Bake with Michelle Darmody: fruits of the chilli plant

The shiny, elongated fruits of the chilli plant can be used in many ways, mostly they are used in savoury cooking but they can add a kick and intense flavour to sweet baking as well.

Size is not an indication of strength when it comes to chillies, a tiny scotch bonnet can induce an extremely sharp burning taste, or a short and stout jalapeno can make your eyes water on first bite.

The heat generated by chillies is caused by the presence of capsaicin, which is a chemical compound that stimulates our nerve endings, especially those in the mouth and eyes.

Scoville is a scale used to measure this heat, each unit indicating the amount of capsaicin present in the fruit. Perhaps it is because of this clear way of measuring the intensity of a chilli that people often seem to engage with them in an energetic way.

There are eating competitions held throughout the world and people actively search for the hottest possible hot sauce, with entire shops dedicated to the many varieties.

As a chilli pepper contains the seed of the plant it is a fruit rather than a vegetable.

You can grow beautiful chilli plants indoors in Ireland.

They not only have a lush verdant leaf but the fruits come in a wide variety of colours, tiny purple chillies, others with long red tendrils, or green to varying bright yellows.

The fieriness of a chilli marries particularly well with chocolate and the soft texture of dairy helps to smoothen the heat in both the cake and the sweets.

For the same reason the crackers work very well with a soft creamy cheese.

Chilli and rye crackers

100g of rye flour

100g of plain flour

½ tsp of cayenne pepper

½ tsp of smoked paprika

½ tsp of chilli flakes

1 tsp of golden caster sugar

½ tsp of fine sea salt

100g of water

55g of sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 100 degrees and line two flat baking trays with parchment.

Place all of the ingredients except the water and oil into a large bowl and mix well. Add the water and oil and combine until it forms a dough. Set aside to rest for five minutes.

Divide the dough into two sections. Lay sheet of parchment on your counter and place the first piece of dough on it. Place another sheet of parchment on top.

Roll out the dough as thin as you can between the two sheets. Remove the top sheet and trim the edges to form a neat rectangle. Cut the dough into crackers.

Place them on the baking tray and prick each cracker a few times with a fork. Repeat with the second section of dough.

Bake for about ten minutes until crisp. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Chilli chocolate cake

200g of butter

200g of dark chocolate broken into even pieces

15g of ground almonds

4 eggs, lightly beaten

140g of golden caster sugar

10g of plain flour

2 tsp of dried chilli flakes

A pinch of fine sea salt

20mls of espresso

For the ganache:

100 mls of cream

100g of dark chocolate broken into small even size pieces

½ tsp of mild chilli powder

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line an 8 inch round, spring form tin.

■ Melt the butter and chocolate together over a very low heat.

■ Stir in the ground almonds and slowly add the eggs until combined. Stir in the caster sugar, flour, chilli, salt and espresso until the mixture is smooth.

■ Scoop it into the prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the tin.

■ To make the ganache, heat the cream until shivering (just before it boils) and then remove from the heat. Stir in the chocolate pieces until melted and stir in the chilli powder.

■ When the cake is completely cooled, pour the ganache over it while it is still in the tin and allow the ganache to set. Gently remove the cake from the tin and peel away the parchment paper.

Chocolate chilli sweets

140 mls of cream

150g of good quality dark chocolate, broken into small, even pieces

10g of butter

1 red chilli,very finely chopped

2 tbs of cocoa powder

1 tsp of mild chilli powder

Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is shivering on top, this will happen just before it boils. Add in your chocolate, chopped chilli and butter. Stir them through until the chocolate has melted.

Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool.

Once the mixture has solidified roll walnut sized balls between your palms.

Mix the cocoa powder and chilli powder.

Roll the balls in the mixture and place them on a cold plate. Repeat this process until all your mixture is used up. Store them in the fridge and allow to warm to room temperature before eating.

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