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.

 

Banoffee Pie

Banoffee Pie is the most stickily delicious way to round off a tasty meal. The combination of crunchy buttery biscuit base, golden caramel, and fluffy whipped cream, topped off with chocolate is so simple, and so so moreish. Oh yes, there’s some bananas in there too!

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It’s not a typical dessert for all those January healthy eating resolutions, but definitely perfect for those times when you’re feeling a bit lazy, a little sorry for yourself, and not willing to spend any longer than fifteen minutes flat assembling and eating your treat.

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For such a simple recipe, there’s a surprising amount of variation in what you do in a perfect banoffee pie. Apparently the original recipe also contained coffee! I go for the most streamlined version I know possible, and it definitely works for me.

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It’s not the easiest dessert to photograph, and certainly the wintry light doesn’t help, but the taste definitely makes up for it. I can’t imagine January being the favourite month of many out there, but this goes a long way to helping banish those blues! Second helpings all round.

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Not long till February…and then so so close til Spring!

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Banoffee Pie

  • 250g digestive biscuits, crushed into crumbs
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 1 tin carnation caramel
  • 2-3 bananas, sliced
  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 Cadbury’s chocolate flake

Mix the digestive biscuit crumbs with the melted butter, and press into the base of a 23cm tart tin. Leave in the fridge for around 15 minutes until firmed. Then spread the caramel over the biscuit base, and lay over the sliced bananas. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then spread over the bananas, and sprinkle over with a crumbled flake. Return to the fridge to set for 30 minutes, then tuck in!

 

Chocolate Loaf Cake

These colder, darker nights are perfect for staying indoors, warmed by the heat of the oven, baking simple cakes. Loaf cakes, where all you need is a knife to cut out a sturdy, soft-crumbed slice, and take it away to a cosy corner to nibble away. Sometimes with a slick of icing on top, to pick away, savour, and get fingers sticky.

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With a craving for chocolate to satisfy, I pottered around the kitchen throwing flour and sugar over most of the kitchen counter before popping into the oven a chocolate loaf cake. It’s draped in a lusciously tasty chocolate fudge icing.

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I’ve moaned at length about my flat’s gas oven, and getting good results from my baking is a heck of a lot more difficult than it used to be. This cake didn’t rise quite as nicely as it has done in the past, but the plus side of the gas oven is the top heats so poorly that I never have to cover any of my cakes for fear of scorching. Like most chocolatey bakes, it also seems to improve with a rest, well-wrapped, overnight.

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Chocolate Loaf Cake

For the cake:

  • 170g softened butter/margarine
  • 170g muscovado sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • splash of milk

For the icing:

  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 40g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a 2lb loaf tin.

Whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then whisk through the eggs one by one. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda, then fold into the mixture gently. Add a splash of milk to loosen the mixture to dropping consistency. Spoon into a lined loaf tin, and bake for around 45 minutes until cooked through, springy, and a sharp knife comes out clean.

Set to one side to cool down.

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together. Then heat the butter, caster sugar and milk together on the hob until melted together, and pour into the dry ingredients. Mix together until well combined, cool until spreading consistency, then ripple over the top of the cake.

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?

Caramel Banana Cake

Mornings are distinctly autumnal now, cold and crisp, with a haze of mist hovering over the seafront. I’m excited about blackberry picking, windfall apples, and cosy nights in.

I spent the weekend luxuriating in precious free time, and baked banana bread.

I’ve noticed my focus in baking has really shifted this year, and I haven’t had much time for complex French patisserie-style recipes, focusing instead on quicker, more familiar cakes and treats. I suppose I’m starting to think that those recipes aren’t worth all the effort and faff. The reward at the end is not necessarily equal to the work. Let’s face it, there are so many stunning patisseries out there, perhaps it’s time to let others do the hard work!

That’s not to say I won’t always have room for a home-baked cake, it’s just more likely to come as two layers rather than six, and one cream filling rather than three!

Anyways, this banana bread has already been baked in several incarnations. I baked one last weekend which was so popular at work I spend all week willing my bananas to ripen more quickly so I could bake another one. My first run was with all dark brown sugar which turned out quite treacly, almost like gingerbread. The second time I changed it to light brown sugar – both are really tasty.

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This version is mostly based on Mary Berry’s banana bread recipe, but I had some leftover caramel buttercream in the freezer so threw that in too, which added a whole extra level of caramel flavour and was scrumptious. Granted, not everybody has a handy spoonful of caramel buttercream lying about so you could probably substitute a spoonful of ordinary caramel without any problems.

Caramel Banana Cake

  • 100g butter/margarine
  • 175g dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp salted caramel buttercream
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a loaf tin. Beat the butter, sugar, and salted caramel buttercream together until soft and fluffy, then whisk in the eggs followed by the mashed bananas. Sift together the flour and bicarbonate of soda, fold into the batter, then fold in the milk. Bake for around 45 minutes until risen and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool, and wrap up overnight. Tastes best the next day (if you can wait that long!).

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.

A Housewarming Cake

So, I’ve finally become an adult.

Hahaha, who am I kidding?

I have however moved into my first non-student flat ever, as well as sadly bidding farewell to rent-free days chez parents. Despite tearing my hair out in stress over all the admin associated with moving house, I seem to still be in one piece in a new place.

First impressions? Mixed, but it always takes me a while to settle comfortably into a new place, so not too worried about that.

Of course, whenever I move anywhere new, the oven’s gotta work. Ours is pretty old, runs off gas (all my recipes are in centigrades, noooo) but I’ll get used to it.

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So I baked this – a coffee and walnut cake. It isn’t the prettiest of bakes but it’s just so tasty. The buttercream is luxuriantly rich, silky smooth and not too sweet. The perfect foil to a soft, slightly squidgy sponge cake. Apologies for phone snap, I didn’t have my camera handy (ahem, forgetful packing).

Now that there’s only two around, I think it’s probably time to get out my smaller cake tins again. I’ve not made a 15cm cake for a while, and it looked absolutely weeny, but it certainly ekked out plenty of portions (as well as using up a hefty block of butter!).

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Adapted from Poires au Chocolat

For the cake:

  • 110g unsalted butter, softened
  • 110g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • milk

For the buttercream:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 60g granulated sugar
  • 60ml water
  • 150g lightly salted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 1 tbsp instant espresso powder mixed with 1 tbsp hot water
  • toasted walnut halves, chopped into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 15cm cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one by one, followed by the espresso powder. Then fold in the flour and add just enough milk to loosen to dropping consistency. Scrape the cake batter into the prepared tin then bake for around 20 minutes, then drop the oven temperature to 170˚C and bake a further 15-20 minutes until the top is springy and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool, then unmould and slice into two halves.

In a mixing bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks until broken up. Heat the sugar and water in a small pan over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Boil until it reaches the soft ball stage, then slowly pour the syrup onto the egg yolks, whisking all along until completely combined and creamy in colour. Whisk until room temperature, then slowly add in the softened butter, bit by bit, whisking as you add each batch until thoroughly combined. Finally whisk in the dissolved espresso powder.

Sandwich the cakes with half the buttercream, and spread the remainder on top.

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.

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.

Crème Fraîche Cake

Crème fraîche is great stuff for baking. Luxurious, a little tangy, and what’s more, it’s got a lovely long shelf life! When I went on my slightly wild Waitrose shopping spree, I picked up a tub with no idea what on earth I was going to do with it when I got home. Fill a cake with it? Mix it into some chocolate for a tangy ganache?

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Nah none of the above. I baked cake with it. When downers come along, flowers and cake always help ameliorate some of that bad feeling.

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I’ve gotten more than a little flower-happy. Last time it was red peonies, but then I saw some pink ones in bud, as well as some fragrant hyacinths, and guess what – bought both. Both are beautiful.

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I still can’t believe somebody from work stole my cake tin! I didn’t have a particularly strong sentimental attachment to it, but it was cheerful, and the best receptacle I had for storing cakes. Not to mention, who would want to steal a cake tin when you’ve gone to all the effort of taking homemade cake into work for everybody?

Anyway, back to this crème fraîche cake which was absolutely delicious.

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I sat on my bed in my pyjamas, all my cookbooks spread about me, and searched for recipes containing crème fraîche (surely it’s not just me that does this, by the way?!). Then, browsing online, I was inspired by a weekend cake on Fanny’s wonderful blog Like a Strawberry Milk. Originally, I intended on whisking together some crème fraîche and double cream, and sandwiching the cake with this as well as some jam. However, it was so good plain I didn’t bother with any extra adornment.

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Moist, tangy, and beautifully fluffy, it’s a great combination.

Crème Fraîche Cake

Adapted from Like a Strawberry Milk

  • 4 eggs
  • 250g sugar (I used a mixture of golden caster sugar and granulated sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g self-raising flour (I used Waitrose sponge flour)
  • 50g salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together until pale and frothy. Then sift in the flour and fold to combine.

Stir the melted butter, salt and creme fraiche together in the saucepan. Beat together with a large spoonful of the egg/sugar/flour mixture, and this to the egg/sugar/flour bowl, and fold through until combined.

Place in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 170˚C and bake a further 20 minutes. A skewer should come out clean when the cake is done. Leave to cool then unmould. You can slice it in half and sandwich with sweetened crème fraîche mixed with double cream, and a layer of jam, or leave it plain.