Checkerboard Tarts

Cauliflower and Broccoli Checkerboard Tarts

Wotchers!

This recipe is all about simplicity, and enjoying the delicate flavours of two of my favourite vegetables: beautiful florets of cauliflower and broccoli nestled in crisp shortcrust pastry, delicately seasoned with a light and creamy egg custard.

Underneath the eye-catching exterior, it is a broccoli and cauliflower quiche, but with a slightly different approach and a few minutes devoted to presentation, it can be quite the showstopper.

The pastry base is baked completely, for maximum crispness, the creamy egg filling is poured in and the briefly blanched vegetables are then arranged in a delightful checkerboard pattern. Covering the whole with a tight seal of foil allows the vegetables to cook to al-dente perfection while the custard sets, without becoming discoloured from the heat of the oven. The vegetable stalks, nestled in the creamy filling, cook through perfectly, and the florets gently steam in the resulting moisture, retaining their bright colour.

It can be served warm or cold, as an accompaniment or a side dish. It slices beautifully and thus can be enjoyed as an an usual addition to a picnic hamper.

Cross-section of Checkerboard Tart

Best of all, although possibly not for those of you who love the rigid formality of recipes, it can be made in whatever size and shape you like. Originally, I only planned the large size, but in trimming the florets to even sizes, found myself with numerous smaller, but still perfectly-formed florets, and so made smaller tarts, and even tiny individual ones too.

Small Checkerboard Tart
Individual Checkerboard Tarts

The only limit is how prepared you are for the sometimes fiddly process of arranging the florets. My solution for minimising the Faff™ is to, in the first instance, arrange the florets in the empty pastry case, then remove them in rows and lay them neatly in order to one side, add the filling to the tart case, then lift the florets back into position in rows. Should you have a mishap, and one or more of your florets tumble into the filling, take a moment to rinse off the egg mixture otherwise the overall effect will be spoiled.

A mentioned above, the main enjoyment comes from the delicate flavours, but you could also add other ingredients to the filling, if you’d like to turn up the taste volume.

Checkerboard Tarts

The quantities are, to a large extent, dictated by the size and number of tarts you want to make. The unused vegetables can be stored in the fridge for several days and then steamed for a just five minutes before serving as accompaniments to other meals. Be sure to get the freshest, whitest cauliflower and the firmest, crispest broccoli (the florets should not move when you poke them) for maximum colour and visual impact.

1-2 fresh, white cauliflower
2-3 large florets of broccoli
shortcrust pastry – I prefer my cornflour shortcrust.
egg-white for glazing
500ml low-fat crème fraiche
2 large eggs
salt and pepper

  • Cut the vegetables into large florets and steam for five minutes over boiling water.
  • Put a clean cloth on a baking tray and lay the vegetables on top to cool. Set aside until required.
  • Prepare the baking tin. For the large tart I used a deep spring-form tin and laid the pastry only half-way up the sides. The vegetables also sat neatly inside the sides of the tin. For shallower tins, the vegetables will sit a little higher.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Roll the pastry out to a thickness of 5mm and line your baking tin. Trim the sides to a height of about 3cm. Poke holes in the bottom to let out the steam, using a fork.
  • Line the tin with parchment and baking beads/rice and bake for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the parchment/beads/rice and return to the oven for another 8-10 minutes until cooked through.
  • Whisk the egg-white until frothy, then use a pastry brush to ‘paint’ the inside of the tart with it thoroughly.
  • Return the tart case to the oven for two minutes to cook the egg-white. Set aside to cool.
  • Reduce the oven heat to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Trim the vegetables to florets of even sizes of about 5cm. The exact size will be dictated by the size/shape of your tin. You want them to fit snugly together, to hold their shape.
  • Once the pastry case has cooled, arrange the florets in a pattern until it is full, to ensure you have sufficient florets prepared. You will probably need to trim the stalks to no longer than 3cm.
  • When your tart is full, carefully remove the florets and set them aside in rows, so they can easily be returned to the tart once the filling is added.
  • Whisk together the crème fraiche and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. If the tart is to be eaten cold, be generous with the seasoning, as flavours will be slightly muted when chilled.
  • Pour the filling into the pastry case to within 5mm of the top of the pastry. Arrange the blanched vegetables back into place.
  • Cover the tin tightly with foil and bake until the filling is set. For a large tin, this will be about 45 minutes, smaller tins around 35 minutes and mini tins 25 minutes.
  • Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin(s).

 

 


Rainbow Slices

Rainbow Sponge Sandwich

Wotchers!

Here’s a colourful idea that looks fantastic, and is a doddle to make.

It’s a Lego™ recipe in that I’ve taken a bit from here and a bit from there and smooshed (that’s definitely a word, right?) them together to make me the hero of the school lunch box. Based on the resounding cries of delight they elicited, I decided to use my superpowers for good and share, so you all can be heroes too.

I used the Cream Cakes recipe as a sheet cake, dividing the batter and flavouring half with vanilla and half with raspberry, adding a little food colouring to the raspberry half. Then I made some rice-krispie treats using Rainbow Drops (found in the sweetie aisle), and pressed them into a flat layer one ‘drop’ thick. Cut in half, I then used them, whilst warm, to sandwich the sponge cake. A light pressing while cooling, or afterwards in the fridge and it’s possible to get a fantastically crisp cut through the two contrasting textures.

If they’re still sticky when cool, you can either press on more Rainbow Drops or wrap in rice paper, which is also fun to eat when peeled off, or indeed munched on in situ.

Rainbow Slices

I used raspberry and vanilla for the marbled cake, but you can use any combination you like, or even just go with the one colour/flavour for simplicity.

For the cake

150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125ml cream – double or clotted
150g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
a few drops of raspberry flavouring
burgundy/claret food colouring
1tsp vanilla extract

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a shallow baking tin of approx 20cm x 30cm with parchment.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk (or by hand or stand mixer) until the eggs are frothy and the sugar dissolved – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cream and whisk in.
  • Divide the mixture into two and add the colouring and flavourings to the respective halves
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together then divide into two and fold half into each batch of cake mixture.
  • Drop blobs of the cake mixture into the prepared tin until the tin has an even layer of cake mixture.
  • Swirl the colours together if liked.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes until risen and slightly shrunken from the edges of the tin.
  • Lay a clean cloth over a wire rack and turn out the cake onto the cloth. Set aside to cool.

For the Rainbow Slices

50g butter
150g marshmallows
200g Rainbow Drops + a few more just in case

butter/spray for moulding

rice paper (optional)

  • Lightly grease or butter a silpat sheet on which to mould your Rainbow Slices.
  • Melt the butter in a pan then add the marshmallows and stir over a medium heat until melted.
  • Cook for a further two minutes, then remove from the heat, add the Rainbow Drops and stir to coat.
  • Tip out onto the greased silpat mat. Lightly grease/butter your hands to prevent sticking and press the coated Rainbow Drops into a flat, even layer about 1cm thick, making sure to fill in any holes. It will make quite a large sheet. Cut the sheet in half.
  • Whilst the Drops sheets are still warm, lay the cake onto one sheet, and lay the second sheet on top of the cake, sandwiching it in-between.
  • Put a sheet of parchment over the top of the cake and rest one or two baking sheets on top, just to press everything together firmly as it cools.
  • When cold, wrap in buttered plastic (or add the rice paper and use regular cling film) and transfer to the fridge to chill thoroughly. Continue to press with weights if necessary.
  • When chilled, use a sharp, serrated knife to first trim the edges neatly to reveal the layers, then cut into serving portions.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Picnic Loaves

Picnic Loaves
Wotchers!

In my quest to find tasty recipes for you, I often find myself poking round some odd corners of the internet. Recently, this has taken me to some delightful Russian blogs, where I found this week’s deliciousness.

It is for a flavour-filled picnic loaf, or snack loaf, seen on the left above and is one of the speediest mixings I’ve ever found – you can mix and bake this in about an hour. Additionally, many of it’s components are regular storecupboard or fridge dwellers, making it a snip to bake at short notice. I’ve called it a Picnic Loaf because I suspect the Russian title (Snack Cupcake) lost something in the Google-Translation. I’ve also made it a little healthier by substituting the original sour cream for low fat creme fraiche.

The texture is unusual in that it is incredibly light and tender, even with all the added flavourings, and when toasted, the crunchy outsides contrast deliciously with the soft interior of the slice. It is packed with regular protein – diced cheese and sausage – and texture and even more protein is achieved with the addition of cooked kidney beans, which are a real delight to bite into as well as eye-catching with their red skins and pale interiors.

Initially I was just going to post the one recipe, but then realised it would exclude all the non-meat eaters. Then I thought I could crack a joke by saying “Look, it’ a loaf for everyone: there’s sausage for the meat eaters, cheese for the vegetarians and beans for the vegans” but realised that would be in poor (yet still delicious) taste. So I decided to create a second, vegetarian version. Alas, with the dairy and eggs, making it vegan is a stretch too far, but that said, I’m really pleased with what I came up with, because I think it’s actually more delicious than the original.

Inspired by the addition of the kidney beans, and having a tin to hand, I set about creating something chick-pea based. After much metaphorical pencil-chewing, I was really struggling to come up with replacements for the cheese and the sausage, so I gave up that idea entirely and decided to make hummus bread: not to dip into, but a bread that tastes like hummus. With a little parsley for colour and a couple of trials tweaking proportions, it came out better than I had imagined. And toasted – it’s fantastic.

Sausage and Cheese Picnic Loaf

sausage cheese picnic loaf

You don’t need to be heading out on a picnic to make this, my daughter has been enjoying a couple of slices toasted as an after-school snack.

1 x 400g tin kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 x 200g smoked u-shaped sausage – diced
200g sharp cheese – I used vintage cheddar – diced

3 large eggs
200g low fat creme fraiche
200g mayonnaise
1tsp salt
250g self-raising flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease a large loaf tin. I used this one (IKEA), to give a squarer slice, but a regular large loaf tin is also fine.
  • Whisk together the eggs, creme fraiche and the mayonnaise.
  • Sift together the salt, flour and bicarbonate of soda, then add to the bowl and stir to combine.
  • Add the cheese, sausage and beans and stir briefly to combine.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth over the top.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the tin around and bake for another 20 minutes for a total of 50 minutes.
  • Run a knife around the edges and gently tip the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool. The sides will be browned but not crusty, so handle it carefully whilst hot.

Hummus Loaf

The method is practically the same as the loaf above, but I’ll write it out here as well, to save you from scrolling up and down.

1 x 400g tin chick peas, drained and rinsed.
handful of roughly chopped flatleaf parsley

3 large eggs
100g tahini
50g olive oil
200g reduced fat creme fraiche
50g mayonnaise
1tsp garlic paste
2tbs lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 rounded tsp ground cumin
250g self-raising flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease a large loaf tin. I used this one (IKEA), to give a squarer slice, but a regular large loaf tin is also fine.
  • Whisk together the wet ingredients: eggs, tahini, olive oil, creme fraiche, mayonnaise, garlic paste and lemon juice.
  • Sift together the salt, cumin, flour and bicarbonate of soda, then add to the bowl and stir to combine.
  • Add the parsley and chick peas and stir briefly to combine.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth over the top.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the tin around and bake for another 20 minutes for a total of 50 minutes.
  • Run a knife around the edges and gently tip the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool. The sides will be browned but not crusty, so handle it carefully whilst hot.

 


Three-Ingredient Treats

Salted Caramel Ice-Cream
Wotchers!

Two treats for you today – each one minimalist on ingredients, maximum on deliciousness.

Much as I love creating challenging showstoppers such as the Seven Veils Cake or the Orange Mousse Cake, sometimes a treat that takes just minutes to prepare can be just as gratifying. I’m convinced that the very brevity of their creation contributes greatly to their enjoyment.

So I have two recipes this week that each require only three ingredients – although you can tweak one of them with additional flavourings if you like.

Salted Caramel Ice-Cream

This is a variation on the world’s easiest ice-cream. Home-made ice-cream is divine but alas for me, my kitchen is tiny, measuring just 2m x 3m. With limited cupboard and counter space, I have a strict rule that everything must be multifunctional in order to earn/retain its place and an ice-cream maker is just not feasible – it’s (relatively) large and it does one job, so it’s 0-for-2 right there.

Consequently, when I discovered the joys of the world’s simplest, no-churn ice-cream several years ago, I was delighted. The original recipe called for a tin of sweetened, condensed milk, a vanilla pod and a pint of double cream. Whisked together to firm peaks, you just spoon it into a plastic box and freeze overnight. It needs no stirring to break down ice crystals and when first frozen is almost unbelievably soft to scoop. It will firm up slightly over subsequent days, but it tastes so good, it is unlikely to last that long.

This variation swaps out the original condensed milk and vanilla for the caramel variation that Carnation have been producing for the past few years, and adds a scant teaspoon of sea salt for an absolutely incredible TASTE SENSATION as Peter Kay might put it.

As incredible and fantastic as this ice-cream is, I do feel obligated to point out that the calorific content of this recipe is 4000 kCal, which is the equivalent of a full two-days of regular food intake. A little of what you fancy does you good, inhaling an entire weekend’s worth of calories in one sitting, not so much. Snack wisely, my friends.

1 x 397g tin Carnation Caramel
600ml double cream
0.5-1tsp sea salt flakes.

  • Open the tin of caramel and stir it well, until it becomes loose and pourable. This will make it easier to mix in with the cream.
  • Pour the double cream into a bowl and whisk until it holds soft peaks.
  • Add the caramel to the cream, stirring it with the whisk to combine.
  • Sprinkle in the salt. I recommend under- rather than over-salting. You can always add more salt to serve, but too much at this stage could ruin the whole batch.
  • Whisk the mixture to stiff peaks.
  • Spoon the mixture into a plastic box, cover and freeze overnight.
  • Serve with a sprinkling of salt if liked.

Carrot Rochers
Carrot Rochers

These delightful snacks are the work of just moments to create and can be enjoyed with whatever quantities of ingredients you have to hand as it is one of my favourite types of recipe – the proportional recipe.

You can tweak the flavour of your rochers with the use of additional flavourings – a little lemon juice/zest, or spices from your favourite carrot cake recipe, or just enjoy them as is. They’re a moist and satisfying treat without being overly sweet. I’ve use finely desiccated coconut I found in the Indian food section of the supermarket. Coarser shredded coconut will give a more rustic texture to the finished rochers.

In terms of storage, I have successfully kept a batch in the fridge for a full two weeks.

Boiled/steamed carrots
An equal weight to the carrots of finely desiccated coconut
Half the weight of carrots in caster sugar.
Lemon zest/juice (optional)
Carrot cake spices (optional)

Desiccated coconut for coating

  • Puree the carrots to a smooth paste with either a stick blender or a liquidiser. The stick blender is very useful if you only have a small quantity of carrots.
  • Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
  • Add the coconut and any other flavourings/spices and mix thoroughly.
  • The mixture should hold together when pressed. If it seems a little wet, add more coconut.
  • Use a small ice-cream scoop to portion out the mixture, or do it by hand. Roll into smooth balls about the size of a walnut.
  • Toss the balls in more coconut to coat.
  • Lay the finished rochers on a board and cover lightly with cling film.
  • Chill in the fridge for 2 hours to firm up.
  • Store long-term in an airtight container in the fridge.

Confit Potatoes in Chicken Skin

Confit Potatoes in Chicken Skin

Wotchers!

This recipe is ridiculously tasty given the humble simplicity of its ingredients.

It’s also pretty simple to prepare, although I will concede that the making of the potato parcels is, briefly, a little fiddly.

Seasoned potato straws with a little onion stuffed into pockets of chicken skin which, after 40 minutes in the oven, turn into the most luscious, decadent side dish or snack you could wish for. The skin shrinks around the potatoes, both basting them and becoming crispy in the process.

And that’s it.

And since the more I blab on here, the longer you have to wait before trying these, so let’s get started.

Confit Potatoes in Chicken Skin

Quantities are guesstimate only, because everything depends on how much of the ingredients you have. One reasonably-sized potato will make about three finished parcels. Given the choice, I would recommend the skin from chicken thighs, which are a reasonable size and simple, rectangular shape. I’ve also tried this with the skin from chicken drumsticks – they were fine, and the natural cone shape meant only two sticks were needed for each one, but they were rather fiddly.

chicken skin
wooden cocktail sticks
floury potatoes
onion
salt
pepper

  • Use the cocktail sticks to pin the edges of the chicken skin together, leaving one side open to add the filling.
  • Peel the potatoes and cut into matchsticks. Alternatively, use a mandolin. Try and avoid making them too long, as this just makes stuffing them into the chicken skin more of a challenge. Chop with a knife if they look to be too big.
  • Chop the onion finely and add to the potato. The quantity is entirely up to you. If you’re an onion fan, you could add an amount equivalent to the weight of the potatoes. At the other end of the scale you could use a couple of spring onions or even just snip some chives in. I like to use 1 shallot per potato.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Stuff the pockets of chicken skin with as much of the potato mixture as you can. Press the filling in firmly, to make a tight parcel. Pin the opening closed with another cocktail stick.
  • Arrange the filled parcels on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little salt (optional).
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the potato is soft and the skin crisp and golden.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then remove the cocktail sticks. Top Tip: roll the sticks ‘in situ’ as it were, to  loosen, then slowly draw them out. If you pull on them straight away, they might tear open the parcels, if the skin has roasted itself onto the stick. The parcels will hold together on their own, with the sticks removed, once cooked.
  • Serve as a side dish or snack, with sauce to dip them into, if liked.

Beetroot Rolls

Beetroot Rolls

Wotchers!

I love bread – not that this is some ground-breaking revelation to you all. You only have to look at the huge number of yeast-based recipes on here to see that.

I also love adding stuff to bread. Again, no surprise there – my Ploughman’s Loaf was the first recipe I ever created myself, as opposed to tweaked, and it is still a favourite.

I got the inspiration for this recipe from some rolls I found in a local supermarket – the green one, in case you’re curious – which I thought I could improve. I was looking to achieve a rich, deeply-coloured bread, on the inside as well as the outside. The main ‘problem’, if you could even call it that, with beetroot bread is that whereas the outside of the bread is a gloriously bold burgundy, the inside crumb can be much paler. So I experimented with a few different approaches, and this was the most successful with ready-to-hand ingredients. This is a regular white bread dough, with a little vegetable oil for chew and the rest of the liquid coming from beetroot juice – not pureed beetroot, but juice in a carton. The colour this gives is deep and rich, inside and out, and without the blotchiness that using pureed cooked beetroot can sometimes produce.

The additions can be anything that takes your fancy. I’m very enthusiastic about contrasts in texture as well as flavour so I decided to go with dried fruit and nuts. The traditional nut paired with beetroot is walnut, and it does give a fantastic earthy richness, but once I managed to get the rich colour on the crumb as well as the crust, the only choice for me was pistachio: their bright green making a fantastic pop of colour against the purple dough.

For sweetness I tried a number of dried fruits, and ultimately opted for some seedless green raisins – not as sweet as regular raisins and they match the pistachios. Alternatively, neatly quartered prunes are a nice contrast.

Early combinations I tried included diced beetroot, but ultimately I decided that three added ingredients made the dough too crowded. If liked, I recommend using beetroot instead of the dried fruit. Similarly, omitting the classic pairing of cheese makes these rolls vegan friendly, but use 1cm cubes of your favourite feta or goat cheese instead of the fruit if liked.

You can, of course, shape your rolls into traditional rounds. However, this is tricky when there are additions to the dough as there are here – bits stick out and end up getting burnt in the oven – so an easier and quicker method is detailed below.

Beetroot Rolls

This recipe can be used for

500g strong whte bread flour
5g salt
20g fresh yeast or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
50ml vegetable oil
400ml beetrooot juice

80g shelled pistachios
80g green raisins/prunes (quartered) or 1cm cubes of cooked beetroot

  • Put the first five ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix using the dough hook for 10 minutes on slow, then 2 minutes on high. Alternatively, knead by hand.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. If your dough seems slow in rising, leave it for another 30 minutes.
  • Tip out of the bowl and pat gently to deflate. Shape into a rough rectangle about 2cm thick.
  • Sprinkle 2/3 of the nuts and fruit evenly over half of the dough, and fold over the other half to enclose.
  • Sprinkle over the remaining fruit and nuts over half of the dough, and fold over as before.
  • Gently pat the dough out with your hands until it is 3-4cm thick and cut into roll-sized pieces. I like to use a dough scraper and divide it into rough triangles.
  • Lay the rolls onto a floured baking sheet and cover with clingfilm. Set aside in a warm place to rise – 30-45 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C,160°C Fan.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes (25 if you use beetroot cubes, because of the extra moisture), turning the baking sheet around halfway through to ensure even colouring.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Love Letter Pastries

Love Letter Pastries
Wotchers

Valentines day is just around the corner and here’s a cute and romantic idea that won’t take up a huge amount of your time either making or baking, thereby leaving loads of time for more romantic pursuits.

These Love Letter pastries are made from a sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry, but you can make your own if you prefer. An all-butter sheet will have a great flavour, but other fat/flour combinations can also be surprisingly tasty.

One sheet will make six of these pastries, but since the inside of the roll tends to get a bit squished, I mae just four, and use the offcut for decorations.

The best thing about these pastries is that they are baked without filling, but with a small ball of lightly-crumpled baking parchment inside, to form a pocket for whatever you care to use. As you can see in the photo, I’ve chosen one sweet and one savoury, cold fillings contrasting delightfully with the warm, crisp pastry, but anything goes.

Other suggestions for hot fillings might include caramelised onions, mushrooms and cheese, scrambled egg with smoked salmon, warm fruit compote or apple pie filling with whipped cream.

Love Letter Pastries

1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry
1 egg for glazing
Fillings of choice

  • Cut four (then you can use the best two) squares of pastry from the sheet.
  • For each Love Letter Pastry:

pastryfold diagram

  1. Scrunch up some baking parchment and place it in the middle of the square of pastry.
  2. a, b & c Damp the edges of the pastry and fold the left, bottom and right corners inward, overlapping slightly. Press to seal. Adjust the piece of parchment if necessary so that it can be removed easily.
  3. Prick the remaining exposed pastry to prevent it puffing up too much during baking.
  4. Cut a heart out of the spare pastry and lay it on the place where the corners meet as a ‘seal’.
  • Place the pastries on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • When the oven is at temperature, whisk the egg and glaze the pastry.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 10 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • When cooled, gently remove the parchment and discard. I’ve found the most effective method is to use the handle of a teaspoon to separate the cooked pastry from the parchment first, before trying to pull it out.
  • Fill generously and serve to your loved one.

Make ahead

You can bake these the day before, and store in an airtight container. To warm, place on a baking sheet and put into a cold oven. Turn the heat to 150°C, 130°C Fan for 10 minutes.