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.
Here’s a recipe I came up with for a charity a couple of years ago. Seeing as the weather has been a bit on the brisk side lately, I thought it would be the ideal treat to enjoy all snug and cosy on a Sunday afternoon. Or at 11pm, straight from the fridge. Your call.
It’s a tart of contrasts: crumbly pastry, crunchy oats, rich caramel and sharp apples. I love it!
And with a tin of caramel in the cupboard, it comes together in just a few minutes.
Probably gone is as many, too.
Short and sweet. Like this post.
To the recipe!
Caramel Apple Crumble Tart
112g plain flour
40g icing sugar
zest of ½ lemon
1 large egg
egg-whites for glazing
3 Bramley Apples
1 tin homemade Banoffi Pie filling (method here) or 1 x 397g tin of Carnation Caramel
20g Demerera sugar
60g plain flour
Pinch of salt
40g steel rolled oats
- Make the pastry:
- Put all of the pastry ingredients except the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Whisk the egg, then gradually add to the mixture while the motor is running until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Tip out the pastry and knead a little until smooth.
- Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed tart tin.
- Roll the pastry out thinly, about 5mm.
- Line the tart tin with the pastry, easing it gently into the sides of the tin. Do not trim the excess pastry, but let it hang over the sides of the tin.
- Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Remove the tart tin from the fridge and prick the base of the pastry with a fork, to prevent blistering.
- Line the tin with parchment and pour in some baking beads/beans/rice.
- Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes.
- Remove the tin from the oven and lift out the parchment paper and its contents.
- Return the tin to the oven for another 5 minutes to allow the pastry to finish baking. If the edges of the pastry seem to be browning too much, cover them with foil.
- Brush the inside of the pastry with whisked egg white and return to the oven for three minutes to dry. Set aside.
- Make the crumble:
- Put the butter, lard, sugar and flour into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Tip the mixture into a bowl and stir in the oats and salt. Set aside.
- Make the filling:
- Peel the apples and cut each into 8 slices.
- Remove the core and chop each slice into chunks – about 5-6 per slice.
- Melt the butter in a pan.
- Add the chunks of apple and cook gently over a moderate heat until the apples have softened and any juice has evaporated. NB Bramley apples WILL reach a point where they just collapse in a pile of fluff if you cook them fully. You need to stop before this happens. They will continue cooking in the oven, so don’t worry about making them soft, it’s making sure the excess juice evaporates that is important here, otherwise you’ll get soggy pockets of apple in your tart.
- Add the caramel and stir gently until thoroughly combined and warmed through.
- Assemble the tart:
- Pour the caramel and apple filling into the pastry shell and smooth over.
- Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top.
- If you’ve not already done so, cover the edges of the tart with foil to prevent them from becoming too brown.
- Return the tart to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the crumble topping is crisp and golden.
- Cool in the tin for ten minutes.
- Trim the pastry edges neatly with a sharp, serrated knife, then carefully remove the tart from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
- Serve warm or chilled, with cream.
Welcome to the first post of 2015. Yes, I know I’m a bit slow out of the gate and that January is almost half over, but I’ve got several plates spinning just now *she says, enigmatically* so it’s all going to be a bit ad lib for the next few months, I’m afraid. Bear with.
As a reward for your patience, I have a delicious treat for you to try this week – drowned doughnuts!
Not drowned in gooey stuff, for as you can see from the picture, the most they can boast is a light dusting of caster sugar. The ‘drowned’ relates to the method of making the dough – unusual and bizarre and so ‘out there’ it’s practically left the solar system. But it works. And it’s delicious. And so incredibly light and delicate you won’t believe.
“I can’t believe it!” you’ll cry, as you jam yet another vanilla-scented pillow into your mouth (little finger crooked, of course – we’re not ANIMALS here).
For once this dough is mixed, you cover it lightly with a cloth – or plastic, your choice – and drop it into a bucket of cold water.
Yes. Drop it into water. For real.
It’ll sit at the bottom until the yeast has worked its magic sufficiently, whereupon it will rise like a……*stares blankly into the middle distance for a while* ………. well, a very risey thing, and float on the surface. That’s when you know it’s ready.
None of this tip-toeing around, nervously chewing your lip and wondering
“Is it done yet?”
“Why isn’t it done yet?”
“Is it in a draft?”
“Shall I poke it now? “
“Maybe it’s too hot!”
“Did I kill the yeast?”
“I think I killed the yeast!”
“What about poking it now?”
“Did I poke it too much?”
“Why isn’t it done yet??”
No, none of that palaver here – just weigh, mix, wrap and *splash!*
There’s lots you can do with this dough – and we’ll be coming back to it in a few weeks (although do remind me, because you know what I’m like for getting distracted!), but as an introduction I’d like you to enjoy it elegant simplicity.
If you need any further convincing of the high esteem in which I hold this recipe, let me just say I thought it worthy of using a vanilla pod. In a dough! *lets that sink in*
1 sachet easy-blend fast action yeast
200 g unsalted butter
400 g plain flour
pinch of salt
2 heaped tbs caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
200 ml milk
1 large egg
Milk for brushing
- Put the yeast, butter, flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Tip the mixture into a bowl.
- Put the sugar into a mortar or small bowl.
- Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds to the sugar.
- Using the pestle, or the back of a spoon, stir/grind the sugar and seeds together. This will break apart the sticky mass of vanilla seeds and help distribute them evenly throughout the dough.
- Tip the now vanilla sugar into the flour mix.
- Gently warm the milk to blood temperature, then whisk in the egg.
- Gradually add the liquid to the rest of the ingredients, stirring thoroughly. It will make a soft dough. It won’t matter if you just tip all the liquid in at once and it becomes too soft to mould – just use a ziplock bag for the next stage. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
- Wet a clean tea-towel, squeeze out the excess moisture and lay it on your worktop. Place your ball of dough into the middle. Loosely tie opposite corners of the cloth over the dough, leaving room for it to swell. If your dough is very soft, spoon it into a lightly oiled ziplock bag, squeeze out all the air and seal it shut.
- Place (yes, I know I said ‘drop’ earlier – but I was being melodramatic! I also said bucket, but unless you’ve got clean, food-grade plastic ones, use an alternative.) the dough into a deep bowl or pan of cold water. It will sink to the bottom. Make sure there enough liquid to cover it. You can now safely leave it until it floats to the surface (about an hour).
- Remove the dough from the water and unwrap. You might want to let it drain a little before placing it onto your floured worktop. You can use paper towels to mop up any excess water.
- Gently pat the air out of the dough with the palm of your hand until the dough is 3cm thick.
- Cover lightly with oiled plastic and let it rest for 15 minutes,
- Using a 5cm plain cutter, cut out your doughnuts and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Press the cutter straight down and up again – no twisting, or your doughnuts will rise lop-sided.
- Press any scraps of dough together and pat out again to re-use.
- Cover the doughnuts lightly with cling film and set aside to rise for about 20 minutes while the oven heats up.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160ºC Fan.
- Once the doughnuts have puffed up, bake for 8-10 minutes until well risen and starting to brown on the tops.
- Remove from the oven and quickly brush with milk to keep the crust soft.
- Cover with a cloth and allow to cool till just warm.
- Dust with caster sugar and enjoy.
Here is your 2014 Festive Food Ready Reference page for all your holiday menus!
Click on the text to go to the recipe page.
I hope you all have a fab time and let’s meet up again in 2015 to do it all over again!