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.
This recipe can be used for
500g strong whte bread flour
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.
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:
- Scrunch up some baking parchment and place it in the middle of the square of pastry.
- 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.
- Prick the remaining exposed pastry to prevent it puffing up too much during baking.
- 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.
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.
It struck me that I haven’t done a main meal in quite some time, and being in a bit of a minimalist mood, here is a family favourite in this house, not least with the cook (yours truly), which has just three ingredients: turkey, pesto, chorizo.
It does require a little bit of preparation in making the rolls, but after that, it’s a less than 10-minute cook for a speedy and ridiculously tasty weeknight meal. The spicing in the pesto and the chorizo do all the work for you, so I usually don’t even bother with salt and pepper.
Over the years I’ve tried various shapes – rolling everything up like a swiss roll, a ‘sandwich’ of pesto and chorizo between slices of turkey – but this form is the most successful.
Serve with Noodles and Rice and some steamed veggies and it’s a taste sensation!
Turkey Chorizo Spirals
4 Turkey breast steaks
1 jar tomato pesto
About 20 thin slices of chorizo
wooden cocktail sticks
- Flatten the turkey steaks by pounding them with a meat hammer or a wooden rolling-pin. Cover them with a double layer of cling film in order to prevent any bits flying off.
- Spread a layer of red pesto over each steak.
- Place a layer of chorizo slices over the pesto.
- Roll up the turkey around the filling, and pin securely by pushing wooden cocktail sticks all the way through the roll. Three is about the right number, depending how large your turkey slices are: one through the middle and one at each end.
- Place the rolls on a dish, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until required.
- When ready to cook, place a lidded non-stick frying pan on medium heat.
- Remove the turkey from the fridge and cut into slices. With a sharp knife, cut between the cocktail sticks to make three spiral slices per roll, with the cocktail stick keeping the meat secured in a spiral.
- Put the slices in the pan and cook for two minutes. There’s sufficient oil in the chorizo and pesto to lubricate the pan.
- Turn the slices over and cook for another two minutes.
- Add 100ml water, cover and allow the turkey to cook/poach for about 5 more minutes, or until cooked through.
- Remove from the pan and gently take out the cocktail sticks. The cooked turkey will now hold it’s shape.
- Transfer to a warmed serving dish, spoon over the remaining cooking liquid and serve.
A giveaway? You spoil us, Mr Ambassador! *inclines head graciously and accepts the adulation*
Before I get too carried away, I just wanted to take this time to express my appreciation of you, my faithful readers, for all of your visits, comments and compliments over the more than seven years since I started this blog.
So I’ve gathered a few bits and bobs together – things that I like and hope you do too.
All you have to do is leave a comment below indicating which prize you would be interested in.
No hoops to jump through, no requirements to sign up, no holding your entry hostage until you have followed the blog or me on Twitter and Facebook (although if you do decide to do that, I will be thrilled!).
Just leave a comment on this post with, and this is very important, a valid email address. Your email will not be published, and if you are a winner, it is how I will contact you for a postal address. It will be used for no other reason.
Disclaimer: There’s no sponsorship or behind-the-scenes deals. I bought these things myself, and will post them myself and bear all the costs.
So what goodies do we have on offer?
Some items I picked up on Wish.com. If you’re unfamiliar with this website, it really is worth a look. For baking items such as silicon moulds, baking tins, sugarwork tools and cutters, it is incredibly reasonable – but this is just a small fraction of the types of goods on offer. The only downside is the (relatively) long delivery times (2-3 weeks) as the items are coming for the most part, direct from China. However, I have found that items frequently get delivered much quicker. Incredibly, some items are even offered free, with the only charge being for shipping.
The cookie cutter set is fantastically space-saving, as the different moulds are stored inside the handle. With 5 different patterns and the cookie cutter itself, it’s just the thing to make your biscuits pop. The two pairs of piping nozzles are what is known as Sultane tips, and are something I have dithered about purchasing for ages. Until now have only seen them priced at £20.00+, which is a bit steep for a single nozzle, methinks. They pipe circular ruffles with a hole in the middle and can be used for creme patissière, whipped cream, meringues – all so pretty.
I was in The Netherlands just before Christmas, and swung by a favourite supermarket, Albert Heijn. The Dutch biscuits stroopwafels are well known in the UK, but these stroopkoek are actually my personalfavourite. They’re more like a digestive biscuit, and whilst they are commonly available plain, with the regular caramel inside, for the festive season Albert Heijn had available a whole slew of different flavours, and these four were the most popular. So popular, that there werent any spare left for me to try – so I hope you will recognise the supreme self-control I have been exhibiting in not eating them for over two weeks now!
The final items on offer are two packs of chocolate: salted chocolate almonds, and ruby cocoa bean holly leaves. I’ve not tried the almonds, but they sound delicious. The ruby cocoa chocolate I did try – by buying a second pack and not steaming open this one! 😉 – and it has a very delicate strawberry/raspberry aftertaste – most unusual.
So there we have it – I do hope you’ll participate by leaving a comment, even if it’s only to say what you’d like. Just to clarify, the options are:
- Patterned biscuit cutter set
- Sultane nozzles 1
- Sultane nozzles 2
- Ginger caramel cookies
- Speculoos caramel cookies
- Mocha caramel cookies
- Salted caramel oat cookies
- Salted chocolate almonds
- Ruby cocoa chocolates
Best of luck and a Happy New Year to all!
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.
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.
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 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
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.
 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.
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.
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.
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 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
2 sheets gelatine (or vegan/vegetarian alternative)
2tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2tbs caster sugar
- 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.