29 December 2008

NO, I havent dropped off the face of the earth...

but I can see why regular readers may assume I have done so. I havent posted since the beginning of December and I really don't know where the time went. On top of the regular December madness I was ill, had sick kids to deal with and was without internet access for over a week (that was worse then being ill) however I have still been cooking and hopefully before New year I will at least show pics of what we ate over Christmas.

Another apology to the Daring bakers, I was unable to take part in this months very tricky challenge.

This month's challenge was brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand, and you can look at the hundreds of Daring bakers take on this challenge by checking out the blog roll.
Hopefully things will be back to normal by next month and I can look forward to another challenge.
Once again, my sincere apologies, I hope to back very soon. I hope everybody had a fabulous Christmas and has a prosperous New year.

07 December 2008

Maple chicken

This is always a hit, and always requested by my son, the recipe comes from Nigella Express and in the original recipe you use chicken and ribs, my son loved the original recipe so much that it toppled Elvis' backyard ribs from his top spot, he is extremely fussy about his ribs, I will blog Elvis' ribs one day, they are so good that they never hang around long enough to have their picture taken.

Like most people I am forever looking for ways to jazz up chicken drumsticks so I simply left out the ribs and used this tasty marinade, made with store cupboard staples.

Great for a simple supper.

The original recipe from Nigella Express

Maple chicken 'N' ribs

12 pork spare ribs

12 chicken portions, skin and bone still on

250ml apple juice, as sharp as possible

4 x 15ml tablespoons Maple syrup

2 x 15ml tablespoons vegetable oil

2 x 15ml tablespoons soy sauce

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick, halved

6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

Put the ribs and chicken in a couple of large freezer bags or into a dish.
Add the remaining ingrediants, squelching everything together well, before sealing the bag or covering the dish.
Leave to marinate in the fridge overnight or up to a couple of days.
When marinating time is up, take the dish out of the fridge and preheat the oven to 200c/ gas mark 6.
Pour the contents of the freezer bag into one or two large roasting tins ( making sure the chicken is skin side up), place in the oven and cook for about a hour and a quarter, by which time everything should be sticky and glossed conker-brown.

Serves 6-8.

This is such a simple recipe and I always have everything to hand in the store cupboard for it, the flavours are subtle though so overnight marinating is essential. It really is delicious, a slight sweetness against the savouriness of the chicken and as always, sticky food is always delicious.

05 December 2008

Sparkly gingerbread

I came to gingerbread quite late in life, gingersnaps, yes, fresh ginger, yes, gingerbread, no, not for me. That changed earlier this year when once again I was baking a cake I didn't like (i.e gingerbread), so I wouldn't eat it. I know, I know, I need to stop doing that as I always give in and find, yes, actually I do like that particular cake.

Anyway, in January I made Nigella's stem ginger gingerbread from How to Eat and I was converted, it is a wonderful cake and I will blog it one day, I just try not to bake it as I know I will eat it (I know, I know). Since then I have tried many gingerbread recipes but I always go back to Nigella's recipes.

These gingerbread muffins are Nigella's Christmas morning muffins, mine too now, but I make them often, not just for Christmas, as they are always welcomed by my family. This recipe is very easy and very, very tasty. Looking in Feast this week I noticed that Nigella suggests rubbing some edible gold leaf on these muffins as soon as they come out of the oven, and when my gold disco glitter arrived this week I knew it would be perfect on top of these muffins.

I am a magpie for anything sparkly, glittery or shiny, I love it and at Christmas I have a excuse to have glitter everywhere...even on my food.

Gingerbread muffins, from Feast

250g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 egg

50g dark muscovado sugar

50g light muscovado sugar

150ml full fat milk

1/4 ts balsamic vinegar

6 tablespoons vegetable or corn oil

4 tablespoon golden syrup

4 tablespoon black treacle

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/ 200c. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with muffin papers. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and spices in a large bowl. Whisk the egg in a large measuring jug then add the sugars, breaking up any lumps. Add the milk and vinegar then measure in the oil with a tablespoon. Use the same oily spoon to add the syrup and treacle so they don't stick to it. Whisk the mixture to combine and add to the flour and spices.

Stir until mixed but still fairly lumpy - the mixture may be more runny than you expect for muffins - but you need the dense stickiness of gingerbread, rather than a cakey crumb.

Spoon or pour the mixture into the muffin papers and bake for about 20minutes until the tops are dry; the muffins will still feel squidgy when you take them out of the tins to cool on a rack.

Sprinkle lightly with gold glitter.

These fabulous muffins keep very well, unlike regular muffins, in fact like most gingerbread they get better the longer you keep them. I am rather surprised the glitter shows up in the photo, although it looks like a rather subtle dusting of it I actually drenched them with it.

27 November 2008

Daring bakers

Caramel cake with caramelized butter frosting

(and optional caramels)

This months challenge was co-hosted by Dolores from Culinary curiosity, Alex from Blondie and brownie and Jenny from Foray into food.

The recipe this month was caramel cake with caramelized butter frosting, this recipe comes from Shuna Fish Lydon from Eggbeater.

This recipe involved making a caramel syrup, cake and frosting and to be honest I felt it was sugar overload but I went with it. The Caramel syrup freaked me out a little, it involved making a syrup with sugar and water and when the syrup was ready adding cold water to it, I was surprised actually that the syrup was a success, I imagined it seizing and setting in a big candy ball.

It looked like maple syrup and was tooth achingly sweet.

I decided to make cupcakes instead of a individual cake. The cake was a doddle to make, pretty much a regular cake recipe but with some of the caramel syrup added to the mix. The uncooked batter tasted divine.

The cooked cake was more like a sweet bread than a cake, very dense, but delicious.

When the cupcakes were cooked and cooled I prepared my frosting. I've done a caramelized butter frosting before and loved it. First you need to cook your butter until it is brown, pour it through a sieve and leave to cool. The cooled butter is then used to make a butter icing with icing sugar and the caramel syrup, a little salt is added and believe me this icing is so sweet you need that salt.

It was a dream to work with and made a pretty cupcake but anymore than one of these and I'd be in trouble with my dentist.

Optional caramels:

Golden vanilla bean caramels recipe from Alice Medrichs.

This was a optional extra and I wasn't going to do it, I've made caramels very successfully before and I can't leave them alone, for the sake of my waist I was going to leave this recipe out. Then I had a brainwave and although it is this worse for my waist I still gave it a go.

Caramel hokey pokey ice cream, yum.

I followed the recipe provided, but I didn't take it so far so that it would set into caramel, I made the syrup and let it cool, basically I made caramel sauce. It was delicious, I ate a lot of it straight from the pan, so creamy and, well, caramell-y, lol.

Usually when doing something like this I would make my own ice cream, today I cheated and did something Dorie Greenspan suggests in her book, dressing up shop bought ice cream. I bought some very good quality vanilla ice cream and let it go softish, I mixed some crushed cinder toffee through and swirled with the caramel. The caramel went to toffee as it froze but melts again as the ice cream comes out of the freezer.

Very quick, such a cheat but so, so delicious. Any ice cream lover has to try this, I have hidden it in the depths of the deep freeze for Christmas.

The original recipes can be found on the hosts blogs. Thanks to this months hosts Dolores, Alex and Jenny, don't forget to check out their blogs and the other Daring bakers blogs on the blog roll.

14 November 2008

Beanz Meanz ....Christmas?

Boston baked beans.
I have to admit that I adore good old baked beans, on toast with bacon chopped through it, heaven, not much beats it for comfort food. This recipe comes from Nigella Christmas, Nigella's newest gorgeous offering and I love, love, love this book.
This recipe was one of the first that really caught my eye, yes, in a book filled with luscious, decadent food I fall for baked beans. I was slightly mystified at first, why on earth would baked beans ever be classed as Christmas food? Hardly up there with turkey, stuffing and bacon wrapped chipolatas is it....yet still, I knew this was the first thing I would cook from this book.
Baked beans are not something I have ever cooked myself from scratch, they are one of the few things I am quite happy to open a tin for, my OH was mystified when I told him I couldn't go swimming as I had to spend the next 3 hours making baked beans, in fact is actual reply was "havent you heard of Heinz?" this was a adventure into the unknown.
Boston baked beans
Serves 8
500g haricot beans
2 x 15ml garlic oil
125g smoked streaky bacon, chopped somewhere between finely and roughly
1 onion, peeled and chopped
100g grainy mustard
2 x 15ml tablespoon tomato puree
100g dark muscovado sugar
1 litre of water, plus 60ml
1 x 15ml tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Maldon salt or 1 teaspoon table salt, or to taste.
The night before you want to make this recipe, soak the beans in plenty of water for 24 hours.
Once the beans are soaked, drain and rinse them and put aside. Preheat the oven to 150c / gas mark 2 and heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole or a ovenproof pan with a lid.
Fry the chopped bacon briskly in the hot oil and, after 5 minutes, turn down the heat and add the chopped onion. Cook alongside the bacon for about another 10 minutes.
Add the mustard, tomato puree and sugar and 500ml of the water, stirring everything together well.
Stir in the rinsed beans, and add a further 500ml of water. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for 10 minutes.
Put a lid on the casserole or pan and transfer to the oven for 2-2 1/2 hours or until tender.
Remover from the oven and add the remaining 60ml water along with the vinegar and, after tasting carefully (don't burn your mouth), the salt if wished.

The beans were a doddle, quickly flung together and then left to bubble away for hours, the aroma of these beans was amazing but when would sugar, bacon and mustard not be amazing. We ate these beans as Nigella suggested with sausages, they were the perfect match. The were far superior to any tinned bean, slightly to firm for my OH's taste but I suppose that is to be expected when using dried beans, they weren't hard, just firmer than tinned beans. My daughter absolutely loved them as did I, although they didn't convert my son, baked bean hater, we can't please everyone.

I will certainly make the beans again the salty, sweet, smoked flavour was to die for, but not for a quick midweek supper. Perfect for posh sausage, chips and beans.

10 November 2008

Finnish rye bread

It seems I spend a awful lot of time baking bread these days, who can blame me, it is so therapeutic, but I mainly keep it up as I prefer to know what is in my food rather than buying ready sliced shop bread full of preservatives to ensure a long shelf life. I usually have three or four different loafs sliced and well wrapped in the freezer ready to use at any time.
I eventually stumbled across rye flour which it seems is scarily hard to find around here....well it was, funnily enough as soon as I tracked it down in a health food store I noticed that Asda had stocked it all along.
I prefer to make healthier loafs using wholemeal flours and adding seeds or grains, every little helps after all. As soon as I spotted the rye flour I knew what I was going to bake, Finnish rye bread from Nigella's How to be a domestic goddess. Nigella describes this bread as dense, dark and aromatic in a extraordinarily comforting way, she isn't wrong. I couldn't stop myself from eating this rustic bread, it is wonderful, I served it along side ham and pea soup, it is perfect for mopping up soup.
Finnish rye bread from How to be a domestic goddess.
225g rye flour
300g strong white flour
7g easy-blend yeast or 15g fresh yeast
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tsp salt
300ml warm water
45g unsalted butter, melted
1 baking sheet.
Put the flours, yeast, sugar and salt into a large bowl and slowly add the water, mixing with your hands or a wooden spoon, until you've got a messy but vaguely cohesive lump of dough. Add a tablespoon of the melted butter and mix just to incorporate it. Start kneading, either by hand or with a dough hook, until the dough comes together smoothly to form a dense ball, adding more water or flour as necessary.
Use some more of the melted butter to grease a bowl and turn the dough ball in it so that the top is oily (and won't therefore dry out), then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for a hour or so.
When the dough's doubled in size, punch it down. Give a good few kneads, and then form into a round loaf. Sit the loaf on the baking sheet, cover it with a tea towel and leave to get puffy for about 30 minutes, during which time preheat the oven to 190c/ gas mark 5. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the loaf is cooked through.
Brush with the remaining tablespoon of melted butter and leave on a wire rack to cool.
I forgot to brush the remaining butter over the top of the cooked loaf, I found the melted butter on top of the microwave a hour after I had cut into the bread. I don't think it suffered for it. This bread kept very well, it made great toast the next day.
I used leftover bread we had to make croutons. I cut the bread into cubes, drizzled with olive oil
and salt and pepper and baked for 10 minutes,they were the best croutons ever.

06 November 2008

Goodbye Pistachio

Yesterday many of us received the tragic news that our dear friend Pistachio had passed away.

Pistachio was known to many on the Internet from Nigella.com and later helping Violet's with the job of keeping us in line on Violet's pantry a fabulous foodie forum, and a great job she did too. A avid blogger, who's recipes could always be depended on and became a regular in many homes across the world.
Pistachio was a warm, elegant and eloquent woman and she will be sorely missed.

Goodbye Pistachio, sleep well.

04 November 2008

Date and walnut flapjacks

I am always looking out for ways to boost my fibre intake and like most people would like the fibre filled food to taste good. As far as a snacks go "healthy" doesn't always equal tasty. Everyone knows that flapjacks, full of oats, are better than a bar of chocolate for a quick sweet fix but I still find most flapjacks just too sweet, most are made with sugar and added golden syrup, soon your healthy snack is turning into another fat filled treat.
Looking for healthier flapjack recipes I came across lots using dried dates, I was intrigued as in baking dates can give a lovely fudgy, softness such as in sticky toffee pudding.
The original couple of recipes I looked at didn't do it for me mainly because of unusual measuring method i.e teacups (?) and 'half tubs' of stuff....so I combined a everyday flapjack recipe with a inspired date and walnut flavouring. It worked.

Date and walnut flapjacks

125g butter
1 tbsp runny honey
100g dried dates, soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes, drained well and chopped
50g broken walnuts
50g caster sugar
a handful of raisins (optional)
125g oats

Heat oven to 180c, grease a 8in square baking tin.
Put honey, butter, dates and walnuts into a pan, heat until the butter melts. The dates will turn fudgy and almost melt into the butter.
Stir in the caster sugar and raisins if using.
Stir in oats and mix well.
Bake for 20minutes, cut into bars as soon as you take them from the oven but don't try to remove them from the tray until cooled.

I have to say I adored these flapjacks and will bake them for myself again and again, my daughter, flapjack queen, wasn't impressed so we'll stick to usual flapjacks for her.
The dates did give a lovely fudgy, toffee flavour to the flapjacks and were complimented beautifully by the walnuts. They weren't however chewy flapjacks I suppose that is down to the lack of refined sugar, so they had a more cakey texture, either way they were delicious.
Although dried fruit itself is quite high in sugar I feel better about eating these flapjacks than a everyday one, plus the dates go toward your 5-a-day.....well, you might have to eat a few flapjacks to reach that but I'm willing.

29 October 2008

Daring bakers

Two days work, two days work, in a heap on the floor, arghhhhh!

The Daring baker's challenge always comes around quickly, and reveal day, where the months challenge is announced is always a exciting day.

This months challenge is very poignant to all Daring bakers, old and new, as this challenge was to be co-hosted with Sher from What did you eat, Glenna from A fridge full of food and Rosa from Rosa's yummy yums. Sher sadly passed away this summer, a dear loss to all Daring bakers.
Glenna has also left the Daring baker's due to personal reasons, so Rosa is now hosting alone.
In memory to Sher her chosen recipe is this months challenge, and a exciting choice it was too.

This months challenge is 'Bake your own pizza's like a real pizzaioli'. To make our own real pizza dough, the recipe chosen was "Pizza Napoletana" from Peter Reinhart's "The bread baker's apprentice"

The challenge: to make your own pizza dough, and try the tossing method for at least 2 of the bases. Try to get a photo of the dough tossing in action.
The rules: To make pizza dough as stated in the recipe, a pizza sauce and topping. You must use both sauce and toppings but have the freedom to use whatever sauce, ingredients you wish.

I must confess, in a tiny little voice "I don't like pizza" yes, I know, I know, I am the strangest person to walk the earth but it just doesn't do it for me....or my children who also will not eat pizza. However I was still looking forward to trying this recipe as I do often make pizza for my OH.

The recipe given yields enough dough for 6 pizza bases, I halved the recipe to make three, I planned to make 2 pizza's for the challenge (one for my OH and a sweet version for me and the kids) and freeze the remaining dough for a rainy day.

While I am confessing I also have to admit I failed miserably in the dough tossing photograph challenge, I only had a seven year old nearby to take the picture and the results weren't good, lol.
The full recipe can be found on Rosa's blog

The dough had to be made over a two day period, on day one the dough was made in a mixer, kneaded by hand, split into balls and placed in the refrigerator overnight. I loved this dough, it was a little sticky but not gloopy, it was a very silky dough...if that makes sense.

On day 2 the dough is ready to be used, and then the fun starts.

Exactly two hours before you need to use the dough you must remove it from the fridge.

The dough had to be sprinkled with flour and shaped into disks, covered and left for two hours.
45 minutes before baking a pizza stone needs to be heated in the oven, as hot as the oven gets.

To toss the dough, generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with cornmeal, flour your hands.
Take 1 piece of dough, lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
When the dough has the shape you want, place it on the back of the jelly pan making sure there is enough cornmeal on it to stop the dough sticking to the pan.

I enjoyed tossing the dough although it was a little scary at first. It nearly ended up on the floor a few times. The dough shaped really quickly and gave a thin centre and thicker edges, which concerned me a little.
Now to get adventurous.

I used one piece of dough to make a sweet pizza, along the lines of a danish pastry. I spread the dough with apple puree, and covered the pizza in cubed, blanched apples. Sprinkled the apples with slivered almonds, butterscotch sugar and cinnamon and baked in the extremely hot oven for 5-8 minutes. After cooling the pizza slightly I drizzled with glace icing.

This sweet pizza was heavenly, absolutely divine. I adored the pizza crust but the centre was awfully thin and fragile, and couldn't cope with the liquid that came from the fruit. I decide to combine my two remaining dough balls to make a larger pizza for the savoury version.

I found it much easier tossing the larger dough portion than the smaller one, it thinned out more evenly.
For my savoury pizza I used a basic pizza sauce, this one comes from Jamie Oliver's book "Jamie's Italy"

Tomato sauce:
extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked
1 x 400g tin of good quality plum tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a saucepan, add a splash of oil and the sliced garlic and cook gently. When the garlic has turned light golden add the basil, the tomatoes and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Cook gently for 20 minutes, mashing the tomatoes until smooth, then taste, season again and put to one side.

I made this pizza to my OH's tastes, authentic it ain't.

I spread the sauce over the dough, sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese, add sliced mozzarella, peperoni, sauteed onions and a sprinkling of oregano. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Then it happened........the pizza emerged from the oven and I had to stop OH from eating it until it had it's photo taken....the batteries were flat, every other battery in the house wasn't powerful enough for the camera. With a "do not eat that pizza!" warning, I raced to the shop, raced back and got snapping. Pheww!

OH tucked in and announced this pizza was fantastic, delicious, passed a slice to his friend, friend agreed....delicious, passed a slice to friend number two, yep, still delicious.

Then, bang, whilst helping him self to a second slice, OH miss judges where the table is and my delicious pizza is a mangled heap lying on the floor.

It was one of those super slow motion moments, I could have cried, so could the boys, they were all really hungry.
So, I am asked " how long will it take to make another one"
I answer " two days...."
the boys "eh?!?!"
I loved this challenge, it was great fun. Would I use this recipe again, I'm not sure, the recipe is good, works well and is delicious but two days for pizza dough is a little much for me.
Thanks to Rosa for hosting this months challenge and don't forget to check out other pizza's on the Daring bakers blog roll.

21 October 2008


Fruited teacakes, not the marshmallow-y Tunnocks variety, always remind me of home. My Grandma always had teacakes in the house, and she was very pernickety about them, they had to be bought from the post office at the end of her street and they had to be that mornings batch, she didn't want them to have sat around. We would slice them open, toast them on the open fire, smear them with butter (always salted in my Granny's house) then we would 'write' our names on then by drizzling golden syrup off the end of a spoon over the hot, toasted teacake.
It took longer to toast and drizzle them than it took to eat them but it was fun, and they never tasted the same in anyone elses house.

I must admit I'd forgotten all about teacakes, instead I settle for a bought cinnamon and raisin loaf from the supermarket...oh the shame...in fact it is really delicious and my kids instead on a slice of it, toasted before bed.

Then we ran out of raisin bread.......tears before bedtime indeed.

After the kids went to bed I thought about replicating their favourite fruit loaf and that's when I remembered teacakes. I knew my kids would love them.

I found this recipe on my bookshelf, I should really look through books after I buy them. It comes from the 'Big book of bread' by Anne Sheasby, mentioned on the Focaccia thread. I tweaked it slightly by adding some much needed spice.
Fruited teacakes:

450g strong, plain white bread flour
1 tsp salt
25g butter, diced
1 1/2 tsp easy blend yeast
25g caster sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
115g currants/ raisins
about 250ml warm milk, plus extra for glazing.

Grease 2 baking sheets and set aside. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl,then lightly run in the butter. Stir in the yeast, sugar, spices and dried fruit.

Make a well in the centre, then stir in enough milk, mixing to form a soft dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Shape into a round, then place in a oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
Knock back the dough on a floured surface, then divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll and shape each piece into a round teacake and prick each one twice on top with a fork. Place on the baking sheets, cover and leave to rise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 200c/ gas mark 6. Brush the teacakes with a little milk, then bake for 20-25 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. The teacakes will have a lovely soft top.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To serve, split each teacake in half, toast lightly on a roaring open fire (a grill would suffice though) spread generously with butter and write you name on the top with golden syrup.

20 October 2008

Chocolate chestnut muffins

Chocolate chestnut muffins.

I was in the mood for something sweet after dinner tonight, but not sickly sweet, definitely chocolate but dark and sophisticated. I came up with these 'grown-up' muffins, grown up as in more for adults than regular muffins that easily please masses of children. I am the first to admit that I love everyday chocolate muffins but for a little luxury this recipe really hits the spot.

I combined two cake making method to make these muffins, the usual muffins method of wet ingrediants into dry, and the chocolate brownie 'melting' method. I melted very dark, good quality chocolate into butter and stirred in sweet chestnut puree, after cooling slightly I stirred in beaten eggs and a little sugar, then folded in flour and very good quality cocoa, to give the muffins a little depth of colour. As a extra special treat I poured in a glug of Tia Maria, I recently fell in love with Tia Maria and am now finding uses for it all over the shop.

Chocolate chestnut muffins:
100g best quality dark chocolate
100g butter
250g tin of vanilla sweetened chestnut puree
2 eggs, beaten
75g caster sugar
125g self raising flour
25g good quality cocoa
a glug of Tia Maria
Preheat the oven to 180c.
In a large heavy bottomed pan melt together the chocolate and butter, remove from the heat and stir in chestnut puree.
Cool slightly and stir in eggs and caster sugar.
Sift together the flour and cocoa and fold into the chocolate chestnut mixture, spoon into muffin cases and bake for 20 minutes.
Now, I did say that this recipe was intended for grown-ups, however my two children loved these and polished off two each before I hid the remaining muffins. They are very light, but a little goes a long way, they are very intensively chocolatey. I do think they would be very good as 'pudding' with coffee, or Tia Maria, after dinner with friends. The first thing that hits you is the chocolate, they are extremely chocolatey, and you can really taste it, I can't stand chocolate muffins that are just brown cakes with no hint of chocolate to the flavour.
Then the chestnut hits you, chocolate and chestnut, a great combination.
The liquor really gives a adult kick, it doesn't alter the flavour of the cakes, just adds a little depth to it.
Do give this recipe a try, and don't be put off by using chestnuts before Christmas, this is how I came to use the chestnut puree tonight, it had been sitting around in my cupboard since last Christmas as it didn't feel 'right' to use it any other time.
I recently heard of baby born born in the height if summer, who had been named Holly.
"you can't call a summer baby Holly" I declared, and so had a number of other people, as babies Grandad was very determined when he said, "It's not just a Christmas name!" So on that reasoning I decided if Holly wasn't just for Christmas then neither are chestnuts. Although these would be very good to leave out for Santa.....

15 October 2008

Stem ginger fruit cake

This is another of those cakes that I lovingly make for others when I don't want to eat cake, I'm not one of those people who can make cake and leave it alone. So rather than gave up baking for a while I simply bake cakes that I don't like. It's logical really.

I am not that keen on fruited cakes, although they are growing on me rather rapidly. However fruit cakes are very popular with my loved ones, this cake is sort of made up on the spot, I started off looking at my regular fruit cake recipe (Bara birth), bored I decided to tweak it, I threw in a bag of mixed red berries (cranberries, cherries etc...) a dredge of cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg then the stem ginger hanging round the back of the cupboard caught my eye, I chucked in a couple of stems (grated) and a spoonful of the syrup from the jar.

The recipe (as I remember it) is

Stem ginger fruit cake:
300g s/r flour
300g dried fruit (I used raisins, currants and a berry mix)
2-3 stumps of stem ginger, grated.
100g soft brown sugar
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
grating of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
100ml milk
2 tbsp stem ginger syrup.

Preheat oven to 180c/ gas mark 4. Grease and line a 8in loaf tin.
Mix the dried fruit, stem ginger, sugar, spices and salt in a bowl.
Beat in the egg.
Gently heat the milk, stir in ginger syrup. Pour into cake mixture and stir well.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1-1/4 --- 1-1/2 hours.
Cool, slice and spread thickly with the best butter you can find.

The aroma coming from the oven when this cake was baking was delicious, and reminded me of my Granny's house, ginger, cinnamon, mixed spices, perfect scent for autumn.

Maybe I got carried away with the cake, as for someone who didn't want to like it, I found it a little too delicious. It was moister than a lot of fruit cakes, probably because of the syrup, but as there was no fat in the cake it was hugely complimented by a thick smearing of butter.

06 October 2008

Cloud cakes

These little cakes are a firm favourite with my children, they are Nigella's Love buns from Feast, in which Nigella suggests these Mr Whippy-esque cakes as part of a romantic valentine's day meal.

The first time I made them my daughter renamed them Cloud cakes, as the soft gooey meringue topping looks like clouds. The name has since stuck and they will always be cloud cakes in my house.

The recipe is very straight forward, basic cupcakes topped in the most dreamy cloud like topping, a soft meringue cooked on a double boiler. A word of warning though, these cakes don't like heat, they wilt very quickly in the heat of my kitchen, note the landslip starting in the pictures, so I store them in the fridge, yes the cake does suffer a little for it but I prefer the topping straight from the fridge, the texture changes slightly once it's been chilled going a little more marshmallowy, in fact just like a Tunnocks teacake. Heaven!

Love buns (more aptly named Cloud cakes) from Feast.

For the buns:
125g soft butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 tbsp milk

for the topping:
2 egg whites
4 tbsp golden syrup
100g caster sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1tsp vanilla extract
(heart shaped sprinkles to decorate - if using on Valentines day.)

Take everything you need out of the fridge in time to bring it to room temperature - this makes a huge difference to the lightness of the buns later - and preheat the oven to gas mark 6/ 200c.
Put all of the ingrediants for the buns, except for the milk, into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pulse while adding the milk down the funnel, to make a smooth dropping consistency.
Divide the mixture into a 12-bun muffin tin lined with papers or heart patterned cases, and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. They should have risen and be golden on top; you want a little peak if possible.
Let them cool in their tin on a rack, and then take them carefully out of the tin to cool in their papers, still on the wire rack.

This is a topping that has a kind of meringue base, by which you whisk egg whites over heat until they are stiff and gleaming. Think Mr Whippy. So make a double boiler with a bowl that will fit snugly over a saucepan of barely simmering water, and put all the ingredients for the icing, except for the vanilla and sprinkles, into the bowl. Whisk everything with a electric beater until the icing becomes thick and holds peaks like a meringue. This will take about 5 minutes, so be patient.
Take the bowl off the saucepan and onto a cool surface and keep whisking while you add the vanilla. Then keep whisking until the mixture cools a little. You want a proper peaked and whipped covering here, so spoon some icing over each bun, and then dollop another spoonful over in a swirly fashion. Cover with sprinkles if using.

Do try this recipe, it would be perfect as Nigella suggests for a Valentine's dessert but even better for kids to get in a mess with, just keep some baby wipes handy as the topping gets everywhere, around mouths, in hair, oh the joy of having children.

24 September 2008

Daring bakers

Daring bakers time again, this months challenge was co-hosted by Natalie from Gluten a Go Go and Shel from Musings from the fishbowl and this was the first ever 'alternative' Daring baker's challenge.

The challenge: This was also my first savoury challenge since joining the Daring baker's, this month we had to bake Lavash crackers, the recipe came from Peter Reinhart's book 'The bread baker's apprentice' and also make a accompanying dip/ salsa/spread or relish to go with the crackers.

The rules: We really had so much leverage with this challenge,what with which seasoning or spices we added to the crackers and make whatever dip/ relish we wish.

The only strict rules we had were to make the Lavash crackers with either wheat flour or use a gluten free alternative.

All relish / salsa/ spread or dips must be vegan and gluten free.

I was really excited about this challenge, the lavash crackers were very simple to make, a lightly yeasted dough, that was difficult to knead but I got there, and the dough was wonderful to work with once it had had sufficient kneading.
The dough has to be rolled very thinly and placed on a baking sheet, we had complete freedom with out toppings/ seasoning so I used Nigella seeds (I am loving Nigella seeds at the moment) and on my second batch I used sea salt and cracked black pepper, hardly original but they tasted divine.

The big part of this challenge for me was making sure my dip was vegan and gluten free, I suppose I eat many foods that fit into both categories without realising it but it is different when I have to stick to the rules. I decided to make a dip using my favourite ingrediants red pepper, chilli, garlic and onion.

Roast pepper, chilli and garlic dip

1 1/2 red peppers
1 red chilli
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 onion
olive oil

Heat the oven to 180c
Cut red pepper into quarters,
place in a roasting tin with the chilli (quartered), garlic cloves (skinned but left whole), onion (cut into 4) drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, cool, and pulverise in the blender not to a pulp though, leave some texture.

I loved this months challenge, I have never made crackers before, but they were so easy and quick too, I also loved having a lot of freedom with the dip,it was delicious, and having the too there together were the perfect duo to have nibble on all night.

Thank you to this months host Natalie and Shellyfish, don't forget to visit their blogs where you will find this months challenge recipe and also check out the Daring baker's blogroll for more Lavash crackers.

23 September 2008

Award time

Beautiful site award

Maria from The goddess kitchen has given me this lovely award, the 'Beautiful site' award. Thank you very much Maria it is much appreciated. Do go and look at Maria's beautiful blog.

I shall pass on this award to some beautiful sites I often visit, do go and visit them yourself.

Culinary travels of a kitchen goddess

Tea and wheaten bread

The clayton's blog

19 September 2008

The best chocolate chunk cookies

These are my favourite cookies, crisp on the outside, soft, chewy and melting in the middle, I love them.
The recipe comes from Phil Vickery's 'A passion for puddings' this is a great book done in conjunction with Carnation milk to raise money for the charity 'Shelter'. Every recipe in the book contains Carnation condensed milk but the variety of recipes is great.

is the recipe Phil used for his petits fours in a hotel, they are so good, I have passed this recipe on many times and it always gets rave reviews.

I ommitted the hazelnuts and used belgium and white chocolate, the uncooked cookie dough keeps very well, infact it gets better if kept in the fridge for a few days. I must admit my version never looks like Phil's, his always look crisp, like biscuits, mine have never turned out like that but I still love them. They are especially good slightly underdone.

17 September 2008

Chocolate orange cake

I rarely bake for myself, meaning for my own benefit. I bake for my loved ones, what they like to eat. I bake for other people, most people that come to my house end up eating cake and I like that, it is homely, welcoming and comforting.
It was a bit of treat to bake something just for me, to be truthful the reason I decided to do this was, after a disagreement with my OH I decided to annoy him and please myself by baking a favourite of mine, that he just happens to hate, chocolate orange cake. Revenge is sweet, even more so when it's sugar sweet.
I find it so strange that anyone can not like the combination of chocolate and orange, the flavours merge together brilliantly but my OH can't stand the two together.
Baking is my ME time, I love nothing more than pottering around the kitchen rustling up delicious goodies, but it was more pleasurable when the sole purpose of this was for my own pleasure.
Looking through my books I found only a couple recipes for chocolate orange cake, both from Nigella but neither did it for me, one was a store cupboard cake using a jar of marmalade and the other was based on Nigella's famous clementine cake, I didn't like the clementine cake last time and to be honest the idea of boiling oranges for hours on end didn't interest me. So I went it alone, I decided on a plain loaf cake, the best, darkest cocoa I could find and for the orange I used freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest.

Chocolate orange cake

250g self raising flour
225g butter
175g caster sugar
50g good quality cocoa
3 large eggs, beaten
juice and zest of 3 large oranges
juice of 1 lime

Preheat the oven to 180c
Line a 2lb loaf tin.
In a mixer combine the flour, butter, sugar, cocoa and eggs.
Stir in the freshly grated orange zest.
Pour in the orange and lime juice. Mix well.
Pour into the prepared tin, bake for 1, 1/4 - 1, 1/2 hours.

A very simple recipe, and a very simple but delicious cake. Super moist, this cake was perfect with a cup of tea.

The orange flavour however wasn't as strong as I would have liked, it was very subtle, I thought adding the lime juice would have helped bring out the orange flavour, next time I think I would add a splash of cointreau or maybe a drop of orange oil...but still a wonderful treat for myself.

08 September 2008


Sourdough is bread with a natural leaven i.e no yeast. Dating back to 1500BC, it is the more than likely to be the original leavening available for bread baking. This is biblical bread.

As sourdough uses no yeast you need to create your own leaven or 'starter' of flour and water, and feed it for several days in the hope of catching the natural yeasts in the air and breeding them, as they breed they give off carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide produces a bubbly mix which (hopefully) will help your bread rise.
I cheated a little by making my starter on my bread baking day, hoping that the yeast in my dough (and therefore in the air in my kitchen) would encourage the natural yeasts in my sourdough to breed.

I used Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall's recipe from 'The family cookbook'

day one

Measure 3 heaped tablespoons of organic strong white flour into a large mixing bowl. Add a tablespoon of organic wholemeal flour. Tip in the juice of half a orange and enough lukewarm still mineral water or rain water (I used boiled and cooled tap water but Hugh says not too) to make a thick stir-able dough - about 4 tablespoons.

Stir this mixture and then beat it with a wooden spoon or a whisk for a few minutes to drive air into it. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set it aside in a warm place.

day two

Day two:

Check for frothy bubbles- signs that your mixture is 'breeding' and therefore producing carbon dioxide gas.

Beat in another 4 tbsp of white and wholemeal flour just as before, plus 4 tbsp of water.

Cover with more clingfilm and leave overnight.

day three

Day three:

Hopefully the dough will be quite active - bubbling furiously and rising up the bowl.

Beat in another 4 tbsp of flour and 4 of water.

Cover and leave overnight.
day four

Day four:
Tip in 6 tbsp of organic flour - 5 of white and 1 of wholemeal. Stir well and allow the dough to rise again but just for 2-3 hours this time.

final stage

The dough will look puffy.

Take out 2 tbsp of dough mix and put in a small bowl and put to the side. (This is now your starter for your next loaf.)

Tip in 125ml water and 300g organic strong white flour, plus 2tsp of salt and enough warm water to make a smooth dough.

Mix, knead, prove and bake (200c for 25 - 30 Min's) as you would any other loaf. This loaf will take much longer to rise than a regular loaf and won't rise as much either.

unbaked dough

fresh from the oven

Although this was a lengthy process it wasn't hard work, in fact it was rater fun to keep checking in hope of finding your starter had worked and started breeding.
The starter had a slightly sour smell to it, not unpleasant, rather like beer (unsurprisingly)
The dough was great to work with too, the finished bread was delicious, it wasn't as heavy as I'd expected it had a lovely texture and chewy crust....with a slight sour tang, delicious!

02 September 2008

Wholemeal honey bread

I love baking bread, it is one of those foods that you can't rush, it needs love and attention and never fails to make me feel like domestic goddess. Homemade bread is the best, nothing compares to the aroma that fills the house from bread baking in the oven. Well, maybe the only thing that rivals the smell is the taste of warm bread, fresh from the oven and smothered in butter.

I bake a lot of bread although havent blogged about it, I thinks is probably because it doesn't hang around long enough to have it's photo taken.

My usual homemade breads are a plain white loaf, always popular and naan bread (my personal fave) I try not to eat white bread often, preferring wholemeal / brown loafs in place as I have found homemade brown loafs quite heavy, until I tried this recipe from Rachel Allen.

This brown loaf took my fancy as it uses honey in place of sugar, I prefer natural sugars to processed white sugar, it takes a wee while but is well worth it. This recipe makes enough for two loafs I split the dough and added a bag of mixed seeds to one half of the dough (but forgot to take a picture :)) I think I preferred the seeded loaf and will make this one often.
Rachel Allen's wholemeal honey bread
makes 2 x 900g loaves
450ml warm water
3 tbsp honey
3 tsp dried yeast
600g strong white flour
300g wholemeal flour
2 tsp salt
100g butter,cut into cubes.

In a small bowl, mix the warm water with the honey, add the yeast and leave to stand for 5 minutes until frothy.

Place the flours in a big mixing bowl (or the bowl of a electric mixer) and mix in the salt and then rub in the butter. Pour most of the frothy liquid into the flour and mix to a dough - it should not be too wet and sticky; if it's too dry add more warm water and if it's too wet, add more flour.

Knead by hand on a floured surface for about 10 minutes (it may only take 5 minutes in a mixer) until the dough is smooth and springy. Place in a large oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave somewhere warm (like a warm spot in your kitchen) for 2-3 hours until it's doubled in size. It has risen enough when it does not spring back when you push your finger onto the dough.

When it's risen, knock back by punching it down in the bowl and kneading on a floured surface for 1 minute. (This is when I add the bag of mixed seeds) Allow to rest on the work surface, covered with a tea towel for 5 minutes before shaping it. (Rachel makes 2 round or oval loaves) Slash the loaves four or five times with a sharp knife.

Preheat the oven to 200c/ gas mark 6.

Place the loaves on a floured baking tray, sprinkle with flour (or more seeds if using) and cover with a tea towel and allow to rise (this may take another 45 minutes) and, again, leave somewhere warm until they have doubled in size. The dough has risen enough when it does not spring back when you push your finger onto it.

Remove the teatowel and bake the bread in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.

This is a delicious loaf, very light not dense and heavy. I sliced one loaf and froze it, next time I shall up the ratio of wholemeal flour to white.

This bread will be a regular in our house.

01 September 2008

Award time

I have been given another award, this time from Jilly at 2 drumsticks and a bottle of wine, please go and check out Jilly's lovely blog and see who else she passed her award on to.

I have to pass on this award to 5 other blogger's, here are the rules:

1. Choose 5 blogs that you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material and their contribution to the blogging community.

2. Each award has to have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog.

3.Each award winner has to show the award and put the name of and a link to the blog that presented him/her the award.

4.The award winner and the one who has given the prize has to show the link of Arte Y Pico blog so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5. Show the rules.

Thank you Jilly for my award, I am going to pass it on to:

1. Kelly jane at 'Cooking the books'

2. Linda at 'Thinking about food'

3. Laura at 'Hungry and frozen'

4. Amy at 'The New Nigella'

5. Kerry at 'Me and my three'

Congratulations to these very deserving blogger's, go and have a look at their blogs and see who they pass the award on to.

26 August 2008

Daring bakers

Chocolate eclairs

Daring bakers time again, my first challenge last month, was extremely challenging and although delicious the finished cake was not as attractive as I would have liked. I was so looking forward to this months challenge but slightly apprehensive at the same time, however when I discovered what this months challenge was any apprehension I had melted away.

This months challenge was hosted by Tony Tahhan and MeetaK from 'whats for lunch honey?' - they choose Pierre Herme's Chocolate eclairs from 'Chocolate desserts' (Pierre Herme & Dorie Greenspan) I was so excited by this recipe choice, I love Pierre Herme's recipes and I adore chocolate eclairs.

The challenge consisted of three elements, pate a choux (choux pastry), chocolate pastry cream
and a chocolate glaze.

Modifications: The hosts stipulated that the choux pastry dough used must be the Pierre Herme recipe, however we could veer away from the filling and glaze recipes as long as one of the original chocolate elements remained. I chose to keep the original chocolate glaze but substituted the pastry cream filling for regular whipped cream - while I like pastry cream, for me a eclair needs whipped cream.

The choux pastry was relatively straight forward, bring milk, water, butter sugar and salt to a boil, add flour and stir vigorously until the dough comes together, stir a little longer so the dough can dry out a little.

In a mixer, add the eggs to the dough, the dough is ready when it is thick and shiny. While the dough is still warm it needs to be shaped, this is the fun part, using a 2cm plain tip nozzle pipe the dough onto baking sheets in 4 inch long eclair shapes.

I found the cooking instructions a little odd, Pierre's recipe instructed to bake the eclairs for 7 minutes, then slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven door to keep it ajar. After the eclairs have cooked for a total of 12 minutes the baking sheets need to be rotated from front to back then cooked for a further 8 minutes. They should emerge from the oven golden and firm.

I am not sure why the spoon is inserted in the door, maybe to moderate the heat, maybe to let out steam (although I was always told eclairs need steam) and I am not sure if it was completely necessary but I did as I was told. I did veer from the recipe at one point by slitting the eclairs with a sharp knife as they came out of the oven - Pierre's recipe did not stipulate this but if hot air is trapped inside a eclair it will go soggy and no one wants a soggy bun.

When the eclairs were cool I sliced them in half and lay the top half on a wire rack to be glazed. Pierre Herme's chocolate glaze is absolutely wonderful, I will use this again for other cakes, totally delicious and very simple too.

In a saucepan bring heavy cream to a boil, remove from the heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir in butter and Pierre's chocolate sauce (dark chocolate,water, double cream and sugar,boiled together in a small saucepan,then cooked gently until thickened). This makes the most delicious chocolate glaze.

I piped the chocolate glaze over the 'tops' of the eclairs, I found piping it gave me more control over where the glaze went and allowed a thick covering. Once the glaze had set I filled the bottoms with very softly whipped double cream and placed the lids on top.

This recipe was delicious and I really enjoyed this one, especially compared to the stress my first challenge caused last month. I will definitely makes these eclairs again.

Thank you to this months hosts, Tony Tahhan and MeetaK the recipe for these eclairs can be found on their blogs, don't forget to check out other Daring baker's challenges on the Daring bakers blogroll.