Deciding on a winning cupcake batter is no easy task, but this chocolate rolo recipe will definitely help you make friends and influence people….

I make no secret of the fact I love cake, it’s a longstanding relationship that I don’t see breaking down anytime soon. My ability to make fairly good cake is something I’ve used to my advantage over the years; it’s surprising how well a promise to regularly bring cake into the office goes down in a job interview.

Though I’m a fairly confident baker I’ve always been a little bit nervous when it comes to icing and decorating and that’s because my mother has always excelled in this department. For years I’ve been in constant awe of her ability to sugarcraft everything from carefully tinted roses to lawnmower pushing gardeners and it’s put me off going beyond piping.

I’d decided to tackle this fear head on by starting small and making lots of cupcakes over the coming months, so when I heard about the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning I thought it was the perfect excuse to get practising. I got the cake-loving fraternity at work on board and several other people agreed to bake sweet and savoury goods for the event, which was set to be a day of cake.

I wanted to be sure the cakes I made would be good (just in case my decoration wasn’t so hot) and so I chose to use my favourite chocolate fudge cake recipe (courtesy of good food) into something a little different. The cakes I made contained a chewy rolo centre and were decorated with a vanilla frosting with a hint of caramel. Some of the cakes were topped with a second rolo and others mimicked a 99 by addition of a stick of Crunchie (I wanted the cakes to sell well and everyone knows variety is the spice of life.

They turned out really well (phew) and I was rather pleased with their appearance too, which won such vocal praise as: “They look shop bought”. Brill. I was slightly disappointed the rolo sank to the bottom in a few of the cakes, though this probably occurred because it’s such a light cake batter. To prevent this in future I’m going to try dropping them into the top of the batter in future and covering any indents with icing.

If you want to make your own and you should because they are light, fluffy and sugartastic, this is what you need to know:

The ultimate chocolate cupcake batter (makes 12)

175g self raising flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tsp bicarbonate soda

150g golden caster sugar

2 eggs beaten

2tbsp golden syrup

150ml sunflower oil

150ml semi skimmed milk

1 packet of rolos (frozen)

Gorgeous golden frosting

225g icing sugar

100g unsalted butter

Good squeeze of golden syrup (about 2.5 tbsp)

Vanilla essence 1 tsp

Décor

Rolos

Crunchie bar

Golden sugar balls (Dr Oetker)

Chocolate or caramel sauce

Baking method

Preheat the oven to 180C then roll up your sleeves, put on your apron and get measuring. This can be a messy affair if you aren’t careful as the light fluffy cakes come from a very runny batter! First up, measure all of the dry cake ingredients into a bowl and mix. Next, beat your eggs in one bowl and measure your oil and mil, into a jug, measure to mix together.

Dry chocolate cupcake ingredients

Dry chocolate cupcake ingredients

Next, pour the wet ingredients and the beaten eggs into a well in the middle of your flour/cocoa/sugar/bicarb mix and mix.

 

Chocolate cupcake batter. Yummy and runny!

You should get a lovely silky mixture like that above, which you need to try to transfer into muffin cases in a deep muffin tray. Warning: this is the tricky bit!

 

Rolos nestling in chocolate cupcake batter

Rolos nestling in chocolate cupcake batter

Fill the cases about two thirds full, before dropping a frozen rolo into the centre of each one and top with a little batter .

Golden chocolate cupcakes

Golden chocolate cupcakes, looking nice and light and fluffy

Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes (they may be ready slightly earlier depending on your oven). When they are ready they should be spongey to the touch and a lovely golden brown colour.

The ultimate rolo chocolate cupcakes

Rolo and crunchie chocolate cupcakes oozing with chocolate sauce

Once cooled it’s time for decoration. I chose to make mine look a little ice cream like by piping the caramel coloured frosting and topping with a rolo or crunchie chunk. I finished the cakes off with golden sugar balls for extra crunch and a delicious drizzle of chocolate sauce, though if you want to go all out for a rolo theme a caramel sauce would work well.

I’m not sure what type of cupcake I want to tackle next, I was thinking of perhaps going traditional and experimenting with red velvet cupcakes and going to town with a Halloween themed decoration. Any suggestions folks?

Although I live in lovely Leeds I do take a trip out to dine from to time and my most recent foodie jaunt outside of West Yorkshire was to the Hotel Du Vin Harrogate where I met a friend for an early evening meal.

Hungry as Hannibal in Harrogate

Fresh from a trip to the Malmaison in Edinburgh (where the food was superb) I’d started stealthily tracking down other local hotels owned by the same chain and struck up a conversation with a manager at the hotel who suggested I came and tested out their wares.  Well, it would be rude not to really, wouldn’t it?

Now, geographically Harrogate is but a short jump from Leeds, but in meal time terms, the monumental chasm (I feel in this instance the gravity of this phrase is appropriate) between the usual five minute walk home to cook tea and the half hour trip to Harrogate on the train was keenly felt. Simply put, when I met my dining partner outside the Georgian hotel building all geared up to go gourmet I was ravenous and the cold, damp, autumnal weather seemed only to fuel to our shared hunger.

The bistro is situated in a really beautiful building, but i’m afraid we absorbed very little of this as we made our way through the entrance, passed the busy bar and swiftly to the table where we were quickly presented with some lovely warm bread and butter and water for the table.

Warm bread and butter at Hotel du Vin Harrogate

Lovely warm bread and butter

The comforting carbs soon calmed our wild hunger-stricken eyes and tums and we placed our orders for our starters and main courses. Meanwhile, the bistro’s sommelier came to chat to us because we were obviously looking far friendlier than BC (before carbs) and gave us his recommendation for wine that would adequately bridge both of our menu choices and tastes (he did this rather well, more on this later).

The restaurant wasn’t busy when we arrived but it filled up a little over the course of the meal – mostly with couples dining. The decor in the restaurant is as you may expect – French Bistro-inspired, which seemed to appeal to couples and those out for special occasions. However, as lovely as the candle-lit ambience was, it did make photography somewhat tricky, so I’ll apologise in advance for some of the iffy imagery in this post.

Although we were sat at a window seat (my favourite) the glum weather outside meant we were forced to indulge in a little inside people watching, which in turn led to some serious food jealousy. Most green-eye-inducing was a nearby gentleman tucking into what we later ascertained was a pot of crisp, golden,haddock goujons. Though we had been told at the table what the soup of the day was, we hadn’t been told about other special starters on the menu, this is perhaps because the staff assumed we could see the massive board on the way in. Of course, what they didn’t reckon on was our eagerness to start consuming at any cost and the consequent bypassing of said board.

Our jealous pangs soon subsided when our starters were brought to the table.

 

Heritage Beetroot salad and goat's cheese salad at Hotel du vin

Heritage beet salad and goat's cheese salad

I chose a heritage beetroot and goats cheese salad and was delighted with the range of beets included on the plate.  A melange of colour, it was a very pretty dish indeed – though I did feel the caesar-esque dressing was a little mismatched to the salad itself.

Chicken liver parfait toasted brioche and raisin chutney at Hotel du Vin

Chicken liver parfait, toasted brioche and raisin chutney

At the opposite side of the table my dining partner declared her liver parfait “lovely” and got thoroughly stuck into the task of spreading it on her toasted brioche. Perhaps surprisingly, her favourite part of the starter was the raisin chutney that accompanied it. I reiterate once more: condiments make a meal!

Lovely Portugese white wine at Hotel du Vin

Sommelier selected Portugese white wine

Washing everything down was this fruity white Portugese wine with heavy notes of grapefruit, which was a spot on choice from the sommelier. I took a photo because I knew after first tasting I would want to purchase it again and doubted my ability to remember it’s name. My photo turned out rubbish because the lighting suddenly turned very ambient. It is therefore a nameless tasty Portugese wine.

Half Normandy chicken with a jus roti from Hotel du Vin

Half Normandy chicken with a jus roti

Craving hearty comfort food I opted for the Half hormandy chicken with jus roti (£14.95) for mains, while the lady across the table selected the lemon sole meunière (£16.75). We decided to share sides of charlotte potatoes with butter £3.50 and wilted spinach £3.50.

For it’s part, my chicken was moist with a deliciously crispy skin and though the jus was a tad too salty for my liking it was still flavoursome. The potatoes proved a fine addition (they were carbs after all), though I was disappointed the spinach came out in a tangled heap that was both difficult to eat and lacked any seasoning, flavour and potentially goodness.

The tasty butter and caper sauce that came with a supersize lemon sole proved the remedy for this not-so-sensational side, with the fish itself exuding many a “mmm” and “aaah!”

Pan fried lemon sole with caper butter from Hotel Du Vin

Pan fried lemon sole with caper butter

As we moved on to dessert things got even more romantic – the bistro filled up with more couples, the lighting got a little darker and my photographs got so yellow they almost turned into a romantic ‘sepia’. For this reason I have included a photograph of my dessert only, which was an unusual tutti frutti parfait and blackcurrant sorbet. The parfait incorporated fresh, plump,raspberries but the real star of the dish was the blackcurrant sorbet that fizzed in the mouth.

Tutti frutti parfait with blackcurrant sorbet from Hotel du Vin

Tutti fruitti parfait with blackcurrant sorbet

The second dessert – Pimms jelly with lemonade Sorbet necessitated the invention of a new adjective, the imaginative “pimmsy”.  It was decided though the composition idea was good, the jelly itself was too pimmsy and the lemonade sorbet more sharp than sweet – it lacked the fizz of its blackcurrant counterpart. Though by itself the sorbet was lovely, combined with the very sweet jelly it was a little too much for our savoury-loving tastebuds.

While I dutifully polished off the rest of the wine my fellow diner ordered a cappuccino, which was utterly first class by coffee standards; frothy, tasty and wonderfully warming. With the rain lashing down outside I was a little jealous of this beverage and got to thinking how nice it would be to dine in Hotel du Vin as the snow fell outside and I clutched a similarly season-appropriate refreshment. Instead I was hit with the harsh reality of an after-dinner run to the car, in girl shoes.

This venue is well suited for dining festive dining groups or couples and the fixed price menu – which offered a fixed number of courses from £9.95-£14.95 looks to be really good value. There were a few elements of our meals that weren’t quite as we would have liked, but overall the service was good, the portions were sizeable and the setting was very romantically lit!

 

 

 

 

Why it took me so long to visit Little Tokyo is a bit of a mystery  – I love Japanese food, it’s in Leeds city centre, it’s not an expensive kind of place, it sells carbs. In retrospect it’s probably a previous lack of Japanese carb cuisine-appreciating friends that’s held me back, but that shall bother me no more – for now there is…the gourmette.

The gourmette and I used to work together. We bonded over a common love of all things carbohydrate based – risotto, pasta, pizza and, of course, noodles. Nowadays we no longer share office snacks or exchange jealous glances at each other’s lunch – instead we meet up for carb dates and chat, good, honest, carb-fuelled chat. It was Ms Gourmette who suggested Little Tokyo as a venue for a carb date and I’m superbly glad she did.

Little Tokyo is situated on Central Road, to the rear of House of Fraser, it’s small but perfectly formed. Ms G and I visited midweek and bounded through the door – partially because of excitement, but also because we’d gone for pre-dinner drinks and cockily opted for ‘large’ glasses of wine. We were pleased to be greeted quickly at the door by a waiter with a friendly nature who seated us by a lovely pool complete with mini-waterfall and fish. The water gleamed, sparkled and tinkled. We agreed it was ambient, calming and aesthetically pleasing, and then we raced to the toilet.

Safely back at the table, calls of nature answered, we appreciated the tree in the corner of the room, admired the twinkly lights and ordered a hearty selection of food. Here’s what we ate:

Avocado tempura from Little Tokyo Leeds

Avocado tempura with wasabi and ginger mayonnaise

Although our attention had been to feast on noodles at the earliest opportunity, I got  distracted by the avocado tempura on the menu so we decided to share that as a starter. Unfortunately hunger got the better of me on this occasion and I forgot to note the exact food prices and the Little Tokyo website does not seem to be up to date, but I can definitely define the cost as ‘not extortionate’. I was tempted by the tempura because when I visited Japan many moons ago I decided it was the best way to consume vegetables. I also went through an avocado discovery period about a year ago where I ate avocado every which way, except fried in a light crispy batter, thus I decided I had to rectify this immediately once I spied it on the menu. The tempura did not disappoint – the batter was crisp and the avocado was creamy and fluffy – like some kind of superhero chip. However, the similarly creamy mayo seemed like an odd coupling and could have used more flavouring, we craved a little spice.

We found a little in the ginger and soya sauce that accompanied our gyoza, which were juicy, plump and moist. Filled with sweet spicy pork mince, the dumplings were crisp on the bottom and without a hint of grease.

Gyoza from Little Tokyo Leeds

Gyoza

For the main event we both chose chilli chicken ramen soup, carbs in a bowl in sauce. YES.  The broth was flavoursome, the chicken was moist and there were ample vegetables and enough chilli for a good bite. We collectively ‘mmm’d’. The soup was presented in a beautifully decorated red bowl complete with ladle and chopsticks. I’ve been daydreaming about the bowl and soup ever since. Does anyone know where I can buy such a bowl?  Ms G couldn’t finish her ramen, but I couldn’t not finish mine.

Chilli chicken ramen at Little Tokyo, Leeds

Chilli chicken ramen soup

 

Realistically the bowl of soup alone would have filled us and that came in under a tenner, with the whole feast costing a little more than that each. Little Tokyo is a great place for a date or for group get togethers and a group of lads were noisily wielding chopsticks and chatting behind us as we ate.

Now I’ve finally made it inside Little Tokyo I can’t wait to go back. In fact, I may actually force people here for my birthday next month.

 

 

 

 

I like Saturday Kitchen as much as the next hungover twenty-something – except for that section where they try to make omelettes really quickly – the chefs can tend to get overgiddy, loud and shrill and the closeups of the semi-raw omelettes do nothing for a queasy tum. But there’s a lot to be said for the cuddly reassuring face of James Martin and his ‘classic’ cooking. All very nice.

When I headed out to visit the James Martin Leeds Kitchen recently, my expectations were probably formed predominantly around my impressions of him on this show – the meal I ate should be classic, reassuring and ultimately, nice. Now, I should probably point out that despite putting his name and menu to the small restaurant based in Alea Casino in Clarence Dock, James Martin does definitely not reside in the kitchen. At no point during the meal did I see his cuddly face in the clean and compact kitchen, which you can peek into from the dining area and the street. So, my expectations of friendly reassuringness where probably quite unfounded.

Situated in the front of a casino, the vibe of this eatery is a little strange. It seems to have a fairly consistent flow of diners – unlike many shops in the area – but the ambience lies somewhere betwixt fishbowl and the hangout of an Italian mafia mob. This is the result of the very shiny monochrome decor and the large glass windows that look directly out onto passing Clarence Dock residents, who gawp straight back at you as you munch your way through Martin’s menu.

Strange surroundings aside, the staff at the restaurant made an excellent first impression. After passing through Casino security (extra Mafia vibe points) we were seated at the bar and quickly served some excellent cocktails. It was a balmy summer evening so we opted for a refreshing Mojito, which tasted superb. We were soon guided to a front row fishbowl seat, which I was secretly very pleased about as I love people watching.

The next fairly strange thing to happen was the presentation of the pre-meal bread, which came in a strange pop up sock contraption (not a popsock, just to be clear). Eating bread out of a fabric container really unnerved me; I kept thinking about the process required for washing the gadget, a process that would surely see crumbs amassing into a washing-machine destroying bread loaf with each and every wash. Also, the bread wasn’t great.

In a very rare turn of events, my dining partner and I decided to opt for a main course and dessert because I spied a particularly appealing pudding on the menu early. So, after a quick chat with our knowledgeable waiter and the ordering of some water for the table, we skipped straight to the main event.

 

Goats curd tart, rocket, pickled vegetables, red pepper sauce

I chose a warm goats curd and rocket tart with pickled vegetables and red pepper sauce (£12.95), which was beautifully presented . My dining partner plumped for the meatier option of Grilled Hayton Grange Farm Pork Chop with braised barlotti beans, feves, majoram and game chips £15.50 and we ordered some triple cooked chips (£3.25) that came in one of those neat carb cubes that chefs love to build.

The tart itself was beautiful – the pastry was buttery and crumbly and the gorgeous filling was oozing and tangy, rich and delicious. The spring onions that accompanied it were buttery and tasty, too. However, I did have a few grumbles – my pickled veg seemed to amount to half a carrot and there was merely a trickle of the sweet red pepper sauce. With the dish being so buttery and rich I could definitely have done with more of a sneeze of the sauce to help things down.  The chips were top notch – crispy, light and fluffy in equal measures.

The pork seemed to excite some pleasing noises as it was eaten, though I was unable to photograph it as my dining partner became acutely embarrassed at my enthusiastic wielding of my new camera. Hmm, sad times. The main outcome of the main course was that I am now desperate to eat more goats curd, so I may be following the tips in this article from The Telegraph sometime soon. The excellent pastry also had me gagging for dessert, which signalled a double pastry whammy (and surely heartburn) for myself.

Black cherry tart with cherry and almond ice cream

I’m a huge cherry fan, particularly black cherries, which is why I insisted on a dessert dinner (midweek too, naughty). The black cherry tart with cherry and almond ice cream (£6.25) was just too irresistible. When it arrived, the food was again neat and alluring on the plate, but the sponge itself wasn’t as moist as I would have hoped. Nonetheless, the ice cream was delicious, creamy and fruity and a rare treat for me as I try to avoid dairy.

The non-photographed chocolate and whisky butter pudding with single malt ice cream (£6.25) unfortunately failed to hit the spot. We were told upon ordering that it was James Martin’s signature dish, but as eating it fell to a non dessert lover it was admittedly up against it a bit. Though not a dessert lover, my dining partner is a lover of both white chocolate and whisky and was thus a little disappointed by the overpowering taste of the butter, which overwhelmed the white chocolate and whisky. That said, it was a butter pudding.

All in all, my impression of food at Leeds Kitchen was buttery, sweet and neat. Truth be told, we are becoming rather spoilt in Leeds for what we can eat within this particular price bracket or cheaper. My glorious feast at Hepworth’s Deli and now the arrival of Sukothai in the town centre means we are not short of exceptional mid-priced food choices. For this reason I doubt I will become a regular visitor at Leeds Kitchen, but thanks to the excellent service and beautiful cocktails there’s a good chance I might take the girls there for a bite to eat before a flutter on the roulette tables.

I’m a sometime member of the fabulous Leeds City Centre WI group Buns and Roses (when time allows) and it is this connection that led me to stumble across the following message from a TV producer. I thought I’d publish it here so any fellow bloggers who are better bakers and more camera pleasing than myself can get in touch…I’m sure one of you lovely folk must fit the bill.

P.s if you are launched into celebrity chef superstardom, please dedicate a cake to me in your first book, thanks.

xxx

 

I hope you can help me in my search for a new TV cookery star! My name is Andrew Holland, and I’m a television producer working for a company called Waddell Media, specialising in creating and developing new TV series for the UK television channels.

I’m currently on the search for a new cookery personality. In particular someone who specialises in making traditional “old-school” british sweets and puddings – things like peppermint creams and coconut ices, treacle toffees and home-made fudge.

Ideally I’d like to find someone who has a real passion for this sort of cookery – perhaps someone who lives on a farm – or someone who has their own personal recipes, and a real infectious enthusiasm for what they are doing. There’s no restriction on age or anything like that at all – what I’m concerned with is passion and personality, authenticity, enthusiasm and a genuine knowledge of the subject.

With this in mind it seemed only natural to me to contact the various branches of the Women’s Institute in Yorkshire – one of the last remaining places were (at least in my mind) one can still find great traditional british fare at the drop of a hat!

If you know of anyone who fits this bill – or if you think it might even be you yourself – please contact me either by telephone on 07870 585 889, or by emailing me at andrew@andrewholland.tv – as I’d love to hear from you, or to listen to your recommendations. Please forward this email to anyone and everyone you know who might be able to assist me – I’m hoping to discover a new star of the small screen!