Scotch Cookies

Scotch Cookies

Wotchers!

We’re going to start 2020 with a bang – and also biscuits.

OK, so I lied about the bang, but… BISCUITS!

I have been obsessing a little over biscuits of late, and how they are possibly, unjustly, a little under-appreciated in the world of baking.

They have so much going for them! Unlike cakes, tarts, pies and desserts, they have relatively few ingredients, they bake quickly, they small and self-contained – no-one ever had to cut a portion of biscuits. They bake is a short amount of time, they keep well, and you can easily customise them to your own tastes.

“These walnut biscuits are amazing! You should try them.”

“Walnuts? WALNUTS?? What are you saying!?!? I can’t STAND walnuts! Walnuts are an ABOMINATION! I can’t believe you’d even bring the subject up! Walnuts are DEAD to me! YOU are dead to me! Why I oughtta….”

“You could make them with hazelnuts instead?”

“Oh ok – cool. Thanks.”

And there are so many varieties, plain, sandwiches, iced, with fruit, with nuts, with vanilla, citrus, spices… There is one aspect, however, which in my book is NOT up for discussion, and that is a biscuit is CRISP. Non-negotiable. So I’ve gathered together some new and exciting (to me, and hopefully to you too) biscuit recipes to try over the coming weeks.

ANYHOO….

So I’m browsing t’Internet and I find an American article about a Madeleine Moment. Now, if I love anything to do with food, it’s a Recipe With A Backstory™. The recipe was called Scotch Cookies, and originated online in an article about food and memory from 2009,  which had found the recipe in Chebeague Island Cooking published in 1986 by Chebeague Parents Association. The Cushman Bakery in Portland, Maine had made these cookies, but since the bakery had closed in the 1960s, the recipe was sourced for the cookbook by Jean Dyer, who took the initiative to contact the Harris Baking Company (who had bought Cushman’s and along with it, the Scotch Cookie recipe).

*draws breath* But I digress….

I have my doubts about these having any link to Scotland at all, since cookies in Scotland are actually sweet buns (at least according to the 19th/20thC bakery books I’ve consulted – friends north of the border please correct me if I’m wrong), but I decided to give them a go, not least because they are lightly spiced with mace and cinnamon. Mace used to be extremely popular, as did caraway, but both have fallen out of fashion over the last couple of centuries, so this recipe piqued my interest because firstly, the majority of recipes I’ve read pair it with nutmeg, and secondly, use it very sparingly. So to see it paired here with cinnamon and also a full teaspoon of each at that, had me wondering what it would taste like.

The answer is – like nothing I’ve tasted before. In a very, very good way. It is as if the combination of cinnamon, mace and treacle produce something much greater than the sum of it’s parts. Thin and crisp with a delicious flavour and (eventually) a very satisfying crunch. Very moreish.

The texture needed work, especially since I changed the fat from shortening (I’m just not a fan) to butter. As you might have noticed with, for example, an all-butter pastry, the texture loses it’s crispness, so to counterbalance this, replacing a small proportion of flour with cornflour brings the crispness back. Other tweaks included substituting treacle for molasses, and halving both the biscuit size and the recipe as a whole (seriously, who needs so many ginormous cookies in one batch?) but keeping the spice quantities. This resulted in the unfortunate (in my opinion) ingredient of half an egg. I am mitigating this with having a recipe later that also uses half an egg, to prevent waste. Don’t keep the other half an egg ’till then, though – obvs.

After a few more experimental batches I also had to add adding cooking times and temperatures, since the original recipe’s “Bake, but do not overbake.” has to rank as one of the most useless recipe comments I’ve ever read.

Scotch Cookies

Makes about 40 thin biscuits.

140g soft, light brown sugar
115g unsalted butter – softened
80g treacle
½ large egg
150g plain flour
60g cornflour
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp mace
2tbs milk

  • Put the sugar, butter, treacle and egg into  a bowl and whisk until smoothly combined.
  • Sift together the flours, salt, soda and spices and add to the butter mixture and fold in.
  • Add the milk and stir to combine.
  • Lay out heaped teaspoons (15g or so) of the mixture onto some baking parchment and put into the freezer for 30-45 minutes to firm up.
  • When firm, roll into balls (about the size of a large grape/cherry tomato) and lay onto Silpat/parchment-lined baking sheets. NB These will spread quite substantially whilst baking, so space them well apart. I use the inbuilt oven shelves and a Silpat to bake them on, and have just 14 (in a 4-3-4-3 formation) per sheet. I bake 2 batches of 2 trays.
  • Use Wrap the base of a tumbler in cling film and lightly grease it with a little butter. Press the tumbler base onto the balls of dough to flatten.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Baking the biscuits: Now I appreciate that people’s tastes differ, and some of you might like a biscuit that is chewy in the middle and crisp on the edges. No problem. Just bake them for the shorter cooking time. If you’re unsure which you might like best, bake a small test batch of one or two biscuits on separate pieces of parchment (so you can remove the shorter-baked ones easily), allow them to cool and then taste to decide.
  • For crisp biscuits, bake for 12-13 minutes, for chewy biscuits, bake for 10-11 minutes.
  • These biscuits will be thin and very soft when they come out of the oven, so you will need to let them cool on the sheets for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • When completely cool, store in an airtight container.

Updated Christmas Food Ideas

Wotchers!

Here is your 2014  2019 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 2020 to do it all over again!

M-A 😀

Last-Minute Essentials

Christmas Day

Nibbles & Starters

Breads & Side Dishes

Something Sweet

Boxing Day Buffet


Puff Pastry Angels

Puff Pastry Angels

Wotchers!

Time, this week, for some festive baking!

If the mincemeat popcorn wasn’t enough to get you in the mood, these delightful pastry angels are sure to have you decking the halls with boughs of wossname and tra-la-la-la-laaa-ing about. Not least because with these, you’ll have oodles of time for decking and tra-la-la-ing because they have maximum impact with minimal effort and fuss.

All they require is a sheet of puff pastry and a little jam (or filling of your choice). If you’re feeling especially flamboyant, you can gild the lily as it were with some royal icing, but they’re equally delicious unadorned and minimalistic.

Iced and uniced pastries

You can whip them up for breakfast or even offer them as a lighter, vegetarian alternative to mince pies but still with that festive feel. Or swap the jam for my vegetarian/vegan mincemeat and be as jolly as can be!

There’s real joy in these pastries, as much the speed with which they can be assembled as with the simplicity of flavours and contrasts in textures.

Puff Pastry Angels

For 6-8 angels

1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry – treat yourself with a butter version
100g apricot jam

egg-white for glazing
royal icing (optional)

  • Unroll your puff pastry onto a chopping board and pop it into the freezer for ten minutes to firm up.
  • Remove it from the freezer and cut into squares. Depending on the size of your sheet and the size of your squares, you might get as many as eight squares from the one sheet.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • For each square, follow the method displayed in the images below. Text instructions also below.

Pastry Angel Method

  1. Make diagonal cuts in the pastry from the corners halfway towards the middle.
  2. With a pastry brush, dab a little water in the middle and then spoon/pipe a circle of jam.
  3. Take the top right corner of the pastry and fold it down and into the middle. Make sure it’s firmly pressed, to keep it from coming free during baking.
  4. Repeat for the left side, thus making the hood/face of the angel.
  5. Take the bottom right corner of the pastry and fold it up and towards the middle. Press firmly.
  6. Repeat with the left corner, to make the angels arms.
  7. Cut a ‘book’ from the pastry trimmings and dab the underside with water, then press firmly over the joins.
  • Arrange the finished angels on a baking sheet covered with parchment.
  • Brush the surfaces of the pastry with egg-white to glaze. Avoid getting the egg-white on the cut surfaces, as this will prevent them fanning out during baking.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 12 minutes, to help with even colouring. During baking, the layers of pastry will puff up and add a very real sense of feathered wings and billowy robes.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • When cold, ice with royal icing if liked, picking out the details of face, book, wings and robe.

Caramel Popcorn II

Mince Pie Popcorn
Wotchers!

Welcome back to Part II of Caramel Popcorn, (Part I can be found here), in which we learn about zhuzhing our base caramel popcorn into glittering jewels for gifting and treats.

There are, as I see it, three ways to add even more flavours to your popcorn:

  • Bits and Bobs
  • Alcohol
  • Spices

Bits and Bobs
This catch-all term covers just about anything you can think of. Purely decorative options include: hard sugar sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, gold and silver balls, gold stars, coloured sugar. These can be added to the popcorn after baking, when the caramel is still slightly tacky, and left to cool. Larger additions can include dried fruit, candied peels, preserved ginger, etc which can be added during the baking process since, being more substantial, they require more stickiness to ensure they adhere well to the caramel. You could also drizzle over melted, tempered chocolate, once the caramel has cooled, but to be honest, that seems a little over the top to me, given the amount of sugar already in the caramel, but whatever jingles your bells.

Alcohol
Nothing too outrageous, just a little something right at the end of cooking the caramel to give it a little flavour boost. Two tablespoons is my recommendation: any less and it won’t be noticable, and any more and you risk your caramel not setting. Between the hot caramel and the oven baking, there won’t be any actual alcohol left by the time the popcorn is done, but the flavour will add a wonderful touch to your popcorn.

Spices
Whether you pick just a single spice, or go for a riotous mix of several, spices are a simple way to zhuzh up your popcorn batches. There are two opportunities to add spices: in the oil you pop the corn or afterwards as a dusting over the cooked corn. In experimenting for this post, I had also tried adding them to the caramel, just before the bicarbonate of soda, but found the extreme heat of the caramel just scorched the spices and thus reduced their flavour. The oil the popcorn is cooked in doesn’t get as hot, and the lower heat can actually encourage the spices to become more aromatic. For an even richer flavour, use clarified butter or ghee to pop your corn.

Coverage
Before presenting any glammed-up recipe ideas, I want to pause for a moment and talk a little more about coverage. Previously, I spoke about varying the quantity of popcorn to get the coverage of your preference, from a light smattering to full-on candy clumps. Now, I like a light covering to my popcorn, as, usually, the heavily-coated popcorn is too sweet, but here I’m going to recommend a change. When trialling these recipes I found that they actually suit a heavier coverage because, and here’s the odd bit, it leads to one eating less. I mean, the whole batch still gets eaten – obvs! – but the additional ingredients provide a pop of such intense flavour, one or two pieces at a time is enough. Rather like a mint, or piece of fudge with a coffee at the end of a meal. In fact, why not serve your glammed up popcorn that way anyways!

And now – On to some recipe suggestions!

To avoid repetition and making this post a mile long, I’ll only be listing the additions to the base recipe/methods covered in the previous post.

Malt Caramel Popcorn

Malt Popcorn

This popcorn has a gloriously rich colour and flavour. Caveat: you need to like the flavour of malt extract (obvs), otherwise this isn’t the popcorn for you. I described it to my daughter as tasting like strong Maltesers. She tried it, but wasn’t a fan. I, on the other hand, love it. It’s not overly sweet, which is a big plus, and the caramel sets to a wonderful crispness.

Use the Maple Syrup method, using 200g of soft brown sugar and 125g/ml of malt extract for the liquid sugar.  Bake for 20 minutes, stirring it after 10.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

A wonderfully aromatic sweet/salty mix that is sure to appeal to everyone. Bonus: only requires two extra ingredients!

Bacon
Maple syrup

A word or two about the bacon. And those two words are ‘dry cure’.

Dry cure is a method of bacon production that does not involve liquid. Spices, salts and sugars are rubbed over the meat for several days until the meat is cured. Liquid is drawn out of the meat, leaving it compact and firm. Wet brined bacon absorbs moisture as well as the curing salts. The difference is obvious when you cook it – wet brined bacon frequently oozes moisture and milky solids in the pan, whereas dry cure bacon merely becomes crisp in it’s own rendered fat.

You can choose between streaky or back bacon, smoked or unsmoked. I chose 200g of smoked, dry cured, streaky bacon, initially intending to use just some for the popcorn, but I ended up using it all on a single batch.

Clutch the pearls! gif

Yes, I too was surprised. But anything less and there was too little bacon to make any impression. You need to cook/glaze your bacon first, before popping the corn or making the caramel.

  • Cook your bacon in a dry pan (if using streaky bacon) or by adding a little oil if using leaner back bacon, until just cooked and starting to brown a little. The later grilling will crisp it up, so you want it to be just barely cooked at this stage. Overcook it now and by the time it is grilled, it will be brittle and tasteless.
  • Remove from the pan and blot with kitchen paper.
  • Lay the cooked bacon on a parchment-lined pan and drizzle with the maple syrup.
  • Grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn over and grill for a further 2 minutes to caramelise the sugars.
  • Taste, and if the sweet/salt combination isn’t balanced, sprinkle a little salt onto the still-warm bacon.
  • Set aside to cool, then snip into small pieces with a pair of scissors.

Adding the bacon
There are two options – before or after the caramel. I have tried both and, whilst neither is ideal, my recommendation is to add the bacon to the hot popcorn as soon as it is popped. The stickiness of the maple syrup helps it adhere, and if it is a little clumpy (and it probably will be) the motion of mixing/coating the popcorn with the caramel will help even the distribution.

Parkin Popcorn

This flavour combination is based on a luxury parkin recipe I found in an otherwise unremarkable household compendium from 1870. In addition to treacle and ginger, the recipe also boasted lashings of rum, which cemented it’s place in my heart.

Use the regular caramel popcorn ingredients/method with the following adjustments:

  • Solid sugar: Either 200g soft brown, or 100g each of light & dark muscovado.
  • Liquid sugar: 125ml treacle – heat the opened tin gently in a saucepan of water to make it more manageable to pour.
  • Oil for popping: Oil is fine, but clarified butter is also a luxurious alternative
  • New Ingredients
    • ground ginger: Add 1 rounded teaspoon to the oil/butter used for popping the corn to ensure even coverage of kernels
    • dark rum: Add 2tbs into the caramel just before adding the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Optional Extra
    • preserved stem ginger: I just thought of this recently, but didn’t want to delay this post further by waiting for a sunny day to take more photos. Drain from the syrup and chop finely. Sprinkle over the popped corn while hot. I suggest 80-100g, or to your personal taste.

Mince Pie Popcorn

Mince Pie Popcorn

I must admit, this version is my favourite of the glammed-up recipes, because it’s literally bursting with flavour. Not surprisingly, given the number of extra ingredients thrown in, but this guarantees that each piece is a fantastic mix of Christmassy flavours and the perfect gluten-free alternative to pastry pies. If your fruit is too clumped together, tease it apart before the baking stage.

Use the regular caramel popcorn ingredients/method with the following adjustments:

  • Solid sugar: Either 200g soft brown, or 100g each of light & dark muscovado. This will depend on the liquid sugar combo you choose. I used treacle/soft brown.
  • Liquid sugar: 125ml treacle or for a less intense flavour without losing the rich colour, try 60ml each of golden syrup and treacle. As above, heat the opened tin gently in a saucepan of water to make it more manageable to pour.
  • Oil for popping: clarified butter
  • New Ingredients
    • Mince pie spices. Add to the butter used for popping the corn to ensure even coverage of kernels
      • ½tsp ground ginger
      • 1tsp ground nutmeg
      • 1tsp ground cinnamon
      • 1tsp of ground mixed spice
      • ½tsp ground cloves
    • Alcohol – 1tbs each of cream sherry & brandy. Add into the caramel just before adding the bicarbonate of soda.
    • Candied peel: 75g each of candied orange and lemon peel, cut into small (5mm) dice. Toss through the popcorn before coating the caramel.
    • Cranberries: 80g cranberries, cut into halves. Toss through the popcorn before coating the caramel.

Caramel Popcorn

Caramel Popcorn
Wotchers!

Today, my lovelies, after exhaustive testing, resulting in several sacks of delicious popcorn, I have for you the ultimate guide to making your own caramel popcorn.

Back in my day, of course, we called it toffee popcorn, bought it in a shop/cinema and it was made by ButterkistButterkist(rah-rah-rah!).

Well Butterkist are still going strong, and you can still buy their popcorn, but it is more delicious, customisable and cheaper to make it yourself.

This post is, in fact, the first in a two-part popcorn posting, where I plan on covering the basic method and the range of different-yet-equally-delicious tastes you can achieve just with sugar, butter and syrup, to be followed by Part II in which we look at how to customise your popcorn batches even further, with an eye on the upcoming C-word gifting season.

This popcorn is fantastically crunchy, yet dry to the touch, without a hint of stickiness. It is amazing when freshly made, and lasts up to three weeks if kept in an airtight container. It is an easy treat to make at home, yet different enough to give as gifts, especially if you can tailor the flavours to the giftee’s preferences.

So let’s talk ingredients!

Popcorn

Very straightforward to make, just put a little oil into a lidded pan, add in your popping corn kernels, cover and shake gently over medium heat until the sounds of popping stops.

Oil isn’t compulsory. You can absolutely make popcorn by applying heat alone, either in a pan or in the microwave (in a plain paper bag, twisted over at the top) HOWEVER, the oil helps any flavourings, such as salt, stick. Without oil, the salt (or other flavourings) just freefall through the popcorn and gather in the bottom of the bowl. If you want to reduce the fact content of your caramel popcorn, omitting the oil when popping your corn might be an option you choose.

How much to pop?
The recipe I am giving below is quite generous, and could easily be halved, but for the difficulties that would present in accurately measuring the temperature when boiling the sugar mixture. So rather than making life more complicated that way, it is much easier to adjust the quantity of corn you pop, to give a lighter or more dense covering: popping more corn will make for a lighter covering, popping less will lead to a more comprehensive, thicker coating.

The recipe below strikes a balance by calling for 100g of kernels to be popped. Vary this by choosing a quantity between the extremes given below:

  • Reduce to 75g for complete coverage.
  • Increase to up to 200g for progressively lighter coverage, although anything above 150g gets tricky to coat evenly.

Caramel

After trialling numerous combinations, I have settled on the following recipe as the ultimate caramel recipe, not particularly because it is the best (although it is!), but because of how easily it is adapted and customised. For a start, the caramel is a butterscotch, made by mixing sugar and butter and heating it to the ‘hard crack’ temperature of 150°C. Due to the trickiness of working with boiling sugar, adding some of the sugar in liquid form helps keep it from graining and crystallisation.

Butter: Use it. Unless you’re vegan, in which case, coconut oil can be substituted, with the resulting flavour being thusly affected.

Sugar: Here is where the fun begins, because of all the different types and combinations that can be used. The ones I have tried with this recipe include

  • white granulated
  • white caster
  • Demerara
  • Light brown soft/light muscovado
  • Dark brown soft/dark muscovado

The white sugars are fine for a perfectly acceptable, if slightly one-note caramel, but it is in the rich, dark notes of the brown sugars that your caramel can find real depth of flavour. In the picture at the top of this post, the popcorn on the left was made using demerara sugar, the one on the right a 50:50 mixture of dark and light muscovado sugar.

Other options you may like to try, but which I have not (yet!):

  • Coconut sugar
  • jaggery
  • maple sugar
Treacle Popcorn

Treacle popcorn showing light coverage using the base recipe over 150g popcorn kernels

Syrup

Here again is the opportunity to add flavour to your caramel. The syrups I have tried include:

  • golden syrup
  • Dutch schenkstroop
  • treacle
  • maple syrup

If you want the flavours of the sugars to shine, you could go with bland glucose syrup, which would add sweetness and help prevent crystallisation, and no additional flavours. Golden syrup has a rich but mild flavour, very complementary to the brown sugars. The Dutch schenkstroop adds deeper caramel notes, without the bitterness of treacle, and treacle is the ultimate dark, rich-tasting syrup.

Alternatives you might want to experiment with:

  • glucose
  • agave nectar
  • rice syrup
  • date syrup
  • molasses
  • pomegranate molasses

WARNING: I have not tried these other syrups, but if my experiences with maple syrup are anything to go by, some of them might well act differently to regular sugar syrups. I went through countless (ooh, that’s a lie, because I counted every one and it was seven. SEVEN FAILED BATCHES PEOPLE! *cries for the lost maple syrup*) batches before I got it right. See notes on using maple syrup below.

Salt

Even though salted caramel is very much ‘a thing’, even the most buttery butterscotch benefits from adding a little salt, which gives relief from an unremitting sweetness onslaught.

Caramel Popcorn

There are three stages to caramel popcorn: making the popcorn, coating the popcorn and baking the popcorn. This last ensures the caramel sets to a crisp, crackling coating.

The popcorn

100g popcorn kernels
2-3tbs vegetable oil

  • Pour the oil into a large, lidded saucepan and set it on medium high heat.
  • When the oil is shimmering, add the popcorn kernels and cover with a lid.
  • Shake gently back and forth to keep the kernels moving about, and remove from the heat when the sounds of popping ceases.
  • Tip the popped corn into a large bowl and set aside.

The coating

100g unsalted butter
200g/1 cup sugar – all one type or a mixture
125ml/½ cup golden syrup/schenkstroop/treacle – see below for maple syrup
½ tsp salt

½tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp vanilla extract, or other flavouring (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 110°C, 90°C Fan.
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment or preferably a silpat mat.
  • Have your bicarbonate of soda and flavourings measured out and have a large spatula and a large balloon whisk close to hand.
  • Put the first four ingredients in a large pan. I use my preserving pan.
  • Heat on medium heat, stirring, until the butter and sugars have melted together.
  • Stop stirring and allow the mixture to reach Hard Crack on a sugar thermometer, roughly 150°C.
  • The next stage needs to be done quickly.
  • Remove from the heat and add the flavourings and the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Stir briskly with the balloon whisk until the mixture begins to froth, then tip in the popped corn.
  • Using the spatula, turn the popcorn in the hot caramel until evenly coated, by scooping the caramel from underneath and turning it over the top of the corn. The fizzing bicarbonate of soda will make this easier, but the effect won’t last forever, so work briskly, but be careful as boiling sugar is LAVA!
  • Tip the coated popcorn onto the baking sheet and spread out in an even layer. Don’t worry if the popcorn is looking a bit patchy, the baking stage will help even this out.

The Baking

  • Bake the sheet of popcorn for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. The caramel will remain quite liquid for the first 20 minutes, so keep stirring to even out the coverage.
  • Remove from the oven and, while still warm, break up any large pieces.
  • Allow to cool on the baking sheet, then pack into an airtight container when cold – a large ziplock bag is ideal. Be sure to exclude as much air as possible before sealing.

Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn

Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn

Whilst the ingredients for Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn are the same as the recipe above (using 125ml/½ a cup of pure maple syrup as the liquid sugar), the method isn’t suitable. The temperature of 150°C is much too high for the delicately flavoured syrup, and results in a grained and crystallised caramel. Using half maple syrup and half golden syrup was kinda OK< but really quite a thick, heavy coating. My daughter still loved the ‘failed’ batches (just as well, considering how many there were), but I was determined to get a glossy and crisp caramel and as the picture above shows, success! (Eventually).

This method is actually easier than the above, with all it’s faffing around with thermometers and the like. It’s also much quicker. Initially, proceed as for the above recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 110°C, 90°C Fan. Or not. See below.
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment or preferably a silpat mat.
  • Have your bicarbonate of soda measured out and have a large spatula and a large balloon whisk close to hand.
  • Put the butter, sugar (I recommend light muscovado), maple syrup and salt in a large pan. I use my preserving pan.
  • Heat on medium heat, stirring, until the butter and sugars have melted together.
  • Then:
  • Stop stirring and when the mixture begins to boil, allow it to boil for just three minutes.
  • Now:
  • Proceed as above, i.e.
  • Remove from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Stir briskly with the balloon whisk until the mixture begins to froth, then tip in the popped corn.
  • Using the spatula, turn the popcorn in the hot caramel until evenly coated, by scooping the caramel from underneath and turning it over the top of the corn. The fizzing bicarbonate of soda will make this easier, but the effect won’t last forever, so work briskly, but be careful as boiling sugar is LAVA!
  • Tip the coated popcorn onto the baking sheet and spread out in an even layer.
  • Bake the sheet of popcorn for no longer than 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and, while still warm, break up any large pieces.
  • Allow to cool on the baking sheet, then pack into an airtight container when cold – a large ziplock bag is ideal. Be sure to exclude as much air as possible before sealing.
  • Enjoy.

Tune in next time for Part II, where we get all fancy-schmantzy with our popcorn flavours!


Pickle Pasties

Pickle Pasties
Wotchers!

I’m a big fan of minimalist recipes – three or four ingredients that work perfectly together and need no embellishment. So hot on the heels of the recent three-ingredient recipes, I have another recipe which will surprise and delight in equal measure.

As some of you may recall, my search for the delicious knows no bounds, and I frequently find myself on blogs and message boards in far flung places. Recently, it was Russia, where I found multiple variations on a theme of Tasty Stuff Wrapped In Bread Dough™. Amongst them was a version of the recipe I have for you today, with a filling of onion, potato and pickled gherkins.

No, wait!

Come back!

It’s delicious, I promise!!

The potato provides body, the onion savouriness and the pickles both crunch and zing. Using yeast dough instead of pastry keeps it low in fat, although you absolutely can use rich, buttery, puff pastry to add a level of luxury.

I’ve opted for wholemeal flour, but white is also fine, as are any other favourite yeast doughs.

Perfect for packed lunches and picnics, substantial without being heavy, they are also both vegetarian and vegan (depending on your bread recipe). They are also a proportional recipe – another of my favourites – so you can make as much or as little as you like. Perfect for small test batches.

I do hope you’ll give them a try – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Pickle Pasties

risen bread dough
2 parts cooked baked potato (warm)
1 part pickled gherkins (crisp and whole)
1 part chopped onion

  • Remove the cooked potato from the skins and mash. You can use a ricer, but don’t go too fine and sieve it, as the filling needs the bulk of the potato to avoid collapsing during baking.
  • Weigh the potato, and then portion out half its weight in pickled gherkins and onion. Slice the gherkins in half lengthways and each piece lengthways in half again. Cut into 1cm pieces. Chop the onion into similarly-size pieces as the gherkins.
  • Heat a little oil in a pan and add the chopped onions. Sprinkle with a little salt (the pickles are also salty) and black pepper. Cook just until the onions have softened, without letting them take on any colour. Set aside to cool, then mix with the potatoes and pickles. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  • Roll out the dough and fill as you would pastry for regular pasties. Be sure to seal the edges tightly and fold/crimp if liked. Trim off any excess dough and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Poke two vent holes in the top of the pasties with the tip of a sharp knife.
  • When the last pasty is ready, set aside to rise for ten minutes and heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan. The short rise time will help the baked pasties hold the filling snugly: in the heat of the oven, the outsides of the dough will bake first and harden, leaving the only direction for the dough to expand as inwards, around the filling. A traditional-length rise would mean ending up with gaps between the dough and the filling.
  • For a rich, golden colour to your finished pasties, brush the dough ith beaten egg. For a vegan finish, dust with flour, which will help keep the dough from becoming too crusty.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the pasties (small/large), until well browned on top and starting to brown underneath.
  • Wrap in a clean cloth (if a soft crust is preferred – I do) and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Viking Bread

Viking Bread
Wotchers!

I’ve taken a bit of a liberty with the name of this recipe, because it’s based on nothing more authentic than the loaf of bread I tried in France this summer. Over there, it is a staple of the Banette brand of bakeries and I found it very delicious as well as belying it’s rustic appearance by being very light in texture.

I picked up an information leaflet about it which helpfully included, amongst a lot of airy-fairyness about taste journeys and Nordic inspiration, a list of ingredients:

  • wheat flour
  • wheat gluten
  • sunflower seeds
  • barley flour
  • rye products
  • toasted malted barley flour
  • rye and wheat malt
  • yeast
  • salt
  • Decorations:
    • barley flakes
    • sunflower seeds
    • decorticated sesame seeds
    • red millet seeds
    • brown flax seeds

Fantastic, you’d think – specific guidelines for creating a unique blend of flours, grains and seeds. Well, in theory, yes – but practically… not so much. For a while I toyed with the idea of sourcing toasted malted barley flour, rye and wheat malt, and then experimenting with numerous batches to achieve the perfect combination. But when I read the ingredients list on a pack of Granary bread flour, it was a no-brainer.

Decisions, decisions

Me choosing between the task of creating a sword-wielding, nuanced and balanced mix of flours and grains vs grabbing a packet of granary bread flour.

Then there was the mix of seeds. Again, I could have spend time researching and experimenting, and to a certain extent I did. Recently, whilst watching Italian chefs make pizza dough, one of them mentioned adding Cuor di Cereali (Heart of Cereal), a seed mixture available in Italy, which sounded perfect. I sourced it online, however, it is available only in Italy, and whilst it could be ordered internationally, the shipping was going to be a killer. So when I saw the range of seeds available in the supermarket, I was like…

grabbing stuff

Me in the supermarket, carefully making a selection of seeds.

I did, however, take the suggestion from the Mulino Caputo website of adding between 10-20% to your dough mix, so it wasn’t a total bust.

Seed Mix
This is absolutely customisable to what you have available. I make no apology for simply tipping into a large ziplock bag one packet of each of the seeds available at my local supermarket.

My mix comprised the following:

  • 100g golden linseed
  • 100g brown linseed
  • 100g sunflower seeds
  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 150g chia seeds
  • 100g sesame seeds
  • 100g poppy seeds

This obviously makes more than is required for the recipe, but I’m confident you’ll be using it all up in no time with batches of these tasty loaves.

Viking Bread

400ml tepid water
1 tsp salt
500g granary bread flour
20g fresh yeast, crumbled or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
100g seed mix

additional seed mix for coating

  • Put all of the ingredients into your bowl (hand or stand mixer) in the above order, and bring together into a soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes – on Low, if you’re using a mixer, followed by 2 minutes on High.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  • When risen, tip out onto a floured surface and pat gently to deflate.
  • Shape into a rectangle, and cut horizontally in two,to give two baton shapes.
  • Roll and tuck the edges underneath – you should be aiming for a short, fat baguette shape.
  • Take an edged baking sheet and sprinkle over a layer of the seed mix. If you slide the sheet back and forth a couple of times,the seeds will arrange themselves in a neat, thin layer.
  • Using a pastry brush dipped in water, dampen the whole of the upper surface of the loaves.
  • Apply the seed coating: one by one, picking up the loaves and roll them over the layer of seeds in the tray. The seeds will stick to the damp top surface of the dough and fall away from the dry underside. Set the seeded loaves on their uncoated bases on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Cover lightly and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake the loaves for 30-35 minutes until risen and browned, and the base sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Cool on a wire rack.