Friday, 28 June 2013

Baklava - classic Greek treat

Every year at the Stour Music Festival, the marvellous Jo produces the most heavenly, sinful, honey-drenched baklava.  This year, she's let me have a go.... and I'm not sure whether I can bring myself to share it!   This is a classic Greek sweet pudding, with light layers of filo interspersed with chopped nuts, the whole thing seeped in honey.   Actually, it's very easy to make (and even easier to eat).


1 packet filo pastry – 12 leaves
8oz mixed nuts – salted peanuts/walnuts/pistachios
8oz Demerara sugar
melted butter (between quarter to half a pack)
1 jar runny honey (warmed in the microwave) 

Preheat the oven to 170 deg C and butter a solid strong baking tray (one you don’t mind scoring with a knife) about 12 x 15".    Chop the nuts together (a blender is ideal for this) and add the sugar and a dusting of cinnamon. 

Lay out the filo pastry and cover it with a damp cloth while you are working (it helps to lay it out on something non-stick!).    Lay the first piece onto the baking tray and brush it with the melted butter.  Repeat with another three layers.   Then add an even layer of the nut/sugar mixture, about half of the mix.   Repeat with four layers of pastry, buttering each one.  Add the rest of the mixture, and finish with the final layers of pastry.  Butter the top piece. 

Cut three long parallel lines in the baklava, and then the diagonal lines so you should end up with pretty diamondish shaped pieces (or simple oblongs if life is too short).   Bake in the oven until it is golden – about half an hour.   Remove from the oven, and immediately pour over the honey.  It should thoroughly drench the pastry. 

Lastly, leave it to soak for at least six hours, if you can.  The honey gradually works its way down into the bottom layers.   This keeps well, and shouldn’t be put into a fridge or it will go soggy. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Easy Millionaires' Shortbread

Millionaires' shortbread could be a delicious mixture of crisp shortbread, thick caramel and delicious chocolate... instead of which it is often a slab of solid greasy pastry, a thin layer of icky stuff and a topping that nowhere near resembles the real thing!   I thought I'd start by using some nice shortbread, and then top it with a very easy caramel and some good quality chocolate.   The caramel is made simply by boiling a tin of condensed milk for a couple of hours.   You could make it gluten free if you used only rice flour for the shortbread.   What I did discover is that you can't cut it easily if the chocolate is too cold - as you can see from the photo below!

Easy Millionaires shortbread
Easy Millionaires' Shortbread

12oz/350g plain flour
4oz/100g caster sugar
8oz/220g butter at room temperature

1 tin condensed milk, simmered, unopened, for 2 hours, in a small pan with lots of water and a lid, then allowed to cool
12oz/340g  good chocolate (milk/dark)

Line a 12 x 8” tin with baking parchment in a long strip so that the ends stick out, then grease the sides.    Preheat the oven to 170 deg C.

Mix the shortbread ingredients together in a processor (it probably won’t form a ball, but stay as small pieces) and then press into the baking tin.   Prick with a fork and bake for about ½ to ¾ hour until golden brown.    Leave until cold for the next step.

Spread the caramel over the shortbread in a thick layer.  Melt the chocolate in the microwave and spread it over the caramel.  Chill so that the chocolate sets, then cut into squares.     Makes about 30 to 40 depending on the size! 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Piña Colada Jelly

This is a recipe from my mentor, Jo, and one of this year's Stour treats!   A delicious combination of pineapple and coconut, it's so simple to make as well as very unusual.  Jo says you could add white rum or Bacardi to make it truly alcoholic, but to remember to adjust the quantity of liquid accordingly.   Pineapple is only successful in a jelly if it is tinned - fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that stops it from setting.

Piña Colada Jelly

1 large tin of crushed pineapple
1 small tin of coconut cream 
1.5 packets of gelatine
caster sugar, if wished
alcohol if desired…

Drain the juice from the pineapple and keep it.  Make up the jelly in ¼ pint of water, or as little as you can get away with.  When the gelatine is melted and smooth, add the pineapple juice and the coconut cream, plus any alcohol or water and sugar to taste.  The total volume of liquid should be about 1 pint.   Add the fruit, and stir well before putting into a glass bowl.    Chill to set.   

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Sponge Fingers

Ice cream tastes much nicer with little biscuits, and these sponge fingers are easy to make and require only 3 ingredients. My old recipe states that they should be made in a sponge finger tray, which is probably why they came out slightly flatter than they should do, but they taste good anyway, and any unwanted ones will be perfect in a trifle or tiramisu.   They don't have the rusk-like texture of bought sponge fingers, so no danger of coughing everywhere if you accidentally inhale the crumbs!   The recipe calls for strong plain flour, but don't worry if you don't have it, it just contains more gluten to keep the mixture in shape.

Sponge Fingers

1 large egg
3 level tbsps caster sugar
4 level tbsps strong plain flour (bread flour), sieved

Line a tin with baking parchment and preheat the oven to 200 deg C.  

Put the egg and sugar into a deep bowl and whisk with an electric whisk until the mixture is light and thick, ie stiff enough to hold an impression of the whisk for a few seconds.   This takes at least 5 minutes!  Using a metal spoon, lightly fold half the sieved flour over the mixture, then fold in the second half – this is to keep as much of the air in the mixture as possible, so don’t be tempted to dump it all in at once. 

Either pour the mixture in strips onto the baking sheet using a steady hand, or pipe quickly with a ½” pipe and bag.  Again, try not to lose all the air you have painstakingly whipped in!

Bake for about 10 minutes, until pale gold.  Remove from the oven and dust quickly with caster sugar.   Cool on a wire rack – they will stiffen on the rack.  

Friday, 14 June 2013

Raymond Blanc's Foolproof Chocolate Fondants

Delicious Magazine has just featured these amazing hot chocolate fondants by Raymond Blanc, and I've had to force myself to test them!   A deliciously rich liquid chocolate centre is hidden in a little spongy pudding, topped with hot chocolate sauce.  The pistachios offset the smoothness.  They are very easy to make, and definitely better if you leave them for a day in the fridge before baking them.  They also freeze well.    The photo below shows the whole pudding before digging a spoon in to release the chocolate....

Raymond Blanc's Chocolate Fondant Pudding
Raymond Blanc’s Chocolate Fondants

To line the moulds:
0.5 oz/15g unsalted butter at room temperature
½ tbsp cocoa mixed with ½ tbsp caster sugar 

4oz/100g good quality chocolate (70% cocoa if possible)
4oz/100g unsalted butter
2 large free-range eggs plus 1 egg yolk
3oz/80g sifted icing sugar  
1 dsp cocoa powder
2oz/50g plain flour
¼ tsp/3g baking powder

1floz/30ml milk
3floz/90ml whipping cream
3oz/80g good quality chocolate, roughly chopped

plus 2oz unsalted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
4 small pudding moulds

The oven should be at 230 deg C to cook the fondants, and they are best made a day in advance. 

Grease the moulds with the butter, and then, taking two at a time, put half the cocoa/sugar mix into one, close them together and shake them to get a good distribution of the chocolate.  Repeat with the other half and discard the rest.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl or in the microwave.  When it is melted, stir smooth and then whisk in the eggs and yolk, then sift in the dry ingredients and then beat into the mixture until it is smooth (which is why you should sift the icing sugar!).   Divide the mixture in the moulds.  At this stage, you can cook now, or later.  If later, store in the fridge, with cling film (remove 2 hours before cooking so they return to room temperature)

Bring the milk and cream to a boil in a medium sized pan, take off the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until it is smooth.  This should be served warm  – it will solidify when it cools down.

Put the moulds onto a baking tray. The fondants need just 7 minutes in the oven until they have just started to crust.  Remove from the oven and cool for 3-4 minutes.  Then run a knife around the edge of each one and tip them onto plates.   Pour over the sauce and the pistachios and then pile in! 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Mary Berry's Carrot Cake

This is possibly the nicest carrot cake on earth, slightly adapted from Mary Berry's recipe.   With bananas and walnuts as well as carrots under a smooth cream cheese icing, it's so nice, it's almost sinful!   This is a traybake, so a stalwart for choir teas, TA Camp and walking weekends, or just anywhere where you need to feed a crowd.   I've made the gluten free version with rice flour, and a standard flour blend will also work well.   There's no dairy in the actual cake, so leave some without icing for a dairy-free treat.   Double quantity fits into a large roasting tin.    Sadly, this picture doesn't do it justice, but that was all that was left!

 Amazing Carrot Cake

8oz/225g self raising flour (you can substitute gluten-free flour)
2 tsp baking powder
100g/4oz grated carrots
5oz/150g dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
5floz/150ml sunflower oil
2oz/50g chopped walnuts

8oz/225g tub Philadelphia cream cheese
3oz/75g softened butter
6oz/175g sieved icing sugar (no cheating, it shows!)
few drops of vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.   Line a tin with foil (about 8 x 14” or thereabouts – depending on if you want chunky or thin pieces) and grease it.   Put all the ingredients (except the walnuts) into a bowl or a mixer (Kitchen Aid/Kenwood) and beat until smooth.  Fold the nuts into the mixture, then put it into the tin.   Cook for about 35-40 minutes until the cake has risen, and is golden brown and coming away from the edges of the foil slightly.  You could also try sticking a (warmed) knife into the centre.  If it comes out clean, the cake is ready.  If you double the recipe, allow more time for it to cook. 

Cool in its tin before turning it out onto a rack and removing the foil.  Turn the cake over and put onto a serving board. 

Beat the icing ingredients together until smooth (the butter has to be very soft, or you will get little pieces), and spread generously over the cake.   I’ve found it is best to put this in the fridge for a few hours before serving it.   Cut into squares – it will make approximately 24.     

Friday, 7 June 2013

Rhubarb and Ginger Ripple

This is a healthier version of my rhubarb trifle, simpler to make, and an ideal pudding for those seeking to avoid cream!   The secret is to simmer the rhubarb gently until the sugar has gone slightly syrupy.  Ideally, you can still see the individual rhubarb chunks.  If you don't like ginger, top it with orange peel cut into curly pieces with a zester.  Served in individual glasses, this is one of those recipes which doesn't really have quantities, but depends on how much rhubarb you have, how large the glasses are... or, let's be honest, how hungry you are feeling!

 Rhubarb and Ginger Ripple

Approximate quantities per glass:
2 tablespoons slow stewed rhubarb
2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
muscovado sugar
1 piece of preserved ginger in syrup

Wash and cut the rhubarb, put into a pan with some jam sugar (about 1oz/25g of sugar per 8oz/220g rhubarb).  Cover the pan and simmer the rhubarb slowly until the juice flows and the sugar has melted.   Then take the lid off and continue to simmer it, allowing some of the water to evaporate so that the mixture becomes syrupy (if you are in a hurry, simply stew the rhubarb until it is soft!).  This takes about 20 minutes or so – keep an eye on it!   If you do this slowly, the rhubarb doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.   Allow the mixture to cool.  Test for sweetness – it should be slightly tart, but not tooth-gratingly so.

Put the rhubarb in the bottom of each glass and add the Greek yoghurt (which could be mixed with whipped cream for a richer texture), then another layer of rhubarb, and another layer of yoghurt.    Finally, add the black sugar and chopped ginger pieces.    Leave it for at least half an hour so that the sugar melts into the yoghurt.  

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Quick Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Nothing beats a really fresh, warm, chocolate cookie.... except perhaps a trayful?   These cookies are so quick to make, and disappear very quickly too.   When first out of the oven they are soft, and then harden to biscuits the longer you leave them.  This is a very simple recipe, and a family favourite.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Chocolate Chunk Cookies

2oz/50g soft brown sugar
4oz/125g  butter
1 egg, beaten
5oz/150g self-raising flour
6oz/175g plain chocolate, chopped into chunks

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line one or two baking trays with non-stick baking parchment. 

In a deep bowl, using an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and sift the flour over the mixture, before folding it in using a metal spoon (this keeps the texture light).   Mix in the chopped chocolate.

Put the mixture in teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet, allowing space for them to spread.     Bake for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. 
Cool on a wire rack.