Courgette and apple cake – #GBBO inspired

This week the Great British Bake Off was all about unconventional baking – using flours that are wheat- or gluten-free, and using no dairy ingredients (like butter or milk). The final round saw the contestants bake a showstopper cake that was completely dairy free and contained a vegetable. They went for butternut squash, carrot or beetroot between them.

As we had a courgette in the veg box this week, and as I’ve been meaning to bake a courgette cake for some time now, I decided that this would be a great time to do it! We also had some cooking apples given to us by one of Tom’s work colleagues who has a glut of them in her garden, so I thought I’d combine the two in a cake with some spices too.

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I googled some courgette cake recipes and adapted one from BBC Good Food (I never follow a recipe exactly, and I wanted to add apple anyway). It came out very well, and actually rose more than I thought it might, given that vegetable cakes can be quite stodgy. It tastes like a fruit cake, but is lovely and moist from the grated courgette and apple. My boys all approved!

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 85g soft brown sugar
  • 1 medium courgette, grated
  • 1 cooking apple, grated
    • (combined weight of courgette and apple around 350-400g)
  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 150g sultanas

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare a cake tin (grease and line if necessary – I use a silicone mould that doesn’t need this).
  2. Mix the oil, sugar and eggs together in a bowl, then add the grated fruit and veg.
  3. In another, larger bowl, mix the flour, spices, baking powder and sultanas until evenly distributed.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin/mould and bake for about an hour (vegetable cakes, according to Mary Berry herself, take longer to bake than ordinary cakes), until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  6. Remove from the oven and let it cool.
  7. Eat as fresh as possible – you can also freeze this.

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Tasty veg pie with puff crust – #GBBO inspired

This week the Great British Bake Off was all about pastry. It’s not something I bake all the time, but I’m less afraid of it than I once was (after I’d had a bit of a disastrous apple pie with sweet pastry that just went everywhere!), so I like the opportunity to practice and prove to myself that I can in fact do it!

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One of the challenges on the GBBO this week involved puff pastry. Now proper puff pastry takes a long time to make – as Paul Hollywood himself emphasised, it needs a lot of time to get it right. But there is a quick, cheat’s method that gives puffy pastry (even if not as superior a puff as the real McCoy) in much more manageable time frames. So this is what I decided to do for dinner on Sunday night. For once I didn’t choose a sweet bake (I know, shocking), because we had some lovely veg that I thought would work well in a nice hearty pie, and when I mentioned to Tom that I was thinking of making a ‘hearty pie’, he said ‘Oh yes, I like anything hearty, do something hearty, yes please’. Still veggie, of course, so maybe not hearty as some avid carnivores might think of the word, but nonetheless tasty and perfect for an Autumn evening.

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Here’s the recipe, including how to make the rough puff pastry, which I roughly followed from Delia, just played around with quantities and added pepper.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 450g plain flour
  • black pepper
  • cold water

Filling

  • half a suede
  • about a quarter of a white cabbage
  • 1 onion
  • 4 button mushrooms
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 400ml hot stock
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • few drops of tabasco
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Put the flour into a large bowl and grind quite a bit of black pepper into it (depending on your taste).
  2. Cut the butter into chunks and toss into the flour and pepper mix, just coating them with the flour.
  3. Pour the cold water, a little at a time, into the flour and butter and use your hands to bring it together into a dough. Don’t work it too much, just enough to bring it together.
  4. Shape it into a brick on a floured board, then roll it out into a rectangle that is almost twice as long as it is wide.
  5. Then fold it into thirds, bringing the left outside edge into the centre and then the same with the right, so that they overlap, and press down with the rolling pin so that the layers stick.
  6. Rest it for a few minutes, probably a good time to chop the veg, then roll the pastry (which should be back in a brick shape) into a rectangle again, followed by the folding into thirds like you did before.
  7. Leave it to rest again, and then do the same rolling and folding as before. After this third roll and fold, place in cling film in the fridge until you’re ready to use it for the pie lid later.
  8. To make the filling, chop the veg into chunks (as fine or as chunky as you like, though cooking times will vary according to size of chunk), and heat some olive oil in a large saucepan.
  9. Brown the onion, suede, cabbage and mushrooms in the saucepan for about 5-10 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, hot stock and cornflour.
  10. Bring to a simmer and cook for about another 10 minutes until thickened.
  11. Add some tabasco to taste.
  12. Leave in the pan until you’re ready to assemble the pie.
  13. About 40 mins before you want to eat, transfer the filling to a large rectangular oven dish and spread around evenly.
  14. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to just the right size to cover the filling, and press it down onto the filling gently.
  15. Prick the pastry lid with a fork several times to allow any steam to escape when baking.
  16. Bake in a hot oven 220 C (fan) for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is nicely browned and puffy.
  17. Serve immediately.

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Toffee apple pie

This week the Great British bake off was all about pies. I don’t very often bake pies, usually just if I have a social occasion to bake a pudding for, or I buy the ready made pastry to do a quick savoury one. So this was a good opportunity to be inspired and bake a fruit pie as the contestants did in round 1.

I decided to go simple: a classic apple pie with a slight twist – cooking the apples in butter and brown sugar to give them a caramel/toffee flavour, with a dash of cinnamon. The pastry is a plain shortcrust, so overall the pie isn’t too sweet. I’ve made this quite a few times before, but not for a while. I know Tom loves a good fruit pie, and would have them more often if he could, so I knew this bake would go down well. Andrew also got very excited about having some – the boys usually have fruit and natural yoghurt for pudding, so it was a treat to have a small piece of apple pie on a Saturday night after tea. Not that they would have noticed, but the bake was good enough to avoid the infamous soggy bottom!

Apple pie

Here’s the recipe, which only has 8 ingredients, it really is that simple! Just make sure that you work with cold hands for the pastry, and don’t overwork it. If you like custard or cream, this would work well with one of those, but I’m not a fan of either on my puddings, and I like this just as it is.

Ingredients

Filling

  • 2 large bramley apples
  • 50g butter
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp cornflour

Pastry

  • 370g plain flour
  • 200g butter
  • cold water

Method

  1. First make the pastry: I usually cut the butter into chunks and put it in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to chill it before using it (except this time I left it a bit longer and it was very cold, but it still worked fine).
  2. Rub the butter and flour together in a bowl with your fingers until you have a breadcrumb consistency.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the crumbs and add a little cold water at a time, bringing the dough together with your hands until it sticks together in a firm ball but isn’t overly sticky.
  4. Leave it to rest at (cool) room temperature until you have made the filling.
  5. Peel and chop the apples into chunks.
  6. Melt the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a pan and add the apple, stirring and cooking for a few minutes until golden.
  7. Sprinkle the cornflour over the apple filling and stir in, then leave aside to cool slightly.
  8. On a floured board, cut the pastry into 2 pieces, one about 2 thirds of the dough and one about a third.
  9. Roll out the bigger piece of pastry to fit the bottom of your pie dish, and press it down into the bottom and sides.
  10. Put the filling into the pie and spread around evenly.
  11. Roll out the remaining pastry until big enough to cover the top of the pie.
  12. Press down the edges of the pastry where the bottom bit touches the top bit, using a fork to make indents around the rim, and trim off any excess pastry around the rim.
  13. Use the fork to make some holes in the lid of the pie, so that steam can escape when baking.
  14. Bake in the oven at 180ºC for about 30-40 minutes until lightly golden.
  15. Eat as fresh as possible.

Spicy millionnaire’s shortbread

This week’s Great British Bake Off was all about desserts: trifles in round 1, Iles flottants in the technical challenge, and petit fours in the show stopper round. It hasn’t been easy to bake something particularly inspired by one of these rounds this week, because I can’t stand trifle (mainly the cold custard thing going on – yuk!) and I’m not a massive fan of meringues, I mean they’re OK, but I prefer to bake things that I’m actually going to enjoy rather than just eat politely because that’s on the menu.

As I don’t have a particular occasion to bake for, or the time to spend hours on intricate designs, petit fours weren’t really something I had the energy to do either. However, a couple of the contestants did some kind of millionaire’s shortbread for one of their petit four varieties, and this inspired me to have a go. I vividly remember the first time I ever baked millionaire’s shortbread: a tin of evaporated milk had been put in the wrong place amongst the condensed milk tins in the supermarket, and I gaily poured it in to the pan without realising until later when the caramel didn’t set that I had in fact bought the wrong thing! I have made it since, and it turned out much better, but it’s not something I make very often. As Tom has had a busy week at work and still volunteered to take both boys out on Saturday morning to a Dads and toddlers group in town, I thought he would appreciate a thank you bake 🙂

Millionares shortbread

I decided to do a twist on the usual millionaires shortbread by taking a bit of the edge off the sweetness – I added cinnamon to the shortbread base and ginger to the caramel. I think these spices work well with chocolate. I can’t call them petit fours, they’re nothing like that delicate or small, but my tester approved of their taste and texture. Sadly not long after I made these I came down with a bug and haven’t felt like eating them myself, so most have gone in the freezer for when I’m better.

Ingredients

  • Biscuit base
  • 180g flour
  • 90g semolina
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 180g margarine
  • 90g sugar
  • Caramel
  • 400g tin condensed milk
  • 150g margarine
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 2tsp ginger syrup (from stem ginger jar)
  • Chocolate topping
  • 100g plain chocolate

Method

  1. Pre heat the oven to 160ºC (fan) and line an oven dish with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar for the biscuit base in a bowl.
  3. Add the flour, semolina and cinnamon, and mix until a stiff dough forms.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of the oven dish, and bake for about 30 minutes until lightly golden, then leave to cool.
  5. While the base is cooling, make the caramel.
  6. Melt the margarine and sugar in a pan.
  7. Add the condensed milk and ginger syrup and bring to the boil, stirring all the time.
  8. Keep at the boil for a few minutes, until the caramel starts to thicken.
  9. Allow it to cool a little before pouring over the cooled base, then leave to set in the fridge.
  10. Once cooled, melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, and pour over the top of the caramel, spreading it out to cover all the top.
  11. Leave to cool in the fridge until set.
  12. To cut into squares, dip a sharp knife in freshly boiled water for a little while before using it to cut the chocolate – this will hopefully help it to glide through although it didn’t work every time for mine!

Plaited fruity loaf, with toddler help

The second week of the Great British Bake Off was all about bread. In the final ‘show stopper’ round, the contestants had to bake a decorative loaf which would really wow the judges in terms of creativity and flavour. A few of them opted for plaits of some sort; this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, because I quite like plaiting my hair for fun, and I don’t have little girls to do this on! So, inspired by this round of the GBBO, I decided to bake a simple plaited loaf, with 3 strands.

OK, I know, that’s not exactly showstopper material (though perhaps marginally more impressive than the tomato loaf that the contestant who lost baked!), but I also wanted Andrew to help and have a go at feeling the dough and shaping it into the ‘sausage’ shapes with me, just like he does with his play dough – anything more complicated would have likely ended in disaster! He enjoyed himself and was happy to help me with this relatively easy loaf. Joel also got involved after we’d finished and I was about to clear up – he wanted to play with the left over flour on the board, so I let him have this ‘sensory’ play time.

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I also used something that wouldn’t be allowed on the bake off: our bread maker to mix the dough (though they are allowed general mixers, so it’s not much different 😉 ) Working with a toddler is one thing, but also hand mixing and kneading dough with him is another – he went straight to the dough handling and shaping stage with me. So it’s not exactly of bake off standard, but I like being inspired by the show each week.

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For the flavour, I went for a sweet dough, based on the hot cross bun recipe in our bread maker’s recipe booklet, except I did half white and half wholemeal flour and left out the salt. That’s why it looks a bit darker than your average hot cross bun – we didn’t burn it, honest!

It came out very well; it was approved by the boys, especially Joel as it is so soft and easy to eat without teeth, and Andrew was impressed that he got to eat something that he helped make. I think it’s a good idea to get kids into handling food in the raw and cooked states, so they can learn about how food is made from scratch, rather than everything coming out of a packet.

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Here are the ingredients that we put into the bread maker and then put it on the dough setting. Once the dough was made we took it out and cut it into 3 even parts, then shaped each part into a long strand (or sausage!), before plaiting them in a traditional ‘left over centre, right over centre’ method. We then left it to prove as a loaf for 30 minutes, before baking it for about 15 minutes at 180ºC.

1 cup = the 200ml cup that comes with the bread maker, but as long as you use the same size cup for all ingredients, it doesn’t really matter how big it is.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup melted margarine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 2 cups white bread flour
  • 1 3/4 cups wholemeal bread flour
  • 2 tsp fast action yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup raisins

Gingerbread men ….and other creatures (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 8)

Anyone who’s following the Great British Bake Off as avidly as me will know that I’m a week behind on this one. Biscuits, specifically crackers, chocolate tea-cakes and gingerbread, were the theme of last week’s episode, whereas this week was all about French baking – petit fours, gateaux, choux pastry. I didn’t have time to do any baking last weekend, as we had a busy weekend visiting my brand new niece and taking Andrew to see the ‘choo-choos’ (model railway exhibition) at our local museum. Being as biscuits are more my thing than fancy French baking, I thought I’d stick to them rather than stretch myself too far. And besides, gingerbread men are something that I’d really like Andrew to get involved in with helping me bake.

Everything out ready to start on our baking adventure
Ready and waiting with my apron and wooden spoon!

Avid followers of the GBBO will of course also know that the contestants didn’t have to make just any old gingerbread, but rather build with it structures that went beyond the quaint little Hansel and Gretal houses that you see around Christmas-time these days. There were some impressive architectural feats, like a 2-foot tall Big Ben and a 2-foot diameter Colosseum! I wanted to stick with the classic ‘man’ shape for my gingerbread – though who has ever seen a man look like a gingerbread ‘man’?! This involved buying a cutter, because I realised that I’d only ever made gingerbread as a child at home, and I don’t personally own cutters in such a shape. I thought this would be easily remedied by a quick trip to the supermarket, but it seems gingerbread men cutters are harder to come by than I thought. In the end I found a bumper pack of kids biscuit cutters in Hobbycraft, and this included one classic gingerbread man shape as well as other assorted animals, birds and geometric shapes. I saw this as a good investment, because recently Andrew has got into play dough, and I have it on my to-do list to make some, so the cutters will come in handy for using with play dough as well as with edible biscuit dough!

Cutting out a man shape. But I think it's a BEAR Mummy!!

It turned out that Andrew, when given the choice of which shapes he wanted to use for cutting out gingerbread dough, wasn’t actually that bothered about the classic ‘man’ shape, which he insisted was a teddy bear anyway. He much preferred to cut out butterflies and hearts – two words which he loves to say (‘heart’ is pretty accurate, and ‘butterfly’ is something like ‘pap-pap’, which I presume is him picking up the French word ‘papillon’), and kept saying them in very excited intonation as he cut one out, and another, and another, and another…! I did persuade him to let me cut out some ‘men’, sorry I mean bears, whilst he was in charge of heart and butterfly creation.

Waiting for all our different shaped biscuits to cool down before decorating them

The recipe we used was from Paddington’s Cookery Book, which Andrew was given as a birthday present from his uncle and aunt. It has some great recipes that are perfect for getting little hands involved in baking, and this gingerbread was so simple to make. Along with the book, he was also given a lovely little apron, which now fits him well, with some growing room still, so he wore that whilst we baked together. I’ve given the list of ingredients below, which I altered slightly by using margarine instead of butter and omitting the salt, and I’ve also added ingredients for decorating that aren’t in the book. But I shouldn’t write the method out exactly as in the book as it’s under copyright. You do what you would do for making a shortbread-type biscuit, by combining flour and fat into a breadcrumb consistency and then adding the sugar, spices and finally milk to bring it together into a firm dough that can be rolled out and cut into shapes. The finished biscuit texture is quite soft and short rather than crunchy like some gingerbread, but I think this is a nice texture for little (and big) mouths.

Ingredients

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g margarine
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp milk
For decorating
  • white writing icing tube
  • 5 tbsp icing sugar
  • cold water
  • sprinkles
  • chocolate beans

    Putting chocolate beans onto an iced heart

Once they were cooled, we then set about decorating the biscuits with icing, sprinkles and chocolate beans. This was the really fun part! I was amazed at how good Andrew’s fine motor skills were, as he was able to accurately put a small chocolate bean onto each of two small blobs of writing icing that I had squeezed onto the men-shaped biscuits to make buttons down the front, in classic gingerbread man style. Even I found this tricky, though I guess smaller fingers is an advantage in this case. I then drew a mouth and two eyes onto the faces using the writing icing, and Andrew was keen to repeatedly say ‘eyes’ and ‘mouth’ as I did each one! We also mixed some icing sugar with a small amount of water to make a simple water icing that I then spread onto the butterflies and hearts and Andrew helped sprinkle the sprinkles and place the chocolate beans on the butterfly wings. I thought he might be tempted to eat some biscuits whilst we were decorating (or maybe that was just me?!) but he didn’t seem bothered, and I let him have one right at the end when they were done.

Fine motor skills in action (hence the blurry photo!)

We had such a fun afternoon making this biscuits, and I’m glad that Andrew enjoyed it and found it interesting too – it means a lot to me that he’s showing an interest in one of my favourite things to do 🙂

These hearts and butterflies are so pretty, I just can't resist grabbing one whilst Mummy is trying to take a photo of their loveliness!
Time to choose a 'man' to eat - I think I'll have this one with 2 blue buttons please

Red fruit Chelsea Buns (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 7)

I made sure that I really appreciated watching this week’s episode of the Great British Bake Off (GBBO), even more than I normally do, because it cost us quite a bit of money to download, as we’d got to the limit on our monthly broadband package and ended up paying a pay as you go mobile 3G rate, which soon adds up when you’re talking about hour-long downloads. Oops! It is a bit ridiculous that we even have to have mobile broadband in such a built up area, but we just couldn’t get a decent speed through the phone line, and Virgin won’t dig up our road (I know, hard to believe, but they won’t, we’ve asked more than once!)

So I was determined to make time this weekend, despite being out for most of the day on Saturday, to bake Tom something nice, to try and make up for my expensive downloading. This week’s bakes were all about sweet dough. The first was on the theme of regional buns (for example, Bath buns, Lardy cakes, Saffron cakes, and of course Chelsea buns); the second bake was jam doughnuts (which looked very hard to make, and we don’t have a deep fat fryer); the third bake was a celebration loaf (for example, Brioche or Stollen). I made a Stollen at Christmas, and the contestants mostly seemed to be proving their doughs for the third bake overnight, so I thought that a celebration loaf wasn’t a great option for my limited time this weekend. Instead I went for a regional bun that I’ve thought about making a few times, but never got round to it – the Chelsea bun.

In Cambridge there is a famous cake shop called Fitzbillies that makes the most amazing Chelsea buns – they are their own secret recipe. When the original Fitzbillies shop had to close down in the bad economic climate, many people, including comedian Stephen Fry who tweeted about it, were gutted to lose the place to buy these lovely buns. I can’t say that I bought them that often, because they were pretty expensive, but I did on a few occasions as a treat, and was sad to hear about this independent cake shop closing down. However, I was then very happy to learn, actually again through twitter, that new owners had bought the Fitzbillies shop and were doing it up in order to re-open under the same name. The icing on the cake (pun intended) was that they had even managed to gain the secret recipe for Chelsea buns along with their purchase, so the famous buns would be back in town in no time! Hooray! And I went and bought one or two not long after they first opened.

Not that I’m aiming to make anything quite as special as theirs (I don’t know what it is about them specifically that makes them so yummy, it’s a secret, clearly), but I’d often thought about having a go at baking some Chelsea buns that were at least good enough to eat. Whilst looking through our dried fruit container, to see how much we had and whether I needed to buy any more to make the buns, I remembered that I had recently bought some more unusual dried fruit for Andrew to eat as a snack as a change from his raisins, which included raspberries and cherries. These made me think that baking Chelsea buns with a bit of a twist from the usual fruits would go down well, so I went for them instead of raisins/sultanas/currants.

The recipe I used for the dough was from the BBC Food website, and it turns out that it’s actually from another series of the GBBO. Here’s a link to the recipe. I adapted it (as always!) to include red fruits (raspberries and cherries) instead of the usual dried fruits, and I decided to bake the buns close together (see picture below) rather than spread apart on a baking sheet because I like the squarer, more compacted together shape for Chelsea buns than perfectly round and crusted all the way round, I guess because they remind me of Ftizbillies’ famous ones – they have a square-ish shape to them. I found there wasn’t a lot of glaze for the amount of ingredients that the recipe said to put in, so if you like them sticky and extra sweet, I’d probably double or treble it. I quite like the fact that they’re not as sickly sweet as the Fitzbillies ones, because my sweet tooth has definitely been affected by pregnancy.

I wouldn’t win any prizes for the most consistent baker, who makes buns all perfectly the same size and shape, but the main thing is that the taste and texture are good. It’s quite handy actually that some are smaller than others (due to the shape of the rolled out dough, which ended up creating a roll that was thinner at both ends than in the middle), because the smaller ones are a perfect snack size for Andrew. He had one more or less straight from the oven, once they’d cooled down enough to eat – ‘hot’ is one of his favourite words, and he knows to wait until food is no longer too ‘HOT, HOT’! My other boy approved too, so I feel less bad about the fact that it cost us more than a few pennies to watch the episode of the GBBO that inspired this bake.

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.