Sunday, 17 August 2014

Cherry Bakewell Cookies

Marks & Spencer picnics used to be a staple of the summer holidays for my friends and I. An indecisive bunch, we’d spend ages at each section: the sandwiches, the fruit and drinks, the crisps, the baked goods. Only once everyone had finally chosen would we move to the next aisle and begin the deliberations all over again there. A staple of the picnics would be a packet of M&S cookies. We took this decision in particular overly seriously (bad biscuit selection can ruin a picnic): games of heads or tails and ip dip doo being employed to gradually narrow down the choice. When I was in a Marks and Spencer recently, I noticed the selection of flavours in this range has more than tripled since we last went – I’m not sure we would have had any time for the actual picnic if this had existed when I was younger. But one flavour in particular caught my eye: the cherry bakewell cookie. DSC_0156I’ve made mini cherry bakewell tarts before but I really liked the idea of changing this classic dessert into cookie form. I was also feeling inspired after watching the first episode of Great British Bake Off (side note – I’m fully obsessed with Norman) where they made a cherry and almond sponge. These biscuits have exactly the same flavours but none of the ‘will the cherries sink’ stress – it’s a win win! The M&S version I saw didn’t have icing but I couldn’t resist. I was really happy with the result considering I’d pretty much made up the recipe – buttery shortbread, decent level of almondy flavour and sweet glace cherries are a dangerously addictive combination. I’ll admit that the cookies did spread a little in the oven so I trimmed off the edges to make them all the same… an unnecessary OCD step probably but then cookie trimmings = chefs perks! You can find the recipe below, I’m off to dream up other cookie versions of classic desserts. Tiramisu cookies anyone?DSC_0150

Cherry Bakewell Cookies
Makes 8 large cookies

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 120g plain flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 50g glace cherries, quartered
  • 100g icing sugar, sieved
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced

1. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the almond extract and mix to combine.

2. Add the flour and ground almonds to the mixture and stir to incorporate. As the dough begins to come together, add the glace cherries and continue to mix until they are evenly distributed throughout the smooth dough.

3. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to just under 1cm thick. Stamp out with an 8cm cookie cutter and place on the baking sheets. Chill for 20minutes. Preheat the oven to 180’C.

4. Meanwhile, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and stir to a smooth paste.

5. Bake the biscuits for 10-15minutes, until lightly golden. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack, then drizzle over the icing. Enjoy!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Five Strand Plaited Wholemeal Loaf

When I was at Leiths, I used to work some evenings and holidays setting up and washing up for the evening or week long enthusiast classes. Lots of the things the students were made were the same as we had made on the diploma – hummus and crudites, boned chicken and lemon tart were a few recipes I saw made over and over again and all brought back memories of my own experiences. However, some recipes were things we never made on the diploma: notably a 3 strand plaited loaf.DSC_0158
I can tell you from repeated experience that watching a class of 16 make (the women teaching the men how to plait, some experienced Dads revealing secret skills), bake and take away plaited loaves is not fun. That smell of freshly baked bread, multiplied by 16, fills the kitchen all morning and then vanishes as they all proudly take away their bread to show their friends and family. Us washer-uppers secretly always hoped that someone would decide not to take it home, or absent-mindedly forget it, so that we could try some but of course no one was this foolish. I always vowed to give it a go myself at home so I could finally try this bread that always looked so delicious and today I finally got round to it!DSC_0162In keeping with my indecisive ways, I upped the ante slightly with a five strand loaf and made it wholemeal so I could feel less guilty about probably eating far too much . I really want to try Paul Hollywood’s eight strand plaited loaf but get baffled every time I read the braiding instructions so I stuck with the five for now, which turned out to be surprisingly really easy. I used this recipe and my only alterations were to include all the bran in the loaf, replace half the white flour with white spelt flour and only bake it for 30 minutes. The results were delicious! I broke all Leiths rules and enjoyed it still warm out of the oven… Enjoy!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Blackberry Coconut Macaroon Tart

In London, blackberry season is in full swing. Every week, we save the big tubs we buy litres of Greek yoghurt in for blackberry picking at the weekend. With their handle and lid they make the perfect vessel to bring home plenty of berries. I was never a very good blackberry picker (it was a case of two for me, one for the tub) so now my parents go and I wait for them to return, tubs overflowing with juicy fruit. It feels a treat to be able to go berry picking in the middle of London – they grow wild along the Thames. Once we have had our fill of the berries fresh or blitzed into a compote and served with nectarines and sour cream– it’s time to get baking.DSC_0165I didn’t want anything too heavy – I love a classic pie but at the moment it is just too hot to deal with melting pastry – so I searched through my bookmarks until I found this. I’ve made a few variations of crumble bars in the past because they are such an easy (but still, most importantly, tasty) way to use up fruit or jam but I liked the twist of the macaroon topping on this recipe. And with spelt flour in the base, and a generous layer of fruit sandwiched in the middle – this is basically health food! Somehow even the small slices that I cut are filling enough and the different textures of the crunchy shortbread, juicy fruit and chewy coconut are delicious together. Now, just to think of uses for the two remaining tubs of berries waiting in the fridge… 

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Blackberry Coconut Macaroon Tart, adapted from this recipe
Crust: 1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
90g unsalted butter, melted

Filling: 1 cup shredded coconut
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 large egg whites
250g fresh blackberries, halved if large

1. Preheat oven to 180’C and lightly grease a 13x36 long tart tin, or 9inch round cake tin – a removable base is important.
2.
Combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the melted butter until evenly distributed. Press the mixture firmly in the bottom of the pan to form a even layer. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden and firm. Remove and set aside to cool for a few minutes while you prepare the filling.
3. Stir together the coconut, sugar and egg whites. Evenly distribute the blackberries across the tart base. Spoon over the macaroon mixture and spread out lightly – it’s nice to still be able to see some berries.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the peaks of the macaroon filling are golden. Remove from the tart tin and cut into slices. Enjoy!