Tahini Chocolate Chip Nut Bars

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A few things I want to say after the past few weeks. Just as a side note, I’ve actually been meaning to put this up for quite a while but as usual, a lot of things regarding work and travel got in the way, and I also did not want to put something of a sensitive topic up too soon.

  • Constantly reposting images and Instagram stories makes good for collective awareness but is not as important as action and effort.
  • In the past I never had the courage to challenge racism if and where I identify it, and I’d like to think I am getting better at it. This will probably involve more difficult conversations with loved ones and friends. Not necessarily in a defensive way, but rather constructive. I usually struggle with challenging friends more so than just family (with whom we usually have no filter) in this manner sometimes, but it’s about trying.
  • Racism is like a defence mechanism against insecurity and anxiety. If someone is secure in his or her own identity then there’s no need to put others down, but the truth is that the person experiencing this suffers chronically and deeply, and may have to feel like he or she always has to prove oneself, or that he’s never good enough to do anything, acting like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs place physiological needs (food, water, shelter) as the most basic needs we must have established before the needs of, in this order specifically: safety, feeling loved, having good self-esteem, and finally that of self-actualisation, which would propel us towards our highest goals and help us achieve them. Without the basic need of love and support fulfilled, and with many black people already suffering a lack of the most basic needs on a global basis, I think it’s fair to say that it is insensitive and ignorant if we dismiss their plight.
  • And finally, on a slightly unrelated but also very important note, although this oil is everywhere, any small step to try and reduce its usage would benefit our planet and its inhabitants many years into the future.

I was actually thinking about these points while baking the bars (don’t worry there’s a recipe at the end of all this), and now that I’m reflecting upon them I’m once again reminded of how good of a meditation baking is. I’d love to know if anyone else experiences this sort of calm and peace while kneading dough or simply mixing things together in a bowl.

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I haven’t been baking all that much lately because of stress and bouts of anxiety that crop up every now and then, which tend to prevent me from being at my productive best, but these tahini chocolate chip nut bars were some sort of magic the last weekend. I noticed my boyfriend’s pantry had a bounty of unused nuts so I thought it would be fun to play around with my usual tahini chocolate combination but this time with a sprinkling of various nuts. Now that I’m living in a house with him and many more people, it feels more justified to bake and share the goods and of course get feedback!

The sesame in tahini itself already screams wonderful earthy, nutty tones so I thought pairing it couldn’t turn out all that bad. After the first test I knew I hit a jackpot. The combination of everything together made for this chewy bar with a classically fudgy, chocolatey middle. The best part was receiving the positive reviews from three flatmates, which were thankfully in line with my own expectations. It’s been a while since I could bake and share what I made with people– I still get nervous letting my own family try my experiments let alone folk I only just met! So that of all things really warmed my heart. I had to try again the second time, and second time was the charm. Not the prettiest of desserts but simple and easy to eat. Nothing could be better.

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One last note: you can opt to swap the milk chocolate for dark if you want, I just personally prefer a sweeter chocolate for a more delicate opposition to all the earthiness and nuttiness going on.

Tahini chocolate chip nut bars

Ingredients

170g flour (gf sub: use 160g of gluten-free flour mix, or more ground almonds)

½ tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

3 tbsp chopped pine nuts

150g milk chocolate (vegan sub: vegan milk or dark chocolate)

80g butter, melted (vegan sub: vegan butter or margarine)

½ tsp salt

100g white sugar

75g brown sugar

1 egg (vegan sub: use a flax egg- mix 1 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel to thicken up for a couple of minutes before using)

85g tahini

1 tbsp course salt (e.g. Maldon) for sprinkling

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Alternatively, you can also use a loaf tin and bake just half the batter first if you want to test a smaller batch.

Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave on a high power for 30 seconds, and set that aside to cool for a few minutes before using. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, chopped pine nuts and milk chocolate. In a separate and slightly larger bowl, mix together the melted butter, ½ tsp salt, sugars, egg and tahini. Add the dry mix to the wet one and mix until everything comes together- the mix should look pretty thick and rather doughy. Scrape the mix into the prepared tin, use your hands to press the batter into an even layer in the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. When 12 minutes is up, use a wooden skewer to poke the middle of the pan. If it comes out with moist crumbs, take it out and leave to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes or so. If it comes out clearly wet with batter, leave it in the oven to bake a little longer for a couple of minutes. Once the bars are done baking, leave to cool completely on a wire rack or heatproof surface, sprinkle with coarse salt and cut into bars however big you want after at least 10 minutes of cooling. Enjoy with ice cream or simply on their own.

No-bake Chocolate Coconut Bars

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Treats. They right a lot of wrong in the world.

Exactly this time last week I had the privilege of eating alone during my lunch break in between working hours, and I wrote down a few realisations:

  • Eating alone is a thing to be celebrated
  • Korean is possibly favourite cuisine (this may change in a couple of weeks)
  • I need to travel more when its pretty parts and cultures still exist
  • Talks with old friends who still ride on the same wavelength, energy and compassion are incredibly underrated and never dull. These are the occasions which one should be happy to steal away time. The world needs more Real People Conversations. This world should thrive on that bravery,
  • At the lab where I’m undertaking an internship, it is invigorating to tend to the invisible. To pipette precisely, up and down, take exact volumes. This precision forces me to think about things in detail, making me aware of my surroundings and in awe of the big picture that is the Earth’s beauty and mysteries. Detail is a meditation.
  • Some people never go through an awkward tween phase
  • Some pairings like coconut and chocolate are meant to be, like the zip on my Laurice pencil case and removable cap of an ink pen.

To accompany solitude and writing is my iced black cuppa, the one thing that has stayed true to my lifelong affair with breakfast, foam from Nespresso dispensing interrupted by crushed ice.

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An old friend returned from studying overseas and, upon sampling one, two and three, could not believe they were vegan. The chocolate mousse layer is of the perfect consistency- a small finger press gives way to a tender indent, holding firm without being flimsy. These bars are sticky, sweet and devilishly good, but the opaque richness of the coconut cream provides a slight bitterness to offset and ripen the other flavours instantaneously on your tongue.

No-bake Chocolate Coconut Bars (Adapted from this delightful raw tiramisu recipe)

Ingredients

For the base:

8 pitted dates (medjool dates are ideal; I typically freeze a stock and microwave the necessary amount when needed)

210g cashew nuts

pinch of salt

3 tbsp water

4 tbsp liquid/melted coconut oil

1/2 tsp instant espresso powder

For the chocolate mousse layer:

420g cashews, pre-soaked and strained (simply soak them the night before in enough water to cover them in a bowl)

8 pitted dates

120ml almond/cashew milk

100ml maple syrup

7 tbsp cacao powder

7 tbsp liquid /melted coconut oil

2 tbsp white tahini

2 tbsp instant espresso powder

pinch of salt

For the coconut cream:

2 cans coconut cream, left in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight

Directions

In a food processor, blend together the ingredients for the base. Line a 9×9-inch pan with parchment paper and press the mix down with your knuckles until you get an even layer. Place the pan in the fridge to stiffen while you make the chocolate mousse filling.

Make sure the food processor has all the remnants scraped out, but you don’t have to clean it. Put the ingredients for the chocolate mousse layer into the processor and blend until you get a smooth and even filling. Take out your pan from the fridge and smooth the mousse layer on top. Take your cans of coconut cream and open them– there should be thick, spoonable white cream on top. Take it and spread a thin layer on top of the coconut mousse layer. Save the liquid left behind for things like curries! Put the pan in the freezer to stiffen.

Put the pan in the fridge an hour before serving to soften the layers a little and to make it easier to cut.

 

White Chocolate Macadamia Peanut Butter Bars

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Back to basics.

Nothing like a simple sin. Currently sitting in a café trying to remember just about every detail of my most recent creation. The coffee is making me buzz and I’m surrounded by 5 different accents. Just one thing springs to mind– how lucky I was to have yielded the results that I did with the oven that makes my heart quake.

White chocolate, peanut butter and macadamia nuts make up the base of this simple bar recipe, adapted from my favourite and reliable cinnamon roll blondies. They’re ridiculously simple to make, and yield the same squidgy and chewy innards as in the aforementioned recipe, save for a larger, thicker batch because I doubled the ingredients to suit my 10×10-inch pan. Golden crust, chewy edges and squidgy half-baked middle, chock full of white chocolate and crunchy bits of macadamia.

Peanut butter replaces half the butter quantity as stated in my original recipe, for a full-on peanut buttery experience. Though the flavour is more mild than overpowering, it adds a wonderful thickness and complements the brown sugar, the main sweetener in this bar recipe, the tinge of molasses further characterising this brown-sugar-cinnamony wonder.

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White Chocolate Peanut Butter Macadamia Bars (makes a thick batch in a 9×9 or 10×10-inch pan), adapted from my favourite cinnamon roll blondie recipe

Ingredients

For blondies:

250g (2 cups) all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

pinch salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

70g (5 tbsp) salted/unsalted butter, melted in the microwave

130g (½ cup) smooth peanut butter

80g chopped white chocolate, 20g chopped macadamias (or you could use Rittersport’s 100g bar of macadamia-studded white chocolate!!)

40g more of chopped white chocolate and macadamias (combined), for sprinkling on top afterward

220g (1 cup) dark brown sugar, packed

200g (1 cup) white sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp whole milk

 

For frosting:

5 heaping tbsp hazelnut chocolate spread

5 heaping tbsp smooth peanut butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F) and grease (and line if you want) a 9×9 or 10×10-inch square pan. Make sure your butter is microwaved until all melted–do this in a microwave-safe bowl in a 30-second increment and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, leavening agents and salt. Tip in your chopped white chocolate and macadamias and briefly toss in the flour mix to coat everything well. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, two sugars, vanilla extract, melted butter and peanut butter. Pour the dry mix into the wet mix and fold until everything is well incorporated. You may or may not need all 2 tbsp of milk, but add until you achieve a smooth dropping consistency. The batter should be light brown and will stick to your spoon or spatula until a sharp flick of the hand will force the batter to drop back into the bowl. Pour the batter into your pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in your preheated oven for 15-17 minutes.

Whilst the bars are baking, whisk together the ingredients for the frosting. Roughly chop the extra white chocolate and macadamias. Once the bars are cooked, leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing into however many bars you like. Use a knife to spread some frosting on each, then sprinkle on the chopped white chocolate and macadamias.

 

Lemon Yoghurt Bars (classic, fast, easy)

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Sweet, tangy, gooey lemon yogurt bars with a dense and buttery base. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– nothing gets me like a good lemon dessert. Lemon bars in particular are my absolute favourite. I’d say lemon meringue pie too, but that does require the extra meringue component, and if you so wish for some lemony satisfaction at any point of time during the week, these do the trick in a wink without requiring you to whip out any fancy kitchen gadget.

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Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery’s cookbook, so kindly purchased by my friend as a birthday present, I couldn’t resist trying these guys out. The recipe looked much to easy to pass up, and there’s never a time I’m not in the mood for lemon bars. With too much yoghurt on hand, I decided no harm would be done if a minor twist was made. Worth it, to say the least. The yoghurt adds a mild creaminess to the body of the lemon bars without subtracting any tang or sharpness.

Crust? Easy. Forget blind-baking and the works.

Filling? 2 minutes max, after weighing some 200g of sugar and squeezing a lemon, I guess. Zilch effort.

Term is winding down, coming to an end. There’s always so much to do here, and see, and enjoy. Friday night shenanigans balance all work-related stress and unrelenting fear of missing out or not knowing enough content. Despite the roller coaster, I must say that there are always the constants that get me through. Morning routines, cup of black in my hand, the oven hum, people with the brightest and most interesting personalities, House of Cards (which I just started and can’t get enough of)…. Missing home is a secondary emotion. Christmas and family and home are calling, but this already feels somewhat like home.

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Lemon Yoghurt Bars (makes 16-20 evenly-sized rectangular bars, adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook)

Ingredients

For the base: 

290g all-purpose plain flour

70g icing sugar

large pinch salt

220g unsalted butter, melted

 

For the filling:

200g white caster sugar

3 eggs

4 heaped tablespoons plain yoghurt (greek works fine too)

120ml (slightly less than half a cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice

half teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 170C (325F) and grease a 9×9-inch square pan.

Mix all ingredients for the base in a large bowl and press into the bottom of the pan– take your time here for it’s a bit sticky, but it gets easier after all the gloop actually unsticks from between your fingers. Bake for 20 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Pour into the half-baked crust and bake another 15 minutes (at the same temperature, leave the oven on when you’re pouring in the filling). Once baked, leave to cool completely. You may place in the fridge to cool faster, but the bars will set up fine after an hour or so even at room temperature.

Cut into even bars and serve!

Red Velvet Cake Bars

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Truly no frills.

And way too hard to mess up, to be perfectly honest. There are a few reasons why I’m in love with this red velvet cake recipe. Why? A list seems appropriate, yes. These cake bars (or mini circular-sort cakes, if you would like, those work too) are:

  1. The most moist, fluffy and tender red velvet cake bars your lips will ever meet.
  2. Have a deeper chocolate flavour than most red velvet cake recipes
  3. Have actual melted chocolate in the batter (!!)
  4. Cream cheese frosting. That is all.
  5. Thick, creamy, vanilla bean-ified frosting.
  6. Frosting.

Red velvet has gotten quite a bit of flak recently. Most everyone has tried these dainty red cakes slathered in cream cheese frosting. However, due to its perceived nature of artificiality and lack of distinct flavour thanks to too many a sticky-topped, mass-produced factory version, people have come to believe the one true hero of the eponymous red velvet is really just that cream cheese frosting… and not much else. If I may quote someone from my favourite TV series– red velvet is a lie!

The chocolate notes have been forgotten, abandoned, and what was once known (I remember the trend hitting hard around 2-3 years ago) for unbeatable moistness and tenderness has been passed off as that unnecessary trendy thing with too much red food dye. 

With this recipe, hopes have been revived.

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I found it in my mother’s huge collection of cake recipes (quite literally a huge grey file labelled ‘CAKES’), and modified it to taste and texture. The red velvet batter has the perfect hint of chocolate, and the cream cheese frosting is rich, cram-jammed with real vanilla bean and the right amount of tang. I could go on about this cake and how easy it is, but I don’t think I need to bore you with the details. Let’s get to it, because life is short and there’s no point wasting time wasting time.

Ingredients (makes enough for 3 batches of cake bars in an 8×8-inch pan, or 3 6-inch cake layers)

For the cake bars:

120g soft, unsalted butter

330g castor sugar

300g all-purpose flour

2 eggs

50g cocoa powder

1 heaped tablespoon red gel food colouring

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or substitute with the same amount of vanilla extract)

50g bittersweet chocolate, chopped (preferably from a bar, but chips are fine here too) and melted in 30-second increments in a microwave

250ml buttermilk (or mix 240ml whole milk with one tablespoon of white vinegar, and leave to rest for a while before using– the mixture should be slightly curdled)

pinch of salt

2 tbsp white vinegar

1 1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarb soda)

For the cream cheese frosting (enough for the tops of 3 batches; make double this amount if you wish to frost the sides as well):

42g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or sub with vanilla extract)

180g cream cheese, at room temperature

200g icing sugar

pinch of coarse salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease and line your cake pans, be it 8×8-inch square baking pan(s) or 3 6-inch round cake pans. Melt your chopped plain chocolate in the microwave and set aside for the time being. Take your cream cheese out from the fridge so it has time to come to room temperature. If you’re making your buttermilk (because you’re like me and can’t be bothered to run to the grocery store just to buy that packet of buttermilk), mix together the whole milk and white vinegar in a bowl and set aside as well.

In a large bowl and with an electrical whisk or Kitchenaid if you have one, beat together the softened, unsalted butter and white castor sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy, at least 30 seconds or so. Add the eggs one at a time and beat between each addition. Add the vanilla bean paste at this point, and then sieve in the cocoa powder. When sieving, I find it handy to place your bowl on a weighing scale and then sieving in the cocoa powder until you reach the 50g mark. Beat the vanilla bean paste, cocoa powder and your melted chocolate on a low speed until it’s all combined. You should have a thick, sticky, dark batter.

At this point, add your red gel food colouring. I used a heaped tablespoon, but you may want more or less depending on colour preference. Start with a teaspoonful of food colouring and then work from there. I find that a heaped tablespoon (I used a ‘Christmas Red’ hue) does the trick, producing a rich, deep, carnation red, nothing too pink or too dark.

In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and half a teaspoon (it’s part of the amount stated in the ingredients list above) of fine salt. This is the dry mix. Add half of this to the chocolate-butter mix you just put together, then add half of the buttermilk. Beat on low speed briefly, then add the rest of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides and make sure all the batter is evenly mixed, folding from the bottom  and coming up through the sides and middle.

Now for the kinda magical bit, and what gives the batter a final kick and ridiculous level of moisture! In a small saucer, mix together the remaining 1 tsp of baking (bicarb) soda and 2 tsp of white vinegar. The mixture will fizz up. Immediately tip it into the batter and mix in thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

Pour the batter into your cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes. If you’re using 6-inch cake pans, check at the 20-minute mark– insert a wooden skewer into the middle of the cakes; if they emerge with wet red batter then bake for 5 more minutes. With an 8×8-inch cake pan, these will be done by 20 minutes, but every oven is different, and they may take 2 minutes more or less.

While the cakes are baking, make the cream cheese frosting. In a large bowl and with an electrical whisk, beat together your soft, unsalted butter and cream cheese. Then, beat in the vanilla bean paste, icing sugar and salt.

Once the cakes are baked, leave to cool on cooling racks for at least half an hour before removing from the pans and cutting off the tops (the cutting off part is unnecessary if you’re baking these in an 8×8-inch cake pan). If you’re using the square baking pan, spread on the cream cheese frosting, then cut into bars. If you are using 3 6-inch cake pans, spread on a large dollop of cream cheese frosting on one layer, then stack with the second layer, and repeat. If you’re making a cake this way and you’re done with the last layer, immediately let the cake set in the fridge, for the cream cheese frosting will start to melt all over the place otherwise. With the amounts stated above, I could make a stacked 2-tier cake and one 8×8-inch square cake (with lots of leftover cake from the tops!). These cakes can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.

Tender is the crumb.