As the evenings get darker, I go back to baking. Cakes, preferably. Well, let’s be honest. Chocolate cakes.
I find it odd to remember that I used to find baking stressful. In case you’re new here, I used to be so inept in the kitchen that we barely ate cake at all, and just made do with a lot of delicious Tesco cheesecake and chocolate gateau. I know, WHAT. Then I decided I wanted to get better at something, so started to bake every week and blog about it. The failures were horrific. And I still don’t produce anything polished, and I still look at fondant icing with fear and trembling. But now – weighing out butter and sugar, pouring out precise teaspoons of vanilla essence and tapping spoons of cocoa powder against the container to level them out – it’s a soothing ritual that feels particularly wintery. Dark windows. Kitchen warm with the fug of boiling sugars and baking muffins. Making a giant mess that Tim will volunteer to clear up in exchange for eating whatever I’ve made. I flipping love it.
I haven’t ventured much further than chocolate chip cookies this summer, so when the clocks looked like changing I dug out the recipe books. I always have this idea that I’ll go for one of the wholesome-looking fruit loaves or flapjack traybakes…and then one of the recipes mentions Nutella and I’m like ‘I’M SORRY, YOU WERE SAYING?’
So it was, and in preparation for book club that evening – something else I love doing when the nights draw in – I made the Hummingbird Bakery’s Hazelnut Praline muffins. This is the Hummingbird Bakery being all coy about product placement, by the way, because what they actually mean is Muffins With Giant Gobs of Nutella Inside. It’s alright, HB – when you say ‘chocolate hazelnut spread’, we aaaaall know what you mean.
The recipe is from their Cake Days book, which I can recommend times one million, and is also online here, among many other places (Google it and it’ll come up). Muffins are particularly straightforward – one of those golden bakes where they’re still a piece of cake (sorry) even if you don’t have a freestanding mixer, a possibility that never seems to occur to Nigella et al. These days I do have one, but for quite a long time I didn’t, and it still makes me growly when recipe-writers forget.
Anyway. Dry ingredients. Wet ingredients that include some Nutella. Put a little muffin mixture in the bottom of each case, then slide a great shining bead of pure Nutella on top. You may need to microwave the Nutella a little to make it loose enough. I think it was at this point that I started weeping a little at the sheer joy of this life.
More muffin mix on top of this. Then sprinkle on chopped hazelnuts and a giant sifting of caster sugar. This is supposed to make a crust on top when cooked, and mine just looked like…a layer of caster sugar. But they looked quite twinkly and Christmassy for that. Not a bad thing.
So, the verdict:
They look lovely. As is typical of Hummingbird Bakery stuff, the muffin is light and crumby rather than dense and rich, but I prefer it that way. A bit of the Nutella had soaked into the surrounding cake, leaving, in my opinion, not enough in the middle. But since the remedy for this is Add More Nutella, it’s hardly bad news.
Guaranteed to make your gloomy early mornings – oh when will the small ones get used to going back an hour; when – ten times happier. I’m not recommending you eat them for breakfast, but…of course I am DEFINITELY recommending you eat them for breakfast.