Cranberry, Pecan and Chia Seed Granola Bars

I haven’t jumped onto the healthy eating bandwagon, but that’s not to say I haven’t had a deep curiosity about the fuss associated with superfoods such as chia seeds, avocado and coconut oil. Perhaps it was when Nigella Lawson started using these ingredients in her TV show that I realised this is no longer a niche market, and has started to become much more mainstream.

So yes, last year I succumbed to temptation, and bought an enormous packet of chia seeds. Fast forward a few months later and it was still sitting in the cupboard unopened, and I was scratching my head in perplexity, wondering how on earth to use it up (I must add that the same situation occured several years ago with a giant bag of cocoa nibs, and I’m still working through them – obviously I don’t learn from my mistakes!).

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After a lot of googling, I couldn’t say I was hugely inspired by most of the online recipes out there for using up chia seeds. Eventually, I decided to heavily adapt an Ottolenghi recipe to incorporate ingredients I desperately wanted to use up.

It seemed to do the trick. These aren’t exactly what I’d call healthy, but they aren’t quite as bad for you as, say, flapjacks, and taste along the same sort of spectrum. Next time I’d probably leave out the flaxseeds which had a bit of an earthy aftertaste I wasn’t hugely enamoured of.

Cranberry, Pecan and Chia Seed Granola Bars

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

  • 190g rolled oats
  • 30g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 40g chia seeds
  • 40g flaxseeds
  • 60g dried cranberries
  • 40g pecans
  • 80g coconut oil, solid at room temperature
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 80g maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 140˚C and toast the pecans for around 8 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 160˚C.

Soak the dried cranberries in hot water for 10 minutes then drain with a colander.

Toss all the ingredients minus the coconut oil, sugar and syrup together in a bowl.

In a saucepan, heat together the oil, sugar and syrup until bubbling then pour over the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly together to combine, then pat down into a lined 20cm square tin. Bake for around 20 minutes, then leave to cool before slicing into squares.

 

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Salted Caramel, White Chocolate, and Cocoa Nib Brownies

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Not that I’m planning on doing anything exciting, probably just an evening of curling up with sticky, gooey brownies, bemoaning the end of War and Peace.

I’ve got major War and Peace withdrawal symptoms. My Sunday evenings just won’t be the same without those stunning costumes and James Norton’s brooding silhouette. The only cure for my BBC period drama-itis will probably be the eventual return of Poldark, but in the interim, brownies instead.

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For the past year, A has gotten a huge hopeful grin on his face every time I suggest baking salted caramel brownies again. Unfortunately for him, talk has never turned into actual baking of the aforementioned brownies, until now. Behold, salted caramel heaven!

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These are supposed to be a homemade version of Paul A Young’s famous salted caramel brownies from his veeerrrry expensive chocolate shop. I had the pleasure of finally sampling this illustrious brownie, and boy it was good. Mightily expensive at £5.95 a brownie but I can quite honestly say it was one of the most delectable brownies to have passed my lips.

The homemade version are a bit squidgier than the official version, and I can’t quite replicate the exact chocolate flavour – probably because Paul A Young uses a particularly fancy chocolate. I used a combination of Waitrose continential, and my stash of Valrhona.  The recipe is pretty much lifted directly from Poires au Chocolat, this time I sprinkled on some white chocolate chunks before baking.

They are really rich brownies, so a small square goes a long way. They have a smooth, dense texture that with each mouthful slowly melts in the mouth, releasing an intense shot of chocolate and caramel flavour.

It’s maddeningly tricky photographing brownies (and in fact, most chocolate/brown baked goods) so they appear photogenic, but I think I just about managed to refrain from making them look like somebody scooped them up from the soil outside. I think my next bake will definitely have to be something iced and pretty! Got to get round to using my stash of flowery cupcake cases after all.

I don’t tend to bake especially for Valentine’s Day, but if you are feeling particularly romantically inclined, I’ve stuck a couple of luuurvely (haha) links underneath to dive into:

Felicity Cloake makes the perfect chocolate pots for two.

Date and rum cookies, just perfect for wooing and twoing.

If you want to get out and about, biscuit icing classes for two with the Biscuiteers.

Or if you’ve been on a January diet, and are still somehow managing to avoid all things biscuity and carb-filled, how about buying the love in your life this custard-cream cushion? 🙂

Lemon Viennese Whirls

Annual leave, yay! The weather has been properly disappointing in parts (rain rain, go away) but it’s so wonderful having the luxury of time to potter around doing very little, with the odd bake thrown in here or there.

I wasn’t sure whether to blog about these viennese whirls as they were a bit disappointing. Whilst I love watching Bake Off, the downside is there’s nothing like watching a couple of showstoppers to make me feel a little inadequate in the kitchen when things don’t work out! I also didn’t have my proper camera (making do with phone pics) but hey ho. Sometimes it’s worthwhile mentioning when things didn’t go right.

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So I had baked a batch of really luscious viennese whirls earlier, and filled them with cherry jam and vanilla buttercream. As I was eating them, I thought they would be great in a lemon incarnation too, but it was those of the lemon variety that didn’t turn out quite as planned.

They were far too crumbly, breaking up into powder on just gently being touched. The biscuit also tasted strange, not quite lemony enough, but a hint that reminded me a little bit of citrus washing up liquid.
IMG_1581The homemade curd was delicious though, very tangy, with a strong lemon flavour that would probably work very well in another bake. I used Nigel Slater’s recipe found here.

I packed the viennese whirls into an airtight container, and they firmed up considerably overnight. You could eat them without ending up with a pile of sandy crumbs all over the floor, hooray. They just didn’t taste particularly great. The original recipe is fantastic, so I think it’s mainly a case of tweaking my alternative flavourings a bit more, and potentially doubling the lemon zest.

I might use up the remaining curd in some macarons. I’ve been baking a plenty of macarons, but they’ve been causing me a more trouble too, hmm!

More and More Salted Caramel Macarons

Is it even possible to be drowned in macarons of your own making?

Possibly.

Especially in my household, where I have gone wild with macaron making, and churned out a factory load. Salted caramel anyone?

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Of course, having not made them for a while, I had a few slip ups along the way. I based this on the Pierre Hermé recipe, which is wonderful, but I had to make a few adjustments based on what I had available. Instead of coffee extract I added a few drops of caramel flavouring to the macaron batter, and added some brown food colouring to prevent the macarons looking too garishly yellow.

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Don’t get too ambitious about the caramel. I thought I would try and get it as dark as I could, but just ended up burning it. The second batch, made more cautiously, turned out much better.

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I really wanted a few flowers to decorate these photos, one of the sad times when I wish I still had a garden. Instead I slipped out in the rain to the nearest park, and picked a few wild blooms to scatter. I think it makes quite a pretty, albeit short-lived effect.

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I think I have to resign myself to the fact that my flat has a pretty crap oven. The heat just doesn’t distribute evenly enough. My macarons look pretty, and taste lovely, but are exceptionally delicate, and certainly can’t be transported anywhere. With a bit more temperature/time adjustment, oven tray manipulation, door acrobatics and perhaps simply a new oven I’ll figure a way around it. In the meantime, there are these to be eaten, and plenty too!

Lemon Curd Macarons

When I first moved into the new flat, I was thankful to find out that it could bake a cake perfectly well. Then I got a hankering to bake macarons again; it had been a year since my last batch and wouldn’t it be a great test for the oven?

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They flopped, badly. I had used my hitherto almost foolproof recipe, so was aghast when I opened the oven to see some very sorry specimens, covered with cracks, and not a foot to be seen. I baked a second batch and found exactly the same problem had occurred. Third time lucky? No chance.

So I attacked the box of eggs, stocked up on ground almonds and icing sugar, and prepared to get to the bottom of what was causing my macarons to fail. After a lot of trial, error, cursing and using up approximately 15 eggs in 2 days, I think I’m getting there. Thanks A, for eating a 9 egg yolk omelette.

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Firstly, humidity levels are higher by the sea. I’ve needed to rest the macarons for much longer in order to get the shells to dry out.

Secondly, I’m getting used to using a gas oven for the first time. I’ve noticed the macaron shells brown on the bases far more quickly than they used to, and this makes sense given that the main heat source is coming from below. However, this extra burst of heat is also causing the shells to crack on top too.

So here’s what I did.

To counteract the humidity, I tried to dry out my icing sugar and ground almond mixture as much as possible by putting it in the airing cupboard overnight. Then whilst resting the trays of macarons, I left all the windows open to increase the air flow through the house to dry them out. It took around 40 minutes of resting compared to my usual 15 minutes.

Then I doubled up the baking trays in the oven to reduce the excessive amount of heat coming up below the baking macarons. I then adjusted the oven to sit between Gas Mark 2 to 4 to see which held the greatest level of success. Gas Mark 2.5 turned out to be the winner.

The remaining flaw with these macarons is they still have the dreaded hollow shells, which I am going to continue to work on in my next batch!

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I was so busy at trying to get perfectly risen macarons that I had barely even considered what they would be filled with. In the end, I stuck for a sweet and tangy homemade lemon curd. This was roughly based on the Pierre Herme recipe in my Macarons book. I’ve included a quick recipe for this below.

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Tangy Lemon Curd

Mix together two egg yolks and 1 whole egg, 125g caster sugar, and the zest and juice of two lemons. Whisk gently in a bowl sat over a pan of simmering water, until thickened. Then sieve the curd, and blitz in cubes of 100g lightly salted butter until smooth with a handheld blender.

Raspberry Crumble Bars

The weather has been utterly glorious, and I’ve been making the most of it by…doing nothing. Not a thing.

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Well, almost.

I did drag myself away from my box set of Sex and the City (can’t believe the first season is 17 years old!) to throw together some ingredients to make these raspberry crumble bars. They were a perfect excuse for finishing up the brown sugar, and leftovers of some scrumptious raspberry jam.

Raspberry crumble bars have eluded me for some time. They always turned out too crumbly, too sweet, too oaty. Apart from one success story around three years ago, I never seemed to get it quite right since.

So I had another stab at the elusive, roughly following that tried-and-tested shortbread formula, and some inspiration from my Peanut Butter and Jam Bars (minus any nuts of course).

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These were delicious, warm and cold. A real keeper of a recipe. I think it works well for multiple seasons – perfectly portable for summer picnics, a warmed slice with a dash of cream for pudding, or perhaps even a Christmas version with mincemeat and a little winter spice thrown in for good measure. Totally the wrong time to be thinking about such things, but I’ve never managed to stick to this whole seasonality thing much. That person in the jumper, holding a raincoat, when it’s sunny and a glorious 30˚C outside? Yep, that’s me.

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Raspberry Crumble Bars

Makes 16 bars

  • 200g butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 160g brown sugar
  • 100g rolled oats
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1/3 jar of good quality raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Line a rectangular baking tin with baking paper.

Put the butter into a bowl, followed by the salt and brown sugar. Mix together, then add the oats and flour. Stir together to form quite a crumbly mixture that sticks together easily to form a dough.

Scoop out around 2/3 of the crumbly mixture, and press it firmly into the lined tin.

Then spread a layer of jam over the base, leaving a gap of around 0.5cm around the edges as the jam will spread as it bakes. Sprinkle over the remaining crumbly mixture, and bake the bars in the oven for around 30 minutes until golden-brown on top. Slice into squares, and leave to cool down completely.

Homemade HobNobs

My current first world problem woes:

I choked on a fly that flew/blew into my mouth as I was running. I then inadvertently swallowed it. Gross.

No matter how many times I sign up for their loyalty scheme, Anthropologie will not give me free online delivery, sob sob

I’m too much of a technological dinosaur to figure out how to work my new laptop after my old one died after six years solid service. Every time I press the touchpad, STRANGE THINGS happen.

Besides that, life is pretty good. I baked homemade HobNobs, and am pootling around getting ready for holiday time, hooray!

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Much as I like richly packed chocolate-chip cookies, and slabs of gooey brownie, there’s something just so endearing about very simple, plain recipes from ancient home baking books. They’re tried and tested, they taste delicious, and you can most definitely eat quite a lot in one sitting.

This homemade HobNob recipe is from the ye ancient archives of MoneySavingExpert.com, oh yes. You can find it here.

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They’re not exactly like the mass-produced original, but they’re singing from the same hymn sheet –  packed full of rolled oats, buttery, chewy and crunchy all at once. I’ve used margarine with them before, and they were delicious, but salted butter is the best.

The HobNobs turn out looking different every time I bake them, but they always taste fantastic – like a small flapjack-themed party in your mouth. This time I have a feeling that this time they finally look the way they ought to, i.e. like biscuits, and not hockey pucks or lace doilies.

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If you can’t resist a bit of tinkering, I think replacing some of the oats with dessicated coconut would be a good shout, and I’ve done a version where I threw in some chopped white chocolate and cranberries, mmmm. Now I’m off to paint my nails and hopefully not screw them up. The last time I was so tired I fell asleep waiting for them to dry. Messy.

Very Good Chocolate Chip Cookies

Why are the simplest bakes sometimes the most difficult? For instance, let’s take chocolate chip cookies. It seems like it should be simple. However, despite having dozens of favourite recipes for all kinds of other cookies, chocolate-chip nirvana still escapes my tenacious grasp.

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I’ve spent years trying to figure it out. Trawling through the heavy masses of internet cookie wisdom, trying all kind of tricks and techniques. Baking immediately, to baking after resting the dough for 24 hours. Brown sugar versus caster sugar. Strong flour, spelt flour, rice flour, cornflour. English, French, Danish butter. Salted or unsalted?

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Heston Blumenthal’s recipe has been on my radar for a long time. It differs from most other chocolate chip cookie recipes by Heston’s trademark uber-precise instructions, and the added step of making your own golden syrup chocolate chips.  

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I baked them, and found they were good cookies, with a perfect texture. Crisp exteriors and desirably chewy centre.

However, they’re faffy. Making your own chocolate chips takes ages. You make a ganache, freeze it into useable firmness, and chop it into squares. When you want cookies now, waiting a couple of hours for the ganache to freeze solid is a bit of a test in delayed gratification. I found the chocolate ganache nuggets didn’t seem to add much to the finished cookies either. Finding little hard nuggets of chocolate is one my favourite parts of cookie-chomping, and chocolate ganache stays unexcitingly soft at room temperature.

I thought the ingredients could do with a bit of tinkering too. The cookies were a bit too sweet, and I needed a glass of water after polishing one off. So of course, I baked them again, tweaking the original recipe to my own tastes, reducing the sugar and replacing the fancy homemade chocolate chips with ordinary chopped up chocolate.

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They were just glorious. Fresh out of the oven with golden crispy edges and a soft, dense middle rich with melted chocolate chips. No need for chilling, or special ingredients – just lovely cookies when you want them.

My sweet tooth seems to be fading as I age, or these are just very sweet cookies. I reduced the quantity of sugar from 260g to 200g, but I think I could probably push it down further to 160g without any loss of flavour.

I ended up with an awful lot of cookies after these experiments, so took a big batch into work. They got scarfed down in about an hour. I went to check on their progress and was stunned to see that nothing remained but a crumpled foil wrapper and the cake tin lid hanging sideways off the counter. Always a good sign, although slightly alarming how voracious everybody’s appetites were.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Heston Blumenthal at Home

Makes 12

  • 115g salted butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 egg
  • 220g plain flour (I used a mixture of plain flour and spelt flour)
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp instant coffee powder
  • 125g milk/dark chocolate, chopped into chips

Preheat the oven to 190˚C. Prepare 2 baking trays.

Beat the butter and sugar together until combined, then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla extract.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and coffee powder together. Add to the rest of the ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. Stir in the milk chocolate chips. Scoop into 12 balls, then bake for 8-10 minutes until golden around the edges. Leave to rest for a few minutes before transferring onto a cooling rack.

Almond Slices

An almond slice looks an old-fashioned sort of treat. Perfect with an old-fashioned sort of cake stand.

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I’ve been catching up with Poldark, and racing through the first five books on my Kindle. I may have gotten repetitive thumb injury from pressing the page turn button, but that’s neither here nor there. With the weather being as nice as it is, can I go to Cornwall please, and just spend the next three months reading the remaining Poldark books? Anything instead of going back to work tomorrow.

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Well, I can dream. Have another picture of one solitary almond slice. I’ve only got pictures of the one, because all the others got eaten so fast. This is the last little survivor, om nom nom.

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I actually made up these slices as a way to use up leftover marzipan, and was so pleased at how well they worked out, I might even buy some marzipan just to make them again.

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What I did was I tore up the marzipan, mixed it up with some softened butter into a paste, then added a little extra sugar, an egg, and some flour to bring it all together. I spread the mixture into a square baking tin, then topped off with a good sprinkling of ground almonds.

It’s utterly delicious warm from the oven. It’s a cross between a cake and biscuit. In terms of taste and texture, very much like a galette breton, minus the layer of jam inside. In fact, I think this would be even tastier with a jammy layer sandwiched in the middle!

Almond Slices

Makes 16

  • 250g marzipan
  • 120g salted butter
  • 70g light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • flaked almonds, to finish

Preheat the oven to 180˚C, and line a 20cm square baking tin with baking paper.

Beat the softened marzipan and butter together until it forms a thick paste, then beat in the sugar. Stir in the egg, and finally the flour and baking power to form a very soft sticky dough. Press this into the lined tin, and smooth the surface with the wetted back of a spoon. Sprinkle over a liberal quantity of flaked almonds and lightly press into the surface of the dough.

Bake for 25 minutes until golden-brown. Mark into slices, then leave to cool in the tin.

Viennese Whirls

I love the weather right now. It’s sunny, and glorious. I may be pretty sleep-deprived, but the sun seems to make up for all of work’s ills. Who cares about all that, when I have the sun on my back, and a tin full of the most gloriously calorifically delicious biscuits known to mankind?

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I would say they were a total doddle to make, but the piping took a while for me to get my hands round.  On my first try, the dough was too far too stiff to be piped out. I squeezed the bag so hard that the nozzle popped out!

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Luckily the dough is pretty forgiving. Even after being squeezed, and battered, and knocked about multiple times, it still holds its shape in the oven, and more importantly, produces a beautifully short crumbly texture.

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I figured out on the second batch that really, you need your butter to be meltingly soft. Like that stage where it’s almost going to collapse into a puddle soft. What I did was measure my butter out into a mixing bowl, then sit that bowl in a tub of hot water until the butter had started to melt around the edges. Then I whipped the bowl out, dried it with a teatowel, and beat in the remaining ingredients. It really worked a treat.

All the other recipes suggest you get around 20 whirls out of the mixture. I must have piped my biscuits really big though, because I only got 10 whoppers! Aren’t they pretty though? Despite having a total of 10 giant viennese whirls packed in the tin, they got polished off pretty smartly too – two days, three mouths, and they were all gone.

Viennese Whirls

Adapted from London Eats and BBC Food

Makes 5 big whirls

For the biscuits:

  • 125g very soft salted butter
  • 25g icing sugar
  • 25g cornflour
  • 125g plain flour

For the filling:

  • 50g butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 40g jam

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Prepare a non-stick baking tray. If the butter is not already very soft, a good trick is to put the bowl into a tub of hot water, and sit it there until the butter has melted around the edges.

In a separate bowl, sieve the icing sugar, cornflour and plain flour together. Gradually beat the other ingredients into the softened butter until combined to form a very, very soft dough. If it still seems too stiff to pipe, beat in a teaspoon of milk.

Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped nozzle. Pipe whirls of dough onto the baking tray. Aim for around 10 whirls. Bake the biscuits in the oven for around 15-17 minutes until lightly golden. Take out of the oven and leave to cool.

Next heat the jam in a saucepan until boiling, then sieve to remove the seeds. Pop the jam in the fridge to cool completely until thick. Make the buttercream by beating the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy, then beating in the vanilla extract. Transfer the buttercream to a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped nozzle.

Assemble the whirls. Take one biscuit, and pipe a circle of buttercream. Put a small dollop of jam in the centre of the buttercream circle, then sandwich with a second biscuit. Repeat with the remaining biscuits.

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