Bake with Michelle Darmody: Soft centres

Texture is a very important part of our experience of food. We enjoy different sensations as we eat - crisp apples, soft, pillowy sponge cake or the crunch of a freshly baked crust of bread.

Without different textures, our food would be dull and lifeless.

When baking we can manipulate and create different texture in the one cake or biscuit and this adds to the pleasure and satisfaction on our palate.

Think of a creme brulée and the delightful feeling of cracking that hard sugar exterior and allowing the soft, creamy sweet centre to ooze out.

In the recipes below the chocolate bake and the mini date cakes replicate that feeling.

The date cake has a soft-centred ganache that will also pour out once the cake is broken.

When you are making it, it is important to spoon the ganache into the centre; you can make a small well shape if you wish. What you do not want is the chocolate to pour out when baking rather than staying put at the centre of your cake.

Soft sticky jam at the centre of a crisp biscuit is an old favourite. It too plays with the desire for different textures and sensations.

On another note a reader asked recently why eggs need to be lightly beaten separately before adding them to a recipe.

There are two main reasons. One is ensuring even distribution of yolk and white throughout the bake. If you simply add an egg directly it is likely that the yolk will infiltrate some parts and the white others, and the two have very different properties.

Also, historically it would have been to ensure a bad egg does not spoil the other ingredients.

If you crack an egg directly into a bowl of sugar, and flour and it is bad, you must throw everything away.

With modern methods of labelling eggs this does not happen as often but in other times it was a worry.

Soft jammy centred biscuits

90g of caster sugar

100g self-raising flour, sieved

100g of cold butter, cubed

1 tsp of vanilla essence

the zest of 1 lemon

1 egg, lightly beaten

4tbs of raspberry or strawberry jam

Stir the flour and sugar together and rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Mix the vanilla and zest into the egg and add this to the other mixture.

Bring it together with a fork then finally with your hands until everything is combined. Wrap the ball of dough in baking parchment and place it in the fridge for at least two hours.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 3 mm in thickness. Cut out 18 circles and cut a small hole in the center of 9 of them. Place them onto your baking sheet, making sure to space them out, as they will spread when baking.

Bake for about ten minutes until golden. Allow to cool on the tray for five minutes then gently transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Sandwich the circles together. Place the biscuits with the hole onto the other ones. Use the jam to stick them together.

Date cakes with soft chocolate centre

½ tsp of bread soda

200g of destoned dates, finely chopped

150g of self-raising flour

75g of plain flour

70mls of cream

60g of dark chocolate, broken into even pieces

125g of soft butter

140g of muscovado sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees and grease and flour six small pudding moulds. I use ones that are about 220mls in volume.

Stir the bread soda into 180ml of hot water and add the chopped dates. Stir them around and then set aside to soak up the liquid.

Sieve the two flours together and set aside. Heat the cream until it is just about to boil, it will be shivering on the surface.

Stir in the chocolate until it is melted and set aside. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs, adding a spoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle. Once the eggs are combined add the flour a third at a time until a smooth batter is formed. Add in the dates and combine.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared moulds until about half is gone. Add a small dollop of the chocolate into the centre and cover it with the rest of the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until firm to touch.

Molten chocolate bake

100g of dark chocolate broken into small even pieces

125g of soft butter

2 eggs and 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten together

the zest of 2 oranges

1 tsp of vanilla

90g of golden caster sugar

10g of plain flour, sieved

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and grease an ovenproof dish with butter. I use one that is approximately 8 inches by 6 inches.

Place the chocolate and butter into a heavy base saucepan and gently melt over a low heat. Set aside to cool for at least ten minutes.

Whisk the eggs, extra yolks with the, zest, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir the chocolate into the egg mixture until it is all combined, then stir in the flour until that too is combined.

Scoop into the prepared dish and bake for about 15 minutes until it is solid at the edge. It will still be sticky in the centre. Serve warm with ice cream.

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