Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sesame and Ginger Oat Biscuits

 - made from pastry scraps!

I've used this recipe before, when I've had a substantial amount of leftover shortcrust pastry. Last time I reduced the sugar in the original recipe and made savoury oat biscuits, this time I left in the suggested amount of sugar, added some sesame seeds and some crystallised ginger and made some fairly plain, not too sweet, biscuits which provided welcome relief from the excesses of rich food over the Christmas period.

It's more of a baking tip than a recipe - you weigh your pastry leftovers, then add the same weight of rolled oats and half that weight of butter and sugar. I started with 180g of shortcrust pastry, so added 180g of oats, 90g butter and 90g of soft brown sugar. I also added 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds and 50g of finely chopped crystallised ginger.

After leaving the bowl of ingredients for half an hour or so, for the pastry and butter to soften, everything is kneaded together either by hand or in a food processor. The dough is then rolled out to about 5mm thick and cut into shapes of your choice. These take about 15 minutes to bake at 180C - they need to be firm but not coloured too darkly.

The recipe I used, plus some other suggestions for using up leftover pastry, can be found on this link to the Guardian 'Readers' Recipe Swap'.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Mincemeat, Prune and Orange Cake

The writer of the blog where I found this recipe calls it a 'Lazy Girl Cake' but at this time of year I'd also call it a cheapskate's cake, as you can often find mincemeat being sold off cheaply to get rid of seasonal stock. I found double-sized jars (820g) in Waitrose for only 60p!

Phil at As Strong as Soup directed me to the recipe here, on the English version of C'est Moi Qui L'ai Fait! but I also found it on this site, which claims that it originates in a National Trust recipe book. Whatever it's origins, I adapted the recipe a little, for my own tastes, using chopped prunes instead of sultanas and adding the zest of an orange to compliment the fact that there were quite a lot of citrus-y ingredients in the mincemeat.

150g softened butter
150g soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
225g SR flour
75g ready to eat prunes chopped into small pieces
400-410g mincemeat (1 standard sized jar)
the zest of an orange, finely grated

Pre-heat the oven to 160C and prepare a 20cm(8") or 23cm(9") loose-based cake tin.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, orange zest and half the flour into a mixing bowl, and beat until well blended, and light and fluffy - easiest with a hand-held electric mixer.
Fold in the rest of the flour, the mincemeat and the chopped prunes.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, and bake until a test probe comes out clean - it will be roughly 90 minutes for the 20cm cake and 75 minutes for the larger cake which will be more shallow.
Cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

This is a gently flavoured cake - the usual spiciness of mincemeat is diluted by the cake batter, and adding orange zest increases the citrus notes. Obviously, the flavour will vary depending on the mincemeat used - mine didn't contain nuts or alcohol! The prunes were the biggest pieces of fruit so stood out in both the appearance and taste of the cake. Again, this is a factor that can be varied to taste - I considered dried apricots and cranberries before going with the prunes.

This is such a simple way to make a well-flavoured light fruit cake that I'm sure I'll be using it throughout the year - I've got quite a bit of cheap mincemeat to use now!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Honey Nut Tart

I think this tart must be very similar to a Pecan Pie; it uses sugars, butter and eggs to make the filling, but here the pecans are replaced by hazelnuts and walnuts, and the syrup (corn or maple) used in most recipes is replaced by honey - you could call it an Anglicised version of the classic American dessert.

I saw the recipe in the latest National Trust newsletter, following an article about all that the National Trust is doing to help the plight of the honeybee, including supporting the National Pollinator Strategy. I can't find the recipe (Sissinghurst Honey, Walnut and Cobnut Tart) online, except as a .pdf file, but it's very simple  - the first thing you need is a 9" (22 - 23cm) shallow sweetened shortcrust pastry flan case, baked blind. For the filling, scatter 100g each of roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts (or fresh cobnuts. in season) and walnut pieces over the pastry case then pour over the sticky filling. This is made by melting 85g of butter, then stirring in
100g of set honey. This mixture is blended with 4 medium-sized beaten eggs and 175g of light brown sugar (the recipe used demerara, which I didn't have). When the mixture feels smooth and the sugar has dissolved, pour over the nuts to fill the pastry case as much as possible (I had a little of the filling left over). Bake for 30 - 40 minutes at 190C, until the filling is firm. I found the filling baked in 25 minutes, so it might be an idea to use a slightly lower temperature than that used to bake the pastry case - I suspect a misprint in the recipe! Serve at room temperature.

This was a gloriously indulgent, sweet and sticky tart, with the flavours of both nuts still identifiable. I was a little disappointed that the honey was lost amongst all the sweetness and nuttiness, but perhaps that was down to my choice of honey. A really strongly flavoured one might have stood up better, although I'm always wary of recipes which use a lot of sugar as well as honey - there's often not enough honey to give a strong flavour.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Spiced Fig Squares

I make no apologies for posting two consecutive bakes based on oats - flapjacks, and this type of fruit-filled square, are quick to assemble and bake and we all know oats are healthy, don't we?

I based my recipe on these Date Squares from Joy of Baking, but I used figs for the filling and scaled the recipe down to fit a smaller baking tin - 20cm(8") square. I also used spelt flour instead of wheatflour in the dough.

250g soft dried figs
150mls water
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice*
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
160g porridge oats
100g spelt flour
100g soft light brown sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
180g butter

*I used Waitrose Signature Spice mix, which is predominantly cinnamon but also contains ginger,  nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, star anise, black pepper, tangerine oil and cloves.

Cut the figs into small pieces, either with scissors, as I did, or in a food processor. Put into a small saucepan with the water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the water is absorbed. Stir in the spice and pomegranate molasses.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line the base and sides of a 20cm (8") square baking tin with baking parchment.
Put the oats, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and rub in the butter (or use a food processor to mix in cold butter in pulses until the mixture is crumbly and just beginning to come together).

Put roughly 2/3 of the dough into the baking tin, spread evenly then press down firmly.
Dot small heaps of the fruit mix over the dough, and use a knife or back of a spoon to spread out into an even layer, right to the edges of the tin.
Crumble over the rest of the dough mix and again, spread evenly. Press down gently to firm the mixture.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown. Cool in the tin, marking into squares or bars before it cools completely.

These spiced fig squares were a little crumblier than I really like, although they did firm up a bit after the first day. The spiced fig filling was delicious, although I would use a bit more spice if I made them again, and cut the figs into smaller pieces in my mini-processor, rather than snip into pieces with scissors.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Chocolate and Ginger Flapjack

As a sort of antidote to Christmas, when chocoholic cooks often try their best to impress their friends and family with showstopping desserts, cakes and other home-made treats, the theme for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge is........ Simple Recipes!

The We Should Cocoa challenge, to use some form of chocolate together with a monthly theme, was devised by Choclette at Tin and Thyme, but this month's theme of Simple Recipes has been chosen by guest-host Lisa, at Lovely Appetite.

I guess everyone's idea of simple will be slightly different, but to me, a simple recipe is more about ease and speed of preparation and cooking rather than the number of ingredients. After all, there aren't many ingredients in a macaron, but only an expert would call then 'simple' to make!

The recipe for Chocolate and Ginger Flapjack couldn't be much more simple - melt chocolate, butter, golden syrup and sugar together in a large bowl in the microwave (or in a pan on the hob, if you prefer). When all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is quite hot, stir in rolled oats and crystallised ginger pieces. Transfer to a baking tin, bake, cool and eat - simple!

To make sure the flavour of the flapjack wasn't as simple as it's recipe, I used 100% cacao, and the ginger was from a Christmas box of Turkish crystallised ginger pieces which were really fiery - I don't think I've ever eaten ginger that hot before! The bitterness of the cacao, and the heat of the ginger, gave these flapjacks a taste which might not appeal to children, but the effect could be toned down by using a chocolate with a lower percentage of cocoa solids (say 60-70%) and a milder ginger, or even replacing some of the ginger with dried fruit such as chopped dried apricots, so that the flapjacks taste sweeter.

100g dark chocolate or 100% cacao (I used Willie's Peruvian Black 100% Cacao)
100g butter
65g golden syrup
100g caster sugar
250g rolled oats
100g crystallised ginger, chopped into pieces about 1cm cubed (leaving the chunks of ginger quite large makes sure you get a good hit of the heat when it's eaten!)

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (160C fan) and line the base and sides of a 20cm (8") square baking tin with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate, butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan on the hob, or in a bowl in the microwave. The mixture needs to be quite hot to dissolve the sugar, but doesn't need to boil.
Add the oats and the pieces of ginger to the chocolate mixture and stir until the oats are well coated.
Transfer the mixture to the baking tin and spread into an even layer, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 25 minutes, then cool for 10 minutes. at that point, while still warm, mark into squares or fingers of the desired size. Leave in the tin until completely cold.

This recipe makes flapjacks which stay together well and are chewy rather than crisp and crunchy. If you prefer crisp flapjacks bake for a little longer - another 10 minutes, perhaps.

I'm also entering these flapjacks into January's AlphaBakes challenge, where co-host Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker has chosen the letter G. Ros alternates her hosting duties with Caroline, at Caroline Makes. G is for Ginger, in this instance, of course!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Festive Fruit Pie

Most of the Christmas leftovers have been dealt with by now. The last slice of ham, a few chunks of turkey and half a dozen chestnuts, together with a few mushrooms, in a mustard-y cream and white wine sauce, made a very tasty pie. What hasn't been eaten has been packed into the freezer, hopefully to make pies and curries over the next few weeks, and not just forgotten about. However, I am also determined not to leave too many half-used jars and packets of seasonal ingredients lurking about, as by springtime I'm past the point of wanting to eat things like mincepies and cranberry sauce.

Allow me a slight digression here - have you noticed that cream cheese is sold in 280g packs now, and not 300g? Luckily I was using a modern cheesecake recipe which took account of that, but many of my older recipes use multiples of 300g, so leftovers are inevitable, even if buying smaller packs, which are proportionally more expensive, to make up the weight.

Even so, as a result of scaling down a cream cheese frosting recipe, I was left with around half a pack of cream cheese and happened to read this recipe at Belleau Kitchen for a delicious sounding pastry using cream cheese, orange zest and ground almonds. It seemed perfect for the 'leftovers' fruit pie that I had decided to make. I made a slight adaptation to the recipe - I reduced the sugar to 50g and used icing sugar (which I think is incorporated more easily into pastry), and also used the zest of a small orange instead of a clementine, but otherwise I followed Dom's recipe, which originates from Dan Lepard's 'Short and Sweet'.

I used 2/3 of the pastry to line a deep pie dish, and the remainder to make a lattice for the top. I assembled the lattice on a sheet of baking parchment, and chilled it, along with the pie case, for about 20 minutes, before putting the pie together for baking.

For the filling I mixed together:
200g of mincemeat
roughly 125g of a good quality cranberry sauce (over 50% fruit)
two eating apples, peeled and cored and cut into small dice
80g of ready-to-eat dried dates, snipped into small pieces
1 teaspoon of ground rice to absorb excess fruit juices

I put the filling into the unbaked pie case, and placed the pre-made lattice on top. The excess pastry around the top of the pie case was folded over the edges of the lattice to seal the base and lattice together. The top was brushed with beaten egg white and sprinkled with caster sugar and the pie was baked at 180C for about 40 minutes until golden brown.

Both elements of this pie were very good! The pastry was very short and crumbly, but very easy to work with, and probably would have been even more delicious with a blander pie filling. The orange zest could be tasted in the pastry when eaten alone, but it was overwhelmed by the spices and other flavours in the mincemeat mixture. The pie filling still tasted predominantly of mincemeat but the addition of tart cranberries and apples cut through the usual sweetness and added a greater depth of flavour. The overall spice level of the mincemeat was reduced too, allowing the combination of dried and fresh fruits to dominate. Altogether, a successful experiment - the pastry is wonderful (thanks Dom!) it's worth buying cream cheese specially for it, and the filling mixture reduced my stock of opened jars while tasting much better than such a haphazard mixture might have done!