Inside Thorntons Chocolate Factory


I thought I'd start by showing you my favourite Thorntons chocolate before I tell you about my visit to the factory. You know, just in case you ever needed to know. They are Continental Sicilian Lemon Mousse. Forget the rest of the selection, I'll have a box of these please, although I'd settle for one of the bars.

Stuart and I started our journey with an overnight stay in a hotel at Edinburgh airport, followed by a ridiculously early start. We flew down to the East Midlands, then travelled on to Nottingham where we explored the Christmas market and enjoyed breakfast at Delilah Fine Foods, a rather wonderful deli and cafe. 

Stuart and I both ordered pan fried field mushrooms on sourdough toast with Manchego cheese, a fried egg & truffle oil. Oh it was good! Well worth waiting for. After our visit to Nottingham we travelled on to Alfreton where we met up with Becca, Janice and Rachel before travelling on to the Thorntons Factory.

photo: Cakeyboi
We were met by Thornton's digital search manager John Rowley who took us up to the board room for some lunch and a look at some of the many products Thorntons create in their factory.

We then moved onto our tour of the factory, but first we had to get togged up and scrubbed.

As you can see it was a bonnie outfit. Stuart even had to wear a beard cap.

The first thing that hit you was the smell. It was amazing!

Vats of melted chocolate were being piped in everywhere you looked. It was so interesting watching the different processes and we were surprised to see they were working on Easter eggs. The chocolate was poured into moulds then spun round by long robotic arms for even coverage.

We even had a chance to do some chocolate work ourselves. We had a try at piping chocolate onto nougat caskets, before they were chilled and then we filled them with individual chocolates. We didn't do too bad, but we'd need a lot more experience to match the skills and speed of the Thornton's staff.

We all agreed that the toffee pouring was the most exciting part of the tour. The toffee was melted and then hand poured from a vat on runners that was pulled along a long table, filling buttered trays. The smell was glorious.

The toffee was cooled before it was smashed into chunks, then tossed through a barrel to remove all the pieces that were too big or small. These would be re-melted into the next batch. The toffee was then boxed up, ready to be sealed and shipped off to the shops.

Before we finished out tour we stopped at the tasting station to try of some freshly made chocolates.  I only had four chocolates and one jelly, which showed considerable restraint. We all agreed the dulce de leche truffle was out of this world. It was slightly warm, very creamy and oh the flavour!

We finally headed back to the board room where we had a short session on icing. As you can see I iced a chocolate slab for Cooper, which I gave to him on Christmas day.

Sadly our day was at an end, but we all left laden with chocolate including a huge personalised box.

A short taxi ride took us to our rather luxurious hotel, The Derbyshire Hotel, where we had a great meal and breakfast the next morning.

I left with a real respect for Thorntons as a company. It was such an interesting trip and it was fun spending time with some of my favourite bloggers. A big thank you to Thorntons for inviting us.

Read more:

Rachel Cotterill -  Rachel and the Chocolate Factory
Disclosure: Thorntons paid for the whole trip, but I was not required to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own. We were not allowed to take our cameras into the factory for health and safety reasons, so some of the photos were kindly provided by Thorntons

dulce de leche truffle
dulce de leche truffle
dulce de leche truffle
dulce de leche truffle
dulce de leche truffle

Real Spiced Hot Chocolate

Need a chocolate fix? Well you've come to the right place.

Rich frothy hot chocolate made with good quality dark chocolate and spiced with cinnamon and mixed spice.

I drink a fair amount of hot chocolate, but it tends to be the low calorie kind made with boiling water. It keeps me going at work, but it isn't satisfying like a really good hot chocolate.

Today is Sunday and we're busy preparing for Christmas, so we really needed something a bit more luxurious. Time to break out the 70% Lindt dark chocolate.

I made my real hot chocolate with whole milk, a little sugar, some cinnamon from Gresado and a good pinch of mixed spice to give it a little warmth and make it more Christmassy.

I served the hot chocolate with a sprinkling of Freedom mini vegetarian (and vegan) vanilla marshmallows. What a treat to be able to say yes to marshmallows on top of hot chocolate. I'm so sick of having to say no in coffee shops.

print recipe

Real Spiced Hot Chocolate
Hot chocolate make with good quality dark chocolate and spices for a real chocolate hit
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 600ml/2½ cups milk or coconut milk
  • 2 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (or a good grating from a cinnamon stick)
  • a good pinch of mixed spice
  • a handful of veggie marshmallows to top the hot chocolate (optional)
1. Break the chocolate into pieces. 2. Pour the milk into a power blender, then add the chocolate, sugar and spices. 3. Whizz on low until the chocolate has blended until fine then turn higher for 4-5 minutes until the chocolate is hot and frothy. It won't be piping hot but just a lovely temperature for drinking4.If you don't have a power blender like mine, melt the chocolate, sugar and spices in a pan until melted and hot, then use a hand bender to froth up.5. Pour into cups or mugs and top with veggie marshmallows before serving.6. Enjoy!
Total time:

Yield: Makes 4 - 6 cups or mugs of hot chocolate

Gresado are an online shop who sell chef quality ingredients to the home cooks as well top restaurants.  

During December Gresado are sending a free panettone to all customers who spend £50 in their online store. 

Also until 17 January 2015 use the code TTDEC14 and get 10% off your shop.

Disclosure: I am working with Gresado at the moment and being paid for my time.I was not expected to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own.  

Last Minute Christmas Gifts - Cookbooks


Cookbooks make great gifts. They are a good present for those who are learning to cook, those who are trying to improve their skills and need new ideas and those who like to browse through them and  imagine they could cook like that.

I think we all do a bit of cookbook drooling, but which to choose for a gift? Here is a my gift guide. Hopefully there is something in here for everybody.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook 
by Angela Liddon

This was a gift from my good friend Tanita and has to be my favourite cookbook of the year. It's a collection of 100 vegan recipes, but they are the kind of vegan recipes I like to cook. Lots of satisfying family dishes with no weird ingredients and believe me vegan cookbooks can be full of them and I just find it unappealing. I prefer to cook vegan food from fresh ingredients and it seems Angela has the same feelings about it.

The chapters are broken into: Breakfast; Smoothies, Juice & Tea; Appetizers; Salads; Soup; Entrees; Sides; Power Snacks; Desserts and Homemade Staples. 

My favourite recipes so far are:
  • Quick and Easy Chana Masala
  • Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes with Easy Mushroom Gravy
  • Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas with Avocado Cream Sauce
  • Flu-Fighter Sunshine Smoothie
Good for:

Those who eat meat free and dairy free or for people who would like to eat a healthier diet. Easy to follow recipes. Mouthwatering photos


by Kay Plunkett-Hogge

I'm currently giving away this book along with another two titles to one lucky reader. I've not made anything from it yet, but I've enjoyed a good browse through it. I think it is going to be very handy for Hogmanay when I'll be whizzing up a few cocktails in my Optimum 9400. Yes I'm a lazy cocktail maker.

The chapters are broken into: Before we begin; The Drinks;  Non-Alcoholic Drinks and The Food (veggie and non-veggie)

The recipes I want to try are:
  • Basil and Mint Lemonade (It's green!)
  • The Gloom Chaser (alcoholic and citrussy)
  • The Zombie (rum, bacardi and tropical juices)
  • The Mojito (a classic)
  • The Life of Rye-Ley (bitters, whisky and champagne or prosecco)
  • Ricotta, Pomegranate & Thyme Bruschetta (munch, crunch)

Good for:

Weekends and parties.


by Natasha Corrett
and Vicki Edgson

I was sent this title a while back to review and after an initial read it got swallowed up by my bookshelf. One of my plans for the new year is to thin out my bookcase and just keep my favourites like this one so they will be used more instead of getting lost among all the others. 

This is another one with mouthwatering photos. This time over 100 healthy veggie and vegan recipes.

The chapters are broken into:

It starts with a few chapters on the authors, the ideas behind the book and some advice on healthy eating as well as meal planners, then it moves on to the recipes.

Breakfast; Starters and Soups; Salads; Mains; Treats and Snacks and Dessert.

The ones I have bookmarked to try first are:
  • 'Cheesey' Kale Chips (vegan)
  • Caramelised Pear and Lentil Salad (vegan)
  • Scrambled Eggs and Baked Portabello Mushrooms with Melted Goat's Cheese
  • Butternut Squash Risotto
  • Banana Toffee Crunch Ice Cream
  • Raw Chocolate Mousse (vegan)
Good for: 

Veggies, vegans and those looking for a healthier diet.


by Rosie Ramsden

I was sent this book to review too. They wanted me to create my own recipes wheel, but I didn't really get the concept and declined. It isn't a book with glossy photos, but is a rather neat little book with watercolour illustrations in muted colours. I am afraid it's a bit meaty, but there are some good veggie recipes too.

The chapters are broken into:

Simple White Bread; Vegetable Soup; Risotto; Roast Chicken; Braised Beef; Poached Fish; Potato Gratin; Wilted Greens; Sponge Cake & Custard.

The Sponge Cake wheel contains:
  • Blackberry and Yoghurt Sponge (no frills)
  • Lemon and Caraway Drizzle Cake (no frills)
  • Upside-Down Plum Cake (night in)
  • Semolina Cardamom Orange Cake (friends)
  • Banana, Hazelnut & Butterscotch Loaf (friends)
  • Chocolate Chunk Vanilla Sponge (creative)
  • Clara's Marmalade Tray Bake (creative)
  • Vanilla Raspberry Cake (impress)
  • Salted Chocolate Pistachio Cake (impress)
  • Brown Sugar Breakfast Cakes (night in)
  • Salted Caramel Crumbs for Ice Cream (leftover)
  • Fig Frangipane (leftover)
Good for:

People looking for lots of ideas on a theme. veggies who don't mind sharing a book with non-veggie recipes and meat-eaters.


by Sarah Al-Hamad

This one is a beautiful coffee table book. The kind you leave around for your visitors to admire. It's much more than that. It's a history of dates around the world. Think sticky toffee pudding and butterscotch sauce, add a bit of travel, snippets of history and the most temptingly beautiful photos.

The chapters are broken into:

Breads and Spreads (The Gulf); Cookies, Brownies and Slices (Liwa);  Date Cakes (Cartmel and Coachella Valley); Puddings, Fudges and Custards (Elche and Andalucia) & Ice Cream, Milkshakes and Stuffed Dates.

Some stand-out dishes:
  • Date and Ricotta Fritters
  • Cranberry and Date Brownies
  • Date and Pomegranate Cake with Pomegranate Syrup
  • Sticky Sponge Cake with a Toffee Sauce
  • Pinwheel Date Shortbreads
Good for:

Bedtime reading, browsing while having a cuppa and for dessert, cake and biscuit lovers.


by Gillian Veal

This is the cookbook of a cafe I love to visit and can highly recommend. It's just a wee cafe in Dundee up behind the University and the seats fill up quickly, but it's definitely the place to head for a great veggie lunch in this fair city. Full of super tasty home-cooked food, the kind you wish you ate at home every night. The cookbook does include some meaty dishes, but the majority are veggie and illustrations rather than glossy photos, but somehow that doesn't matter and I love this book!

The chapters are broken into: Breakfast, Brunch & Eggs; Breads & Sandwiches; Soups; Salads & Mezze; Tarts & Pastried; Mains; Dressings, Sauces & Flavourings and Sweet Things.

Recipes to make today, tomorrow and the rest of the week:
  • Vegetable and Apricot Tagine
  • Butternut Squash and Feta Empanadillas
  • Fig, Gorgonzola and Rocket Tart
  • Roasted Carrot, Pepper and Smoked Paprika Soup
  • Griddled Bread with Chargrilled Halloumi, Roasted Vine Tomatoes and Sauteed Spinach
  • Pear, Cinnamon and Almond Cake
  • Banana Bread with Coconut and Toasted Nuts
Good for:

Simple, but delicious vegetarian recipes.

I'm giving this cookbooks away as well as two other to one lucky reader. Check out all my Christmas giveaways on my sidebar.


No Croutons Required - Festive Photos


December arrived. I got stuck into my 12 Days of Christmas Giveaways (check the sidebar) and forgot all about No Croutons Required. Shame on me!

Lisa and I have a bit of a tradition. We ask for festive photos in December. We know everyone is busy so we don't ask you to create a recipe, however if you do create a lovely festive recipe (veggie of course) and you have a gorgeous photo to share then do link up and add it to the linky below. Other than that, we are just looking for your festive photos (still link up). We do have a wee prize for the winning photo this month too.

Remember to link to this post and to my co-host and friend Lisa over at Lisa's Kitchen in your post. You can find full details on my challenge page.

I look forward to seeing all the photos.

Have a very merry Christmas x


Banoffee Trifle - An Easy Christmas Dessert

Banoffee Trifle

We may be trying to deny it, but Christmas is definitely hurtling towards us at great speed.

I don't know what happened this year. I'm usually super organised and have most of my gifts by now and know exactly what everyone else is getting. This year I haven't even made a list made yet and I have no idea what I'm going to buy anyone other than Cooper.

Knowing how unorganised I am this year, you may be surprised to hear I'm trying out Christmas desserts for the big day.

quick Christmas dessert

I'm determined to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible this year.

I always miss all the fun with Cooper on Christmas Day and he's growing up so fast.

I thought we might go out for Christmas dinner, but when I saw the paltry veggie and vegan choices I gave up on that idea and decided preparing ahead and simplicity would be the way to go.

I've been working with Gresado lately. On online shop that's been supplying top notch products to chefs in London for over 40 years.

They've now opened their doors to home cooks and they kindly sent me a Panettone to try.

Well that got me thinking of Christmas desserts and I had that eureka moment. A banoffee trifle!

Quick, easy and indulgent! Tick, tick, tick!

Christmas Trifle

You could make one big trifle, but I rather like making individual portions in glasses. Why not try it out before Christmas and decide if it's perfect for your Christmas day too.

Check out my Ultimate Veggie Christmas Guide with all the recipes and tips you could need for a vegetarian or vegan Christmas.

print recipe
Christmas dessert
Banoffee Trifle
An easy dessert that will impress your guests. Perfect for Christmas and other special occasions.

  • ½ panettone
  • 12 tbsp apple juice
  • 397g/1 ¼ cups caramel condensed milk
  • 3 bananas
  • 500g/2 ¼ cups ready made custard
  • 300 ml/1 ½ cups whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp chocolate sprinkles
1. Slice the panettone and add a layer to the bottom of each glass 
2. Drizzle each layer of cake with 2 tbsp apple juice. 
3. Top with a layer of Caramel and a few slices of banana. 
4. Next add a layer of custard.   
5. Whip the cream until thick. You may add a little sugar before you whip, if you like. I piped my layer of cream, but you could just spoon it on, it would taste just as good. 
6. Finish with slices of banana and chocolate spinkles.
7. Pop in the fridge until you are ready for them. I'll be making mine on Christmas Eve along with my soup.
8. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
Total time:  
Yield: 6 individual trifles

Christmas dessert

Looking for a more traditional banoffee recipe? Try my Quick Banoffe Pie, Cheats Banoffee Pie or my Lower Calorie Banofee Pie.

For a quick sweet treat, try my 3 Ingredient Chocolate Fudge.

Disclosure: This recipe was developed for Gresado using their panettone. I was not expected to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own.

New in my Kitchen #17

This is where I like to share my kitchen discoveries. The good, the bad and the ugly!

Mash Direct sent me a few of their products to try. Yes they do sell a variety of vegetable mash, but they sell so much more and we liked these baby potatoes coated in breadcrumbs and chilli.

Price:  £1.75 (Asda) for 370g
Score: 8/10

Cooper and I absolutely loved these. We'll be looking out for them to try again. A real treat. Crispy in the outside and soft, creamy and packed with flavour on the inside.

Price: £1.50 (Tesco) for 300g
Score 10/10

I've been working with Gresado, an online grocery shop that specialises in high quality chef ingredients. They kindly sent me a few of their products to try including these capers. Everything they've sent me so far has been excellent, so I have high hopes for these capers, but I haven't broken into them yet. 
Any suggestions on what dishes I should use them in?

Price: £10 for 400g
Score: ?

10% off all orders in November with the code kgnov14

I remember these from the first time around. These are sweetly spiced, almost a smokey BBQ flavour with a  little kick from paprika and jalapeno. Too, too easy to snack on! The crunch of handcooked crisps and suitable for veggies and vegans.

Price: 2 for £2.50 (Sainsbury's) 150g bags
Score 8/10

This cool red kitchen timer came from brabantia. I currently have two wind up kitchen timers. One is a metal one that looks like an egg and the other is a frosted cupcake. They may look great, but they are absolutely useless. They both start of well then run down with no indication that they have finished. So I have been doing a lot of running backward and forward to look at my laptop clock recently while baking.

It was time for something a bit more modern and accurate. This one runs for up to 99 minutes and has a 5 year guarantee, which I clearly need. I love the vibrant red and the fact it's magnetic, so it sits nicely on my fridge.

Price: £8.50
Score 10/10

Now you may not want to know this, but if you have a woven bread basket then chances are it's filled with bugs. Yes go throw it away this minute. Totally disgusting. Up until now I've been using a bowl with a napkin in it to avoid such a vile state of affairs. The great thing about this bread basket as well as being stylish, it is reversible and machine washable. Result! I went for the medium which is big enough for us, but it you have a bigger family Brabantia also sells these in a larger size.

Price: £9.25
Score: 9/10

Hot of the press. I bought these yesterday to serve filled with sour cream, salad leaves, homemade chilli and grated cheddar. I do like Mission flour tortillas, they are large, so easy for wrapping and lovely and soft. I'm not keen on the Tesco flour tortillas, which I find claggy, but Mission Deli Wraps Wheat and White are excellent. 

So when I saw wholemeal I thought "Brilliant!"  and immediately bought two bags. I always buy wholemeal if possible so it made sense, but ugh, I didn't like them, the flavour or the texture. Once warmed they were a bit flaccid and damp. Not a nice experience. Go for Wheat and White and steer clear of this flavour.
Price: 2 for £2.50 for an 8 pack
Score: 2/10 

Not in my kitchen, but food related. I rented this from work. Yes I work in a library where we rent DVDs and staff are made to pay. We used to get them free, but someone who shall remain un-named, abused this courtesy and it was stopped. Damn them! Anyway I really wanted to watch this, so I paid up. 
The film is about a chef who works in a fine dining restaurant, but isn't allowed to cook what he wants to cook and after a bad review and twitter going crazy he leaves, buys a food truck and travels around the country with his best friend and son cooking up great but simple food. This time using social media to his advantage. 

Graham and I really enjoyed this film and would heartily recommend it.

Price: £9.99 (Amazon)
Score: 10/10 

9. Homeware from John Lewis

On a recent trip to Edinburgh I had an uninterrupted browse around John Lewis (Graham and Cooper were in a toy shop). 
I was loving this colourful new range and couldn't resist treating myself. I was a little disappointed by the glass. It has dipped in sides in a white glass, which is rather nice to hold. I thought coloured smoothies would look excellent against, but it actually just looks quite clear.

Price: Various
Score: 9/10

I've been enjoying this fresh coconut milk that has no extras added. I've been adding it to dal and smoothies. The great thing is once it is open, you can just fold over the top (I sealed mine with a peg) and pop it in the fridge until you next need it. Very handy.

Price: £3.25 for 200g (Planet Organic)
Score: 9/10

11. Colin the Caterpillar

Now you know how I love jellies, but they aren't abundant for veggies, well there's a new one in town. It's in the Colin the Caterpillar range. Cherry flavours and a lot firmer than the butterfly jellies. I still like the veggie Percy's the best, but it's nice to have another option. The range also comes in chocolate, which is fun for little ones, but I'm not so bothered about that.

Price: not sure
Score: 8/10

Cornishware kindly sent me a little surprise ahead of Christmas. A personalised mug in a gorgeous pale blue. I do love a bit of cornishware with those classic stripes. What a kind gift.

Price: £10
Score 9/10

13. Salted Caramel Haagen Dazs

Number thirteen but not unlucky. This stuff is heavenly and I thought they could never beat Strawberry Cheesecake. "Salted caramel and crunchy caramel pieces swirl elegantly through delicious caramel ice cream". Oh yes! I've actually made this last two weeks. Just dive in for a few spoonfuls, then back in the freezer. Sheer bliss!

Price £2.25 instead of £4 at Tesco
Score 10/10

Have you any new discoveries in your kitchen?

Disclosure: I was sent some of this selection to try, the rest I bought myself. I only give my own opinion on products and I hope to inspire you.

Stir up Sunday Recipes

stir up sunday 

Stir up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent and the traditional time to bake Christmas puddings, although it's also the time to bake Christmas cakes.

Urban Fruit and Great British Chefs challenged me to make a twist on a traditional Christmas cake. I decided what was needed was a rich spicy Christmas cake without the fuss.

My cake is based on one my mum has baked for us since I was little. I changed the recipe up with a darker sugar for a more caramelised flavour, more mixed spice and I used Urban Fruit. Cheeky Cherry, Blueberry and Blackcurrant and Smashing Strawberry instead of the raisins and sultanas my mum uses.  

So how is it faff free?

It's all made in a pot.

The butter is melted with the sugar, fruit and spices, then the flour and eggs are added, before it's poured into a loaf tin. Simple.

The cake sliced beautifully and was moist, spicy and delicious, especially spread with butter. I know, I know, bur I said it was simple, not low calorie.

And now a few more Stir up Sunday recipes:

To celebrate Stir Up Sunday, there's a twitter party this Sunday 23rd November between 2pm – 4pm where you can pose any question you like to @UrbanFruit on Twitter using the hashtag #StirUpSunday.  Throw in a question or two or just follow the chat. 

Get stirring!

In the mood for more than Christmas cake? Why not spend some time this week making some homemade advent calendars. You can find some inspiration here.

Disclosure: I write for Great British Chef and was asked to promote Stir up Sunday. I was not expected to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own.
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