Happy New Year, and a healthy new recipe

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas and New Year – mine was a little hectic with moving house as well as lots of baking, but it was definitely a good one.

For New Year’s Eve, I headed up to Oxford to visit friends for a house party, and made the cake pictured above to take – a cinnamon sponge with milk chocolate filling and white chocolate frosting. I didn’t get any photos of the inside, so I’m going to make it again and wait until then to share the recipe – it’s a good one though, I promise!

For now, I’m going to give you another recipe, which I think is rather fitting for my first post of the new year – healthy chilli chocolate butternut brownies.

(Pro photo courtesy of http://www.seangeephotography.com)

I made several attempts last year at making healthier vegetable-based brownies, using a butternut squash recipe from Delicious and a sweet potato recipe from Dan Lepard at the Guardian.

I wasn’t entirely happy with either, but I think I finally cracked it with this recipe, which uses butternut squash to replace the fat, and can also easily be made wheat and gluten free by swapping the 25g of flour for more cocoa powder.

Cut into 12 slices, it comes in at 200 calories per slice – ridiculous for such a decadent tasting treat, and perfect for anyone on a new year health kick.

I also added a quarter teaspoon of scotch bonnet chilli mash, from the Bad Boy Chilli Company, which is based not far from me in Lostwithiel, Cornwall. You only need a tiny bit of the mash to give the brownies a really fiery kick, so use with caution!

Although the chilli does pack a spicy punch, the sweetness of the white chocolate balances it out, and these were a big hit with all of my taste testers when I made them.

I would definitely recommend giving this recipe a go, whether or not you’re starting 2014 with healthy intentions. I’m not planning any huge changes to my diet (cakes aplenty!) but I am going to be trying out some new classes at the gym to try and tone up and increase my fitness – I’ll keep you updated with how it goes…

Healthy chilli chocolate butternut brownies (loosely adapted from Delicious)

  • 330g butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • ¼ tsp Scotch Bonnet Mash
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 65g cocoa powder
  • 25g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped

Start by microwaving the butternut squash for about 10 minutes, or until you can cut through it like butter.  Stir in the dark chocolate until melted, then blend with a stick blender to get rid of all lumps. Add the chilli – if you’re worried about it being too hot start with less and add more if you think it needs it.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar until the mixture triples in volume, then fold in the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder.  Finally, fold through the chocolate squash mixture and the white chocolate chunks and spread the mixture into an 8×8” square tin, lined with baking paper.

Bake at 180 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until just set. Leave to cool completely in the tin, then cut into squares to serve.


As this is the first time I’ve baked anything with the Bad Boy Chilli Company’s Scotch Bonnet Mash, I’m going to enter them into this month’s We Should Cocoa Challenge, hosted by Linzi at Lancashire Food, who chose ‘new ingredient’ as the theme. I love trying out new things, so this may not be my only entry, we’ll see!


Healthy, fudgy, avocado brownies

Avocado brownies

Not long after being sent a giant box of veg from Riverford to bake with, including a bag of avocados which ended up in a chocolate fudge cake, I found myself with another avocado desperate to be used.

Coincidently, a few days beforehand I had seen these avocado brownies posted by Averie and, well, it just seemed like fate!

I’ve made a few variations on healthy brownies with ‘secret’ ingredients before – mayonnaise and black beans probably being the strangest – but these were by far my favourite and cut into 12 squares they are a virtuous 175 calories each – practically health food!

You would honestly never guess that there is avocado in these, or that they are healthy – they are just straight up delicious, fudgy brownies.

If you have an avocado going spare, I would seriously recommend giving this recipe a go – the reaction when you tell people what’s in them AFTER they’ve tried them is worth it alone!

Avocado brownies (recipe adapted from Averie Cooks)

  • 70g avocado flesh (approx. 1 small avocado)
  • 60g Clover light, melted (or butter if you don’t care about calorie count)
  • 1 large egg
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp strong black coffee
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 30g plain flour (I used gluten free)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 85g dark chocolate, chopped

Start by pureeing or mashing the avocado – I find a stick blender does this best. Add the melted butter, egg, sugar, coffee and vanilla and beat well with an electric mixer, until completely smooth. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour and salt and fold into the mixture until just combined, then stir through the chopped dark chocolate.

Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 8×8″ square tin, then bake at 170 degrees for 25-30 minutes – make sure you don’t overbake or the brownies won’t be fudgy. Leave to cool completely before trying to cut – then eat in amazement.

Almost healthy carrot cake

Almost healthy carrot cake

Carrot cake is definitely one of my favourite cakes (despite not being able to comprehend why anyone could like it up until the age of about 20).

Moist yet light in texture, richly flavoured with a subtle blend of spices and a little sweetness coming through from the carrot, studded with either deliciously sweet bursts of dried fruit or the crunch of nuts, and finished with my favourite topping, cream cheese icing – what’s not to like?

Well, unfortunately there is one thing – the calorie and fat content. Healthy it may sound, but traditional carrot cake recipes have equal amounts of sugar and oil which kind of balance out any goodness coming from the carrots, and cream cheese icing just can’t be done low-cal.

My go-to carrot cake recipe is great, but I wanted to have a go at making a lightened up version that wouldn’t contain half a day’s calories in a single slice. I was also inspired by the arrival of my Riverford veg box, which was a lovely follow on from the lunch at Riverford Field Kitchen I attended a few weeks ago.

Usually costing £12.95 for what they call a small box of all organic, seasonal produce, I thought it was great value. Mine contained a cauliflower, two broccolis, a punned of chestnut mushrooms, a giant butternut squash, about 8 onions, a sack of potatoes – and lots of carrots.

So how did I lighten up my carrot cake? Well to start with, I used the classic Jedi mind trick of changing the shape of the cake from a two-tiered round to a one-layer square, meaning you can cut yourself a bigger slice, without actually eating as much. I made 2/3 the amount of cake, but cut it into the same number of pieces – obvious, right?

I then switched the vegetable oil, which would have been 1,800 calories, for a combination of low-fat creme fraiche, semi-skimmed milk and melted light butter spread, which came in at just 425 calories.

Instead of full fat cream cheese icing, I made a lemon flavoured whipped white chocolate ganache, made with more low fat creme fraiche – perfectly rich and creamy with a bit of a tang, but almost half the calories (790) of the original (1,500).

Using an 8×8″ tin and cutting it into 12 bars, each slice of cake had 255 calories. The original version, cut into 12 slices, would have been 635 calories, so it’s safe to say that this recipe is quite a bit of an improvement, and it lost nothing in taste or texture.

I quite often try to lighten up recipes where I can (although sometimes pure indulgence is the only thing that will do) – does anyone else have any top tips? Let me know!

Lighter carrot cake (adapted from here, original recipe from Breakfast by the Sea)

  • 200g carrots, grated
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 75g light butter spread (I used Clover Light), melted
  • 75g low fat creme fraiche (I used Weightwatchers)
  • 50ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 40g sultanas

For the icing

  • 100g white chocolate
  • 50g low fat creme fraiche
  • 50g lemon curd

Whisk the sugar, melted butter, creme fraiche, milk eggs and vanilla together in a large mixing bowl, then stir in the grated carrots. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and spices, then fold into the mixture. Finally, stir in the sultanas and pour into an 8×8″ square greased and lined baking tin. Bake at 170 degrees for 45 minutes – 1 hour, checking to make sure it’s risen, springy to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.

To make the icing, finely chop the chocolate and place in a small heatproof bowl. Heat the creme fraiche in a saucepan until almost boiling, then pour it over the white chocolate (don’t worry if the creme fraiche splits, it will come back together again later) and stir until the chocolate has completely melted.

Place the small bowl inside a larger bowl, half filled with cold water, being careful not to get any water into the chocolate. Using an electric whisk, whisk the mixture until it starts to cool and whips up into medium peaks. Fold in the lemon curd, then either spread on top of the cake straight away or chill in the fridge if you want it a little bit thicker.

Cut into bars and serve, guilt free!

Black bean brownies

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, set by Chele of Chocolate Teapot, was to make something health conscious to start the new year.

I wasn’t immediately struck with inspiration, as my line of thinking is that chocolate is always unhealthy, but everything in moderation is ok – not that I always manage to stick to the moderation part!

As luck would have it, a few weeks ago Madison at Espresso and Cream posted these black bean brownies, at a very health conscious 130 calories each – and brownies with beans in just sounded too weird not to try!

Thanks to a few tweaks (adding chocolate chips and cutting into 12 squares instead of 16) meant that these brownies are actually more like 215 calories each – but that’s still kind of ok for a brownie!

You can’t taste the black beans, and the pony liked them, but they were a bit too cakey for me – I like brownies to be thick and gooey! They were interesting to try though, and I as a vegetarian I can even kid myself I NEED to eat one to get my daily protein fix…

Black bean brownies (adapted from Espresso and Cream):

Makes 12 squares

  • 3/4 cup tinned black beans
  • 1/2 cup sunflower oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g dark chocolate, melted
  • 40g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g milk chocolate chips

Blend the drained black beans in a food processor with the oil, eggs, cocoa powder and sugar for about a minute, until completely blended with no bits. Add in the rest of the ingredients, apart from the chocolate chips, and blend again to combine. Stir in the chocolate chips, then pour into an 8×8 square tin, lined with foil. Bake at 175 degrees for 20 minutes, then leave to cool before cutting into squares and serving.