Michelle Darmody: Chocolate cravings satisfied with cocoa

— eat them when they're freshly baked or top them with ganache or icing
Michelle Darmody: Chocolate cravings satisfied with cocoa

Michelle Darmody says the cocoa and buttermilk buns can help satisfy a chocolate craving. Picture: Fergal Phillips.

Cocoa powder is made from crushing the beans of the cacao tree. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and turned into a thick paste, from which the fatty cocoa butter is removed and the remaining mixture is then ground to a powder. The powder used to be better known as a comforting hot drink with milk but it is also a versatile baking ingredient and can be a good substitute for the more traditional chocolate bar. The powder does not tend to have sugar added. If you buy a tub of chocolate powder or drinking chocolate that tastes sweet it is not an ideal substitute for cocoa powder.

Evidence gleaned from ancient culinary implements shows that the cocoa plant was first grown for food more than 5,000 years ago in the Amazon rainforest. It was also used in Mexico and Central American many thousands of years ago. Cocoa beans became very precious commodities traded for other foods and goods. The beans and other cocoa products were brought back to Europe by returning Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

If you do not have chocolate to hand but have some cocoa powder tucked at the back of the cupboard these cocoa and buttermilk buns can help satisfy a chocolate craving. It is important to use buttermilk rather than regular milk as it reacts with the bread soda in the recipe. I like eating these when freshly baked and un-iced but you can top them with ganache or icing if you wish.

Yeast dough takes a while to make: this recipe is reminiscent of Scandinavian cinnamon buns or a babka. Using the bun tin rather than a flat baking tray helps the buns to rise and keep their shape as they bake.

Cocoa and buttermilk buns

Cocoa and buttermilk buns
Cocoa and buttermilk buns

  • 240g golden caster sugar
  • 140g soft butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bread soda, sieved
  • 50g cocoa powder, sieved
  • 200mls buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 180°C and pop 12 bun cases into a bun tin.

Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla to the eggs. Slowly add the eggs to the butter mixture. Add a spoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle.

Combine the flours, bread soda, and cocoa powder. Add this to the mixture until combined. Add in the buttermilk.

Scoop the batter into the prepared bun cases and bake for about 20 minutes until risen and baked through. Once cool enough to handle remove onto a wire rack.

Two-tone butter sponge

  • 225g soft butter
  • 190g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 3 tbs milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbs cocoa powder

Line a 7-inch round cake tin with parchment and preheat your oven to 180°C.

Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Slowly add in the eggs, adding a spoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle. Add in the flour until combined.

Remove half of the mixture into a second bowl. Add the vanilla to one half and the cocoa powder to the other.

Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop some of the vanilla mixture into your prepared tin. Alternate this with the cocoa mixture. Once all of the mixture is in the tin, swirl it with a knife and tap it a few times on your work surface to remove any large air bubbles.

Bake for 35 minutes and then place a sheet of tin foil over the cake and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Once cool enough to handle remove onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cocoa swirl buns

for the dough:

  • 200mls milk
  • 100g soft butter
  • 3 tbs golden caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp quick yeast
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • a dash rapeseed oil

for the filling:

  • 1 tbs soft butter
  • 5 tsp cocoa powder
  • 65g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into small even pieces
 Cocoa swirl buns
Cocoa swirl buns

To make the dough, gently melt the butter with the milk and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Stir the caster sugar, both of the flours and the yeast together. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and the butter mixture. Bring everything together with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will form a sticky dough.

Oil a clean surface with the rapeseed oil and tip the dough from the bowl. Knead it for about ten minutes until the dough turns from sticky to smooth. Shape it into a ball and place it into an oiled bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise to twice its size.

To make the filling gently melt the butter and stir in the cocoa powder and sugar until the sugar. Set aside to cool then stir in the chocolate pieces.

Lightly oil and twelve-hole bun tin and preheat your oven to 190°C.

When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a floured surface and form it into a rectangle about 14 inches by 10 inches in size. Spread the filling over the dough and then roll the dough up into a long sausage shape. Cut into 12 slices and place them into your prepared tin with the swirl visible. Allow to prove again for about half an hour.

Bake for 15 minutes until baked through and golden on top.

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