Cheering up the chills of winter
It’s November 29th. The winter sun is trying it’s damned hardest to warm us all up but there’s only so high a sun can reach during these months and it seems it’s barely lifted a leg over the gate post before it’s time to climb back down to the darkness again. I can lose my temper quite easily with the midwinter sun for this exact reason – it’s short-lived daily cycle and it's low position that always seems to be at eye level whilst driving, and I seldom have my sunglasses because even after 31 years on this planet I still only associate them with summer. It can also be terribly misleading when trying to judge your winter wardrobe. Don’t let those strong rays of light trick you into leaving that extra layer at home, but equally remember that a brisk walk in the winter sun with too much on can make you wish that chunky knit scarfs had never been invented.
But when I see it’s beautiful face reaching low over the frozen landscape, my unreasonable anger with this most intriguing star is long forgotten.
There’s one thing that’s certain about these chilly winter months: if you wake up to a frost that even with the sun's best efforts shows little sign of thawing out, then a cup of homemade hot chocolate is surely the most delicious way to defrost yourself. Use this recipe throughout winter as a useful tool for cheering up cold people – a thermos taken to work for chilly colleagues, athletes who have just finished an outdoor event, or partners that have just come back from a grueling Christmas shopping trip. Or just as an indulgent treat to yourself - no reason required.
Spiced hot chocolate
This will make quite a lot of hot chocolate – probably enough for 4-6 depending on the company, but you can always store any left-over in a glass bottle in the fridge for a day or two. This recipe can also be made dairy free – just use Kinnertons chocolate (available from Waitrose; this chocolate is also guaranteed nut free which is rare and brilliant when you have an allergic boyfriend) and your favourite plant based milk – I’d suggest almond (obviously not to my boyfriend…)
150g of good quality dark chocolate – green and blacks 70% is my favourite choice
1 litre of milk
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
1 vanilla pod
Put the milk into a heavy based sauce pan with the cinnamon, lightly crush the cardamom pods and add these, split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrap the seeds into the milk and throw the whole pod in as well. Bring to a very gentle simmer and turn the temperature right down. Leave for 5-10 minutes to let the flavours develop, whisking from time to time and making sure not to let it boil.
In the meantime, break your chocolate up into small chunks and set aside. Whisk your cream till it just starts to thicken and keep in fridge until ready.
Sieve the milk to remove spices and return to pan with the chocolate chunks (now would be an excellent time to add a dash of spiced rum or baileys if you were that way inclined) and whisk on a very low heat until all the chocolate melts and it becomes a little frothy on top.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top decorated with some freshly grated nutmeg.
If you’re anything like me then you can’t bear the thought of a lonely cup of hot chocolate with no cake to call it’s friend. So it’s time to turn that bowl of over ripe bananas into something a bit more beautiful. This very easy recipe for banana bread is rich and caramel-y due to the use of dark muscavado sugar instead of caster. It goes excellently with the hot chocolate!
Spiced banana bread
140g softened butter
140g dark brown muscavado sugar
140g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 medium over ripe bananas
Line a small loaf tin with butter and baking parchment. Pre heat the oven to 180c/160 fan/gas mark4. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and baking powder, set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until pale – around 5 mins with an electric mixer, mix in the eggs and vanilla extract with a little of the flour mixture, then carefully fold in the rest of the flour with the bananas. Don’t over mix. Pour batter into tin and bake for about 30-40 mins, or until cooked through – checking with a skewer which should come out clean when done.
Enjoy, and don't feel guilty; it's cold.