Tag Archives: AlphaBakes

Silverbeet & feta quiche

It’s that weird inbetween season where the winter vegetables are coming to the tail end of their season, but the summer vegetables haven’t yet made an appearance.  Well, that’s not quite true – I saw courgettes at Nosh yesterday… priced at a casual $19 a kg.  I love courgettes, but not quite that much.  Silverbeet, however, seems to be in season all year round here.  From what I understand it grows wonderfully in the climate here, well, here in northern NZ anyway.  I think it’s called different things in different places, so this is what I mean by silverbeet:

Silverbeet

This whole always-in-season thing is rather marvellous because I love silverbeet.  Well, specifically the stems, which I will post about later.  I’m sort of doing this backwards, I should really post about the stalks first and why I love them so much (clue: there’s cheese involved).  But instead, I’m going to talk about the leaves.  They’re super bitter, so I wouldn’t eat them raw, but when it comes to cooking them, you can generally use them interchangeably with spinach.

Silverbeet leaves

I had a bunch of silverbeet leaves to use up, so I decided to throw them into a quiche with some feta.  Quiches are the best way to use up leftovers or ingredients loitering in the fridge.  Throw some ingredients together, beat together a couple of eggs and some crème fraîche, throw them all together in a pastry-lined tart tin, and boom, a fancy-pants vehicle for leftovers that’s actually insanely easy to prepare.

Silverbeet & feta quiche 1

AlphaBakesBonus: any leftover quiche can be eaten cold for lunch (or warm for lunch, that works, too).  Basically, quiche is a winner.  This silverbeet and feta quiche is definitely a winner.  It’s pretty light, perfect for lunch or a starter.  Since it’s not totally filled with eggy mixture, the silverbeet leaves on the top go all crispy in the oven.  Scrumptious!  I’m submitting this quiche to September’s AlphaBakes, where the special letter is “Q.”  The challenge is being hosted by Caroline Makes this month.

Silverbeet & feta quiche 2

Silverbeet & feta quiche

Serves 4-6 as a starter, 3 as a main course
Recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

This would work equally well with spinach leaves, and feel free to throw in some toasted pine nuts if you have some (unfortunately I didn’t).  This quiche is delicious either warm out of the oven, or cooled down to room temperature and makes an excellent light meal or starter.  If you want a more filling quiche, add more feta and silverbeet leaves, or add another egg and some more crème fraîche.  This recipe is pretty flexible, so knock yourself out (not literally, please).

Ingredients

1 quantity of quiche pastry of your choice (I used this recipe)
200g silverbeet leaves
3 cloves garlic
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
250g feta
3 eggs
175g crème fraîche
Salt and pepper

Directions

1.  Butter and flour a 24cm fluted tart tin.  Make your pastry, roll it out and line the tart tin with it.  Prick the pastry with a fork.  Refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

2.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

3.  Wash the silverbeet leaves, pat them dry and slice them widthways in about 1cm strips (it doesn’t have to be perfect, we’re making quiche here).  Peel and finely mince the garlic cloves.

4.  Heat a drizzle of oil in large frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 mins.  Then add the silverbeet leaves.  I generally add half the leaves and allow them to wilt for a couple of minutes before adding the remaining leaves to the pan.  This helps to prevent silverbeet overflow.  Cook until thoroughly wilted and reduced.  Set aside to cool a little.

5.  Remove the pastry from the fridge.  Spread the mustard thinly over the base, then evenly crumble the feta over the top.  Evenly spread the garlicky spinach over the top of the feta.  In a medium bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, then whisk in the crème fraîche and season with salt and pepper (you won’t need much salt since feta is usually quite salty).  Pour over the top of the spinach.

6.  Bake for 50 mins to 1h, until golden and cooked through.  Allow to cool in the tin for about ten mins before serving or transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

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Apple flamusse

Apple say what now?  Flamusse aux pommes is a Burgundian speciality.  Now, to be perfectly honest, I’m from a region right next to Burgundy and had never heard of a flamusse aux pommes until last weekend when I happened to be flicking through my trusty Larousse des desserts for ideas on how to make a slight apple surplus disappear.  Turns out that it’s effectively an apple clafoutis.

Apple flamusse 1

I added spices because A) I am pretty much incapable of baking without spices, particularly in winter, and B) it’s actually a crime not to pair apples with spices – I mean come on, apples are just crying out for cinnamon at the very least.  Since I’ve never eaten apple flamusse before, I’ve no idea how “traditional” this recipe is.  Frankly, I’m not particularly bothered because the results were marvellous, and it’s not my regional speciality that I’m messing with, so I’m not fiercely protective of it.  There was a terribly French, rather insouciant shrug happening whilst I wrote the latter part of that sentence.

Apple flamusse 2

AlphaBakesThis month’s special letter for the AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “F.”  F for flamusse – how convenient!  That’s actually one of the reasons I ended up settling on this recipe – there are so many apple recipes out there that I was having a hard time choosing which one to try out.  It ended up being a rather excellent choice and came out scrumptiously delicious, provided you like flan-like textures (I know not everybody is into that sort of egginess).  Some rum-soaked raisins would no doubt make an excellent addition – I didn’t test that theory out as I didn’t think that would be quite appropriate for a Tuesday morning at the lab…

Apple flamusse 3

Apple flamusse

Serves 6-8
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

 

Pick a type of apple that will hold its shape when baking but isn’t too sweet – I used braeburns.  The flamusse can be served either warm or fully cooled, and will keep for a day or two.

Ingredients

4 apples (I used braeburn)
75g caster sugar
60g all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
500ml whole milk
Icing sugar, to serve

Directions

1.  Butter a 24cm round fluted tart tin.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C.

2.  Peel and core the apples and finely slice them.  Lay the slices in overlapping concentric rings in the tart tin.  I like to alternate the direction of the apple slices from ring to ring, but that’s just personal preference.

3.  Sift the sugar, flour, spices and salt into a large mixing bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together with a fork.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until completely smooth.  Stir in the milk a little at a time.

4.  Carefully pour the mixture over the apples (do this near the oven as the tin will be pretty full) and bake for about 45 mins until golden and cooked (if it looks really wibbly-wobbly, bake a little longer).  Allow to cool for 15-20 mins before turning out onto a plate (make sure you do it whilst the flamusse is still warm).  Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm or fully cooled.

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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Kumara, cardamom & chocolate cake

Goodness, it’s been a while since I showed some signs of life, hasn’t it?  I previously mentioned that things were likely to be a bit quiet as I knuckled down and got on with this whole MSc thesis-writing lark,* however  I didn’t quite expect to more or less completely disappear from the online world (with the exception of Instagram – have I ever mentioned my addiction?).  A scheduled post about one of the best cakes ever (shameless plug, what?) not going up several weeks ago (let’s pretend that I didn’t only just notice today) rather helped to reinforce this absence.  I am, however, still alive and kicking.  I’ve been baking, too, to de-stress a bit and take a break from thesis-writing.  I just haven’t had the time to take any half-decent photos or write recipes up.  Or collate any Sunday Smiles posts either for that matter.

Bet you'll never guess what kind of cake this is…  Oh wait.

AlphaBakesWhilst Microsoft Word and Excel get their act together, unfreeze and stop repeatedly crashing on me (I’ve had a fantastic morning…), I thought I’d share this utterly amazing kumara, cardamom & chocolate cake with you.  Anybody thinking that kumara is some terribly exotic, amazing new ingredient that’ll be impossible to find in a normal shop, it’s just the Kiwi (and Australian I think?) name for sweet potato.  Rather conveniently, the challenge letter for AlphaBakes happens to be “K,” so I’m sending this cake in as my entry to Caroline Makes, this month’s host.

Cake in progress

After a classic case of forgetting to check a recipe for quantities before going shopping and consequently overestimating the amount, I ended up with some surplus orange kumara the other day and decided that some cake was in order.  I dug out a recipe that I’ve had bookmarked since last year, and threw some chocolate in, just because I could.  I added some cinnamon in too, since I’m actually incapable of not adding cinnamon to pretty much everything during autumn and winter (in spring and summer I only add it to about 50% of everything…  I might have a cinnamon problem).  The cake came out wonderfully moist and utterly scrumptious – the combination of kumara and cardamom was a pleasant discovery for me.  The cake also happens to be gluten-free, but you’d never guess it (I feel gluten-free baking has a reputation for rather heavy and dry results, but I haven’t dabble much with gluten-free, so I could be wrong).  Suffice to say, the lab loved it.

This totally wasn't my breakfast.  Ahem.

Kumara, cardamom & chocolate cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from The KitchenMaid

I’m rather liberal with spices, so if you’re not into strong flavours, you may wish to reduce the cardamom down to 3 tsp.  I’ve yet to locate good quality dark chocolate chips (with more than 70% cocoa) that aren’t overly sweet, so I prefer using good dark chocolate and just chopping it up myself, however if you do have good dark chocolate chips, feel free to use them.  This cake also works as loaves or mini loaves (great for breakfast…), though the baking times will have to be adjusted (probably around 50 mins for two loaves or about 35 mins as mini loaves, though don’t hold me to that).  The drizzle is, of course, optional.  The cake will keep for a few days in an airtight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
450g orange kumara (sweet potato)
150g dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)
300g unsalted butter, softened
300g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs, room temperature
225g ground almonds
4 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the drizzle (optional):
100g icing sugar
¾ tsp ground cardamom
Just under 1 tbsp boiling water

Directions

To prepare the cake:
1.  Preheat the oven to 205°C/fan 185°C.

2.  Scrub the kumara and pierce the skin several times with a fork.  Place on a baking tray and roast for about 40 mins until there’s no resistance when a knife is inserted through the thickest part.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool until it can be handled.  Peel the skin off and mash the flesh in a small bowl with a fork – you should have around 325g of cooked flesh.  Set aside.

3.  Reduce the oven temperature to 195°C/fan 175°C.  Line the bottom of a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.

4.  If using chocolate and not chocolate chips, chop the chocolate up and set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla extract.  Beat the eggs in, one at a time, adding about 1 tbsp of ground almond with each egg (this will help prevent the mixture from curdling).

6.  Add the remaining ground almonds, the spices, baking powder, salt, mashed kumara and chopped-up chocolate and stir together with a spatula or spoon.  Evenly pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1h-1h10, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (if the cake starts to brown a little too much on top, just cover it with aluminium foil).  Allow to cool for 10 mins in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

To prepare the drizzle:
7.  Once the cake has cooled fully, add all the drizzle ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until smooth.  Pour into a freezer bag, snip a small corner off and drizzle over the cake.

Enjoy!

Also makes an excellent breakfast in mini loaf form…  I'm all about cake for breakfast, doncha know.

*Heavy sarcasm alert.  It’s anything but a lark, just in case anybody was unsure.

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Irish Coffee & walnut brownies

I really had high hopes of getting back to a regular blogging schedule.  Evidently that hasn’t happened, and even Sunday Smiles has completely flown out of the window.  With two months until I’m supposed to be handing in a 40,000 word thesis, I’ve accepted that a regular blogging schedule is unlikely to magically throw itself together any time soon.  So I’ll stop peppering the blog with excuses and apologies for not posting, and just hope that you, my lovely regular readers, will hang in there and put up with some seriously sporadic posting.  Will a pretty picture make up for it a bit?  Let’s give it a try:

Have I mentioned how idyllic my surroundings are? I'm actually jealous of myself.

That’ll be the view from a recent evening walk I took with one of my housemates.  Which is obviously not what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.  Perhaps not so surprising that I absolutely love it here, eh?  Moving swiftly on before you all hate me…  I’m sure you’re aware that it was St Patrick’s Day the weekend before last.  (Oh that’s why the internet was suddenly almost entirely decked out in green…)  A couple of my housemates and I went to visit one of our other housemates who is doing research up north (my current housing situation is currently somewhat convoluted and there’s a fair bit of subletting involved) for St Patrick’s weekend.  I, of course, brought baked goods.  And gin, obviously.  But lets focus on the baked goods.

Chocolate and walnuts – a promising start for any baked goods (unless you dislike chocolate or walnuts…)

I wanted something vaguely Irish-themed since it was St Patrick’s and all, and had an urge to bake brownies (which are also easy to transport – win!).  I looked up my favourite brownie recipe (coffee & walnut brownies, since you ask) to see how I could Irishify (totally a word) it.  And it hit me: Irish Coffee & walnut brownies.  Oh yes.

Hang on a second, where did all the brownies go?

AlphaBakesConfession time: I didn’t actually use an Irish whisky – there wasn’t any in the cupboard so I used Glenfiddich, my usual baking whisky.  Luckily the brownies turned out so scrumptious that nobody picked me up on it.  The whisky flavour does come through subtly and goes wonderfully with the other flavours in the brownies.  Success!  I’m submitting these brownies to this month’s AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes.  The special letter this month is “I,” so that’ll be I for Irish Coffee…  That totally counts as an ingredient, right?  I’m also attempting to sneak my entry in because I totally thought the deadline was today…  It was yesterday.  Thankfully, I’m way more on the ball with my thesis due date…

Oh that's where all the brownies went…  Into the biscuit tin.

Irish Coffee & walnut brownies

Makes 20 brownies
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

I used Glenfiddich as that’s my usual baking whisky, but just use whatever you favour – an Irish whisky would obviously be ideal…  You can also use freshly-brewed espresso rather than instant coffee if that’s what you have at home.  These will keep for a several days in an airtight container, though they’re so moreish that I doubt they’ll last that long!  These are probably best enjoyed with a coffee – an Irish Coffee, obviously.

Ingredients

70g walnut pieces of halves
140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp espresso-style instant coffee
4 tbsp boiling water
3-4 tbsp whisky
1 tbsp cream
60g all-purpose flour
150g caster sugar
2 eggs

Directions

1.  Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 170°C.

2.  Roughly chop the walnuts, then dry toast them in a small frying pan until fragrant, taking care not to let them burn.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Break half the chocolate into pieces and add to a medium heat-proof bowl with the cubed butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  In a little ramekin or glass, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water.  Add to the chocolate and butter mixture along with the whisky and cream and melt together, stirring occasionally.  When all melted together and smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Sift the flour into a small bowl.  Roughly chop the remaining chocolate into small chunks and stir into the flour, along with the cooled toasted walnuts.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until well mixed and a little foamy.  Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula then pour into the prepared baking tin.  Smooth the top of the mixture if necessary and bake for 18-22 mins until a knife point comes out with a little mixture still stuck to it.

5.  Cool for about 20-30 mins in the tin until just warm, then remove and allow to cool fully on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Enjoy!

Yummy goodness in progress.

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Earl Grey & lemon melting moments

It would appear that posts on Sharky Oven Gloves are like buses: so sign of one for ages and then two come along nearly at once.  In order to counteract yesterday’s slightly mammoth post, I’m going to keep this one on the shorter side.  Nothing to do with the fact that I’m watching the Scotland vs Ireland Six Nations rugby game whilst I write, obviously, and that it’s 3:30am here – I apologise if this post doesn’t score very highly in the coherence stakes.  It turns out that waking up at 3am was worth it in the end though, both for Scotland’s totally unexpected (albeit perhaps not terribly deserved, but I’m not complaining) win and for this morning’s beautiful sunrise, which has nothing to do with today’s post, but was too pretty not to share:

Adding a pretty sunrise photo is totally not a ploy to distract you from the general shoddiness of this post.  It's totally working, right?

AlphaBakesI might not have been very good at actually writing up posts and publishing them, but I have still been baking away and keeping an eye on the various challenges that I usually take part in.  This month’s AlphaBakes is being hosted by Ros over at The More Than Occasional Baker, and the randomly chosen letter is “E.”  Nothing immediately sprang to mind on reading the challenge (as a basic ingredient, eggs don’t count), so I made myself a cup of tea to think about it and it hit me (not literally): Earl Grey.  I do love baking with tea – it’s such an easy way to add delicious flavours and there are so many different types to choose from that the possibilities are endless.

E is for… Earl Grey!

I find that Earl Grey is flavourful enough to work in dense cakes yet delicate enough for lighter cakes or biscuits.  It’s been so warm and summery (I know, I know you all hate me, and it won’t help my case to mention that this recipe was baked in a bikini after a good long swim in the sea – have I mentioned that my life is a little ridiculous at the moment?) that I decided to go for the lighter biscuits option and settled on making Earl Grey and lemon melting moments which are basically Earl Grey and lemon shortbread  biscuits sandwiched with lemon buttercream.  The zingy lemon flavour is perfectly refreshing for summer, and the biscuits themselves really were just melt-in-the-mouth.  Pure yumminess!

I totally didn't forget to take photos whilst making the melting moments…

Earl Grey & lemon melting moments

Makes about 20 melting moments or 40 biscuits
Adapted from lemonpi

I used Twinings Earl Grey teabags, but you can obviously use whatever Earl Grey you have at home, though do be aware that they are all a little different, so you may need to adjust the amount of lemon slightly.  If you’re a little pushed for time, the shortbread biscuits are also equally delicious on their own without being sandwiched with lemon buttercream.  I piped the buttercream into my biscuits but I don’t think that really adds anything and just creates extra washing-up.  The biscuits will keep for a few of days in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the biscuits:
180g unsalted butter, softened
60g icing sugar
180g all-purpose flour
10 Earl Grey teabags (I used Twinings)
60g cornflour
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt

For the buttercream:
60g icing sugar
30g unsalted butter, softened
1½ tsp lemon juice

Directions

To make the biscuits:
1.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and icing sugar with an electric whisk.  Sift the flour, cornflour, contents of the Earl Grey teabags (just tip any bits that don’t go through the sieve into the bowl) and salt into the bowl along with the lemon zest, and mix together with your hands until it comes together (this may take a wee while, but perseverance is key).  The dough may be a little crumbly but don’t worry.  Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for a good 20 mins or so.

2.  Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

3.  When the dough has chilled, pinch off just less than a teaspoon of dough and roll into a ball.  Space them out on the baking trays, leaving about 4cm space between them.  Flatten each ball slightly with a fork.  Bake for about 15-18 mins until firm but still pale.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream:
4.  Once the biscuits have cooled completely, make the buttercream.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl and add the cubed butter and lemon juice.  Using an electric whisk, mix until smooth and of a stiff consistency.

5.  Pair up the biscuits and add a little dollop of buttercream to one of each pair before gently sandwiching them together.  They may need to sit a little while for the buttercream to set slightly.

Enjoy!

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When vitamin D doesn’t count as a challenge entry

AlphaBakesThe letter for this month’s AlphaBakes , which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “D.”  The deadline was yesterday.  This post should have gone up yesterday, so I’m going to (attempt to) keep it short, and hope that I’ll be able to sneak it in under the radar.  Things like actual uni work and snorkelling and sitting out on the deck in the sun keep getting in the way of blogging (read: I’m doing phenomenally well in the organisational department at the moment).  It’s a hard life up in Leigh, obviously.  However, I didn’t think that surpassing my daily requirement of vitamin D would quite count as a valid entry for the challenge.  Sorry if you all hate me right now, particularly those of you shivering up in the northern hemisphere – I’d send you some sunshine if I could!

Bit choppy out there on the water – won't be going for a swim today…

That’s the view I’m looking at from our deck as I write – I told you it was tough up here.  But anyway, before you all leave in a huff, back to the challenge: something food-related starting with D…  I decided to go for dates, more specifically a date, coffee and walnut cake that I could share with my new housemates.  I probably should have checked whether anybody disliked any of the ingredients before I made the cake, because it turned out that one my housemates isn’t the hugest fan of dates, coffee or walnuts…  Thankfully she loved the cake though (as did everybody else) and even asked for the recipe.  Phew.

This is what happens when you don't check what your new housemates don't like…

The cake itself is wonderfully moist, with a tiny bit of caramelised stickiness that comes courtesy of the dates.  The coffee comes through as a subtle flavour (which is great since none of my housemates are really coffee-drinkers), with the walnuts adding a bit of crunch.  Topping the whole cake off with cream cheese icing just makes it even more scrumptious.  Though, let’s be honest, when is cream cheese icing ever not a good idea?  Apologies for the photo quality by the way – the photos were snapped pretty quickly since we were all more interested in actually eating the cake.

Cream cheese is always a good thing.  Fact.

Date, coffee & walnut cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The walnuts don’t have to be toasted, but it’s highly recommended as it does heighten their flavour.  The cake does come out very moist and a little sticky, and I found that it stuck to the serving plate a little which wasn’t ideal, but that may also have been because I didn’t let it cool fully before turning the cake out.  The cake will keep for a couple of days, covered in the fridge, and in fact may even be better the next day, although do let it come to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g pitted dates
250ml strong coffee (proper French press or filter coffee is best)
70g walnuts
150g light brown sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
275g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
175g cream cheese, softened
60g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and add to a heatproof bowl.  Brew the coffee and pour over the dates, to cover them.  Set aside to cool.  Add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast them until fragrant.  Set aside to cool, then roughly chop them.

2.  Once the coffee and dates have cooled, line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together, then whisk into the butter and sugar a little at a time, followed by 2 tbsp of the flour.

4.  Sift the remaining flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and whisk together.  With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dates, coffee and vanilla extract.  Once incorporated, fold in the remaining flour mixture, followed by 50g of the walnuts.

5.  In a small ramekin, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 2 tbsp of hot water, then stir into the cake mixture before spooning into the prepared cake tin.

6.  Bake for 50-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely into the tin before turning out onto a serving plate to ice.

For the icing:
7.  Once the cake is fully cooled, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl.  Add the butter, cream cheese, lemon zest and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Spread over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.

Enjoy!

Oh hey there Instagram…

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Indulging a minor PB&J obsession…

I read somewhere that some schools ban children from bringing in any food containing nuts in case some other child has a nut allergy.  Those poor deprived children who can’t have PB&J sandwiches for lunch!  (That’s peanut butter & jelly for anybody not as deeply in love with that particular lunchtime delicacy as I am.)  I know it’s unusual, but I’m not being sarcastic.  PB&J deprivation is not a joking matter.  I picked up my enthusiasm for PB&J whilst we lived in the USA when I was little.  So whenever I see PB&J-themed recipes, I prick up my ears…

By the way, when I refer to jelly in this post, I mean the American version of jelly, or what we would call gelée in French, not the wibbly-wobbly British version of jelly (which in the US would be called Jell-O…).  It really bugs me that there’s no British word equivalent – ‘jam without bits’ is just too wordy.  Anyway, my favourite jam (whether with or without bits) to pair with peanut butter is blackcurrant.  I’ve always adored blackcurrant jam, but now I love it even more as it always reminds me of making blackcurrant jelly with my mum and French grandma using blackcurrants from my grandparents’ garden.  But back to PB&J.  I came across a recipe for PB&J slices a wee while ago, and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.

A little cupboard re-organisation session over the weekend unearthed more (unopened) jars of peanut butter than I’d care to admit to (I clearly did some serious stockpiling when there was a 2-for-1 offer on), so I decided it was time that the PB&J slice recipe had its moment.  A few tweaks later – I used my usual shortbread recipe for the base and, unsurprisingly, used blackcurrant jam – and some scrumptious PB&J slices made their way out of the oven.  The shortbread base is slightly crisp and crumbly, the jam gets all sticky and chewy from the baking and between the two is a tasty layer of slightly-salted peanut butter which counterbalances the rich base and sweet jam.  I also love the crumbled shortbread over the top – not only is it tasty, it makes the slices a little easier to eat, too.  I’m submitting these PB&J slices to this month’s AlphaBakes, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, since the letter is “J” – J for the jelly (or jam) component of PB&J.  Not the most imaginative possibility for J perhaps, but definitely a yummy one!

PB&J slices

Makes 20 slices
Adapted from The Boy Who Bakes

You can use either crunchy or smooth peanut butter – I chose crunchy for the texture, but smooth would probably be easier to spread.  By ‘natural peanut butter’ I mean peanut butter that literally just consists of peanuts, perhaps a tiny bit of oil and only a bit of added salt.  Likewise, using homemade blackcurrant jam would be ideal, but if you don’t have any, choose a good quality one with a high fruit content and minimal additives.  If you can’t find blackcurrant jam, raspberry, blackberry or blueberry would work as well.  These slices will keep in an airtight box for a couple of days.

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
260g all-purpose flour
40g cornflour
Pinch of salt
150g natural salted peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
300g blackcurrant jam (with or without bits)

Directions

1.  Line a 25 x 19 cm baking tin with tin foil.

2.  In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric whisk or wooden spoon.  Slowly add the sugar and cream together until light and fluffy.  Sift the flour, cornflour and salt into the bowl and rub into the butter mixture using your hands until well combined (this may take a little while, but it will come together although it will still be a bit of a crumbly dough).

3.  Take ⅔ of the pastry and press it into the baking tin in an even layer.  Refrigerate for 15 mins.  Wrap the remaining dough in clingfilm and refrigerate as well.  Whilst the dough is chilling, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

4.  Bake the shortbread base for 25-30 mins until lightly golden around the edges.  Remove from the oven and allow the base to cool in the baking tin for 20 mins.  Keep the oven on.

5.  Spread the peanut butter evenly over the baked shortbread base, followed by the jam (try to resist the temptation to spread the jam right to the edge, because it will stick to the foil and make it really difficult to unpeel once the jam has cooled).  Crumble the remaining shortbread dough over the top and bake for a further 20-25 mins until the shortbread on top starts to colour lightly.  Allow to cool for 10 mins in the tin before transferring to a wire rack and peeling back the foil from the sides before the jam hardens (otherwise it will be impossible).  Allow to cool fully before cutting up into squares to serve.

Enjoy!

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N is for Nutella

This month’s letter for the AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker, is “N.”  On reading this, Nutella immediately sprang to mind, but I wanted to try and come up with something a little less… obvious – I’m kind of expecting about half of the entries to be Nutella based.  The day before the deadline however, the only alternatives I’ve managed to come up with are nuts, nutmeg and noodles.  Nuts seems a little too broad (I feel it’s like using fruit for F – does that really count?), nutmeg is something I tend to use as an accent rather than a main flavour (again, does that count?) and noodles just weren’t inspiring me.

So I’ve had to give in to my total addiction to Nutella and go down that route…  Gutted.  About a year and a half ago I made some utterly scrumptious Nutella fudge brownies – they’re still one of my favourite baked goods because they’re not only delectable but also incredibly easy to throw together.  One bowl, a whisk, lots of Nutella and an oven and you’re sorted.  Their sheer simplicity is actually a bit of an issue – it’s almost too quick and easy to whip up a batch.  On the other hand, they’re great if you’re a little pressed for time, and guaranteed everybody will like them.  Unless they’re allergic to nuts.  But they’d definitely enjoy them before going into anaphylactic shock.

I decided to try and make an egg-free version of the brownies using the replacing-an-egg-with-banana trick so that everybody at the lab could enjoy them.  My first attempt was tasty enough, but they just didn’t quite live up to the original.  I tweaked the recipe a little further and the results were rather better.  The one thing that irks me is that the middles sank on cooling.  I presume that in the original version, the egg provides structure to the brownies when it cooks, whereas obviously without the egg this isn’t the case.  And baking them for longer would result in a loss of the fudginess.  But they’re still pretty (a dusting of icing sugar helps with that) and, more importantly, super yummy.  Indeed, they were devoured by the lab… except the person who doesn’t like chocolate.  It’s difficult to please everyone!  If there’s no particular reason for you to bake egg-free, I’d recommend my original version since it’s a little quicker to throw together and I do slightly prefer the texture.

Egg-free Nutella fudge brownies

Makes 6
Based on One Ordinary Day

The brownies will sink a bit in the middle on cooling because the centre will still be all fudgy and yummy (and I suspect that the lack of egg results in a slight loss of structure) – a dusting of icing sugar helps make them look pretty anyway.  Don’t worry about the fudginess meaning that they haven’t been cooked through properly or anything – if you look at the ingredients, there isn’t anything for which that might be an issue (such as egg) as they are predominantly composed of Nutella.  The brownies will keep in an airtight container for up to three days (although I rather doubt they’ll even make it into an airtight container!).

Ingredients

½ banana (not an over-ripe one)
175g Nutella
1½ tsp yoghurt
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp kirsch
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Icing sugar, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Line 6 muffin holes with paper liners or set out silicone moulds on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C.

2.  Mash the half banana to a pulp in a medium-sized bowl (you may want to purée it with a blender).  Add the Nutella and yoghurt and whisk together with an electric whisk until smooth.  Add the flour, kirsch and cinnamon and continue whisking until well blended.

3.  Split the mixture evenly between the muffin liners (I found them to be between ½ and ⅔ full) and bake for about 15 mins.  Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack.  If using silicone cases, allow them to cool in the cases.  Once cooled, sprinkle with icing sugar before serving (totally optional of course, but it adds a nice touch).

Enjoy!

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Golden kiwifruit pavlova

New Zealand’s most renowned dessert is probably the pavlova.  Incidentally, Australians also claim the pavlova…  Awkward.  You’d be surprised at the amount of argument that goes on between the two countries about who invented pavlovas, although both agree that it was to honour the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she visited Australasia in the 1920s.  Since I live in New Zealand, I’ll run with the Kiwi version.  Now, I have a little confession: despite being here for eight months, I’ve never actually eaten a pavlova.  Shocking, I know.  The perfect opportunity to amend this terrible state of affairs came in the form of AlphaBakes, which is hosted by Caroline Makes this month.  The special letter is “P” – P for… pavlova.  No-brainer.  Since I’m upholding the Kiwi version of the pavlova story, I figured that I might as well go for the most appropriate-sounding topping possible: kiwifruit.

Now if you’re thinking that those kiwifruit are looking rather yellowish, then you’d be perfectly correct because I used golden kiwifruit.  I’d never heard of golden kiwifruit until I read my New Zealand guide book – I’d only ever come across the standard green ones before, and I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of green kiwifruit.  But golden kiwifruit, oh my goodness, they’re delicious.  I’m a huge fan.  I find that they’re much more flavourful than their green counterparts, and sweeter, too, which I much prefer.  I buy a box nearly every week, and am building up quite a collection of kiwi spoons (plastic spoons with a cutting bit on the handle so that you can slice the kiwi in half with the knife part and scoop out the flesh with the spoon part – genius).

Kiwifruit are one of the few fruits in season at the moment (that I know of), so I’m also submitting this recipe to Simple and in Season, hosted by Feeding Boys and a Firefighter this month.  It’s also a super-simple dessert to prepare – literally just throw all the ingredients (ok, maybe not throw them, but place them) into a bowl, let the electric whisk do all the work and then pop it into the oven (the meringue, not the electric whisk).  Then just top with whipped cream and fruit and ta-da, you’re done!  Simple as.  Slicing it, on the other hand, isn’t quite as straightforward.  I mean, whoever thought that slicing a meringue would be a good idea?  I found it difficult to make a perfectly clean cut through the fruit, whipped cream and meringue.  I think little individual pavlovas would be far easier to serve, so I’ll try that next time.  Thankfully, shoddy slicing doesn’t affect the taste, and this golden kiwifruit pavlova was rather scrumptious.  Extremely sweet though, so a small slice was enough for me.

Golden kiwifruit pavlova

Serves 8-10
Slightly adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

It’s very important for the mixing bowl and electric whisk beaters to be clean of any grease and thoroughly dry or the egg whites won’t cooperate.  If you’re not confident making meringue, age the egg whites in a jar in the fridge for a few days – this will increase the protein ratio which makes apparently makes the white whip easier.  The meringue will keep for a couple of days on its own so it can be made in advance the day before and then topped with the cream and fruit just before serving.  The pavlova won’t keep very well so is best eaten the same day.

Ingredients

For the meringue:
350g caster sugar
2 egg whites (I had about 65g total), room temperature
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp boiling water

For the topping:
5-6 golden kiwifruit (or green)
200 ml NZ pure cream (or whipping cream)
1-2 tbsp icing sugar

Directions

To make the meringue:
1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C and place a rack in the centre of the oven.  Line an baking tray with baking paper.  Draw a circle of 23cm in diameter in the middle of the baking paper and flip the baking paper over so that you can see the circle through it.

2.  Add all the meringue ingredients to a large bowl, adding the boiling water last.  Immediately whisk for 10-12 minutes with an electric whisk on high speed until shiny with stiff peaks.  Spoon into the circle on the baking paper and spread it evenly with a spatula, smoothing it as much as possible.

3.  Bake for 10 mins, reduce the heat to 150°C/fan oven 130°C and bake a further 45 mins.  Turn off the heat and allow the meringue to cool in the oven for at least an hour (overnight is fine).

To assemble:
4.  When ready to serve, peel and slice the kiwifruit and set aside.  Carefully peel the baking paper off the bottom of the meringue and transfer to a serving plate.

5.  Whip the cream and icing sugar together until stiff and spread it over the top of the meringue, smoothing the top with a spatula.  Top with the sliced kiwifruit and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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