Baking

Chocolate peppermint bars

chocolatepeppermintbars

I don’t often buy magazines but this one shouted ‘buy me’ from the rack in WHSmiths. Take a look at the headings at the bottom and you’ll see why.

Simplethingsmagazine

It’s quite a sweet magazine which I enjoyed reading. I do appreciate the simple things in life so this idea appealed to me greatly – although there was still a heavily consumerist angle which seemed to contradict their ethos somewhat (although I accept that this is how magazines survive). Printed media is having a huge resurgence (rather like vinyl) and there are some really beautiful publications around at the moment.

Anyway, I spied and saved this ‘hand-me-down recipe’ to try (which I believe was from Rachel Allen – in cutting it out I lost the reference).

If you like the peppermint/chocolate combination (think After Eights, mint choc chip ice cream etc) then you’ll love these. I would describe them as a cross between millionaire’s shortbread and Kendal mint cake. However, unlike millionaire’s shortbread these are pretty easy to make.

I’m the only one in my family who is not a mint choc chip fan so I thought I’d be immune to temptation with these. Memories of making vile peppermint creams at primary school has put me off the smell of peppermint essence forever.

However, having tried a small bite of one (for the sake of research) I have to say they are surprisingly delicious – which is both good and bad at the same time.

Chocolate peppermint bars

Makes 12-18 bars depending on how big you cut them

For the shortbread

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 75g of sugar
  • 150g of butter

For the peppermint cream

  • 75g butter
  • 300g of icing sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of peppermint essence

For the chocolate topping

  • 150g of dark chocolate

Line a 20 x 20 cm square tin with baking parchment.

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

To make the shortbread, measure the flour, softened butter and sugar into a bowl and rub through your fingers until well incorporated and breadcrumb like. Press the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden. Leave to cool completely (you can speed this up by putting it in the fridge if necessary).

To make the peppermint cream, add the 75g of softened butter, icing sugar, milk and peppermint into a bowl and beat with a hand held electric mixer until fluffy. Spread the mixture onto the cooled shortbread using a palette knife dipped in warm water to get the surface as level and even as possible. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave. Tip this over the top of the peppermint cream and level off with a palette knife and place in the fridge until hardened.

Cut into squares with a very sharp knife as neatly as possible. You’ll notice that mine are a bit messy but this didn’t seem to ruin the taste.

chocolatepeppermintbarsandcoffee

A random photo of my first crop of homegrown basil which has just been whizzed up into pesto. Try to ignore the slug holes.

basil

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Bread and ice cream

bread

We’ve had a really tough week. Ben’s dad died. We knew it was coming (he had cancer) but this didn’t make it any easier.

My first instinct is to turn to food for comfort (I think it’s the only way I know). And for our family ‘happy’ foods would be ice cream or perhaps a home baked loaf.

So on Sunday we had a sugar-crazed ice cream ‘mash up’. I made vanilla ice cream and presented it with a selection of sauces, with sweets to garnish, in true ‘Pizza Hut Ice Cream Factory’ style. This was reminiscent of sleepovers when I was 14 where we would eat pizza and ice cream until we felt sick and then watch naff horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play.

The ice cream ‘mash up’ was fun and temporarily took our mind off things. Only just like my teenage self we got over excited and ate so much that we felt ill and had to lie down and listen to audio books (in lieu of television) for the rest of the day.

In the end it was the next morning’s freshly baked bread that won through. Slathered with real butter this was the stuff of true, wholesome, everyday happiness.

With Ben away watching over his ailing father, it has fallen on me to make the daily bread. I had to ask for his current recipe which has been updated since the one I posted back in September 2013 (the main change being the larger size since our children now eat more than we do).

So please find below four recipes for ice cream sauces and one for a good loaf of bread.

Peace be with you David Shelton (1950-2017).

Ice Cream Mash up

icecreammashup

For my homemade vanilla ice cream recipe click here. Or just buy some ready made.

Each of the sauce recipes below makes a jam jar full. More than you’ll need for one session but they will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or you could freeze any leftovers.

Milk chocolate peanut sauce

  • 175ml of double cream
  • 100g of milk chocolate
  • 100g of peanut butter (smooth or crunchy it’s up to you)
  • 3 tablespoons of golden syrup

Heat all the ingredients slowly in a saucepan until everything is melted and amalgamated. Best served warm.

Hot chocolate fudge sauce

  • 80ml of double cream
  • 60ml of golden syrup
  • 40g of dark brown sugar
  • 30g of cocoa powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 85g of good quality dark chocolate
  • 15g of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Heat all the ingredients slowly in a saucepan until everything is melted and amalgamated.

This creates a thick sauce. Add a little more full milk or double cream if you want it thinner.

Salted caramel sauce

  • 175g light soft brown sugar
  • 300ml double cream
  • 50g butter
  • ½ tsp salt (I prefer a bit more but start with ½ tsp and see what you think)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan set over a low heat, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up and bubble the sauce for 2-3 mins until golden and syrupy. Leave to cool for 10 mins before serving. Can be made up to 3 days in advance and chilled – gently reheat to serve.

The other option is to open a tin of caramel condensed milk and add a good pinch of Maldon sea salt.

Raspberry sauce

  • 350g bag of frozen raspberries
  • 50g of icing sugar

Heat the raspberries (straight from frozen) with the icing sugar over a low heat in a saucepan on the hob. Let it simmer for a few minutes (3-5). I like a smooth texture with no pips so I sieve the mixture before serving but this is a total pain and does take ages (plus nightmare washing up to get the pips out of the sieve). If you don’t mind pips then just skip this step.

Or, alternatively, whizz up a tin of raspberries in syrup and sieve (or not).

Best served chilled.

sauce

Sumptuous sauces (clockwise from top left, raspberry, milk chocolate peanut, salted caramel and dark chocolate).

sweets

Sprinkles

 

Ben’s bread (current version)

  • 900g of strong bread flour (mainly white with 200-300g of spelt or wholemeal if you like)
  • 12g of salt
  • 6g of easy bake yeast
  • 550ml of water
  • (Optional) A small handful of seeds of your choice e.g. sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy

Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Bring together with your hands and knead for at least 10 minutes.

Leave in the bowl covered with cling film until it has at least doubled in size – usually 2 hours but this may take a bit longer if it’s a cold day.

Knock back the dough with your hands and knead gently for another minute. Grease a large bread tin (mine is 28.5cm long, 13.5cm wide and 7cm deep) and  press the dough into the tin. Leave to rise in the tin for another 30-60 minutes. The dough needs to reach just above the top of the tin and this for me usually takes around 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220oC or 230oC if, like me, you like a really golden crust and put a tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam (this also helps with the crust formation).

Bake for 18 minutes at 220oC/230oC.

Then remove from the tin and bake for 17 minutes at 180oC.

Leave to cool before slicing.

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

oliveoilchocoatecake

These are the things I haven’t given up for Lent.

Cake, coffee and a good book.

How can I not be happy with those marvellous things still in my life?

For me Nigella is the queen of cakes – even better than Mary or Delia – and this dairy free chocolate one is delicious and very simple to make.

There are a few members of my family who don’t eat dairy so this is a useful recipe to have in my ever expanding collection of chocolate cakes (this is the fifth one on this blog and that doesn’t even include chocolate brownies, muffins and fondants!).

oliveoilchocoatecake1

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

Makes a big cake which cuts into 12 large slices

  • 150ml of regular olive oil, plus a little to grease the tin
  • 50g of cocoa powder
  • 125ml of boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 125g of plain flour (or, if you want a gluten free cake, use 150g of ground almonds instead, although this will result in a heavier cake best served warm with cream)
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Line a 23cm diametre spring form tin with baking parchment and grease lightly with olive oil.

Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl or jug and stir in the boiling water until well combined and without lumps. Add the vanilla extract and leave to cool a little.

In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and stir to combine.

In a large bowl add the eggs, olive oil and sugar and whisk with an electric hand whisk on a high speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Nigella uses a free standing mixer with a paddle attachment but I don’t have one of these.

Add the cocoa mixture and mix briefly on a low speed until just incorporated.

Then add the flour and mix on low again until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake is just set. Mine was perfect after 40.

Let the cake cool in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then turn out and leave to cool. Or, eat warm with cream or ice cream.

This cake keeps well but if my family is anything to go by it won’t last more than a day or so.

Macarons (or is it Macaroons?)

macaroons1

Dainty, pretty and staggeringly expensive macarons seemed to be everywhere in Belgium. We only had them once (as a treat) but this prompted the children to ask when I was going to make macarons again. I vowed that on our return home I would dig out my Mary Berry recipe, defrost the egg whites in the freezer, and rustle some up.

This week I finally kept my promise.

It was then that I remembered why I don’t make macarons very often.

The recipe (which is described as easy) seemed straight forward and all went swimmingly until the part which says very neatly (in soft and calm Mary Berry voice).

“Spoon the macaron mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle. Pipe 5cm circles onto the baking tray”.

Now what this doesn’t say is that it is almost impossible to hold the piping bag steady with one hand and fill it with the other because the extremely sticky mixture won’t come off the spoon and you’ve run out of hands. And whilst you’ve been faffing about trying to fill the bag from the top the runny mix is dripping straight out the bottom of the nozzle. You just about manage to pipe messy circles but then, when you have to refill the piping bag, you can’t prise it open because it’s stuck together with syrup. And your hands stick to everything they touch because they’re covered in bright green macaron mix…as is the work surface…the sink…and the floor.

Perhaps I needed one of these piping bag stands that they sell in Lakeland.

 

piping-bag-holder

But I don’t like Lakeland – who sell pointless gadgets to the desperate (in this case me) and gullible.

You can also buy this.

pipping-set

 

Now this does look like it would work but I’m not sure I’m that devoted to the art of macaron making to invest in specialist equipment.

Anyway, I battled on and once the rough looking macarons were baked and sandwiched together they didn’t look too bad. I picked out the best ones for the photograph above and placed them on a beautiful James Hake dish which helped.

The thing is I don’t even like macarons. But I do like making people happy and the smile of anticipation on my children’s faces when I showed them the results of my labours was well worth all the fuss and washing up.

I pretended not to hear when they asked “Mummy, when are you going to make macarons again?”

PS. I still don’t know whether it’s macaron or macaroon.

Mary Berry’s macaroon/macaron recipe

Makes 9-12

For the macarons

  • 125g ground almonds
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • Food colouring (whatever colour takes your fancy)

For the butter cream filling (my recipe)

  • 100g of dark chocolate
  • 50g butter
  • 200g of icing sugar

For the macarons, first mix together the icing sugar and ground almonds and try to get rid of any large lumps by crushing with the back of a spoon (you’re meant to blitz in a blender but this makes too much washing up for my liking).

Using an electric whisk beat the egg whites in a scrupulously clean large bowl until stiff peaks form. Then slowly whisk in the cream of tartar and caster sugar until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

With a large metal spoon, gently fold in the food colouring, icing sugar and ground almonds.

Take a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle. Fill the bag with the mixture (as best you can) and pipe 5 cm circles of mixture onto flat baking sheets lined with baking parchment. I draw around a 5 cm round biscuit cutter onto the baking parchment to make a guide but it is worth noting that the mixture does spread so if you want your macarons to be 5 cm then don’t pipe all the way to the edge. It’s a good idea to leave plenty of space between each macaron in case they spread more than you hope.

If a peak forms on top then flatten it down with a damp finger. Tap the trays sharply onto the work surface to expel any air bubbles and then let the macaroons settle for about an hour, or until the surface is no longer sticky.

Heat the oven to 160oC and bake for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the baking parchment with a flat knife and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make up the butter cream filling by melting the dark chocolate and mixing with softened butter and icing sugar until smooth. You could also fill the macarons with standard butter cream, or lemon curd or whipped cream.

Use the filling to sandwich the macarons together. Then chill in the fridge until the butter cream has set before storing in an air tight container at room temperature.

Meringues

Meringues.jpg

Up until very recently meringues have been my culinary nemesis (along with brandy snaps but that’s another story).

I was going slightly crazy because I just couldn’t work out what  I was doing wrong. I tried lots of recipes and followed all the advice (buying fresh eggs, scrupulously cleaning the bowl and whisk, separating the eggs with great care).

But they would always collapse when I added the sugar, making a sticky, sickly-sweet, flat disc that was barley edible.

You may wonder why on earth I kept at it. Well I often make other things (custards, ice cream) that use only the egg yolk and meringues are the perfect way to use up the white. Also my grandma is a champion meringue maker and it just didn’t seem right that I couldn’t do it.

Anyway, still frustrated but determined, I watched this YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrjWrWeM5JI) and finally worked out what I was doing wrong. I had been using this whisk attachment that came with my hand blender:

balloonwhisk.jpg

But the in the video the presenter used the two regular beaters instead.

handwhisk.jpg

And when I did that they came out beautifully.

So I am now making meringues regularly and very happily (hence the need for the recipe to be recorded on this blog).

Meringues

(a combination of the recipe in the YouTube video above and Delia Smith’s Pavlova recipe from her Complete Cookery Course)

  • Egg whites
  • Caster sugar – 50g per egg white

Set your oven to 150oC (fan).

Carefully separate your eggs making sure to get no yolk at all in with the white. Save the yolks for another use.

In a very clean, glass bowl, beat the egg whites with your electric hand blender (using the two regular beaters) until you get stiff peaks (in other words the mixture would stay in the bowl if you tipped it upside down).

Measure out 50g of caster sugar for each egg white used. Add this to the egg white a dessert spoonful at a time, mixing after each addition for about 10 seconds with the electric whisk, before adding the next.

At this point I like to swirl a bit of gel food colouring into the mix for a nice effect (yellow is used in the photo above). Dot the food colouring into the mix with a cocktail stick and then swirl a couple of times with a metal spoon.

Take a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and dollop the meringue mix onto the sheet using a metal spoon. You can make the meringues any size you like, or shape into a large circle with an indent in the middle if you are making a Pavlova.

3 egg whites will make five large meringues (as above) or one Pavlova.

Put the meringues into the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 140oC.

Bake for one hour, then turn the oven off (do not open the door) and leave in the oven overnight until they are completely cool.

Store in an airtight container.

Hveteboller (Norwegian buns)

Hvetteboller2

When we were on holiday in Norway we lived on these buns or boller. They were delicious, the children’s loved them, they were easy to buy from 7-elevens (which are everywhere in Norway) and cheap (well by Norwegian standards at least).

I’ve been meaning to have a go at making them ever since our trip (well over a year ago now) and I found this Norwegian recipe online. The google translation was somewhat eccentric so I had to use my small amount of common baking sense filling in the gaps. The result was good though – I’m judging this on the fact that the whole batch didn’t even make it past lunchtime.

I have always thought cinnamon was the quintessential Scandinavian spice but the main flavour in these buns is cardamom. Cardamom is not grown anywhere near Norway but apparently the Scandinavian love affair with cardamom is deep set –  dating back to Viking times when those pesky, marauders bought it back from their raids on Constantinople where it had been traded from India.

To make the buns I used my special new flour – locally grown and then ground at Nottingham’s Green’s Windmill (bought in bulk in a large 12.5kg sack). How lovely it was to use local, organic, unbleached flour which was comparable in price to the Allison’s I usually buy in Tesco. I know for a fact that this flour is well regarded and used by some top quality restaurants (Sat Bains name was above mine in the order book!). But do make sure you phone ahead before making a special trip to Green’s Windmill to buy flour as they struggle to keep up with demand and often run out.

Hveteboller (Norwegian buns)

Number of servings – 12

  • 500g of strong white bread flour
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • ½ a teaspoon of salt
  • ½ a teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom
  • ½ a teaspoon of baking powder
  • 100g of butter
  • 350ml lukewarm milk
  • 12g of quick yeast
  • 1 beaten egg for glazing

For a chocolate version

  • Good quality dark chocolate (one small square for each bun)

Start by mixing half of the flour with sugar, salt, cardamom and baking powder. Then crumble the butter into the bowl and rub with your fingers until you have a mix the texture of fine breadcrumbs.

In another bowl or jug stir the yeast into the lukewarm milk and add the other half of the flour. Leave to stand for half an hour to bubble up.

Add the yeast mixture to the rest of the flour and knead for about 10 minutes until elastic. It is a very wet mixture but it will become a lot less sticky as you knead. Cover with cling film and let the dough rise until doubled in size – somewhere between 1 and 2 hours.

Divide the mixture into 12 and shape into rounds (inserting a piece of chocolate in the centre for the chocolate version). Place seam down in a baking tray and cover with cling film.

If you are cooking straight away

Leave to prove for 30 minutes and set the oven to 220oC.

Brush the surface of the buns with lightly beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden.

Cool on a rack.

If you want fresh buns for the morning

Put the buns in the fridge and leave to rise slowly overnight.

In the morning set the oven to 220oC and take the buns out of the fridge to come up to room temperature (about 30 minutes).

Brush the surfaces with lightly beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Cool on a rack but eat whilst still warm.

NOTE: You don’t need to add the chocolate surprise – they are just as delicious without. You could also add chocolate drops to the mix instead – or some recipes use raisins.

Hvetteboller

Rich chocolate cake

cake

About two years ago my husband made his very first cake. It was this ‘rich chocolate cake’ and it got such a great reception that he hasn’t bothered to try any others since. Whenever he makes a cake (which is not often) it is always this one. It blew Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness cake completely out of the water and my children now hail it as the ‘best cake in the world ever’. This is slightly annoying (since I bake lots of different cakes, all the time) but I have to admit that it is very delicious (hence the reason for this post) and I’m not usually a fan of chocolate cake.

This recipe doesn’t contain flour, so providing you use gluten free chocolate you can make it for your gluten free/coeliac friends. And if you don’t like almonds (like me) don’t worry – the rich chocolate completely disguises any almond flavour.

It’s not the easiest cake to make as there are quite a few processes involved (note how many times I use the words ‘carefully’ and ‘gently’ below). However, if (like my husband) you only bake cakes two or three times a year, you might as well go to a bit of effort.

It’s also not a showstopper lookswise. Don’t bake this if you want to make a grand cake entrance and wow your friends. It does however have a depth and richness on tasting that will quietly impress – rather like my husband really!

Rich Chocolate Cake – from the amazing Peyton and Byrne book – ‘British Baking’*

*I saw this in a charity shop recently and couldn’t believe that anyone would give such a brilliant book away.

  • 160g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 160g of cold butter, cut into small cubes (about 1cm squared)
  • A pinch of sea salt (not necessary if you use salted butter)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 120g of caster sugar
  • 160g of ground almonds

Set your oven to 180oC.

Butter and line a 23 cm diameter cake tin with baking parchment.

NOTE: I recently used a 20 cm square cake tin instead. This produced a slightly thicker cake which I liked much better. It needed 5 minutes longer in the oven however (30 minutes total). ZS 25/09/16

Put the chocolate (and salt if using) in a bowl and melt over a pan of barely simmering water. Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the pan and tip in the cubes of butter. Let the mixture sit until the butter starts to melt, then give it a quick stir and leave it for another few minutes.

Meanwhile, in another scrupulously clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks with a whisk. Then add the caster sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. An electric whisk makes this much easier.

Stir the chocolate mixture until all the butter has melted and whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time. Then fold in the egg white mixture as carefully and gently as you can.

Now lightly fold in the ground almonds being careful not to knock the air out of the mixture. It will have the texture of shaving foam at this point.

Pour into the tin and level off carefully with the back of a spoon or a palette knife. It will not spread and rise very much so it is worthwhile taking your time to do this carefully.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out and serving.

This is best eaten as fresh as possible and is amazing served slightly warm with a small scoop of mascarpone. If you can’t eat it on the day then cut the cake into slices and blast in the microwave for a few seconds before serving.

Desks 2 - edited

Afternoon coffee (mid-century style) in the Marvellous Furniture shop

Spelt bread and tomato soup

spelt bread 1

If you regularly read this blog then you will know that it’s usually my husband Ben who bakes the bread.

We believe that division of labour in the kitchen is healthy for a relationship – well in any case it seems to work for us. Generally speaking I do cakes, biscuits, steak, pasta, pizza, most puddings and scrap cooking. Ben does bread, risotto, pies and fish.

But this is not set in stone and occasionally I like to muscle in on Ben’s area of expertise – just to keep him on his toes. Recently I’ve been experimenting with spelt bread because I like it but Ben doesn’t and so if I want it I have to make it myself.

I’ve made ‘Roman style’ spelt bread a few times using the recipe on the back of the Dove’s flour packet but it’s a bit heavy and always sticks to the tin. But watching Ben make other breads gave me the idea of making a ‘poolish’ with a bit of strong white flour to try and get a lighter texture. This worked an absolute treat and even Ben admitted it was nice.

Spelt bread is good to make if you’re a little bit lazy (like me) because it only involves a quick knead (more of a stir really) and one proofing session. The ‘poolish’ bit sounds posh and is a technique used by artisan bread makers but it is really very simple as you will see.

Spelt Bread

For the poolish

  • 100g strong white bread flour
  • 100ml water
  • 6g quick yeast

Wet ingredients

  • 300ml water
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Dry ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 400g wholegrain spelt flour (I used Doves Farm)
  • ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon of caraway seeds, crushed

Mix all the ingredients for the poolish together in a small bowl, cover with cling film and leave for 30 minutes for the mixture to bubble up.

In a large mixing bowl measure out the dry ingredients but only half of the fennel and caraway and add the poolish.

In a separate bowl measure out the wet ingredients and stir to dissolve the honey.

Add the wet and dry ingredients together and work for a few minutes until smooth. Use either your hands or a wooden spoon if you don’t like mess as the mix will be very sticky and wet.

Grease a small loaf tin with olive oil (mine is 11cm wide, 22cm long and 6cm high) and tip in the dough. Place the tin inside a sealed plastic bag with plenty of air trapped inside and room for the dough to expand without touching the plastic. Leave in a warm place until the dough has risen to about 1 and a half times the size (this should take between 1 ½ and 2 hours).

Heat the oven to 220oC.

Put a tin of boiling water in the oven to create steam. Sprinkle over the remaining fennel and caraway and bake the loaf for 20 minutes.

Turn the oven down to 200oC and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Finally, take the loaf out of the tin, put back in the oven and cook for a final 5 minutes.

This bread tastes great with a quick tomato soup (see below)

tomatosoup

Quick and easy store cupboard tomato soup

This soup (inspired by a Mary Berry recipe) has the homely, comforting flavour of a tin of Heinz. It’s very easy to make – although the cynical among you may argue that it’s easier to open a tin. My 7 year old daughter enjoyed making it and really, really enjoyed eating it – declaring that it was the best soup she’d ever tasted – bless her.

Serves 2

  • 2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, plus 1 teaspoon of the oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 150ml vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 50ml milk
  • 50ml double cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set a saucepan over a medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of oil from the sun-dried tomatoes. Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds until it begins to colour.

Add the sun-dried and tinned tomatoes, stock and sugar and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and blend until smooth.

Stir in the milk and cream and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper before heating through on the hob.

Elizabeth with soup

Pumpkin pie

pumpkin pie with pumpkin 2
I’m a total Grinch when it comes to Halloween. I will carve a pumpkin (if pushed) but I was bought up to believe that ‘trick or treating’ is evil and the rest of the hype (a whole aisle of flammable costumes in Tesco for example) just makes me want to find a dark hole to climb into.

We do grow pumpkins because they are easy to grow at a time when not much else is happening on the allotment, but this year they were small and not great for carving. The upside was that they tasted amazing – the flesh was sweet and fresh, almost melon-like. My children happily gobbled it up raw.

With these delicious insides I decided to try making a pumpkin pie. I never liked it as a child but I thought I’d give it another go. So I googled for a recipe and this is an amalgamation of those that used ingredients I already had in my cupboard.

I stole the idea of a biscuit base from Good Food online (because I’m rubbish at pastry). Most recipes seemed to use evaporated milk but I only had condensed, so I found one that used that instead. The result was a pumpkin pie that was perfectly edible – rather like an egg custard tart with pizazz. Ben said it tasted Christmassy (that will be the cloves) so I might freeze some of the pumpkin puree and make this over Christmas.

Anyway, I know that I’ve missed the boat in posting this recipe now that Halloween (and Bonfire Night for that matter) have passed, but I wanted to record what I did ready for next year.

Pumpkin pie

At least 12 servings

For the crust

  • 200g digestive biscuits (approx. 13 biscuits), crushed (or you can use ginger biscuits)
  • 50g butter, melted

For the filling

  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves (or you could use nutmeg if you dislike cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 425g pumpkin puree (see below if you don’t already have this to hand)
  • 397g can sweetened condensed milk

To make the pumpkin puree, first cut a medium pumpkin (or two small ones) into large wedges and remove the seeds with a spoon but don’t peel. Put the wedges into a large baking tray, cover with foil and roast in the oven for 1 hour at 180oC (the pumpkin flesh should be soft and you can test this with a skewer, if it goes through with no resistance then it’s done). Leave to cool and then scoop out the flesh from the skin and puree in a food processor. This will probably make more than the quantity required for this recipe.

For the base, smash up the biscuits either with a rolling pin in a plastic bag (my preferred method), or in a food processor.

Add the melted butter and mix until well combined. Tip into a 23cm, loose-bottomed tart tin. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture evenly over the base and up the sides of the tin. Put in the fridge and chill for at least half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 17oC.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together until smooth.

Remove the crust from the fridge and place on a baking tray in the middle of the oven. Pull out the shelf and carefully fill with the pumpkin mixture, pouring it right to the top. Try not to slosh the filling over the sides as you push the shelf back in.

Bake for 40 minutes until set.

Cool in the tin to room temperature then chill completely in the fridge.

Serve cold.

Pumpkins sinister

pumpkin pie slice

Brownies with cheeky beetroot

brownies with hidden beetroot copy 2

I’m still on a mission to use up copious amounts of home grown beetroot.

I have a fridge shelf dedicated to jars of pickled beetroot and a whole freezer full. I was running out of ideas and then I did what I always do when I’ve run out of ideas – I stick vegetables into cake.

I have experimented with  lots of vegetable cakes in the past – carrot cake (dull), courgette cake (not bad), even a parsnip cake (a bit wacky and actually not very nice). And the first time I made a chocolate beetroot cake was the day before I gave birth to my daughter. My mind was clearly on other things because I forgot the sugar.

I did attempt the beetroot/chocolate combination again with these brownies (writing in the margins, in giant letters, ‘DON’T FORGET THE SUGAR’). They are very nice and the beetroot can hardly be detected – it just adds a moist earthy sweetness. Although my daughter (who has astute taste buds) declared them ‘delicious’ and then asked what the “little bits that tasted of soil” were.

These are good brownies to make for friends with nut allergies, or for small children (like my son) who don’t like nuts or, for that matter, beetroot. He ate them perfectly happily until my tell-tale daughter revealed the cheeky ingredient.

Chocolate and beetroot brownies

(Based on the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday)

Makes 16-20

  • 250g butter roughly cut into small cubes
  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 250g of cooked beetroot, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g of self-raising wholemeal flour (or plain wholemeal flour with 1 teaspoon of baking powder)
  • A pinch of salt

To cook the beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible. Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (this is the time for medium sized beetroot). The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and grate. You can also boil the beetroot until tender (about 20-30 minutes) if you prefer.

Preheat your oven to 180oC. Line and grease a 23 x 33 cm baking tin with baking parchment so that it goes all the way up the sides.

Put the butter and chocolate into a heat proof bowl and melt in short 10 second bursts in the microwave, stirring after each until smooth. Or you can do this in the more traditional way over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar and then add the melted chocolate and butter. Mix well and then lightly fold in the flour and salt with a metal spoon. Finally add the beetroot and stir to incorporate but don’t over mix.

Pour the mixture into the baking tray and spread evenly.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is set but the middle still has a very slight wobble.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

For me these are best served warm and it is fine to reheat them in the microwave for a few seconds.

They are great served with ice cream or mascarpone.