chocolate mud cake recipe with fig and brazil nut

3 feel-good retro bakes to make any day instantly better

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From chocolate cornflake rocky road to coconut and jam sponge, relive your childhood with these comforting retro bakes from The Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown’s new cookbook.

Whether it’s the Dundee fruitcake your granny served at teatime, iced buns from the local bakery or the squares of sprinkle cake served for school dinner, we’re in the middle of a retro baking revival – and if you haven’t yet donned your apron to make a batch of butter biscuits, we’re here to tell you it’s only a matter of time.

After all, who could resist the lure of puddings from the past? In the face of ongoing uncertainty, nostalgic treats have provided a much-needed dose of pleasure, both in their sugary taste and the happy memories they conjure. Armed with our mixing bowls and the contents of our store cupboards, we’ve taken on 70s-style upside-down cakes, sticky toffee pudding and chocolate crackles the likes of which we’d last seen at a children’s birthday party. And you know what? We’ve no intention of stopping.

One person who understands the satisfaction of comfort food is Candice Brown. In her new book Happy Cooking, the 2016 winner of The Great British Bake Off and pub landlady delves deep into feel-good recipes for low-mood days. 

Happy Cooking by Candice Brown
Happy Cooking: Easy Uplifting Meals and Comforting Treats by Candice Brown is out now with Ebury

The result is a collection of delicious ‘therapy’ dishes, offering emotional reassurance by tapping into the foods we loved as kids (think chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese) or utilising ingredients that nourish the body and mind, from salmon and asparagus tart to spicy chicken traybake.

But Brown made her name as a creator of sweet things – and below, she shares three retro dessert recipes that will take you on an uplifting trip down memory lane.

If you’re a low-key kind of baker, the whack-it-all-in chocolate cornflake rocky road is the perfect place to start. There’s no cooking involved whatsoever, and it’s a great way to make use of leftover cereal, chocolate or biscuits that might otherwise go to waste.

Brown’s coconut and jam sponge, meanwhile, is inspired by the ultimate school dinner pud – ideal if you’re baking for a hungry horde.

Lastly, there’s the fig and brazil nut chocolate mud cake, reminiscent of Brown’s showstopping creations on GBBO. A clever balance of coffee and cocoa, this beautiful bake can be customised with any mix of fruit and nuts you fancy. Prepare for wide eyes of wonder when you place this one on the table…

  • Whack-it-all-in chocolate cornflake rocky road

    chocolate rocky road recipe
    Nostalgic dessert recipes: Candice Brown's chocolate cornflake rocky road

    Candice says: “The title basically says it all. Any leftover chocolate (though when I have chocolate left over I don’t know), old Easter eggs or odd biscuits, then whack it all in, melt it together and pop it in the fridge. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can theme it for different times of the year – bunnies and chicks for Easter, snowflakes and reindeer for Christmas. Other cereal works well too.”

    Makes about 9 squares

    Ingredients

    • 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids for a more grown-up flavour), chopped or dark chocolate chips
    • 125g unsalted butter, cubed
    • 4 tbsp golden syrup
    • 100g cornflakes
    • 100g oaty biscuits
    • 75g dried cherries
    • 50g sultanas
    • 100g marshmallows either mini or larger ones roughly chopped
    • 50g pecans
    • 100g chocolate caramel bars
    • 50g white chocolate, chopped or white chocolate chips

    Method

    Heat a saucepan of water over a medium heat until simmering.

    Place a heatproof bowl over the saucepan, but don’t let the water touch the bottom of the bowl (this is a bain-marie). Put the dark chocolate, butter and golden syrup in the bowl and melt slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.

    Stir through the cornflakes. Break up the oaty biscuits, then add them to the melted chocolate along with the remaining ingredients, except the chocolate caramel bars and white chocolate. Gently fold through so everything is evenly coated in melted chocolate.

    Line a 20 x 20cm baking dish with greaseproof paper and scrape the mixture evenly into the tray. Gently spread it out but leave it jagged and lumpy.

    Break or cut up the chocolate caramel bars and dot over the top.

    Melt the white chocolate in a bain-marie or in 20-second bursts in a microwave. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the rocky road, then transfer to the fridge to set for 20–30 minutes for a soft-set rocky road.

    Any leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or a cool place for up to one week.

  • School dinner coconut and jam sponge

    coconut and jam sponge recipe school dinner
    Nostalgic dessert recipes: Candice Brown's school dinner coconut and jam sponge

    Candice says: “I think this might be my all-time favourite school dinner pudding. Another easy-peasy recipe that hits all the right spots – I know that this pudding makes people happy as I made and served hundreds of portions with hot vanilla custard during lockdown and everyone loved it. Sometimes just a little reminder or a memory is enough to make your day a little bit brighter. You can use whatever jam you like and flavour the sponge with zest or spices.”

    Makes 9 ‘healthy’ sized squares

    Ingredients

    • 100g desiccated coconut
    • 160g golden caster sugar
    • 160g unsalted butter
    • 170g self-raising flour
    • ½ tsp baking powder
    • 3 eggs
    • zest 1 orange
    • splash of coconut milk
    • 300g shop-bought or homemade raspberry jam 
    • custard, to serve

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 160°C fan (180°C/Gas Mark 4) and line a 25cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper.

    Scatter the desiccated coconut over a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 3-5 minutes until starting to turn golden brown. Set aside.

    Put the sugar, butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, orange zest and coconut milk in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer or hand mixer, mix together until pale, fluffy and completely combined. 

    Pour into the prepared tin and level out. 

    Bake for 20–25 minutes until risen and golden brown or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

    Spread the jam all over the cooled sponge – get right into the edges. Evenly sprinkle over the toasted desiccated coconut.

    Cut into squares and serve hot with custard.

  • Fig and brazil nut chocolate mud cake

    chocolate mud cake recipe with fig and brazil nut
    Nostalgic dessert recipes: Candice Brown's fig and brazil nut chocolate mud cake

    Candice says: “Clearly, I’m Bundt obsessed but you can bake this in a standard tin, you may just need to adjust the cooking times slightly – a loaf tin may take slightly longer but a larger, shallower tin needs less time. 

    “The ganache is bitter and smooth, and the fresh figs look like regal gems sitting on top. They also remind me of my grandad, who when I pulled out a mouldy satsuma from the back of the sofa (I don’t know how it got there), was insistent that it was a fresh fig! This story makes my family smile a lot. Chop and change the nuts and dried fruit – date and macadamia nuts are good too.”

    Serves 8

    Ingredients

    • 150g unsalted butter, plus extra melted for greasing (optional)
    • 150g dark chocolate chips or chunks or dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), chopped
    • 150g dark soft brown sugar
    • 4 tbsp golden syrup
    • 2 eggs
    • 100ml hot whole milk
    • 2 tsp good-quality instant coffee
    • 20g cocoa powder
    • 150g self-raising flour
    • pinch of salt
    • 100g dried figs, chopped
    • 100g Brazil nuts, chopped, plus a handful to decorate
    • 3 fresh figs, quartered

    For the ganache:

    • 200ml double cream
    • 150g dark chocolate chips or chunks or dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), chopped

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 160°C fan (180°C/Gas Mark 4) and grease a 23 x 8cm rounded Bundt tin with melted butter or line a 23cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper.

    Melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over a low heat.

    Do not overheat as it will split. Remove from the heat when nearly melted and stir until glossy. Mix in the sugar and golden syrup, then – as long as the mixture isn’t too hot – beat in the eggs.

    Mix the hot milk, instant coffee powder and cocoa together in a jug and then mix into the melted chocolate mixture. Add the flour and salt and mix well until combined. Stir in the chopped figs and nuts.

    Pour into the prepared tin and level out. Bake for 30–40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

    Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out on to a wire rack – you may need to give the bottom of the Bundt tin a whack!

    To make the ganache, pour the cream into a saucepan and heat over a low-medium heat until bubbling. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and leave for 5 minutes, then stir until glossy. Leave to cool to a thick pouring consistency.

    Use a chopstick or skewer to make some holes in the cooled cake and then over the ganache so it seeps into the holes and drips all over the sides. Top with the fresh figs and scattered nuts.

    Happy Cooking: Easy Uplifting Meals And Comforting Treats by Candice Brown (£22, Ebury) is out now

Photography: Ellis Parrinder

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.