Category Archives: Biscuits

Date Munchies

A mid morning snack for you all…

This is an adapted recipe from a great old cook book The Dairy Book of Family Cookery. You can still get it on amazon but that’s nowhere near as exciting as how you would originally buy it: you’d order it from your Milk Man and he would deliver it with your milk in the morning. How fantastic is that?!
The book’s only downfall is that every recipe contains rather inflated quantities of dairy product so some of them (as my sister found out with the recipe for walnut bread – 2 whole pots of creme fraiche) do not really work. The munchie recipe is one of the book’s great successes. It’s also worth it for the amazing 70’s pictures… That said, the Dairy Book series (yes there are more than just this one) do have excellent staple recipes for things like white sauce, cakes and biscuits. They have updated the books as recently as this year, but an oldie is a goodie, especially when the photographs are this good…

What is that in the front?! Meat doused with cream probably, with a cream sauce on the side and a creamy soup to start all washed down with a creamy syllabub (with a cream garnish)

In this book is the recipe for Date Munchies,  my sister’s favourite treat when we were little. I am not sure what they were called in the book, but I’m pretty sure my mum made up the brilliant name we give them now.

The original Date Munchies are a simple flapjack with a sticky date centre.  Admittedly they can’t really be improved upon but I thought I’d use them as a jumping off point for my version that should really be called Date and Nut and Fig Munchie Crumblies.

This quantity makes 24 bar shaped munchies. They freeze very well so I made this amount and froze half for impromptu tea time treats. If you don’t have a freezer just halve the recipe unless you have an army of children or very hungry friends close to hand.
I used a 30cm x 20cm tin. You could go a bit  smaller than this but I wouldn’t go bigger.

(The New) Date Munchies

500g dried dates and figs de-stoned and diced (it’s up to you how many of each you use but remember dates are stickier than figs so hold together better, I use about 2/3 dates and 1/3 figs)

1 tbsp caster sugar

125ml water

zest of 1 lemon

140g oats

220g flour

200g light brown sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

85g walnuts, chopped

40g flaked almonds, toasted (to toast put flaked almonds in a baking tray and pop in the oven while it’s pre-heating for about 5 mins. Keep an eye on them!)

340g butter, melted

Pre heat the oven to 160 degrees or gas 3 1/2

Grease and line your 30x20cm tin

In a saucepan, add the dates/figs, caster sugar, water and lemon zest. Bring to the boil and boil for 3 minutes stirring all the time. When the time is up the mixture should be rich and jammy. Set it aside and leave it to cool.

In a large bowl mix the oats, flour baking soda, brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir to combine, then add the nuts and melted butter. Mix thoroughly, it will be pretty crumbly but don’t worry, it just makes it more ‘fun’ (read ‘messy’) when you eat them.

Now press half the mixture down onto the base of your tin and cover with the date and fig mixture. You will not be able to spread it due to the crumbly nature of the base, so put teaspoon sized dollops on at regular intervals and just squash slightly. Now sprinkle over the rest of the crumbly mixture and press it down firmly. This will squish the fruit middle even more and make it even.

Now put it in the oven for 30-35 minutes. It is ready when the top is browned.

Leave them to cool slightly in the tin and then slide them out onto a cooling rack.  Slice them into bars while they are still warm.

Perfect with a cup of tea. Me and my sister (she is the true measure of whether a date munchie is up to scratch) ate them on a coach, with a thermos of tea. Much fun. And they passed the test!

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, Cake, Fruit, Pudding, Recipes

A Sourdough Day

For most people Sunday is used as a day of rest and relaxation; put your feet up and have a cup of tea and a biscuit. For me, I want to be brewing the pot and making the biscuits. Last Sunday was no different, I invited a friend over for a day of sourdough experimentation! I’d spent the week nurturing what became affectionately known as my ‘alien baby’ otherwise known as a sourdough starter.  Here it is in all it’s bubbly fermented glory!

To start this off, I used a San Fransico sourdough culture bought for me by the same dear friend who came over to help. This was to be mixed with strong bread flour and water and then fed every day for a week. Some of the instructions were baffling “Leave your starter in a warm place between 80 and 90 degrees” even in fahrenheit this is outrageously warm for a February (or even mid summer!) in London. I put it by the boiler and hoped for the best. I nurtured this creature for a week, feeding it every day with flour and warmed water, stirring it, sniffing it, until it reached this very alive and yeasty stage.

The next part of my story is less successful. I’m sharing it with you because the starter gave rise (no pun intended) to a really excellent day of eating, cooking and catching up with a great friend and because the starter was such a bubbly success I just had to show you… the bread, alas, was not so successful hence why no recipe is included. I’ll wait until it’s fool proof.

We discovered early on that not only does the starter take an awfully long time to prepare, so too does the bread itself. Most recipes I found started at 8.30 in the morning and then had half an hour timed instructions through to 6pm! We thought the hard part was over with the starter, no such luck. Eventually we found a recipe that was more to our liking, mainly because it appeared not to take as long as some of the others. It did however, seem a bit untrustworthy, the fellow who wrote it was a shifty looking character and the instructions were a little hazy which is not a good sign in a bread recipe. Despite this we ploughed ahead and created a lovely sticky dough

We then had to knead it for 15 seconds, then rest for 30 minutes. Yes that’s right, 15 seconds – 30 minutes. You repeat this step over many hours increasing the resting time each time. At one point you swap from the mini kneads to a stretching and folding routine. Our dough was really rather nice, soft, floppy, warm and glutinous maximus! When tipping it out of the bowl, it hung on for ages, stretching it’s gluten enriched strands down towards the table in a most satisfyingly alien manner. Unfortunately I didn’t get a great picture of this because by that time, it was getting dark.

To relieve ourselves of the monotony, we decided to throw together some lunch. I, of course, had originally thought we could have warm bread and cheese, but new plans had to be made. It was a typical Sunday in our fridge, the ends of the week’s shopping and vegetable box hung around waiting for inspiration. There would be a number of things that were off limits as they had been reserved for supper and on this particular Sunday this left very little to play with. With the familar cry of “pasta?” in the air, we foraged until my friend in a flash of inspiration said: “Pasta Con Le Sarde?” After living in Venice for many years, she is very good and seeking out what I cannot when looking at an empty fridge. OBVIOUSLY I did not have any fresh sardines just lying around, but we had most of the rest of the ingredients and to be honest, it was delicious. I can’t wait to try it with the sardines!

 

Pasta Senza Sarde (Pasta Without Sardines)

200g mini orzo pasta

5 anchovies

2 cloves of garlic finely sliced

2 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

30g raisins

Parsley, roughly chopped

Parmesan to serve

 

Cook your pasta according to instructions…meanwhile…

Warm a good slug of olive oil in a pan and add the anchovies to melt, slowly on a low heat.

When they have broken down and are smelling lovely add your garlic, raisins and tomatoes and cook slowly until the tomatoes are beginning to break down and the raisins have puffed up a bit

When the pasta is cooked, drain it, loosen it with olive oil, and stir it through the fishy tomatoes, add the parsley at the last moment and serve with Parmesan. Eat with a spoon!

A proper recipe for this, with the correct additions of white wine, fennel and saffron (and of course sardines) can be found here. I’m certainly going to try it.

After lunch we braved the bread again, this time stretching then folding the dough into thirds and then leaving it to rest, again and again…..

It was a very lovely dough. It certainly felt as though it was going the right way… But then, who knew? We were just persevering with the ever complicated recipe and hoping we were on the right track.

The bread making left quite a lot of room to do other things so I decided we needed something sweet. Tea time was fast approaching and the bread was far from ready. Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies were the decided treat and I set about it.

The recipe I used is one from the lovely food blog Smitten Kitchen

These aren’t really a chewy cookie, they are more of a soft tea time mini bun. Tom is insistent that they are rock buns. I will continue to call them cookies because that’s what they appear to be. In reality, he is probably right.

The reason I like this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick. Butter, sugar and an egg are combined in the whizzer, then flour cinnamon and salt are added,  oats and raisins are mixed in at the end and then you simply put dollops of the dough on a tray, chill for 10 minutes then cook for 10 minutes. Excellent and all ready in half an hour.

I like to make mine really small, about a teaspoon of dough per cookie. It is a very good idea to chill them for 10 minutes in the fridge first as they probably have a tendency to spread like mad if you don’t.

I haven’t reproduced the recipe here as it is in full and good order at Smitten Kitchen. If you don’t have American weighing cups, I recommend you get some. They make this sort of cooking so much easier and are very satisfying. Translating recipes from cups is pretty difficult as you can imagine: think of a cup of flour, a cup of dark brown sugar and a cup of walnuts, these are not going to all weigh the same.  Next time I make these, I will weigh each thing and write it down and share it if you really want. But until then, buy some cups.

So after our tea time treat we went back to the bread… Evening was fast approaching and my dear friend was getting tired, she left me with the dough and went home for some well earned rest. I soldiered on with the dough, stretching, folding and resting (I was resting too, 30 minutes of series 1 of ER then back to the kitchen)

As it was now dark I thought I’d better start on dinner so with the remaining bits and bobs in the fridge I whipped up a potato curry. And jolly nice it was too. It was influenced by an Ottolenghi dish and some general online curry recipes.

Potato Curry

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon

700g potatoes, peeled and quartered
200g carrots, peeled and quartered
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs black mustard seeds
1 onion, sliced thin
5cm piece ginger, peeled, grated
1 green chilli, seeds removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 or 6 curry leaves
1 tin of good chopped tomatoes
125ml coconut milk

 

Toast the coriander and cumin in a pan until they start popping

Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind them up with the cardamom until they smell wonderful. You can throw away the cardamom skins when the seeds are released

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions, fry until soft then add all the spices, ginger and mustard seeds and stir to gently cook them. Now add the chilli, curry leaves, garlic, carrots and  potatoes and mix the while lot together until the potatoes are turning yellow with the turmeric.

When everything is smelling wonderful, add the tinned tomatoes and coconut milk and leave it to putter away on a low heat with the lid on for a good hour.

Check on it after this to make sure the potatoes are cooked, then when you are ready to eat, re-heat with the lid off for another 30 minutes.

You could do all this in the oven too if you were so inclined.

I desperately wanted to make Naan bread to go with this but we didn’t have any yoghurt and I still needed to focus on the sourdough, which was gently mocking me from a corner of the room.

Finally it was time to shape the dough. Last year I went on a bread baking course at the wonderful Lighthouse Bakery School. It was such a fantastic day, I highly recommend it. In fact my bread lesson companion was the same as my sourdough buddy, but unfortunately she had long since gone home and so the shaping lesson we had listened so intently to at the Lighthouse was left to me alone to re-create. One thing that really stuck from that day was the lesson not to knead your dough with flour. Instead we were taught to wipe a light layer of olive oil onto the surface, this keeps the dough from sticking and doesn’t add a new component to the dough. Kneading with flour means you ruin the delicate balance of ingredients.

Another important lesson was how to shape the dough using it’s own elasticity, stretching the dough so it forms a ‘skin’ on the top.

You do this by pushing the dough away from you and then folding it back on itself. You do this around 6 times turning after each fold so you have created a taught top (which will be facing down). It still looked like an alien.

To be honest, I knew this was where things would start to go downhill. The recipe I followed only called for one shaping of the dough. A sourdough has an extremely high water content and it spreads if you leave it for even a minute. I think this dough needed 2 shapings.
This is a pretty interesting video. I like how she calls a Boule a Boo-lee!
But it gives you an idea of how crazy this dough is. It runs away from you!

So to cut a very long story a little shorter, I shaped my dough, slashed it and left it to rise one more time and then I put it in the oven for the suggested 40-50 minutes…

 

And I burnt it.

 

That’s right. After a whole day of labor, I burnt the bugger.

And the slashes sealed up on the top leaving me with a huge round black bomb! OK it wasn’t too bad, the top was VERY crispy but it wasn’t totally ruined. The lovely open texture I was hoping for after all that work, was only evident in the top third of the loaf (due to the slashes disappearing I think). Something went very wrong, I am yet to discover what. I think what is needed is a whole lot more experimentation, but really… who has the time?!

Luckily by this point Tom had come home and had brought some raita with him to eat with our potato curry. We sat down and ate while I mourned the death of a loaf… But we still had warm slices of it for pudding with butter and plum jam… And really, who cares if you make a big baking mistake, it’s all learning and you never know, I might get it right one day and until then, we’ll eat it warm with butter and jam and pretend that’s how it’s supposed to be.

 

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, Bread, Curry, Lunch, Pasta, Quick, Recipes, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian

Party Party!

There’s nothing I  relish more than a good birthday party. So many opportunities to cook!  On Saturday we held  our birthday Ping Pong Picnic Party in the Park with mulled cider on a camping stove and lots of delicious cheeses. And birthday cake of course.

Below are several of my favourite party food recipes from a few past birthday celebrations…

Mulled Cider

Lemon Polenta Cake with Pistachio Cream

Spinach and Feta Filo Parcels

Party Biscuits

‘Caspars’

Chicory Leaves with Gorgonzola, Pear and Walnuts

Don’t f0rget to decorate the kitchen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mulled Cider

For 2l good dry cider use 100ml cloudy or freshly squeezed apple juice

1 apple studded with cloves

1/2 an orange, sliced thinly

1 cinnamon stick

Put all the ingredients into a pan and warm gently.

Drink, preferably outside, under a tree, in Autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The apple, orange and cinnamon will last for at least 4 rounds (that is 4 lots of 2l of cider) but after that the spiciness will have weakened, so make sure to have spare, this goes down a bit quickly especially at a big party!

Lemon Polenta Cake with Pistachio Cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cake

330g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

130g fine polenta, plus extra for dusting

300g caster sugar

4 large free-range eggs, beaten

300g ground almonds

1½ tsp baking powder

4 tsp plain flour

Grated zest of 4 large lemons and juice of 2

Syrup

100g caster sugar

Juice of a large lemon

Icing

150g mascarpone

100g ricotta

150ml double cream

2 tbsp icing sugar

4-5 tbsp lemon curd

Handful of chopped pistachios to decorate

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees, gas 3

Butter a 23cm springform cake tin, line the base with baking paper, butter again and dust all over with a little polenta.

In a big bowl or your food mixer beat the softened butter and caster sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually add the beaten eggs

Fold in the polenta, almonds, baking powder and plain flour with a metal spoon.

Add the lemon zest and juice, combine.

Spoon into the cake tin and smooth the top.

Bake for 1¼ hours until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean

Meanwhile, make the syrup by heating the sugar and lemon juice in a pan until the sugar has dissolved

When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and poke holes into the cake with a skewer. pour over the warm syrup and let the cake cool in the tin for 20-30 minutes, then remove from the tin and completely cool on a wire rack.

When the cake is cool, make the icing. In a bowl or your mixer, beat together mascarpone, ricotta and cream until smooth and thick. Sift in the icing sugar and mix well in. Spread the icing over the top of the cake and then drizzle over the lemon curd, you can swirl the curd into the icing with a skewer. Finely chop your pistachios (or you could use almonds) and sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Watch it disappear in milliseconds.

Spinach and Feta Filo Parcels

6 sheets of filo pastry

6 shallots

2 tbs chopped fresh parsley

500g cooked drained and chopped spinach (squeeze all the juice out so you have a sort of spinach paste or use frozen which is pre-chopped, you’ll still need to squeeze it)

200g feta cheese

50g butter, melted

salt and pepper

Nutmeg

Cook or prepare your spinach (if using frozen, thaw out, drain and squeeze then use. If using fresh, wash it, then put it in a pan over a low heat with the lid on, you will need no more water than this, then drain, squeeze and chop finely)

Pre-heat the oven to gas 4 / 180 degrees

Chop the shallots finely and sautee in a little olive oil for 5 minutes or so.

Chop the feta into 1cm squares

Mix the spinach with the shallots until heated through, add the parsley feta and a good grating of fresh nutmeg to taste. Season.

Slice each of the filo sheets in half length ways, you want strips about 10cm wide and 30cm long (or you can make little hors d’oeuvre sized parcels by slicing each sheet into 3)

Brush a little butter along the edges of the pastry and put about 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture into the right hand corner.

Now for folding:

Take the pastry by the bottom right hand corner and and bring it to the opposite corner above the mixture.

Brush the edges with a little melted butter then take the bottom left hand corner and lift it straight up and over. Continue until you reach the end (it should take about 5 folds.) Make sure to press the edges together so the filling can’t leak out.

Brush a baking tray with melted butter and the top and sides of each parcel too and bake for 35 minutes until pastry is browned and crisp.

Party Biscuits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This recipe is from the bbc website. They are VERY sweet, but that’s what you want at a party. Classier biscuits to follow…

250g plain white flour

85g golden caster sugar

175g unsalted butter , at room temperature, cubed

2 tbsp lemon juice

250g white icing sugar

1 tbsp raspberry jam

Heat oven to 180 degrees / gas 4. Put the flour, sugar and butter into a food processor. Whizz until the mixture forms crumbs, then pulse a little more until it forms a ball.

Put in the fridge for at least an hour

Dust a clean surface with a little flour, then roll out the dough to about the thickness of a £1 coin. Stamp out rounds using any biscuit cutter or a water glass, then if you want them ina ring shape cut out the middles with the end of a piping nozzle. Lift onto baking sheets and bake for 10 mins until pale golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Put the lemon juice into a bowl  and sieve in 175g of the icing sugar; stir together to make a smooth icing add a DROP of water if it’s not liquid enough).

Into another bowl sieve the raspberry jam (or you’ll block up your nozzle!) and add 2 tsp boiling water, mix, then sieve in the remaining icing sugar.

Spoon the lemon icing over the biscuits, then drizzle or pipe the pink icing over. I piped people’s initials on the biscuits but you can just drizzle with a teaspoon to make splotchy wobbly lines or dots or anything else you fancy!

Leave to set for at least 20 mins. Will keep for up to 2 days in an airtight tin, longer if left un-iced.

 

 

 

Caspars

I invented these biscuits for a brand new perfect baby boy, Caspar or Mr C as he is known to his friends. Obviously he couldn’t eat them but his parents were happy to have something to give to visiting friends and family. I think they make a perfect gift, very pretty, delicate and light. And they taste delicious!

Almond, Lemon and Honey ‘Caspars’

4oz butter

2oz castor sugar

1oz muscovado sugar

4oz plain flour

2oz ground almonds

2tbs honey

zest of 1 lemon

handful of flaked almonds

1 tbsp poppy seeds

Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees or gas 3

Beat butter and sugars together, add honey and combine

Add flour almonds and lemon zest and mix until a rough dough

Form into a ball and chill in the fridge for at least an hour (this dough freezes very well too)

Dust a clean surface with a little flour and roll the dough out to the thickness of a £1 coin.

Cut out with a water glass (or biscuit cutter) and sprinkle over a couple of flaked almonds, a few poppy seeds and a scattering of castor sugar

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and place the biscuits on

Bake for 15 mins but keep a close eye on them. They are done when they are golden brown but they’re very delicate so be careful when lifting them onto a wire rack to cool

Chicory Leaves with Gorgonzola, Pears and Walnuts

A very simple pretty snack to serve at a party, we had these at my mum’s birthday and they went down very well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 heads of red chicory and 3 of green

200g gorgonzola

2 tbs yoghurt

3 pears quartered and sliced very finely (put the slices into ice cold water with the juice of a lemon to stop them browning)

100g walnuts, chopped and toasted for 10 mins in the oven (gas 4 / 180 degrees)

You want to make small batches of these as chicory browns quite quickly, have about 8 on a plate and 8 in the fridge at all times

Mix gorgonzola and  yoghurt together to form a soft loose consistency (add more yoghurt if needed)

Slice the end off the chicory and separate the leaves. You probably can’t use the first 3 leaves as they will be too thin and floppy

Put around 2 teaspoons of the cheese mix into a leaf, tuck a pear slice in next to it and sprinkle with walnuts.

We also had excellent parma ham from the fabulous deli with finely sliced melon, home-made hummus, mini goats cheese and red onion tarts (recipe later) and my sister’s amazing bulgur wheat salad (recipe please R!)

Eat, drink and be merry…Have a great party! Remember to invite me and I promise to bring edible gifts.

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, Cake, Cheese, Drinks, Fruit, hors d'oeuvre, Kitchen Tips, Pudding, Recipes, vegetables