Thursday, 30 June 2011

Apricot and Walnut Sandwich Bars

Recipe Number Fifty Six:  Page 237.

No surprises that I started this late evening. We had such a busy day out and about that I just didn't find the time until after 6pm. Even though I was feeling more than a little weary, the picture of these bars in the Baking Bible spurred me on. They looked so moist and moreish, I couldn't wait to try one.

I needed a 7 inch shallow square cake tin. I had a tin that met all but the shallow requirements; it would have to do. I don't have the room or the finances to own every single tin required! I turned the oven on to a very low heat and then set about snipping up the apricots. I am glad Mary used the term snipping otherwise I wouldn't have thought to use scissors. I would have spent a long time slicing the apricots with a knife! I put them into my small saucepan, then added a little water and sugar. I also required the grated zest of a lemon. Neil tutted when he discovered I only needed the zest and not the juice. He hates waste, so usually makes himself a refreshing lemon drink with the unwanted juice. The facial expressions made whilst 'enjoying' the drink are most entertaining! I added the lemon zest to the saucepan and heated it through until the apricots were soft and the water had evaporated; the end result looked like a very fruity jam.

I put the saucepan to one side to cool whilst I made the oat mixture. This was easy enough to do. To save on washing up I weighed everything into my weighing scales and also used it as a mixing bowl. I love the flavour of light muscovado sugar, so was pleased to be adding it to my bowl. Also, anything that contains oats is automatically moreish. Things were looking very promising! A small quantity of walnuts, butter and flour were also added to the bowl and mixed together. I pressed half of the combined mixture into the base of my tin and then carefully spooned the gooey apricots on top making sure it was evenly spread. Next, I covered the apricots with the remainder of the oat mixture and then put the tin into the oven.

It took a while in the oven. It needed just over the suggested 45 minutes to cook; the smell wafting from the oven was wonderful. I cut it into bars whilst it was still warm and left them to cool. When we finally got to try these bars we already had full tummies from our evening meal, so we agreed to share one between us. The bar was very crumbly. I would advise using a plate; we were a bit naughty and didn't bother but, hey, that is what the vacuum cleaner was invented for!! As for the taste, obviously they taste of apricots! My apricots must have been especially tough as they were still a bit chewy. The oat mixture reminded me a bit of a digestive biscuit. I know I have an unusually sweet tooth but I felt it was lacking on sugar! They are moreish and, don't get me wrong they are very nice, but if I make them again I'll throw in a bit more sugar!

Mary says that these bars are similar to those you can buy in health-food shops. I have to agree that the use of wholemeal flour and a relatively small amount of sugar made me think that these bars are rather virtuous. But, as with most recipes, butter did still play a key role! As far as I am concerned, if something tastes nice it is because it has a lot of fat and sugar in it. That's life and life can be cruel!
These are almost healthy!!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Pineapple and Cherry Loaf

Recipe Number Fifty Five:  Page 311.

I was also baking this cake for my mother-in-law's birthday tea. When the coffee and walnut traybake was in the oven I could move onto making this loaf cake. I hoped it would be as quick and straightforward to make. The combination of pineapple and cherries sounded wonderful. The only other cake I have made which contained pineapple was an upside down cake, so I wondered how this one would turn out.

The main preparation for this cake was spent preparing the fruit. I needed a lot of cherries and pineapple. I quartered the cherries and then rinsed the sugary syrup away, the best bit if you ask me!! I left them to drain in the sieve whilst I contended with the pineapple rings. I had to drain them but keep back some juice. I chopped the pineapple up and then dried them thoroughly on kitchen towel; I used a considerable number of towels as the pineapple was so juicy! The cherries suffered the same treatment. This did take some time to do but the next stage of making up the cake mixture was easy and quick. I added the cake ingredients into a bowl so I could beat them all together; Mary is quite particular that this should be done for two minutes. I needed to use two large eggs. I had two left in the box; one of them I swear was laid by an ostrich - it was enormous! I weighed it and it was almost twice the weight of the other large egg. I managed to locate a medium egg, so I used that along with the super egg and hoped that would level things out a bit! After the cake mixture had been beaten for the two minutes I could move on to adding in the fruit. I tipped in the now dry cherries and pineapple, a large quantity of sultanas and two tablespoons of pineapple juice. I was a little confused as to why I had spent so long making sure my pineapple was dry if I was adding the juice back into the equation?! Hey ho, who am I to question Mary, I feel sure she knows best!

The very fruity cake mixture then went into my lined loaf tin and into the oven. As it was so full of fruit I knew it would take a fairly long time to cook, but I was a little surprised that it should take at least an hour and a half. In fact, I found it took nearly two hours and got a little burnt around the edges! Normally I like to cut a cake up myself before passing it round. I worry that it might not be cooked through, I would be mortified! All I could do was hope it would be OK as I couldn't really pass the cake over with it already cut into pieces! The loaf felt so heavy it felt like a brick; I just hoped it didn't taste like one!

I am pleased to report that the combination of cherries and pineapple really is as good as you would hope it to be. This was the favourite cake and it didn't take long for it all to disappear! It is so moist and fruity. Mary says to store it in the fridge as it is so moist it could easily go mouldy if left in a warm kitchen for several days. I really don't see it hanging round long enough for that to be a problem!

Coffee and Walnut Traybake

Recipe Number Fifty Four:  Page 176.

My mother-in-law asked me to bake her a few cakes for her birthday. I have to admit to feeling a little daunted as she has baked and sold cakes in the past; she certainly knows her way around a kitchen. I hoped my offerings would be up to scratch! I got up bright and early so was all ready to go when my son was having his morning nap. It did feel a little unnatural baking as early as 9am; I don't usually get round to it until the early evening!

This was another of Mary's easy and quick all-in-one cakes. I measured all of the ingredients into my mixing bowl. As this makes a relatively large traybake, I did require a fairly hefty quantity of ingredients. I thought the muscovado sugar should work really well with the coffee essence. I have never used coffee essence before; I now own a large bottle of the stuff, so I hope I need it for other recipes! Mary does say that you can use instant coffee granules instead but I was keen to try something new. I didn't need as many walnuts as I had expected. As they are mentioned in the title I imagined they might play more of a part in the recipe. Once all the ingredients were weighed and in my bowl I just had to beat until everything was blended together. This took next to no time as I had remembered to leave the butter out overnight so it was very soft. Having soft butter makes life so much easier! I poured the dark sweet smelling mixture into my lined traybake tin and popped it into the oven. The cake batter which was left in the bowl had to be tried. It would have been rude not to! It tasted delicious; I loved the taste of coffee.

The cake was ready after about 35 minutes; it had risen very well and looked lovely and moist. I had to leave it to cool in the tin. Once the cake was cold I could make the icing. The icing was a very straightforward butter cream. As per usual, the icing sugar dust got everywhere. I hate the stuff! I needed a small amount of coffee essence in the butter cream, so there would be a double hit of coffee – lovely! When I mixed the ingredients together I started off with a wooden spoon. Once everything was incorporated I moved on to my electric whisk. This helped to minimise a further dust attack from the icing sugar! I smoothed the icing on top of the cake. It was a little tricky as the icing kept pulling the top layer of cake off and it got mixed into the icing, so I spent ages trying to tidy it up! For decoration I added some walnut halves to the top of the cake. I was very pleased with the finished cake; it was so hard resisting the urge to cut myself a large slice there a then!

The cake went down very well with my mother-in-law and her friends. It was thought to be very moist and light. The taste of coffee wasn't as strong as I thought it was going to be; it was more evident in the uncooked cake batter, but nevertheless it was a lovely cake!
Hard to resist!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Dark Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies

Recipe Number Fifty Three:  Page 99.

Usually I make notes as I bake a recipe as I have a dreadful memory. In my previous job it was often commented on that my desk was almost completely smothered in yellow sticky notes, each one being a reminder to me. I have to write this review without the help of a beloved yellow note. My son Isaac is at the age where absolutely anything and everything goes into his mouth. He managed to get his mitts on this particular note and give it a good chew, before throwing the sodden clump to one side and moving onto something tastier!

I adore chocolate. As I am sure you have by now gathered, not a day goes by when I don't think of it, sad I know! The title of these particular brownies was encouraging; I could just tell they were going to be very rich and chocolatey. Unlike the other brownie recipe I made a while ago, this recipe does not use cocoa powder but relies on bars of plain chocolate - yes not just one bar! As I broke the chocolate up into a glass bowl I made sure the chocolate was of a suitable quality! I added the obligatory large block of butter, set the glass bowl over a pan of simmering water and gave it a stir from time to time. It took ages to melt. I made myself some lunch, washed up and it still hadn't all melted! Once the mixture had finally given in to the heat I had to leave it to cool. Luckily I didn't need these brownies in a hurry!

Finally, once the chocolate mixture had cooled down, I could carry on making the brownies. The addition of coffee was a bit of a surprise; Mary says this gives a rich 'grown-up' flavour. I dissolved the coffee in a few tablespoons of hot water and set it aside to cool a little. I needed yet another bowl to mix all the other ingredients together. I couldn't help but dread all the washing up I was going to have to do! To this bowl I added the eggs, sugar, coffee and vanilla extract and then gradually stirred in the melted chocolate and butter. Last of all, the dry ingredients needed to be folded in. I only needed a small amount of flour, a good amount of chopped walnuts and a heck of a lot of chocolate chips; I needed several packets. I could feel my waistband getting tighter at the thought! I poured the very fattening mixture into my traybake tin and popped it into the oven to cook. At this point I tried and eventually succeeded in getting Isaac to go down for his nap. But, with all the excitement of dealing with a child who has learnt that he can easily pull himself up in his cot, I forgot about the brownies and they got a bit burnt! I found this most annoying as brownies are supposed to be a bit gooey; they shouldn't be dry. They did taste better than they looked though, extremely rich, maybe a bit too rich for me. The easier and quicker brownie recipe I made a few weeks ago I found to be more successful and tasty!
A bit burnt but still tasty!

Cappuccino Cake

Recipe Number Fifty Two:  Page 53.

As lovely as eating a bunny might be, I thought it would be nice to give my family another cake to try! I have wanted to make this cake for some time but it looks very rich in the picture, so thought it might be best to save it for a family occasion.

Mary says to be sure to use deep sandwich tins for this cake as the shallower tins can overflow. I did not want my tins to overflow, so I had brought with me my 8 inch loose bottomed deep cake tin with the thought of buying another one whilst on the Island. When out shopping, I found the tin I needed, Neil saw the price and rather sensibly suggested I put the tin back on the shelf and just make the cake in two batches!

I measured the cocoa powder into a mixing bowl and added a little boiling water and stirred them together. The rest of the ingredients were added to the chocolate mixture. I was amazed that I didn't need to add much butter, surely that couldn't be right?!! I beat all the ingredients together until they just combined; there was a warning not to overdo the beating! The mixture was thick and a dark velvety colour. It smelt wonderful. I tried to judge as best I could how much was half and poured it into the lined tin. The cake rose beautifully in the oven and I could quite see why Mary warns not to use shallow tins. If I had it would have gone all over the oven floor and my parents would have disowned me! When the cake was cooked, I removed it carefully from the tin and peeled off the greaseproof paper from its base. As I don’t like waste, I turned the paper over and put it back into the tin to use again! Soon the second cake was cooked and also cooling on the wire rack.

It soon became clear that the birthday boy was too excited to have his lunchtime nap, so he came back downstairs and was entertained by both sets of grandparents. I could now carry on making the filling and topping for the cake. I needed half a pint of double cream. Ah! That makes up for the small amount of butter in the cake!! I whipped up the cream in next to no time and was soon adding the all important coffee. I obviously couldn't just chuck in the coffee granules, so first of all I dissolved them in a small amount of hot water. It could then be added to the cream. I had a quick taste of the coffee cream; I could certainly taste the coffee! I smoothed half the cream over one cake and then placed the other cake on top; I then smothered the top of that cake with the remainder of the cream. For a finishing touch I dusted a small amount of cocoa powder over the cream. I was very pleased with the look of the finished cake, but looks are not everything; it had to taste good too! My mum really liked this cake; she couldn't resist another slice! Neil thought it was very rich. It isn't one of his favourites but he's not a fan of coffee cake. I have never been that keen on coffee cake either, but I loved this one! The chocolate sponge was so light and moist, and the coffee cream was delicious. Put together, to me it equalled heaven!
This cake is YUM!

Bunny Rabbit Birthday Cake

Recipe Number Fifty One:  Page 253.

Monday 20th June was a very special day for me and my family; it was my little boy’s first birthday. The day was spent with my family. Neil's parents made the trip across the Solent bearing gifts and birthday wishes for their grandson. I tried to time my cake making to Isaac's naps so that I didn't miss out on the birthday fun. When I had first seen the picture of Mary's bunny cake I honestly didn't believe I could make mine look anywhere near as good; I am not very good at decorating cakes!

I had to make enough cake mixture to fill three shallow sandwich tins. The recipe was pretty much the same as Mary's standard Victoria sponge cake, so I felt as though I was on familiar ground. I simply beat all of the ingredients together and poured the mixture into the greased and lined sandwich tins. I needed two 7inch and one 8inch. I could just fit all three tins onto the top shelf of Mum’s oven. While they were cooking I decided to go upstairs and quickly wash my hair, I barely made it back to the kitchen in time. One of the cakes was looking a bit golden. As I'd had to rush, I looked a sight for sore eyes. Water was still dripping from my face and my hair was wrapped up in a towel; I hoped the guests wouldn't turn up early!!

The two 7 inch cakes were ready first. I left them to cool for a few minutes while I waited for the 8inch cake to catch up. Once all the cakes were out of the oven and had cooled off a bit I could tip them out of their tins to cool completely. One of the smaller cakes didn't want to exit its tin, and a small edge broke off! I decided this would be the cake I would use to make the bunny's extremities!

The picture of the bunny in the Baking Bible is deceiving; it doesn't look that big, when actually it is a bit of a giant! As I didn't have a cake board large enough, I followed Mary's suggestion of using a foil covered baking tray. But the tray was still not big enough for the entire bunny to fit on. My mum thankfully owns a gigantic tray, which she suggested I cover with foil; it fitted perfectly, hooray! By this time all worktop space was in use, so the only place left to arrange the bunny and to cut the tail, ears and foot out of one of the smaller cakes was the ironing board. I volunteered Neil to cut the body parts as he is much neater and more artistic than I am! I then volunteered my sister, Toria to keep watch whilst the coconut was toasting under the grill. She did a sterling job as none of the coconut got burnt, phew! I would like to point out that whilst this was going on I was frantically mixing up the butter cream! Stupidly I had changed into my clean trousers and was not wearing an apron; I of course, got absolutely smothered in icing sugar when I turned on the electric whisk!

Now to the fun and messy bit! I was surprised how simple I found it to decorate the cakes. It didn't take long to cover each bit of cake with butter cream and coconut. I had lots of toasted coconut left over, but I had bought 50gs extra just in case. Soon my bunny was assembled on the foil covered tray and I could add the finishing touches. By adding the bunny's eyes, nose and whiskers it was amazing how suddenly the cake looked like a proper bunny and almost exactly the same as the picture in the book, I was most pleased with myself. The sponge was very light and the butter cream and coconut made a lovely combination. I don't think Isaac was that fussed by his bunny cake, but at least I had some nice comments from my family!
Seemed cruel to eat it!!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Marbled Chocolate Ring Cake

Recipe Number Fifty:  Page 108.

Another cake chosen by my sister. Like me she finds it hard to say no to chocolate, so I am not surprised by her choice! The picture in the Baking Bible has the wow factor and looks very chocolatey.

I have never made a ring cake before so I didn't have the tin required. The first challenge was to find one. I fully expected to come back empty handed after a trip into town but thankfully I found just what I needed in the first shop I tried. Hooray! If you don't want to fork out for a new tin, I did get a good tip on my Facebook page from a knowledgeable cook. Just use a round cake tin and put a baked bean can or the like in the centre to create the ring shape.

The first job was greasing and lining my ring cake tin. Mary says to line the tin with strips of baking parchment. This is, easier said than done. It was so fiddly as it was such an awkward shape to line. The paper didn't want to behave itself. I had to give the butter a blast in the microwave as I'd forgotten to leave it out. One day I might just remember! I added the sugar and flour to the bowl and, last of all, the eggs. I was thrown a little when I opened the egg box; there were two tiny eggs nestled next to the four large eggs I needed, I thought we had been diddled! It soon transpired that the petite eggs had in fact been laid by the neighbour's chicken and had been passed onto my parents! After the egg confusion I moved on to combining the ingredients together. I could then dot half of the mixture into the cake tin using a teaspoon. The remainder of the cake mixture needed to be chocolatey. I stirred some cocoa powder into some hot water and then added it to the mixing bowl. This mixture had to be dotted between and over the plain cake mixture and then swirled together with a knife. I found it hard to tell if I was getting the marbled effect; the plain mixture was well buried beneath the chocolate. The cake had to go into the oven for about 40 minutes, so I sat down and enjoyed a very late lunch and almost nodded off on the sofa, oh dear!

When I took the cake out of the oven I was very pleased as it had risen so well and appeared nice and moist. I had been dreading getting the cake out of the tin as I felt sure it would stick, but it popped clean out! Once the cake was cold I could ice it. The icing was simple and quick to make; I just had to melt the plain chocolate and butter over a pan of hot water. Mary says to pour the icing over the cake. I took a more tentative approach and spooned it on! The icing had to be left to set for an hour before drizzling some melted milk chocolate over the top as decoration. I couldn't be bothered to find a piping bag for such a small amount of chocolate, so I followed Mary's tip and put the melted milk chocolate into a sandwich bag. I snipped the edge off the the sandwich bag and drizzled, rather untidily, the chocolate over the cake. I was quite pleased with it, but was a bit disappointed when I cut the cake as I couldn't see much sign of a marbled effect!

By this time it was 9pm. In my defence I had cooked our meal as well; that was why I was running late. Things always take longer than I anticipate! There was barely any natural light left when I tried to take the all important photographs. The flash was not kind to my cake! My mum laughingly suggested taking the picture outside. I didn't think it would work but in the end thought anything was worth a try. So, at 9.30pm, my mum took a coffee table out through the back door and I followed behind with cake and camera! We went up to the middle of the garden and arranged the table and cake. What the neighbours must of thought! I am surprised the pictures aren't blurred as I was laughing so much! However, it did the trick and what a lovely backdrop!

Once the pictures were taken, we all had a small slice as we were still stuffed from our meal and it was close to bedtime. It tasted so moist and chocolatey; it really was good. I particularly liked the icing, which was dark and rich. The best thing about this cake is that it looks impressive and that little bit special. The cake itself is very easy to make and the icing is also simple; it just requires a little more time. None of us could believe it when my sister asked for another slice. How she found room for it I have no idea!
Just to let you know, my next blog entry will be on Thursday 23rd June 2011. Isaac, my little boy, will be one on Monday 20th June and although I will be baking cakes that day (from the Baking Bible, of course), I won't be writing up my reviews on his very special day! Therefore there will be three entries on Thursday 23rd. Thank you for continuing to follow my challenge; it really does motivate me to carry on! :-)
The one slice which was marbled! 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Strawberry Pavlova

Recipe Number Forty Nine:  Page 356.

This is another recipe chosen by my sister Toria. She had been tempted by the cheesecakes but, after much deliberation, she decided on a pavlova, I think she was swayed by the picture in the book; it does look wonderful. I have never made a pavlova before so was feeling a little daunted, but at least I didn't have to pipe the meringue! I did feel a little reassured as I'd made meringues a few weeks ago; a pavlova and meringue are essentially the same thing if you ask me.

I had trouble breaking the eggs into Mum's plastic mixing bowl. It was impossible to break the shell on the sides of the bowl therefore I had to use the edge of a glass instead. Once all the egg whites were in the bowl, I could use Mum's electric whisk. Yes, she has brought a whisk. I was in shock for several days after hearing the news! But there was a problem; the whisk wouldn't work. As I had used it for the English cherry cake just an hour before, the blame had to lie with me. Mum was very kind and told me it was only a cheap one and she still had the receipt, but I still feel bad! What wonderful timing that it chose to break down when I needed to whip the egg whites! Neil saved the day yet again by finding a balloon whisk and whisking the egg whites for me. Within a few minutes he had managed to create the required stiff consistency; his face was rather red from all the effort! I had started giving our little boy his lunch by this time, so Neil said he would whisk in the sugar a teaspoon at time. The next problem was prizing Neil away from the bowl of meringue as he wanted to finish the job! All I was left to do was mix some cornflour and white wine vinegar together and whisk it in at the end.

I had placed some greaseproof paper onto a baking sheet and drawn a nine inch circle onto the paper. It was fairly easy to spread the meringue within my very rough outline. I made sure I built up the sides of the meringue. It was in the oven for a while as it needed to cook for an hour, then be left in the oven to cool. My mum loves meringue and pavlova so I wasn't surprised that she appeared as I was taking the glorious creation out of the oven. But that meant she was also there to witness my putting my thumb through the delicate shell of the crisp edge! I was so cross with myself; I should have been more careful. I couldn't get the greaseproof paper to peel off without causing more damage. One side wasn't too bad but the other was all broken, sob! Mum said it looked fine and, once the cream and strawberries were added, you wouldn’t notice. This didn't make me feel any better though, as I remember a time when I left the sugar out of a cake and she told me it was delicious!! She kindly helped me by cutting off the excess greaseproof paper. We decided to leave the meringue stuck to the paper, as trying to peel it off was proving stressful!

I managed to whisk up the double cream myself, although it took me a while. I could manage a burst of frantic whisking, but this was followed by heavy breathing and the flapping of my right arm in order to give it a rest before starting again! Now completely out of puff, I piled the cream to the dipped middle of the broken meringue. I then added my dad's sliced home-grown strawberries. I presume the meringue had now become a pavlova due the addition of the cream and fruit. It was impossible for me to cut this without causing more damage! But it did taste good, VERY good! Toria seemed to enjoy it as did the rest of the family. Crisp with a chewy centre, the naughtiness of the double cream and the sweetness of the strawberries - heaven in a bowl! I certainly can't take all the credit as Neil did most of the work; the man did good!  

English Cherry Cake

Recipe Number Forty Eight:  Page 77.

We were on our travels again at the weekend. We had tickets for the Isle of Wight Festival, but camping was not on the agenda as we had the luxury of staying with my parents who only live a 20 minute walk away! As always, I still had time for my baking! I had promised my sister I would bake a few treats as a belated birthday present. I am delighted that we share the same love of glacé cherries, it was no hardship to make this cherry cake.

As much as I love cherries, they do take a time to prepare. I can't say chopping, washing and drying cherries is my favourite of pastimes. However, Mary insists that the washing and drying stops the cherries from sinking, I have yet to see the proof! Once this was out of the way the rest of the cake making didn't take long at all. I was pleased to be using ground almonds as cherries and almonds together make a tasty combination. Of course a cake isn't complete without a worryingly large amount of butter. I am concerned that I am getting used to my continuous consumption of butter. I'm just ignoring the chest pains! Eggs, flour, baking powder and sugar were the only other ingredients required. I just had to beat the cake mixture for a minute and then stir in the cherries. I tipped the mixture into my deep cake tin and then put it in the oven. It took a long time to cook, and it took the full 1 ¾ hours Mary suggests. Surprisingly the cake didn't burn; it was a lovely golden brown. When I turned the cake out I felt even more chuffed as it really did look good; a perfect colour and it had risen beautifully.

When cutting the cake, I thought the texture was similar to that of a Madeira. It had quite a close texture. The cherries had sunk to the bottom of the cake as I knew they would. I personally don't think it makes any difference if you wash and dry the cherries first. I wouldn't normally bother but I am doing as I am told. I am still waiting for unsinkable cherries! However, I suppose it isn't the end of the world; it still tastes the same. The cake was moist but with a slightly dense texture. I could taste a hint of almonds and of course the cherries, but a few more cherries wouldn't have gone amiss. My sister enjoyed it, but perhaps telling her how much butter was in it was a bad idea. She gets married in a few months and is worried about fitting into her dress!
A sinking feeling!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Muesli Cookies

Recipe Number Forty Seven:  Page 209.

After a busy day out and about I was feeling very weary, but was glad to get into the kitchen to bake these cookies. I put some soothing music on and floated around the kitchen, feeling most serene! I also felt rather virtuous as surely these cookies are a healthy addition to any biscuit tin; they do contain muesli after all.

I was a little surprised when measuring out the the butter; I needed about three quarters of a packet. I began to wonder if the addition of muesli was just giving an illusion of healthiness! Thankfully, however, I only needed to add a fairly modest amount of sugar. This helped to reassure me. I measured the flour and egg into the mixing bowl and beat everything together. The last ingredient to be included was the all important muesli. Neil had been shopping and I was shocked to see that he hadn't brought the value muesli. He is obviously getting into all this baking malarkey as he had chosen a more luxurious variety. He knew a value packet wouldn't contain much fruit and would mostly consist of 'cardboard' flakes! After stirring in the muesli I was ready to spoon the mixture onto my greased baking trays. Mary says to leave room for the cookies to spread. Cookies I have made in the past have tended to spread on the baking tray to form one giant biscuit treat. I was keen to avoid this conundrum, so left plenty of room for spread-age!! If you are fan of muesli you will be delighted, as more is sprinkled onto the top of each cookie along with some demerara sugar.

The cookies didn't take long in the oven - only about ten or so minutes. I think I was a bit eager to take the first batch out as they were still a bit pale, but I am not known for being patient! However, I did soon learn that I should wait a few minutes or so before trying to remove the cookies from the baking tray as they were still fragile and fell to bits. Once I had successfully managed the difficult transition from tray to cooling rack, I felt now was an appropriate time for a taste. The word moreish is an understatement; the combination of oats and raisins is always a winner in my mind. I found my hand reaching for a cookie at regular intervals! Not only are these extremely tasty, I also enjoyed making them; they are so easy to make in next to no time. I ate two for breakfast this morning, without a trace of guilt. After all, it's just another way to eat muesli. Well, that is what I choose to believe!! 

These have to be good for you!

Monday, 6 June 2011


Recipe Number Forty Six:  Page 222.

I have made macaroons once before, some years ago. I promised myself I would never make them again, but today I found myself staring down at a macaroon recipe. I am certain I would not have broken my vow if it were not for this challenge! I can't remember the exact details as it was ages ago, but I do know that they tasted rather vile and welded themselves onto the baking trays. It wasn't a Mary Berry recipe, so I hoped I would have more luck on this occasion! The last time I ate a macaroon was on that fateful day, so I wasn't even sure how they should taste. But, on a brighter note, this recipe helped use up some of the egg whites which were left over from the crème brulées!

I had managed to find some blanched almonds after a bit of a search. Not many smaller shops stock them. The almonds in question had to be halved; this was easier said than done. Half of each almond had to be sacrificed as it crumbled when I broke them in half. Eventually I possessed 16 halves and I could dip them in the egg whites and put to one side for later. The egg whites had to be whisked until they formed soft peaks. This didn't take long with my electric whisk and I was soon moving onto the next stage. There is no flour in this recipe. Ground almonds are used instead, along with rice flour. I was ecstatic to see that there is no fat in this recipe. However, my elation was short lived when I saw how much sugar was needed. I carefully folded the dry ingredients into the egg whites along with a few drops of almond extract. The combined mixture did not look very appetising! I placed teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto baking trays which were topped with baking paper. Mary's recipe didn't use the traditional rice paper as I thought it would; the recipe had been altered to make it easier to remove the macaroons from the trays, hence the rice paper is not needed. I placed an almond half on to the top of each macaroon. They were now ready for the oven; this was heated to a very low temperature, but the cooking time was around 25 minutes.

The macaroons on the top shelf of the oven were cooked after the suggested time. I moved the macaroons up from the second shelf and it wasn't long until they were also cooked through. I left them to cool on the trays for a few minutes and then tried to remove one from the baking paper. The top of the macaroon came away from the bottom, which was glued to the paper! I left them to cool for another five minutes or so and tried again. I used a pallet knife to try to un-weld them from the paper. This was mostly successful, but I soon realised it was unnecessary as I could easily peel the paper from the macaroons!

Once the macaroons were cold I reluctantly tried one. It didn't taste anywhere near as bad as I had imagined it would; it was crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle. The taste was obviously very almondy! I would feel nervous about offering one of these macaroons to someone with false teeth, I fear a pair of dentures could easily be tugged out as they are so sticky and chewy. I was happier with the result than I thought I would be; they turned out well. I am, however, still not really converted. I would like to try a French macaroon one day; they are very popular at the moment and look a bit more exciting!
Not much to look at!!

Créme Brulée

Recipe Number Forty Five:  Page 348.

Last weekend Neil and I indulged in a Marks and Spencer ‘Dine in for £10’; we have one every once in a while as a treat. Neil chose crème brulée for dessert. This was the first time I had tried one. I know, I can't believe it either! I have to say I was a little disappointed by the petiteness of this creamy custard treat, but I soon realised why they are served in such small portions; it is very rich! We both enjoyed our crème brulées and, when I saw that the Baking Bible had the recipe, I was eager to give it a try to see if my efforts could match up to Marks and Spencer!

My first mistake, which I suppose was quite a big one, was not reading the recipe all the way through before I started on Sunday afternoon. The custard desserts are meant to set and chill in the fridge overnight before adding the sugar and caramelizing under the grill. I wished I had made them the evening before as I had initially intended. However, the weather was so fantastic we decided to have a BBQ, so never got round to it. Hey ho! I decided to carry on regardless; I hoped the crème brulées would set in time for us to eat them late evening!

Not only did I need single cream for this recipe, I also required double, eek! Egg yolks are broken into a bowl; the whites – the part which isn't fattening - are not used. I added a surprisingly small amount of sugar to the egg yolks and beat together with a few drops of vanilla extract. I measured out the single and double cream. Is it shameful that I licked the lids?!! The creams had to be put into a saucepan to heat. Mary says it should be scalding – just too hot to put your finger into! Yes, of course I burnt my finger and it did really hurt! Even with a sore finger I soldiered on and poured the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan of cream, making sure I kept beating the mixture as I did so. That was pretty much it, all very simple and straightforward. All I had to do was pour the custard mixture into ramekins, stand the little dishes in a roasting tin filled with hot water and bake in the oven until set.

The crème brulées were ready after half an hour. They didn't look much different to when I put them in the oven! I left them to cool before covering and popping into the fridge. I should have left them in the fridge overnight but, due to my mistake, I was going just to leave them a few hours and hope for the best. After three hours I took my little ramekins out of the fridge. They were nicely chilled and perfectly set. I carried on and sprinkled quite a lot of demerara sugar on top of each crème brulée. I heated the oven grill to nearly its hottest setting and placed the ramekins on to the top shelf. I kept my beady eye on them as much as I could; I didn't want the sugar to burn. It took just a few minutes until the sugar had melted and caramelized. Rather frustratingly, we still couldn’t eat them as they had to cool down and then go back into the fridge for several hours. I really wish I had read the recipe properly! By about 8pm the crème brulées were back out of the fridge and ready for a taste. When I tapped the hard shell of the sugar with a spoon it broke easily, most satisfying! Underneath was the creamy custard. It looked just like the one we enjoyed from Marks and Spencer, but would it taste as good? I don't like to blow my own trumpet, but I think mine might have been a teeny bit better; it was creamier. Neil was most impressed, he thought they were lovely. I'll have to make these again. They would no doubt impress any guests; they don't need to know how easy they are to make!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Very Best Shortbread

Recipe Number Forty Four:  Page 231.

With a title that makes such a confident statement, I felt assured that this shortbread would be the best shortbread I had ever had or would ever taste. I was really looking forward to making it but, as usual, it took me ages to get round to it. For a change, the reason for the delay was due to a very productive day where I managed to get lots of jobs done. I think Neil was a little shocked to come home to such a domestic goddess. I made sure that I reassured him that this was probably a one off; lightening doesn't usually strike twice in the same place after all!!!

This was such an easy and straightforward recipe to follow; I managed to cook dinner at the same time, without any disasters! I weighed all of the ingredients into my weighing scales and just about managed to fit everything in. I liked the fact that semolina is used in this recipe; it gives a crunchy, grainy texture. However, I was not happy about the amount of butter that is used, nearly a whole packet! Maybe I should have my cholesterol tested. I expect my arteries are furring up nicely, but perhaps it is best not to know?! To avoid an excessive amount of washing up, my weighing bowl also doubled up as a mixing bowl; I rubbed all the ingredients together until it started to form a soft dough. I pressed the dough into my traybake tin and pricked it all over with a fork. I wondered if using a pretty mould would make for a more impressive shortbread. I have seen some lovely ones on Facebook and have been informed that you can get really good ones on eBay. Oh well, too late for this one, but it is a thought for next time.

Luckily we have a decent sized fridge as, instead of the shortbread going straight into the oven, it needed to go into the fridge to firm up. We had recently had a food delivery so the fridge was chock a block! I managed to wedge the tray in somehow, but it was tricky extracting it later on. After the 30 minutes or so of 'firming up', the shortbread could now head to the oven where it cooked on a low heat.

Whilst the shortbread was cooking, we enjoyed the delicious aroma emanating from the oven, it smelled wonderful. We just hoped it would taste as good. Once out of the oven, I gave the shortbread a generous sprinkle of demerara sugar and left it to cool for a few minutes before cutting it into fingers. I then tried to remove the fingers from the tin, not easy, they were very crumbly. I decided to leave it to cool whilst we tucked into our dinner. An hour later I had another go at removing the shortbread fingers from the tin and this time I didn't have any problems; they came out unscathed. Once the shortbread fingers were cold Neil and I tried a little piece each. The fingers were quite soft; we were expecting more of a crunch. The flavour was lovely and buttery, just how a good shortbread should taste. They really are very tasty and one of the easiest things I have ever made. You could almost do it blindfolded, well almost! I can also highly recommend indulging on a shortbread finger or two with an accompanying hot chocolate, heaven!
Variation: Orange Shortbread

I've never considered adding different flavours to shortbread. I'd worry that the delicious buttery taste might be lost. However, Neil thought it sounded wonderful and eagerly waited to commence his taste testing duties!

As with the original recipe the shortbread was easy peasy to make. I got so carried away I almost forgot to add in the orange zest (now that would of been annoying)! The mixture smelt heavenly thanks to the fruity orange. It was hard to resist eating it raw! The scent became even more intense whilst cooking in the oven. When we come to sell our house perhaps I'll try cooking this instead of the suggested fresh bread!!

After what felt like forever we were able to sample a finger of shortbread. Just like the original recipe it was soft and crumbly. There was just a hint of orange. If I hadn't known it to be there I'm not sure I'd have noticed it. If I try it again, I might use a larger orange. We all really enjoyed this shortbread and I doubt it will be hanging around too long!