Tag Archives: Walnut

Banana & walnut muffins

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

Banana & walnut muffins

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

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

Freezer roulette anyone?

Banana & walnut muffins

Makes 12 muffins
Adapted from My Baking Addiction

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

Ingredients

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

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

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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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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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Tamarillo time!

I don’t think I’d ever encountered tamarillos, also known as tree tomatoes, until about a month ago.  I certainly don’t remember seeing them in shops in Europe, although I’ve never looked for them, so perhaps I just didn’t notice.  Much like feijoas, another fruit I’ve discovered since moving here, tamarillos are originally from South America but grow well in NZ and are very popular here.  They’re in season from April to November, so I’ll be submitting today’s recipe to the Simple and in Season blog event, which is back home over at Fabulicious Food! this month.  Tamarillos look pretty cool inside with red skin, yellowy-orange flesh and black seeds.  Case in point (you may recognise these if you follow me on Instagram), although these ones have all been skinned:

Pretty funky, right?  I first tried a tamarillo when one of my labmates brought a bag in from her garden several weeks ago.  Which is good because I wouldn’t really have known how to eat them or what to do with them otherwise.  They’re fairly bitter, so apparently they’re often poached in a sugar syrup before eating or very commonly used in chutneys.  That said, they are edible fresh, too, but I think that comes down to a matter of taste.  However you choose to eat them though, make sure to remove the skin because apparently it’s foul (I took everybody’s word for it).  Just cut them in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon if eating fresh (the seeds are fine to eat).

Back when it was feijoa season, I borrowed several NZ baking books from the library since I didn’t really know what exactly to do with them.  Conveniently, said books also contained tamarillo recipes which, in a moment of foresight, I also noted down.  When I was browsing through them to figure out what to do with my tamarillo impulse buy from the farmers’ market, a recipe for tamarillo and walnut cake jumped out at me.  I freaking love walnuts so I was all over this recipe.  The only problem: it was a fairly brief recipe.  The ingredients listed ‘cooked tamarillos’ which didn’t help me much with my fresh tamarillos, but after consulting the internet and a little successful experimentation, I ended it up with cooked tamarillos, which then turned themselves into a rather scrumptious tamarillo and walnut cake.

The not-overly-informative recipe also failed to specify the size of cake tin to use.  Just a minor detail.  I clearly picked one that was a little too large so the cake ended up a little thinner than I’d have liked, but that’s really just a pernickety presentation issue and luckily doesn’t affect the taste.  Based on their bitterness, I wasn’t too sure how tamarillos would work out in baked goods, but actually the tamarillo flavour wasn’t quite as strong as I was expecting, and there’s no trace of bitterness whatsoever.  I love that the walnutty taste comes through really well, and is well balanced by the lemon icing.  Basically, I really enjoyed this cake (and so did the lab, my trustee taste-testers) and if you happen across some tamarillos and are unsure what to do with them, give this a go!  I’m also submitting this cake to this month’s AlphaBakes challenge which is being hosted by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker.  This month’s random letter is “T” like tamarillo, which is a rather marvellous coincidence since I actually bought the tamarillos before reading the challenge.

Tamarillo & walnut cake

Serves 6-8
Adapted from A fruit cookbook

Once the tamarillos have been cooked, do taste one to check that they aren’t too bitter.  If they are, drain them. sprinkle with a little sugar and sit for ten mins or so before using.  I used a 24cm cake tin but the came out much thinner than I would have liked, so I’d suggest using a 20cm cake tin, or even an 18cm one to get a thicker cake.  If using a 24cm cake tin as I did, do watch that it doesn’t over-bake.  The icing is optional, but adds a delicious touch.  You could also use a simple lemon drizzle icing if you prefer.

Ingredients

For the cooked tamarillos:
4 or 5 tamarillos (about 220g, gives about 200g when cooked)
½ lemon
2 heaped tbsp caster sugar (more if using red tamarillos)

For the cake:
50g shelled walnuts, plus extra handful to decorate
185g all-purpose flour
1¾ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs
100g unsalted butter
180g light brown sugar
40g mixed candied peel

For the icing:
55g unsalted butter
250g icing sugar
1 unwaxed lemon
1-2 tsp cream

Directions

To cook the tamarillos:
1.  Place the tamarillos in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Allow to sit for 2-3 mins, then skin them, starting by lopping off the stalk with a sharp knife and peeling off the rest of the skin (the skin peels away very easily once started).  Slice the skinned tamarillos and place in a medium-sized saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.  Add enough water to barely cover the fruit, cover the saucepan and gently simmer until the fruit is soft (this took about 15 mins for me).  Remove the cooked tamarillo slices and drain them well before chopping up (you should have about 190g cooked tamarillos).  Set aside.

To make the cake:
2.  Butter a 20cm round cake tin.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

3.  Roughly chop all of the walnuts and toast them in a frying pan over low heat until fragrant.  Toss frequently and be careful that they don’t burn.  Set aside to cool.

4.  Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a medium-sized bowl.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Whisk in the eggs until well incorporated.

5.  Alternate between stirring in some of the flour mixture and some of the chopped tamarillos.  Then stir in the peel and 50g of the chopped toasted walnuts.  Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1-1¼ h, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (if using a 24cm cake tin like I did, start checking after 45 mins).  Leave the cake in the tin for 15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cake is cool, make the icing.  Beat together the butter and icing sugar.  Once well incorporated, whisk in the zest and juice of the lemon.  Mix in the cream to reach the desired consistency.  Pour icing over the fully cooled cake, smooth if necessary using a palette knife or spatula and top with the remaining toasted chopped walnuts.

Enjoy!

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The Olympics are over… now what? Banana mousse, that’s what.

So.  The Olympics are over and normal life has resumed.  Does anybody else feel like there’s a gaping hole in the shape of fiver inter-linked rings in their lives now?  At least it’s only for a couple of weeks until the Paralympics start (hurry up already!), but in the mean time, comfort food is clearly the order of the day.  What’s that?  The point of the games was to inspire everybody to go be sporty and all?  Well that’s all good, but people still have to eat, so comfort food wins out for today.  I’ve got the perfect comfort dessert for you – not only is it delicious, but it’s also exceptionally easy and quick to prepare…  Fast food with no McDonald’s in sight.

After last month’s excuse for a nosy snoop around other bloggers’ bookshelves, we’re going “back to the very beginning” for this month’s Random Recipes, meaning back to the original rules of randomly picking a book, then randomly picking a recipe from said book.  Simple.  I used the random number button on my calculator as usual, which directed me to book number five, which turned out to be Cuisine Express, a convenient choice since the recipes are all fairly quick to prepare, though a fair few of the shortcut ingredients aren’t very easy to find outside of France (and are usually expensive if you do), which isn’t ideal.  I needn’t have worried though, since the random number button directed me to page 146, giving me a choice of several different quick fruit mousse recipes.

As delicious and tempting as the raspberry or peach mousses sounded, it’s very much not raspberry nor peach season here, so I chose the banana express mousse.  It definitely lives up to its name as it only takes ten minutes to prepare, although it does require at least two hours of chilling in the fridge before serving.  But actually that’s great because it’s a dessert that can be prepared in advance or even the night before, which is always helpful.  The mousse itself is lovely and creamy and smooth, and the banana flavour comes through strongly, which is great.  I added some honey on a whim since I’ve got a bit of a sore throat so I’m adding honey to things left, right and centre at the moment and that was a delicious little added extra, as were the banana slices and toasted walnuts.  They’re all optional extras, but they can take this from an everyday dessert to one presentable enough to finish up a dinner party without much extra effort (always a bonus!).  Serving it in martini glasses or champagne coupes also automatically makes it look fancier.  Here’s to speedy comfort food!

Banana express mousse

Serves 4
Adapted from Cuisine Express

Although very quick to prepare, don’t forget to plan for the 2h of refrigeration.  The mousse can be refrigerated for longer, even overnight if necessary – the lemon juice keeps the banana from going all brown.  This can work as a fancy dessert served in martini glasses, champagne coupes or other fancy glassware, or an everyday dessert served in little ramekins or bowls.  The decorations on top are totally optional, but do add a little bit of pizzazz to the presentation.  Whilst brown sugar would go really well with the bananas, I decided to stick with white sugar as I’m not sure that using brown would result in the most presentable of colours.

Ingredients

5 bananas (includes 1 to serve which is optional)
1 lemon
40g caster sugar
200ml whipping cream
20g icing sugar
6 walnut halves (optional)
Honey, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Peel four of the bananas (keep the fifth one unpeeled until needed) and pop them in a blender along with the juice of the lemon and the caster sugar.  Whizz together until totally smooth.

2.  In a large bowl, whip the cream.  As it begins to firm up, add the icing sugar and continue whisking until firm.  Gently add the banana mixture to the whipped cream and carefully fold together.  Split equally between four martini glasses/champagne coupes/ramekins/bowls.  Refrigerate for at least 2h.

3.  Whilst the mousse is chilling, roughly chop the walnuts and toast in a frying pan over a low heat until fragrant.  Allow to cool and set aside until needed.

4.  To serve, peel and slice the last banana, lay three slices of banana in the middle of each individual mousse, and top with the toasted walnuts and a drizzle of honey.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Walnut shortbread

There’s no way I can eat a whole cake or batch of biscuits all by myself on a regular basis, so I take most of what I bake into the lab.  Not only are my labmates very enthusiastic taste-testers, but baked goods have the added advantage of being a great way of integrating into the lab.  However, one of the technicians doesn’t eat eggs.  Now something like nuts aren’t usually too difficult to omit from a recipe, but eggs?  Eggs are tough.  (Side note: I find the concept of fake egg rather freaky so I refuse to use egg substitutes).

Thankfully, she doesn’t mind when somebody brings in baked goods with egg in them and she can’t eat any, which is lucky because I regularly bake with eggs since the vast majority of my recipes call for them.  I have to admit that even if she doesn’t mind, I still feel a little guilty, so I’ve been on the lookout for egg-free recipes – I don’t intend to bake egg-free all the time, but at least from time to time so that everybody is included.  I’m well aware that there are plenty of vegan recipes out there, but my initial foray into vegan baking came out rather dry and not particularly presentable, so I’ve yet to be convinced (although I’m open to recipe recommendations).  Plus I’d rather not deprive myself of dairy products without reason.  So anyway, I discovered over the weekend that shortbread is egg-free.  Oooooo…

Now, I’ve never tried making shortbread before, and I’d always been under the impression that it was difficult and technical to make.  Rather than start with basic shortbread, it was thus clearly totally logical to complicate things a little by adding toasted walnuts.  I’m not sure why I thought shortbread was such a challenge, and I’m also not sure why one of the recipes I looked at said that shortbread was “a test of cook’s skill” – it really didn’t seem that difficult to me.  If anybody could enlighten me, that would be lovely.  Of course I’d love to think that I’m clearly just a brilliantly accomplished baker, but that’s really not the case.  Perhaps it’s my Scottish side shining through.  Or beginner’s luck.

Adding walnuts turned out to be a rather fabulous idea – toasted walnut and nutmeg are such wonderfully wintery flavours, and the shortbread itself was the perfect amount of buttery and utterly scrumptious.  They were super popular in the lab, and everybody was able to enjoy them whilst we watched the gymnastics highlights from the Olympics over our coffee break.  Whilst watching those girls do flips and (mostly) managing to land on the balancing beam and bounding and somersaulting across the carpet, we concluded that those gymnasts probably don’t eat much deliciously buttery shortbread.  We also concluded that it was their loss.

Walnut shortbread

Makes about 20 biscuits
Adapted from The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake

Toasting the walnuts really elevates their flavour, so try not to skip that step, even if a little pushed for time – I promise it’s worth it!  If you want to make shortbread shapes I’d try rolling the shortbread dough out to a thickness of 1cm (before the refrigeration step) and using cookie cutters in the shape(s) that you want, then refrigerating the individual biscuits on their trays.  I haven’t tried that method however, so I’m not sure how well it would work.  These will keep for up to a week in an airtight container (though I highly doubt they’d last that long).

Ingredients

50g walnut pieces or halves
260g all-purpose flour
40g cornflour
¾ tsp ground nutmeg
Good pinch of salt
200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

Directions

1.  Toast the walnuts in a small frying pan over a low heat until fragrant and lightly toasted.  Remove from the heat, roughly chop if necessary and set aside to cool.

2.  Sift the flour, cornflour, ground nutmeg and salt into a medium-sized bowl and stir together.

3.  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.

4.  Add the flour mixture and the walnuts to the butter and sugar and mix together 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).  Shape the dough into a log of about 20cm in length and even thickness and wrap in cling film (since dough will still be crumbly, you may need to gently push it together to compact it enough to make a log).  Refrigerate for 20-30 mins until firm.

5.  Butter two baking trays.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C.

6.  Remove the cling film from the dough log and slice into about 20 rounds of 1cm thickness.  Place on the baking trays, with about 1.5cm space between each biscuit.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until firm but still pale.  Sprinkle the biscuits with caster sugar and allow to sit on the baking trays for 2-3 mins before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully before serving.

Enjoy!

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How to accidentally feed a small child caffeine…

Coffee breaks are a big thing in my lab.  Before I elaborate, I should probably explain my work situation (work as in uni work).  As a postgrad, I have a desk.  A whole desk all to myself, which is kind of exciting.  I mean I effectively had my own space in the computer lab in the last few weeks that I was writing my dissertation (of doom) in St Andrews, but that was more because I claimed it by spending about 18h a day there and leaving my papers and files scattered around it for the 6h that I wasn’t because I was sleeping or eating, but now I have a desk that’s actually mine and doesn’t require scattered highlighters and papers to mark my territory.  I’m clearly going up in the world.

Now this desk is located in the fairly large marine lab, half of which consists of postgrad desks and the other half is the actual lab bit with lab benches and microscopes and chemicals, none of which I actually use.  Other than an invisible line there’s no separation between the desk-filled half and the proper lab half of the room, so the whole thing is classed as a lab.  Food and drink aren’t allowed in labs.  Thus, no food and drink at our desks.  Which means… no coffee.  Which is an issue.  And explains the importance of the coffee break.  The lab is also quite cold, which makes it all the more frustrating that we can’t have hot drinks at our desks.  Coffee breaks mean that we get to venture upstairs where it’s a bit warmer.  Coffee breaks are also ideal for bringing in baked goods that you don’t want to eat an entire batch of by yourself.  And baked goods are a great way of making friends with your labmates.

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being guest hosted by Lucy of The Kitchen Maid and she has chosen “coffee” as the special ingredient, which is an excellent choice because I love the combination of coffee and chocolate.  In fact, they almost pair a little too well, and I actually found it rather difficult to choose what to make because there are just so many possibilities.  I think that coffee and chocolate complement each other best in something fairly rich, so after much indecision I finally settled on coffee and walnut brownies.  The walnuts were the result of some last-minute inspiration, but they go so well with both coffee and chocolate, that they just seemed like they’d make the perfect addition.  And they really did work wonderfully, adding a little bit of crunch and balance to the soft, rich chocolateyness of the brownies.  The coffee blends perfectly with the chocolate – you can definitely taste that it’s there, even if it’s not a distinct flavour and you can’t quite put your finger on it.  I think this might be my favourite brownie recipe ever.

I brought the brownies in for yesterday’s afternoon coffee break and they went down a storm.  One of the guys who works in an offshoot of the marine lab further down the corridor had his kids in with him so they joined us for our coffee break.  I think they’re about 5 and 8 years old.  Whilst their dad was making his coffee and whatever drinks they were having they were eyeing up the brownies sitting on the table, but clearly too scared of all the adults they didn’t really know to ask for some.  I didn’t want to offer them some without first checking that nuts were ok though – I hear that inducing somebody’s child into anaphylactic shock is considered rather bad form.  The fact that there’s caffeine in the brownies totally didn’t cross my mind until after they’d each had half a brownie and their dad said “these are so good, but they taste a bit different to standard chocolate brownies, what’s that extra flavour?”  “That’s probably the coffee.  Oh my gosh, coffee.  I just gave caffeine to your kids.  I am so sorry!!”  Awkward.  I don’t have any younger siblings or young cousins, so I’ve had minimal experience with small children…  Can you tell?  We concluded that there was probably less caffeine in a brownie than in several sips of coke, so they probably wouldn’t go totally crazy.  He even let them have another half each when they asked for more.  Since I’m spending this morning at the aquarium, I won’t have seen him by the time this post publishes, so I’m not sure how that worked out…

Coffee & walnut brownies

Makes 20 brownies
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

If you’re not a huge fan of coffee or you want a slightly more subtle flavour, you can decrease the amount of coffee down to 1tbsp dissolved in 2 tbsp of boiling water.  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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

2.  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 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 roughly chopped 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 15-20 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!  And uhm, perhaps avoid feeding them to small children…

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Fig, goat’s cheese & chocolate tartlets

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge ingredient, hosted by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, is “cheese.”  That’s right, we’re supposed to make something involving cheese… and chocolate.  I think the most obvious way of combining the two would be in the form of a cheesecake, but I’m not a fan of cheesecake (to put it mildly).  I have made cheesecake a grand total of once in my entire life, as a birthday gift for somebody who absolutely adored cheesecake.  However, the cheesecake, which, by the way, was delicious – and I know that for a fact because Kat and Craig tested the trial run for me, and I definitely trust them to tell me the truth, especially in this particular situation – suffered a terrible fate which I’m just going to refer to as the “cheesecake incident” (but if you desperately want to know what happened, I’ll refer you to point number 4 in this post) and move on, because the incident still irks me, over a year later (in case you couldn’t tell).  Somewhat ironically, the white chocolate and lime cheesecake in question was my entry for the We Should Cocoa challenge back in March 2011.

Since it’ll clearly be a while before I ever attempt another cheesecake, I had to come up with some other way of combining cheese and chocolate.  I’ve just remembered the cream cheese Kahlúa brownies that I made a few months ago – they would also have been perfect for this challenge (a bit late to think of that now though!).  Now I must admit that I’m what can only be described as a cheese fiend, but I have never considered combining cheese (proper cheese, not cream cheese) with chocolate and I was at a bit of a loss.  For inspiration, I looked the combination up in the Flavour Thesaurus, which only had an entry for chocolate and goat’s cheese, but said that they went surprisingly well together.  Initially I wasn’t sure how I could combine the chocolate and goat’s cheese, but then I hit upon the idea of a chocolate pastry case and a goat’s cheese filling of some sort.  My inspiration sort of stopped there though, and it wasn’t until a few days later that somebody mentioned something about figs and I suddenly thought of the roast figs with honey and goat’s cheese that I’ve previously posted, and wondered if I could do something similar… but in a chocolate pastry case.  There was only one way to find out…

I picked up some delicious figs at the Farmers’ Market this morning, headed home, dug out a chocolate shortcrust pastry recipe, and gave it a go.  Conveniently, the pastry requires some resting time, so I got some reading done (though unfortunately it was really boring – the biochemical workings of elasmobranch electroreceptors anyone…?  No?  You surprise me.).  I’d never tried the pastry recipe before – it tasted good, but it was very fragile, possibly because I might have rolled it a little too thinly, so I had difficulties getting a couple of the tartlets out of their tins in one piece.  I’ll have to try it again but not rolled as thinly to see if it’s a problem with the pastry in general or just this particular attempt.  The chocolate isn’t an overpowering flavour in the tartlets, but you can definitely taste it, and it goes wonderfully with the fig and goat’s cheese filling.  All in all, except for the pastry, I’m really pleased with how these turned out!  And they would definitely make an unusual but super-tasty dessert.  Since figs are in season here (did you know that they grow figs in NZ?  I didn’t!), I’m also submitting this to the Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food – although the pastry is a bit of a faff, they’re actually super simple to throw together.

Fig, goat’s cheese & chocolate tartlets

Makes 6 tartlets
Pastry recipe from Petits plats entre amis
Filling recipe from my imagination

The number of figs required may differ depending on the size of the figs that you are using.  The rosemary is totally optional, but it adds a subtle flavour that’s a little different and unexpected.  For the chocolate pastry, make sure not to roll it too thin as I found that it’s very fragile and quite difficult to get out of the tins without breaking.  Mini springform pans would be ideal, or silicone bakeware that can easily be “peeled off” the tartlets.  The pastry needs to rest for 2h before being used, so remember to plan accordingly!  The pastry recipe makes twice the amount required for the recipe, so either double the filling ingredients or make something else with it (it works for biscuits).  These tartlets won’t keep very well, so they are best eaten the day they are made.

Ingredients

For the pastry (makes double the amount required):
250g all-purpose flour
200g unsalted butter
120g icing sugar
50g cocoa powder
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cold water

For the filling:
12 medium-sized figs
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary (optional)
100g crumbly creamy goat’s cheese
6 tbsp walnut pieces
6 tbsp honey

Directions

For the pastry:
1.  Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the middle.  Add the rest of the pastry ingredients, and mix together with a fork.  Then, knead together until the pastry comes together and is well incorporated (don’t worry if this seems to be taking a while – it does come together eventually).  Form into a ball, wrap in cling-film and rest for 2h in the fridge.

Assembling the tartlets:
2.  Remove the pastry from the fridge, and allow to acclimatise a little for about 10-15 mins.  Meanwhile butter six 10cm tartlet tins and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

3.  Split the pastry into six even pieces, and roll each one out individually to fit a tartlet tin.  Make sure not to roll it too thinly (no less than about 6mm).  Line the tins with the pastry, and prick it with a fork.  Line each pastry case with a piece of baking paper and some baking beans, and bake blind for 12 mins.

4.  Meanwhile, quarter the figs.  When the tartlets have been blind-baked, remove from the oven, and remove the baking beans.  Make sure that the pastry case loosens from the tin.  Arrange the fig quarters in the pastry cases (8 quarters per tartlet).  Strip the sprigs of rosemary and sprinkle the leaves evenly between the tartlets, followed by the crumbled goat’s cheese and walnut pieces.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of honey over each tartlet and bake for 15-20 mins.

5.  Once baked, allow the tartlets to cool a little in their tins (the liquid will bubble down a bit and become a little less liquid-y) before turning out onto a wire rack.  Eat warm or cooled.

Enjoy!

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World Domination vs. mini-croissants

For this month’s Random Recipe challenge, Dom banked on the high likelihood that food bloggers received at least one recipe book for Christmas.  The theme is “new year, new book“, which I think is pretty self explanatory – this month’s recipe had to be chosen from our newest book.  As correctly predicted by Dom, my newest recipe book was, indeed, a gift for Christmas.  It was a wonderful gift from my friend Emma, whom I went to visit in Paris to bring in the New Year.  It wasn’t just a recipe book, it was a recipe gift set.  Although I didn’t immediately realise that.  On opening the gift, my eyes were drawn to the shiny part and I thought she’d given me some sort of torture implement to help me on my way with my (not so) secret plan for World Domination.  I then saw the accompanying book entitled Mini-croissants pour l’apéritif, and realised that it wasn’t a torture implement at all but a mini-croissant cutter.  Uhm, hello amazing idea (the croissant cutter, not torture.  Obviously.).

The random number generator on my trusty calculator directed me to a recipe for goat’s cheese and rosemary mini-croissants.  How yummy do those sound?!  So with the deadline for the challenge rapidly approaching (not that it’s today or anything, ahem) I put my plans for World Domination on the back-burner (for now) and decided to give these mini-croissants a go.  I wasn’t dreading making them or anything, I just haven’t been organised enough.  Speaking of lack of organisation, I totally failed to take part in last month’s Random Recipe challenge.  And you know why?  Because we left for France a whole two days earlier than I was expecting, and when I realised this it was too late because the recipe required overnight soaking.  I will eventually make that recipe though.  I might need to work on my planning skills before World Domination becomes a reality.

In the meantime, I’m all about the mini-croissants.  They are so cute!!  And delicious!!  I clearly need to work on my croissant-rolling skills, but I’ll let myself off since these were my first try.  I didn’t make the puff pastry, so these were super-quick and easy to prepare.  Which is always a good thing.  The original recipe called for pine nuts rather than walnuts, but guess who forgot to check whether we had any pine nuts?  Ya, me.  How did you guess?  The walnuts worked perfectly with the goat’s cheese and rosemary though, so potential disaster was averted.  I wasn’t sure whether these would come out a bit dry, but they came out perfect.  If I didn’t have to share them with my mum, I could easily have inhaled the whole batch!

Goat’s cheese, walnut & rosemary mini-croissants

Makes 16-18 mini-croissants
Adapted from Mini-croissants pour l’apéritif

These are perfect to serve as little appetisers, or as a savoury snack, and are delicious whether served warm or cold.  Using shop-bought puff pastry is absolutely fine (I usually do), though do make sure that it’s good quality butter-based pastry (rather than margarine or something).  For the goat’s cheese, I used a soft and crumbly cheese, but I’m sure a grated hard goat’s cheese or even a creamy goat’s cheese would work, although the flavours and texture would change a little.

Ingredients

200g puff pastry
3 sprigs rosemary
80g fresh goat’s cheese
20g chopped walnuts
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 egg yolk

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Roll out the pastry to about 3mm thickness.  Use the roller to cut out 18 little triangles.  If you don’t have a mini-croissant roller, use a knife to cut strips of pastry of about 8cm in width.  Then divide these strips into triangles (the base should be about 9.5 cm wide).

3.  Strip the rosemary leaves from the sprigs, chop and set aside.  In a small bowl, mix the goat’s cheese, chopped walnuts and some freshly ground black pepper (add to taste) together.  Deposit about ½ a teaspoon of the cheese mixture at the base of each triangle, and sprinkle with a small pinch of the chopped rosemary (there should still be some rosemary left over once all the triangles are done).

4.  Starting from the base of the triangle, roll the triangle up towards the tip to form a croissant, sealing them as best as possible (to prevent the filling from leaking out whist baking).  Place the mini-croissants on the baking tray.

5.  Brush the croissants with the egg yolk (add a couple of drops of water if the egg yolk is too thick) and sprinkle with the remaining chopped rosemary.  Bake for 20 mins, until golden.

Enjoy!

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Getting into the festive spirit with pear, date, walnut & Stilton muffins

It’s December now, which means one thing…  Well, two things.  Firstly, uhm, how is it already the last month of 2011?!  Seriously, when did that happen?  Let’s ignore it and move on swiftly (and with style) to the next thing: December means getting all festive!!  Now, leading up to December, I am a complete and utter scrooge and I detest everything to do with Christmas.  In any month other than December, I could probably give Scrooge a run for his money.  Possibly even Scrooge and the Grinch combined.  Then, as soon as it’s December, you could flick a switch and suddenly I get all enthusiastic about it.  Well, about the festive spirit.  Not the overly-commercialised you-must-buy-as-many-hideous-and-useless-presents-as-possible aspect to it (which is a rant for another day.  I’m sure you’re looking forward to it already…).  But let’s all give a huzzah for the festive spirit!  And for mulled wine!  (Although that’s acceptable from Bonfire Night.  Or as soon as it starts getting cold really.)  And mince pies – I love mince pies!

You know what else makes me think of Christmas?  Dates.  Of the edible variety (as opposed to the going-for-dinner variety).  Every year my mum makes dates stuffed with home-made marzipan, and I could easily hoover up enough of them to feed a small army in approximately ten seconds.  I have a recipe for pear, date, walnut and Stilton muffins which to me just sounds like such a Christmassy combination, and that I’ve been meaning to try out for over a year, but I completely forgot about it at Christmastime last year.  When I eventually remembered about it in April it was neither Christmas nor pear season.  So I bookmarked the recipe with a giant hot pink post-it note so that when Christmas rolled around again, I would be more likely to remember.  And guess what?  I did!  (Which is an achievement in itself.)

I should probably add the caveat that if you really detest blue cheese, these probably aren’t the muffins for you, but if you’re a bit on the fence about blue cheese, maybe give them a try – the Stilton really doesn’t come through as much as you might expect so it really doesn’t over-power the muffin, and the sweetness of the dates combined with the subtle pear flavour counter-balance it really well.  Even though they’ve got both sweet and savoury elements, I’ve categorised these muffins as savoury because they work really well as a light lunch or snack.  They could possibly even work as an informal alternative to a cheese board.  However you decide to eat them, they’re definitely deliciously seasonal!  Here’s to getting into the festive spirit!

Pear, date, walnut & Stilton muffins

Makes 13 muffins
Adapted from Mad About Muffins

The pear is quite a subtle flavour, so I made sure not to mash it up completely so that there were still a few chunks to give little explosions of flavour.  I used Stilton, but I’m sure that most blue cheeses would work.  The Stilton doesn’t come through as much as you might expect it to, so don’t worry if you’re not too keen on blue cheese.  As with most muffins, these won’t keep all that long, but they will store well in an air-tight container for a couple of days.  These are delicious both warm out of the oven or fully cooled.

Ingredients

355g all-pupose flour
160g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
250g pears (just use the weight as a rough guideline)
100g organic rapeseed oil
2 eggs
60g pitted ready-to-eat dates
100g Stilton
100g walnut halves

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.  Butter or line 13 muffins pan sections or set out 13 silicon muffin moulds on a baking sheet.

2.  Roughly chop the walnut halves.  Chop the dates and crumble the Stilton (don’t crumble it too finely – little chunks are good).  Set aside.

3.  Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix together.

4.  Peel and core the pear and add to a clean bowl.  Mash roughly with a potato masher (make sure there are still some little rough chunks left).  Add the oil and eggs and gently beat together with a fork.

5.  Fold the pear mixture into the dry ingredients with a large metal spoon, until just combined (it’s fine if there’s still a little bit of flour visible).  Carefully fold the dates, Stilton and half of the walnuts into the mixture before spooning into the prepared muffin pans or moulds.  Sprinkle the remaining walnuts evenly over the tops of the muffins.

6.  Bake for 22-25 mins, until the muffins are golden and well risen.  The tops should spring back when lightly prodded.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.

Enjoy!

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