Sweet treats

Brandy snaps

brandy snaps 1

Brandy snaps were my mother-in-law’s absolute favourite. So eager to please (in the early stages of my relationship with Ben) I attempted to make her some as a birthday gift. After several angry hours in the kitchen and lots of wasted ingredients I ended up with THREE that were just about presentable.

I then swore that I would never, ever make them again. But that was 10 years ago now.

On another, but relevant note (bear with me here), I am having a year of rereading. This is a brilliant experience which I would definitely recommend. In many cases I am enjoying my favourite books even more the second time around. And as the books are a stable, unchanging thing, this is highlighting to me just how much I’ve changed. I am rereading the books through older, more experienced and perhaps wiser eyes.

My experience with trying to make brandy snaps again after 10 years is similar. The memory of failure has nagged at me for all these years but this time around they came out just fine with a minimum of stress and I wondered what an earth all the fuss had been about. The thing is, it’s not the recipe that’s changed – it’s me. I’m definitely now more patient (which probably goes hand in hand with being a mother). I also now except advice and don’t assume I know it all already.

Plus, the amazing teaching tool that is YouTube didn’t exist all those years ago (if my instructions below are in anyway unclear I recommend watching Mary Berry’s YouTube video).

Mary Berry’s brandy snaps

Makes 8-12

  • 50g of butter
  • 50g of demerara sugar
  • 50g of golden syrup
  • 50g of flour
  • ½ a teaspoon of lemon juice
  • ½ a teaspoon of powdered ginger

Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a small saucepan and heat very, very slowly, stirring regularly until all the ingredients are melted. Take your time here and make sure that all the sugar has dissolved and is not grainy. It will take around 10-15 minutes (put your patient head on). Leave to cool a little (for around 5 minutes).

Measure out the flour and ginger and sieve into the saucepan once the butter/sugar/syrup mix has cooled.

Give everything a good stir and add the lemon juice. The mixture should now be smooth and glossy.

Take a flat baking tray and line with some baking parchment. Dollop a teaspoon of the mix onto the baking tray. Leave plenty of space between each dollop as they will spread out massively. I recommend 4 to each sheet and doing them in batches.

Place in an oven preheated to 160oC fan to bake. They will take around 10 – 15 minutes but start watching after 8. They should spread out and turn lacy and a nice deep golden colour.

Take them out of the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. You will not be able to shape them straight from the oven as they will still be too runny.

When just firm enough, use a palette knife to carefully lift each brandy snap off the baking sheet. Then curl around a well-greased wooden spoon to shape. You can also make baskets by placing them over the bottom of a glass.

Leave to cool completely and go rock hard and then keep in an air tight container.

I prefer them unfilled but you can fill them with whipped cream if you like (you will need a piping bag and nozzle for this). Or cheat and use squirty cream. But don’t fill them until you are ready to eat or they will go soft.

Chocolate brownies with a cheesecake swirl

marbled brownies 4

We’ve recently been on holiday to Norway. It’s a wonderful country and I could go into detailed raptures about the stunning fjords, the attractive cities of Bergen and Oslo, and how it’s a great place to travel with children, but this is a recipe blog (not a travel one) so I’ll leave that to others.

The only downside was that we mainly survived on a diet of bread and economy salami (from the supermarket) because food and drink are so expensive. We did however splash out on strong coffee and the occasional sweet treat. I particularly loved their Hvetebolle – a sweet bun with chocolate and cardamom which you could buy from the 7-Eleven for just £1.20 (each!).

Hvetebolle

Another standout was a delicious chocolate cake with a vanilla and blueberry cheesecake ripple that we had at the Aquarium cafe in Ballestrand. This bought to mind a recipe in my folder of cutouts which I had not yet tried (despite it being there for over 10 years).

So this week, with the children back at school and some time to myself, I spent some quality time in the kitchen and made ‘marbled brownies’. They were great and my husband (a man who doesn’t give praise easily) called them ‘seriously delicious’. I’ve had ‘delicious’ before but the ‘seriously’ part was a first!

Chocolate brownies with a cheesecake swirl

Makes about 24

For the chocolate brownie mix

  • 200g of good quality plain chocolate
  • 200g of butter
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 125g of plain flour

For the cream cheese mix

  • 400g of full fat cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 125g of caster sugar
  • 2 eggs

Heat the oven to 160oC (fan assisted) and butter and line a deep baking tin about 20 cm x 30 cm with baking parchment.

For the cream cheese, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until well incorporated and smooth. Set aside.

For the brownie mix, first melt the chocolate and butter either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave (which is what I do). Stir until smooth and leave to cool a little.

In another bowl whisk together the caster sugar and eggs, then add the melted butter/chocolate and mix again. Sieve in the flour and fold in gently.

To assemble, pour 3/4 of the brownie mix into the tin and spread evenly. Tip in the cream cheese mixture before spooning over the remaining brownie mix in dollops. Tap the tin sharply on the work surface to level the mixture and then take a skewer and marble the mixtures together using a wave like motion across the tin just once.

Bake for 35-45 minutes until just set. Test after 35 minutes with a skewer and if it comes out clean then remove from the oven.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before cutting into pieces.

View

I can take a week of bread and salami for views like this.

Baklava

baklava 2

I’ve been meaning to make baklava for months and I spent so long dithering and researching recipes that when I came to make it I completely bamboozled myself with the options. I’m amazed that everything ended up OK because in the end I cobbled together a recipe by taking bits from Nigella, Jamie, Felicity Cloake AND the recipe on the back of the filo packet.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my 37 years it’s that you should get on and face the things you fear because most of the time they end up not being so bad after all. Making baklava was a case in point. I put off making it because I thought it would be tricky but it was actually pretty straightforward.

You could easily tinker with this recipe to get it just to your liking. You could vary the mix of nuts depending on what you have to hand/what you like/what you can afford. And if you don’t like too much spice then it’s not necessary to include as much/or indeed any cardamom, ground cloves or cinnamon.

I didn’t have a sweet tooth until I breast fed my children but I developed a sugar fixation then which has never left me. Just a tiny square of baklava is usually thought to be enough but I think I could easily eat several pieces in one go – no problem.

Baklava

  • 1 pack of filo pastry (I used Theos ready rolled which comes in a 250g packet with 12 sheets)
  • 100g of melted butter (or more if needed, I melted 200g but only used half)

Filling

  • 500g of mixed nuts (you can play around with the types depending on your taste but I used 250g of walnuts, 150g of almonds and 100g of pistachios)
  • ¼ teaspoon of cardamom seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • The zest of 1 orange
  • A good pinch of salt

Syrup

  • 125ml water
  • 250g caster or granulated sugar
  • A tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of rosewater
  • 100g of greek honey

Preheat the oven to 160oC.

First chop the nuts. I did this in a mini food processor. Don’t over chop so that they’re like dust, it’s nice to have some larger pieces for bite.

Put the nuts in a bowl and add the cardamom, ground cloves, cinnamon, orange zest, salt and mix well.

Line a deep baking tray 24cm by 34cm and at least 4cm deep with baking parchment so that it comes up the sides of the tray and butter liberally.

Unwrap the filo pastry and trim to the size of the baking tray (I used scissors to do this). Put one layer in the bottom of the tray, then liberally brush another filo sheet with butter and put this on top as lightly as you can. Repeat until you have used four sheets and then spread over half the nut mixture.

Now butter and layer up four more filo sheets, then add the remaining nuts and top with four more sheets of filo (buttering in the same way as before).

Cut into squares or diamonds as neatly as you can with a sharp knife. My technique needs some work (I tried following Nigella’s instructions for traditional diamonds, in her book ‘Feast’, but I think I might do simple small squares next time).

Bake for one hour.

Meanwhile make the syrup by adding the sugar, water and lemon to a small pan, heat over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat to medium and simmer (without stirring) until the syrup thickens (10-20 minutes, for me it was more like 20).

When an hour is up take the baklava out of the oven and turn up the heat to 180oC. Pour over the syrup being particularly liberal along the cracks and drizzle over the honey (again putting more down the cracks).

Once the oven has come up to temperature put the baklava back in for just 5 minutes.

Leave to cool completely before prizing from the baking tray and storing in an airtight container.

I think baklava is best after a couple of days (if there is any left by that point).

Caramelised brown butter rice krispie treats

brownbutterricekrispietreats

Having eaten half our body weight in pancakes, we made a family pact to give up chocolate for Lent. Not for religious reasons (we are not believers) but just for the challenge.

My six year old daughter Elizabeth still feels guilty about her failed attempt last year when she gave in just two days before Easter for a Mister Donut Chocolate French Cruller. I think she’ll stay strong this time. I’m not so sure about Eddie – he’s only four and I don’t think he’s mastered the art of will power yet.

The children’s school has just finished ‘Healthy Eating Week’ and giving up chocolate ought to fit smugly alongside this. The thing is I’ve been so bombarded with patronising Change4Life propaganda that it’s made me want to rebel and feed my kids sugar.

So I was looking through my ‘recipes to try’ bookmarks for chocolate-free, sugary snacks and these blonde rice krispie treats seemed perfect. They are super trashy with just three ingredients (two highly processed and sugary, one ultra fattening) but you do have to brown some butter which may elevate them into the realms of culinary sophistication.

Don’t expect the soft, gooey texture of the chocolate version here, these have a dry and chewy texture which I was a bit unsure about at first. So I just had to have another one to check. By the fifth I’d decided they were absolutely delicious (but I also felt a bit sick and had to skip lunch).

My children, as you can imagine, went mad for them.

Caramelised brown butter rice krispie treats

(by Julia Moskin for NYT Cooking, written in my own words and converted into grams)

Makes 30 – 50

  • 230g of salted butter, or unsalted butter plus 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • 300g of marshmallows
  • 240g of Rice Krispies

Line a 24cm by 34cm baking tray (or one with a similar area) with baking parchment and grease with butter.

In a very large pan melt the butter over a medium heat. Then stir the butter and cook until it foams, goes clear and then turns light brown. This takes about 3 minutes and you know it’s done when it starts to smell lovely and nutty (“melting butter is the nicest smell in the whole world” declares my daughter Elizabeth, and I agree).

Now stir in the marshmallows. At first they will look like chewing gum swimming in a pool of grease (not very appetising) but keep stirring and they will eventually amalgamate. You need to cook the mixture for about 3 – 5 minutes, stirring all the time, until it turns a fudgy pale brown colour.

Remove the pan from the heat and empty in the Rice Krispies. Stir well with a silicone spatula. Scrape everything into the baking tray and use your hands to press it all down as evenly as possible.

Leave to cool (there is no need to refrigerate) and then, with a sharp knife, cut into squares or bars as neatly as you can.

no chocolate rice krispie treats with kids

MAD FOR IT!