get to the final week, as the theme was cake and I much prefer baking cakes to biscuits, bread or pastry.

However, by the time I got there, down to the final three contestants, I’d be lying if I said a bit of competitiveness hadn’t started to creep in.

I had to create a festive-themed showstopper cake, and knew straight away that I wanted to do a bûche de Noël – the question was, how would I make it stand out against the other two entries?

Decoration was one of the judging criteria, so I knew I had to go over the top. Giant cake board, covered in green sugarpaste, meringue mushrooms, holly leaves and berries, a fondant robin, gold almond pine cone and even a little ladybird, added at the last minute to fill a gap in the forest floor.

I struggled more deciding on what flavours to go with, but fate intervened when I had to go and meet with a chef for work – the fantastic Tom Milby from the Pandora Inn at Restronguet Creek, on the south coast of Cornwall.

I told Tom one of the options I was considering was salted caramel, and he suggested pairing it with something nutty – and then gave me a tub of the most beautiful Callebaut hazelnut praline paste, which is what turned a good cake into an amazing one.

I folded the praline into whipped cream for the filling, and made a salted caramel chocolate ganache to cover the cake. The two flavours complimented each other perfectly, and I was very happy with the outcome.

The judging of the final round of the bake off was led by Chris Tanner, one half of the Tanner Brothers who own two excellent restaurants in Plymouth and are cookery tv show regulars.

So, how did I do? Well, I won!! Amazing! Apparently my cake was ‘the clear winner’, and Chris said he loved all my detailing and decoration as well as the taste.

My prizes are a bread baking masterclass at the Devonport Column Bakehouse, and tickets to see Paul Hollywood when he brings his tour to Plymouth next year. Aside from the prizes though, I’m just thrilled to have won, and for an actual proper chef to say he likes my baking! Such an awesome Christmas present 🙂

Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël (loosely adapted from a Mary Berry yule log recipe and a Hummingbird Bakery chocolate ganache)

  • 4 medium eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 65g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder

For the filling:

  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 100g hazelnut praline paste

For the ganache icing:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 180ml double cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250g dark chocolate, chopped

For the sponge, whisk together the eggs and sugar until really light and fluffy and tripled in volume – at least 4-5 minutes of whisking. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder, and fold in gently, taking care not to knock the air out of the mixture. Spread into a 14×10″ baking tin, lined with baking paper, and bake at 200 degrees (180 fan) for 8-10 minutes,  or until springy and pulling away from the edges of the tin.

Lay out another piece of baking paper and dust liberally with icing sugar. Turn out the sponge onto the paper, and peel off the backing paper from the underneath of the sponge. Score a line along one of the long edges of the sponge, about 1″ from the edge, then starting from that side tightly roll up the sponge and leave to cool.

To make the cream filling, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold a third of it into the hazelnut praline to loosen the mixture, then fold in the rest.

For the ganache, heat the caster sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan with 60ml of water. Heat the cream and salt in a separate pan and set aside. Keep the caramel pan on the heat and simmer until it turns a lovely deep golden colour, then quickly whisk in the heated cream mixture, stirring until it stops bubbling.

Pour the caramel over the chopped chocolate, and stir until all the chocolate melts. Leave to cool to room temperature, when it should be a spreadable consistency. If it seems too thick, you can reheat and add a little more cream, then leave it to cool again.

To assemble, unroll the sponge and spread the hazelnut cream all over. Re-roll as tightly as you can, then trim the two ends to neaten it. Cut the log a third of the way down at a 45 degree angle, to create a piece to use as the branch. Place the two pieces on whatever cake board or serving plate you’re using, then cover with the chocolate ganache. To get the bark-like effect, I just used a butter knife to roughly spread the icing lengthways down the log, then swirled it on the ends of the branches.

Dust with icing sugar and serve!

If you want to make meringue mushrooms, there’s a great tutorial over on Sprinkle Bakes – they’re easier than they look, but they are very fragile – at least a third of mine broke before getting anywhere near the cake!

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Salted carmelitas

Carmelitas

I first came across carmelitas absolutely ages ago, and although I can’t for the life of me remember where I remember thinking that they looked amazing but I was put off from baking them by the fact the recipe called for wrapped caramels – I didn’t know whether this meant soft or hard, or what type to buy, and I didn’t like being confused so I didn’t save the recipe or attempt to make them.

Thanks to Pinterest, carmelitas were recently brought to my attention again, specifically through a recipe posted on Cooking Classy. This version had added salt, and the combination of salted caramel, chocolate, oats and brown sugar was just too much for me to resist.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, carmelitas are a sort of oaty cookie bar, with a layer of chocolate and caramel in the middle that is deliciously gooey when warm and stays just a little soft and squidgy when cool.

I still don’t know what type of caramels you’re supposed to use, but I decided to improvise and use half a can of leftover Carnation caramel that I had sitting in the fridge, which I figured would have a similar consistency to the melted caramels and cream used in the recipe.

The other change I made was to use milk chocolate with chopped hazelnuts instead of regular milk chocolate, which was mainly because the bar was on offer but also added an extra element of flavour and texture which I thought worked well.

Carmelitas are super sweet and a calorific nightmare, but they are also very addictive, so I highly recommend having a hungry pony on hand if you decide to make them…

Salted Carmelitas (recipe adapted from Cooking Classy)

  • 120g plain flour
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g ready made caramel
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 75g milk chocolate (with or without nuts), chopped
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped

Stir together the flour, oats, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Melt the butter in the microwave, and add to the dry mixture with the vanilla, stirring until all the dry ingredients are completely coated. Press between half and two thirds of the mixture into a greased and lined 8×8″ square baking tin, and bake at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until just starting to firm up.

Heat the caramel in the microwave to make it easier to spread, and stir in the second tsp of vanilla and the sea salt – use more or less depending on how salty you like it. Spread the caramel over the oat base, then sprinkle both chopped chocolates in an even layer on top.

Crumble the remaining oat mixture between your fingers and lightly press down on top of the chocolate and caramel layer, then return to the oven to bake for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the caramel is just starting to bubble around the edges. Leave to cool completely before slicing into bars.

Chocolate, hazelnut and marzipan torte

Chocolate, hazelnut and marzipan torte

My ‘to-blog’ list is just ridiculous at the minute, I have such a backlog to get through!

I don’t want to complain too much, because I’m glad to have lots of successful bakes to share as well as a couple of reviews which I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to carry out, but it does mean that I’m somewhat behind on posting and only just on time for entering two of this month’s blogging challenges.

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This month’s Random Recipes challenge, set by Dom at Belleau Kitchen, was a little different to usual – the choice of book was completely down to us.

I had a little moment of panic at the thought of such freedom, but quickly decided it would make sense to choose something from my most recently purchased recipe book, Boutique Baking by Peggy Porschen.

I handed it over to the pony for the random selection, and was very pleased with his choice as it was one that had stood out to me the very first time I flicked through the book – a chocolate hazelnut torte, topped with a layer of marzipan and chocolate ganache.

Which brings me nicely onto the second challenge I’m entering this for – Classic French, hosted by Jen at Blue Kitchen Bakes. Ganache is the theme so this torte works perfectly!

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The cake itself is delicious and went down very well with all my taste testers – a really moist yet light textured sponge with a great balance of flavours – it sounds like quite a lot going on with chocolate, hazelnut, rum and the marzipan, but they all complement each other perfectly.

I had heard good things about Boutique Baking and based on this recipe I’m not disappointed – I can’t wait to try some of Peggy’s signature pretty cupcakes and triple-layer cakes as part of my mission to improve my decorating skills this year.

Chocolate, hazelnut and marzipan torte (from Boutique Baking by Peggy Porschen)

  • 150g whole hazelnuts
  • 75g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 150g butter
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs, seperated
  • 2 tbsp dark rum
  • 20g caster sugar

To finish:

  • 200g marzipan
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 60ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp liquid glucose

Start by blitzing the hazelnuts in a food processor until finely ground, then add in the chopped chocolate, cinnamon and flour and blitz again until the mixture has a sand-like texture. Beat the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, then add in the egg yolks and rum and beat again to combine. Fold in the chocolate and hazelnut mixture, then whisk the egg whites and caster sugar into stiff peaks and fold in, a third at a time. Spread the mixture into a greased and lined 8″ round cake tin and bake at 150 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until risen, springy to the touch and starting to crack around the edges. Leave to cool before removing from the tin.

To make the ganache, heat the cream until almost boiling, then pour over the chocolate. Stir to melt the chocolate, then add in the liquid glucose and leave to cool. Roll out the marzipan on a surface dusted with icing sugar, to a little larger than an 8″ circle. Spread the ganache on top (saving about 2 tbsp) and chill in the fridge until completely set.

Use the cake tin to cut out a perfect 8″ circle from the marzipan. Turn the cake upside down onto a serving plate so the perfectly flat bottom is on top, warm the remaining ganache and spread a thin layer on top of the cake for the marzipan to stick to. Carefully lift the marzipan circle and place on top of the cake – then you’re ready to serve, enjoy!

Banana, Nutella and hazelnut chocolate chip muffins

Banana, Nutella and hazelnut chocolate chip muffins

Is there any better pairing than bananas and Nutella? If these muffins are anything to go by, definitely not!

Ages ago I made Nutella swirled vanilla muffins, and remember thinking at the time they would work well as banana muffins, then when I saw these over at Sweet Pea’s Kitchen I knew it had to be done.

I upped the chocolate and hazelnut flavour by adding chunks of hazelnut milk chocolate to the batter, which worked well as it meant it wasn’t just the muffin tops that had the delicious mix of flavours.

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The swirling on top isn’t quite as pretty as I would have liked, mainly because it’s so cold at the minute that my jar of Nutella had set solid – yet another reason to despise winter…

They were still super tasty though, and a must-make for anyone who loves pairing banana and Nutella as much as I do.

Banana, Nutella and hazelnut chocolate chip muffins (adapted from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen)

Makes 6 muffins

  • 120g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 2 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
  • 60ml (4 tbsp) natural yoghurt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 40g butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g hazelnut chocolate, chopped (lidl do one with the hazelnuts chopped fairly small which is what I used)
  • 6 tsp Nutella

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the banana, yoghurt, butter and vanilla, then pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine. Fold in the chopped hazelnut chocolate then divide the mixture between 6 muffin cases.

Drop a teaspoon of Nutella on top of each muffin, then use a skewer to swirl it into the batter. Bake at 190 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until risen, golden, and smelling incredible. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin to cool on a wire rack.