Oh September, have you been rough.

Our days may be short, but life has made them hopelessly long.  Evenings are spent with little time to do anything but the mundane and necessary – walk the dog, make our dinner, clean up the resulting mess, and fall into bed.  We will wake only to lather, rinse and repeat once again in the morning.

I’m aware that it will ease up once October ends – schedules of the belt will loosen and we will once again find a moment to breathe.  Until then, I have fallen out of love with you, September.  You with your false-hope-promises and teases of cooler weather.  You with your rushed weekends and long nights spent alone.  You with your ever changing moods and unpredictable antics.

These breakfast bars are a true godsend when you find yourself too scattered and too busy to take care of yourself properly.  When you can’t manage a bowl of cereal let alone yoghurt, oatmeal, or any other morning nibble, these bars will be waiting for you.  They are easy enough to throw together on a frazzled Sunday evening and will keep you going all week long.

They can be adapted any number of ways – with the addition of different nuts or dried fruit.  It’s true that I rarely make them the exact same way twice, if only because I bore easily and these work with practically ‘anything’ you may want to throw into the mix.  I like to think of them as healthier than the store bought type, if only because they are not processed.  There is also no butter in the recipe, which I have found in many other variations.  They are chewy, not-too-sweet morning saviours that will get you through to afternoon lunch – your half time to breathe.

Breakfast Bars
Adapted from Nigella Lawsons Nigella Express

1 14-fl-oz can condensed milk

2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant)

1 cup shredded coconut

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)

1 cup natural unsalted peanuts

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and oil a 9- x 13-inch baking pan or just use a disposable aluminum foil one.

2. Warm the condensed milk in a large pan.

3. Meanwhile, mix all the other ingredients together and add the warmed condensed milk, using a rubber spatula to fold and distribute.

4. Spread the mixture into the oiled or foil pan and press down with a spatula or, better still, your hands (wearing those disposable latex CSI gloves to stop you from sticking) to make the surface even.

5. Bake for 1 hour, remove, and after about 15 minutes, cut into four across and four down, to make 16 chunky bars. Let cool completely.  Makes 16 bars.

*  I sometimes use dried apricots or cherries in place of the cranberries.
** I have taken to using dry roasted peanuts for a slight edge.

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There is such hope and promise that comes with a new calendar month.

When August turns to September and the promise of Autumn seems almost possible, I find myself wanting so much more out of the company I keep and the meals I make.  September is nothing more than a tease, really – bringing with it just as warm days as the peak of sweaty summer time.  Respite from the humidity seems so close – and yet it will be weeks before I am feeling that cozy, need to bake flurry and surrender to the falling leaves glory of October.

Autumn and October ‘will’ arrive, though.  Just as they do every year.

Today I decided to put desires into action, and barely pottered over this tasty little cake.  It gave me everything I was looking for – lazy time spent in the kitchen, depth of flavour, and a much needed caffeine boost.

I say lazy time in the kitchen because this cake couldn’t be any simpler to make.  With a freestanding mixer I can let the egg and sugar whir up into a foamy pillow while walking away to do other things – a bonus when you are as distracted as I am these days.  The depth of flavour comes from the dark chocolate, espresso powder and Kahula drizzle while still warm.


It is crackly, fudgy, chocolate laden deliciousness.
While it likely won’t win any beauty contests, believe me when I say that you ‘want’ to make this cake.

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Cafe Latte Cream
From Nigella Lawson’s Feast.

For the cake:
5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick, plus 3 TBS. butter
6 eggs
1 1/4 c. superfine sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
5 tsp. instant espresso powder
1/4 c./4 TBS. Tia Maria or other coffee liqueur

For the Cafe Latte Cream:
3 oz. white chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
scant 2 tsp. instant espresso powder

Take anything you need out of the fridge to bring to room temperature. The only truly important thing, however, is that the eggs aren’t cold, so if they are, just put them into a bowl and cover them with warm water for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter and line a 9 inch Springform pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave or double boiler and set aside to cool slightly. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until thick, pale and moussey. They should have at least doubled in volume, even tripled. If you’re using a standing mixer, as I do, this is effortless.

Gently fold in the flour and espresso powder, taking care not to lose the air you have created, and finally add the melted chocolate and butter, folding gently again. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, by which time the top of the cake should be firm, and the underneath still a bit gooey. Immediately pour over the Tia Maria and then let the cake cool completely on a rack before releasing it from the pan.

For the cream, melt the white chocolate either in a microwave or double boiler, and let it cool. Fold in the cream and espresso powder, whipping the latte cream together to thicken it a little. For some reason the white chocolate seems to make the cream instantly thicker; if I whisk the cream first it can seize a little when it’s stirred into the chocolate.Sit the sprung cake on a plate and fill the middle sunken crate with the cafe latte cream and dust with a little cocoa, or just put the buff-colored cream in a bowl with a spoon, to serve alongside the cake, dusting or not with cocoa or, indeed, instant espresso powder or a mixture of both, as you wish.

* I used Kahula to douse the cake after baking.

* I only had my 10 inch Springform pan at home, so I used that instead.  It resulted in a slightly lower cake, but still as delicious.