Milk-making flapjacks

As I was flicking through our Cook with Kids book by Rob Kirby, I came across a recipe for ‘super fit flapjacks’. Instead of just being oats, butter, sugar and syrup, these included various dried fruits and seeds. I didn’t actually have many of the fruit and seeds in the recipe, but it inspired me to make some flapjacks with some of the unusual dried fruit – golden berries and cranberries mix – that I bought recently because it was on offer in the supermarket and the seeds that I had in the cupboard – sesame and caraway.

In a previous baking blog post, I wrote about the fact that caraway seeds are supposed to be a galactagogue – something that stimulates breast-milk production. Oats are also supposed to be a galactagogue, hence the name for the flapjacks that I ended up creating. As well as being good for milk making purposes, flapjacks are in general a good source of energy, particularly with the dried fruit and seeds in, and energy is something I really need at the moment. I find that I get peckish in the night with all the feeding Joel does, so these are great to nibble on in the early hours. The high seed content makes these like a cross between sesame snaps (though softer) and traditional oaty flapjacks. 

Even if you’re not trying to induce or increase lactation, these flapjacks are a delicious treat and will keep you going if you’re in need of energy for another reason. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to have a go. It’s very easy and it took Andrew and me about 10 minutes to make plus cooking time.

Ingredients

  • 125g brown sugar
  • 90g margarine
  • 90g honey
  • 175g oats
  • 100g dried friut (I used 60g sultanas, 40g mixed cranberries and golden berries)
  • 100g seeds (I used 60g sesame seeds, 40g caraway seeds)

Method

  1. Start by lining a square or rectangular baking tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Put the oats, fruit and seeds in a big bowl, and stir until well mixed.
  3. Melt the sugar, margarine and honey in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water on the hob.
  4. Add the melted ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven at 160ºC (fan) for about 10-15 mins until golden on top.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before cutting into squares, as the flapjack needs to harden as it cools.
  7. Store in an airtight container (next to your bed if you’re me!)

Choconana muffins

Baking a batch of biscuits or cakes seems to be a great form of toddler entertainment at the moment. As it’s pretty much dark by 4pm these days, we can’t make it to the park any more after Andrew has finished napping in the afternoon. Instead a baking session is the perfect length to fit in between Joel’s feeds at this time of day, and Andrew likes to sit in his high chair and help me measure and mix ingredients. He still needs a lot of supervision of course, and much of the time it’s really me doing it and him watching intently, but he enjoys just being part of the activity no matter how much he’s actually involved.

This week I decided to make some muffins with him, mainly because we seemed to have a sudden abundance of ripe bananas that needed to be eaten. I also fancied making something chocolatey, so adapted my usual recipe for banana muffins to include chocolate – in the form of both cocoa powder and melted dark chocolate. I think it works well, and isn’t too sweet, with most of the sweetness coming from the banana rather than the chocolate. Andrew enjoyed himself, stirring the mixture on his own was the highlight for him, and we only lost a little bit on the table, which was not bad going I thought! Joel was contentedly sitting in the sling whilst we baked, so I feel like he was part of it too. Here’s the recipe…

Ingredients
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 100g oats
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 125g sugar
  • 75g margarine
  • 50g dark chocolate (I used one with 75% cocoa)
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 ripe bananas, chopped small
Method
  1. Put the flour, cocoa powder and oats in a large bowl and mix.
  2. Melt the margarine and chocolate in another bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  3. Add the sugar and milk to the chocolate mixture and stir well. Then add the eggs to this.
  4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and add the chopped bananas. Stir until just combined – don’t over mix.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases.
  6. Bake at 180ºC (fan) for about 15 minutes.
  7. Leave to cool and eat as fresh as possible. You can also freeze these.

Blueberry and white chocolate sponge puddings (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 6)

PIcture a bit out of focus, but here's a ring of the finished puddings, on a matching plate!

This week on the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) saw the contestants having to bake puddings. In my dialect of English, ‘pudding’ refers to anything that you eat after your main course of a meal, whether it be a traditional sponge pudding, a cake, a chocolate bar, or even a yoghurt or a piece of fruit. Others may think of this as ‘dessert’ or ‘afters’ or something else. For the GBBO, pudding definitely referred to traditional puddings – the first bake was the contestants’ own choice of sponge puddings (two varieties of six individual puddings), the second was a ‘Queen of Puddings’ (not my thing as it contains custard, yuk!), and the third was a Strudel. The second and third looked extremely hard to make, especially the pastry for the Strudel, which had to be rolled out to be paper thin. I decided to stick with what I know best for this week, and make some sponge puddings. I used to make proper puddings quite a bit when Tom and I were first together (the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?!), but recently I haven’t make them, particularly since being pregnant (both times) and not wanting anything too sweet and stodgy.

The blueberries and white chocolate chunks seemed to settle more towards the bottom when cooking, so they came out on top, and this created a kind of saucy bit on the top. I was going to make a separate chocolate sauce, but the 'topping' was enough in itself and I didn't think it needed it. You could serve with custard, if you like the stuff (which I don't!)

With that in mind, I went for a relatively light and not too sweet option. I used margarine instead of butter, so the consistency was light and fluffy. The blueberries were quite tart, and that blended well with the sweetness of the white chocolate, so neither flavour overpowered the other and it was a good balance of sweetness. I love the colour that blueberries give to cakes and puddings – more of a purple than a blue, to my eyes at least, and it gives an otherwise plain-looking sponge a ripple of bright colour running through it. Here’s the recipe if you fancy giving it a go – it’s very easy!

A good view of the 'topping' on the right-hand pudding!

Ingredients

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g blueberries
  • 100g white chocolate, cut into chunks

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan)
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl.
  3. Beat in the eggs until the mixture is smooth and not lumpy in texture.
  4. Add the flour and stir until well combined.
  5. Add the blueberries and white chocolate, and stir until evenly distributed, but don’t over-mix the mixture.
  6. Spoon the mixture into 6 individual pudding basins, so they are about two thirds full.
  7. Place the basins into a large ovenproof dish, like a roasting tin. Add cold water to the roasting tin so that the basins are sitting in a bath of water (in techie baking speak this is called a ‘Bain Marie’, and it means that as the water heats up in the oven, the steam produced helps keep the puddings moist).
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Leave to cool, and then remove from the basins. Eat as fresh as possible, but can be heated up in the microwave if eaten later.

    Waiting for them to cool before turning them out and revealing the lovely colours and flavours 🙂

Apple pie (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 5)

As we were away last weekend, I missed a week of baking inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO). The desserts the contestants made last week were very impressive, and I think I would have gone for baking a torte if I’d have had chance to do some baking myself (that was one of the things they had to bake). This week it was all about pies. For the first bake they had to make a Wellington (with whatever filling they liked), for the second – the technical challenge – they had to make what looked like an incredibly difficult chicken and bacon pie with a hand-molded, hot-water pastry (a bit like a pork pie really), and for the third they had to bake a sweet American pie (with whatever filling they liked).

mmmmmmm apple pie 🙂

As I’m not into cooking meat at all at the moment, I thought a sweet pie would be my best option. I was particularly interested in the short clip that was shown as part of the programme, telling us all about the history of the apple pie in America, as that was one of the first sweet American pies to really make it big, even though none of the GBBO contestants chose to make something that simple – their flavours were along the lines of pumpkin pie, squash pie, sweet potato pie, Key lime pie, and peanut butter pie. I haven’t had apple pie for a long time, so I decided that this simple but effective pie would go down well with my boys and me. Andrew’s Aunty Jenny was even with us on the day I made it, so I had an extra taster this time; the adults approved, but Andrew wasn’t too bothered – I think he was too tired by the point we ate it.

An Andrew-sized slice - the first slice is always the hardest to cut nicely out of a pie, but I think this isn't bad, even if it did collapse a bit at the side. The next ones came out more in tact!

I went for a simple shortcrust pastry with no sugar, and a caramelised apple filling. I didn’t want to make the pastry sweet, because I don’t like pastry too sweet and think that it’s actually nicer to have the contrast of a plain pastry with the sweetness of the apple filling. (Maybe Paul Hollywood would approve? He didn’t seem to like the sickly sweet American pies that some contestants came up with, but preferred more mellowed-down British versions!) Plus I’ve found it hard to make sweet pastry in the past, whereas plain shortcrust is easier in my experience. I found a great page on Delia Smith’s website, giving tips on how to achieve good shortcrust pastry, which points out some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. I have to say it turned out very well and I found it pretty easy to make, even without a food processor – the main thing is making sure everything is at the right temperature when you need to use it.

Here’s my recipe, which has very few ingredients, but the outcome is a yummy, good classic apple pie.

Ingredients

Pastry:

  • 8oz plain white flour
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • cold water

Filling:

  • 2 large Bramley apples
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 20g flour

Method

  1. First make the pastry so it has time to rest whilst you’re doing the other bits (or leave it for a few hours or overnight). Take the butter out of the fridge and leave it to soften to room temperature. According to Delia, you should just be able to cut through it easily with a knife, but it should still be quite solid.
  2. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips, working quickly and lifting the flour up as you rub, to keep it light and aerated. Don’t overdo it, but stop when you have a rough breadcrumb-like texture.
  3. Gradually add small amounts of cold water, like a couple of tablespoons at a time, and mix with a knife to bring the mixture together into a dough. Once it gets wet enough, finish bringing it together with your hands, and form into a ball. Stop handling it, put it into a food bag, and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more – overnight is good.
  4. Then make the apple filling. Peel and core the apples, and cut them into chunks.
  5. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan on a moderate heat. Add the apples, and cook for about 5-10 minutes until lightly golden and a bit squidgy. Just before you finish cooking them, add the flour and stir in until the caramel sauce thickens. Take the pan off the heat and allow the filling to cool completely.
  6. When the pastry is well chilled, take it out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before rolling it. Getting the temperature right is key in making successful pastry, so don’t try to rush it. At this point, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  7. Once warmed up enough (but not too warm!), cut the pastry into two pieces: about one third of the whole for one piece and two thirds for the other.
  8. Roll the bigger bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to fit the bottom and sides of your pie dish, with a small overhang.
  9. Line the pie dish with the pastry, and cut off any excess bits of pastry beyond the small overhang.
  10. Pour the cooled apple filling into the pastry-lined pie dish.

    A glimpse of the yummy filling before the lid went on!
  11. Roll the smaller bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to cover the top of the pie dish. Place this pastry on top of the filling. There should be enough room in the dish after the filling has gone in so that there is a lip of pastry that can join with the lid pastry.
  12. Press the lid pastry together with this lip of pastry from around the side, using a fork to squish them together and make a nice pattern at the same time. Use the fork to make several pricks in the pastry lid, to allow steam to escape when cooking.
  13. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
  14. Remove from the oven, and eat as fresh as possible – hot apple pie is so much better than cold apple pie! 🙂

    Spot the shadow from the photographer! You can tell I'm no professional. Must get round to putting into practice the tips I got from Britmums!

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.

Plum and almond upside-down cake (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 1)

A slice of freshly baked plum and almond upside-down cake 🙂 Tom asked me if he needed to eat it whilst standing upside down.... I guess if you like cream with your cake, this would be a good choice, especially whilst still warm (I'm not a big fan of cream with cakes).

Our decision to no longer have a TV originated in the fact that after Andrew was born, we found that we were never watching live TV. We were never able to sit down at exactly the time when programmes were on, so would download them on iPlayer and watch them when we had chance. This also meant we could stop them mid-way through and carry on watching at a later time if we didn’t have a whole hour to watch a programme of that length. What has this got to do with cake though? Well, the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the few programmes that I’ve ever set to series download on iPlayer (the only other ones I can think of have been Outnumbered and Have I Got News For You). I did it last year, and would sit and watch the episodes whilst feeding Andrew, as he would generally feed and sleep on and off pretty much most of the afternoon back then. This year, series 3 of GBBO has just started with episode 1 broadcast in the week just gone. We watched half of it it a day later, and the other half 2 days later, on iPlayer. I’m thinking that each week I may need to avoid twitter until I’ve watched the episode from that week, because there are bound to be spoilers with the number of people hash-tagging #GBBO!

Anyway, this first episode was all about cake. Contestants had to follow Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Rum Baba (which always makes me think of a family joke: ‘Rum Baba what ain’t got no rum’ …. a select few readers will know what on earth I’m going on about there. If you’re not one of them, don’t worry, it’s not really worth the effort of explaining – you had to be there apparently), and they also had to bake a cake with a hidden design when it was cut into. This last bake was amazing – they all came up with some ingenious ideas. If I had more time and energy, I’d have a go at something like that myself, but for now I thought I’d take some inspiration from the first thing they had to bake, which was an upside-down cake. The concept is as follows: you place fruit at the bottom of a cake tin, pour over a sponge mixture, bake, and when it’s cool, turn it over so that the fruit comes out on the top.

Upside-down cakes always make me think back to Home Economics (isn’t it called Food Tech these days?!) lessons, because one of the earliest memories of them that I have is baking a pineapple upside-down cake. It was pretty easy really – I’d already had quite a lot of baking experience by the time I was 11. Since then I don’t think it’s ever crossed my mind to bake one again, I guess because I thought they were a bit old-fashioned, not particularly the ‘in’ thing these days to bake. But seeing what the contestants came up with, I realised that it didn’t have to be the classic pineapple rings from a tin, with glace cherries in the middle of the rings, and a simple plain sponge. The contestants baked all sorts of variations on this theme, with various fruits, flavours of sponge and finishing touches. This inspired me to think beyond the Home Ec. memory, and use a flavour combination that I love.

And that’s how we get to ‘plum and almond upside-down cake’. I think this fruit and flavour of sponge work really well together, and I love them both on their own too. Plums are just coming into season now as well, so they have great flavour and are nicely priced in the shops. The sponge is a basic three-egg plain sponge, with half the flour (self-raising) replaced by ground almonds and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, plus almond essence instead of vanilla essence. The almonds make it denser than an ordinary light and airy sponge, but I really like this texture, more like a Bakewell tart than a Victoria sponge. I’m not sure whether Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would approve of the denser texture, but the main thing is I like it and my other tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) do too! That’s the thing I don’t get about baking or general food competitions like GBBO – flavours and textures are very subjective things, so how can they be judged by just 2 people?

As well as the fruit and sponge, an upside-down cake traditionally has a caramel topping that you line the tin with before putting the fruit in. I distinctly remember from my Home Ec. lesson that the recipe we had to follow had golden syrup instead – I remember because I’m sure that was the first time I learnt that heating your spoon in a cup of boiling water before putting it the syrup tin meant that it ran off the spoon better. For the plum and almond take on the theme, I decided to use honey instead, because it’s as easy as golden syrup (i.e. I didn’t have to make a separate caramel sauce) but I love the taste and think it goes well with the other flavours in the cake, plus I’m not a massive fan of golden syrup and often tend to replace it with honey in recipes.

If you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe. It’s a pretty easy one, and is a bit more unusual than a classic sponge cake. Have you ever made an upside-down cake? I’d love to hear of other flavour combinations and variations on this theme.

Close up - nice golden, crispy edge, squidgy plums just inside, then smooth and moist sponge in the middle - great combination.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • about 5 medium plums, halved and stones removed
  • 170g margarine
  • 170g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 85g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare the tin: line a medium-sized springform cake tin with greaseproof paper, and place on a baking sheet (this will catch any honey that leaks out).

    Tin lined with greaseproof paper, ready to be filled! Just need to put it on a baking tray (forgot to take a picture of that!)
  2. Spread the honey over the base of the tin.
  3. Place the half plums flat side down around the edge of the tin.

    Honey and plums - when I turned the baked cake over and took the greaseproof paper off, I was glad that I'd put the plums around the outside only, because they became very squidgy with the baking and lost their structure, but it worked out well around the edge as opposed to if I'd have put them in the middle, which I suspect would have caused the cake to collapse a bit!
  4. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the eggs until smooth.
  6. Mix in the ground almonds, flour, almond essence and baking powder until well combined.
  7. Pour the mixture into the tin, spreading it over the plums until they are all covered and the surface of the mixture is flat and even.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and springy to touch. Insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to check it’s baked through: if it comes out clean, it’s ready, if not, put it back in for a few minutes at a time until it passes this skewer test!

    Just out of the oven, cooling, before I turned it over
  9. Leave to cool fully.
  10. Release the spring on the tin and carefully pull the paper away from the sides of the tin. Place a plate over the top of the tin, and quickly turn it over, making sure you hold onto the tin and plate at the same time, until the cake comes away from the tin and ends up on the plate – the plums now facing upwards on the top.
  11. Store in an airtight container, or it would freeze well too, if it’s not eaten too soon 😉

    Upside down (but actually this is how it's supposed to be)

Black-forest-inspired cheesecake

Last weekend we went away for my cousin’s wedding. We stopped off to stay with my parents on the Friday night, and mum had prepared a lovely tea of various interesting homemade salad dishes that were perfect for me and my lack of desire to eat hot cooked food. For pudding she produced a cheesecake that was fridge-set (so no baking involved) and didn’t involved raw egg. Again this was perfect, because it wasn’t too sweet; in fact it was quite tart, and not particularly to Andrew’s liking! He seems to have inherited my sweet tooth (which has disappeared during pregnancy). Then at the wedding reception, what should turn up for pudding but a fridge-set cheesecake, very similar to the one mum had made. None of us minded at all, because we all enjoyed it, and it was just what we needed on what turned out to be a lovely day weather-wise – something refreshing and not too stodgy. I just checked with the chef that it didn’t contain any hidden pregnancy unfriendly ingredients (my main concern is the raw egg that sometimes goes into such things), and he confirmed that it was fine for me to eat.

So these two cheesecakes (one blueberry and one lemon) inspired me to make my own cheesecake using similar ingredients. After all, it involved no baking in the oven, so no smells that I’m not too keen on right now. The secret to making it set in both cases (according to my mum and the wedding chef) is lemon juice. I hadn’t heard of this before, and was curious to try and find out the chemistry behind it (I’m a scientist, this is how I think!) But after some, admittedly not very long, time googling, I couldn’t find anything from a reputable source. I saw a couple of hints at the fact that the acid somehow makes the cheese and cream mixture more solid, which does make sense to me as I think back to science lessons at school. If anyone has a more technical (but still understandable) explanation of how this works, please let me know!

But back to the culinary point, below is the recipe that I came up with. The name ‘Black-forest-inspired’ comes from the fact that it contains chocolate and cherries; this is a winning combination if you ask me, particularly at the moment when cherries are in season, so fresh and juicy. I just guessed at how much of each ingredient should go in to the cheesy mixture, by tasting as I went along. The base is my standard cheesecake base recipe. It turned out very well – nicely soft and fluffy, but solid, and not too sweet. I have to say that it was best on the day I made it. The day after it started to lose its shape and run slightly into the hole that was made by cutting the first slices. It still tasted nice, but the texture wasn’t so cheesecake-y, more like mousse or yoghurt. So the moral of the story is…. eat your cheesecake on the day it was made (I feel we would have been ill if Tom and I had attempted this just between the two of us!)

Ingredients

  • 15 digestive biscuits
  • 100g margarine
  • 300g soft cheese
  • 150ml crème fraîche
  • 75g sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 100g chocolate (plain or milk), cut into small chunks
  • cherries, stoned and halved, to decorate

Method

  1. Grease the bottom and sides of a springform cake tin.
  2. Crush the biscuits in a large plastic bowl with the end of a rolling pin.
  3. Melt the margarine in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, and add to the crushed biscuits. Stir until well combined.
  4. Spread the biscuit mixture on the base of the tin, and pat down until firm and smooth to make the base.
  5. Mix the soft cheese, crème fraîche, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  6. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  7. Pour this cheesy mixture over the biscuit base in the tin.
  8. Cover the tin and put it into the fridge to set. I left ours for about 12 hours and it was a good consistency.
  9. Decorate with the halved cherries as your creative side takes you!

Soft oaty rounds (à la Organix)

A while ago I bought a few packs of Organix soft oaty bars for Andrew. They were on BOGOF at the supermarket, which made them a reasonable price, and they are handy to take out with us for a snack. He absolutely loves them, and they are so easy for him to eat. Organix have a ‘no junk’ policy, and basically they only have oats, fruit and a bit of sunflower oil in them. Since my first purchase, I don’t seem to have found them on offer again, and at their full price, I’m not sure I want to buy them (sorry Organix, we’re on a budget). So I thought, if they only have a few ingredients in, and they’re all natural, surely I can figure out how to bake something similar myself. And that’s what I did.

They turned out very well, so I’ll definitely be making some more of these. I used muffin molds, so they turned out as ’rounds’, not bars. It’s a bit more of a faff to take one out with us, as I can’t just grab one of the cupboard and shove it in my bag. I’ll have to get into the habit of grabbing a small plastic box instead and putting one into it. This recipe made 8.

Ingredients

  • 100g instant oat cereal (brand name = Ready Brek)
  • 70g raisins, chopped
  • 100ml fruit puree (you can make your own by whizzing up any fruit you have, or I had a few pots of ready made stuff left over from when Andrew was first having solids and we were trying to introduce various flavours without buying all the separate fruits and having to prep them all separately before combining)
  • 20ml olive oil

Method

  1. Pretty easy really, just shove all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined.
  2. Press the mixture firmly into a tray of muffin molds, so each mold is about half full.
  3. Bake at 170ºC for about 15 minutes until nicely golden and still soft to touch.
  4. Allow to cool in the molds – they will firm up whilst cooling.
  5. Once cool, remove from tray and store in airtight container.

Pink and white rock cakes

We were at our usual Friday morning breastfeeding support group meeting last week, and amongst the homemade goodies to eat there were some lovely apple and cinnamon rock cakes that a friend had baked. This reminded me of baking rock cakes when I was younger, and especially the time that a friend and I made some but forgot to put the sugar in. They still tasted fine, just not sweet, so we passed it off as suitable for my dad who’s diabetic. This got me thinking that I could make some with no or not much sugar in now, and they would be a very toddler-friendly treat. As we were going through the fruit aisle at the supermarket on Friday afternoon, I spotted some lovely looking raspberries for a reasonable price, and that gave me the inspiration to do some raspberry and white chocolate rock cakes. The raspberries would give colour and flavour without being too sweet, and the classic combination with white chocolate would be perfect, bringing a bit of sweetness to them, without the need for extra sugar. So here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped into chocolate chip sized chunks

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC.
  2. Combine the flour and margarine using your hands, until it becomes like breadcrumbs in texture.
  3. Mix in the raspberries, white chocolate and egg until you have a nice thick sticky mixture.

    Nice and thick sticky mixture
  4. Spoon blobs of the mixture onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray, set a little apart from each other as they will spread. Don’t make them smooth, just leave them ragged – the more ragged the better, as they’re supposed to look like rocks, and taste much crispier and crunchier with a rough surface.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden.

    Just gone into the oven
  6. Let cool and eat as fresh as possible! Or freeze if you don’t think you’ll eat them all soon enough 😉

    Finished pink rocks - ready to be eaten as fresh as possible 🙂

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).

 

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