Monday, 24 November 2014

Chocolate Christmas Pudding Biscuits for Waitrose #bakeitforward


It's not too early to start Christmas baking is it? No? You're sure? Good. Tis the season to be jolly merrily baking as the carolers, I'm quite certain, will soon start caroling. 

I reckon as soon as the Christmas adverts have become water-cooler discussions, work Christmas do dates have been set and school assemblies are full of Nativity auditions then my festive biscuit cutters can be dusted down. 

Talking of Christmas adverts, one of my favourite (well, it is baking themed) is the Waitrose ad, which follows the story of Ellie, a school girl baking gingerbread for her school fete. As part of the campaign, Waitrose are calling on budding bakers across the UK to bake something sweet to share with others during this season of goodwill. To take part bake something special for a friend, share your photos using the #BakeItForward hashtag and nominate them to do the same. There is lots of great baking inspiration and festive recipes on the Waitrose website. Every day Waitrose will surprising people involved with festive treats, including hampers and bottles of champagne.


As part of #bakeitforward Waitrose invited me to bake something special. As if I need an excuse to bake some Christmassy treats! I baked these warmly spiced Christmas Pudding biscuits, studded with boozy dried fruit and covered in indulgent dark chocolate for my sister, who loves Christmas just as much as I do!


Chocolate Christmas Pudding Biscuits

2 tsps brandy 
50g sultanas
50g dried cranberries
50g mixed peel
125g melted butter 
125g light brown soft sugar
1 large egg
225g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
50g blanched almonds, roughly chopped

150g dark chocolate, melted
100g ready to roll white icing
50g ready to roll green icing
25g ready to roll red icing

1. Put the sultanas, cranberries and mixed peel in a bowl with the brandy. Stir, cover with cling film and put in the fridge to steep overnight*. When ready to use, strain off any remaining liquid. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F. Grease and line two baking trays with baking paper
2. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until combined
3. Fold in the flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda until a dough forms, stir in the dried fruit, zests and almonds
4. Using a tablespoon drop rounded balls of dough onto the baking sheets, ensuring each cookie is well spaced as apart. There is no need to flatten the dough
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden 
6. Once cooled, dip into the melted chocolate and place aside to set. 
7. Use a daisy biscuit cutter to cut out the 'Christmas Pudding brandy cream' decoration from the white icing. Using a small holly cutter, cut two holly leaves for each biscuit. Form two small berries out of the red icing for each biscuit. Continue, until all are decorated.

Happy baking! 

Baker's notes...

  • * This is step is optional but hey, it is Christmas...
  • You can use a combination of various dried fruits and nuts, simply raid your storecupboard or use any ingredients left over from Stir Up Sunday
  • With thanks to Waitrose, who sent me a bundle of baking goodies and vouchers to partake in and promote #bakeitforward 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Christmas Baking: Mini Chocolate Christmas Pudding Bites



A couple of weeks back I was invited by Argos to film a few fun, family friendly and fabulously tasty Christmas recipes. 

The first in the series are these Mini Chocolate Christmas Pudding Bites. Perfect little after-dinner and party treats, they are also a very delicious way of using up any leftover Christmas Pudding this festive season.

Mini Chocolate Christmas Pudding Bites Makes 10 


For the bites:


50g finely chopped dark chocolate

175g cooled Christmas pudding
1 tablespoon golden syrup 

For the decoration:


50g dark chocolate

finely chopped 1 tsp vegetable fat e.g. ‘Trex’
50g white ready to roll icing
50g ready to roll red fondant icing
50g ready to roll green fondant icing 

1. Grease and line a baking sheet

2. To make the bites: in a heatproof bowl suspended above a pan of simmering water gently melt the dark chocolate
3. Crumble the cooled Christmas pudding into a large mixing bowl, add the golden syrup and stir to combine
4. Pour in the melted dark chocolate and stir together

5. Using a pair of disposable vinyl gloves roll small lumps of mixture into balls, approximately 1 inch in diameter and place on the prepared baking tray.
6. Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge to firm for 20-30 minutes

7. To decorate: in a heatproof bowl suspended above a pan of simmering water gently melt the dark chocolate together with the tablespoon of vegetable fat (this ensures a smooth dipping chocolate). Once melted, dip the firmed bites into the chocolate and place aside to set
8. Using a small daisy flower cutter, cut out the ‘brandy sauce’ decoration, one per pudding bite. Place on top of each bite. Form three small ‘berries’ for each bite from the red fondant and two ‘holly leaves’ per bite from the green fondant and use to decorate.

Happy festive baking!

The videos were produced in association with Argos, who have a great range of larder fridges such as the one seen in this film. Pop back shortly for the second film in the series.


This is a collaboration with Argos

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Upside Down Caramelised Pear, Chocolate and Almond Cake (Gluten-Free)


As regular readers will know (hello Mum!) I'm rather partial to an upside down cake. Similar to a crumble cake, it saves fumbling and faffing with piping bags and ornate icings. A simple inversion of the cake tin (but do feel free to be as theatrical as you like; a 'ta-dah!' is optional) and you've a ready- decorated beautiful bake.

This is a deliciously moist, moreish chocolatey cake with the caramelised pears adding a sweet, fruity twist.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

My Top Ten Baking Store Cupboard Essentials

1. Butter
We'll start our list in the fridge. A key ingredient for most cakes and bakes (and also for liberally spreading over hot crumpets). 

2. Eggs
Eggs too are rather a staple for baking and are used to add structure, leavening and to bind ingredients together. Pretty vital then. 

3. Sugar
Caster...brown...light muscovado....golden caster...dark muscovado....soft...icing sugar. At this rate, half your store cupboard will be covered in sugar granules. Various sugars are used for various purposes, for example, you'll need caster sugar for a classic Victoria Sponge, dark muscovado for a festive fruit cake and soft brown sugar for gooey fudgey Brownies.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Bonfire Night: Sticky Toffee Apple Buns

 
Last night we made the epic journey right across the city to Blackheath to partake in one of my favourite evenings of the year: Bonfire Night. I spent most of my childhood terrified of fireworks; each November 5th would find me cowering, hands over my ears, frozen by the horrid loud noises.  I see my yearly pilgrimages south of the river as making up for all that lost time.



As I 'ohhhhed' and 'ahhhhhhed' through the display, the young boy behind me didn't quite share my enthusiasm. He provided some very entertaining commentary: 'Daddy, when are they going to do the big ones?....Disney ones were better.... Daddddyyy, these are rubbish!'

His somewhat exasperated Father persuaded him to stay put with promises of candy floss and toffee apples. But as the fireworks reached their magnificent crescendo, this clearly wasn't an attractive enough bribe: 'Daddddddyyy! I've had enough! I want to go home! I prefer Halloween!'.

What? 

If it was socially acceptable to berate small boys whom you've not met before then I would have told him that the magic and wonder of fireworks and bonfires is infinity better than the ridiculous, over-commercialized, scare-fest that is Halloween. 

(The only slight advantage of Halloween is that you may get a few more miniature sized chocolates, if you're aged around seven, dressed up as a ghoul and carrying a treat bucket).

For those of us who do prefer Bonfire Night, here's a lovely treat of a bun perfect to munch on while admiring the illuminated skies.


Bonfire Night: Sticky Toffee Apple Buns 

For the dough:

450g strong white bread flour
7g fast action yeast
50g light brown soft sugar
150ml warm full fat milk
1 beaten egg
50g unsalted melted butter

For the filling:
30g melted butter
1 tbsp mixed spice
30g soft brown sugar
75g sultanas
2 small eating apples, cored and roughly chopped

1 egg white

For the topping:
50g toffee
Dash of milk

1. Put the flour, yeast, sugar with 1 tsp salt into a large mixing bowl and mix well. Pour in the milk with 50ml warm water, the egg and butter and mix to form a dough, initially with a wooden spoon then with your hands.
2. Turn out the dough onto a worksurface, resisting the temptation to add more flour- this is a wet, sticky dough! Knead the dough until smooth and springy. Place in a lightly greased large bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise until doubled in size in a warm place
3. Grease a 23cm round baking tin. Knock back the dough and turn out onto the work surface. Roll out into a large rectangle and brush with the melted butter. Sprinkle over the spice, sultanas and apple.
4. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Tightly roll up the dough, longest side first. Cut into 8-10 pinwheels and tightly place, cut side up, in the prepared tin. Set aside to prove in a warm place until double in size. Brush with the egg white just prior to placing in the oven.5. Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4 to bake for a further ten minutes or until golden brown.
6. To make the toffee topping: melt the toffees with a dash of milk in a small pan over a gentle heat, stirring regularly. Once melted, drizzle over the buns

Baker's notes...
  • In last month's Waitrose Magazine, they had a lovely recipe for Autumn Chelsea Buns, made with ginger syrup and dates.
  • Without doubt these are best served warm, fresh from the oven
  • For other Bonfire inspired sweet treats, visit the recipe index


Friday, 24 October 2014

Ginger and Lemon Witches Hat Halloween Cake


This recipe may be a tad early but I'm not the only one getting enthused for Halloween already. Supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of absurdly large pumpkins (no wonder there's a Pumpkin crisis), Disney are cashing in and adverts on bus stops are promoting the latest horror films such as 'Ouija' and 'Wrong Turn 6: The Last Resort'.*

I normally wait out Halloween happily watching the Strictly Come Dancing special, 'treating' myself to a gigantic bar of chocolate while avoiding Buffy-True-Blood-Addams Family mega-marathons on obscure digital channels. But invited to participate in the Unilever Kitchen Halloween Challenge (#UnileverHalloween), it was time for some spookalicious baking. And ta-dah! Here's my effort, a Ginger and Lemon Witches Hat Halloween Cake (try saying that while bobbing an apple or two).

*Genuinely a film released this year. You'd have thought by now, with a title such as that, the main characters might have learnt something from the last five versions? Like, always bring a Sat Nav on long journeys?

Photography 'special effects' for Halloween; normal service to resume for Bonfire Night

Ginger and Lemon Witches Hat Halloween Cake

For the cake:
125g Flora Buttery
200g treacle
150ml milk
125g soft brown sugar
225g plain flour
2 tsps ground ginger
0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 large eggs, beaten

For the decoration:
Zest of 1 lemon
100g icing sugar
100g black fondant
Hundreds and thousands

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Butter a 8 inch square tin and line with baking parchment
2. Place the Flora, treacle, milk and sugar into a pan and very gently melt together. stirring occasionally. As soon as it has melted, remove from the heat and allow to begin to cool.
3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, spice and bicarbonate of soda. Add in the treacle-butter mixture and fold together. Fold in the eggs and pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 40-45 minutes until firm to touch and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean
4. Cool in the tin for 20 minutes then turn out to a cooling rack to cool completely
5. To make the icing: sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, add the lemon juice and zest and a little water to make a runny 'water' icing. Spread over the cooled cake. Slice the cake into a witches hat shape. Decorate the bat shapes made from the black fondant and a bat cookie cutter. Use any leftover fondant to create a border around your cake. Finally, decorate with the hundreds and thousands.

Baker's notes...

  • Prefer a sticky ginger cake? Wrap the cooled cake in parchment paper and a layer of foil for a couple of days, then decorate
  • The cake can easily be frozen prior to decorating and kept in the freezer for up to three months
  • Last year I made these Spooky Skeleton Biscuits, the previous year these Spider Cakes and before that these Creepy Crawly Cupcakes
  • Cheers to Unilever for sending over a hamper of ingredients to inspire Halloween baking
  • How are you celebrating Halloween?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Honey, Ginger and Beer Cake


We've just returned from a glorious weeks holiday in Greece. 




I write that with such longing for the warmth tickling our skin, the azure-blue skies, the hot sun and the swimming in the clearest of seas. As we swam, bathed in the sun or drank very quaffable local wine into the late, balmy evenings we (yes, rather nauseatingly) kept reminding ourselves 'This is October!...Can you believe we're in October?'.