Biscuit Week

Now…which of the three GBBO biscuit challenges did I attempt this weekend? Was it the playable biscuit board game, sandwich biscuits or the technically challenging fortune cookies? As much as I wanted to make an edible snakes and ladders, it was the slightly easier sandwich biscuits that took my fancy.

A number of biscuits came to mind like empire biscuits and custard creams but I’also made these before. I wanted to try a new bake and had a look through my biscuit cookbook by the GBBO iced biscuit queen, Miranda Gore Brown. One recipe that took my fancy was for bourbon biscuits. A biscuit tin favourite and something I remember from when I was younger and I used to raid my Grandma’s biscuit tin. But Mr W doesn’t like them (shocking considering how much he loves chocolate) and my mum won’t eat them so will need to be saved for a bake for work weekend.

Then I came across a recipe for lemon and poppy seed polenta biscuits. I’ve never seen the lemon and poppy seed combo as a biscuit before and have always wanted to try making lemon and poppy seed muffins (as they sound yummy). I also liked the idea of the cream cheese filling to sandwich them together instead of the typical buttercream filling you find with most sandwich biscuits.

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I spread the making of these over two days. Friday night I made the actual biscuits which was simpler than most as the ingredients can go straight in the food processor. When dividing the biscuits, make sure you make an even number that are roughly the same size as they will be sandwiched together. Be warned, you do need to make some room in the fridge as the biscuits need to be chilled for at least 30 minutes whilst on the baking trays. So, unless you have a super large fridge, maybe wait until the day before you do your food shop 🙂 Once baked, I left them to cool overnight so that I could be certain they wouldn’t melt the filling. On the Saturday morning I whipped up the cream cheese filling and sandwiched the biscuits together. Before starting this, make sure you pair up your biscuits so that you are sandwiching similar sized biscuits together. Nothing worse than being left with two biscuit sized extremes. Once made I’ve kept in the fridge as I don’t want the cream cheese filling to go off. I then let it come to room temperature before eating.

So….polenta in a biscuit. First time I’ve had one to be honest. I found that the texture and taste reminded me slightly of cornbread but with the zesty lemon coming through. They are quite substantial biscuit so you won’t be eating more than one at a time. In total I managed to make 10 sandwiched biscuits. If I was to make them again, I would consider making them smaller so that they are a bit easier to eat. The use of polenta and rice or spelt flour make these a gluten free bake.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Polenta Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 175g caster sugar
  • 20g quick-cook polenta
  • 100g rice or spelt flour (I used Spelt)
  • 170g unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
  • zest of two lemons
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20g poppy seeds

For the filling

  • 200g full fat cream cheese
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1tbsp icing sugar
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • 2tbsp lemon juice

Method

  1. Put sugar, polenta and flour into a food processor and whizz well. Add the butter and lemon zest and whizz until it resembles small breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the poppy seeds over the mixture. Beat the eggs and vanilla extract together. Add the eggs to the food processor and mix to get a wet, sticky dough.
  2. Line some baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Using a small ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, place walnut sized balls of dough on the tray and keep them at least 5cm apart. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C and bake the chilled biscuits for 10-12 minutes (until golden and firm to the touch). Leave to firm on the tray for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  4. Put all the filling ingredients into a bowl and beat together until light and creamy. Add a little more lemon juice if the mixture us to dry. When the biscuits are completely cold, spread a layer of filling onto the base of one biscuit and gently press a similar sized biscuit on top.
Recipe taken from Biscuits by Miranda Gore Browne
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Sourdough Crumpets

A few months ago I started my own rye sourdough starter. It’s not as difficult as you think. It’s just a combination of flour (dark rye for me) and water that you mix together. This mixture is then ‘fed’ on a daily basis with more flour and water until bubbles start to form. Some starter recipes suggest adding yeast but the whole point of sourdough is that yeast isn’t included, instead the fermentation from the bacteria helps the bread rise and gives the bread its distinctive sour taste. Whilst I’m feeding mine (in preparation for using it) I leave it on the side in a container with a tea towel over the top. When I’m not going to be using it regularly I put a lid on the container and place it in the fridge. This slows down the fermentation and reduces the activity of the bacteria. When I know I want to use it, I remove from the fridge, take off the lid, cover with a tea towel and allow to come to room temperature. I then repeat the feeding process until it starts to bubble/look frothy. Since running out of rye flour I have been using strong white flour. This hasn’t affected the starter and it still has a slight rye flavour to it.

I’ve been using King Arthur Flour and Hobbs House Bakery for guidance on how to make a starter and also for recipe ideas. I’m not an expert on sourdough so if you are wanting to start your own starter, please look at these websites.

My first bake using my starter was a rye sourdough loaf. I would give the bake a 5 out of 10. The flavour was there but the texture was a bit dense. Sourdough takes longer to kneed and I made it all by hand. The recipe said to kneed the dough for 10 minutes until smooth. I was kneading it for 30 minutes and felt I wasn’t going anywhere. I eventually stopped and continued with the recipe but it was wetter than I was expecting. Next time I will use a dough hook and see if that helps. Sourdough has longer proving times (up to 5 hours for first proving and 12 hours for second proving) which improves the distinctive flavour. I’ve also attempted making sourdough pancakes where the sourdough starter is incorporated into the pancake recipe. Again, these had the distinctive sourdough flavour and the earthiness of the rye flour. The texture was also similar to that of my usual pancakes. If you want to give these a go, the recipe I used is here. I included the addition of some chopped chocolate truffles. I added these to the top of the pancakes before I flipped them over in the pan. I served with blueberries and almond slivers as a birthday breakfast for Mr W.

Yesterday morning I decided to give sourdough crumpets a try. I was surprised at how few ingredients you actually need to make them. Although crumpet rings are not a necessary piece of equipment (apparently small food cans with both ends taken off work just as well) they do make life easier. I’ve also used them when making pancakes and poaching eggs (multipurpose utensil). I found the recipe on the Hobbs Bakery website (link above) when trying to find different uses for my starter so that it is not sat in the fridge for months on end.

Sourdough Crumpets (makes 4)

Ingredients

  • 270g sourdough starter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

Method

  1. Mix your sourdough starter, salt and honey together in a bowl and leave to stand. The starter will slowly start to bubble (I left mine for 20 minutes and some small bubbles had appeared).
  2. Grease a frying pan and your crumpet rings. Place the frying pan on a medium heat and put the crumpet rings in the pan.
  3. Add the bicorbanate soda to your sourdough starter mix. This will cause the starter to bubble.
  4. Once the frying and crumpet rings are hot, pour the batter into the rings and leave a 1/2 cm gap at the top. Slowly cook the crumpets and keep an eye on the bottom of the crumpet as this can easily burn.
  5. Once the edges have cooked, gently take off the crumpet ring (may need to loosen edges with a knife) and flip the crumpet over. Cook for a further 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Keep these warm whilst you repeat steps 4 and 5 with the remaining batter.

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I made four crumpets with the above recipe. These were delicious for breakfast (one with jam and one with butter).

I did find the crumpets a little too salty (which you also get with the shop bought kind) so would consider using  a little less.

I found the texture on my first two crumpets to be a bit doughy inside. For the next two I used  a lower heat and cooked for a little longer. I have yet to try these (4 for breakfast is a little excessive and Mr W doesn’t like them).

It’s back….GBBO!

So, the Great British Bake Off is back and some mixed reviews to go with it. For those who aren’t aware (where have you been?), GBBO has moved from BBC1 to channel 4. It’s taken everything with it except Mary, Mel and Sue. It’s the same tent in the same location with the same benches and even the same opening credits. There is now the addition of Sandie, Noel, Prue and some advert breaks (which is actually a welcome relief). Some reviews have been that it is obvious that the dialogue between Sandie and Noel is scripted and doesn’t seem as natural as Sue and Mel. What we need to remember is that the show is currently on it’s eighth series which means that there has been 7 years for the show to become what it was and for the dynamics to work (with Mary, Paul, Mel and Sue). I’m sure if we were to watch the first series again, we will have some comments to make about the presenters. Personally, I’m just glad it’s back on 🙂

So the first episode was cake week with the first bake needing to be a fruity cake. Now, this seemed to fit in well with my need to make a cake, in particular an apple cake….an Italian apple cake. Now I’ve made an Italian apple cake before but the flavours did not quite meet the bar set by the version Mr W had whilst we were on honeymoon. So I did a bit of research in preparation for my weekend bake and managed to find a recipe on pinterest which looked like the apple cake I wanted. It was simple and uncomplicated (just what I needed to ease me back into baking). The inspiration for mine came from Manus Manu , a website full of Italian recipes. This particular cake was light and moist with hints of vanilla, sweetness from the apple and a zing from the lemon zest. Would go perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (or gelato if we’re being fancy). It definitely benefits from a dusting of icing sugar on top. I didn’t have any for the first time we ate it but bought some so we could have a dusting on our second slice (never assume you have an ingredient in).

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Torta Di Mele Della Nonna (Granny’s Apple Cake) (Serves 12)

Ingredients
  • 3 apples, peeled and sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g butter, melted
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 150 ml milk
  • 1 lemon zest
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Icing sugar (for dusting)

Method

  1. Grease and coat with flour a 22 cm – 9 inch springform pan and keep it aside.
  2. Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the melted butter and keep beating.
  4. Add the milk and flour, little by little and keep beating.
  5. Add the baking powder, salt, lemon zest and vanilla extract.
  6. Fold in the apple slices and pour into the prepared springform pan.
  7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C  for 45 minutes.
  8. Let the cake cool down, then release from the tin, dust it with icing sugar and serve it.

As we don’t have 12 people in our house and didn’t particularly want to eat the cake for 6 days straight (as delicious as it is), I have put some slices in the freezer to test how well it freezes (fingers crossed).

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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!!!

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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