Apple and blackberry tarte tatin (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 3)

Another week has passed in the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) competition, and yet again it has inspired me to have a go at baking something myself. This week was all about tarts – the contestants had to bake a tarte tatin of their choice, a treacle tart following Mary Berry’s recipe, and a decorated fruit tart worthy of display in a patisserie window. There were some amazing bakes. At the end of the program I turned to Tom and said: ‘Would you prefer it if I baked a tarte tatin or a treacle tart?’ His immediate response was ‘tarte tatin’, which I was hoping he’d say, because I’m not a massive fan of treacle tart (which incidentally has no treacle in it, but lots of sweet golden syrup and I don’t like baking with that very much).

Crunchy puffy corner

I have to say that pastry is not something I’ve had loads of experience with. On the occasions that I have made it, rather than going for the easy option of buying ready done stuff, it’s turned out well about half the time, and I’ve had problems the other half. I think the biggest problems have been getting it too warm and overworking it. And I’ve never thought about making puff pastry – all the times I’ve wanted to make it I’ve done shortcrust, either sweet or savoury. (I found out on the GBBO this week that sweet shortcrust is hard to make because the sugar does something to the dough that makes it harder to work with – maybe that could explain some of my mishaps when making sweet pies?) Puff pastry is what you need to make a traditional tarte tatin, so I decided this would be a good chance to have a go and see whether it would be added to my list of pastry success or pastry failures. I’m glad to say that it turned out to be the former 🙂

As blackberries are just in season now that we’re into September, I thought that it would be nice to try an apple and blackberry tarte tatin rather than just the traditional apple flavour. I was aware, however, that using a soft fruit like blackberries would potentially cause problems with it being too wet, just like one of the GBBO contestants who used plums and cherries found. So I used mainly apples, which I know work well for this, plus some blackberries to add to the main apple flavour. The blackberries were quite tart, so perfect to go with the sweet caramel that goes on the top (or bottom to start with before you turn it the right way up). The basic idea is that you make it the wrong way up, by putting the caramel sauce in the dish first, then the fruit, then the pastry, and when you turn it the right way up once cooked and cooled completely, the tart has a pastry base and fruity topping with caramel.

The finished apple and backberry tarte tatin. I love the colour that the blackberries have given it, so much more appealing than a light apple colour with a bit of browning from the caramel.

I’m happy with how it turned out. The pastry actually puffed up quite well and was properly crispy all over (no soggy bottom – that’s a success in itself!) I think if I did it again I’d make the pastry slightly thinner though, because although it was all cooked, the inside bit of the pastry was more like shortcrust (i.e. not so puffy) than the outside layers that puffed up well. The fruit combination worked really well and wasn’t too wet or too sweet for me. I love the way the blackberries have given it a deep red colour, which is more inviting than an insipid apple colour with some browning from the caramel. So overall a great tasting and looking tart in my opinion! My tasters, who this week featured my parents too, agreed. Here’s the recipe I came up with if you’d like to have a go yourself.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 250g butter
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 150ml water

Filling

  • 6 small apples – I used Braeburns because that’s what was cheap in the supermarket when I went!
  • blackberries (about 100g)
  • 100g sugar
  • 100ml water

Method

The recipe I used for the rough puff pastry was from the BBC good food website – it’s Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. Check out that website to get the method for the pastry – make this first as it’s best done in advance and left to chill for quite a while – I left mine overnight.

This was after the first rolling out of the dough. Notice the marbled effect with streaks of butter in amongst the flour and water dough.
This shows the dough folded into thirds so there are three layers (see the above website for the exact method).
  1. Start by preheating the oven to 200ºC (fan) and lining an oven-proof dish with greaseproof paper. Traditionally it’s a circular dish that’s used, but I decided to be a bit different and use a square dish.
  2. Then prepare the fruit. Wash the blackberries and keep them whole. Wash and peel the apples, then remove the core and cut into quarters. The apples I bought were very small, perfect for cutting into quarters here, but if yours are bigger, maybe eighths or sixths would be better – they just need to be not too thick so they don’t take ages to cook as you’ve only got the length of time that it takes the pastry to cook otherwise that will be overdone.
  3. Then make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan (a plain metal one, NOT non-stick is best) and place on a medium heat. Stir briefly until the sugar is dissolved, but once it has, don’t stir it any more otherwise the sugar will crystallise and the caramel will be no good. Let it bubble away on the heat for about 10-15 minutes until it starts to thicken. Leave to cool slightly and it will thicken some more, but don’t leave it too long otherwise it will be hard to spread across the dish.
  4. Spread the caramel over the base of the dish on top of the greaseproof paper.
  5. Position the fruit in an attractive pattern on the caramel. I went for apples around the outside and in the centre, with a line of blackberries between the two (square) rings of apple.
  6. Roll out the pastry to about 1cm thick and cut to the size of your dish.

    Pastry rolled out ready to go on top of the fruit. It was slightly too wide, so I cut the edges off one side and made some pastry twists out of them, a bit like cheese straws but I wanted to keep them plain.
  7. Place the pastry on top of the fruit and press down lightly. Pierce the pastry in a few places to let the steam that comes off the cooking fruit out from the tart and stop the pastry going soggy.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden.
  9. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

    Nice crispy puffy pastry just out of the oven. Waiting for it to cool down completely before turning the right way up.
  10. Turn the dish upside down onto a plate, so that the tart comes out with the pastry on the bottom and the fruit on the top. Remove the greaseproof paper and the tart is ready to devour! Enjoy 🙂
    A slice of yummy tart. You can see that the pastry isn't as puffy inside nearer the fruit, but it is cooked, it's just got the texture of shortcrust rather than puff.

    I know this is out of focus, but I was trying to capture the lovely crispy puffy bit of pastry that came out around the edges of the tart.

Chocolate and almond butter crumblies

A checkerboard of hearted (use your imagination!) yummy crumblies

I’m no good at lying, so here I am being honest about the fact that these delicious ‘crumblies’ I made started out in my head as shortbread biscuits. They look or feel nothing like shortbread, but they taste just as good if not better, because they have that lovely ‘melt in the mouth’ quality, they just crumble as (but not before) you bite them. Hence the name change to ‘crumblies’. It was always my intention to make half chocolate dough and half almond dough, and then make square biscuits with a contrasting-coloured heart in the centre. If you use your imagination, you can just about see this plan worked for the chocolate squares with almond hearts, but the almond squares with chocolate hearts were a bit of a flop (or a run if you like) – in appearance that is, but not taste. Oh how I wish I could post samples so that readers would believe me.

I suspect part of the reason why the dough ran so much (unlike the firmness of shortbread) was that I used all cornflour. I used to make shortbread with half cornflour, half plain flour; I expected that using all cornflour would make them more fragile and crumbly, but I didn’t expect the dough to go so runny whilst cooking and therefore lose the shape of my hearts. My inspiration for doing this cornflour thing was seeing gluten-free shortbread on sale at a tea-room I visited with my mum-in-law who is wheat/gluten-intolerant; so I thought I’d have a go at another wheat-free recipe with her in mind. The results are not bad. The perfectionist inside me is annoyed that they don’t look so pretty, but the time-pressed realistic mum inside me has come to accept that as long as they taste good (which they do, did I mention that?!), that’s all that matters. If you fancy having a go at these yourself, here’s how I did it.

Ingredients

Almond dough:

  • 125g corn flour
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 60g icing sugar
  • few drops almond essence

Chocolate dough:

  • 45g cocoa powder
  • 80g corn flour
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 60g icing sugar

 Method

  1. Start with the almond dough (so you can use the same bowl for the chocolate one – think about it, the other way round and you’d get brown bits in your yellow dough). Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a metal spoon.
  2. Add the cornflour and almond essence and combine until you get a thick pasty dough. As it gets thicker, use your hands to bring it together into a ball.

    Ball of almond dough
  3. On a large flat surface, sprinkle some cornflour. Roll out the dough until about 1cm thick. (I suspect that making it thicker would have been better.) Cut out some squares with a biscuit cutter, until you’ve used all the dough.
  4. From each square, cut out a small heart using a biscuit cutter. I got mine from Hobbycraft back in 2008 (I know the date because I got them to cut out hearts from card for the orders of service at our wedding!)

    A close up of cutting
  5. Place the squares (minus hearts) on a greaseproof-paper-lined baking tray. Put the hearts to one side.

    Cutting in progress - almond dough cut into squares with hearts cut out, and the same happening with the chocolate dough
  6. Do the same with the chocolate dough. Cream butter and sugar, then add cornflour and cocoa powder.

    Ball of chocolate dough
  7. When you have a tray of almond and a tray of chocolate squares, place the opposite type of dough heart into the heart-shaped holes in the squares.

    All lined up ready to go into the oven (the last time I got to see my beauties looking so perfect....)
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160°C for 10-12 minutes. When you take them out they will still be quite soft.
  9. Allow to cool on the trays and they will become firm. Once cooled and firm, remove from the trays and store in an air-tight box.
The good....
...and the ugly (there was no 'bad' involved, not on taste)

The chocolate taste is nicely strong and not too sweet, which contrasts well with the sweeter almond taste. So if you’re more in the mood for something chocolately with a hint of sweetness, I’d recommend one from the ‘good’ option, and if you’re more up for a sweet bite with a bit of chocolate thrown in, I’d go for the ‘ugly’ but still yummy option. My willing tasters (aka my boys) approve, which is reassuring to know. I’d be more than happy to get suggestions of why it went so runny, other than the cornflour. I’m a bit of an experimental baker; sometimes things go right, sometimes wrong, but I don’t know much of the science behind why something went wrong unless it’s obvious like I left out a key ingredient by mistake.

Just-sweet-enough cheesecake

This week we are having friends round for Sunday lunch, and this reminded me of a pudding that my mum used to make quite often when we had friends or family round for Sunday lunch when I was a child. I don’t think the recipe was ever written down, or at least she taught it to me without looking at a recipe, so it’s a bit like an oral legend that was passed down a generation. If I remember rightly, it was in fact the son of one of her friends who once made it in a home economics lesson (ah remember when it was called home ec. and not food technology or something like that?!) He’d done it as part of a project on food suitable for diabetics, and my parents were interested in the recipe because my dad is diabetic.

In outline it’s a biscuit base (using plain biscuits like digestives which don’t have too much sugar in them, though I like to use Hobnobs too to give it a bit of oatiness), and a topping that’s made from a sachet of dried sugar-free jelly, made up not with a pint of boiling water, but instead with a small amount of water and the rest cottage cheese and double cream. It sets in the fridge like ordinary jelly does. If you’re not convinced that this sounds delicious, let me try and persuade you that it is! I’ve written the recipe below, but I guess the best way to believe me would be to try it for yourself. Go on, it’ll be yummy!

This is the first time I made this since Andrew’s been eating solids, though I’m not sure why I haven’t done it yet because it’s of course good that it doesn’t have much sugar in. The sweetness comes partly from the biscuits which have a little in, and from the sweeteners that make the jelly sweet. And of course the fruit used to decorate it. What other flavours do you think would be nice to try? Do you think a particular colour of jelly would go down well with you or your family?

Ingredients

  • 20 biscuits like Hobnobs or digestives.
  • 100g butter or margarine
  • 150ml boiling water
  • 300g cottage cheese
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 dried sachet (which makes a pint) of sugar-free jelly (I chose raspberry this time, but you can use any flavour of jelly that you’d like for a cheesecake)

Method

  1. Crush the biscuits into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin and a large bowl, big enough that it catches the inevitable flying crumbs when they’re created from the biscuits.
  2. Melt the butter/margarine and add to the biscuit crumbs.
  3. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of a suitable dish – I used a circular Pyrex one.
  4. Empty the sachet of jelly into a measuring jug. Add the boiling water and stir until the powder has all dissolved.
  5. Sieve the cottage cheese – I know this sounds odd, but by pushing it through a sieve using the back of a spoon until it’s all passed through, you end up with a nice smooth consistency rather than the lumpiness from the pot. Add the sieved cheese to the jelly mixture and stir well to make sure there are no lumps.
  6. Add the double cream to this mixture and stir until it’s mixed in well.
  7. Pour the mixture onto the base in the dish and leave it to chill for a few hours in the fridge.
  8. Once set, decorate with fruit (I chose red grapes to go with the pink colour of the cheesecake).

 

Link up your recipe of the week

40 breadless days, here I come…. but first some pancakes

When I announced to Tom this evening that I’m giving up bread for Lent, his reaction was ‘What??!! Are you mad??!!’…. to which my reply was ‘No, not mad Dear (well no more mad than usual), just wanted to do something really challenging this Lent.’ You see he knows how much I love bread and any bread products; I can’t usually go a day without something along those lines. Since we got a bread-maker, which I still maintain was one of my all-time best Christmas presents, I’ve been slightly obsessed with having fresh bread as often as possible. A few years ago my GP thought I might be gluten/wheat intolerant with the symptoms I was presenting. After 2 weeks of going gluten-free I’m sure I was more happy about the fact that I felt no better than having to carry on life without bread. (In the end it cleared up on its own and was put down to bouts of IBS.) It was a HARD 2 weeks; pasta I could cope without, and wheat cereals like Shreddies and bran flakes just about, but not bread, that was the hard part.

So when a friend at work today mentioned another friend had given up bread for Lent last year, that gave me a great idea. I was thinking of giving up chocolate, as that too would be challenging, but then I thought I’d just eat other things like cake, biscuits and sweets in its place. Having a blanket ban on sweet snacks wouldn’t do me much good either, as I find I need lots of energy during the day, with all the walking, cycling, swimming and of course breastfeeding that I’m doing. So bread was the answer to my search for a Lenten challenge: I would certainly miss it, and it’s not really replaceable with anything similar.

But why bother to give up anything at all for Lent? The tradition, as far as I was taught as a child, comes from the fact that the 40 days before Easter, or the period we call Lent, is a time when Christians take time to reflect on and contemplate quietly what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. Traditionally they used to fast completely; this helped focus their mind on this reflection and contemplation, and it would certainly make them appreciate God’s provision in all the things they missed whilst fasting. More recently the tradtion became giving up just one thing, maybe a food or maybe something else like buying magazines, watching TV or biting finger nails. The point is that it’s something you find hard. However, some people might not find it particularly helpful to give something up to focus more on God. When I was a student, one of the leaders of our church student group once said that actually doing something new/different every day instead might help some people focus on God, for example making an effort to pray for longer or serve others by helping out with a charity. For me this year, as I give up something I know I love to eat, I will try to spend more time focused on God, and every time that I crave some bread, I know it will remind me to do so.

And finally the pancake bit. Along with the tradition of fasting in Lent was the tradition of using up all the fatty food that was in the larder beforehand, so the temptation wasn’t there to eat it. What better way to use up eggs, milk and flour than to make pancakes! This day, always a Tuesday (because Easter is always a Sunday and it’s 40 days before that), became known as Shrove Tuesday (to shrove means to ‘make merry’). In more recent years this has become Pancake Day thanks to the yummy things we eat in this 24-hour period.

This year I decided to make some pancakes for dinner, some with a savoury bean filling, and some with a sweet filling for afters. My pancake recipe was following the legendary Delia (I usually look up basic classic things like this on her website), and the fillings were my own. The bean filling was what has affectionately become known in our home as ‘Beanie thing’. Basically it’s what we have when we want a meal that’s more than just a snack but isn’t too heavy either. It turns out differntly every time because I vary the ingrediens slightly depending on what we have in the cupboard and what we fancy in particular. So I can’t really write an ingredients list, but here’s an idea about how to make it.

  • Chop and onion and a garlic clove. In a saucepan, fry in a little olive oil until golden and softened.
  • Add a tin of beans (drained first) such as cannellini, borlotti, black-eye, kidney, haricot etc. or even chick peas or lentils.
  • Add some other veg like sweetcorn/peas/grated carrots/diced pepper/mushrooms.
  • Add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir well to mix up all the ingredients.
  • Add some herbs like dried mixed herbs or indiviual things like oregano/cumin/parsley (anything you like really). Even add a dash of Tobasco if you’re feeling like a bit of a kick to it.
  • Mix up a couple of tablespoons of cornflour with a little cold water, to form a thin paste. Add this to the bean mixture and stir well. Keep on the heat until it’s thickened up as much as you’d like.
  • Serve with fresh bread (or, if you’re giving it up for Lent, some alternative….need to think about that….), or pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

After we’d finished our savoury pancakes with beans, there were sweet ones filled with white chocolate buttons, which melted and oozed out as the pancake was still hot 🙂 Andrew only had a small taster of mine as I didn’t want to risk a sugar high that close to bedtime (as it turns out he’s shattered after a busy day with Granny and Grandad and went straight off to sleep!) What did you fill your pancakes with? Any unusual toppings that you’ve come up with or heard of? Happy Shrove Tuesday everyone, have a flipping good time 🙂

How to turn a pound of carrots into lots of scrummy muffins

A pound of carrots gets turned into....
.....delicious carrot muffins (with cream cheese icing on some) 🙂

I’m not one to turn down a bargain, so when I saw a kilogram bag of carrots for less than a pound at the local greengrocers, I shoved them into my basket without thinking anything other than ‘oooh it’ll be a good excuse to make carrot cake if we don’t get round to eating them all before they start to go off!’ We had a good go at them: roasted carrots one evening and grated carrot in a pasta dish another. But a combination of going away for the weekend and getting through the big bargain cauliflower I also bought meant that carrot cake was definitely on the cards this weekend.

In the end I made some carrot muffins on Thursday evening, brought forward by the fact that we were going to a La Leche League breastfeeding support group meeting this morning and I wanted to take some snacks to share. Plus I’d been meaning to have a go at the recipe I’d found in Cook with Kids by Rob Kirby (a book previously mentioned on this blog). As these kind of cakes freeze well, I thought I’d double up his recipe and use a whole pound of carrots! This amount made 24 muffins, so there were plenty to take to LLL this morning and have some for the freezer at home.

Here come the inevitable adaptations… The original recipe had nuts in (chopped walnuts and ground almonds), but I simply left these out, adding in some more sultanas for the walnuts, for two reasons: choking hazard for Andrew and his breastfeeding buddies, and ladies with nut allergies at LLL. I halved the amount of sugar in the cake, and they still taste lovely and sweet; I also made half the amount of icing, with the intention of doing half the muffins plain (more toddler-friendly) and half iced (more adult-friendly), but (as usual with icing recipes I find) there was enough to ice nearly two thirds. They went down well with the toddlers and mums who made it through the snow this morning.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 220ml natural yoghurt
  • 8 drops vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp orange juice
  • 520g self-raising flour
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 500g carrots, grated
  • 200g sultanas

Icing

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g cream cheese

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add in the yoghurt, vanilla extract and orange juice and combine the ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Put the flour and cinnamon into another bowl, then add and fold in the egg mixture until everything is thoroughly mixed together. Finally, add the carrots and sultanas.
  3. Fill two muffin trays (x12) with mixture, then cook in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. You can tell they’re done by poking a skewer into the centre of one and it will come out clean if they are done.
  4. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool them on a wire rack while you make the icing. Do this by creaming the butter, sugar and cream cheese together in a bowl.
  5. When the muffins have cooled, spread some icing over the top of each one.

I love carrot cake, and so does Andrew it seems, but Tom is not so keen. I can see why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (or slice of cake), because we usually think of carrots as savoury, even though they’re actually quite sweet. Do you like carrot cake? Have you tried any other kind of vegetables in a cake? I once tried courgette cake, which was nice – didn’t taste anything like courgette though!

Muffins before icing came along

One special first birthday cake

Apart from the fact that Andrew is one year old (where did that last year go?!), I can’t believe that I’ve actually made my first ever birthday cake for a child of my own. This is a special moment for me, because I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. My mum used to bake amazing birthday cakes for me and my brother – my all time favourite has to be the swimming pool in the shape of an 8 for my 8th birthday swimming party. So I’ve wanted to carry on the tradition with my own children for quite a long time. And now I finally got to do it 🙂

I came up with this idea one day quite out of the blue. I think I was just out walking with Andrew in the buggy and it came to me. It’s basically 3 classic sponge cakes (20cm round) cut into the letters ‘o’, ‘n’ and ‘e’, and then decorated with buttercream icing in different colours and sweets. Here’s a break down of the process, based on Delia Smith’s classic Victoria sponge recipe, and cupcake icing from Cook with kids by Rob Kirby.

Ingredients

cake

Ingredients for the sponge
  • 220g self raising flour
  • 220g sugar
  • 220g margerine
  • 4 eggs
  • few drops of vanilla essence
  • 3 20cm round cake tins, greased and lined at the bottom with greaseproof paper

    Three 20cm round cake tins greased and lined with greaseproof paper

icing

  • 260g icing sugar
  • 165g unsalted butter
  • red, blue and green natural food colouring

Method

Cake

  1. Blend the margerine and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

    Margerine and sugar blended together
  2. Beat the eggs, and then add to the mixture little by little, beating thoroughly as you go.

    Beaten eggs added to the margerine and sugar mixture
  3. Add the vanilla essence.
  4. Work in the flour until you have a smooth pasty mixture.

    Flour added to the mixture, to make a smooth pasty mixture
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 cake tins.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top.

    Three sponges just out of the oven

Icing

  1. Whip the icing and butter together until you get a pale, fluffy ‘cream’.
  2. Split the cream into 3 roughly equal portions.

    Icing evenly split into three bowls
  3. Add a few drops of each food colouring into each portion, until you get a strong colour.

    Three bowls of icing coloured with different food colourings

decoration

  1. Once the cakes are cool, remove from the tin.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut a hole in the middle of one cake to make an ‘o’, then a hole in the edge at the centre bottom of one to make an ‘n’, then two holes, one just higher than the middle and one at the right side on the edge, to make an ‘e’.

    'o n e' cut out of the round sponges
  3. Spread the icing to completely cover the cake, including down the sides where you cut bits out.
  4. Add sweets to decorate.

    Finished cake - 'o n e'
'o' - milk choc buttons in the shape of a star with some pinky/red writing icing (not very visible here) around the edge of the star
'n' - jelly beans and white writing icing make some bunches of baloons
'e' - white choc buttons with hundreds and thousands on them (I LOVE these!) and some orange writing icing to contrast with the blue buttercream

The cakes went down well at our teatime party with family. The red food colouring tasted slightly of pepper (as in red pepper) to me, probably because it was paprika extract (no artificial E-numbers on sale these days!) But the men didn’t seem to mind it, and ate it anyway! I stuck to a piece of the blue ‘e’, as the white choc buttons are my favourite. Andrew also had a small piece of the ‘e’, after we sang Happy Birthday to him, and he really enjoyed it, munching away on it happily. My first go at kids birthday cake baking seemed to go successfully, so I’m happy 🙂

I’m going to try and fit in another birthday related post soon, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this part of Andrew’s first birthday.

Smiley Happy New Year cookies

My sister-in-law gave me a fab cook book for Christmas. It’s called Cook with Kids, by Rob Kirby, a top restaurant chef who also visits schools as part of a charity; one of his schools is the Great Ormond Street Hospital School, so he spends lots of time teaching ill children how to have fun cooking. His recipes are perfect for getting kids involved with helping to bake and cook, and they are so easy to follow that, as one reviewer on Amazon put it, ‘even her husband can use the recipes’! They range from snacks to main courses to sweets/puds/cakes and even drinks.

I can’t wait for Andrew to be old enough to help me bake, but for now I’m happy to try out these recipes on my own, though Daddy did bring Andrew over to the kitchen to have a look at what I was doing for this one – you’re never too young to get interested. Some of my early but quite distinct memories are of being in my grandma’s kitchens and helping them bake. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved baking, and I’m sure that has come from being introduced to it early.

I thought I’d start the new year by baking a classic kids favourite – Smartie cookies 🙂 Well, as regular readers will know, I never follow a recipe exactly, so they are in fact M&Ms cookies, because I’m all up for buying supermarket own brand products where available, and I could find own-brand M&Ms but not Smarties. As they are pretty much the same thing (Smarties are slightly bigger), M&Ms won the cheapness prize and got to star in the cookies. So here we go…

 Ingredients

Ingredients for the cookies
  • 230g light brown sugar
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 170g butter, softened
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 185g bag of M&Ms

Method

  1. Combine the brown and caster sugars, butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

    Butter, sugar (2 types) and vanilla extract combined until smooth and creamy
  2. Gradually add and beat in the egg and egg yolk, making sure you mix them in thoroughly.

    Egg and egg yolk beaten in to mixture
  3. Add and fold in the flour, baking powder, and two thirds of the M&Ms, combining everything to form a dough. Do this carefully as you need to keep the M&Ms whole.

    Flour, baking powder and M&Ms added to form a stiff dough - I used my hands to bring it together as it got too stiff for a spoon
  4. Once you have formed a cookie dough, roll this into a sausage about 7cm across, place this onto some greaseproof paper, and chill it in the fridge for 2 hours.

    Dough rolled into a fat sausage, put on greaseproof paper, ready to go into the fridge for 2 hours
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C – think about this before the next step.
  6. Once the dough is really firm, take it out and slice it into thick rounds, about 2cm wide, using a warm serrated knife and placing the cookies on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper as you go along.

    Cutting in progress - dough out of the fridge, sharp serrated knife warming up in a tub of hot water, and lined baking sheet ready to take the cut cookies
  7. Bake the cookies in the oven for 15 minutes. After about 10 minutes, take the cookies out and quickly press the extra M&Ms into the top of them in the shape of a smiley face. Pop them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

    Cookies out of the over after 10 minutes, with smiley faces just added
  8. Once the cookies are done, take them out of the oven and cool them on a wire tray.

    Smiley cookies ready to eat

They are best eaten as fresh as possible, so I had to try one just after this picture was taken and they were still slightly warm… yum! As there’s quite a bit of sugar in them, Andrew can’t have a whole one, but I did let him have a small taster, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I’ll bake with him when he’s older. Happy New Year!

Stollen – another taste of Christmas (this one’s for babies too)

Another one of my favourite foods at Christmas is stollen (being German it should be spelled with a capital S, but I guess it’s become anglicised enough now to lower case it). This bread-like cake with dried fruit and marzipan has all the good bits of a traditional English Christmas cake, but without the sickly sweet white royal icing, and is generally much lighter (in colour and stodginess). Once again, German trumps British Christmas food. I’ve eaten a fair few stollen in my time (and been through, several times, the inevitable family joke of being a thief – stollen/stolen – it’s all the same to those who don’t sprechen Deutsch; incidentally it’s pronounced something more like ‘shto-luhn’ – ‘o’ as in ‘pot’), but this is the first time I’ve ventured into producing a homemade one. As there is very little sugar in the dough, it’s great for Andrew too, though I left out the nuts, and only put a small amount of sugar-laden marzipan into his ‘stollen bites’.

This recipe is based on one from Delia Smith online. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read previous baking posts on this blog that I adapted the recipe – no almonds (not great for Andrew), mixed dried fruit instead of separate amounts of raisins, currants, apricots, cherries and dried fruit peel (why bother when Mr Sainsbury can do it for you?), plain flour instead of strong white bread flour (other recipes I have seen for stollen don’t insist on bread flour, though see comments below), and simply dusted with icing sugar to finish instead of a glaze with lemon juice (I’m not overly fussed about lemon and all the stollen I’ve had from Germany just had icing sugar on top).

Ingredients

Ingredients for stollen

This recipe is enough to make 1 large one. I made double this, because you can’t buy smaller packs of marzipan, and stollen is great to freeze, so I made 2 bigger ones and about a dozen small ‘bites’ for Andrew; half of all this went in the freezer.

  •  150 ml milk
  •  50 g caster sugar
  • 2 level teaspoons dried yeast (not easy-blend)
  •  400 g plain flour
  • 110 g softened butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 200 g mixed dried fruit
  • 200 g marzipan
  • icing sugar, sifted, to dust on top

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Warm the milk, until you can just still dip your little finger in it.

    Milk warming up gently by short blasts in microwave
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar along with the dried yeast and leave it until it forms a frothy head of about 1 inch.
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 0 minutes
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 30 minutes

    Frothy milk, lovely yeasty smell
  4. Meanwhile sift 350 g of the flour together with the remaining sugar into a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre.

    Flour and sugar with well in centre
  5. Pour the milk and yeast mixture into this, then add the softened butter and beaten egg.

    Milk mixture, eggs and butter added to well in flour
  6. Mix everything together either with your hands or with a wooden spoon – until the mixture is well blended and leaves the side of the bowl cleanly.

    Wet and dry ingredients mixed together to form dough, still quite wet and sticky
  7. Then work in the fruit, distributing it as evenly as possible. Knead the dough on a work surface for 5 minutes until it is springy and elastic.
    Dough ready for first round of kneading

    Wet dough from bowl after kneading on a very well floured board
  8. Now leave the dough in a warm place, covered with clingfilm, until it has doubled in size (the time this takes can vary depending on the temperature – it could take up to 2 hours).
    Dough covered in cling film ready to prove
    Dough in oven on minimum temperature, just right to prove

    Dough after proving in warm place for about 1 1/2 hours
  9. Turn the risen dough out on to a board floured with the reserved 50 g of flour, and knock the air out of it and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

    Kneading the dough (thanks to Tom for photography!)
  10. At this stage roll or press out the dough to an oblong 10 x 8 inches. Using your hands, roll out the marzipan to form a sausage shape and place this along the centre of the dough, finishing just short of the edges.
    Flatened dough with marzipan 'sausage' (bit of a flat one!) on top

    Small circle of dough with small blob of marzipan - I then folded the edge of the dough into the centre over the marzipan, and placed it down on the baking sheet to hold the dough edge in
  11. Fold the dough over the marzipan and carefully place the whole thing on a baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for expansion.

    Two bigger stollen and several baby stollen bites, ready for second round of proving
  12. Leave it to prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size again, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

    Daddy stollen, Mummy stollen, and baby stollens ready to go into oven after second round of proving
  13. Allow it to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before lifting it on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

    Stollen and baby bites looking golden brown, just out of the oven (they only took 20 minutes to cook in our fan oven)
  14. Dust the top with the icing sugar to finish.
    Finished Stollen, complete with snowman
    Marzipan snowman - I had a small chunk of marzipan left, so I made a decoration to go with the snowy look of the icing sugar dusting

    Andrew's stollen bites - no icing sugar added 😉

You can probably tell from the photos that the stollen turned out quite flat. I suspect this is because I didn’t use strong white bread flour (its ‘strength’ holds the air bubbles from the yeast better). But they taste delicious, and Andrew loves his little baby bites too. Plus we’ve got another loaf and some bites in the freezer to enjoy in the New Year.

Do you have special foods that you like to bake/eat at Christmas? Are there cakes/biscuits/other sweet things that remind you of childhood or being with family for Christmas? Do you prefer Christmas foods traditional in other cultures more than those in your own? I’d love to hear about other foody traditions at this time of year. It’s special occasions like this that really inspire me to bake and try out new recipes. I hope you’re enjoying reading about my Christmas baking adventures!

Baby-(and adult-)friendly oat and banana muffins

I was looking for a recipe for some muffins or little cakes that Andrew would enjoy. I’m not against him having some sugar, because I think if I completely deprive him of treats now, he’ll only rebel and go for it when he’s older anyway. And that’s what cakes are – treats – to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle (I sound like something off the back of a crisp packet or chocolate bar!) Tom and I like our cakes and puddings, but we also eat a varied diet with plenty of fruit and veg, and we can’t go for a day without some exercise. So that’s what Andrew is becoming accustomed to as well. That’s enough of an intro – I could probably write a whole post it seems on this topic. On with the recipe….

It’s based on one I found on the Sainsbury’s Little Ones website. This is a great collection of recipes suitable for babies, toddlers and adults. More of these recipes will no doubt feature in future posts, as I’ve tried several of them already and would love to share more. I adapted it slightly (basically less sugar and half oil / half milk instead of all the oil) to suit Andrew better. So, here we go.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats, plus extra for decoration
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 100g sugar
  • 125ml oil- I used olive as that’s what we have in
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 medium-ripe bananas, chopped small

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC, gas 4. Prepare a muffin tin with paper cases (I used a big muffin tin for Mummy/Daddy-sized treats and a fairy cake tin for Andrew-sized treats).
  2. Sift the flour, oats and baking powder together (I didn’t sift the oats – how is that possible?!)
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and milk together until pale and fluffy.
  4. Fold this mixture, and bananas, into the flour and oat mixture.
  5. Spoon the combined mixture into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the extra oats over and bake for 15 minutes until the muffins have risen and are golden. (I found that the bigger muffins needed more like 20 minutes, whereas the small ones were fine with 15 minutes).
  6. When cooked through, transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for three days (if they stay uneaten for that long!) or freeze.

Andrew approved – he ate one for a snack on not long after I baked them on Sunday. Tom was also impressed, so I’ll definitely be baking some more of these, and it’s handy that they go in the freezer to have a stock for when I don’t have time to bake them fresh.