Back to Basics

When I was little I used to ask Mum to make me apple sauce – all the time. I loved it. I’m assuming that love for stewed apples is what drove me to start baking copious amounts of apple crumble, courtesy of Delia Smith’s One is Fun. My favourite cookbook for a very long time. When dessert was requested for a family roast dinner, at short notice, this little piece of nostalgia came to mind. Fuss-free, easy to whip up and very forgiving (I’ll admit I may not have stuck 100% to what’s written here) apple crumble and custard it was. 2014-08-16 10.58.16

Normally I can’t get enough of spices but in this dessert it’s not necessary to go overboard. The cinnamon is all you need to bring out the flavours of the fruit. Although I added a couple of cloves for a little depth, they’re not essential. The beauty of crumble is in its simplicity but I just couldn’t resist a twist on the topping. I ground up some almonds and a handful of oats to throw into the crumble. Nothing too exciting, it was mostly to add bulk and stop it being too sandy.

  • 6 red apples (Braeburn, Jazz, Jonagold – whatever is in your fridge)
  • 2 granny smith apples
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Cloves (a couple whole)
  • 100ml water
  • Handful sultanas
  • Squeeze of lemon

*Most recipes say to use cooking apples but I just used what was in the fridge. Apples like Bramely sort of melt as they cook whereas Braeburn’s hold their shape. The sultanas I added for some natural sweetness and because they’re nice juicy little gems to come across amongst the apples. *

Preheat the oven to 180C

Peel, core and chop the apples roughly into cubes.2014-08-16 11.18.02

Tip into a pan along with the spices and sugar, pour the water over and allow to stew over a medium heat.

Squeeze in some lemon juice – I hate sickly sweet fruit and red apples are much sweeter than green so it just added some tang.2014-08-16 11.26.28 2014-08-16 11.51.53

Leave the fruit to stew for 15 minutes or so until it’s soft and slightly golden.

Meanwhile mix together your crumble topping:

  • 150g butter
  • 200g flour
  • 50g oats
  • 50g almonds
  • 100g brown sugar

Whizz the almonds and oats in a food processor – briefly, you want them to add texture to the topping so not too fine.2014-08-16 11.31.12

Rub together with the sugar, butter and flour.

You should have a sandy-ish texture with lumps and bumps here and there. Squeeze some of the mix together to make slightly bigger chunks if you like. 2014-08-16 11.40.36 2014-08-16 11.50.39

Once the fruit has stewed tip it into a casserole dish and sprinkle the crumble mix generously over the top.

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Bake at 40 – 50 minutes, or until golden.2014-08-16 14.34.04

Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes so the topping gets a slight crunch, serve with custard or cream.

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By the end of dinner we were all wed fed and very much satisfied, myself perhaps a little bit too much. I just love those apples.

 

 

 

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The Perfect Picnic

In preparation for the beginning of the bake-off and in true British summer style, my friends and I decided to have a picnic. We are all relatively unfussy lovers of all things edible so there was no end of picnic possibilities. There was plenty of hummus, veggie sticks, and ripe plum tomatoes, a tapas picnic of sorts.2014-08-06 19.12.09 There was, however, a centerpiece- the star of the show, a deliciously cheesy, spinach, bacon, mushroom and feta quiche. Quite the mouthful.

The bacon and mushrooms are not part of the original recipe but we decided to go all out and it was no mistake. Some sun dried tomatoes wouldn’t go amiss either.2014-08-06 19.24.06

So, let’s start with mains and perhaps if you keep reading you’ll find a dessert to follow.

  • 100g butter (if you’re using bacon this is not necessary)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 275g frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 100g mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 200g feta, crumbled
  • 200g mild Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Salt and freshly pepper to taste
  • Shortcrust pastry for a 23cm (9in) dish
  • (I used shop bought for the first time ever! Time was of the essence, use your
  • own recipe or try this one)
  • 4 eggs
  • 250ml milk

Preheat the oven to 190C

Roll out your pastry enough to cover the pie dish with some overhang, keeping in mind it will shrink as it cooks.

Cut the bacon into small pieces and add to the frying pan along with a knob of butter, perhaps 20g if you’re a stickler for precision, cook over a medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes.

Add the finely chopped onions and sauté until soft, add the garlic last as it’s most likely to burn.

Let the flavours come together for a couple of minutes over a low heat before adding the mushrooms and spinach.

In the meantime beat the eggs, add the milk, some salt and pepper and beat further to combine.

Check your veg, continue to cook until most of the water has evaporated, then add the crumbled feta and half of the cheddar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the mix from the pan into the prepared pastry case then, pour over the milk and egg mixture, allow the two to combine.

Stick it on the oven, removing after the first 15 minutes to sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes more, the quiche is done when there’s only a very slight wobble in the middle – like a cheesecake. 2014-08-06 18.39.55

Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Once we’d had our fill of carrot sticks and quiche it was just about 8 o’clock. Now, no picnic is complete without cake and by the time the bake-off started we had all settled down, cuppa in hand and a slice on our laps. It was the perfect combination of a quintessential apple crumble and bright summer fruits.2014-08-06 20.44.57 Light, in every sense of the word, but not without that dense-ness necessary to hold the berries in place and leave you just satisfied. The perfect way to end the picnic and, considering the theme was cake, start the bake-off!

 Preheat the oven to 180C

Grease and line a loaf tin

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 175g muscovado sugar
  • 175g butter
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2tbsp demerara sugar
  • 1 small eating apple
  • 2 large eggs
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 125g blackberries
  • 125g raspberries

Start by rubbing together the flour, sugar and butter just like you’re making a crumble topping or pastry. Make sure all the butter is rubbed through and you have a sandy texture.

Measure out 5 tbsp. of the flour, butter and sugar mix, into a separate bowl. To those 5 tbsp. add the cinnamon and demerara sugar, leave aside for now.

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Grate your orange zest finely, and the apple down to the core – don’t worry about peeling it.

Beat the eggs and then stir in the zest and grated apple.

Add the teaspoon of baking powder to the dry ingredients followed by the wet egg mixture. Stir with a light hand, gentle but quick, until the mixture is just combined and drops easily from the spoon. 2014-08-04 21.06.59 2014-08-04 21.26.38

Fold in 3/4 of the berries try not to break them.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, level off and place the rest of the berries on top. Finally, scatter the crumble mixture over to cover them.

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Bake for 1hr 15 – 1hr20 mins.

Check after 50 minutes and cover the cake with tinfoil to stop it burning.

When finished a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. Allow it to cool for 30 minutes in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.

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Et voila!

If you intend to follow suit, you’ve time to whip up both these delicious treats in time for the second episode tomorrow evening.

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Poached Pear Chocolate & Hazelnut Tart.

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This is a recipe I’ve been dying to try for ages and it took a couple of attempts to get it right. Pastry hasn’t posed me too much of a problem before (bar the soggy bottom Bakewell) but chocolate pasty was a new challenge. I’m not sure if it’s the cocoa powder but it just seems so much more dry and crumbly than normal sweet shortcrust, even this recipe that uses three egg yolks. In attempt number one the pastry bubbled and in the second it cracked when I lifted it out of the tin. It was third time lucky and about time too! The pastry is rich but not very sweet, which is just as well because the hazelnut cream and poached pears really are, the cocoa adds a depth of flavour which offsets that sweetness.

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Start with your pears, doing these the day before will allow the medley of spices to infuse.

Poached pears:

  • 8 pears
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • Vanilla pod
  • Star anise
  • Cloves
  • 50g caster sugar (or honey)
  • 500ml water

 As I’ve said before, I love spices. I used bits of whatever was in the cupboard but to keep it simple just use a vanilla pod – sometimes less is more and the pear flavour won’t be overpowered by just using vanilla.Image

Peel, core and chop the pears in half.

Bring the sugar, water and spices to the boil and simmer for a minute or two before adding the pears. Image

Allow to simmer over a low heat until the pears are soft. Test this by poking them with a sharp knife, they should feel soft like tinned ones.

Take them out and allow to cool, put them in the fridge for a day to let the flavours come together. Image

 

Chocolate Pastry:

  •  175g plain flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 150g butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Just as with normal shortcrust, sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and rub together with the butter.

Once you have a breadcrumb like consistency add the three egg yolks and mix into a smooth doughImage

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Wrap it up in clingfilm and let it chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

Grease a tart tin ready for when the pastry is rolled and preheat the oven to 180C.

Dust a surface lightly with flour and roll the pastry out to fit the tart tin.

Drape it over and press gently into the sides, overhang is good because the pastry will shrink as it cooks.

Finally, line the pastry case with some baking paper and fill with baking beads

I know I normally use rice or lentils when baking pastry to keep it’s shape, however I have discovered that baking beads are much more effective.

Bake for 15 minutes before removing the beads and baking for a further 5.

Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin.

 

Hazelnut cream:

  • 300ml milk
  • 50g cornflour
  • 60g golden caster sugar (I used a mix of brown and caster)
  • 3 tsp vanilla sugar (or a drop of vanilla essence)
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g ground hazelnuts

I roasted and ground my own hazelnuts using Mum’s fabulous food processor which, as much as I love it, puts my little hand blender to shame. The perks of being at home.

Turn the oven up to 160C

Place the nuts on a tray and stick them in for 10 minutes.

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Take them out and remove the skins, they should come off easily but if not you can put them in a bowl of water and sort of squeeze them out. Into the food processor they go and whizz until they’re finely ground.

You can make your own vanilla sugar too; just stick a couple of vanilla pods in a jar of caster sugar, leave for a week or two and bob’s your uncle. Well, he might not be but you’ve got vanilla flavoured sugar anyway. I didn’t bother and just added a drop of vanilla essence.

Finally, for the cream!

Weigh out the sugar and cornflour and sieve into a bowl

Crack the eggs into the bowl.

Bring the milk to the boil and once it’s nice and bubbly pour over the sugar, cornflour and eggs – whisking all the time.

Return the mix to the saucepan and bring to the boil, simmer for two minutes stirring constantly.

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Remove from the heat, add the hazelnuts, mix and set aside to cool. Image

Once cool pour into the pastry case and arrange the pears on top.

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Decoration:

Dark chocolate

Chopped roast hazelnuts

Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the tart with a spoon (I ended up with a couple of dollops but who doesn’t like a good blob of chocolate…)

Sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts over the top et voila!

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I brought this to a friend’s for dinner and it went down well with a scoop of ice cream, and even better with a Ferrero Rocher to follow. Indulgence at it’s best.

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*adapted from this recipe: Pear Hazelnut Chocolate Tart

Banoffee Pie

I love bananas and I love toffee but I’ve never really been a huge fan of banoffee pie. However,  this dessert has been made two weekends running. Considering I rarely bake the same thing twice that’s saying something.ImageImage

Needless to say I have changed my own mind. The extra banana caramel layer is what does it, I think. This was a massive hit with everyone and my baking guinea pigs hailed it as ‘the best you’ve ever done’ so, without further ado:

 For the pastry:

  • 125g plain flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 75g cold but pliable butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 15 ml ice cold water

Tip: This makes enough for one pie, you can double the quantities and freeze half ready to use for something like an apple tart.

Use your hands to combine the flour, icing sugar and butter, rubbing the butter through until you have a sandy texture with no big lumps.

Beat the egg yolk and water together with a fork and add to the dry ingredients.

Mix with a wooden spoon until they come together to form a soft dough.

Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for at least half an hour.

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Once your dough has chilled take it out and roll it between two sheets of lightly floured baking paper. I find this stops the pastry sticking.

The pastry needs to be about ½ a cm thick, enough together a 20cm tart tin.

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Lift the pastry with the rolling pin and drape it over the tin, pressing gently into the bottom and sides.

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Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper over the pastry and pour on some baking beads, lentils or rice. This will stop the pastry shrinking away from the sides of the pan.

Bake for 10 – 15 mins then remove the baking beads and cook for another 10 – 15 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

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While it cools begin making your caramel.

 For the caramel:

 I made two caramels, brining my love of bananas and toffee together to create a banana caramel to layer on the bottom and then standard banoffee caramel on top of that.

Banana caramel:

This follows a similar, but not quite the same, recipe as the caramel for the butterscotch banana cake.

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 50g butter
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 banana

Heat the sugar and water until it turns a reddish brown.

Add the butter and bananas, removing from the heat to stop it burning.

Add the sugar, return to the heat and add the cream, mixing all the time.

Let it bubble, stirring constantly until it becomes quite thick but you still have some bits of banana.

Remove from the heat and pour over the pastry base.Image

Caramel:

  • 115g light or dark brown sugar
  • 115g butter
  • 1 x 397g can condensed milk
  • 100 ml double cream

 *Mary Berry’s recipe used two cans of condensed milk and it is delicious but I didn’t need as much toffee because of my extra banana caramel layer, I also wanted it slightly creamier so replaced the second can with some cream instead. Tweak the recipe as you please!

Melt the butter and add the sugar, stirring until the two combine to make a thick mixture with no oil sitting on top.

Add the condensed milk and cream.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently, stirring constantly for 3 or so minutes until the sauce thickens and darkens.

If you overcook it the toffee will become quite chewy but it all depends on your banoffee tastes, some people enjoy a chewy toffee.

Pour the caramel over the banana caramel and leave to cool and set before finishing. Leaving it overnight is best.

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To finish:

  •  2 or 3 bananas
  • 284ml (1 carton) double cream
  • Chocolate to grate

Slice the bananas and layer them (I like to layer quite generously) over the toffee.

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Whip the cream until it just holds its shape, not too much more or it’ll be too thick and you want a nice light texture, as the toffee is quite dense.

Spread ¾ of the cream over the bananas.

I whipped the remaining ¼ a little bit more so it was firm enough to pipe around the edges as decoration.

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Grate some chocolate over the top as or just leave it if you’ve done quite a lot of decorating as I did with my second attempt (seen above).

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You’re done! It seems long-winded but it was quite easy to whip up. If you really are tight for time or not comfortable with pastry you could always use the base from the Bannoffee Cheesecake.

Mince Pies

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I love mince pies. It’s only really acceptable to eat them around Christmastime and the fact they aren’t a year round treat makes them all the more delicious. I made Nigella’s cranberry mincemeat last year, it was alright for a change but I prefer darker more traditional mincemeat. I used two types of pastry; some leftover from a bakewell tart and some that was specifically for mince pies. The mince pie pastry was much richer and shorter and the soft almond flavour really complimented the fruitiness of the mincemeat.

For the mincemeat:

  •  275g currants
  • 100g tart dried cherries
  • 250g raisins
  • 100g dried fruit
  • 1 bramley apple
  • 2 dessert apples (bog standard eating apples)
  • 1 lemon – Zest and juice
  • 50g butter
  • 250ml stout
  • 3 tbsp rum or brandy (or to your own taste)
  • 300g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp each of ground mace, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves  (you can change the spices up as you like but I really liked this combination in my Christmas cake so used it here too.)

Tip: Don’t use a normal apple in place of bramley apple as it won’t fall apart and make that lovely thick sauce.

Peel, core and grate your bramley apple

Heat the apple in a pan along with the brown sugar and stout.

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Bring to the boil then simmer gently until the apple has started to dissolve making a lovely thick sauce.

While that’s simmering peel, core and finely dice your dessert apples (cox, braeburn, royal gala whatever you fancy).

Add your chopped apples, fruit, spices and finally butter to the saucepan.

Continue to gently heat until you have a thick mincemeat.

Allow the mincemeat to cool until just warm before adding your brandy or rum, stir well and let it cool completely before making the pies.

You can use this mincemeat immediately or store it for a while. I left mine for a couple of days before making mince pies but that’s because I didn’t have time on the day.

 For the pastry:

  • 75 caster sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g butter
  • 75 – 100g cream cheese
  • 50g almonds

Just as you would with normal pastry start by rubbing together the butter, sugar, flour and baking powder.

Once that’s well rubbed in and you have fine crumbs, add the cream cheese and almonds and repeat until you have a smooth dough.

Chill your dough for at least 30 minutes before using.

Once chilled roll the dough out between two sheets of baking paper, I find this easiest because it doesn’t stick – I lightly dust the sheets with icing sugar as well.

Roll it out to be about ½ cm thick.
I made 8 mince pies from this pastry but could have easily made 10 even with the holly decoration.

Using a circular cutter (or the bottom of an appropriate sized cup if you haven’t got one) cut out circles of pastry big enough to line your muffin/bun tin– approximately 8 – 10 cm depending on what kind of tin you use.

Use a slightly smaller cutter, or cup, to cut the same number of tops for your pies.

At this point the pastry has been quite worked and is a bit soft so I chilled mine in the fridge for 5 minutes before pressing it into the tins.

Spoon in your mincemeat, most bakers say ¾ full but my pies were quite shallow so I did them right to the brim. I ‘ve said it before about fruity pies, there’s nothing worse than a lack of fruit! I don’t want a mince pie with barely there mincemeat.

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Dip your finger in cold water and run it along the edges of the pastry before pressing the tops of the pies on and pinching to seal.

Make a couple of little slits in the tops of the pies a knife to allow steam come out of the pies as they cook (you might end up with soggy tops if you don’t).

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I decorated mine with bits of leftover pastry, but you could just as easily leave them undecorated and dust with icing sugar once cooked.

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Cook for 20 – 25 minutes at 200C

Pastry is very temperamental in my oven so I stuck to the minimum cooking time and checked them a lot. Luckily they were a success, there wasn’t a soggy bottom in sight.

Raspberry Bakewell Tart

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I say a Bakewell tart but whether it actually baked well is debatable. I know a bad workman always blames his tools but there’s just something funny about the oven in this flat. I don’t think it’s ever the temperature it says it is on the dial! My pastry was beautifully short on the outside but the underneath, while not the most disastrous soggy bottom, wasn’t great. The filling was also slightly more dense than I expected.  That aside, it went down well with my flatmates so it can’t have been all bad.

Start with your pastry:

  •  250g sweet shortcrust pastry
  • (I only used 200 after trimming the excess)
  • Butter a 23cm tart tin
  • Roll the pastry to about 2mm thick
  • Line the tin with the pastry trimming any excess
  • Stick in the fridge for at least 30 mins Image

Tips:

I dusted a sheet of baking paper with icing sugar to roll out my pastry, but I’ve found that if well-chilled stickiness isn’t really a problem.

For the filling:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 200g almonds
  • 100g raspberry jam
  • 50g raspberries
  • 50g flaked almonds (to scatter on top)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add one egg and beat thoroughly

Repeat with the second egg

Add the flour and almonds and mix until just incorporated.

Putting it all together:

Take your pastry out of the fridge

Spoon the jam into the pastry case and spread evenly

Crush the raspberries lightly and scatter them over the jam (I made sure none of my raspberries were completely whole but there were some sizeable chunks)

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*I I love fruity pies or tarts so I was generous with my raspberries, about 100g more generous. Next time I try this perhaps I won’t be quite so generous with them, blaming my tools again but they could be contributing culprits to the soggy bottom!

Spoon the almond mix onto the jam and spread evenly

Scatter flaked almonds over the top and bake for 45 mins – checking at 30 minutes or so. Cover with tinfoil for the last 10-15 minutes of baking if the almonds look too toasted.

It took about an hour for a skewer to come out of my tart clean, and even then I’m not sure it was as done as it should have been. I’ll have to have another attempt in a trusted oven and let you know if it is just my baking skills that are to blame.

Allow it to cool in the tin before transferring it to a plate and dusting with icing sugar.

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