Merry Christmas!

Hello folks!

I’ve been a bit remiss with blogging in the run up to Christmas as a dodgy oven does not a good bake maketh. So I’ve actually not had the chance to do any baking until now, with these mince pies whipped up in my parents oven.

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It’s the same recipe from last year, some sweet shortcrust pastry, and a jar of mincemeat that I’ve doctored with extra cranberries, chopped apple, raisins and a shake of speculoos spices.

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Unfortunately, whilst taking these photos, the dome of my cake stand, which was sitting on the sofa, fell onto the carpet and smashed into smithereens. It’s a lovely new cake stand with dome from M&S that I had been saving for that special occasion to take photos with, so really quite gutted!

At any rate, despite my longish break from baking, these mince pies turned out pretty well. I think I rolled out the pastry a little too thick for some of them, although that does mean a nice sturdy pie with a good pastry to filling ratio for those that prefer their pastry!

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The mincemeat is much less sweet than normal, which I really like, and packed full of fruity flavours. Although it’s unlikely I’ll be making my own mincemeat in the future, I do like the idea of throwing in some extras to make the supermarket stuff a little more special.

Hope everybody is enjoying spending a little bit of quality time at home with friends and family, and see you in the New Year! Roll on 2016!

Autumn Comforts and Apple Pie

It’s such a luxury having the time to gently potter away, and fritter away the hours doing a bit of relaxing cooking. Not the kind that involves furiously thinking about how to use up the fridge odds and ends into something vaguely edible in fifteen minutes, but the kind of lovely slow stirring, stewing and baking that only a slow day at home can give.

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With autumn well underway, it’s time for comforting foods. I roasted up a batch of tomatoes for a roasted tomato soup based on Sophie Dahl’s recipe. It smelled delicious in the oven, but the tomatoes could have done with a bit more flavour. I’ve got my eye on another tomato soup recipe with the addition of sundried tomatoes and pesto.

DSC_1013Then the glories of sticky toffee pudding, which I have blogged about previously last year.

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Thanks to a massive bounty of windfall apples, I’ve also been baking multiple apple crumbles, and with the last of the lot, also decided to bake an apple pie. I adore the Hawksmoor sticky toffee pudding recipe, so was keen to try out the apple pie recipe too, which also sounded delicious.

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The pie had an unusual pastry recipe with 120g of sugar, and double cream instead of eggs used to bind the mixture together. It was more akin to a cookie dough on being handled, and on baking, was soft, slightly cakey, and the overall effect was a little like eating an apple cake. Possibly not my go-to recipe for apple pie in the future, but very tasty all the same.

Now that we’re coming towards the end of October, I’m starting to get little excited thoughts that Christmas really isn’t so far away. I love the idea of making the flat as cosy as possible, and with this, need to resist the temptation of all those delicious-smelling Anthropologie candles  – when they are packaged up so prettily, how is a girl to say no?

Nutella and Clotted Cream Tart

I confess I’ve been quite distracted lately. Oh the stresses of a house move! Piles of cookbooks, scattered on the carpet, and a disconcerting realisation of just how much bakeware I own. Driving hours down motorways, finding a parking spot in a maze of “permit-holder only” streets. Knowing I won’t be getting my own until reams of paperwork have been filled, signed and stamped.

This is one of the last things I baked before the move.

A sheet of vanilla-scented shortcrust pastry, forgotten in the freezer. A jar of nutella, sneaky spoonfuls taken out. Clotted cream, left behind from scone-making. Toasted hazelnuts, waiting in a glass jar.

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Let’s say this was a success story in the use of leftover ingredients again.

The tart is a riff on a bakewell tart, but nutella takes the place of jam, and I’ve made a vanilla scented sponge using clotted cream in the place of butter. Fact: clotted cream is a fab butter substitute, and no softening required! Next time I think I would add ground hazelnuts to the cake batter for even more hazelnutty flavour, and drizzle some melted chocolate over the top.

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Nutella and Clotted Cream Tart

  • shortcrust pastry to line 25cm tart tin
  • 2 tbsp nutella
  • 120g clotted cream
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 125g self raising flour
  • hazelnuts, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line the tart tin with shortcrust pastry and bake for around 20 minutes until lightly coloured. Spread the base of the tart with nutella and set to one side.

Beat the clotted cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour together into a smooth batter. Spoon over the nutella and smooth the surface. Decorate the top with hazelnuts. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is springy. Leave to cool and serve warm or cold.

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Lots of goodbyes this week and adieus to friends, family, faithful running routes, local cats and the garden! I’ll be back.

Pork and Mustard Sausage Rolls

I’ve posted about sausage rolls and rough puff before. A good puff pastry elevates a sausage roll from a greasy café staple, to a minature gastronomic heaven.

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Rough puff is the easiest way to get that – quicker and less complicated than the traditional version, with flaky layer that fall apart messily on eating. Emma from Poires au Chocolat has written a comprehensive tutorial on it, which beautifully explains the whole process from start to finish.

I ran out of plain flour – so went with strong flour instead, and as my stores of butter were looking deplete, I halved it, to see what would happen.

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It actually turned out really well. The sausage rolls puffed beautifully in the oven, and you could still see layers of clearly defined pastry. The photo above doesn’t adequately showcase how well they rose, they looked like little pastry pillows stuffed full of tasty filling.

Although the reduction in butter meant the pastry wasn’t quite as flaky or tender, it was also less overtly buttery, which made it an even better pairing for the delicate herby flavours of the seasoning, and the pork sausagemeat itself.

Though the pastry makes a fair few sausage rolls, be aware they disappear very fast. A splodge of tomato ketchup, and away you go.

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A lot of people feel the need to lighten their diets and practice a little abstinence throughout the month of January. I’m afraid I’m not very good at doing either, so I’ll probably be making up another batch of these. Delicious!

Pork and Mustard Sausage Rolls

For the rough puff pastry:

  • 250g strong white flour
  • 125g unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks
  • pinch of salt
  • 150ml ice cold water

For the filling:

  • 8 Cumberland/Lincolnshire sausages
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • Wholegrain mustard
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Make the pastry first. Tip the flour into a bowl and add the chunks of cold butter. Rub in roughly, so there are lots of little chunks of butter still remaining. Then throw in the pinch of salt, and tip in enough water to bring the whole mixture together into a shaggy dough. You may need a bit less water.

Wrap the dough in clingfilm and pop into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. Then take it out, and roll it out into a long rectangle. Fold this in three, like a letter, turn 90˚ and roll out into a long rectangle again. Fold into three again, then wrap and return to the fridge once more for another 30 minute rest.

After the 30 minutes has elapsed, take the pastry out, and roll it out into a rectangle once again, and fold. Turn 90˚ and fold once again. Return to the fridge for another rest. Repeat the process a third and final time, then the pastry is ready to use.

Now you’re ready to make sausage rolls. Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Prepare a large baking tin with raised sides.

Squeeze the sausages out of their skins, and mix thoroughly with the chopped garlic.

Roll the pastry out to the thickness of a £1 coin. Trim into a long rectangle. Brush a layer of wholegrain mustard down the centre of the long rectangle, then lay on the sausagemeat in a line down the centre of the pastry. Wrap the pastry around the mustard and sausagemeat to form a roll, and seal the edges together. Trim off any excess.

Flip the sausage roll over so the seam faces downwards, then slice with a sharp knife into 1 inch long pieces. Lay each roll on the baking tray with some space between each to allow for spreading.

Brush the tops of the sausage rolls with beaten egg, then stab the top of each roll with a fork. Pop into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Transfer onto a cooling rack and eat warm or cold.

The Best of 2014

I have epic Quality Street withdrawal symptoms. This consists of my eyes honing in on anything purple and plastic, and poking around hopefully around all the cupboards in case I hid some chocolates in one of them. My pockets rustle with empty foil wrappers.

Last year, I wrote a recap post. There’s been so much baking in 2014 I knew I’d do it again. I’ve really stretched myself in so many ways, trying difficult techniques, and a heck a lot of French patisserie. So here we go!

The year started off with setting myself the challenge of conquering River Café’s infamous chocolate nemesis. What a way to start January.

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Buoyed from my first challenge, I finally braved the italian meringue method of macaron-making. With Pierre Hermé’s book, there was no stopping me! I baked and baked and baked, and my family pleaded with me that they were all mightily sick of macarons.

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On a similarly Parisian theme, I had to bake fresh fruit tartlets, and these strawberry beauties had me sold.

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Then even more French patisserie with the Gateau L’Opera

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Perhaps a change from French indulgence. This summery red, white and blue cheesecake was absolutely delicious, and required no baking at all. Less of a French theme going on, unless you just count the colours.

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Many birthdays followed, requiring the obligatory inclusion of chocolate cake. Never put birthday candles on this cake in 30˚C heat – it melteth….

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Then time for something savoury with these chorizo sausage rolls which were the BEE’S KNEES and sure to get another outing in the future!
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And then, come Christmas, bringing in the festivity with these gorgeous mince pies. I couldn’t stop making these over and over again.

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For 2015, there’s a few things I’d like to get to grips with.

Red velvet cake has always been a tricky one with me, so I’d love to find a recipe I was 100% happy with. Then in the savoury department, perhaps I’ll finally get round to making a pie that doesn’t contain apple! Pork pie anyone? Then perhaps more experimentation with yeast – brioche, and maybe a homemade Panettone next Christmas!

Let’s see what happens :).

Happy New Year! 

Christmas is Coming…

It’s Christmas Eve! Yay!

I’ve finally summoned my festive spirit out of the dark hole it’s been hiding in, and the kitchen smells gloriously of baking pastry, and wintery spices. The tree is up and sparkling, I’m belting out Frozen on repeat, and there’s golden glitter nail polish on standby if I remember to put it on.

I baked up a batch of pork and mustard sausage rolls.

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They weren’t quite as good as the chorizo and pepper sausage rolls I made earlier in the year, but they were still very moreish, and I ate more than my fair share! All I did was spread a thin layer of wholegrain mustard against the pastry, then adding the sausagemeat and rolling it up. They definitely make a great change from the sweeter snacks that lying about in abundance this time of year.

Then, I baked another batch of scrummy mince pies, and liberally dusted them with icing sugar.

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I’m in the process of defrosting my last piece of the Gateau L’Opera which will be served up tomorrow as dessert, all that remains is to pipe on a suitably jolly message over the top, and sprinkle it liberally with gold glitter.

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Hope everybody else is getting their festive bake on (or helping eat it all). I’ll be making the most of the holiday season this year – with my baking cupboard bulging as ever, what other delights will be coming out of the kitchen I wonder?

Maybe some more of these gruyère and smoked bacon straws?

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To all my blog readers, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! 

Gruyère and Smoked Bacon Straws

Crispy and crunchy, with salty smoky bacony goodness running through the centre, and a generous punch of gruyère cheese. It’s perfect fodder for the party season.

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You can wield them like a wand, have a minature duel, stick them out of your mouth like walrus tusks, or just gobble them down in several bites. If you try not to lick your lips, it’s well nigh impossible!

Make them long or short, or fat or thin…no matter, because they all taste scrummy :). Indeed, the tight button on my jeans can attest to how terrifyingly moreish these are! I was going to add some wholegrain mustard to some of the straws but I didn’t bother in the end. I still think it would be a great addition – for super posh cheese straws!
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If you don’t have any puff pastry lying about handily, I’ve included a recipe for quick rough puff pastry underneath that doesn’t take too long. Of course, you can completely skip this step and just buy it in the supermarket!

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I’m starting to wish I was more organised, and did all my Christmas shopping in November! John Lewis, usually so reliable, failed to deliver and various online parcels are still pending. In-store, everything has flown off the shelves, so I might have, ahem, to throw in some last minute substitutions.

Gruyère and Smoked Bacon Straws 

Makes around 9 straws

  • 110g unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 130g plain flour
  • 50ml water, cold
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • large handful grated gruyère cheese
  • thin strips of streaky dry-cured bacon or pancetta

Cut the butter into small cubes. Tip the flour and salt into a bowl, and rub the butter in roughly until half rubbed in, with plenty of small lumps of butter. Tip the water into the bowl, and bring together with a table knife into a rough looking ball of dough. Wrap this in clingfilm and pop into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Once chilled, take out the pastry ball, and roll out into a long rectangle, three times longer than wide. Fold into three like a letter, and wrap again. Chill for another 30 minutes. Once chilled, take the pastry out, turn it 90˚, roll it out into a rectangle and fold again. Repeat this step until you have done 3-5 folds in total.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Now roll out the puff pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin and baste with beaten egg. Sprinkle over with grated cheese. Gently press this into the pastry to make sure it sticks. Then turn the sheet of pastry over, baste the other side with beaten egg, and sprinkle over a layer of grated cheese on that side too. Cut the pastry into strips. Lay over a slice of bacon and roll the pastry strip up into a straw. Place on a baking tray. Then repeat this with all the other strips of pastry.

Bake the cheese straws for 25-30 minutes until golden and the bacon is crisp at the edges.

Festive Mince Pies

YAY, it’s December!

Christmas is round the corner, festive stuff fills the shops, et cetera. Time for me to get my baking jig on and fill the house with calorific edible goodies, like mince pies.

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Oooh the humble mince pie. It sounds so gross. Like it’s full of gristle, and ground up bits of meat that nobody wanted to eat whole.

Good thing it’s not (at least, not the modern day mince pie). For those unfamiliar with them, they’re sweetly sticky, spiced, and packed full of glossy dried fruit. Then there’s all that pastry too!

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Gosh I’m on such a pastry kick these days. I think it’s because I went a bit crazy a few weeks ago and made loads, and now I feel guilty about how full the freezer is with pastry, and there’s no space for the frozen vegetables to go.

To be honest, I don’t see the point of making my own mincemeat. I only ever use up a little bit each year, and homemade stuff seems to taste the same to me, only a lot more boozy. So with these mince pies, it was a quick scurry to Waitrose, and plucking the last remaining jar triumphantly off the baking shelf.

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Actually, when I think about it, with ready made mincemeat and pastry, mince pies are as about as simple to make as jam tarts, but you get about triple the amount of domestic goddess points. How great is that?

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The first lot of photos turned out luridly yellow thanks to the lack of actual daylight at 5pm. Of course, I was hardly only going to make one batch of mince pies, so I took another set of snaps during the daytime, which turned out a lot better!

Mince Pies

Makes 12

  • 300g shortcrust pastry
  • 1 jar of mincemeat

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry. Cut out larger circles from it, and use them to line a 12 hole muffin tin. Prick the base of each pastry case with fork. Into each case, coax in a spoonful of mincemeat.

With the remaining pastry, cut out smaller circles or stars, or other shapes, to use as lids for your pies. Dab a little water around the edge of each pastry case so the pastry lids stick down nicely. Pop your pies into the oven for 15-20 minutes until they are golden and the mincemeat is bubbling.

Leave the pies to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then unmould and set onto a cooling rack to cool down completely. You can dust them with icing sugar at this point if you like too.

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Next year I might even make my own mincemeat – I’ve tried a suet-free version before, but now I’ve got plenty of the stuff leftover from sticky toffee puddings, so why not go all out?

Raspberry Jam Tarts

Piping hot, ruby-red jam, bubbling stickily over crisp, buttery pastry.

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Two components, 15 minutes in the oven, the silence of blissful munching, and just a few jammy crumbs left to show as evidence.

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Jam tarts are SO good, and utterly underrated and underexposed as one of those easy peasy bakes that are brilliant crowd pleasers too. You don’t just have to stick with raspberry, you can be as experimental as you like! Strawberry, blueberry, cherry….even chestnut jam, or a splodge of salted caramel sauce. The higher the sugar content, the more chewy the jam goes after baking, so bear this in mind when choosing. Personally, I love that chewy, toffee like texture, which pairs so well with the crumbly pastry and really helps it all stick together!

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I’ve got Taylor Swift’s Blank Space stuck on repeat in my head. I find the video utterly mesmerising, and not sure whether it’s her array of amazing outfits or her scary man-eating antics. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Jam Tarts

Makes as many as you like

  • shortcrust pastry odds and ends
  • jam

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Roll out your pastry and cut out circles with a cookie cutter. I use a thermos flask lid as none of my cookie cutters are quite big enough, and it works a treat. Line a muffin tray with your pastry circles and press them in well. Now prick the base of each pastry case well with a fork, and put a small teaspoonful of jam into each case. Don’t put too much jam in each case or they’ll bubble over and make a sticky mess of your baking tin. Put the tarts into the oven and bake for 15 minutes until the pastry is golden and the jam bubbling merrily away. Leave until cool for a few minutes before unmoulding from the muffin tray and cooling completely on a cooling rack.

Mini Bakewell Tarts

On a dark November evening, the air wrapped thickly with fog, my street becomes transformed. As I run, everything seems muffled, and all I can hear is the wet dripping of shadowy trees above me. I find myself jumping at loud noises, easily startled by large shapes that suddenly emerge to simply reveal an old lady holding an umbrella walking her dog.

I also see glimmers of festivity creeping into sight. Bright lights are starting to sparkle around houses, it’s glowy and glittery in shops, and there are signs for Christmas trees for sale. It’s also an excuse for even more baking than I normally get up to. I’ve got a cluster of bakewell tarts cooling in the kitchen, and I can’t wait to tuck in.

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I love the combination of crisp buttery pastry, tart raspberry jam, fluffy almond sponge, and crunchy toasted almonds. It’s that combination of four amazing things into something even greater than the sum of its parts.

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I much prefer a light almond sponge to the denser nut-heavy versions that are also floating about in recipe-land. As with other sponges, the trick really does seem to be gallons of patience. First, waiting for the butter to soften, then an arm of steel to cream the butter and sugar into a pale, almost meringue-like cloud.

It seems a billion times harder to get butter to soften in the cold Winter months, and by the time I was finished, I had a very sore arm and a blistered finger to boot!

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It’s always worth it though. To me, bakewell tarts always seem to have a bit of air of festivity around them. A bit more than just your ordinary tea time treat! I reckon that with Christmas coming up, you could happily turn these into a boozy mincemeat version that could be the best of both worlds!

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Mini Bakewell Tarts

  • 200g shortcrust pastry
  • raspberry jam
  • 110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 55g ground almonds
  • 55g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • milk
  • flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Roll out the pastry and cut out circles with a cookie cutter. Press them into the holes of a muffin tin. Prick the base of each pastry circle with a fork.

Make the almond sponge filling by creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then whisk in the eggs and almond extract. Finally fold in the flour and ground almonds, and add a little milk to loosen the mixture to softly dropping consistency.

Spread a small dash of jam into each pastry case, and top with a spoonful of almond sponge. Sprinkle with ground almonds and bake for around 15-20 minutes until golden. Unmould from the muffin tin, and set onto a cooling rack to cool before eating.