Christmas Bake Off Biscuits

Christmas Wreath Biscuits

Wotchers!

In response to a couple of requests, I decided to publish the two biscuit recipes from the Christmas Bake Off. Obviously, no cameras were allowed on set, and regular listeners will know of my current lack-of-oven status preventing me from baking a set at home, so my husband kindly grabbed a couple of screen shots of them from the program – and, of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a picture with my name on screen and the BBC logo in the corner 😀

I won’t go into all the ‘guidelines’ for these bakes, because they were many and restrictive, and also they concerned baking a particular irritation of mine, namely ‘stuff that looks like something else, usually not food-like’. I also firmly resisted suggestions to make things ‘sparkly’ and shunned all forms of edible glitter because, to my mind, if you need to label something ‘edible’, it probably shouldn’t be.

ANYHOO…

I settled on these recipes because they tasted great, were simple to prepare and decorate in a time limit, and looked attractive in a completely edible way.

Don’t wait until Christmas to give them a try, they’re delicious!

In a Mary Berry/Paul Hollywood double-handshake kinda way *resists urge to post screenshot of THAT too*. 😉

Christmas Wreath Biscuits

Makes at least 12

I must apologise for the silly ‘½ a large egg’ ingredient – if you have no pastry to glaze to use it up, make a teeny-tiny omelette or a double batch of biscuits!

115g unsalted butter – softened
100g caster sugar
zest of 2 oranges
½ a large egg – whisked
150g plain flour
50g cornflour
200g white chocolate couverture
2g Mycryo powdered cocoa butter
candied cranberries
slivered pistachios*
dried barberries*

  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add orange zest and egg, and mix thoroughly.
  • Add flours and mix to combine.
  • Tip out of the bowl, knead smooth and roll out to 8mm thick.
  • Cut out into 5cm rings.
  • Freeze for 15 minutes.
  • Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 200°C/180°C Fan for 6-8 minutes.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • To decorate:
    • Melt the white chocolate over hot water. Allow to cool to 33°C.
    • Stir in the Mycryo until melted. This is a fast way of tempering chocolate. For a softer ‘bite’, skip this step.
    • Pipe the white chocolate to cover, or carefully dip, the biscuits.
    • Press half a candied cranberry onto the bottom of the biscuit, then scatter over slivered pistachios and barberres.
    • Set aside to cool.
    • Thread thin ribbon through the middle to hang.

 

xmaspuddings

Pecan Praline Christmas Pudding Biscuits

Makes at least 12

70g toasted pecans – chopped
112g unsalted butter
65g light muscovado sugar
60g praline paste
½ tsp vanilla extract
1tbs dark rum
pinch of salt
125g plain flour
35g feuilletine
200g white chocolate couverture
2g Mycryo powdered cocoa butter
50g milk chocolate chips
candied angelica
dried barberries

  • Beat butter and sugar until well blended.
  • Add vanilla, praline paste and rum and mix thoroughly.
  • Combine flour and salt and add to the butter and sugar mixture until it’s just beginning to blend.
  • Add pecans and feuilletine and mix.
  • Roll out to a thickness of 5-8mm. Scatter with chocolate chips and press lightly into the dough.
  • Cut out with 5cm plain round cutter.
  • Poke a hole in each biscuit for the ribbon. A bubble tea straw is ideal.
  • Freeze for 15 minutes.
  • Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 170°C/150°C Fan for 8-10 minutes.
  • Cool on the tin for 10 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • To decorate:
    • Melt the white chocolate over hot water. Allow to cool to 33°C.
    • Stir in the Mycryo until melted. This is a fast way of tempering chocolate. For a softer ‘bite’, skip this step.
    • Drizzle over the top half of the biscuits to resemble cream. Make sure the hole doesn’t become blocked.
    • Decorate with angelica holly leaves and barberries.
    • Set aside for the chocolate to firm up.
    • When set, thread ribbon through the hole and hang.

 

* Available online from Sally at the fabulous Persepolis, 28-30 Peckham High Street, http://foratasteofpersia.co.uk/


Blackberry Shortbread

Blackberry Shortbread

Wotchers!

A very autumnal recipe for you this week – Blackberry Shortbread.

There’s no bells or whistles, I just fancied something simple, with the brightness of fresh fruit.

You could use this serving suggestion with a number of different fruits, but I thought blackberries most appropriate for the season, as they are the last soft berries of the year. Plus they look like jewels!

You can also use any shortbread recipe if you have a particular favourite or don’t fancy the one below. The recipe I chose isn’t particularly special, but with the baking powder and eggs, it has a lovely open and delicate texture. I also decided to use an unusual flour I found on the supermarket shelves this week: wholemeal Kamut flour from Doves Farm.

To quote from the bag:

“Kamut® grain is a khorasan wheat….said to be the wheat of the Pharoahs.”

It’s a very fine flour, producing a wonderfully golden shortbread biscuit with a nutty, almost malty flavour. There are three recipes to try printed on the pack itself and you could make them all with just one bag.

Alternatively, make the recipe below with ordinary flour – it’s all good.

Blackberry Shortbread-2

Blackberry Shortbread

90g soft brown sugar
2 large yolks
100g unsalted butter – softened
110g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon

blackberry jam or jelly

300g fresh blackberries

icing sugar for dusting

250ml whipping cream (optional)

  • Whisk the sugar and yolks together until pale and creamy.
  • Add the softened butter and mix thoroughly.
  • Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together and fold into the egg mixture.
  • Mix in the lemon zest.
  • Press mixture evenly into a baking tin and smooth over. I used my loose-bottomed flan tin (35cm x 12cm), lined with buttered foil, so that I could cut fingers of shortbread widthways.
  • Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Remove the cling film from the shortbread and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Turn the tin around halfway through to ensure even colouring.
  • As soon as the biscuit is cooked, remove from the oven and cut into fingers (or slices or wedges, as you prefer). Leave to cool in the tin. DO NOT attempt to move the biscuit pieces until completely cold – they will crumble to pieces.
  • When the biscuit has cooled, spread each piece with a layer of blackberry jam and stand the fresh blackberries on top.
  • Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream and any extra blackberries.

Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Gluten-free Dairy-free Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Wotchers!

These biscuits are delicious! Crunchy, chocolatey, rich and rounded caramel flavour, they are light and crisp and decidedly moreish.

They are, perhaps a little surprisingly, also free from gluten and dairy products.

I made these for a friend who has dietary restrictions and have such a wonderful texture and taste, I didn’t want to label them as “allergy only”, since this tag can be offputting.

These biscuits are everything you’d want in a biscuit, they just happen to be gluten and dairy free.

My own priority as regards recipes and food in general, is flavour; how a dish tastes. Which is probably why my presentation has a tendency to veer towards the C-minus-could-do-better grade. (I’m working on it!) If a dish tastes good, you can always improve the appearance to make it look attractive, but if it tastes mediocre or bland, then all the bells and whistles in the world aren’t going to make it a success.

Apart from being common sense, this attitude probably stems from an experience I had, back in the mists of time, whilst backpacking in Nepal. (Bit of a crunching of the gears, topic-wise there, but try to keep up.) Kathmandu used to be something of a culinary beacon in the old overland backpacking route, since after months of rice and dal, weary travellers were treated to shimmering visions of mile high cakes and gateaux and froths of pie confections to entice the palate. Whilst in Pokhara, I was tempted by a stunning display in a tea shop and opted for a slice of their magnificent layered cake. Alas, the analogy of a mirage proved all too accurate, since it turned out to be all style and no substance. Sawdust-textured cake and greasy buttercream, it was as if someone had made it from a picture, with no reference to how it was supposed to taste. Quite possibly, this is exactly what happened. It served to emphasise to me, the importance of taste. It’s food, not art. It all looks the same in your stomach. So make the effort with taste, not appearance.

OK, maybe make a little effort with appearance; we’re not completely uncivilised.

For the batch of biscuits in the photo I used dairy-free chocolate chips I found online, but I have also made these by chopping up the dairy-free chocolate bars (see pic below) I found in Morrisons (also available in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose).

Kinnerton's allergy-free chocolate bar

Kinnerton’s allergy-free chocolate bar

Chocolate Chip Biscuits

This recipe has been adapted from Alton Brown’s Good Eats recipe, to make it dairy-free and suitable for use with ingredients available in the UK. I like the dark, caramel flavour that the sugars bring, but if you prefer a more delicate flavour, change the dark brown sugar to soft, light brown.

115g coconut butter
160g Doves Farm wholemeal gluten-free bread flour
30g cornflour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g Demerera sugar
140g soft dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
170g dairy-free chocolate chips, or bars, chopped

  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside.
  • Melt the coconut butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat. Once melted, pour into a bowl.
  • Add both of the sugars and whisk together for 1 minute.
  • Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.
  • Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
  • Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.
  • Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC Fan.
  • Shape the dough into 30g balls. An ice-cream scoop can help. Mine has a diameter of 4cm and makes a perfect 30g hemisphere of dough. If your scoop is large, just cut each ‘scoop’ in half and roll each piece into a ball.
  • Chill again in the fridge for 15 minutes of so, to firm up. This will help keep them from spreading too much.
  • Place on parchment-lined baking trays, 8 per pan. On a half-sheet (30cm x 45cm) pan, I set them out in a 3-2-3 formation. The cooked biscuits are approximately 10cm in diameter, so you want a decent 3cm space all around the ball of dough to allow for spreading during baking.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the trays after 5 minutes to ensure even baking. If you’re baking 2 trays at a time, be sure to swap the baking trays between shelves as well as rotate them. If you like your biscuits chewy, you should try a test bake with just once biscuit and a shorter cooking time. Remember to allow to cool before you taste as they do crisp up when cold.
  • Remove from the oven and allow the biscuits to cool on the baking trays for 5 minutes to firm up.
  • Move the biscuits to a wire rack and cool completely.
  • Store biscuits in an airtight container.

No Bake Gooseberry Cheesecake

Gooseberry Cheesecake
Wotchers!

I love a good cheesecake. I don’t, however, love ALL cheesecakes.

*pauses dramatically for the compulsory gasps of horror*

No, to my mind, if you’re going to elaborate on the indulgent simplicity of flavours such as vanilla or maple syrup, cheesecake needs something sharp to act as a contrast to the richness of the filling.

So I say “Away, foul fiend!” to a whole slew of flavours that, to my mind, shouldn’t be paired with cheesecake, mostly in the chocolate, toffee, Banoffi, caramel, praline range, and “Come to Mama!” to all the tart and sharp fruity flavours. Lemon cheesecake was a long-term favourite, but anything that has a sharpness to it is delicious.

There are two main styles of cheesecake: baked and no-bake. I’ve got several recipes on the blog for various baked cheesecakes but haven’t done a no-bake cheesecake, so here we are.

After a little experimentation, I’ve come up with something that will work for any fruit puree you might have to hand. I’ve used gooseberries, but you could also use this recipe for poached rhubarb, plums, damsons as well as raw fruit purees such as strawberries, raspberries, cherries etc.

Another way you can customise this recipe is by swapping in ingredients that will give a texture that you like. A baked cheesecake is usually rich and dense, whereas no-bake cheesecakes tend to have a lighter texture as they rely on gelatine to hold their shape once set.

The filling for the cheesecake in the photo has been made with equal parts of mascarpone, creme fraiche and double cream mixed with the fruit puree, which makes for a creamy but still light texture. If you prefer a denser consistency, you can substitute cream cheese for the mascarpone or creme fraiche or even both. Quark is a fat-free dairy product, but might take the texture towards a mousse rather than a cheesecake. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course, as long as it’s what you were wanting.

A word or two about gelatine. At the risk of stating the obvious, gelatine renders your dessert off-limits to vegetarians. Whilst this might be your dastardly plan, you can still make this dessert so all can enjoy. Vegetarian gelatine is generally available, but not in the sheet form used in this recipe. You should follow the vege-gel guidelines for blooming and using it in your dessert.

The other thing to bear in mind, whichever form of gelatine you use, is that it’s not very fond of acidity. Using the quantity stated on the pack to set a very sharp, acidic liquid is not going to be as firm as if the liquid is neutral in flavour. You might like the texture, but as a general rule, I would advise using extra gelatine to ensure your dish sets as expected.

For example, the recipe below generated 300ml of gooseberry puree. Normally, 2 sheets of gelatine will set 300ml just fine. I used 4 sheets of gelatine a) because of the sharpness and b) because of the volume of filling into which it was to be mixed. The mixture of creams and cheese is quite stiff when whisked together, but adding the puree slackens the mixture off considerably. Having the extra gelatine in the puree meant that all of the filling set, once it had been folded through.

In contrast, for the gel on the top of the cheesecake, I only used a little extra gelatine, which resulted in a much softer final set.

For leaf gelatine, 1 leaf will set 150ml of liquid. Powdered gelatine and Vege-gel are sold in packets that usually set 1 pint (570ml) of liquid. Weigh the granules and divide by four for an equivalent guideline amount.

Last topic before we get on with the recipe – the biscuit base. You can make this from a range of commercially produced biscuits or make your own. Traditionally the biscuit has been Digestives, but other (British) types include HobNobs, Ginger Nuts, Butter Crinkles, Rich Tea – anything crisp. I’ve even used Doriano crackers (similar to Saltines), which give a deliciously unexpected saltiness as well as crunch.

For this recipe I have chosen to use a crumb of Spekulaas, the traditional Dutch Christmas biscuits. They are definitely crunchy and add a nicely spiced note which complements the gooseberries. Any favourite crisp biscuit can be used, merely bake the dough in its breadcrumb-like state and blitz in a food processor when cooled.

No-Bake Gooseberry Cheesecake

You can use either green or dessert gooseberries for this recipe. Green gooseberries (see photo at the bottom of this post) ripen earliest, and pair very well with elderflowers. You can substitute half the poaching water with elderflower cordial if liked. Dessert gooseberries are sweeter and with a rosy blush which makes for the beautifully coloured topping in the top photo. These quantities makes a large cheesecake, so if that doesn’t suit your needs, consider halving the recipe.

Serves 10-12.

For the base
200g self-raising flour
125g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbs speculaas spice mix – or a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, as liked.
1 pinch salt
150g cold unsalted butter

50g unsalted butter – melted.

  • Heat oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment. A sheet with a lip will help keep the crumbs contained.
  • Put all the ingredients except the melted butter into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade and blitz until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the crumbs onto the baking sheet and spread out evenly.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Stir the crumb, breaking up any large pieces and then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
  • Set aside until cold.
  • Pour the cooked crumb into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is of an even and uniform crumb.
  • Tip the crumb into a bowl and pour over the melted butter.
  • Mix thoroughly until the crumb resembles damp sand.
  • Press firmly into your chosen tin. I used my rectangular springform tin (28cm x 10 cm) and pressed the crumb up the sides a little to give a little extra support to the filling, but if you’re confident in your gelatine levels, this isn’t necessary (see photo at the bottom of this post). You might like to line your tin with foil or parchment to help remove once set.
  • Chill in the fridge until needed.

For the filling
600g fresh or frozen gooseberries, or other sharp fruit
120ml water
250g mascarpone cheese
250g creme fraiche
250ml double cream
5-6 tbs icing sugar
4 leaves gelatine

  • Put the gooseberries and the water into a pan over a very low heat.
  • Cover and allow to gently simmer until the fruit is soft. Stir gently from time to time to prevent the fruit from burning (10-15 minutes).
  • Pour the fruit mixture through a sieve. Leave to drain. Keep both the liquid and fruit pulp.
  • Bloom the gelatine in cold water.
  • Sieve the drained fruit to remove the seeds. You will get about 300ml of puree. If you have extra, set it aside and serve as sauce with the cheesecake.
  • Put the puree and bloomed gelatine into a saucepan and warm gently until the gelatine is melted. Taste and stir through just enough icing sugar to make it slightly sweet.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • Put the mascarpone, creme fraiche and double cream into a bowl. Add 3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar and whip until the mixture is firm. Taste and add more sugar if necessary, but it should only be slightly sweet.
  • When the fruit puree has cooled, but is still liquid, fold it into the whipped cheese/cream mixture.
  • Taste the mixture to check the sweetness levels and adjust as needed.
  • Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared tin. I lined the edges of the tin with acetate which allowed the filling to come up higher than the level of the crust, but this isn’t compulsory.
  • Cover lightly with cling film and allow to set in the fridge (2-3 hours).

For the jelly topping
retained juice from cooking the fruit
gelatine leaves

  • Measure the retained juice from cooking the fruit and calculate how much gelatine is required to set it. I set 400ml of sharply-flavoured juice with 3 leaves of sheet gelatine. I like the soft set, but you might prefer something a bit firmer in which case add another gelatine leaf. Stir in enough sugar to sweeten slightly. I prefer to keep the topping quite sharp as it provides a great contrast with the sweet biscuit base and the creamy filling.
  • Bloom the required quantity of leaf gelatine in cold water.
  • When the cheesecake filling has firmed up, add the gelatine to the juice and warm until the gelatine has melted. Cool slightly, then gently spoon over the cheesecake. Be careful not to pour from a great hight, as you might disturb the surface of the cheese filling and this would make for a cloudy jelly layer.
  • Return to the fridge and chill until set, preferably overnight.
Green Gooseberry Cheesecake

Green Gooseberry Cheesecake – an earlier version with base-only crumb.


Sugarless Biscuits

Sugarless Biscuits

Wotchers!

I don’t mean to boast (which means I’m going to), but I’m very pleased with this recipe, which I found in a book from 1767 entitled “Primitive cookery; or the kitchen garden display’d”. In the curious attribution style of the day, the frontispiece declares the book “Printed for J.Williams at No. 38, Fleet Street”, which leaves the authorship somewhat undetermined – possibly J.Williams or he might have been the publisher, or even the printer himself.

That mystery aside, the frontispiece also contains some wonderful claims, viz “RECEIPTS for preparing a great Variety of cheap, healthful and palatable Dishes without Fish, Flesh or Fowl; WITH A BILL of FARE of Seventy Dishes that will not cost above Two-Pence each”. The low cost and the vegetarian nature of the dishes was doubly interesting, since vegetarianism didn’t really take off in Britain until the nineteenth century. Alas, it wasn’t quite the groundbreaking publication I thought, as I found meat and meat products scattered liberally throughout, and although the seventy tupenny dishes are meatless, they consist mostly of dishes along the lines of “[insert the name of a vegetable] boiled and bread and butter”. Still, it’s not all plain fare, as the following meal suggestion illustrates: “Bread and half a pint of canary, makes an excellent meal.” With half a pint of sherry (canary) inside you, you wouldn’t really care that you only had bread to eat. And for tuppence? Bargain!

ANYHOO…..

These biscuits are listed in the book as Parsnip Cakes – the word ‘cake’ having a much more versatile usage in the eighteenth century, and more inclined to refer to shape, rather than some delightful teatime confection. Parsnips provide both bulk and a very gentle sweetness. Sliced, dried in the oven and then ground in a spice grinder, the parsnip ‘flour’ is then mixed with an equal quantity of flour, a little spice, and formed into a dough by mixing with double cream. Rolled out to a thinness of 5mm and baked in a cool oven, the resultant biscuits are crisp, crunchy and similar to a close-textured digestive biscuit. The flavour of parsnip is detectable, especially if, in the drying they have also browned a little and the sugars caramelised, but it’s not overpowering.  More nutty than vegetable. In terms of sweetness, they sit bang on the fence between sweet and savoury – sweet enough to satisfy a sugar craving, savoury enough to eat with cheese.

It’s this versatility which got me thinking of ways in which it could be adapted, and after experimentation, came up with the following:

  • Spices. You can vary the spices and tip the biscuits more towards sweet or savoury as you prefer.
    • Sweet spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves.
    • Savoury spices: garam masala, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, curry powder.
    • Neutral spices that could go either way: aniseed, fennel, fenugreek, caraway, cardamom, Chinese five spice.
    • Herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic powder, onion powder, chives, etc.
  • Flours. This is where these biscuits are most versatile.The flour you match with the parsnip powder doesn’t have to be limited to plain white. The biscuits in the picture above have been made with stoneground wholemeal with aniseed (top) and medium oatmeal, with a little salt (bottom). Here are just a few further suggestions:
    • brown
    • wholemeal
    • medium oatmeal
    • barley
    • rice
    • plain white
    • white + cornflour
    • brown + rye
    • malted
  • Usage. The dough can also be used as a pastry, with different results coming from the different flours used. Mixing the parsnip flour with brown flour or oatmeal would make a fantastic crust for something like a cauliflower cheese tart. I haven’t tried it for turnovers/handpies, but I suspect you’d need to use bread flour and to work it quite well in order to prevent it cracking when trying to fold it.

Sugarless Biscuits

The recipe for mixing the actual biscuits requires only a fraction of your parsnip flour, thereby allowing you to make several batches from this one quantity. That said, this made only about 200g of parsnip flour in total.

4 large parsnips
50g flour of choice
½-1tsp spice/herb/flavouring of choice
50-70ml double cream

¼ tsp salt (for savoury biscuits and/or when using oatmeal)

  • Peel the parsnips and slice thinly – a mandolin is ideal.
  • Arrange the slices on parchment-lined baking sheets and put into the oven.
  • Turn the oven on low, 120°C/100°C Fan.
  • Since the slices are so thin, they won’t take very long to dry at all. Check after 15 minutes. If they have curled into flower shapes, remove from the oven and allow to cool. If they aren’t completely crisp when cold, you can easily dry them a little longer. It’s better to dry them in two stages, than to let them go a little too long and allow them to take on colour – unless that’s what you’re after, of course.
  • When the parsnips slices are crisp and cold, grind them to powder in a spice grinder, or pound them in a pestle and mortar. If you’re using them for savoury biscuits, you can get away with having it a little coarser – like semolina or polenta. For sweet biscuits, you’ll probably need to sieve out the larger pieces and re-grind.
  • Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C Fan
  • To make the biscuits:
    • Put 50g parsnip flour in the bowl of a food processor.
    • Add 50g of your chosen flour.
    • Add your chosen spices and salt, if required.
    • Blitz for a few seconds to mix.
    • With the motor running, gradually pour in the double cream. Depending on the flour you are using, the quantity of cream required to bring the dough together will vary. Add just enough until the dough comes together in a ball, or at least resembles damp breadcrumbs.
    • Tip out and press together into a ball.
    • Roll out between sheets of cling film plastic (to avoid sticking) to about 5mm and cut into biscuits. I made rectangles of 2.5cm x 5cm, but any shape will do.
    • Lay the biscuits onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick the middles neatly with a fork.
    • Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and bake for a further 10 minutes.
    • Transfer to a wire rack and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes in order to ensure the undersides are dried and crisp.
    • Allow to cool on the wire rack before storing in an airtight container.

Bonus Recipe – Labna

This has to be the world’s simplest soft cheese recipe. I enjoyed it regularly when I was working in the Middle East and its so easy to make. It’s the topping for the biscuits in the photograph and, like the biscuits, can be enjoyed equally with sweet flavours as well as savoury. I dabbed on some seedless blackcurrant jam and it was awesome.

500ml yogurt – any will do, but Greek yogurt is especially delicious
1tsp salt

  • Line a sieve with some clean, scalded muslin.
  • Mix the salt and the yogurt together and pour into the muslin.
  • Tie the corners of the muslin together and hang over a bowl to drain.
  • Leave for 10-12 hours, or overnight.
  • Transfer to a suitable container and store in the fridge.

And that’s it. It’s rich and creamy like cream cheese, but light and refreshing and with just a fraction of the fat content. As already mentioned, it’s delicious paired with a sharp jam or salad, but you can also embellish it as follows:

  • Combine with crushed garlic, freshly chopped mint or parsley, a little olive oil and black pepper and serve with flatbreads.
  • Spread labna on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper or paprika. Serve with tortilla chips and salsa.
  • Shape balls of labna by using a tablespoon as a measure, or a mini ice-cream scoop. Arrange on a tray and chill in the fridge for several hours until firm. Transfer to a jar and pour over olive oil to cover. As long as the labna balls are fully covered by the oil and the jar properly sealed, this will keep without need for refrigeration. Serve dusted with zatar, sumak or rolled in chopped, fresh thyme.

Oasis Rolls

Date Rolls

Wotchers!

For me, the appeal of these pretty biscuits lies in the stark contrast between the dry, crumbly pastry and the sweet, sticky filling. It’s like finding a rich oasis of flavour after a dry and dusty trek through the desert!

OK, so I might be pushing the metaphor a bit – it’s a bite into a biscuit, not Lawrence of Arabia rescuing Gasim from the Empty Quarter, but work with me…..

The pastry contains semolina, which gives it it’s characteristic crumble, and the filling – well, that’s pretty much up to you. I particularly like the combination of date and lemon, but you could equally go with prunes, figs or indeed any ‘sticky’ dried fruit. Mince in something complimentary, such as candied orange or lemon peel, or even chopped nuts for a bit of crunch.  As long as it holds together, and you like the flavour, anything is possible.

Another characteristic of the pastry is that it will hold a pattern during baking, and I’ve taken the opportunity to play around with my set of fondant crimpers to mark the pastry with a range of designs. Since the rolls only have to be baked long enough to cook the pastry, and no more, the contrast between the paleness of the pastry and the dark interior is one I find very aesthetically pleasing. Of course, you don’t HAVE to use crimpers – anything that will make a mark can be used: toothpicks, mini cutters, jagging wheel, etc. or indeed nothing at all.

The price for all this delight is that the pastry is very delicate, both before and after baking. You will need to be very gentle handling it whilst marking any pattern, and I strongly recommend moving the warm biscuits onto the cooling rack with a thin slice. They are a little more robust once cool, but it is still possible to squish the pattern if you’re a little heavy-handed. Let’s be careful out there!

One final point – to bake the rolls without colouring the pastry, you will need to use a non-fan oven.

Oasis Rolls

For the filling
250g chopped dates
zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the pastry
280g plain flour
50g semolina
1tsp baking powder
40g caster sugar
100 unsalted butter
60ml vegetable oil
1tsp orange blossom water or vanilla extract

  • Put the dates, zest and juice into a food processor and blitz to a paste.
  • Form the paste into long rolls about 2cm in diameter. Cover with cling film and chill until required. Rinse and dry the food processor bowl.
  • Put the pastry ingredients into the clean food processor bowl and blitz until the mixture comes together as a soft dough.
  • Tip out and knead smooth, then wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Once the pastry has chilled, roll out between two sheets of cling film, to a thickness of about 1cm.
  • Remove the top layer of cling film and lay a roll of the filling onto the pastry.
  • Use the bottom sheet of cling film to lift the pastry around and over the filling, wrapping it like a sausage roll.
  • Trim off any excess pastry and make sure the roll is laying on the joining seam of the pastry. Trim the ends of the roll off neatly.
  • Repeat until all the filling has been wrapped in dough.
  • Cut your rolls into even lengths 8-10cm is a nice size both for making patterns on and for eating.
  • Mark each roll with patterns – optional – and lay carefully onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • When all are finished, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge while the oven heats up.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Bake the biscuits for 14-16 minutes, until the pastry is cooked but still pale.
  • Allow the biscuits to cool on the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Luxury Brownies

Luxury Brownie

Luxury Five-Layer Chocolate Brownie

Wotchers!

Week 5 of Festive Food and it’s a full-on chocolate fiesta, because what is Christmas without some chocolate? A dang-poor Christmas, that’s what it is!

For years, I have resisted making Brownies, because the last time I’d tasted them, they didn’t strike me as anything special. Of course, this was 1987 and I seem to recall that vegetable oil featured rather heavily, so all in all, no wonder.

So I decided to turn my rehabilitation eye on the humble brownie and force it to raise its game by using top quality ingredients and adding a bit of elegance to its appearance.

What I’ve got for you here is the culinary opposite of those shabby specimens of almost 3 decades ago: it is a multi-layered extravaganza of dark 70% chocolate, real cocoa, fresh butter, rich praline, and creamy milk chocolate. Like Cinderella, humble beginnings have been primped and tweaked and slathered in more bells and whistles than a whole troupe of Morris Men (wack-fol-a-diddle-di-do-sing-too-rah-li-ay!).

I’ve made many versions over the past few weeks, but like some glorious cocoa-based Pokemon, THIS is it’s final form.

FIVE layers – yes, FIVE! Go on, count them! – of indulgence, the textures getting lighter and more luscious as they get higher and higher: from crisp chocolate crunch shortbread, though rich brownie, creamy praline ganache, ethereally light milk-chocolate Chantilly  cream and finally, to be topped with  shower of real chocolate sprinkles! If you wanted to go all-out, I guess you COULD add a dusting of pure cocoa powder, but that seems a little over-the-top if you arsks me….

If you’re starting to panic about how complicated this all is, stop. It’s not. Yes, there are five layers, but you don’t HAVE to make all of them. The brownie by itself is pretty amazing. Add one or two of the other layers, and it’s a real winner. Pick and choose what you want to make – your kitchen, your rules.

This is a 2-day recipe, so don’t think everything has to be done in one go. The bottom two layers are baked in the same tin, one on top of the other, and the ganache is then poured on top – the first three layers all neatly contained in a single tin – no mess, no fuss. The only other thing to do on the first day is to melt some chocolate in cream. So you end up with just 2 items in the fridge. Simples!

It’s a what-I-call Lego™ recipe, with bits taken from here and there and stuck together to make something new. Bonus: each layer is delicious just on its own:

  • Chocolate crunch base – makes fabulously crisp biscuits.
  • Brownie – bakes in 15 minutes for a speedy dessert – serve with cream!
  • Praline Ganache – once cooled, can be rolled into decadent truffles and tossed in cocoa.
  • Milk chocolate chantilly – with just 2 ingredients and a little planning ahead, the easiest dessert of all.
  • Real chocolate sprinkles – delicious on bread and butter for breakfast.

 You need to start it the day before it is required, because the ganache and the Chantilly must chill overnight in the fridge. Apart from that, it’s very straightforward.

WARNING: This makes a SLAB of brownie, and due to its richness, serves up to 20. If you’re not wanting such a huge quantity, even though it will last for several days over the festive season, consider scaling the recipe down.  Also, if you’re thinking this could be regarded as a serving for 1 (which, technically, I suppose it could be), for the sake of your arteries, consider scaling the recipe down!

I make this a pan of dimensions 24cm x 32cm x 4cm. If you haven’t got a tin exactly the same, then just go with what you have – smaller and deeper – or even two small tins – is better, to keep the ganache from overflowing.

Luxury Brownies

Day 1

Chocolate Biscuit Base

This is a crumbly, buttery shortbread, but with added feuilletine and ground almonds for two different yet complimentary crunch textures. If you don’t have any feuilletine, use a few crushed crepes dentelles or cornflakes.

135g butter – softened
45g icing sugar
1g salt
135g flour
10g cocoa
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine [1]

  • Line your tin with baking parchment. Leave the edges quite long, so that they stick up well above the sides of the tin.
  • Mix the softened butter, sugar, salt, flour, cocoa and ground almonds in a bowl until well combined.
  • Lightly stir in the feuilletine. Try to keep the pieces a reasonable size, so that they can still be discerned in the cooked biscuit.
  • Turn out the mixture onto parchment and lay some clingfilm over the top.
  • Roll the mixture out to fit your tin. The overall thickness should be between 5-8mm thick. You might find it easier to roll this out onto the baking parchment from the tin, then you’ll know exactly where to trim/patch.
  • Prick all over with a fork (to keep it from blistering) and place in the freezer to harden for between 15 and 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes and then set aside to cool. The biscuit will be mostly cooked, and will finish off as the brownie mixture bakes.

Rich Chocolate Brownie

100 g egg yolks (5 large)
125 g caster sugar (to mix with the yolks)
120 g of egg white (3 large)
120 g caster sugar (to mix with the white)
15 g of cocoa powder
50g flour
60g chopped walnuts (or pecans).
220 g of dark chocolate (I used 70% )
120 g unsalted butter

  • Increase the oven heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Mix the egg yolks and sugar until very light and fluffy (10 mins-ish).
  • Meanwhile melt butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool a little.
  • Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar and beat until stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with the whisked yolks. NB Use a balloon whisk for this – it’s more effective and doesn’t knock out as much air as a spoon or spatula.
  • Fold in the butter/chocolate mixture.
  • Fold in the walnuts.
  • Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
  • When thoroughly combined, pour onto the biscuit base in the baking tin.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on how baked you like your brownie to be – I went for 20 minutes, because I like a cakey cake rather than a gooey cake).
  • Set aside to cool in the tin.

Praline Ganache
100g unblanched almonds )
100g caster sugar                   ) for the praline paste.

You CAN buy praline paste ready made[1], but it’s generally made with hazelnuts and is therefore not as delicate a flavour as a purely almond praline paste.

115g praline paste
345ml double cream
285g dark 60-70% chocolate
2tsp vanilla extract (optional).

  • Make  the praline paste, or see footnote [1] below:
    • Put the almonds on a baking sheet and put in the oven.
    • Turn the heat to 160°C, 140°C Fan and let the nuts toast for 15-20 minutes.
    • Put the sugar into a pan over medium heat. Allow the sugar to melt and become golden brown. NB Do not stir, as this will cause the sugar to crystallise. Swirl the sugar around the pan.
    • Put the toasted nuts onto some baking parchment or a silicone mat, and pour the caramel over them.
    • Leave to cool.
    • Cut the praline into pieces and blitz it in a food processor to ‘breadcrumbs’.
    • Keep the machine running and eventually (5 minutes or so) it will turn into a paste, as the oil in the nuts is released.
    • Weigh out the quantity you need. Any remainder will keep very well in a sealed box.
  • Chop the chocolate and add to the praline paste in a bowl.
  • Heat the cream to just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes. This waiting time allows the heat of the cream to act on the chocolate and allows it to melt gradually. Vigorous stirring immediately after adding the cream will just create and trap air bubbles and spoil the finish of the ganache.
  • Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
  • Stir in the vanilla, if using.
  • Pour onto the cooled brownie in the tin. It will have sunk a little in the middle as it cooled, but I like also to press the edges down a little, so that the ganache sets as an even layer across the whole brownie. Just press the raised edges gently with the flat of your hand until the surface seems level., then pour over the liquid ganache.
  • If you’re having the ganache as the final topping – and it does set to a beautifully glossy finish, you’ll want to try and get rid of as many of the air bubbles as possible, so that the surface is smooth and shiny. To do this, lift the tin about 10cm off the kitchen counter and drop it onto the worktop. Repeat 3 or 4 times. You will see the bubbles rise and burst through the ganache. This dropping will also help level out the ganache. You can also jiggle the tin from side to side to ensure the ganache has got into all the nooks and crannies.
  • Allow to cool on the side, before covering lightly with foil and putting it in the fridge to set.  If it’s still warm when you cover it, you run the risk of droplets of condensation falling onto the ganache.  Clingfilm is an acceptable alternative to foil, if you can ensure it doesn’t touch the ganache, as this would spoil the mirror finish.

Milk Chocolate Chantilly

This is a fabulous concoction to have up your sleeve. Once prepared, it has the texture of mousse, but without the fuss of either gelatine or whipped (raw) egg-whites. Great for vegetarians!

400ml whipping cream
200g Milka milk chocolate

  • Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl.
  • Heat the cream until just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes.
  • Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
  • To ensure that the cream and chocolate are fully combined, you can, while the mixture is still hot, BRIEFLY whisk it with an immersion blender – no more than 4 or 5 quick pulses.
  • Allow to cool.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.

Day 2

You can, of course, serve this as a traybake, with or without the chantilly cream, but it is so rich, and looks so pretty when you can see all the layers, I really recommend portioning it out neatly in either squares or fingers.

  • Remove the tin of brownie from the fridge. The Ganache will have set to a lovely smooth and shiny finish.
  • Take hold of the parchment and lift the whole thing out of the tin and set it on the work surface.
  • Slowly peel the parchment away from the sides.
  • Cut up the brownie. This might seem a little over the top, to have a section devoted to cutting up a tray bake, but having gone to so much effort, a little care to ensure beautifully smooth slices like the one in the picture is time well spent.
    • Have a large, sharp, smooth knife to hand. A serrated knife won’t give you the sleek, smooth edge required.
    • Also have a jug of very hot water and a clean tea towel.
    • Have a board/serving dish for the slices of brownie, and a side plate for the offcuts and trimmings.
    • Hold the blade of the knife in the hot water for a few seconds, to heat up. This will allow it to cut through the ganache cleanly.
    • Dry the blade thoroughly with the tea towel.
    • In one smooth movement, trim one of the short sides of the slab, to reveal the layers.
    • Put the trimmings on the side plate.
    • Wash the knife blade clean. This removes all crumbs and traces of ganache, which would spoil the clean cut surface the next time you made a cut.
    • Repeat – heating/drying/cutting/washing the blade clean – until all four sides have been trimmed.
    • Divide the trimmed brownie slab into fingers. My suggestion is for fingers no larger than 10cm x 3cm.
    • Carefully place each cut slice onto the board/serving dish.
    • Remember to clean your blade after each cut, and every serving will be perfect.
  • Prepare the milk chocolate Chantilly cream by whipping it with either a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, or a hand mixer. The setting power of the milk chocolate means that the cream will hold its shape like whipped double cream, but be altogether lighter. NB Be careful not to over-whip the cream – it will take only 1-2 minutes of whisking to thicken up.
  • Pipe the cream onto your brownie slices. For the pattern in the picture, I used a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle to form ‘kisses’ in rows. Feel free to choose both a different piping tip and pattern.
  • Sprinkle real chocolate sprinkles over the top to finish.

[1] http://www.souschef.co.uk is a great online resource for praline paste, feuilletine etc.