Monthly Archives: June 2013

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits

I’m afraid that I’ve rather neglected the We Should Cocoa blog challenge over the last few months – another victim of my general disorganisation and just that whole life thing.  I had planned to sneak back into the challenge last month, with a knock-your-socks-off mango and chocolate twist bread (the special ingredient was “mango“).  I was, however, thwarted by my general inability to successfully work with yeast, and the bread came out a complete failure.  So much for that plan.

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits 1

We Should CocoaThis month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Victoria of A Kick At The Pantry Door, and she has chosen the marvellous ingredient of “mint“.  I have always been a fan of the truly fabulous combination of dark chocolate and mint, and was a champion Bendick’s Mint Crisp and After Eight snaffler as a child (and totally not still as an adult, ahem).  Luckily, this month I actually have an entry to send in, in the form of some rather scrumptiously adorable crème de menthe and chocolate sandwich biscuits.  Which I realise is quite a wordy recipe title.

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits 2

These biscuits go in for a double chocolate whammy – there’s cocoa powder in the biscuits themselves, and the filling in the middle is white chocolate based.  I know that white chocolate and mint can be quite sickly, but it’s only a thin layer, so actually it works, balanced by the cocoa powder in the biscuits.  The mint flavour is quite subtle, which I like.  The original recipe referred to them as wafers, but I feel that suggests that they’re quite crisp, whereas actually they’re more on the chewy side of the biscuit spectrum.  I love the little holes in the top biscuits – I think they’re rather cute.  I’d wanted to use a fluted cutter so that the holes would be all pretty and scalloped, but discovered that I didn’t have one small enough.  Next time!

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits 3

Crème de menthe & chocolate sandwich biscuits

Makes 45-48 sandwich biscuits
Adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies

If you don’t have any crème de menthe (or don’t want to use alcohol), you can also use peppermint extract, though in lesser quantities, particularly in the filling – taste as you go.  The biscuit dough can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to three days, or frozen up to three months.  To freeze the biscuit dough, form into a log, wrap in baking paper, followed by tin foil and seal in a ziplock bag or airtight container.  You might need to cut the log in two to fit.  The finished biscuits will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Ingredients

For the biscuits:
225g caster sugar
190g all-purpose flour
70g unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
200g unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp whole milk
2 tsp crème de menthe

For the filling:
150g white chocolate
1-2 tsp cream
1 tsp crème de menthe

Directions

To make the biscuits:
1.  Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and stir together.  Rub in the butter with your fingers.

2.  Mix the milk and crème de menthe in a glass or ramekin.  Whilst mixing the sugar mixture with an electric whisk, pour in the milk mixture.  Mix until the dough clumps around the beaters.  Knead for a few minutes with your hands to make sure it is evenly mixed.

3.  Spread a 50cm piece of baking paper or tin foil out on the work top.  Roll the biscuit dough into a 40cm long log of about 4cm in diameter.  Wrap in the baking paper and twist the ends.  Refrigerate for at least 1h until firm.  The dough can be refrigerated for up to three days, or if keeping for longer, it can be frozen up to 3 months.

4.  Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C/fan 155°C.

5.  Once the dough is ready, slice into 4mm slices and space them at least 2cm apart on the prepared baking trays.  Refrigerate any slices not going straight into the oven.  Bake for 12-13 mins (they will puff up in the oven and are ready about 1½ mins after they’ve deflated again).  Using a bottle cap (a wine screw cap works excellently – I found that beer caps were a bit more difficult to get a grip on.  An apple corer would also work in a pinch) cut a circle in the centre of half of the biscuits.  Leave the cut-out centres in until cool – take care as the biscuits are quite fragile.  Remove the biscuits to wire racks to cool fully.

To make the filling & assemble:
6.  Once the biscuits are completely cooled, prepare the filling.  Break or chop the white chocolate into small pieces and add to a heat-proof bowl with the cream.  Melt together over a saucepan of barely simmering water.  Once the white chocolate is smoothly melted, remove the saucepan from the heat, and stir in the crème de menthe.  Don’t worry if the chocolate seizes up.

7.  Spread about ½ tsp of the filling onto each of the base biscuits and top with one of the biscuits with a hole.  Allow to set before serving.

Enjoy!

PS – The raw biscuit dough is really quite tasty.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Wonderfully wintery parsnip & ginger soup

Yesterday was the winter solstice.  Shortest day of the year, and rather cold to boot.  That said, our 9°C and intermittent downpours was rather paltry in comparison to a large part of the rest of the country which was either snowed under or being battered by truly ferocious winds (or both).  Given the large swathes of the country that are (still) cut off or without power, I can hardly complain.  Instead, I think we can all just agree that 9°C is excellent soup weather.

Parsnip & ginger soup 1

Random RecipesFor this month’s Random Recipes challenge, Dom chose the theme of “healthy & happy” – poor Dom has had a bit of a rough time of it lately, so healthy recipes are the order of the day over at Belleau Kitchen at the moment.  I plucked my copy of River Cottage Veg Everyday! off the shelf on the basis that vegetables = healthy  (I would obviously make an excellent nutritionist), followed the instructions of the random number button on my calculator and landed on on page 157: parsnip and ginger soup.  Excellent choice, calculator – soup certainly makes me happy in this weather, and ginger is full of health benefits, so that’s both bases covered.  Sure, there’s milk and a wee bit of cream in it, but I’m all about dairy products, so that makes me happy, too.  And calcium is important, right?

I love creamy, velvety soups, so this one was definitely right up my street.  The ginger is really what makes this soup – it adds a fiery dimension, and is definitely warming.  I had more ginger in the cupboard than specified in the recipe and decided to throw it all in, which was slightly too keen – it may have blown my socks off, but I guess at least it cleared my sinuses.  So I’ve given the quantities specified in the original recipe, not the ones I used.

Parsnip & ginger soup 2

Parsnip & ginger soup

Serves 4-6
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday!

The ginger is quite fiery (and thus warming – excellent for winter!), so the amount you should add will depend on your taste.  If you want to freeze the soup, do so at the end of step 3, before adding the milk.  You can add either unsweetened yoghurt or double cream to serve – I personally preferred the yoghurt option as I found it cut through the fieriness of the ginger rather nicely.

Ingredients

500g parsnips
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
4-5 cm piece of ginger
Extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp Cayenne pepper
¼ tsp ground cumin
500ml vegetable stock
200ml whole milk
2-3 tbsp flaked almonds, to serve
1-2 tbsp thick unsweetened yoghurt or double cream, to serve

Directions

1.  Prepare the vegetables.  Peel the parsnips and chop into roughly 1cm cubes, set aside.  Peel and finely chop the onion, set aside.  Finally, peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger (top tip for peeling ginger: use a teaspoon.  Sounds really odd, I know, but it works wonderfully), set aside.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat.  Add the onion and sauté until softened and translucent.  Add the garlic, ginger and spices, and stir for a few minutes before adding the parsnips.  Stir to coat the parsnips with the spices.  Add the stock and 300ml of water, season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 15 mins until the parsnips are very soft.

3.  Remove the soup from the heat and blend either in a food processor or using a stick blender, until smooth and velvety.

4.  Return the soup to a low heat, add the milk and add more salt and pepper if necessary.  Whilst the soup is warming, toast the flaked almonds in a small frying pan, until just golden.

5.  Serve immediately, adding a drizzle of cream or yoghurt to each bowl, and topping with the toasted almonds.

Enjoy!

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Getting mildly tipsy off cake: Spiced banana & rum loaf

The majority of my baking gets taken into the lab, where it gets enthusiastically devoured by students and staff alike.  But I’m always a bit stuck when it comes to alcoholic baked goods.  Getting people a little tipsy off cake seems to be a particular skill of mine, and whilst the lab would no doubt happily scoff any alcoholic offerings down, particularly on a Friday when nobody really gets much work done anyway, the lab manager might not be too happy.  Since he wasn’t in the best of moods last week, I decided that the spiced banana and rum loaf that I wanted to try out should probably wait until poker night, since not all the rum bakes out.

Spiced banana & rum loaf 1

If I’d played my cards right (badum-tschhh!), this loaf could have been a sneaky ploy to get people tipsy in a vague attempt to increase my chances of winning.  But I ate just as much as everybody else, so I obviously missed a trick there.  I was actually expecting to have a few slices left over, but by halfway through the evening, a few crumbs and a slight increase in noise levels were the only evidence of the cake’s previous existence.  The spices both in the bread and the spiced rum really make this a perfect winter offering.

Spiced banana & rum loaf 2

AlphaBakesThis month’s AlphaBakes is being hosted by Ros, The More Than Occasional Baker and the challenge letter is “R,” so I’m sending this in as my entry; R for rum.  As I said previously, the rum does not all bake out, though I’ll admit that I couldn’t actually taste the alcohol itself, which probably says a fair bit about me.  All bar one fellow alcoholic other person could taste it though – not overwhelmingly so, but they could tell it was there, and it gives the bread a lovely warming feeling.  I briefly considered adding nuts to the bread as well, but decided to let the spiced rum take centre stage.  Sometimes simple is best.

Spiced banana & rum loaf 3

Spiced banana & rum loaf

Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from Pastry Affair

Defrosted frozen bananas would work perfectly well.  Use whatever spiced rum you like, though remember that the flavour really does come through, so supermarket own brand is unlikely to be a good idea – paint-stripper will always taste of paint-stripper, even if you bake it.  The loaf is best at least one day later, so that the rum flavours have had time to develop.  It will keep well wrapped in tin foil or in an airtight container for several days.  Remember that not all the rum bakes out, so perhaps don’t serve any to children.

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, softened
150g light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large, ripe bananas (defrosted frozen bananas are fine)
250g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
150ml spiced rum (I used Kraken spiced rum)

Directions

1.  Butter a medium or large loaf tin.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C.

2.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs in one by one, mixing well after each one.

3.  In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, then add to the butter mixture with the vanilla extract and beat together with the electric whisk, until fully mixed together.

4.  Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt into the butter mixture bowl and stir together.  Once fully mixed, stir in the rum.

5.  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 1h-1h10 mins, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Enjoy!  (Responsibly, of course.)

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Banana & walnut muffins

To put it mildly, our freezer is rather chock-a-block.  To the point where something inevitably comes cascading out whenever you open it, which is mildly annoying when all you want are a couple of ice-cubes for your G&T.  I mean, uhm, water.  Several weeks ago, I decided to start playing “freezer roulette” – open the freezer, and use up whatever comes tumbling out (as long as it belongs to me – actually nobody quite remembers precisely what belongs to whom, which is a whole other issue, so the game also requires some detective work).

Banana & walnut muffins

After several bananas came shooting out at me a few weekends ago, I decided that banana & walnut muffins were on the cards for breakfast.  I enthusiastically set about whipping them up, not thinking about what I was going to do with a dozen muffins – I obviously wasn’t going to be eating them all by myself, even spread over two breakfasts.  Excellent planning, right there.  Since it was a Saturday, my usual tactic of taking surplus baking into the lab wasn’t going to work, so banana & walnut muffins were forced upon kindly offered to anybody who had the misfortune of stopping by the house that weekend.

Luckily, the muffins turned out rather scrumptious – filling without being heavy, full of banana and walnut flavour and with a lovely slight crunch on top (although this softens up if left overnight).  I’d wanted to add extra walnuts to the topping but ran out, so that would add a further delicious crunch.  Nobody complained about being effectively force-fed muffins.  And they make a fabulous breakfast by the way, especially since they don’t take too long to throw together.

Freezer roulette anyone?

Banana & walnut muffins

Makes 12 muffins
Adapted from My Baking Addiction

These make great breakfast muffins as they’re easy to throw together.  If you’re using frozen bananas, remember to take them out far enough in advance to defrost (you can leave them out overnight if making these for breakfast).  Toasting the walnuts is optional, but I find it really does enhance the flavour and really doesn’t take long.  If you’re a big walnut fan, feel free to add some to the topping as well (I would have, but I’d run out).  Muffins are best eaten the same day, but they will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container – the topping will just go a bit soft.

Ingredients

For the muffins:
200g all-purpose flour (190g)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 very ripe bananas (defrosted frozen ones are fine)
100g caster sugar
50g light brown sugar
80 ml rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1 egg
1½ tsp vanilla extract
75g walnut halves or pieces

For the topping:
50g light brown sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
15g unsalted butter

Directions

To prepare the muffins:
1.  Roughly chop the walnuts halves or pieces and toast in a frying pan until fragrant (watch they don’t burn).  Set aside to cool whilst preparing the muffins.

2.  Line a muffin tin with liners or set out 12 silicone muffin moulds on a baking tray.  Preheat the oven to 210°C/fan 190°C.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and stir together.

4.  In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas with a fork.  Add the sugars, egg, oil and vanilla extract and whisk together (either by hand or by electric whisk).

5.  Fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture using a metal spoon until just combined (there should still be a few small streaks of flour in the mixture).  Fold in the toasted walnuts and spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin or moulds, not filling them more than ¾ full.

To prepare the topping:
6.  In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, flour and cinnamon.  Rub in the butter, until crumbly in texture.  Sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.

7.  Bake for 18-20 mins, until risen and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Either eat them warm or remove from the tin/moulds to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

Since these muffins are made from scratch, I’m submitting them to this week’s Made with Love Mondays hosted by Javelin Warrior.  One of the guiding principles is to avoid using frozen produce when you can use fresh, and whilst I did use frozen bananas, this recipe works perfectly whether using fresh or frozen bananas, so I’m sure that’ll be acceptable.  Plus the bananas only ended up in the freezer because we had a deluge of overripe fresh bananas in the first place.

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

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When life gives you lemons… Just add alcohol

Saturday was the official start of winter in New Zealand.  Much like the UK, the weather here doesn’t pay any attention to official seasons.  Winter actually arrived last Tuesday, in all its tempestuous powercut-inducing glory (and really we were fairly lucky – a fair proportion of the rest of the country found themselves covered in snow).  On our first official day of winter, however, I spent the whole morning sitting out on the deck in the glorious sunshine, topping up my vitamin D reserves.

First official day of winter. Blue skies, blue sea, palm trees. Life is good.

Ya, that’s what the official start to winter looked like in Leigh, and we were lucky to be treated to similar weather the entire long weekend.  I sometimes still can’t quite believe that I live here.  Anyway, before you all turn away from your computer screens in disgust or hatred, I’ll reassure you that today we’ve been treated to a good dose of horizontal rain, a severe weather advisory and multiple powercuts.  So I think that this is a suitably winter-like day to share that homemade limoncello recipe that I mentioned in my limoncello cupcakes post.  Lemons brighten everything up, and I like to think of limoncello as liquid sunshine.  Alcoholic liquid sunshine.  Very drinkable alcoholic sunshine that doesn’t taste alcoholic.  Oh dear.

Ooooo hello…

I started making my own limoncello about two and a half years ago.  I wanted to try limoncello, but couldn’t find any to buy, so I looked up some recipes.  I picked the one that only required an overnight maceration instead of two weeks (because I’m impatient like that) and it turned out so scrumptious that I’ve yet to get around to trying out one of the recipes that take a little longer.  I’ll report back on the comparison when I eventually do, but in the meantime, this is a pretty handy sort-of last-minute drinks recipe to have up your sleeve.  I’ve actually never tried “real” limoncello, so I can’t tell you how this measures up to the stuff you’d drink in Italy.  I can, however, tell you that it’s bloody delicious, and super lemony.  Any time I’ve pulled out a bottle for friends, it has disappeared fairly promptly, which can only be a good sign…

When real sunshine is lacking… alcoholic sunshine will do.

Limoncello

Makes about 400ml
Slightly adapted from Waitrose

To sterilise the glass bottle, wash in hot, soapy water and pop in an oven pre-heated to 100°C for about ten mins or so, until dry.  Allow to cool before pouring the limoncello in.  Don’t use your super expensive special edition boutique vodka, but don’t use supermarket own-label vodka either – paint-stripper will always just taste of paint-stripper, no matter how many lemons you add.  I just used standard Smirnoff.  I love limoncello served straight over ice, but you can also serve it as a long drink, topped up with soda water.  Sometimes I’ll store the limoncello in the freezer for a day or so so that it goes a bit slushy.  I recommend trying that, too!  This should keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, although it’s unlikely to last even close to that long.

Ingredients

7-8 unwaxed lemons
125g caster sugar (granulated works fine, too)
150ml vodka

Directions

1.  Wash the lemons.  Zest and juice them into a large bowl (ideally not plastic – glass, pyrex or ceramic are all good choices if you have them).  Add the sugar, stir, and cover with clingfilm.  Leave to stand for about 12h or overnight, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has all dissolved.

2.  Strain the lemon mixture through either a very fine sieve, a muslin cloth or a normal sieve lined with kitchen roll.  Squeeze as much juice through as possible.  Stir in the vodka and decant into a sterilised glass bottle, ready to serve.

Enjoy!  (Whilst drinking responsibly and all that jazz…)

Since it’s homemade and all, I’m submitting this limoncello recipe to Made with Love Mondays hosted by Javelin Warrior (I’m guessing it’s ok that I haven’t made my own vodka…).

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

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