When I began my Biscuit Challenge here on the blog, a long time ago, I constantly refrained from attempting the infamous custard cream. Bourbons, digestives, snickerdoodles and most recently ricciarelli, amongst others, have all been made as part of the Biscuit Challenge and have all been tasty. They haven’t been exact replicas of the shop bought original, but when baked with regular ingredients and care – plus with delicious results – does this really matter? When I finally attempted custard creams, I decided to step a little bit further away from the original.Marcus Wareing, a Gordon Ramsay trained and Michelin-starred top chef, is renowned for his nutmeg custard tart, which has been served to the Queen. Taking this success and running with it, he’s adapted his recipe to create what he calls Nutmeg Custard Cream Yo-yo’s. The biscuits were easy to make, and the final product was ultra rewarding. The nutmeg makes the final cookies spicier and warmer than your standard custard cream and when I make these next (which I definitely shall do) I think I’ll add even more. The biscuit itself had the best texture – sandy yet crisp and very moreish. When I made bourbons I missed the firm square of chocolate cream filling – which I think now you can only properly get with shop bought biscuits which can use preservatives and E-numbers – but with these the soft and creamy custard filling was delicious and perfectly flavoured. Mmm. Just right to fill that 4pm biscuit craving :) The only change I made to the recipe was that instead of forming a log of cookie dough and slicing it up, I found the dough much easier to roll out and cut with a cookie cutter. I also added more custard powder to the biscuit dough, as I wanted to be sure the flavour would clearly some through which, happily, it did. You can find the recipe here, and I hope you do attempt the British biscuit tin favourite – and enjoy!
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Sunday, 21 November 2010
In the Biscuit Challenge so far, I have tackled widely known biscuit tin favourites. This time, I wanted to try something different – just as irresistible, just as moreish, still something I have regularly bought from a supermarket, but just a little bit different. The most famous Italian biscuits would probably be amaretti, biscotti and cantuccini. Whilst all these are delicious, I think my favourite now has to be this – the ricciarelli. A soft and chewy macaroon, with a truly intense almond flavour and a tiny touch of lemon. Also slightly addictive. You have been warned! These are not particularly complicated, but you do need to start the day before so they have plenty of time to dry out which will lead to their scrumptious chewy texture later on. Whilst I am not a hugely patient person and the no instant gratification was different, I think the wait just makes the reward even more tasty. And you end up with freshly baked ricciarelli for breakfast through no effort! Splendid.
You can find the recipe here (scroll down!) – I hope you enjoy :)
Monday, 15 November 2010
I made this galette a good few weeks ago now – just as the weather changed from Summer to Autumn. Now, we are deep in Winter but the galette has still been made repeatedly. The first time, the galette was a chance to begin making good use of the fabulous Autumn produce that Britain does so well: plums, apples, pears – our climate is so much more suited to these than endless supplies of summer berries. Since then, I have made it simply because I loved it and it is so easy! Just 4 ingredients: puff pastry, plums, marzipan, sugar. Easy as pie…The key ingredient in the galette is the marzipan. Other than Christmas cake every year and the odd new recipe, marzipan’s presence in my kitchen is rare…mainly because I know I will just eat it all. :) The plums I used here aren’t very sweet – instead quite sharp and therefore the marzipan combination doesn’t become too sickly. The marzipan also soaks up the plum juices and ensures the pastry stays crisp. Plus, the demerara sugar sprinkled on top balances out the melting marzipan and soft juicy plums. Tempted yet? I didn’t use a specific recipe each time to make this, it can be easily scaled up or down depending on the ingredients you have to hand, the fruit you have and the amount of people you have to serve. For around 6-8 people, these amounts will do…
Ingredients: 500g plums
450g puff pastry
2 tablespoons milk
4-5 tablespoons demerara sugar
1. Roll the puff pastry out until it is a large circle and around 3mm thick. Place onto a large baking tray that has been lined with parchment paper.
2. Roll the marzipan to a circle which is 5mm thick, or 1cm smaller than the pastry. Gently lay this on top of the pastry.
3. Halve and stone the plums. Cut each half into four slices, and carefully arrange on top of the marzipan.
4. Bring up the excess pastry from the edges and fold over the marzipan and plums. Sprinkle the plums with some of the demerara sugar. Brush the pastry with the milk, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
5. Bake in a 170’C/Gas Mark 3/325’F oven for 20 minutes until the pastry is risen and golden and the plums are soft. Enjoy whilst warm!
Monday, 8 November 2010
Towards the end of October, my Spanish class and I went on a week long trip to the beautiful city of Granada, in Andalucia, Spain. I have been here very briefly two years ago, but this was a proper chance to get to know the city. And it was great – gorgeous city, gorgeous food, gorgeous summer weather. Lovely.
Inside the San Jeronimo monastery
Monday, 18 October 2010
In London, we never seem to ‘suffer’ from seasonal gluts of strawberries and raspberries. My family is not presented with the problem of a complete summer overflow of nectarines, blueberries or peaches. We manage to grow the odd bunch of raspberries or loganberries – enough to be picked and eaten, there and then, warm in the sun. But certainly not enough produce to find that even after baking a cake, a crumble, eating gallons raw, and finishing off with some cookies that our stash is still languishing in the garden. This all changes round about this time of year. The English climate is much much better at producing Autumn gluts – apples, plums, pears. Lots and lots of apples. Our cottage in Suffolk has a massive apple tree in the centre of the garden, and its constantly full of fruit all season. Every time we visit, we fill bags and bags of fruit and cart them back to London. And once back in London, there’s two more (way smaller but still plentiful) trees to harvest. And so the baking must begin…I didn’t want to repeat another apple cake (fab as they are) and wanted to try something a little different. I hadn’t made flapjacks before but these weren’t the traditional version. The addition of a huge grated apple keeps the mixture moist and makes the flapjacks last, whilst the handfuls of dried cranberries gave the flapjacks a little extra tang which I definitely liked. I considered adding a chocolate drizzle to the top – and whilst this might be nice I decided to keep these as they were – fruity, oaty, delicious. The recipe is from Hannah’s book and is one which I highly recommend :)
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Ingredients: 225g (8oz) self raising flour
100g (4oz) butter, cubed
175g (6oz) caster sugar
100g (4oz) sultanas/dried berries
100g (4oz) glace cherries, halved
2 large eggs
500g ripe bananas
50g honey (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F/Gas Mark 4 and line your loaf tin with a strip of parchment paper.
- Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour until crumbly/pea-sized pieces. Add the sugar, sultanas/dried fruit and cherries and create a hollow in the centre of the mixture.
- Crack the eggs into the hollow. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, or whizz in a food processor, until fairly smooth. Add the banana to the flour hollow.
- Fold the mixture all together into a smooth cake mix, and pour into the prepared tin.
- Bake in the centre of the oven for 50mins, then check. The top should be golden and a skewer should come out mainly clean (provided you didn’t go through a sultana). It may need up to 1hour15mins, depending on your oven.
- Melt your honey in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, spread over the top of the cooled cake. Cut generous slices!
Sunday, 10 October 2010
The Great Brownie Bake Off was an event I went to in London yesterday. The Great Brownie Bake Off (GBBO) was organised by Louise Thomas who has the amazing job of a Chocolate Consultant! It was held at the cool cafe/bike-shop, Look Mum No Hands which was packed with chocolate fans! 25 foodies entered their own recipe for the best brownie, which were judged by 11 judges! The judges took the process very seriously – sniffing each brownie, examining texture, colour and taste and much more. Whilst this went on, there were demonstrations…The first demo I saw was by Edd Kimber. Edd is the winner of the BBC’s Great British Bake Off, a fab recent TV series that inspired the days Brownie Off. Edd demonstrated banana whoopie pies with chocolate ganache and was superb against the tricky audience (distracted by free brownies!) – plus it was his first demo. I wasn’t quick enough to try one but they looked gorgeous and the recipe is now on his lovely blog so I look forward to trying them! The other demo that I saw was by Stacie Stewart, a finalist from Masterchef. Since Masterchef, Stacie has set up The Beehive Bakery and her own cookery school. She demonstrated chocolate and mascarpone cupcakes and taught me two interesting baking tips:
1) the reason butter has to be soft for cupcakes is it allows the fat molecules to expand, making your cake soft and light instead of heavy and dry.
2) sugar should be added to a cupcake mix slowly, not all at once, again for a softer cupcake.
I entered the fun with my brownies – I knew were too vanilla-y (accidentally used vanilla sugar!) and didn’t dare pick up my score card but I liked how they looked… Congratulations to Louise M, the brownie champion, and a huge thank you to Louise Thomas for organising the whole day! It was so exciting seeing the people I’ve watched avidly on TV in the flesh, and tasting many fab brownies. Can’t wait to attend my next foodie event very soon…
Friday, 24 September 2010
One of the hardest parts I find in cooking at the moment is finding a good use for those odds and ends that hang around in the fridge and cupboards – lurking. The hard rind of cheese, a lemon with no zest, an end of cucumber or deserted half pot of pesto. It is a lot harder to find inspiration when things look a little but dreary or half-empty, as opposed to looking at shiny new ingredients and packets. But when the UK throws away 8.3 billion tonnes of food every year, costing the average family £680 a year – I definitely realise that using up odds and ends is important. Plus, when bakes as delicious as these come out of it, what’s the problem!? Today I avoided wastage by turning a leftover ‘wodge’ of puff pastry into a delicious batch of Eccles cakes. Eccles cakes are not a cake at all, but a dried fruit and sugar mixture wrapped in puff pastry and baked. Eccles cakes are also an old-fashioned British treat so I thought they would be an appropriate bake during British Food Fortnight! The Eccles cakes were delicious – consisting mainly of butter, sugar and dried fruit how could they not!? The filling was almost good enough to eat on its own, but when surrounded by crackly, slightly caramelised golden pastry it went to another level. Quite addictive! This Delia recipe here is very similar to the Rachel Allen one I used – the difference being I used some all-butter puff pastry instead of making some flaky pastry. Enjoy :)
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
This cake is from Orlando Murrin’s book called A Table in the Tarn which I have used before a while ago and now shall certainly be using again. Intended for Christmas or New Year, this cake is decadence on a plate. It consists of…
- chocolate cake layer
- chocolate/cointreau mousse layer
- chocolate cake layer
- chocolate/cointreau mousse covering
- chocolate ganache coating
- chocolate shavings and strawberry topping
Can you say YUM?
Now, this cake is a celebration one not just because of the calorie count but because of the time it takes. Each step is only 5-10minutes, but most steps end in ‘Now refrigerate for 2 hours until firm’. Perhaps some of these firming-up periods are unnecessary, but with the large scale ingredients involved I was determined not to ruin this cake and followed it to the T. My favourite part of this was the chocolate and Cointreau mousse because it was so silky smooth, rich and deep with flavour. I would definitely like to make just this component again for a dessert, although as it is so rich it would have to be in very small servings! The cake layers are very thin and have a brownie-like texture which is great for supporting those thick layers of mousse. All in all – a resounding success! Because the recipe is so long and special, I don’t feel I should post it here but do buy the book or I think it would be easy to create using your own log with your favourite recipes for a rich chocolate cake and mousse. Happy Baking!
Friday, 10 September 2010
Surprises. My Mum can’t stand them – from who’s left Strictly Come Dancing to a surprise birthday present, she just needs to be in the know. But I think there can be good surprises: finding £5 in your pocket, a day forecast to be rainy turning out sunny, a botched up recipe turning out well after all! My good surprise today was a gift in the post… This book was destined to give good results – the recipes are from the WI after all! As with all cookbooks, I flicked straight to the dessert/puddings/baking section (or in this case, all four of them – the book is organised by seasons!) and of course found plenty of gorgeous things I look forward to trying. But what also struck me about this book was the fabulous collections of soups that came at the start of each season. So many varieties of and new twists on tomato soup, but also dozens of vegetable, fish, bean and meat soups. Plus, with our summer weather slowly slipping away and the rain creeping in I thought I better get practising a truly delicious winter repertoire! I forgot that I had already made a carrot soup, but this version was different in every way: taste, appearance, texture, cooking style and the flavours involved. This soup also taught me the important message of seasoning, something I knew I need to learn more about. After taking the first spoonful, I was concerned that the soup was a bit bland and the carrot goodness wasn’t coming through. The trick? After pureeing, hit this soup with A LOT of black pepper. There is no point being shy here, just taste as you go along and slowly the flavours appear! Gorgeous. I was a big fan of this soup. Because of the true carrot flavour, you just know this soup is good for you. A large amount of coriander adds heat and the amount of work required from you is minimal. How could you not be a fan? This soup is from the Spring section of the book, which is a couple of seasons away for me, but I found it just perfect for a rainy Autumn afternoon. Enjoy!
Carrot and Coriander Soup from Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute
Ingredients: 25g (1oz) butter
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
25g (1oz) plain flour
1 litre (1.25pints) chicken or vegetable stock
450g (1lb) carrots, grated
2tsp chopped fresh coriander (I probably used double this)
salt and LOTS of freshly ground black pepper
cream or yoghurt, to serve
1. Melt the butter in a pan and soften the onion and garlic slowly.
2. Blend in the flour and then add the stock gradually, stirring all the time over a low heat.
3. Add the carrots and coriander. Bring the soup to the boil and then let it simmer for 15minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and adjust seasoning. Pour into a food processor and blend until smooth.
5. Divide between four bowls and add a swirl of yoghurt/cream to serve.
Tuesday, 31 August 2010
Lawsons Deli and eagerly consumed on the beach, this spinach had been found a use! Once home, the cooking began.
Spinach and Feta Pastries
As these were based on Lawsons Deli pastries and a gift of spinach, I didn't use exact measurements, so these are rough approximations. These quantities made 6 pastries, with two per serving for a main meal. You can easily scale the numbers up or down for different amounts of people.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
200g carefully washed (no one wants soil in a pasty), destalked and cooked spinach
150g feta cheese
1tbsp mint, finely chopped
1tsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
250g puff pastry
1 more beaten egg
- Preheat the oven to 190'C.
- Saute the onion and garlic slowly in two large knobs of butter until the onion is softened and golden. Meanwhile, squeeze all excess water out of the spinach and chop into more bite-size pieces with a large pair of scissors.
- Take the onion off the heat and add in all the remaining ingredients other than pastry. Season well and taste, then add more of whatever is lacking.
- Roll out the pastry very thinly and cut into 10cm squares. Place a large tablespoon of the spinach mix into the centre of each pastry square. Brush the edges with beaten egg and bring up to the top, pinching together diagonal edges and twisting the corners. Brush the whole top with more egg.
- Place on a baking tray and bake for 15-20minutes until the pastry is risen and golden and the feta is melted. Serve warm with a salad in the sunshine and enjoy!
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Blueberry Muffins from How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
Ingredients: 75g unsalted butter, melted
200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
75g caster sugar
200 ml buttermilk — (or 1/2 cup plain yogurt and 100 ml semi-skimmed milk, or 200ml milk and 1tsp vinegar)
1 large egg
200g blueberries ( I used 250g, which made them extra blueberry-y!)
- Preheat the oven to 200'C. Melt the butter, and set it aside to cool.
- Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl
- In a measuring cup beat together the buttermilk, (or yogurt and milk), egg, and melted butter
- Using a wooded spoon and a light hand, pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix gently to combine
- Don’t worry about lumps; the important thing with muffins is that the mixture isn’t overworked
- Fold in the blueberries, again keeping mixing to a minimum
- Spoon into the muffin tin & bake for 20 minutes, by which time the muffins should be risen and golden and firm on top
Sunday, 8 August 2010
Previously, I was ill. This time my absence is much more exciting: I was spending two gorgeous sunny weeks on the American East Coast! And it all started with four days in the blistering 100’F heat of Washington DC, where we stayed in the fabulous Eastern Market area. Of course, the farmers market was my first stop once we arrived and I adored seeing the huge range of exciting food and colourful fresh produce which was so different from the markets of England or France. Hope you enjoy the photos, and stay tuned for more holiday posts to come :)
Sunday, 18 July 2010
The youngest ever food editor at Waitrose Food Illustrated, a chef, and a food stylist. Her popup restaurant Shoreditch in February sold out in less than a day. Later this year she plans to launch a Vietnamese restaurant. And whenever she has the time, she is cooking and travelling in her pride and joy: Myrtle the Hurtle, a bay window, 1972 VW camper van, fully decked-out with kitchen.
Here making aioli from scratch in a pestle and mortar with Patricia Michelson, owner of La Fromagerie, Alice Hart provided the audience of 20or so with great tips and entertaining talk as she coked up delicious food. Firstly, we enjoyed blackberry granola muffins – something I look forward to making and sharing with you fully later this year. They were gorgeous and the use of wholemeal flour, hazelnuts and granola made them feel positively healthy. Next on the menu were courgette flowers stuffed with fresh goat cheese alongside a summer squash agrodolce. Whilst I am normally into my sweet food, being ill had left me craving savoury and the food here was exciting and new to me – I enjoyed it all! The squash agrodulce was like a summer salad of roasted squash and courgette with a fresh dressing, perfect under the soft richness of the goat-cheese flowers. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures so these are the few from my Dad’s phone. Alice made an interesting point that people often hear of battered and fried courgette flowers and think this is the only way to eat them. Whilst yummy, that is such a faff and the flowers are very versatile – can be eaten raw, shredded in salads or baked. Next up was beetroot cured salmon with a fennel salad and the aformentioned aioli. I haven’t tried much fish before but the beetroot cure made this totally beautiful and the whole audience seemed to love it. The aioli was a wonderful yellow and tasted just as vibrant, it was also new to see it being done in a pestle and mortar with no whisk to be seen. Also saving on washing up because the garlic and salt can be crushed in here first before you go on to create the emulsion. The fish was served with a glass of prosecco with a stunning purple borage flower which tastes of cucumber! (Don’t worry, my prosecco was passed along!) We finished with mocha affogatos (chocolate ice cream with hot coffee poured on top) which were an indulgent end. Overall, I had a wonderful time and enjoyed trying fresh new food and great produce. Alice Hart is lovely and I have noticed many more delicious recipes to try from her new book which I highly recommend. In particular I am looking forward to trying salted caramel mousse cups with scooping biscuits - sounds totally divine.
PS head to the lovely Culinary Travels blog here which has a full review of Alice Hart's book here.
Friday, 2 July 2010
Verdict? Addictive! This gift was a big surprise and it is precious as well – it was my Granny’s for many years and I feel guilty for receiving such a delicious book of hers! Dotted through the book were bright pink post-it notes from my Granny, telling me which cookies she had tried, which worked, what amendments to make etc. I am excited to get through her list of recommendations and trying some of the more unusual biscuits from this book – Curly Peter anyone? Napoleon Hat? In the mean time, I’m sure these will be made again!Arguably all cookies are simple – but these really are. After simply melting the golden syrup and butter, all the dry ingredients are just poured in. At first the ratio of ingredients seems far too dry, but a good old mix and everything is good. Another positive on this recipe? It makes a lot a cookies! Although the dough is pretty good so this number does go down a little ;) Straight out of the oven these are delightfully soft and chewy. The next day they will be crunchier round the edges but still have a soft and sweet middle. Tempted enough? Here’s the recipe…