Monday, 28 November 2011

'Paw in the jar' Granola

Breakfast cereals are my necessary evil. I hate leaving the house without breakfast (thanks for all those years of nagging Mom) but I find no joy in eating sugar coated cardboard. I know this won't win any favours from those who think cornflakes should have their own level on the food pyramid, the Mr Mushroom hater in my life being one of them (he actually gets WITHDRAWAL symptoms from having no cornflakes), but the only nutrition you are getting is probably from the milk which is infused with the sugar and suspect 'added vitamins'. So I've started making my own granola and have been really happy with the results. I love it with yogurt and fruit or with milk. The best thing is that you can add whatever dried fruit/nuts that you like. Pop to the health food shop for linseed and wheat bran (although you can leave them out if you are on a budget). This recipe doesn't use any oil and leaves the porridge oats nice and crispy. Keep an eye on your granola in the oven. If your oven cooks even slightly higher you could have an incinerated granola on your hands... Probably still better for you than a bowl of cornflakes though...

Adapted From Sophie Dahl's Volumptuous Delights

2 cups porridge oats
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flaked almonds
1/4 cup pecan nuts chopped
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 maple syrup or honey
2 tbsp apple juice
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
pinch of ground ginger
1/2 cup dried apricots/sultanas/mango/bananas/dates/whatever you like
3 tbsp linseed
3 tbsp wheat germ

1. Heat the oven to 180oC.
2. Mix the vanilla, maple syrup/honey/apple juice and spices together in a jug. Put the porridge oats in a bowl, add the wet ingredients and mix until the oats are covered. Pour into a greased baking tray.
3. In a separate baking tray arrange the nuts and seeds. Place both trays in the oven, porridge on top for about 20 minutes or until golden. Check after 10 minutes and stir around.
4. Take out the trays, allow to cool and then mix in the remaining ingredients.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sticky Pecan, Maple and Cinnamon Buns

As well as being the official smell of Christmas in my opinion (well maybe ranking only behind the smell of Christmas tree), cinnamon is such a lovely Winter flavour. It has a warmth and spiciness that banishes red noses and shivers. These buns are a delicious combination of soft hot-cross-bun-like dough wrapped around a cinnamon butter topped with a maple and pecan caramel.

From the Great British Bake Off Book

200ml milk
75g butter
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 large free range egg
1 x 7g sachet yeast

For the filling
50g butter
75g brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

100g butter, softened
75g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
100g pecan pieces

1. Gently heat milk and butter until the butter just melts then remove from the heat and allow to cool. When cool add the egg and mix.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the wet ingredients. Using a dough hook work until a soft dough and then knead on low for 4-5 minutes.
3. Leave to double in size for about 1.5 hours.
4. When doubled, punch down and roll out to a rectangle 24 x 48cm.
5. Mix the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a little bowl. Spread over the rectangle but leave 2cm border around the rectangle.
6. Roll up from the long side like a swiss roll and pinch the edge together with your fingers. Try to keep the rolls tight enough so the filling doesn't seep out. Cut the 'log' into about 12 even sized thick discs.
7. Beat the sugar, maple syrup and muscovado sugar together until soft and creamy, just a minute or two until it is the consistency of a paste. Spread onto a lined baking tin 20cm x 22cm approximately and press the pecan pieces into the paste. Place your dough swirls cut side up on top of the paste, evenly spread apart. Allow to rise against for about an hour.

8. Bake for 25 minutes until the dough is golden. Be careful when taking out of the oven, the pecan caramel may be hot. Allow to cool in the tin then invert and gently pull the swirls apart.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Amaretto Cupcakes

I've been commuting to my new job this past few months. It was fine at the start (well I'll be honest and say the early mornings were an interesting adjustment from my college routine!) but since I've gone back to studying it has been difficult to juggle everything.

Now after three years of 'independent living' in college I've had my fair share of 'quirky characters', mold-on-the-walls-squalor and run-in's with the landlord. Enough to tell the grand-kids a few stories anyway. I'm too old (and grumpy) for that kind of malarky and was delighted to get an offer to move in with two girls from work. They are both really nice, but you just never know when you are living with other people. I mean, I know them but I don't KNOW them. And of course I think I'm so easy to get along with but I would think that wouldn't I?! Maybe I'm actually really irritating.... ANYWAY I've gone on a tangent to nowhere- back to the point. I moved in last weekend and was pretty nervous, sitting in the kitchen trying to look at home when I saw *Gasp* the Primose Bakery Book. I knew then that I'd get on fine!

Amaretto is a sweet almond liqueur, the kind you could imagine the models sipping in a Chanel perfume ad. A bottle is fairly expensive (near €30) so unless you are going to treat yourself to a few drinks over the holidays I'd recommend using good quality almond extract. You won't get exactly the same sweetness, but that delicate almond flavour will come through.

I thought the recipe made way too much icing and syrup. I iced two dozen buns with the same quantities the recipe said would ice 12. I also thought the icing was too light with the amount of milk in the recipe so I reduced the milk here.

For the cupcakes
220g butter softened
360g caster sugar
4 eggs
250g self raising flour
240g plain flour
250ml milk
1 tsp amaretto

75g caster sugar
125ml water
1/2 tsp amaretto

55g butter
20ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g icing sugar  

1. Beat the sugar and butter until pale. Sift the flours in a separate bowl. Add the eggs one at a time with a generous tablespoon of the flours, beating well after each addition.
2. Mix the milk and amaretto in a jug. Add slowly to the cupcake mixture with the beater on slow. Finally fold in the flours until incorporated to make a light batter.
3. Spoon into cupcake pans (the recipe should make around 24).
4. Bake at 180oC for 15-20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile make the syrup by slowly heating all the ingredients in a pan. Allow to cool. When the cupcakes are golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean, take them out of the cupcake pan and leave to cool for around 5 minutes. While still warm dip the tops in the syrup for a few seconds. Leave to dry.
6. Now make the buttercream. Cream the sugar, butter and milk with an electric beater together for about 4-5 minutes, no less, unless pale and there are no butter lumps.
7. Pipe or spread over the cupcakes.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Dark Chocolate Sacher Torte

Some year I'm going to the Christmas market in Vienna. I'm going to get lost among the twinkling lights in cobble stoned streets, snowflakes glittering my hair, gloved hands wrapped around homemade hot chocolate. The air will be spicy with the smell of pine trees laced with cinnamon and cloves. I'll eat to be happy and be happy to eat. Christmas will be like it was as a child, full of the belief of fantasy. Because Christmas is a time when the barrier between the real and unreal becomes hazy. Miracles happen, reindeer fly and snowmen come to life.

Sigh.... for now Vienna will have to come to me. This rich little 'cake' was said to be invented by the chef Franz Sacher in Vienna. This version is quite bitter as the ganache is made from dark chocolate. Use milk chocolate instead for those with a sweeter tooth.

A Mary Berry creation

150g plain chocolate (39% milk solids)
150g butter
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs separated
75g ground almonds
55g plain flour

For the ganache
200ml double cream
150g dark chocolate

To assemble
4 tbsp apricot jam sieved
20g milk chocolate melted.

1. Preheat the oven to 180oC. Melt the chocolate either other a pan of boiling water or in the microwave, stopping even 20 seconds to stir.
2. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy and very pale. Add the melted chocolate, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth then fold in the ground almonds and flour.
3. Beat the egg whites with a handheld blender until stiff. Add about one third to the chocolate mixture, mix quite vigorously then fold in the other 2/3. Ensure there are no flecks of white, while at the same time folding gently.
4. Bake for 40-45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.
5. Heat the apricot jam slightly and brush over the cake with a pastry brush. Leave the jam to set until sticky.
6. Next make the ganache. Heat the cream in a pan until just about to boil. Add the chocolate and stir until smooth. Leave the ganache to set for about 10-15 minutes until quite thick. Smooth over the top and sides of the cake.
7. Melt the plain chocolate. Either fold some greaseproof paper into a piping bag ( or use a writing nozzle. Write Sacher on the tart. Allow to set and serve in thin slices.

Excuse the bad joint handwriting!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Vegetarian Christmas Mincemeat

In our house Christmas baking consists of three main 'food groups': pudding, cake and mince pies. Forget the three wise men with their fancy gifts - these three are the holy trio of Christmas. And they have got to be homemade, especially mince pies. I cannot stand that thick lumpy jar bought version. Homemade mincemeat has got so many lovely flavours, the heat of the spices and the citrus burst of orange and lemon. Mincemeat is so easy to make too, literally it's just mixing the ingredients together. And because butter is used instead of suet it is vegetarian friendly. Stay posted for the final product in a few weeks time when I use this mincemeat encased in a sweet shortcrust pastry.

For the mincemeat (From Neven Maguire- 'Home Cooks')

350 g cooking apples, peeled and diced
225g raisins
225g currants
225g sultanas
110g candied citrus peel
225g butter, melted
6 tbsp brandy
110g flaked almonds
175g dark brown sugar
1 orange, rind grated finely
1 lemon, rind grated finely
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl until all the fruit is glossy and covered. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight. Mix well the next day and pack into clean dry jars. Seal and store in a cool dark place for 3-4 weeks before use.

Makes 5-6 regular jam jars.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

After Eight Cake

Birthdays on weekdays are STUPID! I like to spend a whole day messing around perfecting a cake, trying out weird ideas but I can't do that if I have to work most of the day. And day-before birthday cake just isn't the same... So this was a thrown together birthday cake for my mother who turned a mystery age today. She is not a fan of the over indulgent- sweet cake and the 'After Eight' idea is something I've been wanting to try out for ages on cupcakes. Peppermint and dark chocolate is a great sophisticated 'adult' combination. The chocolate cake here is lovely. The almonds add richness and keeps the cake moist.

For the chocolate cake
225g butter
250g caster sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp almond essence
50g ground almonds
100g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
50 g cocoa powder

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs with the milk and almond essence lightly in a cup. Add a quarter of the egg mix at a time with a tsbp of flour. Finally fold in the rest of the dry ingredients. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 180oC.

For the buttercream
75g butter
200g icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
2-3 drops of peppermint essence

Cream all the ingredients together until smooth and white with an electric hand held beater.
The decoration is fairly self evident from the pictures above. I just smoothed the buttercream on top and used the after eights to spell out Happy Birthday.