Foodie that I am nothing says Christmas to me like Gingerbread men. At least I can’t remember the last time I didn’t make gingerbread at Christmas, and this year is no different.
This isn’t really a blog about how to make gingerbread as there are a thousand simple recipes out there but it’s more a journal of my happy seasonal routine. The recipe differs each year with the general trend towards more ginger (I love ginger!) but the only essential ingredients are fun and silliness! Oh, and a couple of special tips…
400g plain flour
4 tbsp golden syrup
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g soft brown sugar
Optional food colouring
Icing sugar (some)
Lemon juice (some)
Made to a soundtrack of whatever music gets you in the mood…
1) Pour the flour, butter, bicarb, cinnamon and ginger into a mixer.
2) Whiz until you get a breadcrumby texture
3) Add the sugar and then, with the mixer turned on, drip the egg and syrup into the mixer
4) You’re going to end up with a firmish dough that needs to be wrapped up in clingfilm and refrigerated for a while.
5) Roll the chilled dough out on a floured board or work surface until it’s around half a centimetre thick
6) Now get to work with your cutters! This is a whole load of fun. Of course there’s no reason why you have to stick to gingerbread men. I have accumulated a great range of cutters including Christmassy ones, animals and gingerdead men.
7) Place your shapes onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
8) Throw in the oven until golden brown – around 10+ minutes. If in doubt remove earlier than later and bear in mind that your gingerbread will firm up after it’s removed from the oven. You’ll probably have to bake 2 or 3 rounds of these.
9) Once the gingerbread has cooled on a wire rack it’s best to store it for a while in a sealed container. OK, here’s special tip number 1: Add some sliced apple to the container with the cut face not touching any of the goodies. This Tyrolean grandmother inspired step will ensure the biscuits stay soft and take on a festive apple flavour.
10) If you are icing your creations then I would leave this until nearer the time of consumption. Here’s special tip number 2: Drip a little lemon juice into a bowl and mix in your icing sugar. This tastes infinitely better than water based icing. Now get creative…
11) I used icing modestly because I didn’t want to overpower the gingerbread but you can do what you want. Food colouring presents more possibilities and I was miffed to discover I was out of red, so no nose for Rudolph.
There’s no end to the fun you can have with gingerbread. It’s a seasonal affair in terms of ingredients but also in folklore and makes a great Christmas gift. Perhaps you can compose a festive scene?
Autumn. Bright golden leaves tumbling from the trees to form a wondrously thick carpet that crackles under foot as November’s low golden sun beats warmly upon your exposed face.
…roll on 24 hours…
Soggy masses of rotten leaves blocking my gutters that I messily scoop into a bucket while perched precariously atop a ladder in the freezing damp greyness that will block out all light, warmth and joy until some time next year.
The earlier part of Autumn may be with us all too fleetingly but as the alchemy outdoors dilutes into memory we can at least retire to the kitchen to enjoy the comforting fruits of the season. On Sunday, after cleaning out the gutters and in need of a seasonal pick-me-up, I made a thick moreish spicy parsnip soup with colombo powder – so good! This day was made for cooking and eating so needless to say my pudding whiskers were aroused, but how do you follow this without straying from the season?
The strangest thing. I had this craving for pumpkin pie – something I have never previously consumed let alone made. Where did this flash of inspiration come from?
I cobbled together three different recipes to come up with my take on pumpkin and pecan pie. Only later did I deduce the origins of this craving. All will be explained after the recipe…
1 butternut squash
Pecans – let’s say 100g
100ml double cream
250g plain flour
100g butter at room temperature
Make the pastry – or buy it if you are a cheat
1) Cream the butter and around 70g of sugar with a hand blender. As usual I had forgotten to remove the butter from the fridge so the microwave came to the rescue.
2) Add an egg and blend that into the mix.
3) Pastry recipes always talk about sieving in the flour at this point. I’ve never seen the point in creating the extra washing up so DUMP the flour into the bowl and then mix it with a spatula. Once a dough is formed work it with your hands adding a little water if it’s too firm. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the squash
4) Halve the squash, remove the seeds and score the flesh with a knife and microwave for around 8 minutes.
5) The texture should be soft. Pour off any liquid and leave to cool. My squash tasted so rich and sweet at this point – it bodes well.
Caramelise the nuts
6) Pour a couple of tablespoons of sugar into a pan and gently heat until melted. I added a few drops of water to accelerate the process.
7) Chops the pecans roughly in half
8) Add half a teaspoon of ground ginger to the melted sugar and then scatter the pecans into the pan. Stir until coated and then leave to cool.
Blind bake the pastry case
9) Remove the pastry dough from the fridge and roll out to a circle wide enough to comfortably line your dish. My dish was 24cm in diameter so I rolled the pastry to around 30cm diameter.
10) Tuck the pastry into the dish and press it against the sides before prodding the base with a fork. Now overlay some baking paper and weight down. You can buy baking beads but I always use dried beans which work perfectly.
11) Bake for around 25 minutes at 180 degrees
Bring it all together
12) We have done all the hard work so now it’s just a case of assembly and cooking. Scrape the squash away from the skin and mash it in a bowl.
13) Add one whisked egg plus the yolk of another. I added 30g of grated jaggery instead of refined sugar because I felt the flavour would be well suited to this recipe. Finally I added a little vanilla essence, half a teaspoon of ground allspice and half a teaspoon of ground ginger. Mix
14) Scatter the caramelised pecans over the pastry base.
15) Pour the filling into the base and grate over some nutmeg
16) Bake for around 40 minutes at 180 degrees until firmish. Admire the results.
Enjoy with some maple syrup and Greek yoghurt. This looks and tastes of autumn!
They say that smell and taste are strong memory triggers. Shortly after demolishing the first slice of pie my subconscious decided to let me into its secret. This is how pumpkin pie had flashed into my mind…
Having made spicy parsnip soup with colombo curry powder it reminded me that I had recently flicked through the TV channels and settled upon an episode of Columbo called “A stitch in crime”. The only reason I watched awhile was because there was Will Geer sat up in a hospital bed and I it couldn’t remember where I knew him from – until I recognised him as Grandpa Walton. The Waltons epitomised wholesome country living and I recall watching an episode (it must have been years ago) in which pumpkins were being prepared. I’ve now googled it and sure enough a giant pumpkin features in a thanksgiving episode.
Nothing says autumn (or Fall) like pumpkin pie on Walton Mountain. And that my friends is a fleeting glimpse into the workings of my mind.
A little over four years ago I wrote my first blog article. In a victory for quantity over quality I concluded my 149th publication last month with a review of my Cleveland Way experience and thoughts have since turned to an appropriate subject for my 150th blog. Since my return from Yorkshire there have been no adventures. I seem to have spent a lot of time pre-occupied with domestic affairs and I’m not inspired to write about the re-felting of my shed roof despite the fact that two of my heroes – John Shuttleworth and Arnold Rimmer – would approve of this.
Instead I’m going to bow to the seasons and write about one of the ways in which I have tried to put to good use the glut of fine fruit harvested this autumn. My own plum tree may have remained fallow this year but thanks to several donations I have made plum slice, plum and port jam, baked plums with star anise and latterly the Viennese Plum Cake described below. You can never have too many plums…
Instant yeast sachet
100g granulated sugar
175ml full fat milk
350g strong white flour
1 large egg, separated into yolk and white
60g salted butter
Plum jam (optional)
1) Wash and quarter the plums, removing the stones. Then get the yeast started by dissolving a teaspoon of sugar in warm water, adding the yeast.
And leaving awhile to froth up.
2) Zest the lemon. I use a zester which is another of those kitchen gadgets rarely used but priceless when you need it. There are few smells more evocative than that of freshly zested lemon.
3) Warm the milk slightly and add to the yeast. Put the flour, sugar, lemon zest, egg yolk into a bowl.
4) Gradually pour the yeast liquid into the flour bowl and mix well will with a wooden spoon. Keep working the mix with the spoon – it should develop into a doughy consistency that doesn’t stick too much to the bowl sides. Add a little more flour if the mix is too wet. Cover the dough with a tea-towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so.
5) Line a baking tray (approx 35 x 25cm) with baking paper. For some geeky reason I always enjoy this bit. I flip the tray upside down, place the paper over the base, fold over the edges and then use scissors to snip each corner. Now work approx three quarters of the risen dough into the tin.
6) Now – optionally – heat up some plum jam and brush it generously over the doughy base. I think it’s better this way but then I do have plenty of plum jam kicking around. Next arrange the plum segments on top of the base. At this point it should all start to make sense!
7) Next another fun step – create a dough lattice. Roll the remaining dough into a long string around 1.5cm in thickness. Lay it over the plums into a lattice. You could be more creative if you wish and lay it into spirals or perhaps reproduce a Matisse pencil portrait, but nobody loves a smart arse. Brush the exposed dough with the egg white and leave the tray somewhere warm for another 20 or so minutes of rising again.
8) Heat the oven to 190 degrees and bake for around 35 minutes. As with all baking keep an eye on proceedings and be prepared to alter the temperature or cooking time depending on progress. My cake was perfectly cooked albeit a little darker than I would have liked on top. Once cooked shake some icing sugar over and leave to cool.
9) Slice the cake, make a cup of tea and invite the vicar or for authenticity serve to an Austrian pfarrer with a cup of fresh coffee and a glass of tap water on the side. Close your eyes, bite into the zwetschkengermfleck and dream of Café Drechsler. A suitable way to mark my 150th blog I think!
This recipe was originally billed as a cake and while I may have modestly tweaked it the outcome was more bread-like in my opinion. This is not a criticism – the proof of the pudding is in the eating after all and the sight and taste of this simple cake/bread takes me back to Vienna. I have vowed to return one day but until then there’s always Viennese cookery from the comfort of my kitchen.
A modern dilemma: How to indulge in fruit and vegetables while ensuring you still consume 5 portions of cake each day. I have an answer. Actually Nigel Slater has an answer – I’m just a scoffing minion.
Wanting to bake a goodbye cake for work (I’m leaving) while using up surplus veg I turned to the internet for creative solutions and up popped Nigel Slater’s Courgette Cake. Of all the celebrity chefs NS is probably the one whose fridge I would raid given the choice in some supermarket sweep style free-for-all. That I just imagined. He’s one of my food heroes because he is a simple and unpretentious foodie, grounded in the seasons and passionate about ingredients. His recipes strike me as inspirational and yet accessible. So courgette cake it is, rather than Jamie’s turnip pudding or Nigella’s sprout cup cakes
I tweaked the recipe slightly. Here are the ingredients I used
275g caster sugar
2 large free range eggs
275g plain flour
½ tsp Salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
4tbsp greek yoghurt
1) Cream the sugar and butter until smooth. The butter needs to be room temperature for this – I cheated and blasted it in a microwave for 10 seconds.
2) Add the eggs and blend them into the mixture. NS says to do this one by one, which I did, but I’m not sure why you can’t do them at the same time. Chefs say these sorts of things. Delia would find a contrived way to take twice as long and create three times as much washing up, while Heston would doubtless involve dry ice at this point.
3) Coarsely grate the courgette and the apple.
You will need to squeeze as much liquid as possible from the grated mass in order not to waterlog the cake.
Now work the courgette & apple into the mix
4) Add the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Blend together using an electric whisk. I added some Greek yoghurt at this point because I felt that the mixture was a little too dry but whenever you are working with flour you have to make a hand-on decision about the addition of liquids.
5) Now stir in the pecans and sultanas, being not quite careful enough to ensure that ALL of the pecans go into the mix and not your face.
6) Spoon and level the mixture into a greased, lined baking tin OR just use a flexible baking mould. I was wondering recently why baking paper seems to have vanished from the supermarket shelves – at least from Aldi, Lidl, Sainsburies (begrudgingly) and the local stores that I use. Somebody suggested that the rising popularity of silicone moulds may have reduced demand for baking parchment. It’s a good theory, although I still find this a pain. Turns out that Wilko’s still stock it.
7) Bake for until golden and firmish. For me this was around 55 minutes. Allow to cool before you get busy with a knife. Otherwise it’s all going to fall apart (I have been impatient far too many times at this point)
8) Sample – for quality purposes. Hey – this is really nice! Decide whether your work colleague deserve this. Then remember last week’s office medical checks which revealed a wide range of serious albeit sometimes amusing health problems amongst my office pals.
This cake isn’t going to solve anybodies dietary issues. But I hope it might just divert a few troubled minds away from the burdensome worries of physical health. Cake – at least good cake – is health food for the soul.
2012 was a great year for extending my travel horizons. It was the year I discovered that Wales can be wonderful without being wet. It was the year I finally made it to beautiful Durham. It was the year I fell for the medieval charms of Maastricht and broke my previous record for putting up with Brussels (4 hours) – and even that dirty old city had some pleasant surprises. Several trips to gothic Edinburgh only left me wanting more while the grand imperial charms of Vienna elicited three blog entries from me and would have provided the highlight in any other year. Except that my encounter with South Tyrol scaled new heights literally and metaphorically.
I had planned to write 4 or 5 pieces on this action packed visit to my partner Carmen’s homeland but I just don’t seem to have much time nowadays and there’s so much to tell. I left a piece of my heart in South Tyrol (which is a worry because I’m off to San Francisco this year and I’m going to end up heartless at this rate) and that’s not just due to the mind blowing scenery…
…the region is a foodie’s heaven, bringing together hearty Austrian style mountain food with exquisite fresh Italian cuisine. There is no reactionary food movement taking off here because people never stopped buying fresh local produce. Eating remains a family affair for the most part where meals are prepared from raw ingredients and there’s not a ready meal in sight. Which is why my Christmas present was such a joy to unwrap!
One seasonally damp and dark Derby evening was usurped by fresh Alpine snow tipped mountains and green pastures echoing to the sound of cowbells across the valley as I opened a hamper from the entirely wonderful H&H Südtirol online food shop! Stocked with the finest ingredients we set about preparing a Tyrolean festive feast. That’s to say she came up with a dozen recipes from the top of her head, and I followed instructions while appreciating some of the pure beers from the Forst brewery. It’s a partnership after all.
In the continental tradition we celebrated Christmas on December 24th with smoked trout, Russian salad and the opening of presents but with my parents visiting on the 25th we pulled together something a little different from Turkey and Christmas pud. Here’s what we cooked, to a streaming radio soundtrack provided by AlpenMelodie…
Starter: Poached Salmon Roulade
We created a “pastry” mix by layering a mixture of eggs, spinach, a little semolina (1) and, baking until set (2), smoothing on a paste of poached salmon and ricotta (3) and rolling it up (4).
Slice, garnish and serve. This starter was – stunning.
Main Course: Sauerbraten with Serviettenknödel
With a traditional Xmas walk scheduled for the morning we wanted a main course that could be prepared partially in advance. I started it 10 days in advance by marinating 2kg of topside beef in red wine with herbs (Sauerbraten = “sour roast”). This was in fact upstaged by a decidedly Viennese Serviettenknödel which is a dumpling steamed within a napkin.
The primary constituent is diced dry bread but eggs, milk, crispy lardons, parsley and chives make this a proper moreish winter accompaniment to the beef. It all came together nicely.
Obviously in my household the savoury courses are merely a pre-amble to the main event – dessert. We have a shared love of puddings – Carmen’s family have a tradition of Alibi Starters (eg: soup) followed by “Sweet Mains” (such as gorgeous fluffy rice pudding). For the special day we made Apfelstrudel by mixing sliced apples with pine nuts, ground hazelnuts, cloves, cinnamon and a splash of rum, wrapping it all in filo pastry and then baking.
I had made a rather lovely Advocaat ice cream in advance, and it went well with the strudel. In fact so well that we scoffed it without taking any photos. But all in all our Tyrolean themed Christmas meal was a success and it made a refreshing change from the traditional English meal.
The only major departure from the Tyrolean theme was Christmas Crackers. Can you believe that the rest of Europe doesn’t do this?! Odd people…
Of course, Christmas isn’t just about eating. It’s also a time for giving. We extended our festive theme by making a selection of Austro/Tyrolean food goodies as family gifts. Hmmm, that’s more food isn’t it…
In previous years I made Cantuccini, Florentines and Lebkuchen for my family. This year we made a superior Lebkuchen inspired by the remarkable culinary skills of Carmen’s grandmother. These may look run of the mill but there’s some magic going on.
We made them a couple of weeks in advance and stored them in airtight containers with apple quarters. The magic in this process is that the lebkuchen absorb the apple essence and stay moist. Then we brushed on icing made using lemon juice rather than water. This is transformational – try it and you will never use water again.
Next we made traditional Vanillekipferl (Almond Crescents). These are simple enough for the most part. We made a sweet dough consisting of more almonds than flour…
…but there are a couple of surprisingly tricky techniques to master. First you need to persuade your puffin to crush the almonds to the right size (not too large but not a powder) and then you need to roll out the dough into 10cm lengths and twist them into horseshoes without any breakage. Once baked you apply a dusting of icing sugar.
Spitzbuben (translation: Cheeky Boys) are a firm festive family favourite according to Carmen and they are eagerly consumed beyond the Tyrol region in Bavaria, Switzerland and (curiously) Derby. They may loosely resemble Jammy Dodgers but biscuit architecture aside there is no comparison. JDs are cheap mass-produced nonsense while Cheeky Boys are hand made with quality ingredients and no small degree of love.
A sweet biscuit dough is rolled flat and then cut into an equal number of solid circular bases and decorative perforated covers using a special tool.
The Cheeky Boys and Almond Crescents will happily keep for weeks. Except of course, they won’t.
I could quite happily live off these wonderful treats. Yes, I’m sure. That would be fine right? Actually it wouldn’t. Controversial new research suggests that a daily consumption of biscuits alone does not provide all of the nutrients required in a balanced diet. The good news is that the final treat that we made would suitably address this nutritional imbalance.
Rhumkugeln sounds better than Chocolate Truffles but they are the same thing. The occasional use of a bain marie in my house is always a welcome sign that something indulgent is in the making. In this instance a mix of melted dark and light chocolate is augmented with toasted hazelnuts and icing sugar. Once cooled we used teaspoons to create little balls of chocolaty goodness and rolled half in icing sugar and half in cocoa powder.
For that final touch of regional authenticity we asked an alpine pig to individually wrap them in foil, crêpe paper and mini bun-cases. If you are doing this at home just remember to ensure that your pig doesn’t eat too many truffles.
I’m not an inspirational chef but I do take inspiration from good ingredients and recipe ideas. One of my weaknesses is recipe book dependence but that’s beginning to change. Over the last year or so I have made a conscious effort to adapt my shopping habits, largely in the face of my monumental hatred of Sainsbury’s. Let’s get something clear – they offer a paucity of choice when it comes to raw ingredients with aisles and aisles of processed food and only a very limited selection of anodyne factory produced “fresh produce”. Then there’s the relentless over-marketing whereby you are brow-beaten into buying 2 for 1 or 3 for 2 when you only wanted 1 so you buy too much overpriced food and it gets wasted. Shocking value and a wearisome shopping experience.
For Sainsbury’s read any of the major supermarkets, but there’s an alternative if you are prepared to forego a little convenience. I’ve taken to shopping at Aldi for mainstream items and then following up with specialist independent meat/fish/grocers for fresh produce. It’s more effort but a far superior shopping basket for two thirds of the cost makes it a no-brainer.
This is how shopping used to be before successive governments allowed the giant corporations to kill all the small independent retails along with our high streets. And my change in shopping habits is forcing me, in a positive way, to rethink the way I cook. No longer can I assume that my precise recipe ingredients will be available. More to the point the independent grocers always tempt me with fresh and exciting goodies that I wasn’t expecting. Much better therefore to ease off on the list and take inspiration from what’s available.
It also means that I am having to rediscover my cooking instincts. My plans to make some Indian influenced ice cream this weekend had to evolve due to a failure to obtain saffron along with arriving home with a glut of natural yoghurt. In Ready-Steady-Cook style, here’s what happened next…
250ml single cream
2tbsp Clear Honey
3 cardamom pods
3 large eggs
100g soft brown sugar
300ml natural yoghurt
1) Extract the cardamom seeds and chop them finely. I love cardamom and they are great in curries, rice, baking and green or ginger tea. They have to be great in ice cream don’t they?
2) Mix the cream, milk, honey, cinnamon and cardamom in a pan. I was toying with adding one or two cloves and even a light touch of chilli but let’s rein it in for now. Heat and keep stirring, but don’t boil.
3) Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the sugar in a bowl. This is orthodox ice cream making territory. Mix until smooth.
4) Add the hot cream mixture to the bowl and stir. Return the mixture to the pan and heat until the mixture thickens, stirring all the time.
5) Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours
6) Watch a film while waiting. I watched Fire In Babylon but you can substitute films of a similar length depending on what you have in stock.
7) Stir in the yoghurt and a little lemon juice. Hmmm, this should be interesting. I was going to add some lemon zest but … I forgot. Ho hum.
8) Pour the mixture into a pre-frozen ice cream maker being careful not to devour all of the mixture before it gets transferred. You don’t need a machine for this but it’s one of those gadgets I picked up along the way and if you are going to use it enough (like I do) then it does an effective labour saving job.
9) Once you are fed up of the racket made by your ice cream maker spoon the ice cream like contents into a container and store in the freezer.
10) Go to bed. Sleep. Get up. Do whatever it is you do before deciding that you fancy some ice cream.
11) Serve the frozen ice cream with some almond flakes or perhaps some kind of exotic Asian fruit salad. Perfect after a weighty Indian meal. Chicken Saag with masala stuffed baby aubergines and lemon rice since you ask.
Verdict – 8.5 out of 10. Good flavours, a fine way to finish an Indian meal and relatively healthy for an ice cream. The consistency was very slightly firm so next time I might change the cream to yoghurt ratio somewhat, or at least remove from the freezer a bit earlier. There’s plenty of scope to play with the flavourings. Some caramelised mango would go well with it.
I’m not sure if this is a recipe blog or an anti-globalisation rant but let’s worry about the taxonomy later – there’s ice cream to consume.
I had Sunday all planned out. There were a few chores but mostly it was about relaxation. And then the tell-tale pool of liquid on my kitchen floor told me it wasn’t going to be that way.
My fridge freezer is 9 years old and I can’t begrudge its retirement but I find myself working out how to gainfully cook the defrosted contents on this day of rest. The temperate evacuees sit on my work surface begging my attention and creativity like a horribly misjudged ready-steady-cook bag. In the salvageable category there is sweet pastry, filo pastry, puff pastry, meatballs, chicken and cheese. Less fortunate (and less identifiable) comestibles are mercifully relegated to the bin.
Filo? I didn’t even realise I had filo pastry. For the uninitiated filo is the devils work to make and that’s why it’s perfectly respectable, indeed expected, to buy ready made sheets from the supermarket. A trawl through my recipe books found plenty of recipes but all requiring ingredients I didn’t have. Then, en-route to the bin, I noticed a recipe for hazelnut baklava on the side of the pastry box – and here it is…
200g filo pastry
200g caster sugar
1) Roughly chop the hazlenuts and mix in two teaspoons of ground cinnamon and four of sugar.
2) Melt the butter. I used a ramekin in the microwave.
3) Brush some butter onto the base of a baking dish. Then unroll a sheet of filo (it’s paper thin so be careful) and lay it in the bottom of the dish. Brush the sheet with butter.
4) Add another 6 or 7 sheets, placing each on top of the last and buttering each one. Then spread half of the nut mixture evenly over the top layer.
5) Place another 3 buttered sheets over the nuts, then sprinkle the rest of the nuts into a second later. Add the remaining sheets one by one buttering as you go. If you are me (stupid) now use a knife to trim the pastry over spill from the sides of the dish. Alternatively you could trim the sheets to dish size prior to placing them. Doh!
6) Now carefully use a sharp knife to slice this pale Greek odyssey into bite sized portions – you will find it hard once cooked. Diagonals are more traditional but square is lazier and quicker. Sprinkle the surface with water to minimise the risk of burning and place in the oven at 190 degrees for around 30 minutes.
7) While the dish is in the oven make a syrup. Put the sugar, 200ml of water, a cinnamon stick and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add a three or four heaped teaspoons of honey and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
8) When the baklava is baked and golden remove it from the oven and after 10 minutes of cooling pour the syrup over.
9) When it’s cool eat a slice, forget it’s January and dream of warmer Aegean climes.
The result is an authentic tasting sticky Greek treat – very scoffable without ever quite meeting the heights of the Greek Easter Cake I wrote about a while ago. I would add a little rose water next time and perhaps throw some cloves & cardamom pods into the syrup. Next time? I’ll throw some more filo into my new freezer when it arrives and hope it’s less reliable than the last one.
Sometimes I find myself thumbing through recipes I seldom look at and something just jumps out and shouts TRY ME! On this occasion Apricot Slice has my full and undivided attention.
What’s the worst that could happen?
175g softened butter
175g soft muscovado sugar
100g rolled oats (eg: porridge oats)
225g plain flour
0.5 tsp salt
0.5 tsp bicarb of soda
Grated rind from 1 lemon
1 full sized can of apricot halves
a little caster sugar
And a picture of the same ingredients undressed. It’s what the celeb chefs do in their cookery books and I’m a great advocate of plagiarism.
1) Blend the butter and sugar together with a fork or preferably an assistant.
2) Add the flour, oats, bicarb, salt and mix well.
3) Brush a baking tin (approx 20cm x 30cm) with a little melted butter to prevent the dreaded sticking.
4) Add half the mix to the tin and spread evenly into all the edges
5) Chop up the apricots and grate the lemon. sprinkle this fruity goodness evenly into the tin.
6) Layer the remaining mix on top.
7) Bake at 180 degrees for 25-30 mins and then leave to cool on a rack. In fact I suggest that once it has cooled you stick it in the fridge for a while to firm up and simplify cutting.
8 ) Sprinkle a little caster sugar over and slice the slice with a slicer.
9) Take to work and enjoy the silence as colleagues stuff their faces.
10) Refuse to offer IT support to anybody whose keyboard has stopped functioning due to escaped crumbs
What a surprisingly enjoyable recipe – moist, moreish and a little different. You could probably substitute the apricot with peach or banana, or if you are in a real hurry just go out and buy something from the bakers instead. But then you would be missing out on this. Decisions decisions…
What unlikely categorisation of comestible unites the “father of modern Italy” with the city of Florence and the Tuscan town of Prato? Here’s a clue – they go well with a nice cup of tea.
The answer – biscuits – obviously. The proclaimed father of Italy was Garibaldi who aside from his military exploits was a renown baker, inventing the eponymous Garibaldi not to mention wagon wheels. Florence lays claim to the chocolate covered Florentine biscuit while natives of Prato dunk “nooks” or “cantuccini” in their espresso, commonly marketed to Brits under the general term of Biscotti.
Here’s another question. Why do the biscuit obsessed British enjoy so many Italian confections while the rest of Europe steadfastly ignores our tea time treasures? You can’t get custard creams in Catalonia. The Turkish wouldn’t recognise a Tunnocks Teacake. The Italians have never heard of the chocolate bourbon, moorish brainchild of Field Marshall Sir John Peak-Frean who ironically introduced the Garibaldi to Britain – a spoil of war originating from his military service in Italy that ranks alongside the Elgin Marbles.
I can’t answer these questions – I’ll leave them to the biscuit historians and theologians. All I know is that Cantuccini makes a nice festively appropriate Christmas gift, and so for the third year running I decided to bake some for my family…
Luckily I noticed just in time that I had got cornflour out rather than baking powder. It would have been an embarrassing mistake because this substitution would have resulted in a perfect Clam Chowder – nice if that’s what you had in mind.
1) A little preparation first. Beat the eggs, crush the coriander seeds lightly with a pestle and mortar or perhaps a harsh remark. Also zest the orange – we aren’t bothered with the orange itself but the insides can be eaten raw or squeezed for a healthy drink.
2) Next lightly toast the almonds in a 160C fan oven for 5 to 10 mins. I set a timer because otherwise I know I will forget about them and they will burn. When the nuts have taken on a David Dickinson pallor remove them from the heat and once they are cool enough to touch roughly chop one third of them
I’ve made the same recipe for the last 2 years and previously made the mistake of buying marginally cheaper skin-on almonds and blanching them myself. HUGE mistake – it took me an hour and I got RSI.
3) Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until smoothish and then add the eggs, orange zest, booze, baking powder and salt. Give it a good old stir.
4) Add the flour, polenta, almonds and coriander and mix well. If the mixture is sticky add more flour until it forms a dough. You have to use your hands for all of this. It’s just more fun that way.
5) Divide the dough into 4 and roll each portion out into 5cm by 2cm strips on a floured board. Place the strips onto a greased baking sheet leaving a little distance between them for expansion. Note: I made double quantity which is why there are 8 strips in my photo.
6) Bake for 35 minutes until it looks like this…
7) Leave to cool for a few minutes – but wait, we haven’t finished yet – Cantuccini is baked twice. Cut each strip diagonally into 1cm slices
8 ) Return the slices to the baking sheet and return to the oven for another 10 minutes before cooling again on a wire rack.
What we have is a sophisticated, nutty, orangey biscuit that goes remarkably well with coffee or ice cream and lasts for a good week, if you don’t scoff it in the meantime.
Easter Sunday – a day of importance and meaning for many people. To kids (of all ages) it means hunting for chocolate eggs, to parents it means hiding them and to most other people it means a day of reflection – about the amount of chocolate you are consuming and how you will definitely go to the gym next week. Probably. But you know Easter Sunday is not just about chocolate – there are all sorts of other ways to ingest sugar on this special day. Here’s one – Greek Easter Cakes.
I thought I would choose this as my first food blog of the year, a very restrained 3 months after the previous gluttonous run of kitchen correspondance. These yummy moist cakes are perfect with crème fraiche and can be served warm or chilled. They contain no chocolate so from that point of view they are probably really good for you.
For the cakes
100g caster sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
4tbsp lemon juice
2tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
For the syrup
10 cardamom pods
300g caster sugar
juice of half a lemon
1 cinnamon stick
2tbsp orange flower water
This is what the contents of your grocery bag look like…
…and this is what they look like after my kitchen assistant Sven has prepared everything…
Ask Sven (or your equivalent) to heat the oven to 200 degrees (190 for fan)
1) Blend the butter & sugar. I used my old trusty Kenwood mixer but apparently you can buy bowls and spoons that take this sort of routine kitchen activity into the 21st century.
2) Add the lemon juice, lemon rind, eggs, semolina, baking powder and ground almonds and mix until you stop. If using a bladed mixer stir the rind in by hand afterwards instead so as not to diminish the strands of lemony loveliness.
3) Grease a bun tin (you could use bun cases) and add the mixture to the moulds. Try and get a level finish. Slide the tin into the oven and leave for 15 or so minutes.
4) Remove the tin from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before transferring to a flat surface.
5) You can be making the syrup while the buns are in the oven, so as to speak. Heat the sugar in water slowly until it has dissolved. Add the lemon juice and let it all boil for a few minutes until it thickens into something syrupy. Add all the other ingredients and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes except for the orange flower water – add this after the 5 minutes.
6) Let the mixture cool slightly. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick and then spoon the syrup over the buns.
Taste immediately to make sure the quality is of sufficiently high standard. Taste again to make sure. Congratulate yourself for having consumed something containing no chocolate whatsoever.
While you are at it spare a thought for those less fortunate than us, forced to work on this day of rest. Consider the put-upon supermarket staff obliged to spend Sunday evening away from their chocolate (and families) slashing the prices of eggs you were fleeced for only yesterday. They will be working late tonight restocking the shelves with barbecue products that will be advertised ad-nauseum as centre-pieces for the halcyon Indian summer we are not going to have.
Oh, Sven – just wash up & tidy before you leave. Thanks.
I’ve started to realise that my blog entries this year have gradually progressed from exercise based subject matter to face stuffing and todays blog is another foody one. Let’s blame the weather as we head into winter, but somebody let me know if May comes around and I’m still yattering on about food.
This is one of those cakey recipes that I keep coming back to, not because it is necessarily my favourite but people seem to demand it (yes – I’m talking about you sugar fiends at work). It’s dead simple and you can’t go too far wrong.
500g White chocolate
175 caster sugar
175g self raising flour
175g chopped hazlenuts
1tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
A few of observations before I go any further. Some recipes say to use unsalted butter when baking sweet things but I have rarely found that it makes much difference. If they are thinking of the health aspects then you probably want to ditch all the above ingredients apart from the flour and vanilla extract, but the results may be less satisfying. You may notice that I’m using cheapy basics white chocolate. It’s fine for this sort of recipe and it isn’t worth paying three times as much for free range organic stuff carried on foot by Umpa Lumpa all the way from the Wonka factory. The biggest improvement you can easily make is to toast off the hazlenuts under a grill to maximise their flavour but I haven’t bothered this time because I cant be arsed and I usually end up burning half of them. Anyway, let’s get on with it shall we…
1) Grease and line a 27 x 19cm baking tin and preheat the fan oven to 180 degrees.
2) Melt the butter and 100g of the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. I find this very therapeutic for some reason…
3) While this is going on roughly chop the hazlenuts. These are soft nuts and you don’t want to end up with powder so I lightly crush them with the flat surface of a knife to break them into large peices without creating a pile of sawdust.
4) Also roughly chop the remaining 400g of chocolate. Use the blade of the knife so that you DO get a fine residue of surplus chocolate. It is very important that you DON’T use this is in the recipe. If only there was something I could do with this wasted byproduct of the preparation process…
5) Whisk the eggs & sugar together until smoothish. Then stir in the slightly cooled butter mix and the vanilla extract.
6) Next sift the flour and salt into the bowl.
7) Chuck the chopped hazlenuts and chocolate into the bowl. I always judge there to be a little “too much” chocolate so I couple of bits end up wasted. Again, recycling suggestions welcome.
8 ) Fold the mixture into itself until you have a big sticky gloopy bowl of dietary doom. In truth it isn’t beautiful to look at by this stage. With some recipes at this point you are tempted to lock the doors, take the phone off the hook and sit on the kitchen floor finishing off the mixture while you wonder what to watch on TV tomorrow as you take the day off sick. This is one of those recipes where the palid sweet raw ingredients aren’t as tempting as the finished product.
9) Spoon the mixture into the baking tin and bung it in the oven for approx 35 minutes. You are looking for brown/golden at the edges and risen/just firm at the centre. It’s still going to taste great give or take 5 minutes but overcook it and it doesn’t look so good while undercook it and it will collapse when you try to slice it.
10) Leave to cool. No LEAVE IT! Go and do something else you impatient pig.
11) Slice it and store in an airtight container taking care to store it in a secret location.
It should keep for about 3 hours, unless you really do get sick of it. Alternatively take it to work and leave it in the kitchen where a mysterious bermuda style food triangle almost instantaneously spirits away any goodies that pass through it.