Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter...and other treats!

I think that I love Easter baking above all other occasions...it's all so light and pretty and there's so much inspiration!

Yesterday, of course, was Good Friday and it's traditional to eat hot cross buns - even though they seem to have been in the shops since Christmas! I've never really understood that...why not just sell them as spiced currant buns and leave the crosses off until the right time? Bizarre...
Anyway, I love to bake them and I take them around to all our neighbours at breakfast time while the buns are still warm and the glaze is sticky...



Once you get the hang of it....the feel of it....yeast is very easy to work with. I was lucky in that I had a grandfather who'd been a master baker for many years...he taught me early on about proving, kneading and shaping. Even though he died 20 years ago, I still talk to him when I'm baking sometimes...especially buns and bread!



the neighbours were happy.....

At the Farmer's Market on Tuesday...surely the coldest I have ever been at, in the whole 7 years!!...I had an Easter theme along with the usual favourites. My brownies of the month were full of milk chocolate mini eggs...



And I made these darling little simnel cakes...wrapped them in cellophane and tied them with pastel bows...



the marzipan eggs on top represent the disciples of Jesus...minus Judas, so there should only be 11. There is no definitive recipe for simnel cake...I make a lighter version of fruitcake, using light brown sugar, apricots and cherries with just a little spice to warm things up. They are baked with a layer of marzipan running through the centre...



then the remainder of the mixture is smoothed lightly on top...



before baking. Then more marzipan goes on top to finish...it should be gently browned under a hot grill...then I like to glaze with apricot jam for a glossy shine!



I also baked Mexican Hot Chocolate Shortbreads...they were something I haven't tried before, but certainly will again!



Here they are ready to go into the oven...the combination of dark cocoa, cinnamon and cardamom plus a tiny pinch of cayenne ( hence the 'hot chocolate') is really delicious. Don't be scared of the chilli...it's only warming, certainly not intrusive...in fact, it's quite hard to identify in the finished biscuit. I loved their simple, dark beauty...



A few weeks ago, we were invited to a St Patrick's Day party by an Irish friend who lives nearby. It was a great night...she is a brilliant party giver, her house is always warm and welcoming with lots of food and plenty of drink! As a gift, I wanted to take more than the ubiquitous 'bottle'...so I baked her a special cake!



Three layers of vanilla sponge, in varying shades of green! And the Gaelic for Ireland piped on top...






together with shamrocks, of course! It went down really well with coffee after dinner...and looked good on the table, surrounded by green & white & orange balloons and shamrock garlands!

It's been so cold recently...spring hasn't really sprung yet, despite the fact that it's almost April. Usually I'd be looking forward to salads and lighter dishes, but we are still enjoying heartier food...wild mushroom and spinach lasagne...



...sprinkled with pine nuts for crunch...and chicken pie...



...eaten with fluffy, crunchy baked potatoes...foods like these warm and cheer the soul and mean that the dull, dark days aren't quite so depressing!

I hope that your Easter...or Passover...or long weekend...is going beautifully and that you are enjoying something delicious over the holiday!

My working life is mainly about...



brownies! But I'm more than happy with that. What could be nicer than a spring coffee outside...? We just need the weather to go with it...



I have faith that it WILL soon be here!

Xo

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Friendly Inspiration...

Being totally obsessed with food, I read a lot of blogs on the subject...and, as you know, there are a LOT of blogs on the subject!
It's really hard to narrow them down, because I like my favourites for so many different reasons!

One that I always return to for great ideas is Choclette, at www.choclogblog.blogspot.co.uk ....based in the West Country, she writes about one of my favourite subjects (chocolate, obviously...!) and at the weekend I spotted a gorgeous looking recipe for Walnut Pastries. I won't post it here, because I'd love you to visit her yourself and take a look around. But I just had to try baking them myself...



And I'm so happy that I did! I deviated a little...as always...because I wanted them to be more of a filled cookie than a tart. So I just cut the pastry into rounds, dolloped a teaspoon of the filling on one half and placed the other on top before pressing down slightly to seal the edges.
I also changed that filling, delicious though it sounded...
Another great blogger is Helen at www.fussfreeflavours.com ...always full of new innovations and great ideas, Helen blogs for a living and makes it her business to have her finger on the pulse of what's new in the food world - not just baking. I had read many times of her mild obsession with Speculoos, which is a caramelised biscuit spread from the Netherlands...



But I'd never seen it for sale until last weekend. I bought it, tried it, fell in love with it and decided that it would make the perfect middle for these walnut cookies. I was sooooo right! I added a a little cinnamon to the walnut dough, which went really well with the biscuity golden flavours...







So, a fabulous new recipe thanks to two great bloggers. I'm happy to say that I've met both these writers, and they are as enthusiastic and friendly in real life as they are on the computer screen!

Whether you use speculoos - & I may have to ban myself from buying any more, as it's far too easy to keep dipping into the jar with a teaspoon! - or the milk chocolate spread that Choclette recommends...I'd urge you to try baking these lovely cookies. They keep well and would make a great present too, I think...

It's a cold but sunny afternoon here...time for a long walk before tea and more baking! Enjoy your day x

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A New Creation...

Yesterday was another day of celebration! It was my darling husband's birthday...and also the 60th birthday of a good friend, so we combined the two into one joyous evening!

I decided to create a cake...a new one, worthy of the occasion. And this is what I came up with...



Almond Vanilla Praline Cake....
It was a light almond sponge, kept from being the least bit dry with a generous brushing of almond syrup, with a whipped vanilla white chocolate frosting...the almond brittle finished it off beautifully, I think.



It was a fitting finish to a wonderful evening...the best kind, shared with good friends and beloved ones!
I wrote the recipe down, too....so that I can share it sometime....

Wishing you a beautiful day xo




Monday, 28 January 2013

Recipes for a Happy New Year

After my last (long ago) post, I promised you the two most requested recipes...and so, at last, here they are!
Firstly, my own favourites, Cheese Scones...I have adapted the quantities for US measures as well as metric, so as long as you use only 1 or the other ( not a mixture of both! ) they should work fine!




To make 12 x 2" / 5 cm scones

Preheat the oven to 220c / 425f and line a baking sheet with parchment

225g / 2 cups self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
220g / 1& 3/4 cups grated extra mature cheddar cheese
60g / 1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1egg cracked into a measuring jug, beaten and made up to 150ml / 2/3 cup with whole milk

Put the flour & baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and, using the tips of your fingers, rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs...



Add the cheddar...



And mix through, using a fork or round bladed knife...



Pour over all but a tbsp of the egg & milk mixture and lightly mix, again using the fork or knife, until everything begins to 'clump' together...



Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. *TIP* Because I can't bear scraping dough off my glass work top, I cover it first with several sheets of cling film/ plastic wrap. Then I simply roll it up & throw it away afterwards with barely any mess!
Knead very lightly to form a soft dough. I don't roll my scone dough, as it knocks out too much air...so I simply pat it into a round approx 1"/ 2.5cm thick...



Cut out as many rounds as you can, re-patting the dough as necessary and place them about an inch apart on the prepared baking tray.



Glaze with the reserved tbsp of egg/ milk mixture...



And bake in the hot oven for about 12 mins, rotating the tray halfway through to ensure even cooking. The scones should be golden brown, well-risen, and slightly oozing cheese when done! The bases should be a lovely colour too...



Cool on a wire rack...but cheese scones are really best eaten warm! They will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container. I recommend warming them through before eating...this brings out their extreme cheesiness! Fabulous accompanying a bowl of soup, but I love them on their own for breakfast, too.

The second recipe is for Sticky Parkin. This keeps extremely well...in fact, it really should be made about a week before you eat it, then kept in an airtight tin or box to mature and become really sticky! This makes it brilliant for camping trips or hikes too.

When I was taking the pictures, I was making double the following recipe, so don't worry if you think your mixture looks less!




Preheat oven to 160c/ 325f
Line a 23cm / 9" square tray or brownie pan with non- stick baking parchment



250g/ 2 sticks butter
110g / 1 cup (packed) light brown soft sugar
55g / 2 tbsp black treacle
200g / 3/4 cup golden syrup
120g / 1 & 1/4 cups porridge oats
200g / 1 & 3/4 cups self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp whole milk

In a large saucepan, gently melt together the butter, sugar, treacle & syrup...



Don't allow to boil, and when melted and smooth remove from heat.
To make oat flour, put the porridge oats in a food processor...



And whizz until finely ground...



Put this, together with the self- raising flour, the baking powder and all the spices into a large bowl..



And stir with a wooden spoon to mix. Next, pour over the melted ingredients...



And mix well...I use a balloon whisk for this, as it eliminates any large lumps of flour...beat in the eggs, followed by the milk and scrape into the prepared pan...



Bake for approximately 1 hour, again rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time. The parkin should be slightly risen, dark brown and glossy when baked, and it should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger in the middle...



Cool in the tin. You can store it as a whole, or cut into pieces before doing so...



If you eat it too early, it will still taste delicious but may have a slightly dry texture.
Parkin is also delicious served warm ( you can microwave for about 45 secs on high) and eaten with cream or ice cream as a pudding.

So there we are!! Sorry that it has taken me so long to post these...I hope it's worth it and that you give them a try and enjoy them!

A very happy 2013...hoping your year has started deliciously!

Xo


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thanksgiving UK-Style!

So here it is...and a hearty HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all of you celebrating today! Here, of course it's just a regular...grey & blustery...Thursday in November. But I've always thought that it's the sunniest & cheeriest of holidays so we decided to have a Thanksgiving-themed Sunday lunch for friends recently...

I used my Stars & Stripes salt and pepper shakers...
 
 
and the napkins that we picked up on our trip to Martha's Vineyard last year...
 
I made a centrepiece from pomegranates, persimmons & used apples as candle holders, together with glossy green ivy & some rosehips that I picked on our walk that day...

I made cranberry relish, with red wine & port...we roasted two chickens instead of a turkey, but I made Susan Branch's Grandma's famous stuffing, plus nutmeg-scented bread sauce and brussels sprouts tossed with garlic butter, rosemary roasted potatoes....and to finish off, another Sue Branch spectacular...


Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Gingersnap Crust...which I served with home-made caramel sauce & toasted pecan nuts...

Gosh, it was good!! To go with coffee, we had a selection of US chocolate bars...

It was a wonderful meal!
 
The results of the last post mean that next time I shall give you the recipes for Cheese Scones & Parkin....but until then, have a wonderful time wherever you are....eat, drink, relax, be VERY merry and whatever you do...


make very sure that you get some help with the washing up!

Sending love and very many thanks for reading! xoxo