Spiced Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Soup

Spiced Squash Soup

Wotchers!

Here’s a wonderfully comforting soup, brightened with fresh ginger and chilli, to lift your spirits and warm the cockles of your heart.

It’s also fabulously easy and takes no more than 20 minutes ‘active’ time.

Winter soups can sometimes lean a little close towards cloying, but this strikes a very delicious balance between thick and comforting and bright and spicy. It’s also vegetarian and vegan, gluten and dairy-free.

To a large extent it is a “That’ll Do” soup, in that precise measurements don’t really matter, so let me bestow upon you the freedom to chuck in what you have to hand: keep the chilli seeds in for fiery spice, add more ginger/garlic to taste, etc.

Spiced Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash
2 sweet potatoes
2tbs vegetable oil
2 onions
3 red chillies
3 cloves of garlic
8cm bulb of fresh ginger – 3-4 thumb-sized pieces.
2 tbs vegetable bouillon

  • Cut the butternut squash and sweet potatoes in half lengthways and place on a lined baking sheet, cut side up.
  • Put the baking sheet in the oven and turn the heat to 200C, 180C Fan. BONUS: while they bake, the oven will smell like cake.
  • Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  • When cooled, scoop the seeds from the squash and discard. Scoop the flesh of both into a bowl. Discard the skins.
  • Peel and chop the onions and garlic. De-seed (or don’t) the chillies and chop. Chop the ginger (peel if you like, but I don’t).
  • Heat the oil in a pan and add the chopped vegetables. Cook gently over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  • Add the cooked squash/sweet potato and the bouillon.
  • Add water to cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Use a stick blender to blend the soup smooth.
  • For best results, puree the soup in batches in a liquidiser. Blitz each batch for two minutes. Add more water if the soup is too thick.
  • To store: ladle into suitable containers and freeze.
  • To serve: Heat through gently. Taste & adjust seasoning.

Digestive Biscuit Cake

Digestive Biscuit Cake
Wotchers!

We end this short biscuit series with cake!

A cake made from biscuits!

This is an adaptation of a recipe I found online made with Graham crackers. I’ve never had a Graham cracker. However, many recipes online mention that Graham crackers can be substituted by digestive biscuits and I loooove digestive biscuits. Not really the chocolate ones – although I’m not saying I’d actually turn one down – but plain digestives, which sit perfectly on the cusp of sweet and savoury: amazing with cheese, divine when used as a spoon dipped into fruit yogurt (you’ve not tried it? You’re missing out. And now this nested, run-on sentence has reached such epic proportions I’m going to have to start a new paragraph!).

ANYHOO…

This recipe uses digestive biscuit crumbs as a substitute for most of the flour and the resulting cake is amazingly moist and tender, and also tastes of digestive biscuits.

Well it did once I’d tweaked it a little.

The original (which I tried as was out of respect….yadda yadda yadda) included vanilla extract, which seemed to overpower any trace of digestive biscuit. Then I tried it again, without the vanilla, and it was better, but still rather too nuanced for my tastes. So I decided to try and bring out more flavour by toasting the crumbs in a pan. The result was the best yet, but I’m still wondering whether baking in the oven might produce even more toasty, digestivy, goodness. However, on account of me getting sidetracked too easily (this was baked a month ago), if we wait until I’ve put this to the test, it’s going to be Easter, so I’ll keep you posted if/when I get back to it!

It’s lovely plain, but much enhanced by a sweetened, cream-cheese topping and a sprinkling of digestive crumbs for added texture.

Digestive Biscuit Cake

250g digestive biscuit crumbs¹
70g plain flour
2½tsp baking powder
115g butter – softened
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
160ml milk

  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Line a 20cm-ish square pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.
  • Blitz around 300g of biscuits to find crumbs in a food processor.
  • Tip them into a dry pan and stir over medium-low heat until toasted and aromatic. Depending on the size and heat of your pan, this might take a while. Set aside to cool.
  • When cooled, measure out 250g of crumbs and stir them into the flour and the baking powder.
  • Whisk together the sugar and the butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Add the flour mixture and the milk alternately, until fully combined. The mixture will appear very moist, but not liquid.
  • Put the mixture in the prepared pan and smooth over.
  • Bake for 25-ish minutes (depending on the size of your pan) until risen and browned. Judge doneness as you would a regular sponge cake.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Cream cheese topping

This is the simplest cream cheese topping. Other options you might like to try include this one or this one.
If you decide to fill AND top the cake, you might want to increase the recipe by 50%.

400g cream cheese
2-3tbs icing sugar
digestive biscuit crumbs

  • Whisk the icing sugar into the cream cheese. The cake is sweet, and you want this to be a contrast, so this really doesn’t need much sweetening at all.
  • Spread over the top of the cake and sprinkle the remainder of the biscuit crumbs as liked.

 

 

 

¹ A large (400g) packet of plain digestive biscuits will be enough for the cake itself, a crumbled topping and a few biscuits to enjoy while the cake it baking. I like McVities.


Maple Pecan Shortbread

Maple Pecan Shortbread

Wotchers!

Something a little more decadent this week – still biscuity, but with so much rich flavour it will have you swooning.

Beautifully crisp shortbread covered with a rich, maple syrup filling and topped with chopped pecans. It is so simple to make and so utterly delicious and moreish, you will be cursing me as you realise the entire batch is gone onna count of everyone being tempted to just one more bite.

This recipe has been adapted from sonething I found online. The original recipe was very heavy on the butter and sugar and the shortbread base, although rich, lacked crispness. Everything was over the top. However with a couple of tweaks, it has perked up no end, and is currently my bake of choice to take as a gift (provided they can be prized out of my vice-like grip).

I love the richness of the flavours in these squares. I chose to use dark muscovado sugar and Grade A maple syrup. If you think these might be a little intense for your tastes, switch to soft, light brown sugar and a milder syrup.

Another reason why I love these bars, aside from their amazing flavour, is the ease with which they come together. There’s no rolling and cutting of the shortbread – it’s not even a dough – you just press the crumb-like mixture into your tin and bake. The filling is mixed in one bowl in about five minutes, poured onto the cooked base and sprinkle on the pecans. Twenty-five minutes later and they’re done.

Come on and get your maple pecan biscuit on!

Maple Pecan Bars

Shortbread base
60g caster sugar
120g unsalted butter
150g plain flour
30g cornflour
0.5tsp salt

Filling
150g dark muscovado sugar
150g pure Grade A maple syrup (I used Clarks)
1 large egg
0.5tsp salt
30g unsalted butter – melted and cooled slightly.

100g pecans – roughly chopped.

  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Line a baking tin with parchment paper. I used a square tin with an internal measurement of 22cm. You could use anything of similar dimensions – sligtly narrower rectangle or 20cm round cake tin – whatever you have to hand. It should be at least 3cm deep.
  • Put the shortbread ingredients into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press flat.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until just starting to brown. Set aside to cool.
  • Reduce the oven heat to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Whisk the sugar, syrup, salt and egg until light and foamy (5 minutes).
  • Whisk in the butter, then pour the mixture onto the cooled shortbread.
  • Scatter the pecans evenly over the top and bake for 25 minutes until the middle is just barely set (has a little wobble).
  • Cool in the tin.
  • To get sharp, clean slices, once cooled, chill in the fridge for one hour before slicing into portions.
  • Store in an airtight container.

 


Chocolate Coffee Toffee Oatmeal Biscuits

Oatmeal Biscuits

Wotchers!

Here is the second and final recipe in the sub-series Delicious Biscuits With Unusual Stuff Added To Them and boy is there a lot going on!

We have CHOCOLATE!

We have COFFEE!

We have TOFFEE!

We have ROLLED OATS!

We have ICE-CREAM CONES!

*record-scratch* Wait, what?

Yes! These fabulously crunchy, chewy treats have a bonus texture of crumbled waffle cones mixed in.

They are similar to the Chocolate Chip Cookie of a couple of years ago, but this time with rolled oats.

I have adapted this recipe from one entered into a 2004 baking competition in the US run  by Quaker Oats. A winning entry as it happens, submitted by Paula Marchesi from Lenhartsville, PA. Aparrently 16 years is enough time for both Quaker Oats and the internet to forget whose recipe it is, because the number of versions ‘out there’ without attribution are numerous, and the Canadian Quaker Oats website even calls it “Our Chocolate Coffee Toffee Oatmeal Cookie recipe”.

It’s also interesting that Paula Marchesi from Lenhartsville, PA. pops up all over the place, with her recipes appearing on and in websites, bulletin boards and books, but with zero (that I can find) social media presence. So much so that now I’m wondering whether she’s a real person at all. On one of the recipes she claims to have been cooking for over 50 years, but all her recipes are rather modern. Curiouser and curiouser.

ANYHOO…

These biscuits are wonderfully chewy and crunchy, the sweetness of the chocolate and toffee being tempered with the aromatic bitterness of the espresso coffee. Be warned, though – with all the delicious additions, they are very much in the treat category. In fact they’re just a whisker away from being individually wrapped and sold in the confectionary aisle, so approach with caution. Or at a hundred miles an hour with an open mouth. Your call.

I’d love to be able to fill you in on their keeping qualities, but in this house they keep getting eaten up in no time.

Chocolate Coffee Toffee Oatmeal Biscuits

140g large rolled oats

115g dark or light muscovado sugar
115g unsalted butter, softened
30ml strong coffee (espresso strength) – cooled
30ml beaten egg (½ a large egg)
½tsp vanilla extract
100g wholemeal flour
½tsp salt
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

100g butterscotch pieces[1]
100g dark chocolate chips
3 waffle ice-cream cones – crushed

  • Toast the oat flakes. This is optional (the original recipe didn’t), but I think it adds a fabulous nuttiness as well as contributing to the chewiness of the finished biscuits.
  • Sprinkle the oats onto a baking sheet and put into the oven.
  • Turn the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring them every 5 minutes, until lightly golden.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Mix in the coffee, egg and vanilla.
  • Fold in the flour, salt, soda and cooled oats.
  • Stir through the remaining ingredients.
  • Portion out in 30g balls and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • When firm, arrange onto parchment-lined baking sheets and press flat. To get regular-shaped cookies like in the picture, press the balls of dough inside a small, round cookie cutter to keep the edges neat. These biscuits will spread a little in the oven, so leave 3-4cm between them.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake for 13-15 minutes.
  • Allow to firm up on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. If you want to neaten the edges of any biscuits that have spread themselves a little raggedy, do so now while they’re warm.
  • If you want to sneak a ‘taster’, they are amazing when still a little warm.
  • When completely cold, store in an airtight container.

 

[1] If you don’t have access to these, you could substitute with 100g of crushed Daim bars.


Peanut Cracker Biscuits

Peanut Cracker Biscuits

Wotchers!

Here we are at week two of my biscuit bonanza and the first of a very short (2) sub-series of Delicious Biscuits With Unusual Stuff Added To Them (might have to work on the title).

This is also a cookie that has been adapted into a biscuit, because crisp biscuits are best. (Spoiler Alert: Tune in next time where I completely contradict myself on this.)

ANYHOO…

I like this biscuit not only for its crispness – which is mighty – but also because it is not overly sweet, and has a definite saltiness to it onna count of the aforementioned Unusual Stuff added to it.

Firstly, there’s peanuts. Roasted. Salted. Chopped into smaller pieces (a faff, I know, but necessary to avoid the biscuits becoming HUGE and UNWEILDY. And an unwieldy biscuit is not a pretty sight).

Then we have crushed up salty crackers like these (available in the supermarkets).

The lack of fat and sugar in the crackers makes for little pockets of dry, crunchy dullness – MARVEL at how I am really selling this biscuit – dull in a good way, because it is against this plain background the rich roasty flavour of the peanuts can really shine.

The peanuts are crunchy, the cracker pieces are crunchy, there’s a delicious lick of salt aftertaste: they beat biscuits made with peanut butter hands down.

They’re perfect for a little salty-sweet treat. Go on, treat yourselves.

Peanut Cracker Biscuits

I like a really crunchy biscuit, but they might not be to everyone’s tastes, so I suggest trying a test bake of just one or two at the lower baking time. Be sure to allow them to cool completely before tasting and deciding, as they will firm up as they cool. If you’re happy with the crunch, stick with the baking time. If you like something a bit crisper, bake a little longer.

60g unsalted butter, softened
45g cream cheese, softened
150g soft brown sugar
2tbs treacle
½ large egg
90g plain flour
30g cornflour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
80g salted peanuts
2 x portion packets Doriano crackers

 

  • Chop the peanuts into pieces the size of a small pea. Chop the crackers into similar sizes.
  • Put the butter, cream cheese, sugar, treacle and egg into a bowl and whisk until smoothly combined.
  • Sift together the flours, soda and salt and add to the butter mixture and fold in.
  • Fold in the peanuts and the cracker pieces.
  • 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. These will spread a little, but not as much as the Scotch Cookies, so you can lay them with about a 5cm gap inbetween.
  • 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.
  • Bake for 13-15 minutes until nicely browned.
  • Allow to cool on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Store in an airtight container.

 

 


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.
  • 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