Posted in A Whole Lotta Spice!, Holiday Cuisine, Home Baking, Sweets for the Sweet

In Which Chocolate and Spices are Mixed to Usher in the Holidays…

A pile of sweet, cakey bars...

Unlike a number of Filipino households and commercial establishments who insist on putting up their Christmas decorations almost as soon as the “-ber” months kick in, ours holds off till November 30th.  It’s a national holiday (Bonifacio Day, after the man who should rightfully be hailed the Philippines’ national hero), so everyone’s home to help put up the tree, string up the lights, and check if the bulbs in the parol (Christmas lantern) are in working order.

But I leave the decorating up to my parents (a retired architect and an equally retired interior designer) and my artistically-savvy sister as I’m all thumbs in the aesthetics department.  Instead, I’m the one in charge of whipping up treats to give everyone some extra energy while they’re working.  This, of course, means that I’ll be baking up a storm with either chocolate-chunk cookies or a batch of gingerbread cutouts in the oven.  Can you imagine the heavenly smell that emanates from the oven once I’ve popped the cookie sheets in?  It’s absolutely gorgeous!

Unfortunately, given the insane weather we’ve been having of late (Hang it all, but it’s been hotter than summer in these parts for the past several days!), I couldn’t psych myself up to prepare my regular gingerbread dough for tree-decorating day!  Still, blistering temp notwithstanding, I managed to drag myself into the kitchen and whip up something scrumptious and just as fragrant – and, as it turned out, was certainly more substantial.

Nigella Lawson featured a truly lip-smacking, drool-worthy recipe for what she called chocolate gingerbread in her book Feast.  If you love gingerbread cookies or lebkuchen or even spice cake, it’ll definitely grab your attention.  If you’re a serious chocoholic who isn’t afraid to sample more exotic flavors, even more so.  All that said, I knew I had to bake up a batch.

Unfortunately, after looking at the list of ingredients, I realized that I didn’t have two important ingredients on hand and remembered that my family doesn’t care at all that much for the taste of cloves.  Plus, even for a seasoned gingerbread baker such as myself, there was a lot of ginger involved: two teaspoons of the ground stuff, as a matter of fact!  Nigella’s recipe calls for treacle or molasses and golden syrup – neither of which were in any of the kitchen cupboards!  But I’ve never been one to be put off by the absence of certain ingredients and regular readers know that I unashamedly do a lot of substitution with my cooking.  So, no molasses or golden syrup?  Why, I just used honey and caramel sauce instead!  Family can’t stand cloves and can’t cope with ginger in incendiary amounts?  Throw in the cardamom and allspice.  Laissez les bon temps rouler, indeed!

Nigella’s recipe also bakes to an unctuous fudge as the temperature noted in the original recipe is set at 325 degrees / Gas Mark 3.  I upped the temp a bit but kept the same amount of baking time and ended up with toothsome, cakey bars that hold up well to stacking and packing – and they hold their own sans frosting.

They make scrumptious gifts, by the way.

While these treats were baking, the whole house was filled with the aroma of lush spices and rich chocolate – a fitting background to the decorating and an equally apt beginning for the Yuletide Season.  So, in lieu of the usual litany of fruitcake, chocolate-chip cookies, and food-for-the-gods, might I suggest these?  😉

Chocolate-Spice Bars

  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1/4 cup salted margarine
  • approximately 125 grams muscovado sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
  • scant 150 grams honey
  • scant 150 grams bottled caramel sauce or caramel candies
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 eggs
  • 250mL milk
  • 5 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 150 grams dark chocolate, chopped coarsely or semisweet chocolate chips
  • scant 50 grams white chocolate, chopped coarsely

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.  Grease and line a jelly-roll tin with waxed paper.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (preferably an enamel one), melt together the butter, margarine, spices, sugars, honey, and caramel, stirring till well-incorporated.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few seconds.  Whisk in the eggs, milk, and dissolved baking soda.  Sift in the cocoa and flour; mix until well-combined.  Fold in the chopped chocolates.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.  Bake for 45 minutes until well-risen.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes before cutting into bars.

Yields 32 bars.

Admittedly, these are great for snacking when they’ve totally cooled down, but my sister and I love them whilst still warm and topped with a ginormous scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Ah, bliss…



Midge started her career in PR writing at seventeen when she began drafting documentaries for a government-run television station in the Philippines. Since then, she made a career in advertising and public relations which ended in June 2016 These days, she works full time at Philippine Tatler as a features writer under the nom de guerre Marga Manlapig. Aside from what she does for a living and her poetry, she has turned her home kitchen into a personal culinary lab and is currently working on another novel. Follow her on Instagram at @midgekmanlapig.

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