Rocky Road

Last Friday saw the UK raising money for Red Nose Day. At my work, we have one charity that we raise money for each year so nothing was organised to raise money for Red Nose Day. My dad, however, was involved in a number of events to raise money for this cause. First, he works in a call centre which was being used to take calls from members of the public wanting to make donations. Secondly, he was getting his head shaved to raise money. When he was younger, my dad used to have long hair and as he has gotten older he’s kept it short but has never dared to get rid of it completely. Why would he? He hasn’t started to lose any yet and it is still it’s natural colour (no grey appearing yet). Good on him for going through with it but now he’s worried it won’t grow back. Thirdly, charity bake sale. Cue him asking me (very nicely) if I’d do some baking for him. He re-requested some triple chocolate cookies that I baked for his team last month, which I did bake for him. But the week before, I found out that maltesers were promising to donate £5 for every photo that was posted on the Facebook page showing a Red Nose Day charity bake using maltesers. Now, that wasn’t a challenge I was going to ignore. So, it got me thinking about what I could make. Crush some maltesers and mix them into the cookie mix instead of chocolate chips? Nope, his team were looking forward to the original cookie recipe. Make some malteser cupcakes? Nope, last time I was involved in a cake sale, the cupcakes were still there until the end. Make a malteser cake? Nope, my dad would only worry about cutting it into pieces.

Rocky road….chocolate….biscuits….marshmallows….maltesers…winner!!!

20170323_173315

A bonus about rocky road is that it is simple to make and can be made in advance. No manic baking the day before trying to get everything ready for me to to take round to my dad. So, as mentioned above, my recipe only consists of four ingredients, yes, FOUR!! Everyone has an opinion on what should be in rocky road. Dried fruit, cherries, nuts, marshmallows, certain type of biscuit, certain type of chocolate, dusted with icing sugar….The list is endless. For me, I like to keep it simple. Adding too much can mean fewer people will buy it. With this recipe you can interchange the type of biscuit used (shortbread, shortcake, cookies, rich tea, digestives, oreo) or put in your favourite chocolate bar (crunchie, double decker, mars bar, milky way). But if you want to re-create my version, follow the below recipe.

  • 450g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 150g ginger biscuits, broken into 1cm chunks
  • 100g mini marshmallows
  • 80g maltesers

Line the base and sides of a 7×9 inch cake tin with baking parchment. Place the milk chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of hot water. Bring the water to the boil, then take the pan off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt slowly. Once the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the pan and leave to cool slightly. If the chocolate is too hot the marshmallows will melt. Stir in the biscuits, mini marshmallows and maltesers and then press into the cake tin. Place in the fridge to chill for 1-2 hours or until set. Cut into 12 pieces.

I use basic own brand chocolate as I feel it is not as sickly as the brand and balances well with the sweetness of the rest of the ingredients.

I’ve made this before where I have used one third plain chocolate and two thirds milk chocolate which gives it a bit of bitterness.

I melted 50g white chocolate and drizzled over the top once it had set to add some contrast.

Mr W managed to sneak a piece before it went and loved it. I was worried the ginger biscuits might overpower but he felt they worked well. Feedback from my dad’s work has been good and some have wanted the recipe. Here you go 🙂

Soft Baked Pretzels

One of my New Year  ‘resolutions’ was to bake more bread/dough based recipes. I’ve mentioned in my blog a couple of times that it is one of the baking areas that I feel less confident in. The main reason for this being unsuccessful proving in the past. So this year, I aim to bake a new bread/dough based recipe once a month.

January saw me making my first rye bread. Over the last few months, rye bread has become one of my favourite bread options. Especially toasted for breakfast with smashed avocado or almond butter and banana. I particularly like the dense texture which is one reason why Mr W doesn’t like it. For this bake I followed the suggested recipe on the back of the dark rye flour pack. It was an easy recipe to follow (although the addition of a beaten egg threw me a little) and the end result was a decent, although basic, rye loaf. This recipe was more like the rye breads that you can buy from the bakery section in your local supermarket as opposed to a traditional rye bread. Although it did have the addition of caraway seeds which gave it a slightly aniseed taste which took a while to get used to when eating for breakfast. I’m going to attempt this bake again and follow a recipe Paul Hollywood recipe. His ‘How To Bake’ book has a number of different ones.

February found me wonder what to bake. I didn’t want to bake another bread as I wanted a new challenge. Also, I want to attempt sour dough but I am waiting until summer so I have warmer temperatures to get a starter growing. Mr W didn’t like my suggestion of attempting doughnuts again so I asked my sister for suggestions. I should have guessed what she would want me to bake. Her favourite bakery snack that she had to have every day whilst we were in Germany. Pretzel. A soft baked pretzel. I tried to put her off them by telling them that they were dipped in caustic acid before being baked (honest fact there, it gives them the crunchy outer texture. I was able to find a fairly easy recipe online that got the nod from sis.

They were surprisingly easy to make. They used active yeast which isn’t a yeast I’ve used before. As the name suggests, it needs to be activated in water before use. I’m used to fast action yeast. Unsurprisingly, the hardest part was shaping the pretzels put for a first attempt, they weren’t too bad. Ideally, they need to be eaten straight away as after two days, they’d past their best (but sis still ate them). Although not as good as shop bought, they were a decent attempt. The texture was softer but it had the flavour. They did seem a little greasy which is down to the lashings of melted butter that was used to coat them. I followed the recipe from this blog. If you want to try making them, head over. Do follow the recipe exactly. Although I thought there was too much melted butter it’s better to use your own judgement. See if you can master the classic pretzel shape. You think you’ve managed it but by the time it comes out of the soda bath, its a soggy mess lol.

img_20170212_210344_091

Almond, Coconut & Chia Seed Butter

Now who likes peanut butter? I used to hate it. Growing up I disliked nuts generally. I remember family buffets, sitting at the table with my sister and picking all the dried fruit out of the fruit and nut mix. However, I did used to like walnuts. Both of us at ours Grandma’s, cracking open walnuts in front of the fire. It’s funny how I wouldn’t eat them in a nut mix but I would out of their shells. Peanuts were another no go. My dad loved (and still does) salted peanuts and my friend would always buy peanut M&Ms when we would go to the cinema. But me, I just couldn’t stand the smell of them. I would sit as far away as possible.

But now, I love them. I’d quite happily snack on a handful of unsalted nuts (my favourites being cashew and almonds) and peanut butter has a multitude of uses. Mixed into chocolate brownies, cookies, with banana on toast, stirred into porridge or spread on a rice cake. Then I tried other nut butters, like almond, and these were even better than your bog standard peanut butters. When you start to look into the ingredients on some of the nut butters on the market, it’s crazy some of the extra things that are added like sugar and palm oil. So it got me thinking, is it difficult to make your own?

My first attempt was following Jamie Oliver’s basic recipe in his Everyday Superfood book. I toasted a mixture of cashew and almond nuts and then blitzed them in a mini chopper. Now, a lesson I learnt from making this batch was that I didn’t blitz them for long enough. If you think you have, add on an extra five minutes. The texture of mine was quite thick and although it tasted nice, it was difficult to spread onto toast or stir into my morning porridge. A second attempt was needed.

Then, my sister gave me some almond and coconut butter to try. I’m not a big fan of coconut, in particular desiccated coconut because of the texture. Bounty’s are always left at Christmas when the Celebrations tub comes out. But this nut butter was amazing and I was gutted when I finished it.

So, imagine my delight when I came across a recipe book by Pip & Nut. In the book was a recipe for Almond, Coconut and Chia Nut Butter. There was also a detailed guide on how to make your own standard nut butter. For this process, they advised that it would take at least 10 minutes to blitz the nuts into a butter (depending on the power of your food processor) and that it should be smooth and glossy. I use a mini processor as it is a small quantity being blitzed. I also stop every two minutes to let the motor cool down so I don’t overheat (lesson learnt when using a hand mixer to make a Christmas Cake one year). So, would take me longer than 10 minutes but at least it’s an idea (more than I had with my first attempt). If you are a fan of nut butters, you need to give this recipe a go. There are even more recipes in the book and suggestions for use (an excuse to go buy a copy). Below is how I made the nut butter. This was different to how the recipe stated due to me misreading it (whoops). Chia seeds aren’t a must to the recipe so don’t worry if you don’t want to include them. However, they are not difficult or expensive to buy. Home bargains sell bags of these a lot cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen. Tesco also sell ‘shot packs’ which would be enough to make this butter. By the way, the recipe makes enough for one jar. I’ve been keeping mine in the cupboard.

nut-butter

200g whole almonds (skin on)

1 tbsp chia seeds (white or black)

75g creamed coconut (buy from supermarket, packed in individual sachets)

pinch of sea salt

1/2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey or maple syrup)

To roast the almonds:

Pre-heat oven to 150C. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet in a single layer and roast until golden brown. This will take around 10-15 minutes but keep an eye on them as they can quickly burn. Once roasted, cool for 5 minutes.

To make them into butter:

Tip the nuts into a food processor. I find that my mini food processor is more powerful when chopping nuts compared to my standard one. Blitz for two minutes. The nuts will turn into a crumble texture and will need scraping down with a spatula. I left my processor to cool for two minutes. I blitz for two minutes and left to cool for two minutes throughout the process. After six minutes of blitzing, a ball formed. After another four minutes of blitzing the nuts were smooth but looked to still have a rough texture (this was when I stopped when making Jamie’s nut butter). After another four minutes, the nut butter started to look smooth and glossy. If you want a basic almond butter, stop at this stage.

Add the creamed coconut and sea salt and blitz until smooth. I found that this made the texture appear runnier and glossier than before. Add the chia seeds and agave nectar and blitz until well combined. Pour the nut butter into an airtight container. When pouring into a jar, I found the texture quite runny but it has thickened over time.

The result, a lip smacking delicious nut butter. Although it feels like a long process when you blitzing (especially when taking the rest periods like me) the final product is definitely worth it. Now I know the basic method of making it, I am going to be trying my own combinations.

 

 

The Ws Bake

The last month has seen both Mr W and I being a baking duo, baking cakes for Mr W’s Dad’s 65th birthday. Now, I like to bake but I have never made a mammoth amount of cakes for an important occasions. I’ll bake for work, family, friends and charity sales but never for a party. Last month I was asked if I would like to bake a cake for his birthday party. Mr W quickly answered with a yes whereas I was sat there waiting to ask the most important question, how many will it be for? …..100…I’ve never made more than enough cakes for 16 people (not including when I’ve had to bake for work) so that number was a bit of a shock. Whilst I had witnesses (Mr W’s mum and dad) I confirmed that he was going to be helping. To be fair, he did. 

I’m not the most creative when it comes to cake decorating and managed to find some fairly simple cricket themed birthday cakes on the internet. I was also able to find a cake and buttercream recipe that was for 50 servings. Mr W said he would make cupcakes so we settled on carrot cake cupcakes and madeira sponge for the actual cake. My sister was going to help and make some lemon cupcakes but the weekend before the party, we were told less cake was needed.

The week before the party was a busy week for me and not an ideal time for a mammoth baking session but with Mr Ws help and a plan, we managed it (it did mean leaving my works Christmas party early to finish decorating). Mr W made the cupcakes (with very little assistance from me) and helped me assemble the main birthday cake and check my cricket decorations were up to standard. We managed to get all the cakes over to the venue in one piece. I would hate to be a professional cake decorator and having to transport multi tiered cakes, just transporting 24 cupcakes and a single tier cake was nerve-racking enough.

Mr W’s dad liked the cricket theme and everybody seemed to enjoy the cakes. I feared it would be heavy on the buttercream due to a lot of patching up to try and fill the gaps but when it was cut, you couldn’t tell. Although the feedback was good, I won’t be rushing to make such a big cake again anytime soon. 

img_20161211_094114

However, a normal sized Christmas cake is perfectly fine to be getting on with. I took over this job for Christmas (my sister has been making it for past two years). We normally use a simple cake recipe that has no alcohol in it and can be made days before you want it. This year, I wanted to make a ginger fruit cake and found a recipe that used ginger wine. I made it the week before stir-up Sunday and fed the cake every two weeks  with two tablespoons of ginger wine. Mr W wanted the cake for Christmas Eve (we were visiting both sets of parents so could leave them some of it for the Christmas period) so I covered it with marzipan, icing and decorations on the run up before.

After trying a slice on Boxing Day, this is now my new Christmas cake recipe. The texture was moist and the dried fruit remained juicy. It wasn’t heavy like some of your standard Christmas fruit cakes. Although the flavour was good and without the alcohol hit that I dislike about alcohol infused fruit cakes, it just wasn’t gingery enough for me. Next year, I’m going to have to at least double the amount of ginger or add some chopped stem ginger. Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a go.

20161224_155105

Black Bean Brownies

I promised one of my friends that I would make her some black bean brownies. She wanted to try them but was struggling to find black beans that were a reasonable price (country living for you lol). Now, I’d managed to source a tin of black beans and had found a recipe for the brownies online. I’d also planned a visit with my sister to meet our friend at Lincoln Christmas Markets so I decided to make some on Friday night to take with us. 

I ended up halving the recipe I’d found as I wasn’t sure how they would turn out and didn’t want to be eating them for the next week. So, with these brownies, the black beans are a substitute for the flour, maple syrup is used as a natural sweetener and cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate. You can tell from these changes that the brownie is not going to like the decadent brownies that I’m normally used to. But, I’m all for trying new recipes and healthier alternatives.

The recipe was fairly easy to follow, with everything being thrown into a food processor. You can then add any extra additions like nuts before pouring into the tin. I’ll be honest, I can’t actually remember where my recipe came from. It’s been sat in my pile of ‘recipes to try’ for a while. I adapted it slightly so that I could make eight brownies (it was meant to be six but it would have been more of a cake and not a brownie with the tin size I was going to use).

So…what were they like? The texture was a little drier than a standard brownie. You also don’t get the same rich chocolate flavour. Mine could have done with a little more maple syrup as some thought they weren’t sweet enough (Mr W refused to finish his). I was worried that you would be able to detect the skin of the black beans in the texture but I think having the walnuts in masks any that remain. Your never going to get away with telling people they are a ‘real’ brownie but they are a good alternative for anyone who wants a treat but wants to minimise the amount of refined sugars or needs it to be gluten free. I might try tweaking the recipe a bit to try and get the balance of sweetness right. 

img_20161202_083638

Black bean brownies (8)

1 tin black beans

115g coconut oil

43g cocoa powder

2 eggs

80 ml maple syrup (may need more)

1tbsp vanilla extract

sea salt

65g walnuts, roughly chopped

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170C and line a 6in x 5in tin with greaseproof paper. Rinse black beans and leave to drain whilst you melt the coconut oil.
  2. Place the black beans, eggs, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Blitz until smooth.
  3. Whilst the processor is still running, slowly add the melted coconut oil. At this stage, if you want to, try the mixture to see if it needs more maple syrup adding. Stir through the walnuts.
  4. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the brownie is firm but springy and the top is slightly cracked.
  5. Leave to cool before cutting into pieces.

Salted Caramel Brownies

Now, when asked to make a birthday bake that was chocolate related, this recipe was the first that popped in my head. I made it earlier this year when going to visit some friends. There were 6 of us. I went with 16 pieces and returned with none. If that’s not a sign of a good brownie, I don’t know what is. Maybe that Mr W had more than one means it’s a winner seen as he tells me he doesn’t like brownies!!

I found the recipe in an old copy of a Good Food magazine (it has since made an appearance on their Instagram). It’s a fairly easy recipe. The only step I struggle with is the placing of the salted caramel. It asks for 5 thick strips (I can only manage 4) and the strips are never even (I’m a bit of a perfectionist). The first set of strips are placed in between two layers of brownie batter. This time round I had a thinner base layer so the caramel oozed out the bottom a little (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just meant I had more bits stuck to the greaseproof paper to eat 😛 ). The last set of salted caramel strips are placed on top and feathered. I struggled to make the feathering look anywhere as good as Mary Berry’s iced Bakewell tart (remember GBBO pastry week?).

20161004_063633

If you want to make these yummy brownies, see the recipe below. I adapted the original slightly as I feel that the higher end chocolate does not melt as well as the cheaper chocolate. It’s down to preference.

Makes 16 large pieces

Ingredients

  • 200g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 397g can Carnation caramel
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 130g plain flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • pinch flaky sea salt

Method

  1. Heat oven to 160C fan. Grease then line a 23cm square traybake tin with baking parchment. Melt the butter in a medium pan, break in all the chocolate, then remove the pan from the heat and wait for the chocolate to melt.
  2. In a small bowl, mix 175g of the caramel with 1 tsp salt to loosen. Put the rest of the caramel in a large bowl with the sugar and eggs, and beat with a whisk until evenly combined.
  3. Whisk in the melted chocolate and butter. In another bowl, combine the flour, cocoa and a good pinch of salt, then sift this on top of the chocolate mix. Beat briefly until smooth.
  4. Pour half the brownie batter into the tin and level it with a spatula. Using a teaspoon, spoon half of the salted caramel on top of the batter layer in 4 evenly spaced strips. Spoon the rest of the brownie batter on top and smooth it out. Try not to disturb the caramel. Top with the rest of the caramel in the same stripy fashion. Drag a skewer or tip of a knife through the caramel to make a feathered pattern on the top.
  5. Scatter with the sea salt flakes, then bake for 25-30 mins or until risen all the way to the middle with a firm crust on top. Let it cool completely in the tin, then cut into squares.

GBBO weeks 3 and 4

So, the third week of this year’s Great British Bake Off was bread week. Now, as I’ve admitted on here before, bread isn’t my strongest baking area. I never seem to get a good rise. But, I had seen in a recipe in one of my Jamie Oliver cookbooks that I’d been wanting to try, so week 3 theme seemed a good time to try. It didn’t fit in with any of the categories (a sweet dough, a steamed bake or contain three flours) but who cares?

The recipe was for a ‘Figgy Banana Bread’ from Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food cookbook. It’s a suggested breakfast idea so we actually had our first try of it before the bake off episode (yum yum yum). The recipe is relatively easy with everything going into a food processor. It also doesn’t contain any yeast so does not need to be proved and can be ready in under an hour and a half. Rather than being a typical bread, it comes out looking more like a cake. I don’t think it helps that it is baked in a cake tin. I found it easier to slice the bread into the recommended number of wedges so you can grab a piece each morning. Jamie suggests serving it with a dollop of nut butter and a dollop of natural yoghurt. I did this and loved the combination of salty peanut butter with the sweet figgy bread.  I sliced my piece of bread in half, topping one with the peanut butter and the other with yoghurt. I also had it with home made strawberry chia jam instead of the peanut butter and it was still yummy. Mr W had his with sliced banana instead of the nut butter so the combinations are endless. I strongly recommend having it with something to make it more into a meal rather than a snack. Although the recipe doesn’t mention anything about freezing the bread, I froze a couple of pieces for about a week and they were just as good as fresh once defrosted. The bread until stays fresh for a few days in a tin and I didn’t want to have to throw away the leftovers (I liked it too much). Below is the recipe taken from Jamie’s book.

IMG_20160907_164743.jpg

Serves 12

  • 250g dried figs
  • 75ml cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 125g natural yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 eating apple
  • 50g whole almonds
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Line a 25cm cake tin with a scrunched sheet of wet greaseproof paper. Place 200g of figs in a food processor with the oil, yoghurt, vanilla extract, peeled bananas and eggs then blitz until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, poppy seeds and turmeric and pulse until just combined. Be careful not to overwork the mixture. Coarsely grate the apple and stir into the mixture.
  2. Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread out evenly. Tear over the remaining figs and chop the almonds, scatter over the top of the mixture, pushing them down slightly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little. N.B. I found it difficult to remove from the greaseproof paper. Don’t panic if it sticks, just slowly peel it away.

This is definitely a  recipe I want to bake again. It was slightly indulgent having essentially cake for breakfast but it made a nice change.

Now, GBBO week 4 was batter week with the making of Yorkshire puddings, lace pancakes and churros. The obvious option for something to make was pancakes. This year, I never made the traditional pancakes for Shrove Tuesday so took this week as a chance to do so. Now, what a disappointment. Maybe I’ve gotten too used to having slightly thicker, flavourful breakfast pancakes. These crepe style pancakes were plain, bland and boring. Even the addition of lemon, sugar and ice cream didn’t help matters. Not something I will be repeating anytime soon.