Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Lemon and Berry Spelt Muffins

In a foolish effort regain just a teeny bit of normality into my life, I decided  to bring my crew of 3 little people into the Avoca cafe.  For those who don't know, Avoca is a fashion store, gourmet food shop and cafe.  All the food is baked in store and it's always absolutely delicious.  All was going suspiciously well until I had to stop one of the 3 little people from trying to lick a piece of quiche through the glass counter as another was picking his nose (please tell me this happens to other people). I left the cafe with yet another slight Stress Sweat on my brow from trying to keep everyone in check. On the way out I caught sight of what looked like the most amazing Lemon and Berry Spelt Muffins.  I came home and decided to try to make my own version of these muffins.  Maybe eating in is destined to be the new eating out, at least until certain little people reach 18 - you know who you are!

I took a basic muffin recipe and pimped it slightly.  Very, very happy with the results and although I could never say that they're a health food, you could do a lot worse than eat a few of these little beauties.

125g / 4.5oz butter, melted and cooled
125ml milk
2 large eggs, lightly whisked
zest of 1 lemon
225g / 8oz wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g / 3.5oz granulated sugar
75g / 2.5oz dark brown sugar
200g / 7oz fresh or frozen berries (I used a combination of cranberries and blueberries)

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper cases.
In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, milk and eggs together.  Add the lemon zest, flour, baking powder and sugars until just combined.  Be careful not to overmix.
Fold in the berries into the mixture and pour into the prepared muffin cases.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of one of the muffins comes out clean.

Probably not a good idea to place a wedge of lemon on top before baking - it sunk!

Sunday, 29 January 2012


There's a time and a place for everything.

- A run in the pouring rain on a Sunday morning.  I may look like a drowned rat, but least it means I can get some "me" time.
- Date Night with a nice bottle of wine when the kids have gone to bed.  A big sigh as I tuck in.
- Giving the kids sausages and baked beans for their lunch 2 days in a row (my name is Claire and I'm a bad mother).
- A kiss on the lips in the middle of the day.  Just because I love him so.
- A loaf of brioche on a Sunday morning with a fresh pot of coffee.  Because sometimes the healthier alternative just doesn't fill the gap. 

Sweet, sweet brioche.  You wouldn't believe how easy this is to make.  I 'm not a bread maker, in fact I avoid it at all costs.   Have I kneaded it enough, have I kneaded it too much?  Has it risen enough?  This is so easy to make, it actually doesn't feel like you're making bread at all.  The only thing is, you really need a free standing mixer to make it.
It freezers really well, which is why I've given the recipe for 2 large loaves. 

Makes 2 x 900g (2 lb) loaves

450g strong white flour
15g dried yeast
50g caster sugar
50ml warm water
4 eggs
225g salted butter (softened)
Egg wash

The day before you want to bake it, sieve the flour and salt in a bowl.  Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water.  Put the flour and eggs into a food mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix to a stiff paste.  Then gradually add the butter, small amounts at a time.  This will take about 15 mins.  When finished, it should have a silky appearance.
Place in an oiled bowl and leave to rise overnight in the fridge.
Next day, preheat the oven to 170C.  Knead the dough lightly, divide it in two and place in the loaf tins.  Brush with egg wash and leave to rise until double in size.
Egg wash again and bake for 30-40 mins until browned on top and a skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cranberry and Banana Bread

What do you do when your freezer door won't close?  You ram your bum up against it and keep pushing until the realisation hits home that the rule of "thou must taketh something out" kicks in.  If rationing ever gets introduced, you'll know where to come - just so you know! 
The other day, I took 4 bananas and a half tub of cranberries out of the freezer.  Door closed, now what was I going to do with the ingredients?  I found this wonderful banana bread recipe on Joy the Bakers site.  I'm so happy with this bread.  It's spicy, it's moist, it's sweet and it's just a teeny bit tart.  It's absolutely perfect.  It's very different to any of my other banana bread recipes in that the taste of the bananas doesn't come through very strong but they give it that lovely moist texture.  Such a simple recipe and definitely one I'll be making over and over again.

Banana and Cranberry Bread, adapted from Joy The Baker

I have been asked by some US readers if I could use cup measures or at least the imperial measurements.  Happy to oblige when I can.

3 large or 4 medium bananas, mashed
70g (1/3 cup) butter, melted and cooled slightly
50g (1/4 cup) white sugar 
70g (1/3 cup) brown sugar
1 egg beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp dark rum (optional)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
120g (3/4 cup) plain flour
115g (3/4 cup) spelt or wholemeal flour (I used spelt)
100g (1 cup) fresh or frozen cranberries

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F) and grease and line a 900g (2 lb) loaf tin. With a wooden spoon, mix the butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and rum, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour, mix. Add the cranberries, and stir until just incorporated.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Butterscotch and Toffee Cookies

If we want something badly enough we can justify to ourselves why we should have it.  For instance, a pair of jeans might give you a muffin top but because they make your legs look really long, you convince yourself that you'll remember to suck your tummy in the WHOLE time you're wearing them (Sound familiar?  Thought so!). 

And so it was with a box of  toffees that have survived in our house since Christmas.  If I listened closely to it, it seems to be saying peculiar things to me like "don't worry, 10 toffees rammed into your mouth all at once in a frantic manner have zero calories" or "eat half the box and just balance it up by eating only cabbage soup tomorrow".  Sometimes I trust these voices and put my greedy hand in the box and demolish a few sneaky toffees.  But during the week I was at the stage where I decided it was time to either throw the box of toffees (and the voices) in the bin or use them up by baking something with them.  I happily chose the latter option!

Butterscotch and Toffee Cookies, adapted from a Simply Recipes recipe.  The original recipe makes about 4 dozen so I've halved the quantities.  I got 26 cookies out of the dough (more than enough!).

85g butter
175g dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/8 tsp baking powder
100g soft toffees, finely chopped

Sugar dredging mixture
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp granulated sugar

Sea salt / Kosher salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and set aside. Mix together the sugar dredging mixture in another bowl and set aside.
Place about 75g of the butter into a saucepan over medium heat. The butter will foam a bit before subsiding. Once the butter takes on a tan colour and begins to smell nutty, take it off of the heat. Have a look at the photos for Brown Butter Toasted Coconut and Rolo cookies to see the colour you need your butter to be.  Add the remaining butter and mix it in until it melts. 
Pour the brown butter into a mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar and mix. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix together, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl at least once. Add the flour mixture in three increments being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom once or twice. Mix just until the flour is incorporated. Finally, stir in pieces of toffee.  The dough will be very thick.
Take 1/2 to full tablespoon-sized pieces of dough and gently roll them into ball shapes. Dredge them in the sugar dredging mixture until well-coated. Place on the baking sheet and sprinkle with a little bit of the sprinkling salt (be reserved with the salt as very little goes a long way).
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges have browned a bit. Be careful not to over-bake. Allow to cool on the sheet for one minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Zucchini and Cranberry Bread

You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MA-to.  You say Zucchini, I say Courgette.  Let's not fall out about it.

I'm on a path of discovery these days.  I recently discovered that there is a product called eye moisturiser.  Did you know that?  Have you been living your life innocently like I have, when you read in a newspaper magazine column that the rest of the world uses different moisturiser for face and for eyes?  Why didn't I know this?  Why wasn't I in school the day everyone else was learning about this?  How did I miss this after all the rubbishy glossy magazines I spent years buying?  Since my eye cream discovery, I've asked mates if they knew about it.  Seems as if I'm the only one who's been in the dark all these years.

Another recent discovery I've made is about using zucchini in baking.  It's very like using carrots in the sense that it adds sweetness and moisture to the bread.  I love the way the red cranberries and the green zucchini specks make this a real multi-coloured bread.

Makes 2 x 1lb loaves

2 large eggs, beaten
260g sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
450g grated courgette / zucchini (I used about 2 large courgettes)
160g melted butter
2 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
380g plain flour
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
100g walnuts / pecans / brazil nuts
100g cranberries
Preheat the oven to 180C.  Grease and line 2 x 1 lb loaf tins with parchment paper.
Mix the eggs and sugar together.  Add the vanilla, zucchini and melted butter and mix well.
Add the flour together with the bircarb, salt and spices and fold into the mixture.  Fold in the cranberries and the nuts.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tins and bake for 1 hour or until beautifully browned.  After about 40 mins, my breads were brown enough so I covered them with tin foil for the remaining 20 mins.  The loaves are ready when a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaves comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the tins for 5 mins before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Coconut and Strawberry Buns

Do you ever get random or bizarre thoughts?  You know the ones that leave you wondering "now where did that come from?"  I get them - constantly.  They tend to go along the following lines, "If I was the Queen, would I still shop in Zara?" or "I wonder what the Pope does to relax?"  Another gem is "If we had 10 more kids, would the sequence continue with boy, girl, boy or would it change so that we'd have 10 more girls?"  I was having these random silly thoughts as I was making these buns the other day with the kids helping me.  (Note: "helping" can be loosely translated as "annoying the hell out of me by spilling flour, eating raw egg and dipping little fingers in the butter - all of which stresses me out causing a mild sweat to appear on my upper lip"). 

This is my Mums recipe from the only baking book she owns called “All in the Cooking”.  There is no publishing date on it but her copy has a handwritten date of December 1970.  Imagine, it's over 40 years old.  It’s been held together with a combination of sellotape, rubber bands and a build up of flour and kids drool.  There are handwritten recipes squeezed into the bottom of almost every page of the book. 

Flicking through the book the other day gave me a laugh.  It’s so old that the concept of Political Correctness was unknown.  The chapter entitled “Choice, Buying and Storage of Food” starts with “It is most important to buy only from shops run on hygienic lines.  All foods should be protected from flies”.  You’d be at risk of a jail sentence if you put anything as blatant as that in print these days.   I suppose I need to remember how old it is – 40 YEARS, WOW!  At the back of the book, Mam has a handwritten note saying “One teaspoon of golden syrup in a half pint of warm milk is equal to 3 eggs in a cake”.  That’s news to me and to be honest, I don’t want to risk ruining a good cake by testing her theory.

Coconut and Strawberry Buns

Makes 6 large buns or 10 medium buns.

225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
85g unsalted butter
85g sugar
60g dessicated coconut
1 egg, beaten
Few tablespoons of milk
3 tbsp strawberry jam

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a baking sheet with some parchment paper.
Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
Rub in the butter, add the sugar and coconut (keeping back about 2 tablespoons) and mix well.
Mix to a fairly stiff consistency with with the beaten egg and the milk.
Take a tablespoon of mixture between two forks and place on the baking sheet.
Bake for about 20 mins, until golden.
When cooled, brush over with the ham and dip in the remaining coconut.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Pear Pecan Cake

Americans cookbook writers certainly love their sugar and this recipe from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook is no different.  It's got 400g of sugar.  Maybe if you say it fast it won't sound so bad.  In it's defence, the cake has 3 pears in it so a slice could be classed as one of your 5 a day - again, say it fast.

There's something about the marriage of pears and pecans that work so well here so I wouldn't recommend substituting either.  The original recipe calls for 200g of icing sugar to fully coat the cake with a water icing but in an effort to be even semi healthy and to allow me to have a second slice with minimum guilt, I just mixed about 40g of icing sugar with a teaspoon or two of water and drizzled it on to the cake.  To be honest, this cake doesn't really need any icing.

Pear Pecan Cake, adapted from Magnolia Bakery cookbook.


400g plain flour
400g sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
250ml vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large pears or 3 medium pears, cut into 1 inch pieces
100g pecans

200g icing sugar (I only used about 40g in the pictures)
4 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Grease and line a 24 cm (9inch) springform tin with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, sugar baking soda and salt.  Make a well in the centre and stir in the oil, eggs and vanilla extract. 
Stir in the pears and the pecans.  Spoon the batter into the prepared tin.
Bake for 60-70 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for the few minutes in the tin before removing it and allowing it to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the glaze, stir together the icing sugar and water until you have a smooth paste.  Drizzle over the cake to fully coat.