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I had a go at making Felicity Cloake’s perfect flapjacks this weekend. The only problem was I didn’t really fancy buying the two types of oats she recommends and then have them sit around in my cupboard for months waiting to become granola. As far as I was concerned dual purpose muesli whose leftovers could be used for breakfast would do the trick. Her basic recipe definitely has its merits. It’s the first time I’ve managed to get truly chewy flapjacks. These would be great with a chocolate coating.

Ingredients:
250g Unsalted butter
65g Demerara sugar
100g Golden syrup
375g Muesli (if it has large pieces of dried fruit, such as banana, remove as much as possible from your flapjack muesli – aim for raisins, cranberries and sultanas only)
50g Dessicated coconut
1tsp Cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 150C. Line a 20×20 square cake tin with greaseproof paper. In order to get the paper to fit into the tin snugly mark out the square size in the middle of the sheet, fold in the side to each of the lines, then crease along the diagonals in each corner to create a lidless box. A little dab of butter in each of the corners will help the box keep its shape. Just slide the paper into the tin.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan with the sugar, syrup and a pinch of salt over a low heat. Stir it well until everything has melted and combined.
  3. Take the pan off the heat and add the muesli.
  4. Press the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 25 minutes.
  5. Allow the flapjacks to cool for 2-3 minutes before cutting them into slices while they are still in the tin. Leave the flapjacks to cool completely before removing them from the tin. If you’re impatient, only the top of the flapjacks will harden, leaving you with a crumbly, sticky mess. If in doubt, allow the flapjacks to cool to room temperature then put the tin in the fridge for a few hours to make sure they’ve really set.

If you ever go to Lisbon make sure you visit the restaurant upstairs at the Confeitaria Nacional. They serve good food at good prices in a sophisticated atmosphere. It’s simple food, admittedly – mostly heavy steaks and refreshing salads – but what makes it really worth it is the bread basket at the start of the meal. One bread in particular to be precise – Broa. The Broa at the Confeitaria has a distinctive moist, yet crumbly texture and a golden yellow hue that comes from the cornmeal used to make it. It’s almost halfway between a bread and a cake (a definitional problem furthered by its sweetness). It seems to go well with anything – butter, honey, soup or even just by itself.

Recreating the recipe from scratch wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. In fact, even with fluent Portuguese help I couldn’t find a recipe online that would come close to the Confeitaria product. They were either far too cake-y (with an abundance of eggs – very Portuguese) or too savoury. My starting recipe was Priya’s Portuguese cornbread. It was okay, but it wasn’t what I was aiming for. It was too dense, not at all sweet and not very yellow. From there I looked into what makes bread tick – as an age old art form (sort of), there’s plenty of info about how to make a bread dough do what you want. This guide to bread making was particularly helpful. I still haven’t managed to crack the Confeitaria’s secret, but the recipe below is the closest approximation I could achieve without expert guidance.

Broa

Broa recipe
Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)
250g Plain flour
125g  Cornmeal (quite difficult to find in the UK – Waitrose might have it)
125ml Lukewarm water (2 parts nearly boiling to 1 part cold)
1 tbsp Active dry yest
1/2 tbsp Sugar (for yeast mixture)
3/4 tsp Salt
25g Butter
1 Egg (lightly beaten)
75g Sugar
40ml Milk

  1. Mix the yeast, sugar and salt with the lukewarm water and leave to the side for around 10 mins until a thick foam forms on the surface.
  2. Combine the flour, cornmeal and butter in a large bowl. Pour the yeast mixture in and knead to an elastic, non-stick dough. Add the extra sugar, egg and milk. Knead back to a nice dry dough (you may need to add a little bit more flour).
  3. Lightly coat the inside of the mixing bowl with olive oil, put the dough in the bowl and leave covered in a warm place to rise for one hour.
  4. Punch the dough down, transfer to a baking sheet (or loaf pan if you have one/want a perfect looking loaf) and leave to rise for another 30-45 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190C.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size bake in the oven for around 30 mins. You can tell whether the bread is done if it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.

It was also my mum’s birthday last week. Since she’s a big fan of the game Angry Birds I made her an Angry Birds themed cake. I was at a bit of a disadvantage never having played the game, but I thought it would be fun so I pursued the idea. During the research stages I’d seen a couple of brilliant cakes. First of all was Anya Richardson’s amazingly detailed cake. Everything was on it. All of the characters with their funny expressions and even some blocks to knock over. Then I saw the unbelievable playable Angry Birds cake. I loved the idea and was very thankful for the little guide to making the characters, but such a masterpiece was beyond my scope. In the end I decided to make a simpler version of Anya Richardson’s cake, focusing on just a few of the characters (and not at all on the scenery!).

The cake itself had two ‘tiers’. The bottom tier was made out of digestive biscuit sponge (recipe below), loosely based on this recipe. The top tier was a simple lemon cake. I used the Hummingbird Bakery recipe, but a similar one can be found at joyofbaking.com. For the icing (beneath the fondant covering) I made the key lime icing from Ming Makes Cupcakes. I was aiming to create a blend between a cheesecake and a key lime pie. If there hadn’t been quite so much fondant, I think the effect would have been more pronounced, but overall I was very pleased with the taste and texture.

The characters were great fun to make. I made a few sketches from pictures I found of the game on google to try and work out proportions and rough shapes. Translating 2D images into 3D fondant characters was the biggest challenge. Fortunately, they’re really simple shapes. The birds are egg shaped (or triangle shaped for the yellow bird), while the pigs are just round blobs. I used pre-coloured icing for the majority of the characters. I only recoloured the yellow bird’s beak orange using a bit of gel food colouring. The fine details, like the pigs’ raised eyebrows, I did using a black food colouring pen.

The final element I included was the blocks on the top tier behind the pigs. I got the idea to make them from chocolate covered cake bites, after a visit to Bakerella’s blog. I modified her recipe a bit, using the digestive cake as the base and the key lime icing (recipe below). Surprisingly, for a decorative feature designed for aesthetic looks, rather than taste they were eaten faster than the cake itself.

Overall, the cake was well received. I’d love to make another one with all of the characters and more depth to the landscape. Maybe next year…

Recipes

Digestive Biscuit Cake
Ingredients (makes enough for a 9in/23cm cake tin)
225g/8oz Caster sugar
225g/8oz Butter
225g/8oz Self-raising flour
100g Digestive biscuit crumbs (the quickest way to make these is to break them up a little bit and then blitz  them in a blender)
4 Eggs
200ml Milk
1tsp Vanilla

1) Pre-heat the oven to 190C (180C for fan ovens) and line a cake tin.
2) Cream the butter and the sugar.
3)  Gradually add the flour and the digestive biscuit crumbs and stir in with a wooden spoon until combined.
4) Add the eggs one at a time, beating in until well combined.
5) Slowly add the milk, followed by the vanilla.
6) Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Chocolate covered cake
150g Cake (crumbled)
Left-over key lime icing
50-75g  Plain chocolate

1) Mix a few dollops of key lime icing into the cake crumbs. Keep adding the icing until the mixture has the consistency of fairly dry cookie dough (more akin to shortbread dough, than American style cookies).
2) Form the mixture into the desired shape. The smaller you make the shapes, the easier (and cleaner!) they’ll be to cover in chocolate. If you want to make rectangular or log shapes wrap the mixture in clingfilm and press it into shape on a worktop or flat surface.
3) Place the shapes on a plate or baking tray and refrigerate for an hour or two until sufficiently chilled to keep their shape when being covered in chocolate.
4) Melt the chocolate over a bain marie. Dip each cake shape in the chocolate and carefully place it back on the plate/baking tray before transferring back to the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

I made a double quantity of the key lime icing just to ensure that I’d have enough to ice the cake. I ended up having far too much, so I used the left over mixture to make cupcakes…

Key Lime Icing Cupcakes
Ingredients
115g Cream cheese
60g  Butter
250g Icing sugar (you could also use 225g caster sugar)
2tbsps Lime juice
250g Self-raising flour
2 Eggs

1) Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 12 cup muffin pan with muffin cases.
2) Make the key lime mixture by creaming the butter and the sugar first. Add the cream cheese and mix well. Finally, add the lime juice and beat.
3) Gradually add the flour and mix well.
4) Add one egg at a time and beat in using an electric whisk.
5) You can add a bit of milk to make the batter thinner at this point. It depends on how you prefer your cupcakes – if you like them dense then do not add milk, but if you prefer moist, fluffy cupcakes add about 60ml of milk.
6) Spoon the mixture into the muffin case and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

I don’t like soup. Generally, I’d much rather eat my vegetables whole. What’s wrong with that?

However, I love watching the food network. I was watching ‘Barefoot Contessa’  recently where Ina Garten made Butternut Squash and Apple soup. The combination sounded delicious – two things I love: butternut squash and apple juice. So I set out to make it.

Several challenges are involved in making this soup. First of all you have to keep a very close eye on the onions as they’re frying in the pan. This is harder than it sounds when you’re also peeling and slicing the squash (more on this in the next paragraph). Based on the experience I had it’s a good idea to either buy frozen cubes of butternut squash or peel and slice it before you start the onions.

The second issue is the butternut squash itself. The star of the soup just so happens to be one of the most difficult things to peel and slice in the entire world. If you can get frozen butternut squash I would strongly recommend buying that. If you like a challenge, I hope you enjoy spending half an hour grunting and swearing as you try to slice open the squash and scoop out the copious amount of seeds in the middle. The seeds. Just as you think you’ve surmounted the challenge you come upon the seeds. Small, numerous and ridiculously slippery. You could also roast the squash for 30 minutes or so in the oven. Still, you’d have to halve it and scoop out the seeds beforehand. Every option is fraught with trouble.

Hopefully, you haven’t been put off at this point. With the modifications I’ve made to Ina Garten’s original recipe it really is delicious. I found her recipe far too sweet and so I toned it down with a dash of soy sauce.

You can find the original recipe here.

Ingredients (to make 4-6 servings):
A knob of butter
1tbsp Olive oil
1 Large onion
1 Butternut squash
2 Apples
1tsp Cinnamon
Salt
Pepper
250ml Water (1 cup – if you have measuring cups)
250ml Apple juice (1 cup – if you have measuring cups)
1tsp Soy sauce

1.  Peel and slice the squash in half. It may help to use two knives to pry and split the flesh in half. Cut off the ends and scoop out the seeds in the middle using a spoon. Feel around in the cavity for any seeds that you’ve missed and pick them out. Cut the flesh up into rough cubes no more than 5cm x 5cm. Put to one side.

2. Dice the onion. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a large saucepan (you can use a stock pot, but it’s not absolutely necessary – just use the biggest saucepan (that has a lid) you have) and add the diced onion. Fry the onion for about 15 minutes, stirring it regularly, over a medium heat.

3. While the onion is cooking, peel and core the apples. Cut them into 2cm x 2cm cubes.

4. Add the butternut and apple to the saucepan with the onion. Add a dash of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Pour over a generous cup of water, give everything a gentle stir and cover with the lid. Leave to cook over a medium low heat for about 40 minutes.

5. Make sure the butternut is soft and well cooked before transferring all the ingredients in the saucepan to a bowl or a blender. Using a handheld blender (or normal blender) puree the soup to the coarseness desired. Return to the saucepan. Add the apple juice and stir. Add more or less apple juice to achieve the desired soup consistency. Finally, add the soy sauce to taste and serve.

The soup, if stored in an airtight container the fridge, will keep for several days.

Exasperating Bowl of Sweet Potato GnocchiFirst of all, I have to apologise. This post will be about a catastrophe. A horrific culinary experiment that I would rather forget.

Traditional potato gnocchi have a slightly floury texture and absorb the flavour of whatever sauce you put with them. However, this recipe for sweet potato gnocchi creates little balls of infuriatingly gelatinous and tasteless dough. I suspect that there was far too much flour in the recipe. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have trusted the Waitrose recipe. I should have used a recipe with reviews from real people who have actually tested the recipe and shared their thoughts on it. That’s the main lesson I’ve taken away from this experience – always try to find out what other people thought of the recipe before you make it.

Instead of providing you with the disgraceful Waitrose recipe (which you can quite easily find by google searching), I’m going to give my modified version of this recipe. Note: I haven’t tried this recipe, I am only altering it based on my experiences with the Waitrose recipe.

Ingredients (to serve 4-6)
1kg Sweet potatoes
1/2tsp Ground nutmeg
55g Grated parmesan
Salt & Pepper
150g All purpose flour (you may need more or less – see below)
(NB: I have omitted the egg from the allrecipes recipe, as the addition of more moisture would require even more flour, thus contributing to the glutinous problem)

1) Place the sweet potatoes on a baking tray. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over them and bake for 30 minutes at 180C. Keep an eye on them to avoid them cooking too much. They should be soft, but not excessively dry.
2) Allow the sweet potatoes to cool until you are able to handle them comfortably. Slice them in half and scoop the flesh out with a spoon into a large mixing bowl.
3) Using a potato masher, mash the sweet potato flesh until the consistency is smooth.
4) With a wooden spoon mix in the salt, pepper, parmesan and nutmeg. Slowly begin adding the flour. Make additions of about 50g until the dough is soft and consistent. If it is still sticking to the bowl a lot, add more flour, but avoid adding so much flour that the dough feels dry. Getting the flour content just right is the hardest part.
5) The most helpful suggestion in the reviews on allrecipes at this point was to put the dough into a plastic sandwich bag, cut the corner off (if you have such a thing, you could use a piping bag for this) and pipe the gnocchi out. I would recommend piping the gnocchi directly into a saucepan of boiling water. When you have a small sausage (no more than 2cm long) cut it off into the water with a sharp knife.
6) At this point, it would be tremendously helpful to have a beautiful assistant. While you’re piping gnocchi into the pan, your helper (or 3rd arm) should keep a close eye on the gnocchi already cooking. As each gnocchi floats to the surface, you know it’s ready. Leave it there for about 10-20 seconds, before fishing it out with a slotted spoon and putting it aside.
7) When all the gnocchi are cooked, empty the saucepan of the pasta water and return them to the pan. Cover with a sauce of your choice (a nice sage butter sauce or tomato and basil sauce, perhaps) and heat everything up over a low heat. Serve in bowls, cover with parmesan and lament the 2 hours it took you to produce.

Meatballs are fantastically easy and fun to make from scratch. You only need a few ingredients to make a filling meal for four.

Ingredients
500g Mince meat (beef or lamb – or a mixture if you like)
1 egg
1 slice of bread (crusts cut off)
1-3tsps Medium curry powder (depending on your tastes – it’s not terribly spicy, but quite fragrant)
1tbsp Mixed herbs (you can use fresh or dried, depending on your tastes and budget – if you’re going for fresh herbs finely chopped flat leaf parsley is an excellent place to start)

1) Put the mince in a large mixing bowl. Add the curry powder and herbs, then crack the egg over the top. The egg helps to hold the meatballs together as you fry them
2) In a separate bowl soak the bread in water. Don’t leave it too long, just enough to make it a bit wet. Squeeze the water out of the bread and then put it in the mixing bowl with the meat.
3) Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon start to mix everything together. Make sure that each of the elements get really well combined.
4) With your hands, knead the mixture a little bit more to really make sure everything is well mixed. When you are satisfied, take little clumps of the meat and roll into small balls. The balls should be no more than 5cm in diameter. My boyfriend always wants to make them really big, but if you make them too big they become difficult to fry properly in the pan. Place each meatball on a plate ready to be fried.
5) Pour a little bit of olive oil into the pan and allow it to heat up. When a haze comes off the oil the meatballs are ready to go in. Fry for 10-15 minutes until there are no pink bits and the meatballs are nicely browned.

You can serve the meatballs with spaghetti and tomato sauce or the Ikea way with gravy, potatoes and jam. Alternatively, they would make a great appetizer for party guests.

Zimsterne – German Christmas biscuits – delicious star-shaped cinnamon and almond biscuits. They always remind me of family skiing holidays in Switzerland where my brother and I used to eat at least two packs of these morsels over five days.

I’ve been trying to make them for a long time, but never quite found the right recipe. I still haven’t, but the latest recipe is the closest to the taste I was trying to achieve. The texture still isn’t quite there. They should be chewy and soft. But these weren’t. I’ve modified the recipe I used to to compensate for that, but I haven’t tested them yet.

Ingredients (for 20 biscuits)

  • 150g  ground almonds
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 25g flour
  • 2-3tsps ground cinnamon
  • 2 egg whites
  • 25g butter melted

1) Mix the dry ingredients together. Knead in the egg whites and butter until a well-combined dough is formed.
2) Wrap the dough in cling film and store in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
3) Pre-heat the oven to 170C and roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1cm. Cut out the biscuits using a star shaped cutter.
4) Position the biscuits on a baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes.

5) Allow to cool.

Ingredients (for icing)

  • 1 egg white
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • 150g icing sugar

1) Beat egg whites with lemon juice.
2) Add sifted icing sugar and beat until smooth and combined.
3) Ice each of the biscuits and store in an airtight container.
Zimtsterne4

Zimtsterne5

Another Sashiko tutorial is on its way…

The cake went down a storm. It has been completely demolished by everyone who has visited the house, including a semi-professional cake decorator. Even the joke cake was quickly consumed. I’ve never been terribly fond of fondant, but my brother seems to love it. He must have eaten close to 600g of it.

So, would anyone else like a cake for their birthday?

Everybody love cake, right? I’ve been watching rather a lot of Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss recently and as a result, I’ve been desperate to have a go at making a properly decorated cake. Since it’s my brother’s birthday tomorrow I offered to make him a cake. He’s a big Chelsea fan, so the cake is in the shape of a shirt with his name and… his age. Yes, he is 18.

I also made him a joke cake, simply because I had so much sugarpaste icing (fondant) left over.

I’d like to think it was done in the style of cakewrecks.com.

It’s Freshers’ Fair again and the Food Appreciation Society hopes to attract even more members than last year’s impressive 550. Even though I no longer have any formal ties to this illustrious establishment, I enjoy baking the treats to attract freshers to our stall.

L and I had a very fun (if a tad stressful – mini cupcakes are devils in disguise) afternoon making chocolate covered cornflakes and mini red velvet cupcakes to give away tomorrow. L has recently discovered that he can actually cook and I’m very keen to encourage this. He did an excellent job of melting the chocolate and butter and then mixing the cornflakes in without grinding them to dust.

The red velvets were slightly trickier…

I call them ‘faux’ red velvets because the cake mix simply doesn’t have the traditional ingredients. Firstly, I find buttermilk to be a very awkward ingredient because you can use it for red velvet cake and muffins, but not much else, as far as I’m concerned. Furthermore, I never bother with the vinegar step. I’m sure it’s very important for the puritans and I have had its benefits explained to me, but I’m just not sold. My philosophy in baking has always been: if it tastes good, it is good. I came up with this recipe by thinking about what a red velvet cake is. Essentially, it’s a devil’s food cake coloured red. A devil’s food cake is a chocolate cake, therefore, if I made chocolate cupcakes and coloured them red, they would look like red velvets. Admittedly, it doesn’t have quite the same taste as a real red velvet, but it’s pretty close and would certainly fool anyone just looking at it.

A word of warning, before I impart the recipe – only make mini cupcakes if you have some or all of the following:
1) 3-4 cupcake trays with 12 cups
2) Baking beans
3) A lot of patience
I only had two cupcake trays suitable for the job and not a lot of patience. Hence, there were some frustrating moments when my mini cupcake cases were not behaving and several were wasted as cake batter had to be scraped off them.

Faux Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes:
Ingredients
100g self-raising flour
40g butter
2 tbsps cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
120ml milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2.5 tbsps red food colouring

Makes about 12 normal sized cupcakes and 40-50 mini cupcakes.
Pre-heat oven to 170C.

1) Cream the butter and the sugar with a wooden spoon. Then add the cocoa powder and mix it in until it looks like the base of a chocolate fridge cake. Gradually add the flour and mix thoroughly. From this point on, aim to achieve a sandy texture, almost like a crumble topping.
2) In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, vanilla and red food colouring. The milk should feel quite thick thanks to the egg and the food colouring makes it turn a gorgeous bright red colour.
3) Add about half of the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir it well until there aren’t any lumps. This bit is best done with an electric hand mixer on a low speed. When you feel the mixture is as combined as possible, slowly add the rest of the milk mixture and continue to stir it in. You should be left with a very smooth, rich red cake batter.
4) Line the cupcake tins with cases and carefully fill each case just over three-quarters full. Put the cakes in the oven for about 12-15 minutes for mini cupcakes, 15-20 minutes for normal sized cupcakes or 20-25 for muffin sized cakes.
5) Allow the cakes to cool before icing. I used a piping syringe and vanilla buttercream with edible glitter to decorate mine. Traditionally, red velvet is iced with cream cheese icing. Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste and what you think would work well. Experiment!

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