Spring Flowers, and Rescued Flapjacks

Running is tough on the ground at the moment. The UK’s been getting a lot of rain, and so its pretty slippery going. I just have to be thankful I’m not planning on training for a marathon anymore, as that route is most certainly submerged underwater.

Anyway, instead of going outdoors and engaging in a lot of exercise, I had a beautifully relaxing Saturday. The house has been brightened up with a beautiful big bunch of fragrant white flowers (I shamefully still don’t know what kind of flowers they are).

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I’ve also got a newly made batch of puff pastry chilling in the fridge, and flapjacks cooling on the kitchen counter.

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These flapjacks started out as a Sophie Dahl flapjack recipe which didn’t quite work out for me, as they ended up being a little drier and crumblier than I’d like. However, I found the coconut a fabulous addition, so broke down the crumbly mixture, and remade it up into this batch, which turned out much more to everybody’s liking.

Reading-wise, I’m working my way through The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket. It’s rather beautifully written, and encourages you to take one step back, and really truly appreciate all the good simple pleasures of life. Flapjacks are most certainly encouraged!

On another note, I’ve finally signed up to Bloglovin’ and so if you want to follow me on there, just click the Bloglovin’ button on the right and it’ll take you right there. 🙂

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Hazelnut Macarons

Sometimes I fancy that I’ve read a lot that the literary world has to offer. Then I realise that the majority of what I read consistitues “fluffy fiction.” So when I spotted lists of “Books One Must Read” I had a striking curiosity to see how many of them I could tick off.

Disappointing results. On the Guardian’s 1000 novels everyone must read, I have read a grand total of….

52.

Oh well.

So books aside, I’ve been on a macaron kick again. This time it’s the turn of one of my favourites – hazelnut.

The shells are made from ground hazelnuts, and the filling is a glorious nutty ganache. Ground hazelnuts are quite difficult to source in the UK. I usually pick up a packet when I am in France – they are a staple of the baking aisle there. Otherwise, it’s fairly straightforward to make your own ground hazelnuts by processing them in a food processor and then working through a sieve to get rid of the coarse pieces.

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I keep meaning to pluck up the courage to try Pierre Hermé’s recipe for praline macarons (my absolute favourite) and finally get over my fear of Italian meringue. This year will be the year!
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Hazelnut Macarons

Adapted from The Ottolenghi Cookbook

For the macarons:

  • 110g icing sugar
  • 60g ground hazelnuts
  • 60g egg white
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 20g roasted chopped hazelnuts

For the filling:

  • 50g double cream
  • 50g white chocolate, chopped finely
  • 25g hazelnut paste

Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.

For the macarons, sift the icing sugar and ground hazelnuts together in a bowl and set to one side.

Beat the egg white with the caster sugar with a handheld whisk until it forms a thick meringue. Fold the meringue into the ground hazelnut/icing sugar mixture in 3 lots, making sure there aren’t any streaks of meringue left in the mixture.

Put the macaron mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. Dot macaron mixture into the corners of the baking paper to fix it into place on the trays, then pipe little circles on the baking paper, leaving enough space for the macarons to spread. Sprinkle the shells with

Fairytales and Festive Biscuits

Fairytales and folklore are best enjoyed during the colder months of the year. Endlessly open to reinterpretation, retelling and reimagination, just think of the wild contrast between Disney’s pastel films, and the twisted tales in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. While Disney’s saccharine formula is wildly successful, that’s not the sort of fairytale I’m talking about.

I like a dose of realism mixed into the magic, and Sarah Pinborough get this balance just right. By pulling out a completely new take of several traditional fairytales, and weaving them together, we get Beauty, then Poison, then Charm. I spent the last few weeks reading them all jumbled up in the wrong order but it didn’t matter. A good book is a fantastic way to spend a cold winter’s night huddled up in bed.

Now I’m working my way through Gossip from the Forest, by Sara Maitland. It intersperses loving descriptions of the British woodlands with short retellings of traditional fairytales, and entwines the two in a really rather beautiful way. The book is brilliant in that you can happily read one chapter at a time, like a sweet treat savoured once in a while.

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Anyway, reading material aside, it is indeed the festive season. December tends to bring out my inner Scrooge (along with Valentine’s Day and my birthday). It doesn’t help being at work throughout the holiday, but I thought I would try to make a bit of an effort, and bake something cheery to herald all that is Joy Unto Us.

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The making of Christmas biscuits is commonplace throughout many European countries. I had a flatmate from Austria who made it an event every year to painstakingly roll out and form hundreds of tiny, beautifully formed little biscuits that she would hand out to us in ribbon-festooned bags. This lovely tradition hasn’t quite crossed the Channel into the UK, although I do remember making Advent Biscuits at school ( the combination of cardboardy biscuit, gluey icing and rock-solid silver balls wasn’t the most tempting of repasts).

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Here I’ve used a basic biscuit recipe by Peggy Porschen that has a simple, elegant but subtle flavour. This makes it infinitely adaptable. Not only can you slather on icing, but also adapt the biscuit itself with different flavourings. I’ve used lemon zest, but you can easily put in vanilla seeds, orange zest, cocoa powder, ginger and other spices….the possibilities are endless!

Biscuits and Books

Today I took a short trip towards Piccadilly in search of some fancy biscuits from Fortnum & Mason’s. Battling my way through hoards of tourists, I saw musical tins, boxes of heritage biscuits, chocolate biscuits and rather plain biscuits – but none of them really quite caught my eye. I do like the musical biscuit tins, but I was given one of them for a birthday many moons ago, so I haven’t really felt the need to go and buy another one!

Besides, the best biscuit recipe I’ve ever tried out has been my ever faithful fork biscuit one, thanks to Queen Mary of Berry. It can be found here. 

The joys of biscuit tins notwithstanding, Piccadilly does have another very, very attractive feature. It is in fact home to the largest bookshop in Europe – and it’s huuuge! I certainly had a very good time wandering all FIVE floors perusing at my ease, and I came out with several interesting choices….the great thing about this bookshop is I literally felt like I was browsing on, for instance, Amazon.co.uk – only I was actually able to read all the books immediately, buy them, and take them home straight away. Oh the novelty.

They had a very interesting range of grey-bound books by lesser known female writers, and I just wanted to buy ALL of them. Shame they were rather expensive at £14 a volume, so I left with just one, The Making of a Marchioness by the author Frances Hodgson Burnett – known for writing the popular children’s book The Secret Garden.

Banoffee Pie made complicated

Phew it’s been absolutely boiling this weekend! I’ve had a great time with loads of stuff going on. Firstly we went out for afternoon tea for a friend’s birthday – which was absolutely gorgeous. I LOVED the scones, give me them over cake any day!

I also had a birthday request for a Banoffee Pie!

It was very straightforward, though I made things more complicated by a determination to use up the extra ingredients cluttering up the kitchen. The base was made from an oat biscuit mix, that I baked before blitzing into crumbs. The caramel part was a bit of a kitchen improvisation. I made a caramel by heating caster sugar and muscovado sugar together with some water, and when this started bubbling, added the best part of a packet of butter. Then I realised that by mixing some dried skimmed milk with a little of the caramel, I was making something that seemed remarkably just like condensed milk! So I made a paste from milk powder and caramel, then added this to the bubbling caramel mixture, along with a hefty squeeze of glucose syrup, and heated it gently. It was a bit lumpy with bits of undissolved milk powder and burnt sugar that had caught, so it needed a bit of sieving, but that worked a treat, and I poured it into the biscuit case.

2 bananas were duly sliced and arranged on top, it was left to set in the fridge again, and all that was left was to whip up some cream (I had some frozen away) and sprinkle chocolate on top to finish – hey presto!

The verdict on the pie was excellent. I also noticed that there are a lot of websites telling you how to make condensed milk yourself if you want to give it a go. It looks extremely straightforward and the method very similar to the one I used here.

I picked up some new books whilst shopping today. I really enjoyed reading the Hunger Games, so picked up Delirium, which is also set in a dystopian US society. To my delight, it is part of a trilogy so I’ll be picking the other books up soon! Phew, can’t wait for the next weekend!