No-Bake Christmas Cake

No-Bake Christmas Cake

Wotchers!

A rich, fruited cake at Christmas is traditional: crammed with dried fruits, candied peel and spices, and liberally doused with alcohol, before being encased in the equally traditional marzipan and white icing.

Delicious.

But there’s a huge elephant in the room when it comes to Christmas Cake recipes which no-one ever seems to mention – and that is the lengthy, fretful and agonisingly nerve-wracking extended baking time. And it IS just as stressful as it sounds, because the cake ingredients are not cheap, and so any mishap is going to prove expensive. If the oven is too hot, the outsides of the cake will burn and any exposed fruit will char to bitterness. If the oven is too cool, there’s a real risk of the inside of the cake ending up anything from gummy underdone-ness to out and out raw – and this is only likely to be discovered when the first slice is cut. And even if it is baked properly, failure to maintain sufficient moisture in the form of soaking it in alcohol between baking and consuming will result in an overly dry cake of sawdust texture. Not to mention the expense of having the oven on for so long.

So here I am, not just mentioning the elephant in the room, but naming/shaming/kicking it out.

Because this recipe requires no baking at all, and will only take maybe 15 minutes of your time.

Essentially, this is a fridge cake, with the wonderfully festive mix of fruit, spices and alcohol held together with biscuit crumbs and a little butter. It certainly looks the part and, as the photo demonstrates, it cuts beautifully – I do so love a clean, sharp slice! The biscuits should be Rich Tea – the rest of the ingredients need their dryness and plainness in order their flavours to shine. Sidebar: how much of a misnomer is Rich Tea? They’re the un-richest biscuit out there, just one step up from a water biscuit, and no hint of the taste of tea at all. Nevertheless, when you need a plain ‘canvas’ on which to display your more exotic ingredients, they can’t be beaten. NB Although breaking the biscuits into pieces is fine for recipes such as Chocolate Salami, the biscuits here should be blitzed to fineness in a food processor. This fineness is key in ensuring your cake holds together well with no unsightly air pockets, so please take the time over this one detail. Be more Edna.

Edna says: No Lumps!

ANYHOO…

Back to the cake. The texture is actually very close indeed to that of a well-moistened traditional cake, but the taste is extraordinary. In bypassing the hours and hours in the oven, the flavours of the fruit, peel and nuts are bright and fresh with no hint of dryness or burn. The alcohol is also more prominent, so if you’re planning on it being offered to children, perhaps reduce the quantity and substitute apple or pear juice to make up the overall amount of liquid.

There is also the freedom to make the mix of fruit, peel and nuts just to your liking. I don’t like angelica – or at least, the lurid dyed-green angelica found in the shops, so I don’t add it in. Glace cherries might be your absolute bête noir, in which case leave ’em out. As long as the overall weight is observed, the proportions can be made up of whatever you like. The mix below gives a ‘traditional’ flavour, but you could also choose a mix of, for example, dried mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut ribbons and white rum for a tropical flavour. The same goes for the spices. You might like them to be a little more robust that the quantities given. You’re only limited by your imagination. Go wild.

No Bake Christmas Cake

These quantities make a small, round, family-sized cake of diameter 15cm and a depth of around 5cm. A tin of larger diameter will result in a shallower cake. If you’re catering for only a few, consider halving the recipe and perhaps using a square or loaf tin for easier slicing, or even pressing the mix into cupcake or deep tart tins for mini individual portions.

For a Gluten-Free version, substitute GF Rich Tea biscuits.

For Vegans: Substitute the butter for the fat you prefer. It should be one that is solid at room temperature.

60g prunes – chopped
60g mixed, candied peel – chopped
75g raisins
75g sultanas
75g glace cherries – halved or quartered
1/2 nutmeg – grated
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 rounded tbs liquid sugar[1]
80g unsalted butter
75ml alcohol – a mix of cream sherry and brandy is nice, or 25ml each of these plus dark rum. Substitute fruit juice if preferred.

75g walnuts – chopped
250g fine Rich Tea biscuit crumbs

  • Put everything except the nuts and the crumbs into a pan.
  • Heat, gently stirring, until the butter has melted and the fruit is warmed through.
  • Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to allow the fruit to plump up (30 minutes-1 hour).
  • Put the nuts and crumbs into a bowl.
  • Add the cooled fruit mixture and toss to combine. The mixture should now resemble damp sand, and stick together when pressed. Adjust spices if necessary, and add more crumbs/alcohol/juice if required.
  • Line your tin with plastic film.
  • Pour in the mixture and press flat. I find the base of a glass tumbler is excellent at achieving a smooth surface.
  • Cover the top with plastic film and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.
  • Decorate with almond paste and icing as per a traditional cake.

 

[1] Ooh, a footnote! Haven’t done one of these in ages! The liquid sugar can be whatever you have to hand: honey, golden syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, treacle or molasses if you’d like a dark cake, glucose if you don’t want to add another flavour to the mix.


Mini Christmas Puddings

GF Xmas Pudding
Wotchers!

Well, friends, I’m afraid it’s that time of year where we must turn our thoughts to next month’s festive season. As menu planning seems to get earlier and earlier each year, if I am to SURPRISE and DELIGHT your festive table, I need to be even more ahead of the game, so here we are.

I like traditional Christmas Pudding. I like its dark richness, studded with jewel-like fruits, crunchy nuts and tangy peel. I like its dense nature and the accompanying wide choice of accessories with which you can adorn your plate: pouring cream, whipped cream, clotted cream, custard, white sauce, brandy butter, rum butter…

What I’m not so keen on is facing it after a comprehensive but daunting Christmas Day lunch with all the trimmings, after a morning that has invariably involved snacks both sweet and savoury. By the time pudding is served, no-one usually has the energy or the inclination to do it justice.

So what I have for you here is an alternative. Something that satisfies the craving for the traditional flavours, without the, lets not deny it, heaviness of a traditional pudding. Just look at it! ”Bejewelled” is not an exaggeration, especially when served on a sparkling glass dish. As a bonus, it doesn’t involve any heavy mixing and steaming and re-steaming.

GF Xmas Pudding with nutmeg for scale

Mini Xmas Pudding with nutmegs for scale.

A riotous mix of dried fruits, nuts and peel is macerated in alcohol (not compulsory, fruit juice is absolutely fine), then set in a tangy, lemon jelly in little moulds. The flavours stay bright and fresh, the portions are small, and tradition can still be observed. The jelly acts as a palate cleanser, really waking up the tastebuds in preparation for the ensuing onslaught of nuts, chocolates and drinks as the rest of the day trundles on. It’s gluten-free and can also be vegetarian/vegan with the use of appropriate setting agents for the lemon jelly.

half-sphere mould

I used a silicone mould like this. It’s known as a half-sphere or hemisphere mould. Each shape is of diameter 55mm. It is the perfect size for individual desserts and one of my most used silicon moulds.

Mini Christmas Puddings

These quantities make eight mini puddings. You may have a little lemon jelly left over, but just set it by itself for a delicious, refreshing mouthful.

40g prunes, diced fine
40g sultanas
40g raisins
20g currants
40g candied peel, diced fine
40g glace cherries, each cut into 8 pieces
20g preserved ginger, chopped
20g flaked or slivered almonds
80ml cream sherry or apple juice

Lemon Jelly
2 sheets gelatine (or vegan/vegetarian alternative)
2tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2tbs caster sugar
150ml water

  • Mix the fruit and nuts and pour over the sherry/juice. Leave to soak for 2 hours. If, at the end of this time, the fruit hasn’t absorb all of the liquid, try zapping it briefly in the microwave to warm it through.
  • Put the mould onto a baking sheet or tin to give it stability. Spoon the mixture into your individual moulds and smooth over.
  • Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water for 10 minutes.
  • Heat the 150ml of water in the microwave or in a pan, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until dissolved. Adjust the taste with more of either or both as liked.
  • Squeeze the gelatine sheets free of excess water and add to the lemon syrup. Stir until dissolved.
  • Pour the lemon jelly into each mould, allowing the jelly to seep between the fruit and fill all the little gaps. Tap the baking tray lightly onto the work surface to get rid of any air bubbles and add more jelly as required.
  • Lay a piece of cling film lightly over the surface on the mould, to prevent evaporation, and chill in the fridge for 4-6 hours until firm.
  • To serve, loosen the jellies by standing the mould in hot water for 10-15 seconds before turning them out.
  • Serve with cream and/or brandy butter.

Paradise Slices

Paradise Slices

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something glu…ten-free

Wotchers!

Bit of a bumper-fun bonus this week, with not one, not two, not three but FOUR recipes, each named Paradise Slice. Initially I was just going to make a post with two contratic recipes, but I got a bit carried away.

It all started with me reading a recipe in a small, vintage paperback pamphlet from the S.W.R.I. of Shapinsay, in Orkney. Their Paradise Slice comprised a rich, almond sponge, studded with dried fruits, candied cherries and baked in a shortcrust pastry case. Lovely, I thought. Baked it, and decided it needed tweaking a little, so made it again, this time with my crisp, cornflour shortcrust, which makes for a delicious contrast with the rich, buttery almond sponge, and also swapped in some confit fruit I’d bought on holiday in France.

Then I discovered a much-requested Paradise Slice in the Los Angeles Times, which was very different indeed: dark, rich, chewy and studded with pecans. Lovely, I thought – right up until I read how many calories it had per serving. So I did some tweaking and also reduced the batch size, making a slice now only 200 calories as opposed to, originally, over 500.

Then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t forget people with gluten intolerances. So I adapted a recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine that used as its base a mixture of popcorn and rice cereal. With a few more tweaks I managed to get each slice of this particular paradise down to less than 100 calories. Lovely, I thought.

Finally, being inspired by all these delicious contrasting bakes,  I decided to create my own Paradise Slice. I wanted it to have similar tropical ingredients, but be a different texture and flavour experience. I took the topping from the Hungarian Cheesecake and added lime and orange zest and juice, because the acid in the citrus juice reacts with the condensed milk to make a cheesecake-like mixture without all the faff. I mixed in some crushed pineapple and desiccated coconut and also stirred through a little creme fraiche for sharpness. I poured this onto the base from the L.A.Times recipe and left it to set in a cooling oven before chilling in the fridge. The result is fantastically tropical, fresh-tasting and not overly sweet.  It cuts beautifully, as the coconut takes up excess moisture as it sets in the oven, and can be enjoyed as a dessert or as an accompaniment to coffee. Best of all, it too is a storecupboard recipe, especially if, like me, you have a bag of Seville orange zest/juice cubes in the freezer (I cannot recommend this highly enough, so useful to have their tangy, bitter/sharp flavour on hand throughout the year).

Bloody lovely, I thought!

Shapinsay Paradise Slice – Makes 16 slices

Shapinsay Paradise Slice

The original recipe called for sultanas, raisins and glace cherries in equal measure. Nowadays we have a much wider selection of preserved fruit, so I heartily encourage you to go wild with whatever combination you fancy – mango, papaya, apricots, candied peel – whatever seems like paradise!

Cornflour shortcrust pastry – recipe here

115g unsalted butter – softened
115g caster sugar
2 large eggs
60g self-raising flour
60g ground almonds
a little milk for mixing

100g dried/candied fruit
2tbs cornflour

4-5tbs jam – I suggest apricot, but anything slightly sharp will be suitable also.
1tbs caster sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Roll the pastry out thinly (3mm) and line a greased (and lined if liked) baking tin of dimensions roughly 18cm by 28cm. Prick the base with a fork.
  • Line with baking paper and beads/rice and bake for 12 minutes.
  • Remove the baking paper and beads/rice and bake for a further 8 minutes for a total of 20 minutes.
  • Brush the hot pastry with jam and set aside while the rest of the filling is prepared.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Toss the fruit in the cornflour until thoroughly coated. Tip into a sieve to remove the excess cornflour.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well each time.
  • Fold in the flour and ground almonds.
  • Stir in a little milk until the mixture is of a dropping consistency – that is, it drops freely from a spoon.
  • Spread half od the mixture over the pastry case.
  • Stir the fruit into the remaining half of the mixture, then drop in spoonfuls over the plain mixture. This method will help prevent the fruit immediately sinking to the bottom of the sponge.
  • Smooth over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sponge is springy to the touch and nicely browned.
  • Sprinkle over the caster sugar whilst hot.
  • Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
  • When cold, slice into serving portions with a sharp knife.
  • Store in an airtight container.

San Diego Paradise Slice – Makes 16 slices

San Diego Paradise Bars

Adapted from the recipe of Bread & Cie, printed in the L.A.Times.

For the base
85g unsalted butter
85g wholemeal flour
75g dark muscovado sugar

For the topping
200g dark muscovado sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
20g wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
100g unsweetened desiccated coconut
125g pecans

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put the base ingredients into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla until creamy (about 5 minutes).
  • Stir in the flour mixture, the coconut and the pecans.
  • Pour this mixture over the base and smooth over.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes until set.
  • Cool in the tin.
  • When cold, cut into 16 bars,.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Popcorn Paradise Slice – makes 32 gluten-free slices

Popcorn Paradise Slice

This paradise slice is a variation on the rice krispie bar but with the added flavour of popcorn. I’ve decided to use air-popped popcorn, to reduce both the sugar and fat content. Air-popped corn uses no fat in the pan, just the heat from the stove to make the corn pop. I also tweaked the original recipe to include more fruit. The quantities below are to be seen as guidelines only – use whatever mix of fruit and nuts takes your fancy, just keep to the overall weight of fruit/nuts to no more than 250g.

75g popping corn
75g gluten-free rice cereal
200g mixed, tropical fruit
50g coconut ribbons
300g marshmallows
50g unsalted butter

  • Put the popping corn into a clean, dry saucepan and cover with a lid.
  • Put the pan over medium heat and shake it vigorously to keep the kernels from burning before they pop.
  • When all the popping sounds have ceased, tip the popped corn into a bowl to cool. Wipe the pan with a clean cloth.
  • Pick out any un-popped kernels.
  • When cool, add in the rice cereal, fruit and nuts and mix thoroughly.
  • Line a large baking tray (24cm x 36cm-ish) with foil and grease lightly with either spray or butter.
  • Put the marshmallows and butter into the pan and heat gently until both have melted. Stir thoroughly.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the pan and stir well, ensuring as even a coating as possible for all of the ingredients.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly. If you prefer to use your hands, cover the mix with some greased cling film first.
  • Chill in the fridge until completely cold, then cut into 32 fingers.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Coconut Pineapple Paradise Slice – makes 16 slices

This is possibly the easiest, in terms of effort, of all four recipes, as it is mostly just letting the oven or the fridge do all the work.

Coconut Pineapple Paradise

It is another of my Lego™ recipes – stick a bit of recipe A onto recipe B, add a little something-something and, as Jeff Goldblum would say…

You can use any two citrus fruits you like, but I don’t recommend two of the same, as then they tend to gang up on the other ingredients and overpower them. And definitely not two Seville oranges – the bitter is too much for the pineapple. I’ve also tried this with fresh pineapple for an even fresher taste, but the juice content didn’t allow it to set as firmly as I’d have liked. Were I to try this again, I’d sprinkle the chopped pineapple with sugar to help draw out as much moisture as possible.

For the base
85g unsalted butter
85g wholemeal flour
75g dark muscovado sugar

For the topping
1 x 400g-ish tin crushed pineapple in juice
1 x 400g-ish tin sweetened condensed milk
100g low fat creme fraiche (or thick sour cream)
zest & juice of 1 lime
zest & juice of 1 orange – Seville if you have it
100g dessicated coconut

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Open the tin of pineapple and tip it into a sieve over a bowl. Leave to drain for about an hour – you want as much of the juice to drain out as possible.
  • Mix the condensed milk, creme fraiche and citrus together and stir thoroughly.
  • With a spatula, press the pineapple firmly to extract as much juice as possible. Yes, even after an hour’s draining. Repeat several times as necessary. When no more juice can be squeezed from it, add it to the condensed milk mixture and mix well.
  • Finally, stir in the coconut and set aside until required.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put the base ingredients into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.
  • Pour the filling over the cooked base and smooth over.
  • Return the tin to the oven and switch off the heat.
  • Leave the tray in the now cooling oven for two hours, then remove and leave to cool, if necessary.
  • Finally, chill thoroughly in the fridge (probably another 2 hours).
  • Cut into slices and serve.
  • Store in the fridge either covered or in an airtight container.

In case you missed it: This week over on DejaFood – Apricot Dream Slice


Frozen Fruit Cake

Wotchers!

Mention fruit cake in conversation and many people’s eyes will glaze over at the image of dark, heavy, dried fruit cakes of wintertime, but with this recipe you can make a light, fresh, sponge cake with a burst of freshness in every bite.

Regular listeners will recall my long quest for the perfect Apple Cake, as detailed in (shameless plug) MY FIRST BOOK – and the proportional recipe I found proved not too wet or heavy, lightly cakey, and with a real flavour of the fruit shining through.

This is the soft fruit version of that cake and has the added versatility of being able to be used as a base recipe for lots of different kinds of soft fruit.

It is adapted from a recipe for Blackcurrant Cake in Mrs C.F.Leyel’s Cakes of England (1936)¹. The original recipe called for fresh blackcurrants, but in the 21st century, not as many people have their own fruit bushes, or even access to a PYO fruit farm.

What we DO have access to is frozen fruit, picked and preserved within hours to maintain their quality. As well as bags in supermarkets, many farm shops also have ‘scoop your own’ fruits and berries in their freezers, to which you can help yourself to as much or as little as you like.

Whilst the cake in the above photograph is, indeed, made with blackcurrants, my experiments have confirmed that this recipe can be used with a whole range of soft fruits, and those fruits can be fresh, frozen or even canned.

The fruit makes this cake lovely and moist, and the sweetness of the cake itself contrasts deliciously with the sharp bursts of flavour from the berries. Due to the high levels  of moisture, it is not a cake that should be baked in a deep tin, as this runs the risk of being undercooked and having soggyness in the middle. A relatively shallow square tin, or traybake is ideal.

A further insurance against a soggy cake is to toss the fruit being used in a little cornflour. During baking, the cornflour will thicken any fruit juices that are released and prevent them from flooding the rest of the cake, and the cunning division of the dough means that your fruit will be evenly distributed throughout the finished cake, no matter how plump and juicy it might be.

Bonus: This cake is delicious as is, but can also be served warm as a pudding with a little cream or custard.

Frozen Fruit Cake

Mrs Leyel’s instructions begin ″Take equal quantities of flour, sugar and fresh blackcurrants. Rub the butter into the flour″, thereby being both unhelpfully vague and omitting mention of butter in the ingredients altogether. Nevertheless, after some experimentation, these quantities make a reasonably-sized cake. If you decide to increase the quantities, then increase the cooking time appropriately.

150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
150g butter
150g caster sugar
150g fruit – fresh, frozen or if canned, drained
3tbs cornflour
2 large eggs, whisked
A little milk (maybe)
caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a 18-20cm square tin with parchment.
  • Put the flour, baking powder and butter into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip into a bowl and stir in the sugar.
  • Stir through the beaten eggs to form a dough. If the mixture seems a little dry, add enough milk to make a soft, scone-like dough.
  • Add HALF of this mixture to the tin and spread out.
  • Sprinkle the cornflour over the fruit and toss gently to coat.
  • Fold the fruit and any remaining cornflour into the remaining dough and transfer to the tin. Smooth over lightly. It should be about 4cm deep. NB This dividing of the dough wll help ensure the fruit is evenly distributed through the cooked cake. As demonstrated more familiarly with cherry cake, fruit has a tendency to ‘slide down’ through the cake mixture and congregate on the bottom of the tin. Adding a layer of fruitless mix in the bottom of the tin will not prevent this, merely slow the downeard progression of the fruit long enough for the cake around the fruit to cook and thus hold it in position.
  • Bake for 50-55 minutes, turning the tin around after 30 minutes. NB Don’t be tempted to remove the cake too early. As already mentioned, the fruit lends quite a lot of moisture to the mix, so be sure that the cake is thoroughly cooked through before removing it from the oven by testing with a cocktail stick that the cake mixture is cooked and observing that the cake as a whole has shrunk away from the sides of the tin and is nicely browned on top.
  • Sprinkle with caster sugar and allow to cool in the tin. NB The moistness of the cake means that it is very fragile when first baked, and trying to remove it from the tin whilst warm runs the risk of it breaking apart.

¹ A fantastic collection of national and regional cakes. Recommended!

 

In case you missed it: Orange & Walnut Garland Cake on DejaFood.com


Milk Bread

White Milk Bread
Wotchers!

Every now and then I’ll come across a recipe about which a lot of people have raved and I’ve somehow completely missed the memo.

This week’s post is just such a recipe.

Back in 2015, bonappetite published a recipe for the milk bread served as a starter at Kindred restaurant, in Davidson, North Carolina.

It seems to have caused quite a stir, with tales of diners making pilgrimages there. A couple of months later Food52 also published the recipe, and again in 2017, this time complete with gushing text and tempting photographs to emphasize the delectability of the bread.

My interest piqued, I decided to give it a try, and not wanting to make a gigantic batch (if it turned out to be all hype), I set about scaling down the original recipe – something I can recommend to all when trying something new.

A quick glance down the ingredients revealed the use of 3 eggs, so I decided on this basis to scale the recipe down to just one-third of the original.

Confession: In my haste, I had only skimmed the method at this point, so it was only when I was mid-way through that I noticed only two eggs were used in the dough itself, and the third was for the glaze. The proportions I had used would therefore make a slightly richer dough than the original, but rather than start over, I decided to bake it anyway. It turned out to be fantastic. The bread of angels. Lighter than a feather and so airy and of such a beautiful flavour, it was gone in an instant.

The method is a variation of the TangZhong, or water-roux, process of dough making. Of Japanese origin, but popularised in the 1990s through the publication of Yvonne Chen’s The 65° Bread Doctor, it involves making a roux of some of the flour and water, before mixing with the other ingredients, which has the effect of making the resultant bread incredibly light and airy as well as improving the keeping qualities to several days.

It was so astonishingly good I decided to see if it would improve bread made with flour other than the white specified in the original recipe.

And it does. Jaw-droppingly so. I tried with everything I had in the house and each one was immeasurably better using this method. The two most successful versions – by which I mean that the method was exactly the same with almost no need for any adjustments – were made with stoneground wholemeal flour and oat flour (fine oatmeal sieved).

Wholewheat Bread

This is the wholemeal version. Now I’m a big fan of dense, textured wholemeal bread (cf The Grant Loaf), but this method, with exactly the same flour, produced bread of such lightness and delicacy, it had me double-checking the bag of flour to make sure I hadn’t accidentally used a lighter grade.

Oat Bread

This is the Oat Bread. A little firmer than the wholemeal, but spongy and light, with a delicate, crumbly crumb. Made with 100% oat flour, it is a world away from the usually brick-like offering one gets using this flour and the traditional bread-making method.

The other flours I tried included 100% rye and 100% barley. Both will need further refining, as I fine-tune the ratio of liquid to flour, but the initial test batches had wonderful flavours and textures. I only stopped because I ran out of yeast – buckwheat and spelt will have to wait until the current bread mountain has diminished.

The following recipe quantities, from my initial slap-dash conversion (hey, if it aint broke, don’t fix it!) can be used to make a reasonably-sized batch to last a couple of days. Feel free to scale it up if everyone in your house are bread fans, or even use the original recipe by following the links. I’ve omitted the garnish of salt flakes on top, as they proved to be a bit much, but have at it if you’re so inclined.

Milk Bread

300g flour – plain, stoneground wholemeal or oat
180ml water
30ml/2 tbs honey
80ml double cream
1 large egg
1 sachet fast-action yeast
1tsp table salt
10g dried milk powder
20g butter, diced & softened

1 egg for glazing

  • Take 50g of the flour and put it into a saucepan with the water.
  • Whisk over medium head until thickened. It will look like wallpaper glue.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and honey.
  • Cool slightly, then whisk in the egg until smooth.
  • Pour into a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
  • Add the remaining flour, salt, yeast and milk powder and mix on the lowest possible speed for 10 minutes. NB If using oat flour, the mixture might require a little additional water. The appearance/texture for oat flour dough should be similar to hummus.
  • After 10 minutes, increase the speed to high for two minutes. This should help bring the dough together into a ball, leaving the ides of the bowl clean. N/A for oat flour.
  • Reduce speed to low again and gradually add in the butter and knead until fully incorporated.
  • cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in size. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, this will be between 60 and 90 minutes due to the enriched dough.
  • Once risen, gently tip out the dough and pat to deflate slightly. No need to squish it into a pancake, just a gentle deflate is fine.
  • For the pictures above, I divided the dough into 30g-ish pieces (eyeball satsuma-sized pieces) and dropped them into well-greased tins (mine are 10cm square, and 12cm mini loaf tins) for tear-apart servings. You can also use regular loaf tins, bundt tins, whatever is handy.
  • Cover lightly with plastic and allow to rise for 45-60 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 190°C, 170°C Fan.
  • Whisk the remaining egg until frothy and brush lightly over the risen dough.
  • Bake for 20 minutes (white) 25 minutes (wholemeal), 30 minutes (oat), turning the tins around half way though baking. NB Don’t be tempted to take it out too soon – the enrichment of the dough, together with the egg glaze will make for a much richer colour than regular bread, and it needs the extra time to bake thoroughly.
  • Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes, before removing and cooling on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy fresh, or wrap well in plastic/ziplock bag to keep fresh for a few days.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Wotchers!

Why, yes! What the world needs now IS another chocolate chip cookie recipe!

I realise there’s already a delicious dairy and gluten-free version on the blog, but my daughter doesn’t care for them much, on the grounds that they are TOO CHOCOLATEY! *eyeroll*

Her main objection is the use of dark chocolate chips and she remains deaf to my efforts to persuade her that the strong dark flavour is a nice contrast to the sweet of the biscuit, and I stubbornly resist using milk-chocolate chips on the grounds that their one-note, sweet-on-sweetness does not offer a very enjoyable biscuit experience.

Which is how we ended up at this attempt to satisfy all tastes and preferences in one, ultimate cookie. I’ve managed to gloss over the inclusion of dark chocolate chips by employing the distraction of CHUNKS of milk chocolate, as well as a few additional flavourings.

These biscuits are nuanced up the wazoo, with flavours complex enough for even the most demanding connoisseur, yet still being acceptable for inclusion in the school lunch box.

Here we have nutty browned butter, rich caramel notes from the brown sugars, a touch of espresso, dark chocolate chips, creamy milk chocolate chunks, all rounded off with just a suspicion of a salty finish.

It’s a combination tweaked within an inch of its life and I defy anyone not to adore them! *throws gauntlet*

This recipe makes about 40 cookies, which means multiple trays (or one tray multiple times, obvs), so even the texture can be varied to suit personal taste. Just remove the tray at a time that suits the texture preferences of your family: 11-12 minutes for chewiness, 14-16 minutes for crispness.

Or ‘accidentally’ leave them in until they’re all crisp, because that’s how you like them.

*poker face* Not that I’d ever do that.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

250g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp espresso powder
1 large egg
1 large yolk
280g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
80g dark chocolate chips
100g good quality milk chocolate, chopped

  • Have a bowl handy to pour the browned butter into. Put the butter into a saucepan over a medium heat and allow to melt. Continue heating the butter and it will start to foam. Use a spatula to keep the milk solids from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the solids have turned a light brown, remove from the heat and pour into your handy bowl. Why? The pan will be very hot and the butter will keep browning unless you pour it from the pan. Don’t wait until it is dark brown, because by the time you get it out of the pan it will be burnt.
  • Set butter aside to cool. This will take at least 30 minutes, and possibly up to an hour.
  • Put the sugars, vanilla and espresso powder into a bowl
  • When the butter has cooled to room temperature, but is still liquid, add it to the sugar mixture and whisk together until light and fluffy (5-10 minutes).
  • Add the egg and yolk and whisk in.
  • Sift together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Add the flour mixture to the sugar and egg mixture in three stages, stirring well after each addition to combine.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips and chopped milk chocolate.
  • Divide the dough into balls the size of a walnut (in its shell). A small ice-cream scoop is ideal, as the mixture is very light and soft, otherwise, use teaspoons to shape.
  • Put the dough balls/scoops onto a baking tray, cover with plastic film and chill for at least 1 hour and as much as overnight – whatever is most convenient for you.
  • When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Arrange the cookie dough on baking sheets lined with parchment or silpat mats. The dough will spread quite a bit during baking, so if you like your cookies to be round and evenly shaped, don’t crowd too many onto the sheets at once, otherwise they might run together and make odd shapes. 10-12 per tray is ideal.
  • Bake for 12-16 minutes, according to your own personal taste, turning the sheets around half-way through baking, to ensure even baking.
  • Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Molehill Cake

Molehill Cakes
Wotchers!

It’s been a while since I posted a cake recipe, so I thought I’d cheer up the chilly weather with a cakey treat.

And it’s fabulous!

I was initially a little conflicted about this cake: on the one hand it tastes amazing, but then it also falls into the category of my pet hate of ‘food looking like something that isn’t food’, even though it is achieved almost by accident. In the end the ease of baking/construction, coupled with the amazing flavours persuaded me to bend my own rules and I hope you’ll be as delighted with the result as I am.

It’s very straightforward, based on a chocolate sponge, and takes almost zero skill to put together. Huzzah!

I found it on a Romanian version of Pinterest, and it appears to be something Romanians can create from a Dr Oetker box cake mix.

However, there’s no need to resort to box cake mixes, no matter how convenient they might be. Hands up anyone who has eaten one and thought “Oh my! This tastes so convenient!”.

Quite.

So this is a hand-made version, which is only marginally less convenient but with added fresh, natural ingredients. I call it the very best kind of clean eating. I might start a food trend…..

ANYHOO….

Requiring just 2 bowls – one if you rinse it out after mixing the cake – it also requires practically zero washing up! Bonus!

The cake is my go-to, one-bowl chocolate yogurt cake, so easy you could mix it with just a spoon – although I recommend a balloon whisk. Once baked and cooled, the cake is hollowed out and the bottom filled with whole (or as whole as possible) bananas, then a creamy filling mounded on top. The cake that was hollowed out, plus any excess you cut off to level the top, are blitzed to crumbs and patted onto the mound of cream and voila! Something that resembles a molehill but with a much more appetising taste!

You can make one large cake, or, as I managed, one large and several small, individually-sized versions.

The filling can be as simple as sweetened, whipped cream, a custardy diplomat cream (crème patissière + gelatine + whipped cream) or, my favourite, a combination of cream cheese, crème fraiche and double cream, whipped to firmness with a little vanilla paste and icing sugar.

Also optional is whether or not to include some chocolate in your creamy filling. My daughter voted for chocolate chips in an earlier version (she also preferred diplomat cream), however I went for hand-chopped chocolate. Other options might be pure chocolate sprinkles or indeed none at all.

The comforting combination of the richness of the chocolate sponge, the freshness and sweetness of the banana, the creamy topping and the novelty of the overall appearance have immediately shot this cake into my top five list. In fact, the only downside of this cake is the time spent waiting for the cooked cake to cool down before you can fill it!

Mini Molehill Cakes

Molehill Cake

Chocolate Sponge Cake

150ml vegetable oil
150ml plain yoghurt
60ml golden syrup
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g plain flour
50g cocoa
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Line the bottom and sides of a deep 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Put oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and whisk together until well mixed.
  • Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl. Mix well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
  • Bake in the oven for 60-75 minutes, until the cake has shrunk away from the sides, no bubbling sounds can be heard and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Yes, it does seem a long time, but the low temperature means it really needs the full allowance. The result is a beautifully-textured cake that actually improves on keeping, if you want to make it ahead. Additionally, the low-and-slow cooking means it is invariably gently and perfectly rounded on top and without any cracks.
  • Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Filling

300g cream cheese at room temperature
300ml low-fat creme fraîche
1-2tsp vanilla paste
2-3tbs icing sugar
300ml double cream
100g good quality chocolate – white, milk or plain – chopped fine

  • Mix the cream cheese, vanilla paste and creme fraîche thoroughly.
  • Add icing sugar to taste.
  • Add the double cream and whisk until firm.
  • Stir through the chopped chocolate.
  • Cover with plastic and chill until required.

To Assemble

cooled cake
4-5 bananas
cream filling

  • Cut the cake horizontally at a height of 4cm. If the cake has risen a lot, you might be able to cut it in half and make 2 large molehill cakes. Alternatively, you can cut out circles of sponge from either one or both halves using a baking ring to make individual-sized portions.
  • Cut a circle 2cm deep around the edge of the cake, 2cm from the edge.
  • Hollow out the middle of the cake so that the remaining sponge resembles a tart case. Be careful not to cut through the bottom of the cake. Reserve the cake scraps.
  • Lay whole bananas in the hollow, making sure they cover the whole of the bottom of the cake.
  • Pile the cream filling on top, using a palette knife to shape it into a tall mound.
  • Blitz the cake scraps to crumb and press lightly onto the sides of the cream until completely covered.
  • You can serve the cake immediately, but it does benefit from being wrapped in foil and thoroughly chilled in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is ideal.
  • Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.