Hazelnut and Orange Biscuits

Biscuits are always a great thing to make with children, and are quick and easy enough to whip up for a quick teatime treat or to add interest to an ice cream – these go particularly well with burnt orange ice cream to make an elegant dessert.

Once you have made the biscuit dough, you can keep it wrapped up like a fat sausage in greaseproof paper in the fridge, slicing off rounds to cook as necessary. I’m sure they keep well, but they never last long enough to find out!

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RECIPE  

200g unsalted butter, softened

150g golden caster sugar

1 large egg

225g self-raising flour

the finely grated zest of an unwaxed orange

the juice of an orange

100g very fresh, whole roasted hazelnuts


METHOD

If your hazelnuts are not roasted, put them into a broad-bottomed pan over a medium heat and cook for around five minutes until they are lightly browned and aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them.

Zest the orange and set the zest aside for now, then juice the orange and boil the juice down over a high heat until you are left with a tablespoon of thick reduced syrup. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Bash the hazelnuts in a mortar until they are reduced to small lumps, don’t go too far and leave yourself with dust, these biscuits are best with a bit of texture. Children love doing this bit.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer, or by hand. Add the egg and whisk it in, then sieve in the flour, add the zest and nuts and combine well, then beat in the orange syrup.

On a lightly floured piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper, divide the biscuit dough in two and shape into two fat sausages about 2 inches (5cm) in diameter. Wrap in parchment or greaseproof paper, and refrigerate for at least two hours, they are even better left overnight.

Heat the oven to 190C/ gas 5.

Slice the dough into as many round biscuits as you wish to cook, about as thick as your little finger. Place them on a greased baking tray, ensuring there is plenty of space between them, and bake in the middle of the oven for around 8 minutes. They should not have coloured significantly, keep an eye on them because they go from perfect to burnt in a flash.

Using a pallet knife, remove the biscuits to a wire rack immediately. At this stage they are very soft and bendy, but they crisp up very quickly. They will be crisp, nutty and scented with orange.

They are delicious served warm with burnt orange ice cream, which should be removed from the freezer 30 mins before serving.

Spiced Madeleines

If you have made the Burnt Orange Ice Cream I put up here last week, you may be wondering what to do with all the egg whites that were left over. By a stroke of serendipity these gorgeously crispy and chewy spiced Madeleines not only go perfectly with the ice cream, they will also provide a use for your egg whites.

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RECIPE makes 24

225g ground almonds

125g plain flour

200g golden caster sugar

350g unsalted butter, softened

150g runny honey

300g egg whites

1/4 tsp Chinese 5-Spice

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground star anise

the finely grated zest of a large orange

the finely grated zest of a large lemon


METHOD

Mix the ground almonds, flour, sugar and spices in a large bowl, mix together thoroughly, then add the honey, butter and citrus zest and beat together well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until fully aerated and at least doubled in size.

Take a large spoonful of the whisked egg white and fold through the batter, to loosen it. Now add the remainder of the egg white and carefully fold it through the loosened batter, taking care not to lose all the air in the egg. Put in the fridge for 20 minutes while you heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4 (if you can avoid it, don’t use a fan oven as it cooks too quickly).

If you have them, lightly grease some Madeleine moulds, then scatter a light dusting of plain flour over them. If you don’t have Madeleine moulds then just use small bun trays.

Carefully pour the mixture into your moulds, not too much in each as they will spread out and rise.

Bake for around 15 minutes, when the tops will be golden and a skewer inserted will come out clean. Leave to cool in the tray for five minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

These freeze particularly well, so if 24 seems a few too many then save some for a picnic.

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Brownies

I look after one of my grandsons before school, and one of the things that he loves to do is baking. I therefore have a stock of easy recipes that he can follow, without too much risk of disaster! It keeps him occupied, gives him a huge sense of achievement, and is also a valuable learning experience as he learns the role and function of the various ingredients.

These brownies are particularly delicious; we made them the first time yesterday morning, and they were so good we decided that it would be a nice gesture to make another batch for his class and teachers. We did that this morning, and they are cooling on a rack as I write this.

I have specified spreadable Lurpak here, just because Delia Smith has tested every brand of spreadable butter and Lurpak is what she recommends. I have however baked using all kinds of spreads and there isn’t so much difference that you need to worry about it. Use whatever spread you have to hand and you will still be delighted with the results.

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RECIPE makes 18

175g spreadable Lurpak (unsalted)

350g golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 large eggs

125g plain flour

1 level tsp baking powder

50g cocoa powder

a couple of good handfuls of cacao nibs


METHOD

You will need a small ovenproof dish – I use one that is 10 inches by 8 inches.

Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas 4 – don’t use the fan if you can avoid it, it cooks too quickly.

Cut a sheet of baking parchment to fit the bottom of the dish. Grease the bottom and sides of the tin with a little of the Lurpak, lay the parchment in the bottom of the tin and grease the parchment as well.

Melt the Lurpak over a low heat, put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. When melted, pour the Lurpak over the sugar, add the vanilla extract and stir well until completely incorporated.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into the mixture and stir well until completely incorporated. Add the cacao nibs and stir again.

Break the eggs into another mixing bowl and whisk (preferably with an electric whisk) until the eggs are foamy and their volume has tripled. Pour a little of the whisked egg into the mixture, stir well to loosen the consistency, then carefully add the rest of the egg and gently fold through the mixture. The idea is to keep as much air as possible, so this is a job that I normally do. Children tend to have two speeds: dead stop and sprint!

When the eggs are completely incorporated, pour the mixture into the baking dish, gently pushing into the edges and corners.

Bake for around 25 minutes, until a thin crust has formed but the mixture is still slightly sticky inside, you want a fudgy interior so use a skewer to give you an idea when it has reached the correct consistency.

Leave to cool in the dish for ten minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely before cutting into the desired number of brownies.

Microwave-Steamed Sponge Pudding

For every ten times that I fancy a steamed pudding, I probably act on it once. It’s just such a colossal faff, all that wrapping, and string, and steam, and forgetting to top up the water…

The results are always worth it, but sometimes life is just too busy. Imagine my delight then when I spotted Rose Elliot’s foolproof method for cooking a steamed pudding in a microwave. I have made this successfully with golden syrup and maple syrup, but the method lends itself to experimenting with all kinds of steamed puddings – including Christmas pudding. We have missed the boat on that one, but this year I’ll be testing it in the run-up to Christmas.

In general, it is a truth that in life every shortcut has a cost. Not this time; this shortcut saves hours of time and a load of energy, and the results are exactly the same as if you had done it the long, traditional way.

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RECIPE 

175g unsalted butter, room temperature

175g golden caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

100ml whole milk

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 medium hens eggs, or 2 duck eggs

5 tbsp (approx) syrup


METHOD

Put the butter, sugar, flour, milk, baking powder, eggs and 1 tbsp of the syrup into a mixing bowl and beat together until light, fluffy and creamy. If you don’t have a mixer you can achieve great results with a wooden spoon and elbow-grease.

Pour the remaining syrup into the bottom of a lightly-greased plastic or Pyrex microwaveable pudding bowl, then spoon the sponge batter carefully on top.

Put the bowl in to the microwave, uncovered, and cook on full power until the sponge has risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The time it takes will vary, depending on the power of your microwave. Anything between 10 minutes for a 600W machine, down to around 5 minutes for an 850W machine. There’s no need to worry, you can cook it for a few minutes, have a look, cook it a bit longer and have another look and continue until it is ready. It won’t ruin it.

Allow the pudding to stand for a few minutes then turn it out onto a warmed serving plate so that the syrupy top is uppermost. You can add a little more syrup if you want to be really indulgent.

Lime Cream Cheese Cake

Don’t be fooled by the name, this isn’t a cheesecake, rather it is a cake made with cream cheese. Now, that might strike you as a strange thing to use to make a cake, but actually it is no stranger than using butter, they are both dairy products after all.

The cream cheese adds a delicate, moist lift to the sponge itself, while the lime is sharp and exciting. Every time I make this sponge I wonder why I don’t make it more often, in fact I think I will make it again this evening…

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RECIPE

For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature

150g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

the finely-grated zest of 2 limes

250g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs, at room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (my own vodka vanilla extract works brilliantly)

225g self-raising flour

For the syrup:

4 tbsp lime juice

50g caster sugar

For the glaze:

150g icing sugar

the grated zest of a lime

approximately 20ml lime juice


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment.

Put the butter, cream cheese and lime zest in a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly until soft, fluffy and creamy. This is easiest done if you have a stand mixer with a beater attachment. Scrape the sides of the bowl down then gradually add the sugar, beating as you go. If using a stand mixer get it to maximum speed and beat, and beat, and beat… and when you think you’ve beaten it enough, beat it some more.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl with the vanilla extract and whisk them together. Gradually add the eggs to the beaten butter mixture, beating well after each addition. If the mixture curdles just add a tablespoon of the flour and beat it in – the best way to avoid curdling is to ensure that all of your ingredients are at the same temperature.

Once all the eggs have been incorporated, gently fold the flour into the batter using a metal spoon until it is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, shortly before the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the lime syrup: put the lime juice and sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. keep it warm.

Keeping the cake in the loaf tin, place it onto a wire cooling rack. Prick the surface all over and spoon the hot syrup all over it, it will absorb into the cake as it cools. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, loosen the sides with a broad knife and carefully lift out using the parchment as a support. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and grate the zest of a lime into it. Now gradually add sufficient lime juice to make a thick but runny icing. Spoon over the top and allow it to set.

Pretzels

There seem to be several thousand different ways to make pretzels, and I’m sure that most of them work, though one or two recipes that I have tried have been abject failures. All that matters is the end result, and this method – which I found in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book – delivers every time.

You can make pretzels sweet as well as savoury, just sprinkle them with demerara sugar instead of salt before baking.

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RECIPE – makes 8 large pretzels

175ml hand warm water

1/2 tsp caster sugar

1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast

300g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp melted butter

flaky sea salt (or demerara sugar if making sweet pretzels)


METHOD

Mix the warm water with the sugar and yeast and leave in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble.

Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre, add the yeast and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a loose dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough starts to loose it’s stickiness.

Flatten and spread the dough out into a loose square, and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead for a further five minutes, this will distribute the salt thoroughly throughout the dough. When the dough is smooth and elastic, roll it into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film or a damp cloth, in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 170C/ Gas 3. Put about 1 1/2 litres of water in a large pan with the bicarbonate of soda and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, punch the dough back down and give it another brief knead, then cut it into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a long thin rope, about 45cm (18 inches) long.

Take one end of the rope and bring it to the centre, then take the other end of the rope and bring it across the first end and twist it underneath to form a knot in the centre, then bring it to the middle. Press the ends tightly on the top edge of the dough rope to seal them – see the picture for the end result.

Gently lower each piece of shaped pretzel dough into the boiling water using a slotted spoon, you can probably do 3 at a time. After about ten seconds they will start to rise to the top, but allow them to boil for 30 seconds before removing with a slotted spoon and placing onto a baking sheet lined with parchment while you do the rest.

Once the pretzels have all been boiled, brush them with the egg and butter glaze and sprinkle with the sea salt. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes until they are a deep and glossy brown, and crisp. Cool on a wire rack before eating – you might want to have the dough for eight more proving in a corner, these go fast!

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

If you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones, you will be familiar with the walk of shame. My wife put me through it yesterday, ringing a bell and crying Shame! at me, all around the kitchen. My crime? I bought a punnet of blackberries, rather than taking off to the woods to pick my own. I know, I know, but it was a busy day…

She changed her tune when this came out of the oven though; who can resist the meltingly soft, sweet and sharp tang of apples and blackberries, set against the rich, buttery crunch of a crumble topping? Not me, and it’s why I love every time of the year – there is always something coming into season that is a joy to eat.

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RECIPE 

For the filling:

3 medium eating apples, peeled, cored and quartered

3 Bramley cooking apples, peeled, cored and quartered

2 tsp cinnamon

100g Demerara sugar

300g blackberries

a small pinch of fine sea salt

For the topping:

175g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

140g soft brown sugar

35g porridge oats

180g cold unsalted butter, cubed


METHOD

Heat the oven to 170C/ gas 3.

Prepare the apples, keep them quartered even if the pieces seem a bit large.

In a separate bowl, mix the cinnamon with the Demerara sugar.

In a baking dish, place half the apples (a mixture of both types) in a single layer on the bottom. Sprinkle with one-third of the sugar/cinnamon mix. Now add all of the blackberries on top, again in a single layer, and sprinkle another one-third of the sugar/cinnamon mix on top. Now place the remainder of the apples on top of the blackberries and finish with the final one-third of the sugar/cinnamon mix.

Take a small pinch of fine sea salt and scatter evenly over the fruit. You only require a small pinch, but it gives the final flavour an immense lift.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry topping ingredients. Add the cold, cubed butter and using your fingers gently rub the dry ingredients into the butter until you end up with a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs. It doesn’t have to be evenly sized, and if you have a variety of sizes of lumps of butter that will just make your crumble better. If you struggle with rubbing-in, you can put everything into a food processor and pulse it carefully, just be careful not to over-process it.

Scatter the crumble topping over the top of the fruit, ensuring that everything is covered.

Bake, uncovered, in the middle of the oven for 45-60 minutes. Keep an eye on it, the last thing you want is a burnt topping. When it is ready, the topping should be golden and crunchy, and the fruit should be soft with the moisture from the apples and blackberries bubbling through.

Vanilla Extract

First, a word of warning: never, Never, NEVER buy vanilla essence. It’s a nasty chemical substitute for the real thing.

Second: make your own vanilla extract. It is ridiculously simple and involves nothing more than two ingredients. Even the most pure and expensive commercially-produced vanilla extract contains a number of additional elements, including sugar. You don’t need them in your life. What you DO need are two kinds of vanilla extract: made with vodka for a clean vanilla taste, and made with dark rum for a darker, more complex caramel flavour. Experiment with both kinds in your baking and you will soon be turning out cakes so good you would swear they had been made by Mary Berry.

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RECIPE – makes 100ml

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

100ml of vodka or dark rum


METHOD 

It doesn’t get any easier than this: put both halves of the split vanilla pod into a 100ml bottle (the exact size is largely immaterial, anything between 50ml and 120ml will produce perfect vanilla extract). Top up with the vodka or rum, then put the lid on and set it aside for at least a month. It will last for as long as you need it to, but if my experience is anything to go by you will use it up pretty quickly once you discover just how good it is.

Christmas Cake

I know, Christmas is seven weeks away so why post a recipe for Christmas cake now? Well, the truth is that if you haven’t already made yours, you’re in danger of it not being as good as it can be.

A good Christmas cake needs time to sit and develop, and you need time to ‘feed’ it. Feeding your Christmas cake is simply brushing it with alcohol several times before the big day. More details below, so let’s get cracking with this luscious recipe that is the culmination of years of experiments. This is the one that always gets eaten, and eaten fast!

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RECIPE 

250g sultanas

100g currants

400g raisins

75g mixed peel

zest of a lemon, finely grated

juice of 1/2 a lemon

zest of an orange, finely grated

80ml sherry

175g butter, room temperature

175g dark muscovado sugar

25g black treacle

3 medium eggs, room temperature, beaten

225g plain flour

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

40g ground almonds

165g glace cherries

25g glycerine


METHOD 

The day before you plan to make the cake, place the sultanas, currants, raisins, mixed peel, finely grated lemon zest, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, the finely grated zest of an orange and the sherry into a large bowl. Mix together thoroughly to combine, cover with cling film and set aside for 24 hours.

Heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1. Line the base and sides of a 20cm spring-form cake tin with baking parchment, leaving at least four inches of parchment standing above the level of the tin. Also, put baking parchment around the outside of the tin, also standing about 4 inches proud of the top of the tin and tied off with string. This prevents the top of the cake from drying out and burning.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to beat the butter, muscovado and treacle until it forms a smooth paste. Mixing with a spoon prevents air being beaten into the mix, air in the mix of a fruit cake is a disaster as it allows the fruit to all sink to the bottom.

Now gradually add the beaten eggs to the butter mix, a little at a time to prevent the mixture from curdling. If it does curdle, just add a spoonful of your flour and beat it in.

When all the egg has been incorporated, mix the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon and ground almonds in a separate bowl. Drop the glace cherries into the flour and ensure they are fully coated – this gives them a coating that provides enough friction to prevent them from dropping to the bottom of the mix while it is baking. Now add the flour mix, with the cherries, to the butter and eggs. Fold in gently with a large metal spoon.

Add the glycerine to the soaked fruit and stir well, this will help to keep the cake moist. Add the fruit to the cake batter and gently fold it through until it is evenly mixed.

You will now have quite a stiff batter – don’t panic, this is as it should be. Spoon it into your lined cake tin and level it off with a spatula.

Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately two hours. Check it is cooked by inserting a skewer in to the centre of the cake, if it comes out clean then your cake is ready. If it comes out with some cake mix stuck to it then cook for a further 15 minutes, repeat the process if necessary, but do not cook your cake for longer than 2 1/2 hours.

Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack, in the tin.When the tin is warm to the touch you can remove it, but leave the parchment on the cake and the cake on the rack until it is fully cold.

When the cake is fully cold, use a pastry brush to generously brush the top and sides of the cake with sherry, Cointreau, rum, brandy, Calvados or any spirit of your choice. Don’t drown the cake, but don’t be frugal either. Here is the important bit:

DO NOT PIERCE YOUR CAKE!

It is the single biggest reason for dry, inedible fruit cakes. The alcohol will soak in quite happily – there is no need to dig holes in your cake so all of its moisture can evaporate more easily.

Wrap the cake in a large sheet of baking parchment, then cover that with a large sheet of baking foil and wrap it tightly. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

To feed your cake, brush it as above, A MAXIMUM OF THREE MORE TIMES using your preferred fortified wine or spirit. Leave at least a week between each feed, and allow at least seven days after the last feed before you decorate the cake.

Now isn’t the time to give decorating tips, I will leave that until nearer the time…

Banana Oat Mini-Muffins

I hate wasting food. Okay, sometimes there will be a piece of past-its-best veg sitting in the fridge that has been forgotten because it has been buried under something else, but it’s rare that a use can’t be found for it. Vegetable peelings and trimmings, and not quite at their best leeks, celery, carrots and the like can always be pressed into service to make a stock. As for fruit, anything on the turn can be turned into cake fillings or immersed in alcohol and soaked for a few weeks to make a wicked punch, while bananas are (to my mind) at their most useful when the skins are seriously spotted with black but the fruit is still quite firm. From these you can make banoffee pie, banana bread, or these lovely little muffins.

Small enough to eat in two bites, loaded with flavour and (whisper it) they’re healthy as well. Made with a minimum amount of sugar and sunflower oil rather than butter, they are a great guilt-free treat, and are also great as part of your breakfast. They freeze well, so there’s no need to worry about eating them all in a hurry.

The ones pictured below have no topping or garnishing, but you can sprinkle a little demerara sugar over the top five minutes before they come out of the oven for a crunchy topping and a little extra indulgence.

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RECIPE – makes around 30 small muffins, or 15 large

100g oats

200g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

100g soft light brown sugar

4 large ripe bananas

1 large egg, beaten

60ml sunflower oil

75g chopped walnuts

demerara sugar to finish (optional)


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4. Line a cupcake tin with paper cases of the appropriate size.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar. Mix well.

In a separate large bowl, mash the bananas until smooth then add the beaten egg and sunflower oil and mix thoroughly. Now add the dry ingredients and the walnuts over the top of the banana mix, fold through until all the ingredients are just combined; take care not to overmix.

Spoon the mixture into the pastry cases then bake for 15-20 minutes (for small muffins) or 20-25 minutes for larger muffins. They are ready when the tops are browned and firm, and when you insert a skewer or cocktail stick it comes out clean.

If you wish, five minutes or so before they are finished, sprinkle a little demerara sugar over the top of each muffin to add little crunch.