Thursday, 28 March 2013

Lemon Drizzle Cookies

Some days I long for a slice of a sweet, sumptuous cake. Some days I yearn for a bewitchingly biscuity cookie. And some days I must have both. It's for these occasions I turn to recipes such as this one, which mischievously blurs the line between the two. With all the familiar flavours of a lemon cake, but with the sugary chewiness of a good cookie they are more than merely a curiosity, but a delightful alternative to the usual afternoon tea treats.

Prep time: 15 Mins (Plus an hour chilling time)
Baking time: 16-18 Mins
100g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg (Beaten)
Zest of 2 Unwaxed Lemons
1/2tsp Lemon Extract
100g Ground Almonds
1/2tsp Baking Powder
100g Plain Flour
4tbsp Icing Sugar (Sifted)
2tbsp Juice from the zested Lemons

Oh an before I forget, you should get about 10 cookies out of the mixture. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and caster sugar, then beat in the egg, along with the lemon zest and lemon extract. Fold through the ground almonds, then sift in the baking powder with the flour and mix together to a smooth, stiff batter. Spoon the mixture onto some cling film, wrap up and place in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Take the dough out of the fridge and for each cookie break off some of the mixture, roll into a golf ball shape and place on the tray, evenly spaced apart. I put five balls on each tray, one in each corner and one in the middle, which gives them more than enough room. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 16-18 minutes until spread, light golden and just darkening at the edges. When you're happy they are cooked remove them from the oven, leave on the tray for 20 minutes, then carefully peel each cookie from the paper and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

When the cookies are cool, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl and pour over the lemon juice. Mix together with a fork or ideally a little mini whisk until smooth and glossy, then brush over each cooled cookie. All that is left is to leave the glaze to set on top, if you can resist them for that long! 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Cider Soaked Fruit Cake

I love fruit cake. It is undemanding to make, impressive to serve and delightfully gratifying to eat. Here I've pre-soaked the fruit in still cider overnight, which bestows upon the finished cake a magnificently fruity flavour, not to mention a rich, moist texture. Words really cannot do justice to how majestic this creation is, so I shall (temporarily) suspend any further exercises in hyperbole and delay you no longer.

Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus at least 4hrs soaking time)
Baking time: 75-80 Mins
350g Mixed Dried Fruit
Zest of a Large Orange
200ml Still Cider
200g Unsalted Butter
200g Light Muscovado Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1tsp Cinnamon
1/2tsp Nutmeg
1tsp Baking Powder
200g Plain Flour
2 Medium Dessert Apples (Peeled and cored)
1tbsp Demerara Sugar

To the kitchen! First up is the fruit, that requires a thorough soaking. Place the dried fruit in a shallow dish or container with the orange zest and pour over the cider, ensuring the fruit is completely covered with the liquid. Cover and leave to soak for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight, by which time the dried fruit will have become plump and juicy.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3, grease a deep 20cm loose bottomed tin and line the base with baking paper. In a large bowl cream together the butter and muscovado sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg, then sift in the baking powder with the flour and mix together. Tip in the fruit along with the soaking liquid, mix vigorously until evenly combined, then pour into your prepared tin. Slice the apples thinly, then toss together with the demerara sugar and arrange the slices on top. I'll let you decide on the pattern, but try to cover the top as entirely as you can.  Place the cake in the centre of the oven and bake for 75-80 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the cake. When you're happy it is cooked remove from the oven, leave in the tin for about 20 minutes, then carefully remove and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. That's the cake all finished, so cut yourself an enormous slice as a reward.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mud Cookies

The art of shamless tomfoolery in one that many of us forget as we advance in our years, so it's always good to occasionally put the pressures of the day to day to one side and instead delight in something altogether more silly. These scrumptious cookies have a serious chocolate flavour, but the process of the creating them is anything but. They are fun, plain and simple and a great antidote to the relentless vexations life throws at you. So why not indulge your inner imp and give them a go?

Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus some chilling time)
Baking time: 15-17 Mins
100g Dark Chocolate
150g White Chocolate
150g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
200g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg plus 1 Yolk
1tsp Vanilla Extract
50g Cocoa Powder
175g Plain Flour
1/2tsp Baking Powder

I warn you in advance, you are about to get your hands dirty! On a large board chop up the dark chocolate and 100g of the white chocolate into chips. It doesn't matter if they aren't uniform in size as long as there aren't any gigantic chunks. With regards to the other 50g of white chocolate, you need to chop it as fine as you can, so you can either do this in an electric mini chopper or give it a good seeing to with a sharp knife. Once it has been thoroughly obliterated set it to one side with the rest of the chocolate whilst you get on with the cookie dough.

Speak of the devil! Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg and yolk along with the vanilla extract. Fold through all of the chocolate, then comes the fun part. Sift in the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder and mix together until evenly combined. This will be near impossible to do with a spoon, so it's time to get stuck in and mix it through with your hands. You will get mucky, but just try and remember making mud pies as a child and you'll be fine. Once the mixture is combined spoon onto some cling film, wrap up and place in the fridge for around an hour to firm up. You can leave the dough in for longer if necessary, even overnight, but if you do just take it out 30 minutes prior to baking.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a large flat baking sheet with baking paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap. Break off a piece of the dough and roll into a ball, about the size of a golf ball. Place on the baking sheet then repeat, ensuring each ball is evenly spaced as they will spread during baking. You should get about 6 balls on a sheet and 14 - 16 cookies made in total. Also, I bake them in batches as I can only trust one shelf of my oven! Bake in the centre of the oven for around 15-17 minutes, until spread and just starting to crack on top then remove, carefully sliding the baking paper onto a wire rack. Leave on the paper for 30 minutes, then peel off and return to the wire rack to cool completely. Easy, fun and delicious.

Monday, 18 March 2013

What I've been baking - March 2013

Here's a little taster of what I've been baking and making recently. I love to reading your comments and questions, so if you have any let me know!

Cinnamon Banana Bread

Cinnamon is a magnificent spice, sweet and warming with a captivating fragrance. It has the extraordinary quality of feeling both enchantingly exotic and comfortingly familiar, which is no doubt why it is so frequently used in a myriad of cakes, bakes and breads. This banana bread is a splendiferous showcase of its charms, moist and sticky, with a heady mix of spice and sweetness. You can enjoy it naked, but I cannot resist defiling it with peanut butter. Indulgent to the point of excess that may be, but I make no apologies!

Prep time: 10 Mins (Plus some soaking time)
Baking time: 75 Mins
200ml Hot Strong Tea
150g Dates (Chopped)
100g Golden Syrup, plus 3tbsp
225g Self Raising Flour
75g Light Muscovado Sugar
1 heaped tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1 heaped tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 Ripe Bananas (Well mashed)

The first thing to take care of is soaking the dates. Pour the hot tea over the chopped dates and drizzle in 100g of the golden syrup. Mix together and leave for an hour or two until cool.

Once the tea mixture is cool the rest is merely a triviality. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease a 22cm loaf tin, lining the base with baking paper. In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon, then pour over the tea mixture in its entirety and mix together until evenly combined. Fold through the mashed banana, then pour into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around 75 minutes, until the loaf has risen and a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle.

When you're happy it is cooked, remove the banana bread from the oven. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack. Heat the remaining 3tbsp of golden syrup for 30 seconds in the microwave, then brush generously all over the top and leave to cool. You're all finished, so time to reward yourself with a thick slice.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Chocolate Fudge Slices

My old friend chocolate is somewhat of a libertine, wantonly frolicking with a multitude of other ingredients. Occasionally though it is worth letting the exquisite flavour stand alone, as I have done with this recipe. Rich, dense and fudgy these barely baked bars melt seductively on the tongue and the deep rounded chocolate flavour whispers bittersweet nothings to your tastebuds. Simple yet sexy, they are a perfect little slice of lunchbox luxury. 

Prep time: 15 Mins
Baking time: 20 Mins
100g Dark Chocolate (At least 70% cocoa)
100g Unsalted Butter (Cut into small cubes)
50g Plain Flour
50g Cocoa Powder
1tsp Baking Powder
175g Light Muscovado Sugar
2 Large Eggs (Beaten)

We begin with the chocolate. Break the chocolate into a bowl with the butter and melt together either over a bain-marie or in the microwave if you are confident in your timings. Set to one side when melted to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5, lightly grease a 30cm loaf tin and line with baking paper. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together into a large bowl, then stir in the sugar. Fold through the melted chocolate/butter and do the same with the beaten eggs until evenly combined. Spoon into your prepared tin, even to the edges and bake in the centre of the oven for around 20 minutes, until a metal skewer comes out slightly sticky and fudgy when inserted into the middle. Remove and leave to cool in the tin.

When cool, very carefully remove from the tin and slice evenly. I will leave the matter of girth in your capable hands! 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cinnamon Crumble Cookies

I ache for cake and smoulder for sweet treats. They can be sophisticated and delicate, or uncomplicated and comforting, it matters not. These cookies are firmly fixed in the latter camp. They are near effortless in their creation, sweetly spiced and satisfying in their consumption. I enjoy them the most when sunk deep in an armchair, with a hot cup of tea and a good book. I find that the hard boiled detective genre works best. 

Prep time: 5 Minutes
Baking time: 30 Minutes
200g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Light Muscovado Sugar
50g Demerara Sugar
250g Plain Flour
150g Jumbo Rolled Oats
1tsp Ground Cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a medium (around 32x22cm) roasting tin with baking paper, which is probably the most difficult part of this recipe!

In a large bowl cream together the butter and both sugars. I used some demerara as I think it gives the cookies a little sugary crunch, but it's fine to use entirely muscovado if that's all you have. Add the flour (you don't even have to sift it), oats and cinnamon, work together with a wooden spoon, then get your hands in and mix until evenly combined. Tip into your prepared tin, then press to the edges and flatten level on top. Place in the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes, until just starting to brown on top, then remove. Leave for five minutes in the tin then carefully lift the paper from the tray and place on a flat surface. You need to do this whilst the mixture is still hot, as it will be considerably easier to slice into cookies. Speaking of which, using a sharp knife slice equally into cookies and leave to cool on the paper. Once the cookies are cool you should be able to peel each one easily from the paper. Time to grab that book, as you're finished!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Whole Orange and Chocolate Truffle Cake (The Misadventure of Mr Orange)

You may have heard of nose to tail eating, but how about peel to pip? In this recipe I've used the orange in its glorious entirety, the zest, the pith, the lot. This gives the finished cake a unique citrus flavour, sweet and fragrant with a slight tangy bitterness. I love it, especially when combined with its most favoured bedfellow, chocolate. The texture is velvety, almost truffle like and melts luxuriously on the tongue. It's a fitting tribute to Mr Orange, who after giving his life for your eating pleasure deserves no less than this Viking funeral.

Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus 2 hours to boil and cool the orange)
Baking time 60 Mins
1 Whole Large Orange
175g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
200g Light Muscovado Sugar
4 Large Eggs
1tsp Orange Extract
100g Ground Almonds
50g Cocoa Powder
50g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder

First up is Mr Orange, who is sentenced to death by boiling. Mwah hah hah! Bring a saucepan of water up to the boil then add the orange and bring down to a simmer. Leave for 90 minutes (ignoring his screams), topping up the water when required, then turn off the heat and leave the orange in the water to cool until just warm.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a 20cm deep loose bottomed tin and line the base with baking paper. Chop the orange into quarters and place into a mini chopper or food processor. Blitz until smooth then set to one side. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time along with the orange extract. Fold through the ground almonds, followed by the puréed orange. Sift in the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder, mix to a smooth batter, then pour into your prepared tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 60 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the cake. 

When you're happy the cake is cooked remove it from the oven, leave in the tin for 30 minutes then carefully turn out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice, serve and say a silent thank you to Mr Orange.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Home Raised Chicken and Bacon Pie

I shall call these big beauties 'home raised' as opposed to 'hand raised' pies, for fear of offending the Pie Police (as I am on somewhat thin ground with them as it is). Whatever their title though, they really are as marvellous as they are monstrous, gigantic in size, chock-full of succulent meat and delicately perfumed with just a hint of thyme. The pastry is also one of my favourites, both simple to make and equally as effortless to mould. I have filled my pies with chicken thighs and unsmoked bacon, but I encourage you to experiment. Dried fruit, spices and other herbs would all be welcome additions.

Prep time: 30 Mins
Baking time: 60 Mins
100g Unsalted  Butter or Lard
100ml Water
290g Plain Flour
Pinch salt

300g skinned/boned chicken thighs
250g  back bacon
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
1 Beaten egg (Beaten)

250ml Pork or Chicken stock (The best you can afford)
2 Leaves of Gelatine

For the pastry, place the butter in a small saucepan with the water and bring gently to the boil. Whilst that's doing its thing sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. When the butter/water is boiling remove from the heat and pour over the flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon, then get your hands in (it shouldn't be too hot) and bring together to a dough. Transfer to a clean dry surface and gently knead for a minute or two until the dough is smooth, then place back in a bowl and set to one side for 20minutes.

Whilst the dough is resting you can prepare the filling and moulds. Roughly chop the chicken and the bacon and season each with a little pepper (I don't use salt as the bacon and stock are salty enough). Take two 9cm ramekins and line with cling film, ensuring the cling film overlaps the edge by several centimetres. Lightly grease with a little oil.

Once the pastry has rested it's time to bring it all together. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6 and lightly grease a large flat baking tray. Divide the pastry into three, reserving a third for the lids, then on a lightly greased surface roll out the rest into two rounds, each slightly larger than the base of your ramekins. For each round press into the base of your prepared ramekin and using your fingers, coax the pastry up the sides, until thin and sitting slightly over the top edge. The pastry should be quite pliable and you should be able to work it into shape relatively easily. Spoon some of the chicken into each case, followed by a sprinkling of thyme, followed by a layer of bacon. Repeat until the case is completely filled, as the meat will shrink slightly during cooking.

Grasp the overhanging cling film with your fingers and ease each filled pie from its ramekin. Unwrap the cling film and place on the greased baking tray. Divide the remaining dough in half and roll out two lids. Place them carefully on top of your pies and press the edges together to form a seal. You don't want any gaps or holes in the pastry. Make a small incision in the top of each pie, then open up to allow steam to escape. Brush all over with beaten egg and bake in the centre of the oven for around 60 minutes, until golden brown.

Once the pies are cooked you just need to fill them up with jelly. By far the best way to do this is using a little syringe. There is probably a specialist gadget, but I just use a little oral syringe that I picked up from the chemist. For the jelly itself cover the sheets of gelatine with cold water and leave to soften for 5 minutes. Heat the stock until hot, but not boiling, then give the gelatine a squeeze and stir through until dissolved. Place the cooked pies on a wire rack, then carefully syringe the hot stock into each pie through the hole in the top, a little at a time until full. Leave to cool completely, then chill in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours.

There is nothing quite like the excitement and nervous anticipation that accompanies home baking your own pies. They really are an adventure in the baking!