For me, the appeal of these pretty biscuits lies in the stark contrast between the dry, crumbly pastry and the sweet, sticky filling. It’s like finding a rich oasis of flavour after a dry and dusty trek through the desert!
OK, so I might be pushing the metaphor a bit – it’s a bite into a biscuit, not Lawrence of Arabia rescuing Gasim from the Empty Quarter, but work with me…..
The pastry contains semolina, which gives it it’s characteristic crumble, and the filling – well, that’s pretty much up to you. I particularly like the combination of date and lemon, but you could equally go with prunes, figs or indeed any ‘sticky’ dried fruit. Mince in something complimentary, such as candied orange or lemon peel, or even chopped nuts for a bit of crunch. As long as it holds together, and you like the flavour, anything is possible.
Another characteristic of the pastry is that it will hold a pattern during baking, and I’ve taken the opportunity to play around with my set of fondant crimpers to mark the pastry with a range of designs. Since the rolls only have to be baked long enough to cook the pastry, and no more, the contrast between the paleness of the pastry and the dark interior is one I find very aesthetically pleasing. Of course, you don’t HAVE to use crimpers – anything that will make a mark can be used: toothpicks, mini cutters, jagging wheel, etc. or indeed nothing at all.
The price for all this delight is that the pastry is very delicate, both before and after baking. You will need to be very gentle handling it whilst marking any pattern, and I strongly recommend moving the warm biscuits onto the cooling rack with a thin slice. They are a little more robust once cool, but it is still possible to squish the pattern if you’re a little heavy-handed. Let’s be careful out there!
One final point – to bake the rolls without colouring the pastry, you will need to use a non-fan oven.
For the filling
250g chopped dates
zest and juice of 1 lemon
For the pastry
280g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
40g caster sugar
100 unsalted butter
60ml vegetable oil
1tsp orange blossom water or vanilla extract
- Put the dates, zest and juice into a food processor and blitz to a paste.
- Form the paste into long rolls about 2cm in diameter. Cover with cling film and chill until required. Rinse and dry the food processor bowl.
- Put the pastry ingredients into the clean food processor bowl and blitz until the mixture comes together as a soft dough.
- Tip out and knead smooth, then wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Once the pastry has chilled, roll out between two sheets of cling film, to a thickness of about 1cm.
- Remove the top layer of cling film and lay a roll of the filling onto the pastry.
- Use the bottom sheet of cling film to lift the pastry around and over the filling, wrapping it like a sausage roll.
- Trim off any excess pastry and make sure the roll is laying on the joining seam of the pastry. Trim the ends of the roll off neatly.
- Repeat until all the filling has been wrapped in dough.
- Cut your rolls into even lengths 8-10cm is a nice size both for making patterns on and for eating.
- Mark each roll with patterns – optional – and lay carefully onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
- When all are finished, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge while the oven heats up.
- Heat the oven to 180°C.
- Bake the biscuits for 14-16 minutes, until the pastry is cooked but still pale.
- Allow the biscuits to cool on the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
I love a cooking show (duh!) and I really liked The Taste, with Nigella, Bourdain and Lefebvre, although it seems the powers that be on both sides of the Atlantic don’t share my enthusiasm, as neither the US program not the UK version is currently showing any sign of life. Ho hum.
For anyone unfamiliar with the premise, food was tasted blind, without prior knowledge of who had made it, beginning at audition level and continuing throughout the series. In addition, you only got to serve the judges a single spoon of your dish, so crafting this mouthful from an entire dish was a skill in itself.
Had I ever auditioned, THIS, gentle readers, would have been my single-spoon audition offering.
This has been a very popular meal in our house for a number of years and I’m especially pleased with it as it tastes amazing whilst incorporating one of the dullest ingredients that could ever grace your shopping trolley – turkey mince. Which is CHEAP and LEAN and HEALTHY and so very, VERY dull by itself. Seriously, I nearly nodded off just typing that. However! Zing it up with some bacon, parsley and spring onions and it is a delicious surprise to all who’ve tried it. Literally. I mean, we’re talking almost cartoon-level double-takes after the first bite.
You don’t HAVE to serve it with the barbecue sauce – any spicy sauce will do – but it does marry very well with the other ingredients. Often I like to enjoy them without any sauce at all, just enjoying the mix of flavours. Similarly, don’t feel obliged to go with the noodles and rice – the meatballs make an awesome sandwich in a crusty baguette – ideal for a packed lunch because these meatballs taste almost as delicious cold as hot, as do the noodles and rice. If only there were ever enough left for sammiches…….
Makes about 40 small-ish meatballs.
5 rashers smoked back bacon
500g Turkey mince
4 spring onions – chopped
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs – about 2 slices of bread.
1/2tsp coarse-ground black pepper
4 heaped tbs chopped, fresh parsley, or 2 heaped tbs dried parsley
125ml Barbecue Sauce (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC, 180ºC Fan.
- Put the bacon rashers into a cold frying pan and cook over a low heat until crisp. No additional oil should be necessary as the bacon will give out its own as it cooks.
- Dry the bacon on absorbent paper, then chop finely either by hand or in a food processor.
- Add the chopped bacon to the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
- Use a tablespoon measure or small ice-cream scoop to form the mixture into balls the size of a walnut and arrange them on a baking sheet. NB To keep the meatballs from sticking without having to use extra oil, use a baking mat/sheet of parchment.
- Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, until the meatballs are slightly browned.
- Tip meatballs into a large frying pan and pour over the barbeque sauce. Toss gently over a low heat to warm the sauce through and glaze the meatballs.
Here’s a delicious Deja Food recipe that we regularly enjoy in this house, whenever there is some Tandoori Chicken going spare. That in itself is quite a challenge, since both my husband and daughter love Tandoori Chicken with a passion, so I find myself making gargantuan quantities purely in order to have anything left with which to make Butter Chicken.
Invented at the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearl), one of the oldest restaurants in Delhi, by Mr Kundan Lal Gujral, Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani to give it it’s proper name, was devised as a way of keeping Tandoori Chicken moist and flavourful from one day to the next. The dark, smokiness of the cooked chicken is enriched by the Makhani gravy of spices, ghee, tomatoes and cashews, especially if you can leave them marinading overnight. The recipe below is one that I’ve used for 5-6 years, tweaking slightly to reduce the fat content whilst still retaining the rich flavours of the dish.
I’m not going to tell you how to make Tandoori Chicken, because I’d only be repeating the most excellent words of Madhur Jaffrey. Her recipe appears in Indian Cookery, a well-thumbed copy of which is gradually falling apart on one of my many shelves of cook books, but it is also available online HERE. I’m glad she has stopped advocating the lurid food colouring – it always unnerved me somewhat to see incandescent pieces of chicken on the plate. To get a little more red into my chicken, I add a generous amount of sweet paprika – the Rajah brand here in the UK gives fiery colour without the fiery heat – but since it will ultimately be lovingly enveloped in sauce, I shouldn’t fret too much about this.
A couple of points on ingredients: I strongly recommend hunting out a tin of ghee, as its almost perfumed aroma greatly enhances the dish, and dried fenugreek leaves are a must for that authentic taste. Add hot spices if you like, but I prefer it without.
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger – peeled & chopped
6 fresh chillies, red or green – deseeded
6 cloves garlic – peeled
50g ghee or clarified butter
4 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
3 black cardamom pods (if not available, use 10 green cardamom pods in total)
6 green cardamom pods
1 tbs cloves
4 bay leaves
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – pureed smooth
100 g raw cashew nuts
1-2 tbs honey
1-2 tbs tomato paste
paprika to taste (optional)
chilli powder to taste (optional)
2 tbs dried fenugreek leaves
50 g ghee or clarified butter
60 ml crème fraiche
- Make a paste of the ginger, garlic and chillis by blitzing in a food processor with 4 tablespoons of water until well chopped.
- Melt the ghee/butter in a large frying pan and add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves and bay leaves. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the ginger/garlic/chilli mix and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
- Add the pureed tomatoes, stir thoroughly, then turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and pick out the whole spices or sieve the sauce to remove them. Discard the spices.
- Pour the sauce into a blender and add the cashews, paprika, chilli powder (if using), honey and tomato paste. Puree until thickened and smooth (about 2 minutes). Stir the contents thoroughly and puree again for 30 seconds.
- If you’re making this to freeze, then stop now. Pour the sauce into suitable containers (this will make about 900 ml of sauce – yes, we like this sauce a LOT – and having it in the freezer can bring a meal together in minutes), label and leave to cool before freezing. If you’re preparing ahead, add your sauce to your cooked/cold Tandoori Chicken, stir, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge, otherwise add the chicken and proceed as below.
- To Serve
- Heat gently in a suitably large pan.
- Add the remaining ghee and the dried fenugreek and simmer for five minutes.
- Stir in the crème fraiche just before serving and sprinkle a few more fenugreek leaves as garnish
Serve with plain rice and naan breads (to mop up all that lovely sauce!)
Hope you’ve been good, because here’s a real treat for you – and with no butter AND a hefty wodge of fruit, it’s practically health food!
The secret is prunes – no, wait! Stop! Come back! It’s good, I promise you! Look, it has chocolate and alcohol in it too! *waggles bottle enticingly*
This is similar to the Luxury Brownies of before Christmas, but instead of butter, we have a puree of prunes which not only pairs fantastically with chocolate, it also adds a delicious Squidginess™ to each mouthful, and with a baking time of just 20 minutes, it can be whipped up in a flash.
I’ve soaked the fruit in alcohol to add moisture, but you can just as easily use fruit juice – I suggest orange.
Fat-free Truffle Cake
200g of ready-to-eat prunes
150ml port/madeira/rum/fruit juice
150g 60% dark chocolate
4 large eggs, separated
100 grams of sugar
100 grams of flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
50g 60% dark chocolate
50ml port/madeira/rum/fruit juice
cocoa powder for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Grease and line a 24cm spring-form tin. Alternatively, this quantity will make 12 cupcake-sized servings. NB If you’re wanting to garnish each individual cake with a prune, you’re gonna need to soak more prunes!
- Put the prunes into a small saucepan. Check that the stones have been removed – I always find 1 or 2 that have been missed, even if the bag says they’re pitted. Add your liquid of choice, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Cover and set aside.
- Melt the chocolate over a water bath or in the microwave.. Separate the eggs and stir the yolks into the melted chocolate. Be careful, because the yolks will cook if the chocolate is too hot.
- Pick out 6 prunes for decoration, then puree the rest with their soaking liquid and stir into the chocolate. I fine a stick blender is best for this, as the puree gets really smooth – the small quantity of fruit makes a food processor unsuitable for this task.
- Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.
- Whisk the egg whites until frothy, then gradually add the sugar a little at a time. Whisk to soft peaks.
- Add the whisked eggwhites to the chocolate mix and incorporate fully. This is best done by adding 1/3 of the whites and STIRRING gently with a WHISK. This is better at retaining the volume of the whipped whites than the cutting motion of a spoon using the ‘folding’ technique. The first third will necessarily sacrifice volume, as it will initially be difficult to incorporate the thick chocolate mixture, but the next two additions will stay beautifully billowy.
- Add the flour mixture using the same method – slowly stirring with your whisk until fully incorporated.
- Spoon your mixture into your tin of choice and smooth the top. There’s little rising during cooking, so try and make the surface as level as possible without actually deflating the mixture.
- Bake for 20 minutes if making a single, large cake, 16-18 minutes if making cupcakes.
- Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- When cold, wrap in cling-film and leave at room temperature overnight. This resting will allow all the flavours to mingle and for the prunes to work their magic on the texture. There’s nothing WRONG with eating it immediately, it’s just better if you can wait.
- To serve:
- Boil the milk and pour over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to melt. If it’s not full melted, zap in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to help it along.
- Stir in the alcohol/fruit juice.
- Dust the top of the cake with unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Add the reserved prunes, one per slice – or per cake.
- Drizzle the sauce over the cake, or serve alongside each slice for people to help themselves.
I’m going full-on retro this week, with the tweak of a classic from my days as a bistro waitress, back in nineteen tumpty-tum *waves hand vaguely*
Created in the early years of the 20th century in the United States and named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini, it is usually found on late-December tables made with leftover turkey and a can of condensed soup. *shudder*
This, however, is an altogether more delicate affair with fresh herbs and mushrooms and a splash of wine.
I love this dish for lots of reasons – it’s easy, its versatile, you can cook it from scratch, but it can also be created from cold chicken and cooked pasta, which means it can be assembled in a relatively short amount of time. The sauce – if I say so myself – is AMAZING: I could quite happily eat it by itself. If you’re in a hurry, then it can be served straight from the pan as a pasta sauce – but if you have the time to make it ahead, it can also sit in the fridge in a casserole and then heat through in about 30 minutes when needed, with no need for any further attention.
I don’t usually fuss too much with specific types of ingredients, but for this recipe I strongly recommend using the chestnut mushrooms if possible – other mushrooms tend to turn the sauce a rather unappetising grey. Fresh thyme is also preferable, but 1.5 tsp of dried thyme can be used instead.
The amounts of both chicken and mushrooms can be varied according to taste or availability. Since the cooked mushrooms have a meaty texture, they mix well with the chicken, and can easily make a small amount of chicken stretch to a family meal. The pasta can be any shape, but shells (conchiglie) and twists (fusilli) hold sauce the best. Alternatively, egg noodles are quicker.
300-500g cooked chicken, diced
2 tbs vegetable oil
250-500g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
5 shallots – finely chopped
5 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves – chopped
150ml white wine
1 litre milk- warmed
Up to 4 tsp chicken stock powder (bouillon)
freshly ground nutmeg
A handful of chopped parsley – or more to taste
600g cooked pasta or cook 450g of dry pasta.
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
- Put the diced chicken into a bowl and set aside.
- Melt the butter and oil in a large pan.
- Add the mushrooms and cook over a medium heat until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms become pale golden. This will take about 10 minutes.
- Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme, and cook until the shallots soften and become translucent.
- Stir in the wine and simmer until it has evaporated, then add the mushroom mixture to the chicken.
- Melt the butter in the now empty pan and scatter in the flour to make a roux for the sauce.
- Stir the mixture for 3-4 minutes to cook the flour, then remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time. NB – removing the pan from the heat while adding the milk will help reduce the chances of lumps forming.
- When all the milk has been added, return the pan to the heat and continue to stir while the sauce comes to the boil and thickens.
- Gradually add the bouillon powder, tasting between each addition to make sure it’s not becoming too salty.
- Finally add a good grating of nutmeg and the parsley.
- If you’re eating immediately, add the chicken mix and pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Turn the heat to low and let simmer gently while everything heats through. When thoroughly warmed, serve in bowls with a side salad or vegetables – broccoli and cauliflower go well .
- To serve later, turn off the heat once the sauce has thickened. Allow to cool before stirring in the chicken mix and the cooked pasta. Pour the mixture into an oven-proof dish.
- Mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Cover with foil and refrigerate.
- To serve, put the dish onto a baking sheet (in case the sauce bubbles over) and put in the oven.
- Turn the oven on to 180ºC, 160ºC Fan and allow to warm for 25-30 minutes, or until the dish is thoroughly heated and the sauce bubbling.
- Remove the foil after 20 minutes so that the topping can become crunchy and brown.
Peas go very well with this recipe, either as a side dish or stirred into the sauce itself.
Turkey – This is equally amazing when made with turkey – a welcome standby to have when faced with mountains of Christmas leftovers.
Vegetarian – just omit the chicken and increase the amount of chestnut mushrooms to 1kg. Use vegetable bouillon powder when making the sauce.
Pasta – consider using long, flat pasta such as linguini.
A few weeks ago, I wandered across a video featuring the French chef Jacques Pépin preparing a three-course meal. Amongst the recipes was this no-knead bread, mixed/proved and baked in just one pot. Now I love a gimmicky shortcut as much as anyone, so I was keen to give this a try.
A key detail of Jacques’ method, is that he uses a non-stick saucepan. I don’t have a non-stick saucepan, so I thought I’d improvise with my cast-iron casserole. It was not a success. Smooth and unblemished as the inside of my glazed casserole might be, non-stick it is not. The dough stuck like a very sticky thing. I had to cut the – admittedly quite airy – loaf out, then soak the casserole for several hours until I was able to chisel off the rest of the crust.
Tempting as it was to dismiss the whole thing as a gimmick, I still yearned for something that appeared so simple and fuss-free. I love the no-knead bread revolution begun by Jim Lahey, but it requires such odd AND long timings. If I want some Jim Lahey no-knead bread for lunch, I have to start the previous day at about 3.30pm, and then find somewhere for this bowl of fermenting goo to sit, undisturbed, for the optimum rising time of 18 hours. I never seem to remember this in time – I remember at suppertime, or bedtime or any time that’s not the right time, whereas Jacques’ seemed so simple: Mix at night, bake in the morning. Another aspect of Jacques’ method that appealed was the pan that went from fridge to oven. Jim Lahey’s method involved heating your oven AND casserole to its roaring maximum, and then transferring the resting but incredibly lithe dough into this almost unbelievably hot pot and getting it back into the oven without losing any heat. I’ve lost count of the number of burns sustained at this point of the recipe – but Jacques didn’t even use an oven glove!
So I persevered with trying to make Jacques’ method work with what I had to hand and this is the result. It is an adaptation of the best bits of Jim Lahey’s and Jacques Pépin’s methods, and just to add some original content, I decided to test it on a range of flours. I was also stuck for a name, and some followers on Twitter were kind enough to answer my call for suggestions:
- Sleeping One Pot Bread (Ben)
- Pain Nocturne, Pain Dodo, Ubernachtsbrot (Dr Dan)
- Slumber Loaf (Joe)
- Pajama Pain, Duvet Dough (Adam)
- Chillax Dough Bake (Mojo)
- All-in-1 no-knead overnight bread, Effortless come to bed bread (Jan)
- Dozey Dough (Tipsy)
which just goes to show how much more creative everyone is than me. :D
Ultimately, I had to abandon the ‘all in one pot’ aspect, due to the aforementioned lack of non-stick saucepan, but if you have some, then go for it!
When I tried this method with different flours, I was pleasantly surprised at the results, mostly because it was the stoneground wholemeal flour that produced the loaf that rose the best – see below for side-by-side results.
Obviously, the gluten-free loaf requires more work, so we will draw a discreet veil over that particular bake. On the plus side, I have a new door-stop! That aside, the textures inside the other three were impressive – see below.
Rather than write three versions of this recipe, just follow the measurements for the type of flour you are using.
600g white bread flour/ brown bread flour/stoneground wholemeal bread flour
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
700ml/800ml/900ml warm water
- An hour before you go to bed, put the ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine. It will make a very sticky dough bordering on a batter.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for 1 hour.
- Grease a heavy casserole with a close-fitting lid.
- When the hour is up, stir the batter/dough vigorously with a wooden spoon to knock out the air, then pour the dough into the greased casserole. If you’re very tired, you can do this after only 40 minutes.
- Cover with the lid and put in the fridge overnight. I have, when short of space in the fridge, put the casserole outside on cold nights, with no ill effect. The heavy lid prevents anything untoward happening to it.
- Next morning, after 10 hours, remove the casserole from the fridge (or bring it in from outside). Leave the lid on.
- Preheat the oven to its highest setting, about 220°C, 200°C Fan
- When it’s hot enough, put the covered casserole into the oven for 45 minutes. The lid will contain the steam, increase the heat inside the casserole and make the bread rise into a dome – Jacques’ loaf was baked lidless and consequently comes out rather flat.
- After 45 minutes, remove the lid of the casserole and allow the top of the loaf to brown for 5-10 minutes. No need for a baking sheet, the hot bars of the oven shelf are fine.
- Tip the loaf out of the casserole and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes to crisp the crust, if it seems to require it.
- Cool on a wire rack.
It’s that time of year again, where heart-shaped food is everywhere, and this dessert suggestion is no different. Valentines Day falls on a Saturday this year, so I’ve gone for simplicity in that there’s no actual baking involved, thereby freeing up the rest of the day for a constant stream of romantic gestures. It’s also not the original recipe I had planned for you, but that other one, although unusual, simple and delicious, delicately plucked from the fading pages of a centuries old manuscript…. involved peeling 20 grapes and who needs that kind of stress on the weekend???
This is basically a refrigerator cake with a posh frock on, where frock = booze, although you can use orange juice/zest if you prefer. A quick dip in some melted chocolate, a sprinkling of freeze-dried strawberry powder and it looks quite the picture of elegance.
This quantity makes two, admittedly quite thick, hearts. I initially made them thinner, but promptly got into all sorts of bother/mess trying to dip the tops and bottoms in the chocolate and still keeping them looking neat and well finished. So for ease of dipping, I’d recommend making just two – after all, you don’t have to eat ALL of it in one go and a Valentine token for your beloved isn’t supposed to require a batch bake!
You won’t need all of the chocolate, but using this amount makes dipping easier. You can keep any excess for use in other recipes.
125g Rich Tea biscuits (about half a packet)
30g softened butter
30g caster sugar
15g cocoa powder
60g dark fruit conserve or jam – cherry, raspberry, damson, etc.
2tbs port, fruit liqueur, or zest/juice of an orange
200g dark (60% cocoa) chocolate
20g vegetable oil
freeze-dried fruit powder
- Break the biscuits into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles crumbs. Because that’s exactly what it will be. Tip into a bowl.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and either mix by hand, with a spoon, or with a stand mixer fitted with the standard paddle.
- It should come together quite easily, and hold together when pressed. Tip out onto a silicone mat (it will be rather sticky).
- The easiest way to form the hearts is to divide the mixture into two and press it into a heart-shaped biscuit cutter.
- Once the mixture is packed tightly, a gentle press will ease it out of the mould.
- Carefully wrap the two hearts in cling film and place in the freezer for at least an hour, or overnight, whichever is most convenient.
- Break the chocolate into a bowl and melt, either over hot water or in the microwave in 1 minute bursts, stirring after each minute.
- Add the oil and stir thoroughly.
- Remove the frozen hearts from the freezer and unwrap. Lay a sheet of baking parchment or silicone baking sheet next to the bowl of chocolate for putting the hearts on, to set.
- Dip the top of each heart into the melted chocolate about 1cm. Lift it out and turn it on its side, letting the excess chocolate run off the side, leaving the surface smooth and even. When it has stopped dripping, turn the heart upright and set onto the baking parchment. The coldness of the biscuits will cause the chocolate to set within a minute.
- When firm, carefully lift the hearts, keeping your fingers away from the chocolate top, to avoid smudging. Dip the bases. Set aside to cool completely.
- Decorate with freeze-dried powder sprinkled inside a mini heart-shaped cutter, or make a ribbon by laying two sheets of paper across the chocolate heart and sprinkle the fruit powder between. Carefully remove the sheets and shake the excess powder back into the sachet.