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.

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 🙂

Lebkuchen – a taste of Christmas

One of my favourite foods at Christmas is Lebkuchen [pronounced something like layb-koo-chuhn (ch as in Scottish ‘loch’) for those who don’t sprechen any Deutsch]. These soft and chewy biscuits spiced with flavours like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg remind me of Christmas as a child, as Mum would always buy a few bags for us to eat over the Christmas period. It wasn’t until I went to Germany just before Christmas as an adult that I realised that the small Lebkuchen bought from supermarkets here in England were not the same as the much bigger, flatter and (let’s face it) better ones found over there, where they originated. Ever since I tasted the real German ones, I’ve wanted to have a go at baking my own, but I’ve only just got round to it this year, probably because I came across a recipe in a chocolate recipe book that I’ve used a lot recently.

As usual, I adapted the recipe slightly (I don’t think I ever follow a recipe exactly!): raisins instead of candied fruit peel (which I don’t really like), and I halved the chocolate glaze, because the biscuits were quite fragile even when cool, so I didn’t think they would ‘dip’ well to coat them as the recipe said, and I made a thicker glaze to ice just one side as they lay on a flat surface. Anyway, that’s enough of an intro…. on with the important stuff!

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 100g unsalted almonds (brown skins left on)
  • 25g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large egg whites (I used 3 medium)
  • 115g icing sugar

Glaze

  • 50g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 50g icing sugar

Method

  1. Finely grind the almonds and chocolate in a food processor, then mix with the raisins and spices.
  2. Put the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, greasefree bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until soft peaks form.

    Egg whites at the stiff peak stage
  3. Gradually beat in the icing sugar to make a thick, glossy meringue.
  4. Add the chocolate mixture and carefully fold in with a large metal spoon.

    Lebkuchen mixture
  5. Put tablespoon-sized mounds of the mixture on several baking trays lined with non-stick greaseproof paper, setting them well apart, then spread each into a circle about 3 inches in diameter.

    Trays with blobs of biscuit mixture, ready for the oven
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 160°c for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are pale gold. Let cool, then peel off the greaseproof paper.

    Close up of a biscuit just out of the oven - a lovely pale golden colour
  7. To make the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate gently (I use these cool microwaveable pans and do it in short bursts at a time so the chocolate doesn’t burn). Then let it cool.
  8. Mix the icing sugar with 2 tablespoons of hot water to make a smooth glaze, then stir in the chocolate to make a fairly runny mixture – if necessary, stir in a little more warm water (I ended up putting in a few more splashes from the kettle).
  9. Ice each biscuit with the glaze – I found that they were fragile, so I iced them on the bottom where they had come away from the greaseproof paper, as this helped to keep them together. This isn’t quite as traditional as dipping in a thin glaze, but it tastes the same and it meant I didn’t risk ending up with a chocolatey broken biscuit mess!
    Waiting for the iced lebkuchen to set

    A plate of lebkuchen good enough to eat

As an aside, I decided to whip up a quick sponge mixture with the egg yolks, because I can’t stand wasting the other half of the eggs when a recipe calls for only whites or yolks. It’s basically 110g of plain flour, 110g of butter, 110g of sugar and 2 eggs (but I used 3 egg yolks and a generous splash of milk instead). You beat the sugar and butter together, then add the eggs (and in this case the milk) and then the flour.

I decided to use the sponge mixture to make cupcakes. I wasn’t sure whether the exchange of milk for egg whites would make a difference to how they turned out, but I’m always up for experimental baking, and most of the time it’s edible, even if slightly odd looking or a strange texture! In this case they came out quite crispy on top, softer inside, though slightly denser than the usual light sponge, and still yummy to taste.

After I tried one fresh from the oven (just to make sure it was worth icing them, you understand), I decided to add some simple melted chocolate on the top to finish them off.

Chocolate-topped cupcakes (note that only 5 made it to the chocolate stage - I had to try one to make sure they tasted good enough to keep 😉 )

So there you go, two recipes for the price of one! Both delicious as a snack with a cuppa, and one as a lovely taste of Christmas which reminds me of childhood.