After Eight Chocolate Cupcakes

After Eight Cupcakes // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Gooey, minty chocolate cupcakes, filled with chunks of dark chocolate, topped with a rich, silky ganache made from After Eight mints. A perfect christmas treat!

Today’s post comes to you from a very chilly, snowy Russia. We’ve hit a new temperature low, minus 28C…. I can officially confirm that means it is very, very, very cold indeed. I’m surprised I’ve got any fingers left to type with, even wrapped in gloves and wedged tightly into my pockets they were painfully cold today! We’ve reached the Ural mountains, and the border line between Asian and European Russia. Tomorrow, when we catch the train towards Moscow, we’ll officially be back in Europe!!

To add to my excitement further, today marks a month until Christmas. It must be defiantly time for another Christmas recipe then!

After Eight Cupcakes // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

For me a box of After Eights is an essential part of Christmas. They won’t make it to the christmas table, but should be sat in the living room, on the side, for the afternoon. That time when you’re slumped on the sofa, elderly relatives nodding off, and you’re so stuffed you can’t move, but then, oh, go on then, you’ll find space for just one After Eight.

Of course, its never just one. Before long you end up sifting through the paper wrappers, trying to find one that actually still contains one of those delicious minty slivers. Some fiendish person, probably my brother, always slips the empty wrappers back into the box. Even when full to bursting its a disappointment to find the deceptively full box is, in reality, completely devoid of chocolatey treats!

After Eight Cupcakes // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

After Eight Cupcakes // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

The rich chocolate sponge of these cupcakes is filled with chunks of dark chocolate, and stuffed with chopped After Eight mints.

They’re topped with a ganache, but not just any old ganache. A large amount of the dark chocolate is replaced by After Eights. The result is wonderfully smooth, silky and minty. Topped with shards of After Eights, tantalizingly oozing their delicious gooey mint filling, these are pure Christmas decadence at its best!

After Eight Cupcakes // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

After Eight Chocolate Cupcake

(makes 12)

Ingredients 

for the cakes

115g butter

115g caster sugar

2 large eggs

115g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

30g cocoa powder

100ml milk

50g dark chocolate, cut into rough chunks

60g After Eight mints, cut into rough chunks

for the ganache 

50g dark chocolate

100g After Eight mints (plus extra, for decorating)

120ml double cream

Method 

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ 350F.

Line a 12 hole cupcake tray with 12 paper cases.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and pale.

Crack in one egg and add a tablespoon of flour. Beat to combine. Repeat with the second egg and a second tablespoon of flour.

Fold in the remaining flour, baking powder, and cocoa powder until evenly distributed.

Fold in the milk.

Roughly chop your dark chocolate and After Eight mints into chunks. Stir through the cake batter.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 12 cupcake cases. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, or until the cakes are risen and firm to the touch.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Once cool, make your ganache.

Finely chop the dark chocolate and After Eights. Put into a heatproof bowl.

Heat the cream in a pan over a low heat until just boiling. Remove from the heat, stand for a minute, then pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir rapidly until all the chocolate has melted.

Leave to cool until the ganache is a spreadable consistency. Spread over the cupcakes and top with additional After Eights.

Eating our way home – my top 10 things to eat in Laos

Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

It seems funny now, from the cold and snow of Siberia, to think back to our time in Laos. It was only just over a month ago, but it feels like a different world. I know I’ve said this about a few countries recently, but Laos completely stole my heart, in the few short weeks we were there it quickly became one of my very favourite South East Asian countries.

Its a beautifully laid back kind of place. We travelled from the south, starting with the sleepy 4000 islands that dot the Mekong. We stayed on Don Khong island, and were pretty much the only tourists there. We pottered around the island on creaking bicycles, weaving between potholes and children riding to school. We woke up early in the morning, watched the sunrise over the river. Meandering down puddly paths through paddy fields, we followed the local women to the market, live chickens stashed in their handbags, frogs strung in string baskets.

Sunrise in Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

From there we travelled north, exploring Pakse and the coffee making Bolivan Plateau region with its spectacular, breath-taking waterfalls.

Laos waterfalls // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Continuing up the country, we explored central Laos on the back of a motorbike, following the Laos loop trail. This was probably my favourite part of the country, stunning karst scenery, curving roads twisting into mountains, rice paddies gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight, and little villages where children splashed and shrieked in the rivers.

I was quite a fan of my pink helmet too!

The Laos Loop // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

We stopped briefly in the capital, Vietienne, to witness the start of the celebrations of the boat festival. The city took on a party atmosphere, all along the riverside a carnival was set up. Stalls selling snacks lined the streets, and whole families came out to join in the games. We saw the rowers preparing to race in the back packer pit stop of Vang Vieng, then slowed right down in beautiful, beautiful Luang Prabang. A town made for lazy days, dreamy temple wanderings and evenings spent by the riverside, nibbling from snack vendors and sipping cold beers.

Here we were lucky enough to watch the end of the boat festival. By nightfall the town the streets filled with candles. Large paper boats, lit with candles and lanterns, were paraded through the streets and launched into the Mekong river to take away the bad luck, and usher in good luck for the year. In a temple we watched young monks eagerly light sky lanterns, and send them up into the night.

light festival in Luang Prabang // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

light festival, Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Of course, another thing we loved about this beautiful country was its delicious food.

Here are my top ten things to eat to Laos!

 

1. Ping Paa – grilled fish 

Ping Paa, or grilled fish, was one of our favourite Laos treats. Whole fish are stuffed with lemon grass, then covered with salt. Cooked on a grill, they stay incredibly moist, gently infused with the lemongrass taste. We never quite managed to find out what type of fish was used, but the flesh was white and deliciously meaty under temptingly crispy skin.

Ping Paa - Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Ping Paa - Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

2. Ping Paa – grilled chicken 

Ping Kai - Laos bbq chicken // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

We also loved Ping Kai, grilled chicken. You wouldn’t have to search too hard to find any part of the chicken you may desire secured on a stick and grilled over a flame.

At every bus stop in Laos you will be greeted by a host of ladies. As the bus slows they’ll push their hands through the window, offering you handfuls of grilled chicken on sticks. This ubiquitous snack is a Laos staple. Whilist the cold roadside offerings may be a good on a long bus ride, the grilled meats you find in the towns are delicious.

Our favourites were the half or whole chicken. Its rare to find chicken so beautifully fresh, tender and juicy.

Ping Kai - Laos bbq chicken // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

3. Laap – Laos meat salad 

Laap - a delicious Laos salad made with minced meat and fresh herbs // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

We ate Laap nearly every day. A delicious salad made with ground meat and fresh herbs. The best we tasted was on the Island of Don Khone. We went to a little roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The only other people there were the owners children, home for lunch and tucking into handfuls of sticky rice. We ordered the Laap, and watched as the cook wandered around the garden, picking the herbs for our salad. Of course with the very freshest ingredients the salad was mouthwateringly good.

Laap - a delicious Laos salad made with minced meat and fresh herbs // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

4. Sticky rice 

In Laos most meals come with a basket of sticky rice. To eat the rice you will a ball from the wicker basket with your fingers, roll it around in the palm of your hand, and dunk it into sauce.

Sticky rice containers, Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Sticky rice wasn’t just to be eaten with meals, it also made an excellent roadside snack, cooked in its own convenient take away packaging.

Sticky rice in bamboo, a delicious Laos snack // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Sticky rice in bamboo, a delicious Laos snack // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

The rice is cooked in a stick of bamboo. The bamboo layers are peeled away, and the coconut cooked sticky rice is pulled out with your fingers – delicious!

Sticky rice in bamboo, a delicious Laos snack // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Another way I loved eating sticky rice were in these rice cakes. Left over sticky rice would be dried in the sun, then deep fried until the rice puffed up. Like savoury rice crispy cakes, I stashed a big supply for every bus ride.

Dried sticky rice cakes // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

5. Noodle Soup

On our motorbike travels food choice was limited. We stopped at to eat at the roadsides. No menus, hardly any english spoken except for ‘soup’? We nodded hungrily.

Noodle soup eaten in Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Noodles were served in a clear, meaty broth. The soups were spinkled with spring onion, and served with a variety of meats, sausage and eggs.

Each bowl was served with a huge pile of leafy veg and herbs to stir into the soup ourselves.

loas food // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

IMG_2594

Noodle soup eaten in Laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

6. Laos coffee

Everyday in Laos started with a Laos coffee.

Deliciously rich coffee, poured over a generous slug of condensed milk. A vigorous stir creates a rich, smooth, sugary coffee.

I’m not a coffee lover, but I couldn’t resist these coffees.

 I also tried tea with condensed milk the way the locals drink it, but for me it really doesn’t work! The tea becomes tooth-achingly, sickeningly sweet. A few sips was all I could handle.

Loas coffee // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Loas coffee // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

7. Laos sandwiches 

Another breakfast staple were these delicious Laos style sandwiches. At around 5am, as the sun was just starting to come up, women would set up their baguette stands.

A delicious crust loaf would be spilt in half, then spread with spicy sauces and pates. The sandwiches were filled to the brim with cold meats, cucumber and pickles. Sometimes a fried egg would be added in too. They were meaty, hearty and woke us up with the tingle of spice. The perfect way to start the day!

loas food // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

loas food // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

8. Lemongrass stuffed chicken

My favourite recipe from my cooking course at Tamarind cooking school. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read more about it here.

Chicken is pounded with herbs and spices, then stuffed into a delicately cut stem of lemon grass. The bulb is dipped in egg, then deep fried. The results are mouth watering. This is defiantly a recipe I’ll be making again once I’m home.

Tamarind Cooking School, Laos // scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

9. Coconut Pancakes 

My dream street food, we ate these little pancakes every night we were in Luang Prabang.

Coconut pancakes, delicious Laos street food // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Crisp on the outside, but gooey and tender in the middle.

The batter is cooked on a hot griddle, flipped once, then served in little baskets made of banana leaf. I’m going to have to try and recreate the recipe at home.

Coconut pancakes, delicious Laos street food // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

Coconut pancakes, delicious Laos street food // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

 

10. Beer Laos 

Of course no post on Laos food would be complete without at least a small nod to our favourite Laos beverage; Beer Laos. The light, tasty beer is a source of national pride.

We drank Beer Laos everyday; sat by the Mekong as the sun went down, sipped through sun burnt lips after a long day on the back of a motorbike, under the glow of candles the night of the festival. Perhaps this is the true taste of Laos!

beer laos // www.scarletscorchdroppers.com

So there we are, my top ten foods from Laos!

Have you visited Laos? What were your favourite things to eat?