Squidgy chocolate-chestnut roll

Today is the first day of meteorological winter. The winter solstice, the shortest day, the darkest night.  It’s natural at this time of year to pause, reflect, and perhaps shed ourselves of that which we no longer need. I’ve been sifting through boxes of old papers, letters and cards, some of which date back to the 1980s and 1990s…the ghosts of years past. Some mementoes I’ll keep, but most have been ditched; it’s so liberating, deciding to let go of the old.

As of tomorrow, we work ourselves back towards the light. When I was younger and less attuned to the natural world, I didn’t realise that although it’s dark now in mid-December, true winter (i.e. the really cold bit) doesn’t tend to get going until January or February. Get outside and you’ll find that there’s still loads of life out there; early daffodil shoots are pushing through, the trees have set their buds ready for spring; the ivy is in full flower and the squirrels are still gathering up their nuts. Yesterday I went to Woodgate Valley Country Park for the first time, a haven of wildlife just a stone’s throw from the M5 – great respite for any city-dweller desperate for some country air. Were it not for the tower blocks in the distance, I could believe myself to be back in the Shire.

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Woodgate Valley Country Park

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Believe it or not, this is Birmingham!

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The nosey robin is the only shot of colour on an overcast December day

Some ‘old’ things are worth getting rid of, but others should be cherished. If it’s an old recipe, then I’m definitely interested. This dessert is inspired by the 1990s Queen of Christmas, Delia Smith: a squidgy chocolate log filled with a light chestnut cream. Delia’s original uses chocolate mousse and whipped cream, but I’ve swapped the chocolate for some chestnut puree, which feels appropriately seasonal. It’s kind of like a yule log, but without the rich icing; a great way to feed a crowd, or just a greedy couple.

(Note: As is a recent theme, the images on this post are terrible. I blame my dark kitchen. Santa, if you want to bring me some decent lighting for Christmas, that would be marvellous).

First, make the sponge. This is a flourless cake, so it’s super light and squidgy. (It’s just occurred to me that the new phrase for flourless is ‘gluten free’. That phrase hadn’t been invented in the 90s!) First whisk egg yolks with caster sugar until pale and thick, then fold in sifted cocoa powder and stiffly whisked egg whites until the batter is smooth and super light.

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Beat sugar and egg yolks until thick

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Whisk egg whites until stiff

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Fold cocoa and then the stiff egg whites into the egg yolk and sugar mixture

Spread the batter into a prepared swiss-roll tin and bake for about 20 minutes until risen and cooked through, but be careful not to overcook else it will never roll.

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Smooth into a swiss roll pan and bake for about 20 minutes

Whilst the sponge is baking, place a piece of baking parchment onto a tea towel, and sprinkle a little caster sugar onto the paper. When the cake is cooked remove from the oven and leave to stand for two minutes, to take the extreme heat away, then tip the cake upside down onto the baking parchment. Whilst the cake is still warm, roll it up from the short side, using the baking parchment and tea towel to help you, then leave to cool on a wire rack. Rolling the cake now makes it easier to re-roll later. It may crack a bit; that’s just the way it is.

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Put the cooked sponge upside down onto sugared baking parchment and a tea towel, roll up and leave to cool

Whilst the cake is cooling, make the filling. Loosen some chestnut puree in a bowl (if you’re using unsweetened puree then you might like to add a little sugar) and whisk some double cream until light and thick. Fold the chestnut into the cream along with a shot of rum (or brandy), then leave in the fridge to chill.

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Beat chestnut puree to loosen

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Fold chestnuts into whipped cream with a tot of rum

Finally, finish the cake! Unroll the sponge, and if the ends look scruffy then trip them with a bread knife. Spread the cream mixture on top of the cake, then re-roll as tightly as you can. It you use LOADS of cream like me, it is impossibly to roll it tightly and the cake will be like a cream-filled log. If you go easy on the cream, it will be easy to roll tightly and will look more like a swiss roll…it’s up to you. Pop back in the fridge for a few hours to firm up then serve.

This is an indulgent dessert that manages to not be overtly sweet and cloying. I think is actually gets better the next day, especially with a few raspberries on the side to cut through the richness. Enjoy!

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Spread the cream onto the sponge and roll up into a log. Chill for several hours then serve.

Squidgy Chocolate-Chestnut log

Inspired by the Squidgy Chocolate Log in the Delia Smith Complete Cookery Course (1989)

6 large eggs, separated

150g caster sugar

50g cocoa (I use Bournville)

300ml double cream (or 200ml if you’d prefer a tighter roll)

150g chestnut puree (I use Merchant Gourmet)

1 tablespoon rum

Extra caster sugar, for sprinkling and to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a swiss-roll tin. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the caster sugar until thick and light (ribbon stage). Sift the cocoa on top and fold in gently but thoroughly. With a clean whisk and in a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the yolks; it’s easiest to do this in three stages. Gently spread the cake batter into the tin, level with the spoon or spatula, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes until risen and springy to the touch.

Whilst the cake is baking, place a sheet of baking parchment over a clean tea towel, then sprinkle the paper with caster sugar. Remove the cake from the oven, leave to stand for two minutes, then turn out onto the paper. Roll up from the short end and leave to cool.

Loosen the chestnut puree with a spoon. If using unsweetened chestnuts, add a spoon of sugar until sweetened to your liking. Whisk the cream until thick, then fold into the chestnuts and rum. Place in the fridge to cool.

When the sponge is quite cold, unroll. You may wish to trim the edges of your cake to neaten them. Spread the cake with cream, then roll from the short end as tightly as you can. Place back in the fridge to firm up for several hours, then serve.


The way to tell the changing of the seasons in not through temperature or weather but by watching the light. It changed this week. The sun has crept down from its high perch and now sits lower in the sky, creating long shadows in early evening. I was as an exhibition opening at Grand Union on Friday and the shards of 6pm sunlight lit up the artwork like spotlights.

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Autumn sun at Grand Union on Friday evening

I spent Monday evening re-planting those slug-eaten seedlings, the sun warming my back. Birds were singing as if it were spring and I swear I heard a toad. That brief idyll has now been replaced by more usual autumn weather: mist, cloud and a chill. I don’t mind the cold, for hopefully it will keep the leek rust at bay – and sort out the slugs.

Speaking of slugs: I’ve forked out for a tub of organic wool pellets from the garden centre, in what is probably a futile attempt to keep my plants protected without having to resort to the particularly grim murder afforded by slug pellets. Turns out that wool pellets smell of my childhood – in other words, they smell of FARM. The idea is that they swell up and make it difficult for Mr Slug to get around. Progress report soon.

I’m still picking sunflowers, cosmos, calendula and dahlias, plus the tomatoes keep coming. Also some red chillies now, so hot that they burn the fingers when I touch them. But the new star of the allotment are the autumn raspberries, a few punnets a week, soft and luscious.

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Monday’s pickings

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Ripe luscious raspberries

I’m bored of eating soft fruit on its own so doubtless most of this fruit will end up in the freezer. But I do think that raspberries are a great foil to creamy rich desserts. I had mascarpone in the fridge, and I’ve been wanting to try Rick Stein’s recipe for tiramisu. I’ve seen recipes that put raspberries IN a tiramisu, which I can’t quite bring myself to do, but on the side is fine.

First, make a sponge. I know you can use sponge fingers, but I don’t keep them in the house, and anyway how hard is it to make a whisked sponge? Whisk up egg yolks and sugar, fold in a smidgeon of flour and stiff egg whites, then bake for 15 minutes. Sorted.

Light whisked sponge

Next comes the mascarpone cream. I was interested in this recipe because of the whisked egg-whites which I surmised would make it really light, like a mousse. Turns out that this is the proper way to make tiramisu and I’ve just been doing it wrong for years. You whisk up egg yolks and icing sugar until really thick and creamy, then mix in the mascarpone. Fold in stiffly whisked egg whites and vanilla and voila, one creamy mass of deliciousness.

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Eggy sugary mascarpone-y filling

Last thing to get right is the coffee. I didn’t get this right. I’m starting to think that all recipes for tiramisu need to double their coffee allowance; I had enough to soak the sponge but there wasn’t that hit of coffee flavour (I’ve upped the coffee ratio in the recipe below). Either way, use the best espresso you can. I made my own but if you don’t have a machine, you could always go down to your local coffee shop and get a take-away double espresso. Slug a good measure of booze in – marsala is traditional but I used armagnac. No sugar here, just coffee and booze.

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The espresso maker is your friend

Then we layer it all together. You can put it in individual glasses, which is very pretty, but our household is too greedy for that so I made a big one. Slice the sponge to fit your dish, briefly soak it in coffee, place in the dish, dollop the cream on top, and repeat. Leave to chill for several hours so that the cream firms up and the flavours mingle, then finish with a shaving of 70% chocolate or cocoa.

Tiramisu. Serve it up on its own or with a tumble of autumn raspberries.

Tiramisu, translated as ‘pick me up’, is a cliche but what a good cliche. Serve up with raspberries for a hit of sharpness against the cream. Don’t keep it for dessert either, it’s a great breakfast!


Serves 4. Adapted from here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/rick_steins_tiramisu_18785

For the sponge

3 eggs, separated

75g caster sugar

75g plain flour sifted with 1/2 tsp baking powder

For the cream

3 eggs, separated

3 tbsp icing sugar

250g mascarpone

1 tsp vanilla extract

To finish

400ml strong espresso

6 tbsp armagnac or marsala or whatever booze takes your fancy

grated dark chocolate (the 70% stuff) or cocoa, to finish

Pre-heat the oven to 180c and line a swiss-roll tin. Make the sponge: whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy – the ribbon stage, about 5 minutes with an electric whisk. Loosen the mixture with a little egg white, then alternatively fold in the flour and remaining egg white until you have a smooth and light batter. Keep as much air in as possible. Spoon into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes until risen and just cooked. Cool.

Make the cream: whisk the egg whites until stiff. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until smooth, pale and creamy. Add the mascarpone and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add a spoonful of whites to loosen, then fold in the remaining whites. I think it’s best to use a really big metal spoon to do this. Keep the mixture very light. Pop into the fridge until you’re ready to finish the tiramisu.

Make up your espresso then add the booze and leave to cool to room temperature.

Find your serving dish or glasses and cut the sponge into circles or fingers so they will fit snugly. Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee and line the base of your dish. Dollop some mascarpone cream on top, then repeat. Keep going until the mixture’s all gone, finishing with a layer of cream. Chill until firm – at least 6 hours. You can cover with clingfilm and leave for longer if desired. Sprinkle with chocolate or sifted cocoa before serving.