Tag Archives: Egg-free

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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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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A snack fit for a hungry hobbit

Happy Waitangi Day for yesterday to any New Zealanders out there – I hope you all enjoyed your day off and had the same beautiful weather as we did!  I was actually in the lab trying to fix up some of the cameras I need for my experiments.  It might not sound like the most thrilling way to spend a public holiday, but at least it didn’t require too much intense thinking and I knew that I’d be going for a lovely long swim once I got back.  Until a tsunami warning was put out after the earthquake in the Solomon Islands.*  Having to stay away from beaches and out of the sea thwarted my plans for a swim somewhat.  So instead,  I made a slight dent in the backlog of blog posts from the safety of our hilltop house.  Because blogging and exercise are totally interchangeable, right?

This post has nothing to do with tsunamis by the way.

Today’s recipe dates back from Kat was visiting over New Year’s.  (What blogging backlog?)  I’ve previously mentioned that we went on a little trip to Hobbiton whilst she was here.  Neither of us survive day trips without some sort of snack to keep us going – much like any self-respecting hobbit, actually – so we decided to make some homemade granola bars to take along with us.  I have a jar of raisins permanently soaking in rum, so we decided to dig into that and throw some into the granola bars.  Because why wouldn’t you?  Adding rum to granola bars obviously means that we’re winning at life.

Why would you use normal raisins when you can use rum-raisins?

Oats, nuts and (rum-soaked) dried fruit all contribute to a good snack that keeps you going, and we added some dark chocolate chips just because.  We threw in some macadamia nut butter that I had loitering in my cupboard, which turned out to be a rather excellent idea.  If you don’t happen to come across some on offer at a farmers’ market, I’d suggest almond butter or even peanut butter (although peanut butter would have a much stronger flavour).  These granola bars are pretty soft so they may crumble a little with transport, but if you wrap them up well in baking paper, it won’t be a problem.

We had planned on taking photos of the granola bars in Hobbiton…  But we got a little distracted and forgot.  Woops.

Almond, ginger & rum-raisin granola bars

Makes 12 bars
Adapted from BBC Good Food

The great thing about these bars is that all the ingredients are easily changed – substitute different nuts, different dried fruit, more (or fewer) chocolate chips or crystallised ginger, etc.  If you don’t have macadamia nut butter (I only have some because I came across some at a farmers’ market), almond butter would work well, as would peanut butter (though peanut butter will have a stronger flavour).  I used manuka honey for the flavour, but use whatever you’ve got available (or a mixture).  Soaking the raisins in rum is obviously optional, but highly recommended (unless you’re making these for kids, obviously…).  The bars are best wrapped in baking paper to transport them (they won’t stick to the baking paper), and will keep well for a few days in an airtight container (they’ll probably last longer actually, but we ate them all…).

Ingredients

100g raisins
Spiced rum
200g oats
100g slivered or flaked almonds
50g butter
50g light brown sugar
50g macadamia nut butter
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
50g crystallised ginger
50g dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)

Directions

1.  Add the raisins to a bowl or jar and cover with spiced rum.  Soak for at least 1h, but the longer the better (top tip: I always keep a jar of raisins soaking in rum.  You know, for emergencies…).

2.  Line a 25 x 19 cm baking tin with baking paper (otherwise you won’t be able to get the granola bars out afterwards).  Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/fan oven 140°C.

3.  Add the oats and almonds to a roasting tin or lipped baking tray, stir and toast for 5-10 mins in the oven, until fragrant.  Leave the oven on.

4.  Meanwhile, add the butter, macadamia nut butter, brown sugar and honey to a large saucepan and melt together.  Once smooth, stir in the spices, then add the toasted oats, chocolate chips, chopped crystallised ginger and raisins.  Stir together until well coated, transfer to the prepared tin, press down evenly and bake for 30 mins.  Allow to cool fully in the tin before cutting into bars or squares.  Wrap in baking paper to transport.

Enjoy!

Granola bars with rum.  Winning at life.

*The warning was eventually cancelled and no tsunami turned up, so nobody panic.

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Leftover champagne? Say what?

Woah, 2013 needs to slow down.  I can’t quite believe that it’s already been a whole two weeks since Kat and I opened the fridge on New Year’s Day and were greeted by a rather astonishing sight: an unfinished bottle of champagne.  The concept of leftover champagne may well be foreign to you – indeed it’s an incredibly rare event when I’m involved (assuming it isn’t a case (badum-tschhhh!) of bad champagne…).  So.  What does one do with champagne leftovers?  Despite the teaspoon trick (popping a teaspoon handle down in the bottle which is magically supposed to keep most of the bubbles in, though I’m not sure how), it wasn’t in the bubbliest state so drinking it wasn’t going to be ideal.

This.  This is what you do with leftover champagne…

Baking with SpiritLuckily, the alcohol of choice for this month’s Baking with Spirit challenge is “champagne” – perfect, although that doesn’t really help in choose what exactly to make.  I feel a little guilty for missing last month’s Baking with Spirit challenge (here’s the round-up) since I went on holiday and generally ran out of time, so I wanted to make something awesome to make up for it, plus it’s also Janine’s birthday month.  That plan failed a little because after much deliberation, we settled on something not particularly original and which may seem a bit of a cop-out, but it’s so delicious that I do hope Janine will forgive me…

Oh look, a champagne cork crept into the photo and everything…

It is, of course, summer here in NZ, and summer means summer berries.  Yay!  Originally we wanted to honour the Kir Royale by poaching some blackcurrants in a champagne syrup (in case you’re not familiar with Kir Royale, it consists of crème de cassis – blackcurrant liqueur – and champagne).  However, we couldn’t find any blackcurrants – I wonder if they’re only available at farmers’ markets or at pick-your-owns.  So our idea morphed into poaching a combination of summer berries in a Kir Royale syrup.  Oh hey there decadence, how you doing?  The champagne is quite a subtle taste, coming through at the start and then turning into a deliciously fruity flavour.

Looks like decadence invited itself to this party

Simple and in SeasonI have a little confession though.  Even though summer berries are in season, we actually used a frozen summer berry mix.  Shock horror, I know, but let me explain.  For a start, I needed to create a bit of space in my freezer, but more importantly, not all of the summer berries in the mix are readily available to buy fresh – as well as the mysterious lack of blackcurrants, I’ve never seen fresh boysenberries, for example.  I’m not sure why that is because the berry mix is from a NZ farm, so they are definitely grown here.  Luckily this dessert works perfectly whether you use fresh or frozen berries.  I’m going to be cheeky and still submit this to Simple and in Season, hosted by Lavender and Lovage this month, since the berries are in season, and I’d have used fresh if I could find them all.  I might be bending the rules a little bit, so I’m just going to smile, wave and move on swiftly to the actual recipe.

Langues de chat make the perfect accompaniment for this general deliciousness

Kir Royale-poached summer berries

Serves 2
Recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

You can use fresh or frozen berries for this dessert, but if using frozen berries, defrost them in advance and make sure to keep the juice.  You can use berries in whatever combination you like – although definitely make sure to try and get blackcurrants in there.  The dessert is best served with little biscuits to nibble on alongside (although it won’t necessarily be dairy-, egg- and gluten-free anymore) – langues de chat would work perfectly – and serving it in fancy glasses such as champagne saucers or martini glasses really dresses it up.  I sprinkled a bit of raw sugar crystals over the top but most of them ended up dissolving into the poaching liquid, so that ended up being a bit pointless.  If you have any leftover syrup, keep it in the fridge and use it to drizzle over icecream or sorbets.

Ingredients

250g mixed summer berries (blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.)
250g caster sugar
250ml champagne
1 tsp crème de cassis
Langues de chat or other little biscuits, to serve

Directions

1.  Add the sugar, champagne, crème de cassis and 350ml water to a medium saucepan (make sure that it’ll be large enough to fit all the fruit as well) and bring to the boil.

2.  Turn down the heat, and add the fruit (and any juice if using defrosted fruit).  Simmer for about 10-15 mins.

3.  Remove the fruit into a serving bowls or individual dishes or glasses.  Return the poaching liquid to the heat and simmer down until syrupy and reduced by half.  Spoon over the top of the fruit and serve with little biscuits on the side.

Enjoy!

Always a good sign.

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Pepernoten revisited!

Do you know what today is?  It’s Sinterklaas!  Which, unless you’re Dutch, have Dutch friends or have spent time in The Netherlands, probably doesn’t mean terribly much, and you can read a brief (and minorly sarcastic) explanation here.  I was born in The Netherlands and have lived there for a few years, and even when we didn’t live in NL we had Dutch friends, so Sinterklaas always featured on my calendar when I was growing up.  My favourite thing about Sinterklaas are pepernoten, which are little biscuits packed full of spices.  They’re amazing.  And they’re really difficult to find outwith NL.

I didn't really have any Sinterklaas-themed backgrounds to use, so I went for orange-y for Dutchness.  Flawless logic.

We left NL for the last time when I started uni in St Andrews, and luckily in my first year Keely sent me a massive packet of pepernoten.  But then her parents left NL.  Which meant that my only source of pepernoten was if I made them myself.  And so I turned to my recipe book which contains several different pepernoten recipes pilfered from various Dutch friends, and combined them.  I discovered that pepernoten are actually remarkably easy to make, although rolling all the little balls does make them a little time-consuming (so worth it though, and if you have the time, I’d definitely suggest doubling the recipe from the offset).

This bit takes a while.  But it's strangely therapeutic, too.

The most crucial part of pepernoten is the spice mix, and in NL you can buy a specific spice mix for them.  I obviously don’t have the special spice mix, but it’s easy enough to make using spices that you probably already have in your spice cupboard.  Incidentally, these are technically called kruidnoten, but most people just call them pepernoten, myself included (so no need to get all pernickety with me).  I make pepernoten every year now and attempt to spread general enthusiasm for Sinterklaas amongst whoever happens to be around to eat them.  Although I don’t go the whole hog and dress up as a Zwarte Piet and throw them at people…  (Although I’m sure the perplexed reaction would be highly entertaining, if awkward.)

Spices: the key bit of a biscuit that's all about… wait for it… spices.

This year my poor labmates fell victim to my general over-enthusiasm for Sinterklaas.  To be honest, they were pretty willing victims because all it involved was scoffing pepernoten.  Which is a remarkably easy task since they’re bite-sized and utterly moreish.  I’ve actually posted about pepernoten before, in my very second post.  I had a look at said post the other day and you can definitely  tell I was new to blogging.  Not that I’m any kind of expert now, but I like to think I’ve improved a little since then (although not in the conciseness department).  So I decided I’d repost the recipe, this time with slightly more detailed instructions, an indication of how many pepernoten it actually makes and perhaps a few better photos.

Those three pepernoten didn't last very long after the photo was taken…

Pepernoten

Makes about 170 pepernoten
Adapted from various recipes in my recipe folder

I’d suggest just doubling the recipe from the offset because these are bite-sized and moreish – a dangerous combination!  Dark brown sugar would probably work well instead of light brown sugar, but would result in a slightly more pronounced treacle-y flavour, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Pepernoten are all about the spices, so feel free to be liberal with the quantities.  The aniseed is optional – I’m not a huge aniseed fan so tend to leave it out, because I know I won’t use the rest of the jar, but the aniseed flavour itself doesn’t come through very strongly.  These will keep well for a week or so in an airtight container (they would probably keep longer, but they’re unlikely to stay uneaten for more than a few days anyway).

Ingredients

175g light brown sugar
110g butter
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp black treacle
275g self-rising flour + ½ tsp baking powder OR 275g all-purpose flour + 3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground aniseed (optional)
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground coriander
2 pinches of salt

Directions

1.  Butter a couple of baking trays.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2.  Add the brown sugar, cubed butter, milk and treacle in a saucepan.  Melt together on a low heat, stirring.  Remove from the heat once smooth.

3.  Mix together the flour, baking powder and spices in a large bowl.

4.  Once the treacle mixture has cooled a little (because enthusiastically plunging your hands into hot treacle just off the stove is not a smart idea.  Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything, ahem), pour it into the bowl and knead together until it forms a smooth, fairly firm dough, adding pinches of salt during kneading.

5.  Pinch of little bits of dough and roll them into small round balls about the size of a marble.  Place them on the prepared baking trays leaving about 1.5 cm space between them.  Bake for 12-15 mins until risen and golden (it’s normal if they look slightly cracked).  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely – they’ll harden as they cool (I find that the pepernoten tend to slip through the wires on my cooling rack, so I usually place one over the top of the other, but perpendicular so that the wires cross over each other and stop any pepernoten from falling through).

Eet smakelijk and happy Sinterklaas!

Pepernoten everywhere!

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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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The rhubarb cake that’ll be right

Here’s a tip-top baking secret: don’t overfill a cake tin – if it looks too full, it probably is.  I know, I know, I’m just too generous giving you such ground-breaking advice for free.  What can I say?  I’m really nice like that (please, don’t kill yourself laughing).  Unfortunately, this advice is based on first-hand experience.  An experience which comes courtesy of my (non-existent) entry for last month’s Simple and in Season event.  As I poured the batter into my prepared cake tin, I watched the batter level creep further and further up the side of the tin.  The batter level stopped about 5mm below the rim of the tin and I thought to myself well that looks a bit full.  Should I transfer some of it to a different tin?  Nah, she’ll be right.  “She’ll be right” is the Kiwi version of “it’ll be fine” – I’m clearly doing a fabulous job of adapting to my current host country.  So I popped the cake into the oven, expecting some sort of magic to take place.

It didn’t.  The cake proceeded to slowly rise and – you guessed it – spill down over the sides of the cake tin in what looked rather like lava flows.  I’d had a moment of clarity and put the cake tin on a baking tray which thankfully caught all the cake lava, so I didn’t have to deal with a cake-covered oven.  Too bad that moment of clarity didn’t extend to not overfilling the cake tin in the first place…  Needless to say that, whilst totally delicious, the resulting rhubarb cake was not particularly presentable, so I didn’t get my entry in (obviously this didn’t happen the evening before the deadline… ahem).  Luckily my labmates don’t discriminate against misshapen cakes as long as they taste good.

I made the cake again last night, but with reduced quantities to avoid another overfilled-cake-tin situation.  It was all going well… until I realised that I’d used up all the eggs in the omelette I’d made myself for dinner…  Great planning skills right there.  I could have nipped down to the dairy (corner shop) across the road, but it was raining and cold outside and I had a bunch of bananas, so I decided to just go for the banana-instead-of-egg approach – she’ll be right.  Because that attitude worked so well for me the first time I made the cake…  Thankfully this time I was rather more successful and out of the oven came a presentable, moist, spiced, rhubarb-y cake with a slightly crunchy cinnamon sugar topping.  Phew!  Since rhubarb is still in season here, I’m submitting it to this month’s Simple and in Season event which is back over at Fabulicious Food! where Ren is also celebrating her second blog birthday.  So here’s a rhubarb cake to wish you a happy blog birthday, Ren!

Rhubarb cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from Bubby’s Brunch Cookbook

If you don’t have any buttermilk, just use 315 ml of normal milk and add 2 tbsp lemon juice, mix and allow to stand for about 10 mins.  Then just add it as instructed (though sieve it first in case any lemon pips snuck in).  You can use two eggs instead of the mashed ½ banana – when the recipe specifies to whisk in the banana, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.  A lot of the rhubarb seems to sink to the bottom of the cake, so you may wish to try dusting the rhubarb with flour before folding it in (I haven’t tried this though, so no guarantees that it will prevent the rhubarb from sinking!).  The cake will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
400g rhubarb
Caster sugar, to sprinkle
335g all-purpose flour
1⅓ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Good pinch of salt
400g dark brown sugar
150g unsalted butter, softened
½ banana
315 ml buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:
65g light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Wash the rhubarb stalks and slice into 1 to 1.5 cm pieces.  Place in a sieve or colander over a bowl, lightly sprinkle with some caster sugar, mix together and allow to stand until whilst preparing the rest of the cake.

2.  Preheat the oven to 195°C/fan oven 175°C.  Line a 24 cm round cake tin (at least 5cm deep) with baking paper (the baking paper makes it easier to lift the cake out.  If you have a deep enough springform tin, this would be a great time to make use of it).

3.  Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom, cinnamon and salt to a medium mixing bowl and stir together.  Set aside.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter with an electric whisk until creamy.  Mash the banana in with a fork in a small bowl, and whisk into the sugar and butter mixture.  Then add the buttermilk and vanilla extract and whisk well until smooth (at this point, the mixture may curdle a little and it might not look terribly appetising, but adding the flour will sort that out, I promise).

5.  Add the flour mixture a third at a time, whisking until just combined between each addition.  Fold in the rhubarb and pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, smoothing the top with a spatula.

6.  Make the topping by stirring together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over the cake and bake for 1h10 to 1h20 until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for about 10 mins before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cut into slices or squares and 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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Aztec roasted pumpkin seeds

Those spiced sweet potato cupcakes that I mentioned on Friday did indeed get rid of my October pumpkin-baking itch, but they also opened up a whole new little obsession: roasted pumpkin seeds.  I’d never tried roasting pumpkin seeds before, mostly because I never have pumpkin seeds to roast.  In fact, I bought pumpkin seeds for the first time a couple of weeks ago, on a whim.  I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds are appetite suppressors (but don’t take my word for it – I can’t remember where I read it), so I thought it might be a good idea to keep a packet in my desk for when I get peckish mid-afternoon but didn’t bring a snack.  A flawless plan but for the teeny tiny minor detail that I discovered that I don’t really like raw pumpkin seeds.  To me, they’re bland and a little bit chewy and not particularly enjoyable to eat.  Oh.  Bummer.

So what do you do with a pack of pumpkin seeds that is taking up cupboard space?  You add spices and a little bit of sugar and roast them.  Obviously.  After my first successful attempt last week, I decided that roasted pumpkin seeds were the way forward, and started to think of other flavours to try out.  I remembered that the special ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge (which is being hosted by Nat at HungryHinny) is “pumpkin.”  Now, pumpkins and other squashes aren’t in season here anymore, but pumpkin seeds also count…  So what about roasting pumpkin seeds with some cocoa powder?  (Which I realise may actually be the most basic and straightforward way to combine pumpkin and chocolate.)

I decided to take a leaf from the Aztec flavour bible and add cinnamon and chilli powder to the cocoa powder.  I was already familiar with the marvellous combination of chocolate, cinnamon and chilli, and adding the flavours to pumpkin seeds turned out to be a fabulous idea, even if they do look as if they’d just been dug out of the earth (thanks cocoa powder!).  I particularly love the gentle, but satisfying, crunch of the seeds followed by the aftertaste of warmth from the chilli powder.  Now I keep a little tupperware box of roasted pumpkin seeds in my desk and they do the trick nicely if I get the mid-afternoon munchies.  The chilli is especially handy on a cold day.  Oh and they take about 3 minutes to prepare (plus roasting time), so it’s an easy snack to throw together.  So easy and straightforward in fact, that I almost feel like I’m cheating by sending this in as my entry to We Should Cocoa – it’s hardly even a recipe!

Aztec roasted pumpkin seeds

Makes about 100g
Based on Serious Eats

This recipe would work with fresh pumpkin seeds, too – don’t worry too much about cleaning them perfectly as the stringy pumpkin bits will just add flavour (although try to get rid of any big stringy bits as this will make it easier to mix).  You can adjust the amount of chilli powder depending on how much you enjoy spiciness (I’m not a huge spicy person, so the amount specified is just right for me) – I’d suggest tasting the seeds before roasting and adjusting the spices as necessary.  The roasted pumpkin seeds will keep for about two weeks in an airtight container.

Ingredients

100g pumpkin seeds
20g unsalted butter
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
¾ tsp cocoa powder (at least 70%)
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
Just under ¼ tsp chilli powder

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with tin foil.  Preheat the oven to 175°C/fan 155°C.

2.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Place the pumpkin seeds in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Add the melted butter and stir until the seeds are fully coated in melted butter.

3.  Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon and chilli powder to the seeds and stir until well mixed and coated.  Spread in a single layer on the lined baking tray and bake for 30 mins, stirring every 10 mins.

4.  Allow to cool on the baking tray (the popping noises are normal) and serve or store in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

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An (utterly delicious) egg-free birthday cake!

It’s birthdays galore in the lab this week with both the technicians celebrating their birthdays – one yesterday, and one tomorrow, but she’s taking the day off so we celebrated today.  We’ve named it Technician Week.  Birthdays mean cake, and we don’t do things by halves in the lab so it’s been cake galore over the past two days.  Brownies and cake yesterday, and then two more cakes and biscuits today (plus all of yesterday’s leftovers).  We’re set for the week.  I was in charge of Monday’s birthday cake, which was for the technician who doesn’t eat egg.  The girl who was organising the present and card doesn’t like chocolate, so I needed to find a (reliable) cake recipe without egg and without chocolate.  Quite a challenge, particularly since I didn’t want to go down the vegan route – my limited experience with vegan baking so far hasn’t been particularly spectacular and a birthday is not the occasion to attempt to rectify that.

I searched for some tips on egg-free baking, and found several credible-seeming sites that suggested that you can often substitute half a mashed banana in cake recipes calling for just one or two eggs as apparently it has similar binding properties and still keeps the cake moist.  Obviously this won’t work if you need to separate the eggs or anything, but it’s a good to know.  The next step was to find a cake recipe that only called for one or two eggs (and didn’t have any chocolate), which was a little more elusive than I expected – most seem to ask for at least three.  A Treasury of New Zealand Baking came up trumps with a spiced date cake recipe requiring only one egg.  The original recipe was for a 20 cm cake, and that seemed a little small for a birthday cake so I doubled it.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% convinced that the banana trick was going to work, so I spent quite a while crossing my fingers whilst it was baking away.  The original recipe is supposed to be made in the food processor, adding ingredients as you go along.  Apparently my food processor had other plans, however, and instead of putting together a cake, it decided to make a strange noise, die and then emit a heck of a lot of smoke.  Marvellous timing.

So I reverted back to my trusty electric whisk to rescue the situation, which thankfully it did with flying colours (and no flying batter).  Luckily the taste of the cake wasn’t affected by the food processor mishap.  In fact, the cake was utterly delicious with the spices and the date flavours coming through wonderfully.  And it wasn’t at all dry, which is what I was most worried about (and had to wait until it was cut to find out whether it had really worked or not).  I covered it in cream cheese icing, piped some little fish on top and boom, a marine-themed birthday cake!  By the way, all the photos were taken on my phone and in the foyer or in our printer room (the only part of the lab we’re allowed to have food), so I apologise for the quality and slightly odd set-ups.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go claim the warranty on my food processor and then have a little lie-down after two days of cake…

Spiced date cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The un-iced cake will keep for 4-5 days in an airtight box, so it can be prepared in advance.  The iced cake will keep for about 2 days in an airtight box.  Any leftover icing will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge.  If you need the icing to be smooth for piping, I’d recommend using lemons extract instead of lemon zest.  The cake can also be decorated with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon and a handful of toasted walnuts.

Ingredients

For the cake:
500g pitted dates, roughly chopped
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250 ml boiling water
220g caster sugar
220g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
¾ mashed banana
300g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or ¼ tsp lemon extract

Directions

To make the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and place them in a heat-proof bowl along with the bicarbonate of soda.  Pour the boiling water over them, stir and leave to soak for 30 mins, stirring occasionally.  Set aside.

2.  Butter the base and sides of a deep (mine is about 5 cm) 24 cm round cake tin.  Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper (even if your tin is non-stick).  Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until pale and fluffy.  Add the mashed banana and mix well.

4.  Add the flour, baking powder, spices, dates and the soaking liquid to the butter mixture and whisk until just combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin and smooth the top with a spatula (it doesn’t have to be perfect).

5.  Bake for about 1h10 (start checking after 1h) until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cake is fully cooled, transfer it to a serving plate and prepare the icing.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl and add the cream cheese, cubed butter and the lemon zest or extract.  Whisk together with an electric whisk until white and fluffy (I kept aside about 2 tbsp for the orange piped icing), then spread over the top of the cake with a palette knife.  Decorate as you wish.

Enjoy!

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