Tag Archives: How to

Chocolate surprise muffins*

Oh yummy, yummy, yummy!

I’ve been making some lovely chocolate muffins for a few years now. It’s a quick and easy mix, and so plain that I usually dress it up a little, with some chocolate chips stirred through the mix, or perhaps a chocolate button in the middle. But a couple of weeks ago, I realised that I might be able to make them with a spoonful of caramel in the middle. So I did, with the assistance of my girls. They are truly divine. You should race out and buy the ingredients now, and have a go at them yourself. Actually, you’re likely to have most ingredients on hand already, but you may need to get some sweetened condensed milk.

Condensed milk, butter, brown sugar, in a small saucepan

Caramel ingredients

Start by making a small amount of caramel sauce. On our first attempt, the girls and I mixed together 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. The result was so-so: nice enough, but not quite there. Next time, we tried 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 large tablespoon of golden syrup, and 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. The flavour was better – there was a bit of an edge to the caramel, a fuller flavour. The measures are approximate, but the proportions are about right. Opt for more (well-rounded tablespoons) rather than less, so you get more caramel mix.

Thick golden brown caramel, pushed to one side of the saucepan and holding its shape

Thick caramel, pushed to one side of the saucepan and holding its shape

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Use one with a heavy base, if possible. Stir over a low heat until all the ingredients have melted and combined, then bring them to a simmer. Reduce the heat, and let the mix cook for about four minutes, stirring every now and then, to make sure that it doesn’t catch. The mix should thicken up quite a bit. It will need to cool and thicken some more before you use it in the muffins, so once the four minutes is up, set the saucepan aside while you prepare the muffins.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (that’s about 390 – 400 Fahrenheit), and grease your muffin pans (I use spray on canola oil).

The muffin mix itself is a basic one. You can use it for almost any muffin, with variations.

First of all, melt 100gms of butter in a large bowl or jug, and set it aside to cool a little.

Next, sift into a large bowl, 1 and 1/2 cups of flour and 1 and 1/2 tsp of baking powder (or just use 1 and 1/2 cups of self-raising flour), and for chocolate muffins, 2 tablespoons of cocoa.

Stir in 3/4 cup of sugar, and mix well. At this stage, if you were making say, chocolate chip chocolate muffins, you would stir in the chocolate chips (plenty, of course), or the poppy seeds, or any chippy chunky dry ingredients that you thought might enhance the end product. But I’d go with the chocolate version, if I were you.

Butter-egg-milk mix in jug, dry ingredients in large bowl, cooked caramel in saucepan, muffin pan

Butter-egg-milk mix in jug, dry ingredients in large bowl, cooked caramel in saucepan, muffin pan

That’s the dry ingredients done. One of the tricks to successful muffin making is to minimise beating, so next, get all the wet ingredients ready, so you can mix them quickly.

Break one egg into the melted butter, and mix well with a fork. The mix will thicken up a bit. Then add 1 cup of milk to the butter and egg, and mix some more.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the butter-egg-milk mix, and stir until the dry ingredients are mixed through. (At this stage, you would add blueberries, or stewed apple, or chunks of peach, or whatever wet variation you fancied, if you were experimenting with the basic mix.)

12-cup muffin pan, each cup 1/2 filled with batter, small dot of caramel in middle of batter in each cup

12-cup muffin pan, each cup 1/2 filled with batter, small dot of caramel in middle of batter in each cup

Using a 12-cup muffin pan, fill each cup about 1/3 to 1/2 full with the mix. A rounded soupspoon is probably about right. Make sure you leave enough mix to cover up the caramel. Using a teaspoon, make a small hollow in the centre of each raw muffin. Then, get the caramel mix, and using a couple of spoons, one to scrape the mix off the other, put about 1/2 teaspoon, or maybe a bit more, of caramel in each hollow. Then use the remaining muffin mix to cover the caramel.

Put the muffins in the oven, and cook for about 12 minutes, until they feel springy to the touch. While they are cooking, scrape the remaining caramel mix onto teaspoons, summon the children, and give them one each. Use a dessertspoon for yourself.

Once the muffins are cooked, let them cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then put them on a rack. Cool for a few more minutes, and then, enjoy!

Basket of chocolate muffins, one split open to show the gooey caramel inside

Basket of chocolate muffins, one split open to show the gooey caramel inside

It turns out that if you are under a certain age,** you can poke your finger into the caramel and lick it off, or just stick your tongue directly into it, which will definitely enhance the muffin eating experience.

Packet of Cadbury Caramel Buttons

If you are a busy parent, or just plain busy, you may not have time to make the caramel. It turns out that these Cadbury Caramel Buttons do very nicely. I put two into each muffin. Then I eat the rest, all by myself.

* Why, yes! These are inspired by Stef’s excellent Lemon Surprise Cupcakes.
** Probably about 120.

Chocolate self-saucing pudding

It’s cold and wet in Adelaide. After an extended warm autumn that seemed to last until well through May, at last winter has arrived. In my house, winter means fires and soups and stews and pudding. Extra food to keep our bodies going in the cold, and extra comfort for the dreary days.

My girls love chocolate self-saucing pudding. So do I, because it’s very, very easy to make, and the ingredients can be assembled a little ahead of time, then quickly mixed together and the pudding put into the oven just before I start doing the last minute prep for the meal and getting the girls to set the table. 45 minutes later, the pudding is cooked and ready to eat, usually a few minutes after we have finished eating and clearing the first course.

First, assemble two sets of ingredients. In one bowl, mix together 2/3 cup of brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. It’s a good idea to sift the cocoa powder. to get any lumps out of it. This mix of brown sugar and cocoa powder will become the sauce. Sometimes I add a pinch of salt, to round out the flavour of the sauce. Set the sugar and cocoa mix aside.

In another, larger bowl, mix together 1 cup of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder (substitute 1 cup of self-raising flour for the plain flour and baking powder if you like), 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons full of cocoa powder. Again, it’s a good idea to sift the cocoa powder and the flour and baking powder. Set the flour and cocoa and sugar mix aside.

Melt 60 grams of butter, and set it aside.

Beat together one egg and 1/2 cup of milk and set aside. I usually just use a fork to beat the egg and milk mix: the idea is to beat it until the egg is broken up and thoroughly mixed through the milk, not to get it light and fluffy as you would for a sponge cake. Again, set the mix aside.

And last of all, grease your baking dish. I use a 2-litre (about 3.5 pints) pyrex casserole dish, with high sides.

All these ingredients can sit on your kitchen bench for a while. All day would not be sensible, given the milk and egg, but they should be fine for up to an hour or so, ‘though you may want to put the milk and egg mix in the fridge if you do this.

Make sure you start your oven warming so that you have it at 170 degrees Celsius when the pudding goes in (that’s about 350 Fahrenheit). When you are ready to start assembling the pudding, put the kettle on, because you will need 1 and 1/4 cups of boiling water. Then, stir the milk and egg, and the melted butter into the flour, cocoa and sugar mix. When the batter is smooth, pour it into the casserole dish. Don’t try to spread it to the edges: you want it to sit in the middle of the baking dish, leaving space for the sauce around the side. Sprinkle the cocoa and sugar mix over the top, reasonably evenly, and then carefully pour 1 and 1/4 cups of boiling water over the whole thing. Don’t just slosh the water in – try to pour it slowly and evenly, so all of the cocoa and sugar mix gets wet.

Into the oven it goes, for about 40 to 45 minutes, or maybe a little longer, depending. If you are using a small baking dish, it may be worth putting a baking slide under the dish, to catch any drips. The pudding is ready when it feels firm and cakey, and there is a rich chocolate sauce bubbling at the side. Be careful if you test the pudding’s readiness with your finger: the sauce burns!

I let it sit for a few minutes, so that the sauce thickens up, and the pudding cools a little. Then I dust it with icing sugar, and serve it with thickened cream. It’s delicious. My girls usually lick their bowls clean.

This recipe makes enough for all five of us to have a good sized serving, and there’s still enough left for the first person up the next morning to have the leftovers for breakfast. You could serve up to eight people, especially if you added icecream on the side. If you are only cooking for a couple of people, then the recipe can be halved quite successfully. However it’s a little difficult to get half an egg. I use a whole egg – the smallest one I have on hand – and 3 tablespoons (45ml) of milk.

Puddings spell comfort to me. I have fond memories of a glorious steamed pudding that friends made one night when I was staying with them in Canberra, served with runny custard and cream. I had two helpings. My mother used to make us “Children’s Favourite Syrup Pudding” and hot fruit sponges, to warm us up in cold and wet Taranaki winters. The food of love.

What puddings do you make and love?

Cross posted

ABC muffins

School goes back next week, and that means school lunches, and school lunches means muffins. I have made masses of muffins for years and years and years, starting when my elder daughter was a tiny new baby. I would bake a batch, eat some, and put the rest in the freezer so I could grab one quickly when the day had turned to custard, as it does with new babies, and I needed something, anything, to eat. These days, I bake a batch at the start of the week, put three in the school lunches for that day, freeze the rest, and pop them into the lunchboxes later in the week. Full of sugar and fat, of course, but it’s good honest sugar and fat that I have put in myself, so I know that the girls aren’t being filled up on corn syrup or palm oil.

Our current favourites are Apple, Banana and Chocolate Muffins. I first saw a recipe for them in an Alison and Simon Holst recipe book, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get their recipe to work well for me. So I filched the idea, and added apple and chocolate chips to a banana muffin recipe that has been in our family for so long that Mum and I have lost its provenance.

You will need some apples, bananas, and chocolate chips. If I have stewed apple (or as my girls call it, apple stew) in the fridge, then I get about 1/2 cup, drain it, and dice it. You need reasonably firm apple stew for this; if your preference is for apple mush rather than apple stew, then you may want to start with whole apples for the muffins.

About now, turn your oven on to heat up to 200 degrees Celsius (about 400 Fahrenheit).

Peel, core, slice and dice two apples. Put the diced apple into a saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to the boil. Let it simmer gently for a minute or so, then turn it off, and drain the apples and leave to cool while you prepare the rest of the recipe. Alternatively, you could leave the apple skins on, and grate the apples. I’ve tried this occasionally, but I’m not fussed about the result, or as my girls would say, it’s not to my taste.

Melt 50 grams of butter, and set it aside to cool. If you prefer, you could use 50 mls of cooking oil instead (canola is good), but I find that the colour and taste of the muffins is not as good.

Sift 1.5 cups of plain flour, 2 tsp cream of tartar, and 1 tsp baking soda into a large bowl. If you don’t have cream of tartar and baking soda on hand, use 1.5 tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt, ‘though the result will be cakier than a standard muffin. If you like, add a little ground cinnamon, or grated nutmeg.

Add 1/3 cup sugar. This is on the light side for a muffin recipe, but you get added sweetness with the fruit and chocolate chips, so they get too sweet if you add more sugar.

Mash two bananas in a bowl, ’til they are reasonably smooth. Beat one egg with 1/2 cup of milk. Usually I would add about 3/4 of a cup of milk in a muffin recipe that uses 1.5 cups of flour, but the mashed banana adds a bit of extra liquid to the mix, so the amount of milk is reduced.

Add the mashed banana to the egg and milk mix, and beat some more. You could add some vanilla essence too if you like, but the flavour could be swamped by the cinnamon and nutmeg, so it may not be worth it.

At this stage, before you mix the wet and dry ingedients together, get your muffin pans ready. The recipe makes 12 good sized muffins, so a standard muffin tray should be fine. Grease the muffin pans well with butter paper, or spray them with an oil cooking spray.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour the milk and banana mix in. Mix together gently, just enough to combine the ingredients. Then stir in the diced apple, and about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. Finally, add the melted butter, and mix ’til smooth.

Although it sounds like you mix this and you mix that and then you mix some more, you should try to minimise the amount of mixing you do. Overmixed muffins can get rubbery. So as you add each wet ingredient, stir the mix just enough to combine the ingredients.

Once everything is mixed together, spoon the mix into the muffin pans, and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes. Take the muffins out of the oven when they are golden brown, and springy to touch. Let them sit in the pans for a moment or two before running a knife around them and easing them out of the pans.

These muffins are most delicious when eaten while they are still warm, but they are not too bad at room temperature. If you decide to freeze some and put them in school lunches, then wrap them in paper towels before you put them in lunch boxes. The paper towels will absorb the moisture as the muffins defrost, so you won’t end up with a horrid sticky mess.

I find this recipe doubles well if you want to make a big batch. Sometimes I make a 1.5 mix, which is a bit tricky when it comes to the eggs. I use 2 eggs, and about 3/5 of a cup of milk, which seems to work out about right.

I’ll be making a batch on Tuesday morning, when the girls go back to school. And sometime in the next week or two, I’ll try the mandarin muffins on Anne’s food blog, Something Else to Eat. They look delicious, and very easy to make.


Half way through March already, and not a single cooking post on my blog this year, unless you count the cupcakes I made for International Megan Day.

Time to fix that gap in my blogging!

A colleague of Mr Strange Land’s, who is also a personal friend of ours, came to dinner on Saturday night, and because he is a friend, I thought he might be an ideal subject for experimentation. Long time readers may recall my recipe for lamb galette, which I make regularly, most recently when my mother was here a few weeks ago. As we ate it, Mum and I talked about how successful galettes were in general, and how the concept might be used for a fruit dessert. So on Friday, as I planned the menu for Saturday night, I thought that it might be time to try out a fruit galette. Peaches were cheap(ish) in our local supermarket, so that’s what I got.*

I quartered, cored and peeled five peaches (but I should have used four), and sliced each quarter into three. I sprinkled them with about a tablespoon of caster sugar, and squeezed the juice of a lemon over them, and left them on the bench to macerate for the afternoon. Then I made a round of pastry, per my original lamb galette recipe, and left it to chill in the fridge. My round was about 32cm (about 13 inches) across. I also made about 10 pastry leaves and put them in the fridge to chill too.

I got the main course served, and turned the oven up to about 200 degrees celsius (about 400 Fahrenheit). While Mr Strange Land did the carving, I assembled the galette, and got it into the oven. I greased a baking slide with butter (use an oil spray if you like, but I find it makes the pastry a bit damp), and put the round of pastry onto it. The lamb galette recipe calls for a layer of grated cheese on the pastry, to provide a bit of a protective layer between the filling and the pastry, but clearly, cheese would not do at all for a fruit pie. So I spread some jam on it instead. Mum has a recipe that suggests marmalade, but I had none on hand, so I used apricot and ginger jam instead. I suspect that any jam would do, provided that you think a little about the flavour combination. If in doubt, use apricot. I spread about 2 tablespoons of apricot jam in the middle of the pastry round, leaving a margin of about 5cm (2 inches) at the edge.

I layered the peach slices onto the jam, going round and round in a spiral pattern. I thought that the peaches would probably exude some juice as they cooked, so I made a mix of two tablespoons of cornflour, and one tablespoon of caster sugar, and sprinkled it over the peaches as I went (one dusting about half way through, and one at the end).

Once all the peach slices were on the pastry, I pleated the edges of the pastry up (per the instructions in the lamb galette recipe). I found that I had a few too many peaches, so the galette was not as well shaped as I would have liked; four peaches would probably have been enough. Then I put the leaves on top in a star pattern. I was concerned that the exposed fruit in the galette would burn, but the leaves helped to reduce that, while still allowing the fruit to show through.

I baked the galette for about 35 minutes. Once it was done I left it to cool on a rack for a short time, and then I slipped it onto a serving dish, and dusted it with icing sugar. I served wedges of it with cream and yoghurt on the side. The peach slices were cooked through, hot, but not soft and mushy, and the pastry was crisp, a lovely contrast to the peaches.

We ate it all.

* Yes, I know a truly virtuous cook would buy her fruit at a farmers market, or at the Adelaide Central Markets, or at the very least at the greengrocers, but our local supermarket prides itself on stocking local products, and the fruit and vege is usually very fresh. It’s a South Australian chain, not one of the big two.

It’s the wobble and the cut

A couple of months ago, I had a go at making quince jelly, with assistance over the phone from my lovely mother. The batch I made wasn’t too bad at all, but not up to my mother’s standards. Then Mum and Dad came to stay a few weeks ago, so I bought some more quinces, and Mum and I made jelly together.

I learned so much from making jelly with my mother. She had given me clear instructions (‘though I managed to miss the bit about not squeezing the jelly bag), and I am an experienced cook, quite capable of following a recipe, and adjusting it as needed. As a child, I had hung around in the kitchen while Mum was making jelly, so somehow I knew how to fill and hang a jelly bag, and how to sterilise and seal hot jars of jelly (jam / chutney / pickles / whatever it was that Mum was making that day). I knew a lot. But, it was not enough.

The critical bit of knowledge that I could only gain through working with Mum was the “glassy” stage. Mum had told me to start testing the jelly once it started to look glassy. It turned out that what she meant by this was not what I had understood. I had seen the jelly getting glossier, but when Mum said “glassy,” what she meant that the jelly was thickening a little, and instead of looking liquid, it was starting to look a little heavier, and denser, a bit like the glass in old window panes. My parents live in a very old house, in New Zealand terms. It was built in 1863, and some of the panes of glass in the windows have been there since then. They are a bit thicker and heavier in appearance than modern glass, and there are bubbles in some of them. That’s about the look of the jelly when it reached the glassy stage, and it was time to begin testing it.

And then I watched as Mum tested the jelly. First she put a teaspoonful onto a chilled saucer, per her original instructions. After about 30 seconds or so, she drew a spoon through it to see how quickly it flowed back together. But then, she did something that she hadn’t told me about. She picked the saucer up, and tilted it this way and that, looking to see how viscous it was, how quickly, or slowly, it flowed down the saucer. And after that, she carefully dripped it back into the boiling pot, again looking to see how quickly drops formed. “Hmmm,” she said, with a thoughtful look on her face. “A bit longer yet.”

Eventually looking quite satisfied, she said, “That’s about right now.” At that stage the teaspoon line in the jelly held for a few seconds before the sides creeped back together, and it flowed begrudgingly down the saucer. I have a clear visual memory of what it looked like – still liquid, but thicker and heavy. But not too thick and heavy. There’s a moment when it’s just right. When I made my first batch of jelly, I boiled the mix for a bit too long, and although the jelly tastes good, it is a bit sticky.

Dad was watching the whole process too. Like my mother’s mother, his mother made pickles and jellies and jams too. Apparently, my Granny used to say that you should be able to cut a good jelly, and it should wobble. “You can tell a good jelly by the wobble and the cut.”

The jelly Mum and I made together is glorious. It’s beautifully clear, it wobbles, and it can be cut cleanly with knife. And it tastes superb.


Jelly and jam and pickle making is a lovely skill to have. I like being able to make jars of preserves, some for our own use, some to use as house gifts when we go to someone’s home for a meal, some to give to friends. I don’t know that it’s an essential life skill, but it is certainly one that I want to pass on to my daughters, partly to preserve the old knowledge, partly to give them a gift that has come to me from my mother and my grandmothers. What I have found fascinating about this whole experience is just how much I needed to learn from the process of doing, rather than from recipe books. I suppose that with enough attempts, I could have learned to judge the right stage of the jelly mix, but watching my Mum do it made it all so much easier.

I have memory boxes for my daughters, and for me. The girls’ boxes have their school reports and pre-school photos and diaries, and copies of birth announcements and so on. My box has some of the girls’ baby clothes that I couldn’t bear to give away – a beautiful seersucker babydoll dress that Miss Ten wore when she was about three months, the yellow 0000 suits that the Miss Sevens wore in the first few days of their lives (those tiny suits looked very big on them), some small hats that my aunty sent for the babies, which we thought would never be worn, but they were just the right size for my newborn twins. These are my treasures, the tangible connections to the people I love most. My mother has written out a list of instructions and hints and tips for making jelly. I’ve kept her handwritten list of instructions, and put them in my memory box.

More on making jelly

This is from my mother (though I couldn’t resist making my own comments, in italics). It goes with my earlier post on making quince jelly, and it has come about because while Mum and Dad were here recently, I bought some quinces, and Mum and I made quince jelly, together. Before, during and after the jelly making, Mum wrote a series of notes about how to make jelly. Over three or four days, she wrote and then added to these notes, as she recalled pieces of advice about jelly-making. I have also written about the experience of making jelly with Mum.

– Wash fruit.
– Remove major blemishes, bruising.
– Cut fruit into chunky slices. Don’t peel, core.
This is because she caught me peeling and coring the fruit. “Oh no!” she said. “You need the core and the peel for the pectin.” The pectin helps the jelly to set. We rescued the day by peeling a granny smith apple, and putting the peel into the mix.
– Place into large pot, preserving pan.
– Barely cover with water.
– Bring slowly to boil.
– Simmer till fruit is really well cooked.
That means mushy, but still holding its shape.
– Leave to cool a little.
– Pour fruit and juice into jelly bag sitting in large basin.
– Move fruit in bag and basin and hang from hook to strain.
– Leave overnight or several hours.
– Don’t squeeze jelly bag!
My first batch of jelly tasted good, but it was cloudy, not clear. This is because I squeezed the bag. Neither Mum nor I could remember whether she had told me about this, but my guess is that she did, and I just forgot.
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Helpful hints for tutors

So I bragged a bit about my students’ response to my tutoring, and in discussion, Hugh asked for the secrets of my success, which I duly gave, including this piece of advice:

I make a big effort to learn all my students’ names, and use them.

But George said, “How?!”

Here I reveal my best technique for learning students’ names – the seating chart.

In the first tutorial, I get my students to give me their full name, and tell me a little bit about why they are doing the course. I try to make comment back to each person, using their name (basic memory technique). But more importantly, as we go around the table, I write down each person’s name around my cunning seating chart.


For the rest of that session, I work on remembering names, keeping the chart in front of me as an aid. I also tell them exactly what I’m doing. Next week, as people come in and sit down, I try to recall their names, and use them, and ask them to correct me if necessary, and I write up a fresh chart as I go. Alas, the students don’t sit in exactly the same place each week, though as it turns out, most students tend to sit in more-or-less the same area each week, or at the very least, on the same side of the table in relation to the windows or door or whatever. It’s as though they find a comfortable spot, and then stay there.

I find that I usually have to do the chart for about four weeks or so. By then, with a bit of effort, I have most of their names in memory. It’s worth doing – most students seem to really appreciate being more than just another number.

Any other helpful hints for tutors? All suggestions will be gratefully received, from tutors or tutorees.

Cross posted