Chocolate and Cherry Bagels. Or Buns.

I've been told recently that some people find me intimidating.  Seriously?  Me?  Intimidating?  I'm actually quite nice.  If anything, I'm really quite shy.  My shyness often manifests itself in a tendency for verbosity which I know some people find irritating.  But I honestly couldn't compute the notion that I'm intimidating.

Decadent bagels for breakfast

So whilst I had a little navel-gazing time last night, I thought about why I might be  perceived that way. And the only thing I can put it down to is that I am quite good at getting things done.  I'm in no way perfect.  I often leave things hanging open-ended.  Like the pile of filing that is on the floor next to my chair as I type.  I should be sorting it into a folder rather than blogging.  But in about twenty minutes when I've finished typing, I'm most likely to step over it and go and do something else like prepping my stuff for work in the morning.  I will come back to it.  But because filing doesn't light my fire, I will put it off until I'm really bored.

Whereas something like baking, I will make time for whenever I absolutely can.  Which is why on Friday, I was multi-tasking by speaking to a journo about the 366 Recipe Challenge whilst kneading the dough for my bagels.  She asked that same question everyone asks about the challenge.  "How did you find time to do it?"  I responded "By multi-tasking, actually, I'm kneading bagels while we talk because the only free time I have today is while Miss A is napping".  I had my Crackberry nearby too because although we finish at 12pm on Fridays, I have a big project going live tomorrow and I wanted to monitor any unforeseen disasters in the final hours of testing.

Nice buns
Could that be construed as intimidating?  The ability to do more than one thing at once?  I know other people don't know how I can manage a full time job, a toddler, running, cooking and blogging.  But I'm rubbish at long, empty tracts of time without anything to fill them with.  And if I have any such unplanned breaks in my schedule, my default response is to go do some work-work (thus avoiding housework).

I'd made my own bagels using a Dan Lepard recipe for the 366 Recipe Challenge and really enjoyed the process.  Because I am genuinely tight for time, I've not made them from scratch again since, but Miss A and I ritually eat bagels on Saturday and Sunday mornings for our breakfast.  We split one (proper ones, not the plasticky New York Bagel ones).  She has hers with chocolate Philly and banana and strawberries.  I have mine with peanut butter and banana.  But this weekend, I decided to do something a little different and the chocolate and cherry bagels were born.

The dough I made on my last attempt was really hard to work with so after a little research, I decided to use my own dough recipe and use a little oil in the hope of smoothing the dough and making it more elasticky.  Plus I eschewed Dan's 10-second knead method and went for a full ten-minute work out seeing as I was on the phone.

For decadence, I added Waitrose chocolate chunks (other brands are available) and dried sour cherries. But then I got cold feet when it got to poaching.  I was worried that the chocolate would melt in the boiling water and so I used half of the dough to make buns and the rest for the bagels.  Luckily, both worked and both went down well with my chief taste-tester.  Two days later, they're also great lightly toasted and slathered with unsalted butter.  Perfect winter fodder.  I also intend to bake these again in a few weeks using blueberries, white chocolate and a touch of mixed spice.  I love that one dough recipe gives the two options.  And you could pop it into a loaf tin and have a great slicing loaf too.

Bagels - pre glaze
I'm going to enter them into the Calendar Bakes November Challenge hosted by Dolly Bakes and Laura Loves Cakes which this month is Bread, Rolls and Cakes.

Recipe - makes either eight bagels or eight buns

  • 450g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 7g sachet of easy bake yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 275ml water (two parts iced to one part boiling, mixed)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 75g dark chocolate chunks (I use Waitrose as they tend to stand up better to hot temperatures)
  • 75g dried sour cherries
  • 2tbsp malt extract or dark brown sugar for poaching if making bagels (I used sugar this time but think malt extract works better and is less streaky)
  • 25g caster sugar for the glaze

  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.  Mix in the yeast, sugar and salt.  Mix the water and oil together and then pour into the flour mixture.  Stir until it starts to form a dough then use your hands to bring it together into a ball.  Place onto a clean, flour dusted worktop and knead for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.
  2. Place into a clean, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover and leave for thirty minutes.  Turn out onto the floured work surface, knead briefly for a minute or two then return to the bowl for another thirty minutes.
  3. Work the chocolate and cherries through the dough then cut into eight even pieces.  Mould into balls, taking care to poke the cherries and chocolate slightly under the surface of the dough - this stops them burning when they cook.  Place on a lightly floured tray and leave to rise for another thirty minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350F/180c/160 fan/Gas 4 whilst the dough is proving.
  5. For bagels: Put the malt extract or brown sugar into a large saucepan filled with water.  Bring to the boil.
  6. Using the handle of a clean wooden spoon, poke a hole through the middle of each dough ball and stretch until roughly the size of an old fifty pence piece.  Drop the bagels carefully into the water, two at a time and poach for thirty seconds each side.  Remove and place on the baking tray.  
  7. For buns: I usually bake my buns in a smallish roasting tin with a two-inch side or in my springform cake tin.  I pack them quite close together so they smoosh together when baking and pull apart nicely.
  8. To Finish: Bake the bagels or buns for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  9. Just before the end of the cooking time, mix the sugar for the glaze with 2tbsp water in a small saucepan and then heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When you remove the buns or bagels from the oven, quickly brush the tops with the glaze before leaving to cool.

Cookie Monster Cupcakes

To trot out an old adage, "Time waits for no man".  My twelve-year-old self has awoken to yet another day when I find myself trapped in the body of a thirty-*ahem*-something and having to pretend daily that I am a competent Project Manager, mother and Domestic Goddess.  To the outside world, I'm quite good at faking it.

Since finishing my last blog, the one question I keep getting asked is "How did you find the time to do it all?" People who don't know me assume that I don't work or have a retinue of helpers to free me up some time to cook and blog.

But the honest answer is either "I just don't know" or "If you really want to do something, you make time".  Which is why I'm sat here at just after 6am on a Saturday about to waffle on about some cupcakes I made a few weeks ago.  I've always been a poor sleeper and regularly join the lovely HelsWats in the #twoamclub on Twitter.  This morning is no different and so faced with the choice of further decluttering of my life or writing about cake, the cake won.

It's also why my blogging antics will be much less frequent now.  The 366 Recipe Challenge was, quite frankly, exhausting.  For a year, every spare moment was spent thinking about food, eating food or writing about food.  Or thinking about writing about food.  It paid off because the blog has now had over 60,000 page views which is awesome.  But besides neglecting the housework, I also had to let many other things in my life slide away.  Most importantly spending time with people that I love and doing the things that I love.

Before anyone goes running off to ring ChildLine, of course I didn't neglect Miss A.  Hopefully the blog is testimony to my intent and her involvement in it.  But I have recently had someone who had the temerity to imply that I was a bad mother for putting her into nursery so I could work hard to keep a roof over her head.  I really must stop being so sensitive on this issue.  My life is ruled by a happy, healthy, loving, well rounded child.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

But in order to have a happy, healthy, well-rounded child, she needs to have a role model to emulate.  This is something I've only recently realised.  How can she grow up to form healthy relationships if she sees a mother who has no life of her own.  As a child growing up with a single mother, my mum never went out anywhere.  Yes, she had friends and interests and her own business, and maybe it is a sign of the times we lived in then, but I don't remember her going out for an evening out until I was ten.  

Consequently, as an adult, I have spent years fighting a fear of new places and people.  Situations like this fill me with fear and I have been known in the past to even eschew nights out with some of my oldest friends because I'm just too plain nervous of the situation.

One of the best things to come out of my blogging year was biting the bullet and going to cake club.  It made me realise that actually, I'm missing out on a lot of enjoyment in life by hiding away each evening, writing a blog.  Even when I run, I'm too much of a wuss to go to running club in case 'nobody speaks to me' (a favourite childhood excuse for not going to dance class or swimming club) so I run by myself at 5am, making the excuse that it's the only time I can fit it in to my busy life.

But I don't want my daughter to grow up with this same insecurity and so I'm pushing my own boundaries to try and find a healthy balance and become a role model.  A happy toddler needs a happy mummy.  And this personal challenge is turning out to be quite a pleasant mouthful of elephant to swallow.

Anyway, what has this got to do with Cookie Monster cupcakes, I hear you ask?  A few weeks ago, I went on a night out with work.  This is something that would ordinarily have me running for the hills, or at the very least making the excuse that "I'm washing my hair that night".  But I decided it was time to bite the bullet and go out.  Even if it meant I was the only female in a group of 16.  And an enjoyable night it was too. If a little messy.  

The barman lining up the now infamous cocktails
After a fair bit of alcohol was consumed, we had a couple of rounds of the now legendary Cookie Monster shots.  For the uninitiated, these consist of Kahlua, Chambord and Baileys.  And if you happen to drink at SevenShed in Bristol, you get a flaming Sambucca in the saucer as well.  Lethal!  When I finally got over my hangover (about a week later - the perils of being over thirty) I remembered that Cookie Monster cupcakes were on my to-do-list for the 366 Recipe Challenge, but I'd never found the time to do them.  And so it seemed to be the right time to give them a go.

There are many different methods for making them on the interweb, but I couldn't find one that appealed so just made up my own recipe.  And the two chief taste-testers (Miss A and my boss) gave them the thumbs up.

I started with a basic pound cake recipe for the cupcakes, substituting 40g of flour for cocoa and baked this into cupcakes.  The domed head was then created from cake-pop mixture - a combination of crumbled cake and cream cheese.  They need to be solid to hold the cookies.

Some recipes then use dyed coconut for the fur but as I was road-testing these for my godson who can't eat coconut, I went for a buttercream topping, piped using my grass nozzle.  Finally, because I was a total numpty and forgot to buy cookies, I had to make an emergency batch of cookies to complete the cakes.  Luckily, as part of the old blog, I tried the best ever cookie recipe by Sadia, one of my lovely Twitter friends.  You can find her recipe here.  I used half the quantities and made them the size of an old 50p piece (for those of you old enough to remember).  This left me with plenty of spares.  For....erm...quality assurance purposes.

Et voila.  Cookie Monster cupcakes!

For the cakes - makes 6-8 depending on the size of your cases

Pre-decoration.  They could work as frogs too.

  • 250g softened butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of table salt
  • 210g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 40g cocoa powder

For the topping

  • 50g full fat cream cheese
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 80g softened butter
  • 1tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • blue gel food colouring
  • black icing (I used a tube of premade icing I had lurking in the cupboard) or black gel food colouring
  • giant white chocolate buttons
  • mini cookies
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan.  Line a muffin tin with paper muffin cases.  You will need about twelve to sixteen cakes.  Half are used to make the domes for the heads.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Incorporate the eggs one at a time.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Sift in the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder and then mix until you have a nice even batter.
  3. Half fill the muffin cases.  You may need to bake in two batches if you only have one tray.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and springy to the touch.  Leave to go completely cold.
  4. Pick the worst looking cupcakes (about half of mine would normally be classed as disasters) and crumble them into a clean bowl.  Mix in the cream cheese until you have a stiff, mouldable mixture.  Divide into six to eight pieces (depending on how many cakes you kept) then shape into domes the same size as the cake.  Place on a plate and chill for thirty minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, make the buttercream by mixing the butter and icing sugar together with an electric mixer until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the milk and vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy.  Tint with enough blue gel food colouring (the liquid stuff is no good as it makes it runny) until you have your desired shade.  
  6. To assemble, place one of the domes on top of each cupcake.  Create two slits near the back of the dome and place a chocolate button in each.  Add eye detail with the black icing.  Cut a slit in the front of the dome to make the mouth shape.  It needs to be big enough to hold a cookie, but not so big that the cookie falls out.
  7. Using the blue buttercream and a piping bag fitted with a grass nozzle, pipe fur on to the cake then finish with a cookie in the slit for the mouth.