Caramel Popcorn II

Mince Pie Popcorn
Wotchers!

Welcome back to Part II of Caramel Popcorn, (Part I can be found here), in which we learn about zhuzhing our base caramel popcorn into glittering jewels for gifting and treats.

There are, as I see it, three ways to add even more flavours to your popcorn:

  • Bits and Bobs
  • Alcohol
  • Spices

Bits and Bobs
This catch-all term covers just about anything you can think of. Purely decorative options include: hard sugar sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, gold and silver balls, gold stars, coloured sugar. These can be added to the popcorn after baking, when the caramel is still slightly tacky, and left to cool. Larger additions can include dried fruit, candied peels, preserved ginger, etc which can be added during the baking process since, being more substantial, they require more stickiness to ensure they adhere well to the caramel. You could also drizzle over melted, tempered chocolate, once the caramel has cooled, but to be honest, that seems a little over the top to me, given the amount of sugar already in the caramel, but whatever jingles your bells.

Alcohol
Nothing too outrageous, just a little something right at the end of cooking the caramel to give it a little flavour boost. Two tablespoons is my recommendation: any less and it won’t be noticable, and any more and you risk your caramel not setting. Between the hot caramel and the oven baking, there won’t be any actual alcohol left by the time the popcorn is done, but the flavour will add a wonderful touch to your popcorn.

Spices
Whether you pick just a single spice, or go for a riotous mix of several, spices are a simple way to zhuzh up your popcorn batches. There are two opportunities to add spices: in the oil you pop the corn or afterwards as a dusting over the cooked corn. In experimenting for this post, I had also tried adding them to the caramel, just before the bicarbonate of soda, but found the extreme heat of the caramel just scorched the spices and thus reduced their flavour. The oil the popcorn is cooked in doesn’t get as hot, and the lower heat can actually encourage the spices to become more aromatic. For an even richer flavour, use clarified butter or ghee to pop your corn.

Coverage
Before presenting any glammed-up recipe ideas, I want to pause for a moment and talk a little more about coverage. Previously, I spoke about varying the quantity of popcorn to get the coverage of your preference, from a light smattering to full-on candy clumps. Now, I like a light covering to my popcorn, as, usually, the heavily-coated popcorn is too sweet, but here I’m going to recommend a change. When trialling these recipes I found that they actually suit a heavier coverage because, and here’s the odd bit, it leads to one eating less. I mean, the whole batch still gets eaten – obvs! – but the additional ingredients provide a pop of such intense flavour, one or two pieces at a time is enough. Rather like a mint, or piece of fudge with a coffee at the end of a meal. In fact, why not serve your glammed up popcorn that way anyways!

And now – On to some recipe suggestions!

To avoid repetition and making this post a mile long, I’ll only be listing the additions to the base recipe/methods covered in the previous post.

Malt Caramel Popcorn

Malt Popcorn

This popcorn has a gloriously rich colour and flavour. Caveat: you need to like the flavour of malt extract (obvs), otherwise this isn’t the popcorn for you. I described it to my daughter as tasting like strong Maltesers. She tried it, but wasn’t a fan. I, on the other hand, love it. It’s not overly sweet, which is a big plus, and the caramel sets to a wonderful crispness.

Use the Maple Syrup method, using 200g of soft brown sugar and 125g/ml of malt extract for the liquid sugar.  Bake for 20 minutes, stirring it after 10.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

A wonderfully aromatic sweet/salty mix that is sure to appeal to everyone. Bonus: only requires two extra ingredients!

Bacon
Maple syrup

A word or two about the bacon. And those two words are ‘dry cure’.

Dry cure is a method of bacon production that does not involve liquid. Spices, salts and sugars are rubbed over the meat for several days until the meat is cured. Liquid is drawn out of the meat, leaving it compact and firm. Wet brined bacon absorbs moisture as well as the curing salts. The difference is obvious when you cook it – wet brined bacon frequently oozes moisture and milky solids in the pan, whereas dry cure bacon merely becomes crisp in it’s own rendered fat.

You can choose between streaky or back bacon, smoked or unsmoked. I chose 200g of smoked, dry cured, streaky bacon, initially intending to use just some for the popcorn, but I ended up using it all on a single batch.

Clutch the pearls! gif

Yes, I too was surprised. But anything less and there was too little bacon to make any impression. You need to cook/glaze your bacon first, before popping the corn or making the caramel.

  • Cook your bacon in a dry pan (if using streaky bacon) or by adding a little oil if using leaner back bacon, until just cooked and starting to brown a little. The later grilling will crisp it up, so you want it to be just barely cooked at this stage. Overcook it now and by the time it is grilled, it will be brittle and tasteless.
  • Remove from the pan and blot with kitchen paper.
  • Lay the cooked bacon on a parchment-lined pan and drizzle with the maple syrup.
  • Grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn over and grill for a further 2 minutes to caramelise the sugars.
  • Taste, and if the sweet/salt combination isn’t balanced, sprinkle a little salt onto the still-warm bacon.
  • Set aside to cool, then snip into small pieces with a pair of scissors.

Adding the bacon
There are two options – before or after the caramel. I have tried both and, whilst neither is ideal, my recommendation is to add the bacon to the hot popcorn as soon as it is popped. The stickiness of the maple syrup helps it adhere, and if it is a little clumpy (and it probably will be) the motion of mixing/coating the popcorn with the caramel will help even the distribution.

Parkin Popcorn

This flavour combination is based on a luxury parkin recipe I found in an otherwise unremarkable household compendium from 1870. In addition to treacle and ginger, the recipe also boasted lashings of rum, which cemented it’s place in my heart.

Use the regular caramel popcorn ingredients/method with the following adjustments:

  • Solid sugar: Either 200g soft brown, or 100g each of light & dark muscovado.
  • Liquid sugar: 125ml treacle – heat the opened tin gently in a saucepan of water to make it more manageable to pour.
  • Oil for popping: Oil is fine, but clarified butter is also a luxurious alternative
  • New Ingredients
    • ground ginger: Add 1 rounded teaspoon to the oil/butter used for popping the corn to ensure even coverage of kernels
    • dark rum: Add 2tbs into the caramel just before adding the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Optional Extra
    • preserved stem ginger: I just thought of this recently, but didn’t want to delay this post further by waiting for a sunny day to take more photos. Drain from the syrup and chop finely. Sprinkle over the popped corn while hot. I suggest 80-100g, or to your personal taste.

Mince Pie Popcorn

Mince Pie Popcorn

I must admit, this version is my favourite of the glammed-up recipes, because it’s literally bursting with flavour. Not surprisingly, given the number of extra ingredients thrown in, but this guarantees that each piece is a fantastic mix of Christmassy flavours and the perfect gluten-free alternative to pastry pies. If your fruit is too clumped together, tease it apart before the baking stage.

Use the regular caramel popcorn ingredients/method with the following adjustments:

  • Solid sugar: Either 200g soft brown, or 100g each of light & dark muscovado. This will depend on the liquid sugar combo you choose. I used treacle/soft brown.
  • Liquid sugar: 125ml treacle or for a less intense flavour without losing the rich colour, try 60ml each of golden syrup and treacle. As above, heat the opened tin gently in a saucepan of water to make it more manageable to pour.
  • Oil for popping: clarified butter
  • New Ingredients
    • Mince pie spices. Add to the butter used for popping the corn to ensure even coverage of kernels
      • ½tsp ground ginger
      • 1tsp ground nutmeg
      • 1tsp ground cinnamon
      • 1tsp of ground mixed spice
      • ½tsp ground cloves
    • Alcohol – 1tbs each of cream sherry & brandy. Add into the caramel just before adding the bicarbonate of soda.
    • Candied peel: 75g each of candied orange and lemon peel, cut into small (5mm) dice. Toss through the popcorn before coating the caramel.
    • Cranberries: 80g cranberries, cut into halves. Toss through the popcorn before coating the caramel.

Three-Ingredient Treats

Salted Caramel Ice-Cream
Wotchers!

Two treats for you today – each one minimalist on ingredients, maximum on deliciousness.

Much as I love creating challenging showstoppers such as the Seven Veils Cake or the Orange Mousse Cake, sometimes a treat that takes just minutes to prepare can be just as gratifying. I’m convinced that the very brevity of their creation contributes greatly to their enjoyment.

So I have two recipes this week that each require only three ingredients – although you can tweak one of them with additional flavourings if you like.

Salted Caramel Ice-Cream

This is a variation on the world’s easiest ice-cream. Home-made ice-cream is divine but alas for me, my kitchen is tiny, measuring just 2m x 3m. With limited cupboard and counter space, I have a strict rule that everything must be multifunctional in order to earn/retain its place and an ice-cream maker is just not feasible – it’s (relatively) large and it does one job, so it’s 0-for-2 right there.

Consequently, when I discovered the joys of the world’s simplest, no-churn ice-cream several years ago, I was delighted. The original recipe called for a tin of sweetened, condensed milk, a vanilla pod and a pint of double cream. Whisked together to firm peaks, you just spoon it into a plastic box and freeze overnight. It needs no stirring to break down ice crystals and when first frozen is almost unbelievably soft to scoop. It will firm up slightly over subsequent days, but it tastes so good, it is unlikely to last that long.

This variation swaps out the original condensed milk and vanilla for the caramel variation that Carnation have been producing for the past few years, and adds a scant teaspoon of sea salt for an absolutely incredible TASTE SENSATION as Peter Kay might put it.

As incredible and fantastic as this ice-cream is, I do feel obligated to point out that the calorific content of this recipe is 4000 kCal, which is the equivalent of a full two-days of regular food intake. A little of what you fancy does you good, inhaling an entire weekend’s worth of calories in one sitting, not so much. Snack wisely, my friends.

1 x 397g tin Carnation Caramel
600ml double cream
0.5-1tsp sea salt flakes.

  • Open the tin of caramel and stir it well, until it becomes loose and pourable. This will make it easier to mix in with the cream.
  • Pour the double cream into a bowl and whisk until it holds soft peaks.
  • Add the caramel to the cream, stirring it with the whisk to combine.
  • Sprinkle in the salt. I recommend under- rather than over-salting. You can always add more salt to serve, but too much at this stage could ruin the whole batch.
  • Whisk the mixture to stiff peaks.
  • Spoon the mixture into a plastic box, cover and freeze overnight.
  • Serve with a sprinkling of salt if liked.

Carrot Rochers
Carrot Rochers

These delightful snacks are the work of just moments to create and can be enjoyed with whatever quantities of ingredients you have to hand as it is one of my favourite types of recipe – the proportional recipe.

You can tweak the flavour of your rochers with the use of additional flavourings – a little lemon juice/zest, or spices from your favourite carrot cake recipe, or just enjoy them as is. They’re a moist and satisfying treat without being overly sweet. I’ve use finely desiccated coconut I found in the Indian food section of the supermarket. Coarser shredded coconut will give a more rustic texture to the finished rochers.

In terms of storage, I have successfully kept a batch in the fridge for a full two weeks.

Boiled/steamed carrots
An equal weight to the carrots of finely desiccated coconut
Half the weight of carrots in caster sugar.
Lemon zest/juice (optional)
Carrot cake spices (optional)

Desiccated coconut for coating

  • Puree the carrots to a smooth paste with either a stick blender or a liquidiser. The stick blender is very useful if you only have a small quantity of carrots.
  • Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
  • Add the coconut and any other flavourings/spices and mix thoroughly.
  • The mixture should hold together when pressed. If it seems a little wet, add more coconut.
  • Use a small ice-cream scoop to portion out the mixture, or do it by hand. Roll into smooth balls about the size of a walnut.
  • Toss the balls in more coconut to coat.
  • Lay the finished rochers on a board and cover lightly with cling film.
  • Chill in the fridge for 2 hours to firm up.
  • Store long-term in an airtight container in the fridge.

Something Old, Something New

Wotchers!

Since my oven/kitchen woes won’t be resolved for a couple more months, and the headlong rush towards the festive season draws my attention in other directions, I thought I’d reveal a little project I’ve been working on for a while, to keep you all out of mischief for the next few weeks.

Most of you will know of my great enthusiasm for old recipes, many of which are listed amongst these pages. However they are scattered about and not always easy to find.

I decided I needed a site devoted solely to British food and have been working for the past few months to collate and transfer across all the British recipes from this blog to a new site.

In addition, I have included a lot of new recipes that had to be cut from my new book (out in May next year), mostly from the fish, game and pudding chapters.

Time To Cook – Online will remain very much a jumble of interests as different recipes from all over the world grab my attention. Deja Food will become, I hope, a showcase of the best of British food from the last 700 years.

I hope you will enjoy both.

Click the image to visit the new site.

df-header

In addition, don’t forget to tune in to  BBC1 on Christmas Day, at 4.45pm for the Great British Bake Off Christmas Special starring me and three more Bake Off favourites!

A second GBBO Special, with four more favourite bakers, will go out on Boxing Day night.

Happy Holidays!

MAB 😀


Fruit Charlotte

Apple Charlotte

Wotchers!

This is a deliciously simple, autumnal dessert that, although it can be assembled from very few, ordinary ingredients, ends up tasting so much better than the sum of its parts – the crisp, golden outside, hot and sharp insides and cool cream or hot, rich custard make this a dish of delicious contrasts. It is one of the many British desserts that evolved to use up stale bread and cooked fruit. Whilst the filling can be almost any fruit purée you have to hand, the construction needs to observe a few rules if it is going to look as impressive when served as it tastes.

Firstly, the fruit purée needs to be relatively firm and ‘dry’, with little or no visible liquid. If your cooked fruit is especially moist, then just set it in a sieve to drain – the resultant liquid can be sweetened and served as a pouring syrup or saved for use in/on other desserts. Alternatively, set it over a low heat in a wide pan, to help evaporate the excess liquid. If you think your fruit is still too soft, you could consider whisking in an egg yolk or two to help thicken it during cooking, making it more of a fruit custard.

The bread should not be plastic-wrapped and pre-sliced. The best charlottes are made when the bread can absorb some moisture from the filling in much the same way as it does in Summer Pudding, and sliced bread just doesn’t have a suitable surface for this. Not that having your bread sliced by a machine is bad – it can make it wonderfully thin and regular – just buy a whole loaf and get the bakery to cut it for you on their machine. If it’s not stale, just leave the slices you intend to use out on the counter for an hour, they’ll dry just enough. During baking, the dry outside will, thanks to the coating of butter, crisp up and turn wonderfully golden, and the inside will draw moisture from the filling and pull everything together, so that you have a firm pudding to turn out.

The final important consideration is the shape of the bowl in which you construct your charlotte. It needs to be both oven-proof and domed/tapering. Straight-sided charlottes are usually cold desserts such as the Charlotte Russe, which uses sponge fingers and a firmly set cream and is also thoroughly chilled before being served, which helps greatly with presentation. A traditional, domed pudding bowl, or individual pudding bowls, are ideal. Their tapering form is most conducive to maintaining an impressive shape of your hot charlotte. The fluted tins commonly marketed as brioche tins are also the ideal shape, with the added detail of fluting giving the turned-out dish a very elegant appearance.

This is an adaptation of Mrs Rundell’s recipe from 1808. Her version calls for raw apples, sugar and butter and is baked slowly for 3 hours with a weight on top to help compress the apples as they shrink during cooking. This recipe is much shorter, just over one hour, but this length of time is necessary for the bread to crisp, turn golden and be sturdy enough to support the fruit filling until serving time. Higher heat and baking for a shorter time means that, when turned out, the pudding slowly sags and collapses, like a Victorian matron with her corset removed. The use of an already-cooked puree makes preparation that much quicker and the cooked pudding less prone to loss of volume.

Apple Charlotte cut

Fruit Charlotte

I used some apples from a friend’s garden for this recipe, and added no sugar – the sharpness was a great contrast against the rich, buttery crust. I highly recommend this approach. If your fruit is especially sharp, consider using a sweet custard as an accompaniment.

750g fruit pulp
stale white bread slices
softened butter

pouring cream or custard to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan.
  • Butter the inside of your bowl(s) generously with softened butter.
  • Cut the crusts from the bread. Cut a circle or flower shape for the bottom of your bowl and put it in first. It will make for a neat top once you turn out the pudding, and also hide the ends of all the side pieces of bread.
  • Line your bowl(s) with the crustless bread. How you choose to do this is up to you. Personally, I keep the pieced of bread whole and patch where necessary. If your bread is fresh and springy, you can make things easier for yourself by using a rolling pin to flatten them slightly. If you are using individual pudding bowls, you might want to reduce this to a width of 1.5cm, as the smaller form will need thinner slices if it is still to look dainty when turned out.  Place the slices inside the pudding at a slight angle and press into the butter. Leave the excess sticking out of the top of the bowl for now. Make sure  there are no spaces or holes for fruit to leak through. You can see on the above photo that a little apple juice has squeezed out and been caramelised by the heat of the oven. Delicious, but a flaw if you’re after an unblemished exterior to your charlotte.
  • Fill the lined mould with the fruit puree.
  • Butter slices of crustless bread for the top of the mould. Fold the ends of the bread at the sides inward and place the final pieces of bread butter-side upward over the top.
  • Spread a little butter onto a sheet of parchment and place this butter-side down over your filled bowl.
  • Add a cake tin on top together with an oven-safe weight, such as a foil-wrapped metal weight or quarry tile.
  • Bake for about an hour until the outside of the buttered bread is crisp and golden brown and the filling piping hot. For individual puddings, bake for 30-40minutes.
  • Remove the weight/tin/parchment and bake for a further 10 minutes, to allow the lid to crisp up.
  • Remove from the oven and turn out onto your serving dish.

Cinder Toffee

A range of cinder toffees

Cinder Toffee made with, from L to R, Treacle, Malt Extract, Light Brown Sugar, Caster Sugar

Wotchers!

Here’s another recipe that can, with an eye on the upcoming festive season, be part of a home-made Christmas, either for nibbling at home or prettily wrapped in cellophane as a gift.

It can also be customised in a number of ways, as I shall detail below, be it in the ingredients you choose or the finishing touches you employ.

Honeycomb recipe from a 17thC manuscript (MS1511) dated 1682 in the Wellcome Library

Honeycomb recipe from a 17thC manuscript (MS1511) dated 1682 in the Wellcome Library

Cinder toffee is a traditional UK sweetie recipe which has been around for centuries, and early recipes can be found in household manuscript books from the reign of Charles II. Recently, it has seen a return to popularity under the name Honeycomb Toffee. Whilst a more appetising name, perhaps, unless you actually make it with honey, it is, to my mind, a bit misleading, whereas you have only to glance at the Wikipedia page for cinder to see that the appropriateness is evident in both looks and definition.

The toffee is made by bringing a mixture of sugars to the Hard Crack stage and then quickly stirring in a small amount of bicarbonate of soda to produce effervescence. The mixture is then poured into a suitably prepared tin and as it cools, the air bubbles are trapped in the sugar, thus giving it its distinctive structure.

Having read numerous recipes online, it is fairly safe to say that the most popular combination of sugars is caster sugar and golden syrup. This gives a bright, golden toffee reminiscent of the insides of a modern Crunchie bar. Whilst delicious, the flavour is, however, very one-note, and extremely sweet, and I got to pondering how it might be improved.

I found a recipe in F.Marian McNeil’s The Scots Kitchen (1929) for Black Man, a version of cinder toffee made with treacle, and kin to the Yellow Man of Northern Ireland. Made solely with treacle and bicarbonate of soda, it would definitely have the dark, bubbled appearance of genuine cinders, however in experimentation, the treacle proved exceedingly bitter as well as being much too easy to burn.

I liked the idea of using more complex flavourings to make the toffee and so I have come up with a base recipe for cinder toffee, with suggestions of how to adjust it for variety and interest. By varying the sugars and syrups, the range of flavours can be quite extensive and with more time at my disposal, I believe similar subtleties could also be achieved using honey as the liquid sugar. Feel free to experiment yourself!

Base Recipe Components

Choose your main flavouring from either the solid sugars or the liquid sugars. For example, malt extract and caster sugar, Demerera sugar and golden syrup. Both together, e.g. treacle and dark muscovado, is too dark and will burn to bitterness.

  • Solid sugar: This can range from fine, white, caster sugar, granulated sugar, soft light brown, soft dark brown, Demerera, light muscovado, dark muscovado all the way through to molasses sugar. The varying degrees of colour have a bearing on the eventual flavour which becomes richer and more caramelised the darker you go.
  • Liquid sugar: Any sweet syrup liquid at room temperature can be used including golden syrup, molasses, maple syrup, treacle, agave nectar, malt extract, honey.
  • Butter – for richness
  • water – to help dissolve the sugar
  • cream of tartar/liquid glucose – to help prevent crystallisation
  • bicarbonate of soda – for the bubbles! This recipe only uses a teaspoon, which, if properly stirred through, is more than enough to produce sufficient bubbles. Using more will produce more vigorous frothing, however, it will also become more noticeable in the flavour of the toffee, as well as being trickier to stir through without clumping.
Cinder Toffee three ways

Cinder Toffee plain, dipped in chocolate, made into coal with black sugar

Presentation Suggestions

  • Plain: Cinder toffee is delicious in it’s basic state, but will absorb moisture from the air if left exposed. Once cooled, it should be stored in an airtight box or ziplock bag to keep from becoming sticky.
  • Dipped in chocolate: To keep the toffee crisp without the need for airtight storage, you can dip pieces in melted chocolate and set aside to cool. Although this will serve admirably, it will have a tendency to melt in the hand. The solution is to temper the chocolate, instructions for which abound on the internet. Whilst milk chocolate is the most popular pairing, you can experiment with a whole range of flavours from white through to the extremely dark. The sweetness of the cinder toffee made with caster sugar and golden syrup can be offset to a certain extent by dipping in dark (at least 60% cocoa) chocolate, not to mention the very pleasing contrast of the golden toffee against the dark chocolate. Similarly, the bitterness of treacle cinder toffee can be lightened by the use of white chocolate flavoured with lemon zest.
  • Made into cinder coal: This is the most fun. By tossing the chocolate-coated cinder toffee pieces into some black caster sugar, they immediately become, to all intents and purposes, little pieces of sweet coal, and thus the embodiment of their name.
cinder toffee coal

A mixture of cinder toffees made into coal

How to make black sugar

The intense colour provided by modern gel food colouring is ideal for creating vibrant coloured sugar. Although we’ll only be using black the principal is the same for making any shade of coloured sugar.

1tsp black food gel colouring
200g caster sugar.

  • Pour the sugar into a small zip-lock bag and add the food colouring gel.
  • Seal the bag and gently massage the sugar against the gel. It will gradually take on an intense colour whilst still remaining separate grains.
  • Continue massaging the sugar until it is evenly coloured throughout. If the shade is too light, add a little more gel and repeat the massaging motion.
  • The coloured sugar will keep in the ziplock bag for weeks.

Cinder Toffee

110g caster sugar
110g treacle
30g unsalted butter
2tbs cold water
1 pinch cream of tartar or 1/2tsp glucose
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Line a roasting tin with parchment paper.
  • Put all of the ingredients except the bicarbonate of soda into a non-stick saucepan and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Increase the heat until the sugars boil. Continue heating without stirring until the syrup registers 150°C on a thermometer.
  • Tip in the bicarbonate of soda and mix briskly for 5 seconds, ensuring the powder is well incorporated.
  • Pour the frothing mixture onto the baking parchment in the tin and leave to cool. You can speed this up (and thereby trap more bubbles in the toffee) by putting it into the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • When completely cold, tap gently to break into bite-sized pieces.

To cover with chocolate

  • Melt or temper 200g of your chocolate of choice.
  • Drop pieces of cinder toffee into the melted chocolate and use a fork to lift them out.
  • Tap the fork briskly on the side of the chocolate bowl in order to shake off excess chocolate.
  • Lay the coated pieces on parchment paper to set.
  • Store in an airtight container.

To make cinder toffee coal

  • Whilst still wet, drop the chocolate coated pieces into the black sugar and toss to coat.
  • Lift out the coated pieces and lay onto a wire rack until set.
  • When completely cold, toss the pieces of coal gently in a wire sieve to remove excess sugar.
  • Store in a ziplock bag or wrap in cellophane bags for presents.

Oat Brownies

oat brownies

Wotchers!

Something simple and delicious for you this week which is also, my favourite detail, hugely adaptable. Confession: calling this a brownie is probably a bit of a liberty, especially if you’re a purist/expert like my sister[0]. Nevertheless it is moist, richly in flavour, with the oats giving both texture and satisfaction. It can also be wheat free – gluten free if you like[1] – containing just a tablespoon of regular flour. I’ve made it with white flour, gluten-free flour, barley flour, potato flour, more cornflour…honestly, the quantity is so small, it doesn’t really matter, it’s just there to soak up any excess moisture. Because it is so dry [2], adding an extra tablespoon of cocoa is probably the most delicious alternative.

The other unusual aspect is the dairy element. I’ve made it with cream cheese, fat-free quark, and curd cheese, just to see what effect each had on the texture. I was surprised to find that the curd cheese[3] made it rather firm – too firm to be a brownie, but not hard enough to be a flapjack, but the texture of the brownie made with quark was almost as tender as the one made with cream cheese. If you’re not a fan of overly squidgy brownies, you can also firm up the end product by using a pan of larger dimensions, thereby spreading the mixture thinner. Totally your call.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing, bells-and-whistles showstopper recipe. However, alongside another perennial favourite recipe – Jamjacks – it’s simple, quick, delicious, and can be made with ordinary ingredients you probably have in your cupboard/fridge.

And that’s a winning combination.

Oat Brownies

NB I don’t have an overly sweet tooth, so the quantity of sugar is on the low side. Add an extra 50g if you like. I’ve merely listed ‘flour’ below, so you can add whatever you have to hand/prefer. Same with the milk and butter.

200ml milk
150g steel-rolled oats
50g cocoa
1tbs flour
1tbs cornflour
1tsp baking powder
200g soft cheese – cream cheese/quark/curd cheese
100g butter – melted and cooled slightly
1 large egg
150g caster sugar

  • Warm the milk until almost boiling, then add the oats and set aside to soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a baking tin of dimensions 20cm x 20cm x 5cm (roughly, within 2-3cm is fine).
  • Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl.
  • Mix in the cheese, followed by the rest of the ingredients.
  • Lastly stir in the oats and milk.
  • Pour into your prepared tin and smooth over.
  • Bake for 1 hour[4]. After 30 minutes, turn the tin around and cover lightly with either baking parchment or foil, to prevent the edges from getting scorched.
  • Cool in the tin.

 

[0] Who still gave it a solid 7 on her scale of Brownie Excellence!

[1] Using gluten-free oats, obvs.

[2] Which is why, if you want to Chocolatize™ anything by adding cocoa, you then need to remove an equivalent quantity of flour, otherwise you’ll alter both the texture and taste of your bake.

[3] I made my own curd cheese (only because no shops nearby sell it), with vegetable rennet and rich Jersey milk, drained it exceedingly well, then pressed it under a weight, so it was very dry. Deli curd cheese might be less dry.

[4] If you like them squidgy, you could bake for a shorter time – I suggest 45-50mins.


Apple Slice

Apple Slice with oat swirl pastryWotchers!

As a complete contrast to the glitz and glamour of the New Lemon Meringue Pies, the enjoyment in this recipe is the simplicity.

As we rush headlong through autumn, the apple harvest is in full force and I thought it appropriate to celebrate the abundance with a twist on the classic apple pie.

In the UK we’re blessed with the Bramley Apple, a gloriously sharp cooking apple that cooks to a cloud of apple froth. Unfortunately, this quality means that pies baked with Bramleys invariably end up somewhat hollow: the glorious mound of sliced apple that entered the oven emerging having deflated into a small pile of apple froth. Still delicious! But also a bit of a disappointment.

This recipe sidesteps using the classic Bramley in favour of apples of the dessert, or eating, variety, which are sweeter and hold their shape better. There are so many different British eating apples, you can ring the changes with this recipe merely by changing the type of apple you choose. Russet apples have a golden skin dotted with rough patches, and a rich, almost nutty flavour that goes exceptionally well with cheese (and nuts, obvs.). My daughter’s favourite is Worcester Pearmain, glorious red skin that blushes into dazzling white, juicy flesh, and a flavour reminiscent of lemons and strawberries. Whichever variety you choose, remember to sugar accordingly. The quantity given below is more of a general guideline – use less if you prefer a sharper taste, or if the apples you have are rather sweet.

The other twist in this recipe is the pastry, which I’ve crisped up with the addition of oats (my love of crunchy oats is well documented in the blog). I’ve also added a swirl effect by treating the pastry like cinnamon bun dough: brushing with butter, sprinkling with sugar and spices and then rolling up. Once chilled, the pastry roll is cut in half (one for the top, one for the bottom) and sliced into disks. The top and bottom pastry sheets are created with a patchwork of these swirls, placed close together and then rolled with a rolling pin until they form a continuous sheet of pastry. The pastry is fabulously crunchy and the swirl of sugar and spiced compliments the filling perfectly.

Simple. Autumnal. Perfick.

Apple Slice with Oat Swirl Pastry

Pastry
300g plain flour
100g rolled oats
150g butter
2tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 large yolk
50ml-ish milk, creme fraiche, double or sour cream to mix

For the swirl
30g unsalted butter
100g sugar (any kind, I like demerera)
2tsp spice (a mixture of whatever takes your fancy: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, etc.)
2-3tbs apricot or plum jam, or marmalade

Filling
You can double the filling quantities for a positively towering appley  slice. The quantities below give were used to make the bake in the picture above.
1kg dessert apples (6 or 7)
100g sugar
2 rounded tablespoons cornflour
lemon juice (optional)

  • Put all the ingredients for the pastry except the milk/cream into the bowl of a food processor and blitz to crumbs. Gradually add the liquid and mix until the whole comes together.
  • Tip out onto a floured work surface and knead smooth.
  • Roll out thinly (3-5mm), keeping it in a neat rectangle (30cmx40cm-ish).
  • Melt the butter and paint over the surface, using a pastry brush.
  • Mix the spice with the sugar and sprinkle over the whole surface of the pastry.
  • Starting from one of the long sides. roll yp the pastry into a long sausage shape.
  • Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes. You might want to cut the roll in half now, for ease of storage.
  • Remove half of the pastry and slice the roll into ‘coins’ 1cm thick.
  • Line your traybake tin (Mine is a 25cmx35cm springform tin) with baking parchment, folding the sides to the exact size of the tin. Repeat with a second piece of parchment.
  • Using the folds as a guide, arrange the swirls of pastry over the bottom of one of the pieces of parchment
  • Cover with clingfilm and roll with a rolling pin, until the pastry spreads and joins together. Feel free to trim the sides and patch any holes with the trimmings.
  • Lay the parchment and the pastry into the bottom of your traybake tin. Brush with the jam/marmalade.
  • Repeat with the second half of the pastry, again, using the folded parchment as a guide. Set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Peel, core and grate the apples. A mandolin is perfect for achieving apple ‘matchsticks’. Toss in lemon juice if using.
  • Mix the cornflour with the sugar, and stir into the apples.
  • Once mixed, pour the apples into the traybake tin and press down firmly.
  • Slide the top pastry onto the apple filling and press firmly. Trim off any excess.
  • Bake for 40-50 minutes, turning the tin around after 25 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • Allow to cool completely in the tin. The apple filling WILL settle as it cools, so keeping it in the tin will allow it to hold its shape.
  • When completely cold, cut into portions with a sharp knife.
  • Serve warm with a little cream, or enjoy cold in your packed lunches next week.