When the skies turn dark and the chill never leaves the air, it is important for our dessert options to match the season. While there is a time and a place for the sweet comfort of creamy milk chocolate, it's the season to relish in the bitterness and velvety mouthfeel of dark chocolate as a bolster against winter's bitter, bracing days ahead.
Chocolate, licorice and caramel loaf cake
The adult version of the chocolate bullets of your childhood. Serve as is, or warm with fresh pear and ice-cream. The chocolate licorice crumb recipe makes about 2 cups.
350g licorice pieces, chopped
½ cup water
250g butter, cubed
1 cup (220g) castor sugar
1¾ cups cups plain flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp baking powder
½ cup dark chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup dulce de leche, to serve
Chocolate licorice crumb
100g plain flour
1 tsp cornflour
100g castor sugar
65g cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
85g butter, melted
1 tsp licorice powder*
1. Preheat the oven to 180C
2. Place the licorice pieces in a small saucepan with half a cup of water and put on medium-low heat. Cook for about 25 minutes or until the licorice has softened to a pulpy, paste-like consistency (you may need to add a little more water as you go as the rate of absorption varies between licorice brands). Set aside.
3. For the chocolate crumb combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the melted butter and stir until the mixture starts to come together and forms small clusters. Line a baking tray with baking paper and spread the clusters out across the tray. Bake for 20 minutes or until fragrant.
4. Remove from oven (the crumbs will be slightly tacky to the touch) and allow to cool completely on the tray. Set aside about ½ cup of cookie crumb and toss with the licorice powder (if using) for topping the cake. (Store leftover crumbs in an airtight container for one week at room temperature or one month in fridge or freezer.)
5. For the cake grease and line a 25-centimetre loaf tin. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until pale and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Fold in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder, followed by the licorice puree, buttermilk and chocolate chunks.
6. Spoon batter into prepared cake tin and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the cake is firm to touch and just pulling away from the sides of the tin. Cool for a few minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
7. To serve, place the cake on a platter, drizzle with dulce de leche and sprinkle over the cookie crumb and extra licorice pieces (if using).
*Licorice powder is available from health food stores. If you can't find licorice powder, add a few extra pieces of licorice to the top of your cake for an extra aniseed hit.
Glossy chocolate ganache tart. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Chocolate ganache, blackberry and vanilla tart
One for the chocoholics. Only a small amount of sugar has been used to allow the glorious bitterness of quality dark chocolate to shine through.
1 tbsp castor sugar
450g dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa)
1 ½ tbsp castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, whisked
300g chocolate shortcrust pastry (such as one sheet of Careme chocolate pastry), defrosted until malleable
1 punnet (125g) blackberries, to serve
vanilla ice-cream or cream, to serve (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 150C.
2. Add 150g of blackberries and one tablespoon of castor sugar to a bowl and mash with a fork until the berries break down and release their juices. Set aside.
3. Break the chocolate into a medium-sized bowl.
4. Add the milk and cream to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil then add the sugar and stir briefly to dissolve, before pouring over the chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate has melted and fully incorporated. Cool slightly before whisking in the vanilla bean paste, and the eggs and yolk.
5. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry sheet to 5 millimetres thick and use it to line a 28-35-centimetre round tart tin. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with rice or baking beads. Blind bake in the oven for 15 minutes, remove the baking paper and rice, and return to the oven for a further five minutes.
6. Reduce the oven temperature to 115C. Remove the tart from the oven, smear the base of the tart shell with the blackberry mixture then carefully pour the chocolate mix over the top. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the chocolate filling has set – it should wobble but hold its shape.
7. Remove and cool to room temperature. Finish with fresh blackberries and serve with cream or ice-cream (if using).
Grown-up hot chocolate. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Spicy dark hot chocolate drink
The addition of fragrant pink peppercorns adds a rather delightful punch to hot chocolate. The intensity can vary so add slowly until you reach your desired level of peppery heat.
375ml (1½ cups) milk
250ml (1 cup) pouring cream
½ cinnamon quill
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
200g dark chocolate (minimum 56 per cent cocoa)
freeze-dried pink peppercorns*, crushed with a fork (add to taste)
2 tsp cacao nibs (½ tsp per serve)
4 tsp grated milk chocolate (1 tsp per serve)
1. Heat milk, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a saucepan. Just before it reaches a simmer, add the chocolate and whisk until smooth.
2. Strain into a jug before pouring into serving cups.
3. Top each mug with a marshmallow and a smattering of crushed peppercorns, cacao nibs and grated milk chocolate.
*You could also use crushed green peppercorns, Tasmanian pepper berry or a tiny pinch of chilli powder (such as smoky ancho chilli).
Save some brioche-babka for breakfast. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Chocolate babka meets brioche
This chocolate-laden delight borrows from babka and brioche to create a heavenly light, fluffy and rather impressive treat to grace your table. Toast it the next day for breakfast.
20g plain flour
½ cup milk, at room temperature
75g castor sugar
15g fresh yeast
2 cups plain flour
½ cup cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
80g butter at room temperature, cubed
about 75g quality dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa)
1 egg yolk, lightly whisked
75g dark chocolate chunks
1. Make the flour roux by combining the water and flour in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of bechamel sauce. Set aside to cool.
2. Combine the milk, castor sugar, and fresh yeast in a small bowl and set aside until bubbles start to form on the surface (this means the yeast is activated). Set aside.
3. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the flour roux mixture to the bowl and mix on low until just incorporated, then slowly add the yeast mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, increasing the speed to medium until a dough starts to come together.
4. Add the vanilla bean paste then add the butter, a few knobs at a time, and mix until the dough is smooth and shiny. It should be quite soft, tacky and malleable. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and rest in a warm place for about 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
5. Add the dark chocolate and butter to a small saucepan. Place over low heat and whisk constantly until the chocolate starts to melt. Remove pan from heat and allow chocolate to melt completely in the residual heat.
6. Grease and line a high-sided, loose-bottomed 20-centimetre round cake tin. If your dough still seems tacky, spread a generous layer of flour onto your work surface before you begin.
7. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 23-centimetres wide and 40-centimetres long.
8. Spread the chocolate filling over the dough. Roll the dough up like a Swiss roll, starting from the short edge.
9. To shape the babka, hold each end of the log and twist gently in opposite directions. Fold the twisted log in half. Grab the ends and twist in opposite directions again. Repeat once more until you see some of the lines of chocolate come through – the more twisted and uneven the better.
10. Bring the ends together and place into cake tin. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to prove for 40 minutes or until the dough has risen almost to the edge of the tin.
11. Preheat oven to 180C. Brush the dough with the egg yolk and push half the chocolate chunks into the top of the dough. Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes – it should rise a little further and brown on top, and have some resistance to the touch. (Optional: after 30 minutes push the remaining chocolate chunks into the loaf to melt on top.)
12. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Slice and serve while still warm.