18 April 2014

Revision Cookies

I say revision cookies, you might say double chocolate pecan cookies. Either is fine, really. Seeing as my life is pretty dominated by study right now it seems an appropriate title!

I'll admit to sometimes getting a bit disappointed when a see a blog post about chocolate chip cookies. I mean, come on, another recipe for a plain ole' chocolate chip cookie? Sure, they probably taste great, but most people already have their favourite recipe, and if not, there are millions of recipes out there on the internet. There really is only so much you can say about them.
It's only when I finally go and bake some cookies myself that I remember, yet again, that a good cookie really is one of life's happy things. The best cookies I've ever made were probably these ones, but I fancied trying something a bit different today. I had a tub of coconut oil that I kept meaning to try and use in baking, but had never gotten around to it. Based on thorough research some quick google-ing, I tired substituting it for butter at a ratio of 1:1. It totally worked, producing an incredibly tender, melt-in-the mouth cookie. I also wanted to experiment with some different types of flour to make the cookies taste a bit more wholesome, so I used a mix of ground almonds, ground oats and wholemeal spelt flour. I liked the extra oomph they gave the cookies, making them a feel a bit more substantial. Overall, a successful experiment.
Being up to my eyeballs in revision is not fun, but it's strangely rather comforting to know we have a tin of cookies downstairs, just incase of emergencies …..

Double Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 20

125g coconut oil
225g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
50g dark chocolate chunks
50g pecans, roughly chopped
65g oat flour (ground oats)
75g ground almonds
45g wholemeal spelt flour
3/4 tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp baking powder
35g cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Beat together the coconut oil and sugar until smooth and well combined. Beat in the egg, then stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.

Mix in all the remaining dry ingredients until completely combined.

Take small spoonfuls of the dough and roll them into smooth balls. Flatten them slightly, then place then on a greaseproof paper lined baking tray.

Bake for 10 minutes. Leave to cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

14 April 2014

Cherry Bakewell Tarts

In the two weeks since I last posted here, I've established several things. Firstly, I suck at blogging regularly. Secondly, revision is kind of taking over my life (and physics is totally the worst). Thirdly, I discovered I actually like bakewell tarts. Who know? It's a revelation! I've spent my entire life avoiding them, thinking I hated them, when actually they are, to borrow a Mary Berry catchphrase, 'rather scrummy'.
My main problem with a traditional bakewell tart was the addition of jam. Without it, a bakewell tart isn't really a bakewell tart. It's an intrinsic element, but one that provides a bit of a problem for someone who doesn't like jam - in other words, me. I think I'm the only person I know with this dislike of jam. I can't quite pin down my main problem with it - its probably a combination of the intense sweetness and the strange, slightly slippery texture which puts me off.

I found a suitable replacement however, in the form of some cherries, slightly simmered with a bit of sugar and lemon juice. It adds an extra step to the process but I really think it was worth it - it provides a slightly sharper layer of fruit on the bottom, with the cherries mainly still whole and just a little softened.
Since I'd already made one tweak on the traditional recipe, I decided to go all out and make another. Although I think that my ability to make pastry has improved vastly from the days of the completely rock solid pie crusts I used to make, it's still nice to have a change, so in these pies I used shortbread dough. It made a delicious alternative to shortcrust pastry, providing a buttery-crisp base for the afore mentioned cherries and the sweet, densely-fragrant almond sponge. Although I love the look of the flaked almond topped beauties here - my main inspiration for making these - I opted for a simple icing sugar and water icing to top off the tarts. I'm so glad I discovered the joys of the bakewell!

Bakewell Tarts
My inspiration to make these was from London Bakes beautiful little bakewells found here - I used her recipe for the almond sponge. The shortbread base recipe comes from here.
Makes 12 

200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
260g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

300g cherries - I brought frozen ones which are already de-stoned
80g caster sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

115g unsalted butter, softened
115g unrefined caster/granulated sugar
1 egg
115g ground almonds

Start by making the shortbread dough. Beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. Mix in the flour until the mixture starts to form a dough. 

Cut out 12 long thin strips of greeseproof paper to go across the bottom of each hole in the muffin tin. This will make removing the finished tarts a lot easier. Tip the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll out thinly. Cut into circles about 10cm across, and press each circle into a cup of the muffin tin, making sure the greaseproof paper strip is positioned underneath. In my experience the shortbread dough was prone to tear but was easily patched up. Leave the tin in the fridge to chill for about half an hour. 

Now make the cherry 'jam'. Tip the cherries into a small saucepan along with the sugar and lemon juice and simmer rapidly for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a jam jar to cool down a little. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. To make the almond sponge, beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes until very light and fluffy, and then beat in the egg. Fold in the ground almonds. 

Remove the muffin tin from the fridge. Place about 1 tsp of cherries, along with a drizzle of their juices, into the bottom of each shortbread case, then top with a dessertspoonful of almond sponge. 

Bake for about 35 minutes, until the pastry is browned and the almond sponge is cooked. Leave the tarts to cool down for about 10 minutes before carefully transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

Either serve the tarts as they are, or top with an icing sugar and water icing. I didn't measure the quantities of icing sugar and water that I used, but it's quite hard to go wrong, really. Just make sure the icing isn't too runny, or it will seep down the sides of the tarts.

I only had about 5 minutes to photograph these, hence the awful quality of the pictures. In an effort to put my perfectionist tendencies to one side, and because these really were delicious, I decided to post them anyway.

02 April 2014

Beetroot and Purple Carrot Soup

I'm so excited that spring is here! Spring feels like a time for new things; fresh and colourful and exciting new things. Things like a new hair cut (seriously overdue), some new clothes via the wonder of the world wide web (I'm such a sucker for promotional emails) and a new soup for my repertoire (such a great word, repertoire). So, yay for spring!
This soup is brightly coloured and vibrant, deep flavoured and earthy and full of nourishing vegetables. I wanted to make a soup with the purple carrots that retained their gorgeous purple colour - beetroot and red onion were a natural addition. The flavour isn't overwhelmingly of beetroot, and had notes of caramelised sweetness from the roasted vegetables. 
Kids are very often the toughest food critics, so I was really surprised when my little brother requested a second portion, especially after he specifically asked not to be served any of those 'yucky vegetables' he saw me preparing. I asked him if he liked it, and he said "yes, because I couldn't find any of those vegetables I saw you cooking in it". Ha! Little does he know…..

Beetroot and Purple Carrot Soup
Serves 6

6 small red onions
3 large purple carrots
3 cloves garlic
6 fresh beetroots
olive oil
2 litres vegetable stock
Sour cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 190°C. 

Prepare the vegetables: peel the carrots, onions, and beetroots. Quarter the onions and beetroots, then half the carrots lengthways and chop each one in half. Place the all the vegetables in a large roasting tray and drizzle with about 4 tbsp of olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and toss all together so all the vegetables are coating in oil.

Roast the vegetables in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a large saucepan with the stock. Slide the softened garlic out of its skin, and add to the pan as well. Simmer for 10 minutes. 

Remove the saucepan from the heat for about 5 minutes. Blend all ingredients together until smooth in a blender or with a hand-held immersion blender. Add more stock it necessary, and serve with a spoonful of soured cream.

24 March 2014

Rye, Chai and Double Chocolate Muffins

I don't think there are that many times you can feel virtuous about eating a chocolate muffin, but these might be the exception to that. They are seriously the most classy chocolate muffins I've ever made - I mean, look at that list of good stuff there in the ingredients: chai seeds, coconut oil, maple syrup, spelt flour, banana - the list goes on. I really don't know enough about health and nutrition to say whether these could be called truly 'healthy' or not (my guess is not) but compared to your average muffin, I'm pretty confident that these would be a lot better for you. 
I've been craving a good homemade chocolate muffin for ages. Ever since I really got into baking, that is to say, really, really started to become the avid cookbook reader, cake obsessor, and baking fan that I am now, 'shop brought' cakes lost a lot of their appeal. It sounds snobby, I know, but it's true. I used to love muffins brought from the supermarket, but when I tried one recently it tasted bland, dry and frankly, a bit chemically. It's not just the fact that homemade-made beats mass factory produced food taste-wise, but I also love how I know exactly what has gone into everything I bake. I can make substitutions, play with the recipe, sprinkle over just the amount of sea salt that I like. It's part science, part magic, and even when I'm making something as simple as a chocolate muffin, I still find the process fascinating. 
When I took my first bite, I was totally surprised at how good these tasted. Sure, they aren't as sweet as regular muffins, but I loved them! They were delicious eaten straight from the oven and when I had a second one the next day, I popped in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it up.  
I opted to use milk chocolate chunks in the batter and for on top of each muffin, just to add a bit more sweetness, but dark chocolate would also be great. The chai seeds aren't essential, they just bring a bit more healthy to the party (see here). The rye and/or spelt flour could be substituted for other flours, and butter could be used instead of coconut oil. I sprinkled each muffin with a bit of smoked sea salt, just to enhance the chocolate flavour - regular sea salt would be just as good, but if you have some smoked sea salt, use it here!

Rye, Chai and Chocolate Muffins
Recipe adapted from this one
Makes about 18

150g wholegrain rye flour
125g wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
70g cocoa powder
3 eggs
125g coconut oil, melted
1 banana, mashed
170 ml maple syrup
240 ml coconut milk
2 tbsp chai seeds
100g milk or plain chocolate, chopped
smoked sea salt or regular sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line a muffin tin with paper cases - the mixture yields about 18 muffins so you may have to bake them in two batches.

Sift together the rye flour, spelt flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder. Discard the last few tablespoons of flour left in the sieve if it's coarse and bulky. 

Whisk the eggs for 2-3 minutes (this step is easiest to do in a blender or food processor) then whisk or blend in the mashed banana, melted coconut oil, maple syrup and coconut milk. 

Pour this wet mixture into the dry ingredients, along with half the chopped chocolate and the chai seeds. Mix everything together until the flour and wet ingredients have just been incorporated. 

Fill the muffin cases with the batter until they are ¾ full. Top each one with a few small pieces of chopped chocolate and a sprinkle of sea salt. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 18 - 20 minutes. 

Once cooked, remove the muffins from the tin and leave on a cooling rack. These are delicious eaten warm, so tuck in right away!

12 March 2014

Orange, Cardamom and Chocolate Chip Scones

It feels a bit wrong calling these scones. The scones I know are round, for starters, and served with jam and cream and a pot of tea like so. I didn't really know what else to call them though, so I stuck with scones. Even then there is room for confusion - should they be pronounced scone (pronouncing the 'o' as you would in the word 'dome') or scone (saying the 'o' as you would in the word 'con')? And once you've worked out how to pronounce it, you have to figure out the correct order in which to eat it - jam first with cream on top or vice versa? Seriously, as I have just demonstrated, British people spend a lot of time thinking about these issues. It's a veritable minefield of confusion. 
With these scones, the second problem (the order of jam/cream) is not an issue, and once you've started eating one, I don't think you'll worrying much about how to pronounce it either. Chocolate and orange is pretty much an unbeatable combination, and the cardamon just gives it a little bit more of a kick. Eaten warm, smothered in the glaze and with the chocolate chips still warm and molten, these were undeniably one of the best scones I have ever had. 
I don't think that the deliciousness of these scones was entirely down for the flavour combinations, either. I've been using buttermilk a lot more in baking recently - it's widely available in UK supermarkets - and I love the fluffiness it gives to the texture of these scones. Apart from that, and the whole orange, chocolate and cardamon thing, this is pretty much the same scone recipe I've been making for what feels like forever. Butter is rubbed into flour, sugar is stirred in, the mixture is bound together with a liquid and patted into shape - you know the drill. The oven works its magic and these simple ingredients turn into a light, tender, chocolate-studded scone. You have exactly zero excuses not to make these. 

Orange, Cardamom and Chocolate Chip Scones
For the cardamon sugar listed in the recipe, I used golden caster sugar that I'd been infusing with about 2 tsp of cardamon seeds for a couple of weeks. For the glaze, I put the sugar in the blender until it turned to icing sugar and the cardamon pods were nice and finely ground. 
Makes about 10 scones

120g wholemeal flour
150g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
100g cardamom sugar
75g unsalted butter
zest of 2 oranges
100g dark chocolate chips
250ml buttermilk
For the glaze:
100g cardamom sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp fresh orange juice

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3.

Mix together the flours, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until well incorporated into the flour. The butter should be in tiny little lumps no larger than the size of a pea.

Stir in the orange zest and chocolate chips, followed by the buttermilk. Mix until the mixture is a soft, sticky ball of dough.

Liberally flour a chopping board or work surface with flour. Tip the dough out onto it and shape with your hands into a rectangle about 30x10x2cm.

Cut across the rectangle diagonally to form triangles. Place each one individually on a baking tray lined with baking parchment or greaseproof paper. Brush the top of each scone with a little milk.

Bake the scones for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

To make the glaze, grind the cardamon sugar in a blender or food processor until very fine. Transfer it to a small bowl and combine with the orange juice until you have a smooth glaze.

While the scones are still warm, but not piping hot, drizzle over the glaze.

27 February 2014

Grapefruit and Olive Oil Cake

Some recipes have great stories behind them. A recipe passed down through your family, a recipe that was inspired by an amazing trip you took, or a by meal you ate somewhere wild and remote and romantic. Those recipes make for great blog posts.
But sometimes, the story behind the recipe is: 'I saw this on Pinterest and made it and liked and took a ton of pictures and so here we are'. Those are the type of recipes that don't generally make the most entertaining blog posts. And, as you may have guessed, this recipe is in that category.
Still, this cake is so worth sharing.

Grapefruit is zingy and tangy and makes your taste buds feel alive. The cake is soft and crumbly, drenched in a sticky syrup and then coated in a simple icing sugar and water icing. It's a triple whammy of deliciousness. 

Grapefruit and Olive Oil Cake
Recipe adapted from the one found here. Originally from the Smitten Kitten Cookbook

110g caster sugar
110g demerara sugar
zest of 2 grapefruits
2 eggs
120ml olive oil
190g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp grapefruit juice
80ml buttermilk or plain yogurt

For the syrup
2 tbsp caster sugar
80ml grapefruit juice

For the icing
125g icing sugar
1½ tbsp water or grapefruit water

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Grease the sides of loaf tin with butter and line the bottom of the tin with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.

Mix together the two sugars and the grapefruit zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers release as much grapefruit essence as possible.

Whisk the eggs, and then the oil, into the sugar until smooth and the mixture is slightly pale.

Fold the remaining ingredients into the mixture until combined. Pour into the tin and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a tester comes out clean.

To make the syrup, place the grapefruit juice and sugar in a small saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for about 2 minutes until thick and syrupy.

When the cake is finished, let it cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing onto a cooling rack. Poke holes in the cake with a toothpick or skewer. Spoon or brush the syrup over the top of the cake and let it cool completely.

Once the cake is cool, make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and water. Spread over the cake and enjoy!