Monday, December 20, 2010

Spiced Orange Shortbread – a celebration of festive laziness

Pin It Laziness is vastly under-rated. As far as I am concerned it is an unrecognised but significant catalyst for inspiration, motivation and resourcefulness. Laziness prompts the dawning of that great realisation: there must be an easier/faster way of doing this – whatever this is. That realisation, in turn, sparks creativity in pursuit of that easier/faster way.

Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day-ay-ay! 

I had been planning a chickpea and chorizo stew as a savoury change from all the sweet baking I’ve been featuring lately, but the chickpeas need overnight soaking and there’s lots of gathering of herbs and chopping of vegetables and slicing of meats involved. That’s not normally any hassle at all, but I have yet to trim the Christmas tree, write the Christmas cards, wrap the Christmas presents – all on my To Do list today - and I want something I can produce quickly, with minimum effort – something extremely lazy.
I ask myself what could be easier/faster? The answer that quickly springs to mind is shortbread.
Measure! Mix! Bake! (Eat!!!)
It couldn’t be lazier easier. Measure. Mix. Bake. What’s more, it is so true to my philosophy - simple ingredients, magical food – that I know it is meant to be.
Santa baby, slip some shortbread under the tree for me...
I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, but shortbread is my downfall. I can safely say this one is the best I have ever made. With the barest touch of clove and cinnamon and studded with tiny nuggets of caramelised orange peel, it is utterly festive. I have redeemed my complete lack of effort slightly by dipping half of these little stunners in melted dark chocolate. Oh, raise a glass to laziness!
For about 30 shortbread cookies you will need...... to pre-heat the oven to 170°C

175g butter, softened
75g caster sugar
200g plain flour
50g corn flour
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
a pinch of fine table salt
2 tablespoons candied orange peel, diced
2 tablespoons iced water

1.      Place the butter and sugar in a food mixer or a large bowl and mix together until fluffy and paler in colour.
2.      Mix in the plain flour, corn flour, vanilla essence, ground cinnamon, ground cloves and salt. When these are mixed into a fine sandy crumb, add in the candied peel.
3.      Finally, add in the water, mixing just until the ingredients come together in a ball.
4.      Roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of about 7mm / ¼ inch. Cut out Christmassy (or other) shapes and place on a non-stick (or lightly floured) baking sheet. Squash any off-cuts into a ball and re-roll.
5.      Bake the cookies in the pre-heated oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until evenly golden.
6.      Transfer to a cooling rack. When cold, dust with icing sugar or dip in decent quality melted chocolate – dark, milk, or white, I’ll leave it up to you. I’m feeling far too lazy to make that decision!

Aaah - the perfect antidote to Christmas shopping!
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pine Nut and Almond Macaroons – and not a pink poodle in sight!

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When I think of macaroons, the first image that comes to mind is of the currently fashionable Parisian version available in a variety of pastel shades and exotic flavours. For me they are the confectionery equivalent of the pampered pink poodles you find trotting along the Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, looking over-primped and more than a little absurd.
Pine nut and almond macaroons - one is never enough!  

Then a very fond memory swoops in, of a time I spent in Almería in Southern Spain, and the gorgeously simple macaroons I found at Almería’s favourite pastry shop.
If you get a chance to visit Almería, seize it! It is a little jewel of a town, full of romance and the history of millennia (and a large helping of petty thievery – so keep a weather-eye open). It is right on the coast so you can swim away the extra calories you are bound to take on board while you are there - Almería has some wonderful places to eat.
As the heat begins to fade from the day, the paseo begins. Crowds emerge and begin a stately promenade around the town. It is a chance to see and be seen. If you are a people-watcher, you could hardly get a better ringside seat than the pavement tables outside La Dulce Alianze, the 19-Century pastelería on Paseo de Almería. It is like a more refined and much smaller Bewleys of Grafton Street. You will be lured in by the stunning window display. An Aladdin’s cave of chocolates and pastries will call to you as you make your way to the stylish café area at the back. Resign yourself to the fact that you will emerge with at least a half-dozen prettily-wrapped sweetmeats (maybe these macaroons) to eat later.
Meanwhile, here’s something to whet your appetite in advance of your visit. These little beauties make a light, slightly chewy treat during the festive season, and not a pink poodle in sight!

For approximately 20 macaroons you will need... pre-heat the oven to 160°C

Scatter with pine nuts and
press lightly into the batter  
 2 egg whites
¼ teaspoon table salt
150g caster sugar
130g ground almonds
20g plain flour
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pine nuts and flaked almonds to decorate

Icing sugar to finish

You will also need sheets of rice paper or non-stick baking parchment

1       In a large mixing bowl (or food mixer) whisk the egg whites with the salt until the whisk leaves soft peaks in the mixture when you lift it out.
2       Mix in the caster sugar, ground almonds, plain flour and vanilla extract until combined.
3       Cover two baking sheets with ricepaper or non-stick baking parchment onto which you place teaspoonsfuls of the mixture about 5cm apart, flattening them slightly. You should get about 20 macaroons from this mixture.
4       Sprinkle 10 with pine nuts and 10 with flaked almonds, pressing the nuts lightly into the batter so that they stick.
5       Place in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes or until evenly golden.
6       Transfer the macaroons – still on their backing paper – to a wire rack to cool. When cold, peel away the rice paper if that’s what you used (it doesn’t matter if some sticks – it’s perfectly edible) or carefully remove the non-stick parchment paper*.
7       Dust with icing sugar.
These are wonderfully Christmassy and just the thing to accompany a cup of real hot chocolate.
Tip: *If your 'non-stick' baking parchment sticks, don’t panic! Any paper that adheres is easily scraped away with a knife.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Coconut Brioche – cupboard-diving reveals a little treasure

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Once upon a time, I met this surfer dude from California.  He was busking his way around the world with more infectious enthusiasm than musical talent. When necessary, he supplemented his income with a variety of jobs, mostly busboy or short-order cook.  His home was furnished with the fruits of his favourite hobby: skip-diving. He had evolved a uniform – which included thick boots, strong overalls, and gloves. And thus prepared, no skip was left unturned.
As you can see, this loaf bit the dust before I got to take the photos
It was the challenge that attracted him, the sheer creativity needed to assess his discoveries and to transform them into something wonderful. Some of his treasures included a custom-built computer cannibalised from assorted bits, a reconditioned antique dressing table for his wife’s birthday, a stunning dolls' house for his youngest daughter, and a parade of bikes for his whole family. 

Often he would find little treasures ready-made: a ruby ring in a jacket pocket; and, more often than you’d expect, he’d find bundles of cash!
While not quite in the same realm, cupboard-diving can be a bit of a culinary adventure, (Yes, the snow still hasn’t melted!) putting a variety of surprise ingredients in front of you if you venture into the shadowy recesses. For me, snaring store cupboard ingredients in this manner takes them a little out of context because I usually start with a dish in my head and then gather up the necessary bits. This way, the process is reversed.  
The first treasure to emerge was a tiny pot of paté de foie gras. This set my thoughts wandering in the direction of brioche. My discovery of a shortage of cow’s milk coincided with the discovery of a can of coconut milk with its sell-by date looming.  By now, the thought had developed into a craving for the light fluffiness that can only be had from Brioche.  Hmmm...  said my cooking brain, today I cannot live without brioche...  milk is milk... isn’t it?
The result is this divine coconut brioche.

For 2 lovely loaves you will need:
... to pre-heat the oven to 180°C towards the end of step 5

400g plain flour
50g desiccated coconut
1 sachet dried yeast
1 teaspoon table salt
175mls coconut milk, warmed slightly
70g runny honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g butter, softened
4 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
a little beaten egg to glaze
a large pinch of desiccated coconut to scatter over the top

A little star in a universe of canapé bases!

1.   First, mix together the flour, desiccated coconut, yeast, and salt.  Mix together the coconut milk, honey and vanilla extract and mix into the flour mixture (a food mixer with a dough hook is best for this job as it is quite a wet dough).
2.   When the milk mixture has been incorporated, drop in the softened butter - about a tablespoonful at a time - mixing until incorporated before adding the next piece of butter.
3.   When all the butter has been added, mix in the beaten egg, about a quarter at a time. When the egg has been incorporated, keep mixing for a further 5 minutes then cover and leave to rise in a warm place for up to 2 hours or until doubled in size.
4.   When the dough has doubled in size, lightly butter and base-line two 2 LB loaf tins. (To base line a tin, sit it on greaseproof paper or baking parchment and using a pencil, trace around it. Cut out the shape just inside the pencil lines. Lightly rub the inside of the tin with butter so that the paper sticks to the base. This makes it easier to remove the brioche from then tin when cooked.)
5.   Uncover the risen dough and mix for 5 minutes using the dough hook – it will deflate alarmingly. That’s ok - it is supposed to. Divide the dough between the two tins, cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise once more for about an hour or until doubled in size. Towards the end of this time, pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
6.   When the dough has had its second rising, very gently remove the covering, brush lightly with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with desiccated coconut.
7.   Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool for about 5 minutes in the tins before turning out on a wire rack.
Best eaten warm, this is also wonderful used in a luxurious bread pudding or – as I did – cut into stars, toasted and used as tiny rafts for my pot of paté de foie gras.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

East Meets West... and Begets ‘Mozzarella in Samosa’ with a Spicy Tomato Sauce

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A few months ago, I saw an appeal from a fellow food blogger for a decent Mozzarella in Carrozza recipe. Doesn’t it sound delicious – Moz-za-relllllllla in Carrr-rro-zza! What a great name for what is essentially a fried mozzarella sandwich.
Naughty? No, just really, really nice!    
For me, the original version - sealed in squishy bread and fried - has never quite lived up to its promise. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong. It just seemed too much: too much bread; too much oozing mozzarella; too much fat from frying. Too much!
There was a horrible storm a few nights ago and I couldn’t sleep.  Embarking on a samosa recipe at 3am seemed like a sensible thing to my sleep-deprived brain. I fell into the soothing rhythm – fill, fold, fold, fold and seal. Repeat 24 more times.  It was like Strictly Come Dancing for hands. While my hands were busy with the samosa production line, my head was busy thinking... can this work for Mozarella in Carrozza, (errr... Mozzarella in Samosa?) As samosa aficionado, Barack Obama, might say... Yes! It! Can!

Mozzarella in Samosa at the start of its career...  
These little pastries stuffed with mozzarella, Parma ham, and pesto are a delight. Not too much of anything and just enough of everything.

I’ve given two methods for cooking: oven baked for the low(er) fat option that doesn’t taste ‘low fat’, or deep fried for the “I might as well be hung for a sheep, as a lamb” option.
If you’ve never folded a samosa before, I suggest you print out the diagram and practice with that first!
For approximately 10 you will need...
250g strong white flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
Approximately 150mls cold water

Spicy Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
500mls pasata
½ teaspoon mild chilli powder
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

1 ball mozzarella, patted with kitchen paper to absorb excess moisture, then finely chopped
1 tablespoon pesto
3 slices Parma ham, shredded

1.       First make the dough: Mix together the flour, salt and sunflower oil. Mix in the water, a little at a time, using just enough to bring the mixture together in a ball, leaving the bowl clean. Refrigerate for an hour.
2.       Make the tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened without colouring. Add the rest of the ingredients and allow to bubble gently over a medium heat until the sauce has thickened (about 20 minutes). This can be served hot or cold and keeps for a few days in the fridge.
3.       Now make the filling: Mix together all the ingredients for the filling.
4.       Divide the dough into two pieces. Lightly sprinkle a clean work surface with flour and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle about 2mm thick. Cut the dough into strips approximately 8cm x 20cm. A pizza wheel is perfect for this job.
5.        Place a teaspoon of the mozzarella mixture about 1cm from the narrow edge nearest you. Moisten the first 5cm of the right edge. Then take the left corner (corner 1), and fold it diagonally over the mixture (to corner 2), pressing to seal the edge you’ve just moistened. Fold diagonally twice more as in the diagram – folding corner 3 to corner 4, then corner 5 to corner 6. (You’re allowed curse while making the first one but you’ll soon get the hang of it). When you have made the third fold, cut away the dough strip, leaving a 1cm border (7 in the diagram). Moisten this flap and fold over the triangular parcel you’ve just made.
6.       Place on a lightly floured surface, while you make the rest (or place them directly on a non-stick baking sheet if you are going to bake them).

Practice makes perfect... (ignore the one on the right!)  
To bake pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
Place the triangles on a non-stick baking sheet, brush lightly with a little beaten egg, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with the tomato sauce.
To deep fry, pre-heat your deep fat fryer to 190°C (375°F)
Gently lower one of the parcels into the hot fat followed closely, one-by-one, by as many as will comfortably fit in the fryer without overcrowding. You may have to do this in batches. Keep the temperature at 190°C (375°C), turning the parcels after 4 minutes.  When they have had 6 – 8 minutes and are golden brown, remove from the fat and drain on kitchen paper.
Caution: however tempted you are, do not stuff the hot pastry into your mouth – the filling is like molten lava! Serve with that warning, and the spicy tomato sauce.
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Mini Mango and Ginger Cheesecakes – the best things come in small packages, cupcake!

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Perhaps because I am snack-sized myself, I have a weakness for mini-food of all types. If there are canapés on offer, I’m there. Too often, by the time I’ve polished off a proper dinner, I have barely enough room left to read the dessert menu, never mind actually tackle the average confectionery... unless of course it’s a cupcake.
When this winter rolls over into January 2011, trendy foodies will be saying “Cupcakes are so last year!”  Tsk! What a shame, because many people – me included – love the endless variation of form and flavour (and mini-ness) that cupcakes represent.
What lies beneath?  
What is going to replace the cupcake in my affections?
I know! The mini cheesecake! It is petite perfection, with about half the calories of a regular old-fashioned slice (unless you devour two). Just like the cup cake, the mini cheesecake can take on endless form and flavour. 
Say "Cheese!"

For approximately 15 mini Mango and Ginger cheesecakes you will need:
Ginger biscuit base
150g Ginger Nut biscuits, crushed
75g butter, melted

1.   First, line a muffin pan with paper muffin liners. Mix together the crushed biscuits and melted butter and divide between the muffin cups, packing the mixture down lightly with the back of a spoon.
Mango cheesecake mix
1 x 568ml (1 pint) packet orange jelly (Jell-O) – I use the 135g Chivers brand
125mls boiling water
350g full-fat soft cheese (low-cal won’t set properly)
110g caster sugar
125mls double cream
1 x 397g tin sliced mango in light syrup
25mls fresh lemon/lime juice or 25mls Maguary Passion Fruit concentrate if you can get it

2.   In a measuring jug, dissolve the orange jelly in the boiling water. A few zaps of the microwave can speed this up a little.
3.   In a food processor, purée the sliced mango with enough of its syrup to make a thick liquid and add enough of this to bring the melted jelly mixture to bring it up to 275mls on the measuring jug (you’ll have plenty left over – I drizzle this over the finished cakes). Stir in the lemon/lime juice or Passion Fruit concentrate. Leave to cool, checking every five minutes or so for the gelling process to start – this is where it begins to thicken ever so slightly.
4.   Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
5.   When the jelly mixture has reached the gelling stage, add it to the cheese mixture and beat until smooth. Finally, add the double cream and beat until just combined.
6.   Divide the mixture between the muffin cups – careful to leave about  ½cm at the top. Refrigerate for about 3 hours or until set. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
To decorate as shown:
Spoon a little of the mango purée over the surface of the set cakes. This gives them the beautiful sunny yellow in the picture.  Draw shapes on baking parchment and fill them in with melted dark chocolate, or drizzle random shapes, remembering to count one for each cheesecake and a few extra for the cook. Leave for about 5 – 10 minutes in a cool room then peel away the paper and decorate the cheesecakes with the chocolate shapes.
Choose another flavour of in place of the orange jelly and add a complementary puréed fruit in place of the mango.
Add a little chopped crystallised ginger to spice up the base, or choose another biscuit entirely – try Oreos, Digestive, Choc Chip...  So many mini cheesecakes, so little time...
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness – and Wild Mushroom Soup

Pin It Once upon a time, I went on a Mushroom forage at Avondale, the home of Charles Stewart Parnell, “uncrowned king” of Ireland for anyone who is interested in history. That I am alive to tell the tale is down to the fact that my colourful haul with its minks and mauves and sulphur yellows was confiscated and labelled beautiful... but deadly!

Wild mushrooms... captured!

"I've never trusted toadstools."

- Cheshire Cat

Our guide - a mycological ‘Ray Mears’ - told us that there are around 3,000 types of mushrooms in Europe - or was it 30,000? Either way, it was a bewildering array but the job of making identifications is relatively easy as there are only 30 or so that are good to eat, the rest being inedible or downright poisonous. I unerring selected the downright poisonous. You can catch the full story, broadcast on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany. My bit starts exactly a minute into the clip.

One of the ‘mushroomiest’ mushrooms to eat is the porcini (aka cep, or penny bun) and it is the star of this rich autumnal soup. You’ll be glad to know that I did my foraging at the supermarket. Given my level of foraging expertise, it is much safer that way.

For 4 to 6 servings you will need:
10g (½ oz) dried porcini mushrooms
150mls boiling water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, peeled and finely chopped
500mls (1 pint) chicken/vegetable stock
250g (8oz) button mushrooms, thinly sliced
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) plain flour
500 mls (1 pint) fresh milk
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and black pepper

1    First, rehydrate the porcini mushrooms by placing them in a measuring jug with the boiling water and leave to soak for 15 minutes. This also allows any grit to settle at the bottom of the liquid.
2    While the porcini are soaking, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a gentle heat and add in the onion and celery. Cover and cook gently without colouring for 5 minutes or so until the vegetables have softened.
3    Remove the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid with a slotted spoon and chop finely. Strain the soaking liquid through a sieve into the saucepan, catching any grit in the sieve. Add the porcini mushrooms, button mushrooms and stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4    Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add in the flour and stir until it forms a paste. Continue cooking and stirring over a medium heat for a minute or so, then remove from the heat. Now, add in the milk a little at a time, stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon. It will almost certainly look a little lumpy. Don’t worry we’ll sort that out in a moment. When you have added about half the milk, swap the spoon for a whisk and add the remaining milk.
5    Return the saucepan to the heat and use the whisk to stir any floury lumps back into the liquid. Now add the cooking liquid from the vegetables and mushrooms and continue cooking (and stirring) until the liquid starts to bubble gently. Turn down the heat and add in about three-quarters of the mushrooms and softened vegetables, along with the Worcestershire Sauce. Simmer gently for 2 minutes, then blend the soup. A stick blender is perfect for this job.
6    Finally, add in the remaining mushrooms and vegetables and the fresh parsley. Taste, and add salt and black pepper if needed.

Gilding the lily...When you’ve dished up the soup, pour a little fresh cream into the centre of each bowl, sprinkling with a little more parsley (or chives if you prefer).
If you prefer a smoother soup, blend all the mushrooms and vegetables at step 5.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies – so much nicer than ‘Porridge a la Nutella’

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Double choc means one is never enough
Throughout her ‘terrible twos’ (and threes) my littlest niece has done battle at the dinner table to defend her right to reject among many other items: carrots (too orange), peas (too green), onions (just yucky). I wondered what on earth to feed her on a recent sleep over at my house – Porridge a la Nutella being the fall-back position, and one of her favourite meals.
Before dinner, I gave her the very important role of Blackberry-Picking Bucket Holder, a duty she carried out with due diligence for about an hour before declaring herself “absolutely exhausted and starving”. I tentatively fed her spaghetti and meatballs – which she promptly buried under an inch of parmesan, purely for the novelty of sprinkling spoonfuls of the cheese ‘snow’ and watching it fall and melt into the tomato sauce. I waited for the “I-don’t-like-this” refrain, but she tucked in, devoured her meal, then licked the plate clean. A break-through? I don’t think so - she rejected the fresh honey apple scones and homemade bramble jelly I made for breakfast in favour of her porridge/Nutella combo.
Still, since then she makes a point of telling me how much she enjoyed the spaghetti and meatballs, and asks when can she come stay at my “restaurant” again. Cute!
Her Nutella addiction is the inspiration behind these gorgeous chewy chocolate-y cookies – so much nicer than ‘Porridge a la Nutella’.

Such simple ingredients just waiting ...

For 18 chewy cookies you will need: 
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C
Cookie dough

50g softened butter
110g (4oz) sugar
50g (2oz) Nutella
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g (6oz) plain flour
50g (2oz) cocoa powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Secret centre
50g (2oz) icing sugar, sieved
50g (2oz) Nutella

Chocolate topping
50g dark/milk chocolate, melted
50g white chocolate, melted

1    Make the cookie dough: In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and Nutella until the mixture comes together in a smooth paste. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, mixing until combined. Combine together the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda and add to the butter mixture. Mix together to form a smooth dough. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and quickly roll between the palms of your hands to shape into 18 ping-pong-sized balls. Leave to one side covered with cling-film.
2    Make the secret centres: put the Nutella into a medium mixing bowl and add the icing sugar bit by bit, mixing it into the Nutella with a wooden spoon. When combined, divide the Nutella mixture into 18 small balls, one for each cookie dough ball.
3    With your thumb, make a dip in the centre of each cookie dough ball and place a Nutella ball into each one. Close the chocolate dough over to conceal the Nutella centre and reshape the cookie into a ball.
4    Divide the dough balls between two baking sheet, leaving a gap of about 4cm between cookies so that they have room to expand. Flatten each cookie slightly – the base of a water glass is perfect - before putting into the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes or until the surface begins to pull apart slightly. When cooked, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
5    When cooled, drizzle with melted dark or milk chocolate and melted white chocolate.

... to become magical cookies


Instead of making the Nutella centre, push a square of soft fudge into the centre of the chocolate cookie dough and seal it well.

To make an easy chocolate piping bag, pop the chocolate in a small freezer bag and dangle it in hot water. When the chocolate has melted, dry the bag and snip off a tiny corner to allow the chocolate to be squeezed out in a thin drizzle.

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