Snow Crisp

Snow Crisp

Snow Crisp – dusted with milk powder(L), showing the jewel-like sides of each portion (R)

Wotchers!

Something a little different today, with a recipe that is simple, quick, delicious and easily made gluten-free.

I came across it whilst browsing Chinese language food blogs (see the lengths I go to, to bring you the cutting edge of fashionable recipes??). Anyhoo – this recipe seems to be riding a sizeable wave of popularity, which is understandable for all of the reasons I started with, plus the ease with which it can be customised. I’ve ‘interpreted’ the Chinese name to the most suitable translation, the variations I came across whilst researching being many and varied, e.g. Snowflake Cakes, Snow Puff Pastry, Snow Q Cake, Snowflake Crisp, Dry Snow Cake and my favourites – Reticulated Red Snowflake Pastry, Swept Eat Snowflake Crisp Circle & Delicious Non-Stick Tooth Nougat Failure.

Mmm.

It is like a cross between Chocolate Salami and nougat –  fruit and nuts are mixed into melted marshmallows, with the addition of crisp biscuit pieces for added texture. The biscuits also ‘lighten the bite’ and prevent it from being either too sweet or too cloying. Once formed into a slab, it is dusted with dried milk powder to give it a wintery effect.

I would recommend having some latex gloves on hand, no pun intended, to help with shaping the warm mass, but it is also possible to make-do without.

When your block has set firmly, you can slice it into serving portions and dust all cut surfaces with milk powder if liked, but I must confess to preferring to see the contrast between the powdery top/bottom and the crisp and sharply delineated sides showing the embedded jewels of fruit and nut. You can even omit the milk powder altogether, or substitute with desiccated coconut, but I would recommend at least trying it to begin with – maybe cut off a slice or two and just dust those.

Chocolate Snow Crisp

Chocolate Snow Crisp – dusted with cocoa

In terms of variations, the most popular I have found are chocolate (cocoa) and matcha. Being in powder form, they are easy both to add to the melted marshmallows and use for dusting – although changing the overall colour means you do lose the whole ‘snow’ theme somewhat. That said, it does allow you to use non-white marshmallow, if packs of all-white are difficult to find.

Fruits and nuts are entirely to your taste, but bright colours and whole nuts make for attractive shapes when cut through. If you make your own candied peel – and as readers of this blog you all do, obvs (no pressure 😉 ) – it can be substituted for some or all of the dried fruit, and a mix of seeds can replace the nuts.

The quantities given are sufficient for a block of about 20cm square – you can, of course, shape it however you prefer. They are also easy to remember, as I have made them proportional, and thus fairly straightforward to scale up or down, as required.

The biscuits you require should be crisp and dry. In the UK, Rich Tea biscuits or Arrowroot are ideal (regular or gluten-free), although you will have to break them into quarters for ease of shaping. If you’re a fan of the pairing of salty and sweet, you could even substitute Ritz crackers – the mini ones being perfectly sized to leave whole. Crisp and salty pretzels are a further option.

Snow Crisp

50g unsalted butter
200g white marshmallows
50g dried milk powder
50g dried fruit – cranberries & orange peel/blueberries/apricots
50g mixed nuts – pistachios & walnuts/almonds/cashews
200g crisp biscuits – Rich Tea/Arrowroot/gluren-free/Ritz, broken into quarters if large

Extra milk powder for dusting

  • Put the fruit, nuts and biscuits in a pile on a silicone mat.
  • Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over a very low heat.
  • Add the marshmallows and stir gently while they melt. This will take some time. Do not be tempted to turn the heat up, as they will quickly start to turn brown and caramelise.
  • When the marshmallows have melted, add the milk powder and stir until fully combined.
  • Pour the marshmallow mixture onto the fruits and biscuits.
  • Put on your plastic gloves and thoroughly mix everything together. Use a series  of gentle lifting and folding motions. You want the marshmallow to coat everything and hold together, without crushing the biscuits into dust.
  • Once the mixture is holding together in a mass, you can use a non-stick tin to help mould it into a rectangle. Press the mass into a corner of the tin to help form two square edges, then turn it around and repeat, pressing it gently by firmly into the sides.
  • When you’re happy with the dimensions of your slab, wrap it in plastic and put into the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
  • When the slab has firmed up, dust with more of the milk powder, making sure the whole surface is covered. Turn the slab over and repeat.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut the slab into serving sized pieces – about the size of a matchbox is good – it’s allows the edges to be seen and admired, and cn be eaten in just 2 bites.
  • Store in an airtight box.

Variations

  • Chocolate: Add 15-20g cocoa to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with cocoa.
  • Matcha: Add 15-20g matcha powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of matcha and milk powder, or just matcha.
  • Fruit variations: Add 15-20g freeze-dried fruit powders (available here) to the pan together with the milk powder, use whole dried fruit in the filling and dust with extra fruit powder.
  • Coffee: Add 15-20g espresso coffee powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of coffee & milk powder.
  • Oats: Replace half of the biscuits with toasted, rolled oats.

More Fudge

Mince Pie Fudge
Wotchers!

Well, the festive season is rapidly approaching and it’s high time I came up with some suitably-themed posts!

So here are a couple of recipes for making treats that are perfect to give as gifts, as well as keeping all to yourself. NB For the best possible texture to your finished fudge, a sugar thermometer or therma-pen is necessary.

See also: Sea-Foam Fudge

Mince Pie Fudge

I love the intense fruits/spicy/boozy/citrus flavour of mincemeat, especially since I started making the vegetarian/vegan/fat-free/no-added-sugar mincemeat inspired by a recipe from Hannah Glasse. However much I love the flaky, buttery-ness of a puff pastry mince pie – FYI, it’s a LOT – sometimes, I just want to enjoy the filling.

Since it would be undignified to spoon it straight from the jar – *poker face* not that I’d ever do that – I thought that making it into fudge would be an ideal way for a handy-sized hit of festive cheer.

This recipe is a variation of the only fudge recipe you’ll ever need – and an adaption of the aforementioned mincemeat recipe. There is less liquid and more spices, in order for their flavours to survive being added to the hot fudge mixture.

For the mincemeat
90g mixed candied peel, diced small
130g of flaked or slivered almonds and pistachios
150g mixed raisins, sultanas, cranberries and chopped apricots
2tbs sherry
1tbs brandy
juice & grated rind of an orange
juice & grated rind of a lemon
½tsp ground ginger
½tsp grated nutmeg,
½tsp ground cinnamon
½tsp ground mixed spice
¼tsp ground cloves

  • Put the sherry, brandy, lemon and orange juice, dried fruits and spices into a small pan.
  • Stir gently to combine and set pan over the lowest possible heat.
  • Cover and let the mixture stew gently until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • The mixture should be moist, but with no liquid visible in the bottom.
  • Mix the zests, nuts and candied peel and set aside.

For the fudge
1 x 397ml tin of sweetened, condensed milk
150ml milk
125g butter
450g Demerera sugar

  • Line a rectangular baking pan with parchment. Personally, I use a pan 30cm by 24cm
  • Put all of the ingredients into a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and stir continuously until it registers between 118°C and 120°C on a thermometer dipped into the centre of the pan. Make sure the tip of the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as this will be much hotter and the thermometer will thus give a false reading.
  • When your fudge reaches temperature, remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to settle. Pour into your stand mixer and use the beating paddle (not the whisk) to beat slowly for at least five minutes, to cool the fudge.
  • When the mixture has cooled and thickened, add the  soaked fruit, nuts and peel and stir to combine.
  • When it is thick and still just pourable, tip it into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
  • Leave to cool completely.
  • When cold, cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.

Creamy Vanilla Fudge

Creamy Vanilla Fudge

The sweetened, condensed milk recipe above can satisfy 99% of your fudge-related requirements: the texture is excellent, it is easily flavoured with a range of simple additions, and even ‘plain’ is delicious.

However, everything can be improved on, if your palate is demanding enough, and so if plain and unadorned pure flavours are your thing, then this is the recipe for you. If the above recipe is the regular champagne of fudge recipes, then this recipe is vintage. I have adapted it from a recipe published online by Nick Dudley-Jones, reducing the sugar slightly and merely adding detail where his recipe was more free-spirited.

The quality of the ingredients is what sets this recipe aside, so be sure to use the very best you can get your hands on and you will reap your just rewards.

600g caster sugar
500ml double cream
50g unsalted butter
10g liquid glucose
1 vanilla pod or 1-2tsp good quality vanilla paste
75g good quality white chocolate – chopped

  • Line a rectangular,  30cm by 24cm baking pan with parchment.
  • Put the sugar, cream, butter and glucose into a thick-bottomed pan.
  • Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.
  • Put the seeds and the pod into the pan with the rest of the ingredients.
  • Heat the ingredients gently until the sugar has fully dissolved.
  • Raise the heat and bring to a rolling boil, stirring all the time.
  • Continue stirring and cook until the mixture reaches 118-120°C.
  • Remove from the heat.
  • When the bubbles have subsided, fish out the vanilla pod.
  • Pour the fudge into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat slowly for 5 minutes to cool and grain the mixture.
  • After 5 minutes, slowly add in the chopped chocolate, pausing between each addition until it has melted.
  • Continue to beat the mixture slowly until it thickens. This will take a further 7-10 minutes. The texture should be similar to marshmallow fluff/putty/uncooked sponge cake mixture (pick whichever of those analogies is most recognisable to you).
  • Spoon/pour the mixture into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
  • Set aside and allow to cool at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
  • Chill if liked for extra firmness and to achieve razor-clean cuts when dividing it up.
  • Cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.
  • If you can exercise the self-control, the flavour of this fudge is best if first allowed to mature for 24 hours, which gives the flecks of vanilla seeds time to release their aromas.

Tropical Curd

Tropical Curd

Wotchers!

This is a summery variation on the Honey Curd recipe published on the blog a while ago, but this time made with the pulp of fresh tropical fruits, perfect for sandwiching summer sponge cakes, filling pastry tart shells, or drizzling over Pavlovas and meringues.

There are lots of Tropical Curd recipes out there, but none that I have read have this mix of fresh fruit. The passionfruit is strong and tangy, the mango adds mellowness and the banana provides both bulk and sweetness so that only a relatively small amount of honey is required. This particular mixture allows all the flavours to be tasted: first banana, then mango and vanilla, and finishing with passionfruit. The use of fruit pulp also means that there is a generous quantity of finished curd, providing more than enough after the above serving suggestions for enjoying on scones.

Due to the moisture content of the fruits varying, you may well have some fruit pulp left over once the quantities below have been measured out. You can choose to just throw it all in together anyways, or you can just eat the mango/banana pulp, and dilute any spare passionfruit juice with cold still/sparkling water in the manner of a fruit squash (1-2cm in the bottom of a glass). Without sugar, it is a delicious and refreshingly tart drink.

Top Tip:
If you have no spare jars, I recommend purchasing jars of jam/marmalade/lemon curd from the supermarkets ‘basics’ ranges, emptying them out[1] and putting the jars through the dishwasher. The heat/soapy water will help to remove the label and for as little as 35p you have a perfectly serviceable glass jar with a self-sealing ‘button’ lid.

Tropical Curd

12 passionfruit
1 mango
2 bananas
1 vanilla pod
150g runny honey
2 large eggs
2 large yolks
60g unsalted butter

  • Wash and dry 2 x 450g jars. Put them and the lids into a cold oven and turn the temperature to 120C/100C Fan and leave for 30 minutes.
  • Cut the passionfruit in half and scrape out the seeds into a sieve. Work the pulp through the sieve to remove all of the seeds. Keep working the seeds and scraping the pulp from underneath the sieve until there is just a mass of black seeds left in the sieve, with no visible pulp. There is around 15ml of pure passionfruit juice in each fruit, so this quantity will make between 150 and 180ml of juice.
  • Cover with cling film and set the juice aside.
  • Prepare the mango. Hold the mango so the thinner side is towards you, then cut the two fleshy sides from either side of the mango pit, starting at the top of the fruit.
  • Watch this video to see how to separate the mango flesh from the skin.
  • Chop the flesh roughly and place into a jug.
  • Use a stick blender to puree the flesh.
  • Sieve the mango puree to remove any small fibres.
  • Cover with cling film and set the puree aside.
  • Peel the bananas and break them into chunks.
  • Put the chunks in a jug and use a stick blender to puree the flesh.
  • Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.
  • In a clean saucepan, put
    • the vanilla seeds
    • the scraped vanilla pod
    • 100g of passionfruit juice
    • 100g mango pulp
    • 150g banana pulp
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 large yolks
    • 150g runny honey
    • 60g butter
  • Whisk over medium-low heat until the eggs have thickened the mixture. If you have a thermometer, the temperature needs only to get to 72°C.
  • Fish out the vanilla pod and then sieve the curd whilst hot to remove any pieces of pod that have become detached during the whisking.
  • Balancing the curd: This is where your own personal taste comes into play. The ripeness of the fruits you use to make the curd will also determine the finished flavour, which means that you might need to tweak the finished curd so that the flavours are balanced. Personally, I whisk in about 3 tablespoons of passionfruit juice at this stage, because the necessary heating has a dulling effect on the fresh burst of flavour that passionfruit has. If your bananas are very ripe, for eample, you might feel they are too dominant, and thus need to add in additional mango and passionfruit. It’s your decision. Remember: the flavour will change again as it cools/chills, so feel free to re-tweak the cold curd in order to get that perfect mix. Be sure to cover the curd with cling film as it cools, ensuring the film is in contact with the curd itself, to prevent a skin from forming.
  • When you’re happy with the flavour, pot in the sterilised jars and store in the fridge.

Variation
For a lighter, less indulgent-tasting curd, omit the vanilla.

If your idea of tropical requires the appearance of coconut, feel free to slosh in a tablespoon or two of Malibu once the curd has been removed from the heat. Make further additions to taste once it has cooled.

 

 

[1] Having read the list of ingredients on a ‘basic’ jar of lemon curd, I have neither qualms nor guilt disposing of the contents down the sink.


Honey Granola

Honey Granola
Wotchers!

I’m still ovenless, so improvisation is still the name of the game here, with this gloriously crunchy and chewy granola you can make in the microwave!

I’ve used gluten-free oats and coconut oil to make it both gluten and dairy free, but you could easily substitute ordinary oats and butter.

You can customise the recipe by adding in your own choice of dried fruit after the granola has cooled. I recommend going for tart/sharp fruits to contrast with the sweet and crunchy oats and nuts.

You can also easily customise this recipe if you’re thinking of making edible gifts this Christmas. In addition to varying the fruit and nuts, you could also sprinkle some spice over the finished mixture such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mixed spice, etc.

Honey Granola

250g gluten-free oats
60g coconut ribbons
120g pumpkin seeds
120g sunflower seeds
120g pecans – chopped
1tsp salt
250g runny honey
110g coconut oil
110g dark Muscovado sugar

To add after cooling

flaked almonds
currants
dried blueberries
chopped, dried apricot
dried cherries
dried barberries
dried cranberries

  • Tip the oats into a large, dry pan and stir over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until lightly toasted.
  • Transfer the oats to a large bowl and add the coconut, seeds, nuts and salt. Stir thoroughly.
  • Put the sugar, coconut oil and honey into a pan and heat gently until the coconut oil has melted.
  • Pour the warm mixture over the oat mixture and stir well to coat.
  • Pour half the oat mixture onto a piece of baking parchment and microwave on High for 2 minutes.
  • Stir the mix, then microwave on High for a further 2 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
  • Repeat with the other half of the mixture.
  • When the mixture has cooled completely, transfer the granola to a large bowl and break up into clumps.
  • Add in dried fruit to taste and mix thoroughly.
  • Store in a sealed container. If the mixture is sticky, store in the fridge.

 


Chocolate Praline Tart

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Chocolate Praline Tart

Wotchers!

A little bit of luxury for you this week. I’m still sticking with the French theme, but it’s a little less obvious than in previous weeks. This week’s recipe is inspired by a newly acquired book which demonstrates that food allergies or intolerances need not signal a lifetime of dull or dismal food.

Conticini GF DF book

This is the latest pubication by Philippe Conticini, creating mouthwatering desserts and treats that are both gluten free and dairy free. Although I purchased my copy from the French Amazon site a few months ago, it is now available with just UK shipping charges here, or order through your local bookshop. Alas, it is only available in the original French, but anyone with O-level/GCSE French and a working knowledge of baking will manage easily.

Sidebar: for the digitally inclined, there is a free Translate app that will allow you to photograph text with your phone, which it will then scan and translate on the go. Also, Chef Conticini has many of his recipes freely available on his website here, as well as numerous demonstration videos on his Facebook page here.

The first recipe in the book is for a kind of chocolate nut sponge, and it is filled with a ganache and glazed with a slightly thinned version of the ganache. It is delicious! It is also very hard to believe it is both gluten and lactose free.

I was so impressed with the ganache, I thought it deserved a starring role, so here it is in a very elegant and sophisticated tart. Gluten and dairy free chocolate is available in supermarkets – I found both milk and dark chocolate in Morrisons.

This tart is made up of bits and pieces from different recipes, tweaked to fit in with my overall idea: I like to think of it as the Lego™ approach. The praline paste is Philippe Conticinis, as well as the ganache – I’ve not messed with either. I’ve tweaked the sweet pastry recipe by adding cocoa (reducing one of the flours) to make it chocolate.

I’ve used a long, rectangular tart tin, but any shape will do. Since everything tastes so rich, the tart doesn’t have to be very deep and you could probably stretch the pastry to a 24cm flan tin. Otherwise, use a 20cm flan tin and, exercising your will of iron, cut the slices very thin.

Chocolate Praline Tart

For the praline

NB Because it is a bit of a Faff™, this deliberately makes a LOT of praline. However, it will keep for months in the fridge if necessary. If you really don’t think you’ll use it – I mean, it’s not like it tastes AWESOME or anything – consider making a half batch.

300g of whole raw hazelnuts (with skin)
300g of whole raw almonds (with skin)
400g caster sugar
100g water

  • Put the sugar and the water in a pan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring the syrup to a boil and when the temperature reaches 118°C, add the hazelnuts and almonds.
  • Stir the nuts in the sugar, making sure that they are thoroughly coated. This movement will also cause the sugar to crystallise. This is fine. Continue stirring to keep the nuts from burning.
  • Eventually, the sugar will melt again and turn a deep and warm caramel colour.
  • At this point, pour the whole mixture onto baking parchment. Before it cools, pull the nuts apart using a couple of forks, so that they don’t set in a solid lump. This will make processing them easier.
  • When the caramelised nuts are cold, break them up either by hand or by battering them with a rolling pin and transfer to a food processor fitted with the cutting blade.
  • If you want to use some of the nuts as decoration, as in the photo, set some aside before the mixture becomes paste.
  • Process the nuts into a smooth paste using a series of short bursts with the blade. If you keep the blade moving for too long, it will heat up the paste, so short stints are best. For a long time it will seem like you’re just making a racket with the machine, but it will eventually break down into smaller pieces.
  • When the mixture is smooth, transfer to an airtight box and store in the fridge.

For the pastry

This recipe uses clarified butter. Before everyone starts shrieking dairy, let me remind you that clarified butter is pure fat, WITHOUT any of the dairy solids. If you’re not convinced, as an alternative you can use Indian ghee or coconut butter.

50g clarified butter
30g icing sugar
30g ground almonds
25g chestnut flour
25g Green & Black’s cocoa powder
25g cornflour
50g rice flour
pinch of sea salt

1 large yolk
½ large egg – whisked

  • Use a little clarified butter to grease your tin and shake over some cornflour (to help keep the pastry from sticking).
  • Put the butter and the dry ingredients into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Whisk the yolk into the beaten egg and add gradually to the dry ingredients until the mixture comes together. It might not come together in the bowl, only resemble damp crumbs, but it will hold once tipped out and pressed firmly.
  • Roll out thinly and use to line your prepared tin. Alternatively, just use the damp crumbs into your tin and press into the sides and base until covered. I opted to roll the pastry and got it impressively thin, but then I found I couldn’t move it across into the tin in one piece, so I just patchworked it together.
  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Line your pastry with baking parchment and add cooking beads/rice.
  • Bake until the pastry is fully cooked (20-30 minutes).
  • Set aside to cool. NB Your pastry might crack as it cools. Fear not. Just melt some GF DF chocolate and literally paint over the cracks. And everywhere else if you like. Put the tart shell in the fridge to set. The layer of chocolate will help keep the pastry crisp underneath the rich filling.

For the ganache

170g GF DF dark chocolate
55g GF DF milk chocolate
150ml Soya milk

  • Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bowl over warm water.
  • Heat the milk and slowly add to the melted chocolate, stirring constantly until fully combined.
  • Set aside until required.

To assemble

  • Add a layer of praline to the cooled tart shell. How much is entirely up to you. I am a big fan of its rich taste, but then again, a little does go a long way. I spread a 5mm layer which is enough to give the flavour, but doesn’t overpower. If the praline is cold and too stiff to spread, zap it for a few seconds in the microwave to soften.
  • Pour the warm ganache over the praline paste and smooth. You can also tap the tin lightly on the work surface to get the ganache to level out.
  • Put into the fridge to set. Once set, sprinkle over the finely chopped praline if using.
  • If not eating immediately, cover lightly with cling film – try and keep it from touching the ganache – and store in the fridge.
  • Allow the tart to come to room temperature before serving.

 


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.

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.