Lady Baltimore Cake

One of the few downsides of being a prolific baker (apart from an ever-expanding waistline) is when you really want to try something new, that’s also not too complicated, but you end up skimming over the same old well-loved recipes. Chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, lemon drizzle, brownies; they’re all undeniably delicious but sometimes I find myself craving something a bit different that’s still simple to whip up.

This is particularly true when it comes to birthday cakes. I’ve made my lovely step-grandad’s celebratory sponge for the last three years and wanted to make a cake that he and the rest of the family had never tried before, but one that equally didn’t involve hours of painstaking fiddling and stressing.

I was flicking through my latest cookbook bargain, The Best-Ever Book of Cakes by Ann Nicol (bought for £2 from The Works and brimming with an array of fantastic recipes) for inspiration, and the Lady Baltimore cake caught my eye. I’d never heard of such a thing before, let alone baked one, but it looked delicious with its snowy white and unapologetically bumpy frosting.

Admittedly, I altered the recipe a bit with a couple of substitutions, but the result was absolutely heavenly. The crunch of the walnuts mixed with the sharpness of the raisins and cranberries, all contrasting with the sweet and marshmallowy meringue frosting, is divine. I would never have thought to mix lumpy things like fruit and nuts into an icing but it really works!

Oh, and if you’re a fan of dreamy, cloud-like meringue frosting, why not have a go at my Tunnock’s chocolate teacake cake?

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INGREDIENTS – makes 2 sponge layers of 8in/20cm diameter

For the cake:

  • 250ml/8 fl oz vegetable oil
  • 225g/8 oz caster sugar
  • 280g/10 oz self-raising flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Grated rind of 1 small lemon (or orange)
  • 125ml/4 fl oz lemon (or orange) juice

For the frosting/filling:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 115g/4 oz icing sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 0.5 tsp cream of tartar (optional but helps stabilise the frosting)
  • 50g/2 oz mixed nuts, pecans or walnuts, chopped
  • 85g//3 oz raisins
  • 40g/1.5 oz cranberries

METHOD

For the cake:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line two round baking tins with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk the vegetable oil, sugar and eggs together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Stir in the lemon rind and juice.
  4. Gently fold in the flour and baking powder, until a batter of a soft dropping consistency has formed.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tins, then pop in the oven and bake for around 25-30 minutes until a cocktail stick inserted into the sponges comes out clean.
  6. When baked, transfer the cakes onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

For the frosting/filling:

  1. Set aside 8 whole walnuts and 8 cranberries.
  2. Separate the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk with the vanilla extract and cream of tartar, while adding the icing sugar a few teaspoons at a time, until stiff peaks form – you should ideally do this for a minimum of 7-10 minutes.
  3. Spread half of the mixture on top of one of the cooled sponges with a palette knife.
  4. Gently stir in the chopped nuts, raisins and cranberries into the remaining frosting and spread the mixture on top of the other sponge.
  5. Sandwich the sponge topped with plain frosting on top of the one with the fruit and nut frosting, then arrange the extra 8 walnuts and cranberries on top of the cake in a neat circle.

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Categories: Icing, Layer Cakes, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Super Easy Nutella Popcorn Cupcakes

I have been so ridiculously busy the last few weeks that my poor blog has been rather neglected of late. The main reason for this is that I am currently in the midst of house hunting! After much renting and moving back and forth, I’ve decided it’s time to get my bum in gear and finally get on the property ladder now that I’m earning again.

It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time and I’m desperate to settle in one place. It’s quite exciting but also overwhelming and scary!

Anyway, both my other half and my best friend had birthdays within a week of each other this month. Neither wanted a big cake but I couldn’t not create anything for them, despite my current time-poor situation. So one exhausted Saturday afternoon I made these delicious and decadent cupcakes, which don’t involve any fancy ingredients and are a doddle to put together.

Nutella is a life-saver when you don’t have the time/energy to whip up icing following the effort of making the actual cake, and ready-made popcorn is an impressive but simple decoration. And, most importantly, they’re extremely tasty!

If you’re reeeeally short on time, you could use packet chocolate cake mix instead of doing the sponge from scratch – I certainly wouldn’t judge you!

And if  you like super-easy Nutella recipes, why not whip up a batch of delicious Nutella porridge bars?

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INGREDIENTS – makes approx. 15-18 cupcakes

For the cakes:

  • 225g/8 oz self-raising flour
  • 140g/5 oz caster or granulated sugar
  • 70g/2.5 oz brown sugar
  • 225g/8 oz butter or margarine
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp strong coffee

For the icing/decoration (I have to confess that I didn’t measure these accurately!)

  • Roughly half a jar of Nutella or other chocolate & hazelnut spread
  • Roughly half a pack of ready-prepared toffee popcorn, e.g. Butterkist

METHOD

For the cakes:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line a muffin tin with cupcake cases.
  2. Whisk the butter/margarine and sugars together in a large mixing bowl until pale then whisk in the eggs.
  3. Fold in the flour, cocoa powder, coffee and vanilla extract until a batter of a soft dropping consistency has formed.
  4. Pour the mixture into the cake cases until they’re each about three quarters full, then pop in the oven and bake for around 15-20 minutes until a cocktail stick inserted into the sponges comes out clean.
  5. When baked, leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack. At this stage the they can be frozen for decorating at a later date if you wish.

For the icing/decoration:

  1. When the cakes have cooled, dollop a generous amount of Nutella onto each one and smooth out using a palette knife.
  2. Top each cake with 5 pieces of popcorn.
Categories: Chocolate, cupcakes, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Custard Cream Flapjacks

I’m officially obsessed with flapjacks. Up until a couple of months ago, I don’t think I’d ever actually made them, but after creating Caramac and honeycomb & chocolate ones, I now find myself whipping up a batch or two at least every couple of weeks!

I just love how they’re both so foolproof and so adaptable. Simply mix together butter, sugar, syrup and oats et voila – you’ve got the base for a million varieties and you can add pretty much whatever goodies you feel like. And all without the ever-present fears of over-mixing, soggy bottoms or sunken sponges.

Aside from the aforementioned types, other flapjacks I’ve attempted include Malteser, Fudge bar, cherry bakewell, white chocolate & cranberry, date & raisin, Dime bar, salted caramel, Milky Way…and many more to come I suspect.

As I love anything custard cream related, I decided that these yummy biccies would form the basis for my next flapjack experiment. The results were deliciously vanilla-y, moreish, and heartily demolished by my colleagues!

Oh, and if you’re also a custard cream fan, why not try my custard cream cake?

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INGREDIENTS – makes 12 large flapjacks or 15 small flapjacks

  • 130g/4.5 oz butter or margarine
  • 170g/6 oz granulated or caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 4 tbsp custard powder
  • 255g/9 oz oats
  • 100g/3.5 oz white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3-4 custard cream biscuits, roughly crushed

    METHOD
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line a rectangular baking tin with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter/margarine, sugar, golden syrup and vanilla extract together – either in a saucepan on the hob or in a large mixing bowl in the microwave – until smooth.
  3. Stir in the oats, white chocolate and custard powder until evenly coated.
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  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and pop in the oven for around 15-20 minutes until the edges are slightly brown (the mixture will will firm up as it cools).
  5. Leave to cool on a wire rack for about 15-20 minutes and scatter the crushed custard creams over the top while still warm, gently pushing larger bits into the flapjacks.
  6. When completely cool, slice in squares using a sharp knife.
Categories: flapjacks, Traybakes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Spiced Tea & Chocolate Cake with Chocolate & Cinnamon Ganache Icing

I first came up with the idea of, and impulsively made, this cake for the first time over a year ago when I wanted to combine the winning combination of chocolate and good old-fashioned English tea in sponge form. The addition of cinnamon and mixed spice adds an extra layer of depth to the flavours and I’m really pleased with how the finished product turned out.

The flavours are slightly reminiscent of my Christmas favourite, chocolate gingerbread cake, but the texture is less dense and more akin to a traditional sponge, making it an ideal treat all year round.

I stupidly didn’t take any photos of my first attempt but, when asked to make a birthday cake for a pony-mad colleague, I decided to recreate it in deceptively simple but eye-catching horseshoe form. The equine motif is, of course, optional and the cake tastes just as delicious made in a regular round or square tin. It’s also very tasty in its naked form, minus the icing, but the cinnamon ganache adds an extra touch of indulgence.

I must give credit to the inspirational domestic goddess and my all-round food idol, Nigella Lawson, for the aforementioned icing – the original recipe is hers (part of her decadent Devil’s Food cake), and I simply added some cinnamon.

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INGREDIENTS – makes 1 bundt ring cake as in the picture, or 1 deep round 20cm/8in cake

For the cake:

  • 225g/8 oz butter or margarine
  • 115g/4 oz caster or granulated sugar
  • 115g/4 oz brown sugar
  • 225g/8 oz self-raising flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
  •  120ml/4 fl oz strong cold tea
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder

For the ganache icing/decorations:

  • 125g/4.5 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 90g/3 oz butter
  • 20g/0.75 oz dark brown sugar
  • 65 ml/2 fl oz water
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 7 Caramac buttons (optional)
  • Silver shimmer spray (optional)
  • Palm-sized piece of marzipan (optional)
    + horse-shaped cookie cutter (optional)

METHOD

For the cake:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line your cake tin of choice with parchment paper or spritz with cake release spray.
  2. Whisk the butter/margarine and sugars together in a large mixing bowl until pale, then whisk in the eggs.
  3. Fold in the flour, cocoa powder, tea, cinnamon, mixed spice and baking powder until a batter of a soft dropping consistency has formed.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, then pop in the oven and bake for around 25-30 minutes until a cocktail stick inserted into the sponge comes out clean (it might need a bit longer if you’re using one round tin instead of a ring-shaped one).
  5. When baked, leave the cake to cool on a wire rack before turning it out of the tin. At this stage it can be frozen for decorating at a later date if you wish.
  6. If you’re making a horseshoe cake, cut out a section of the sponge ring (and eat later!)

For the ganache icing/decorations:

  1. Place the water, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan and melt together on a low heat.
  2. When the mixture begins to bubble, take the pan off the heat and add the finely chopped chocolate. Swirl the liquid over the pieces so that they melt evenly.
  3. When the chocolate has all melted, whisk the mixture until smooth and glossy, then transfer into a cool mixing bowl.
  4. Leave the frosting to set for at least one hour (place it in the fridge to speed up the process a bit) until it’s a spreadable consistency.
  5. When set, spread the frosting onto the cooled cake.
  6. If you’re making a horseshoe cake, arrange the Caramac buttons, evenly spaced, along the middle of the sponge and finish with a spritz of silver shimmer spray for a metallic sheen.
  7. To make the little yellow horse centrepiece as in the photo, roll out the chunk of marzipan until it’s about the thickness of a pound coin, then stamp it out using the horsey cookie cutter and place in the middle on the serving plate/board.

 

Categories: Chocolate, Icing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honeycomb & Chocolate Flapjacks with Marzipan Bees

I’m a huge fan of The Great British Bake Off’s 2013 champion, Frances Quinn, who captured my heart with her incredible culinary creativity when she appeared on the show. She is an idol of mine as I love how she always thinks outside the box and is constantly coming up with quirky new twists on recipes.

There are lots of brilliant cooks out there, but I’ve never come across another with Frances’s talent of taking baking to the next level by slathering it with an extra layer of fun and Willy-Wonka-like wonder. A big jam sandwich recreated in Victoria sponge, biscuit matchsticks, squirrel cake and a giant Swiss roll cigarette were among her wonderfully imaginative creations on the show, proving that it is indeed possible to combine both style and substance. I’ve never seen another contestant come close to her in terms of visual presentation before or since, despite the hundreds of showstopping bakes produced over the years.

Needless to say, I was desperate to get my hands on a copy of her book, Quinntessential Baking, when it was released and it has become a firm favourite. Instead of churning out recipes for the same old ‘best ever chocolate cake’, blueberry muffins and yet another pavlova that hardly differ from the offerings of the dozens of other cookbooks that clamour for attention among the saturated culinary market, I adore the way in which she outlines a set of base recipes and then tells you how to transform them into something wonderfully ingenious with a few simple touches. Some delightful examples include a wall of Bourbon ‘brick’ brownies, white chocolate candles, meringue swans and bonfire cupcakes with spun sugar flames. And, as a fellow lexeme lover, her cute puns and wordplay make me feel all warm and fuzzy!

Anyway, despite my rambling ode to Ms Quinn’s fabulousness, this post doesn’t actually include one of her recipes. However, the creations I’m sharing here were very much inspired by her. Some the gorgeous adornments Frances suggests in her book are marzipan bees, which I’ve copied here and which inspired the idea of honeycomb flapjacks. I realise it’s hardly the most original concept in history, but I like to think of them as a little homage to the Queen of Creative Baking. And they taste absolutely bee-rilliant (sorry…)!

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INGREDIENTS – makes 12 large or 18 small flapjacks

For the flapjacks:

  • 130g/4 oz butter or margarine
  • 170g/6 oz brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 255g/9 oz oats
  • 4 x standard Crunchie bars, chopped into small cubes (as in the picture below)Untitled

For the bees:

  • 3 tbsp marzipan (approx.)
  • Chocolate or black writing icing
  • 10 flaked almonds

METHOD

For the flapjacks:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line a rectangular baking tin with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter/margarine, sugar and honey together – either in a saucepan on the hob or in a large mixing bowl in the microwave – until smooth.
  3. Stir in the oats and chopped up Crunchie bars until the oats are all evenly coated.20160409_162606
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and pop in the oven for around 15-20 minutes until the edges are slightly brown (the mixture will will firm up as it cools)
  5. Leave to cool on a wire rack and then cut into bars with a sharp knife. If you’re very patient you could cut them into individual hive-esque hexagon shapes!

For the bees:

  1. Tear off pieces of marzipan around the size of a 50p piece and roll into balls with your palms.
  2. Use the writing icing to pipe three horizontal stripes and two eyes, as in the picture.
  3. Gently push two flaked almonds into each bee so that they resemble wings.
  4. Arrange artistically on top of your flapjacks!
Image of Quinntessential Baking book copyright Amazon.co.uk
Categories: flapjacks, Traybakes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pinkies (Strawberry Milkshake Blondies)

I’m not really sure how this idea popped into my head. Perhaps it was because I had pink on the brain from helping to organise my gran and stepgrandad’s 10th wedding anniversary celebrations, which featured the colour as a theme (including a pink rosewater cake as a centrepiece, made by yours truly).

I’ve baked with strawberry milkshake powder before and I love the delicate rosy shade it delivers. And, despite being a vaguely gothic looking 28-year-old, I always think of pink as a fun colour that carries the promise of something devilishly sweet and exciting when it’s used in an edible context.

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Why limit yourself to dark and white chocolate brownies and blondies, I thought, when there’s room in the great Bakeosphere for other flavours? I’m happy to say this whimsical idea paid off, despite my initial worries that the finished product would be too synthetic, too soggy, or just downright vile. The strawberry flavour is quite subtle and really complements the white chocolate batter, adding a novel twist on the much-loved blondie.

So, don’t be shy – grab the Nesquik and have some fun with these cheery pinkies! And, if you like these, why not check out my strawberry milkshake biscuits?

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INGREDIENTS – makes approx. 18 squares

  • 200g/7 oz granulated or caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 85g/3 oz self-raising flour
  • 120ml/4 fl oz cooking oil
  • 100g/4 oz white cooking chocolate
  • 5 tbsp strawberry milkshake powder (I used Hello Kitty brand but any will do!)
  • 2 tsp strawberry extract
  • Quarter tsp red gel food colouring
  • 18 sugar butterflies, to decorate (optional)

METHOD

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line a rectangular baking tin with parchment paper.
  • Briefly whisk the sugar, eggs, oil and strawberry extract together in a large mixing bowl.
  • Chop the chocolate into small chunks and melt in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water or place in the microwave and heat in blasts of about 1 minute until smooth, then pour into the mixing bowl.
  • Fold in the flour, milkshake powder and gel food colouring until you have an even, pale pink hue, and then pour the mixture into the prepared tin.

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  • Pop in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the edges are wrinkled and very slightly brown and a cocktail stick inserted into the cake comes out pretty much clean. Leave to cool.
  • Cut into squares using a sharp knife and gently push a sugar butterfly into the top of each pinkie.

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Categories: Traybakes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Boost Bar Biscuit Cake

They may not enjoy quite the same popularity as Mars bars, Maltesers or Cadbury Buttons, but I think Boost bars are such an underrated chocolate. Chewy caramel, a generous coating of Dairy Milk and super crunchy biscuit melded into one – what’s not to like?!

Boosts have been my mum’s all-time favourite chocolate bars for as long as I can remember, and so I wanted to use them as the inspiration for her birthday cake this year. She’s not the biggest fan of chocolate sponge cake and the idea of doing one sandwiched with caramel and topped with Boost pieces didn’t really grab me. I Googled ‘Boost bar cheesecake’ and, to my immense surprise, there were no results! Needless to say, this was all the motivation I needed to rectify this and attempt one myself, particularly given the enticing can of Carnation caramel already sat waiting in the pantry.

After thinking about it some more, I decided cream cheese didn’t really seem necessary and decided to stick with recreating each element of the chocolate bar to create a large, sliceable, homemade version. No frills, no faff and no baking but the end result was delicious and went down a storm!

I realised afterwards that, due to the soft consistency of the tinned caramel, this creation is actually perhaps more reminiscent of Munchies chocolates rather than their chewier Cadbury cousin. Either way, it tastes good which is the main thing I think!

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INGREDIENTS

For the base:

  • 170g/6 oz digestive biscuits, crushed
  • 55g/2 oz butter or margarine, melted

For the filling:

  • 3/4 of a 397g can Carnation caramel
  • 250g/9 oz milk chocolate (preferably Cadbury’s Dairy Milk)
  • 55g/2 oz butter or margarine
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 x 108g bag Boost Bites (or Munchies!), or 2 Boost bars, chopped into 2cm pieces

METHOD

For the base:

  1. Place the digestive biscuits in a hole-free carrier bag and bash into crumbs with a rolling pin, or place them in a food processor.
  2. Place the butter/margarine in a heatproof bowl and melt in the microwave until liquid, and then pour in the biscuit crumbs. Mix thoroughly to combine.
  3. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased flan dish and press down with your fingers or the back of a spoon until flat and firm. Place in the fridge to set for at least half an hour.

For the filling/topping:

  1. Remove the set biscuit base from the fridge and spread the caramel over it evenly with a spatula.
  2. Place the flan dish back in the fridge and allow to set for at least an hour, until the caramel has firmed up a bit. Remove from the fridge before making the chocolate topping.
  3. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt in the microwave on low heat in blasts of 30 seconds-1 minute until completely smooth.
  4. Stir in the butter/margarine and syrup and pour the mixture over the caramel layer. Once the chocolate has cooled completely, arrange the Boost Bites on top, and then place back in the fridge for at least 25 minutes before serving.

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Categories: Chocolate, No-Bake | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cheese & Sundried Tomato Quiche

I used to HATE quiche. I couldn’t fathom why on earth grown-ups thought a slice of stone-cold, flaccid, eggy tart – like a lifeless pizza substitute – was a viable choice for the buffet table at any family gathering or event. Mind you, I used to hate eggs in general and couldn’t stomach so much as an omelette, so I probably wasn’t in a position to judge.

As with many other types of food, I’ve grown to like eggs (apart from hard-boiled, blurgh) as I’ve evolved from a fussy child/teenager into a proper, fully-fledged ‘adult’ (on the outside anyway) with a more accommodating palate. While the pre-packaged, slightly deflated-looking quiches you find in the supermarket still don’t appeal to me, I really fancied having a go at my own version, with homemade pastry and served warm from the oven. How hard could it be? Well, not at all as it happens!

I’m all for buying pre-made pastry, and even just the thought of attempting my own puff or filo makes me want to go for a lie down, but making shortcrust from scratch is ridiculously easy. Obviously, if you’d rather use the bought stuff to save time that’s absolutely fine and will work just as well, but I’d recommend giving it a go yourself if you can.

My mum requested a veggie quiche for the buffet tea we had on her birthday, and the flavours here are gorgeous, but you could add anything you like really. Bacon, mushrooms or chorizo would also work well in place of the sundried tomatoes. I like this quiche best served warm, fresh out the oven, but it’s also delicious cold.

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INGREDIENTS

For the pastry:

  • 225g/8 oz plain flour
  • 115g/4 oz butter or margarine + a little extra for greasing
  • Splash of milk

For the filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 150g/5 oz cheddar cheese, grated
  • 80g/3 oz sundried tomatoes, thoroughly drained from their oil and snipped into small pieces no bigger than a 5p piece
  • 300ml/10 fl oz milk
  • 1 tbsp plain flour

METHOD

For the pastry:

  1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and then rub in the butter/margarine using your fingers until crumbs form.
  2. Add a splash of milk and bring together to form a ball of dough. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour and if it’s too dry and crumbly, add a splash more milk.
  3. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 20 minutes.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C (or 180 fan) and lightly grease a flan dish with butter/margarine.
  5. Roll the pastry out with a rolling pin on a floured surface until it’s about the thickness of a pound coin and place over the prepared flan dish, gently pushing it into the grooves.
  6. Trim off the excess pastry with a knife and squidge back into a ball, then roll it out again and cut out the heart shapes with a cookie cutter (or just keep the excess pastry for another time if you’d rather). Place the hearts on a rectangular baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  7. Pop the pastry case and hearts in the oven and bake for around 15 minutes until the pastry is dry and slightly browned. Turn the temperature down to 160 degrees C (or 140 fan).
  8. Place the flan dish and pastry hearts on a wire rack and allow to cool before making the filling.

For the filling:

  1. Beat the eggs together in a mixing bowl, and then stir in the cheese, milk, flour and sundried tomatoes.
  2. Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry case in the flan dish.
  3. Put the dish back in the oven and bake for a further 25-30 minutes until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the quiche comes out clean.
  4. Place the quiche on the wire rack and allow to cool slightly before serving. Enjoy hot or cold!
Categories: Savoury | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caramacjacks (Caramac Flapjacks)

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately as I’ve not been doing as much baking as usual, and the few bits I have done have been either from cookbooks or things I’ve made a million times before that I’ve already posted on here. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve also been trying to eat a bit more healthily and cut down on refined sugar but, admittedly, my desk drawer at work that’s groaning under the strain of the office biscuit/chocolate/jaffa cake stash is hindering my efforts somewhat…

Another reason in part for my lack of culinary activity is due to my recent rekindling of my passion for painting, something I hadn’t done in years until the other week. I’m so glad I’ve got back into it though as I’m enjoying it hugely, and I’m never happy if I’m not working on some kind of creative project.

Anyhow, back to the subject in hand – Caramac flapjacks! Or, as I have christened them, ‘Caramacjacks’. Weirdly enough, I’d never actually made flapjacks before but my friend at work had a birthday approaching and I decided to have a go at them as she’s not hugely keen on cake (I know, shocking!) and I wanted to make something that I could stick candles in. Like me, she’s a big chocolate fan, and there were two multipacks of the enticing sweet, golden ingots in question lingering in my pantry, so the result was a no-brainer.

P.S. If you’re crazy for Caramac, why not check out my cupcake recipe?

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INGREDIENTS – makes approx. 16 small flapjacks (or one big one!)

For the flapjacks:

  • 330g/11.5 oz oats
  • 150g/6 oz butter or margarine
  • 150g/6 oz brown sugar
  • 100g/4 oz golden syrup
  • 100g/4 oz caramel chocolate buttons or white chocolate buttons, chopped

For the topping:

  • 5 x standard Caramac bars
  • 1 tbsp butter or margarine
  • 75g/3 oz dark chocolate

METHOD

For the flapjacks:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 gas) and line a square or rectangular baking tin with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter/margarine, sugar and syrup together, either using a saucepan on the hob or by placing them in a heatproof bowl and heating in the microwave in 1-minute blasts.
  3. Stir in the oats and chopped caramel/white chocolate buttons.
  4. Scoop the mixture into the prepared baking tin and pop in the oven for around 20 minutes, or until lightly golden.
  5. Transfer onto a wire rack and allow to cool before adding the topping.

For the topping:

  1. Chop the Caramac bars into very small pieces and transfer into a heatproof bowl, then microwave on a LOW heat in 30-second blasts until completely melted (don’t be tempted to put it in for longer periods or turn the heat up or it will seize and turn disgusting!)
  2. Stir the butter/margarine into the melted Caramac and pour onto the cooled flapjack. Spread the topping into an even layer using a palette knife. Don’t worry if the consistency of the mixture isn’t very smooth.
  3. Chop the dark chocolate into small pieces and place in a new heatproof bowl, then microwave in blasts of 30 seconds to 1 minute until completely melted (dark chocolate tends to be more forgiving than the more synthetic Caramac).
  4. The Caramac topping should have set by now but, if not, wait until it has. Then, using a teaspoon, drizzle the melted chocolate across the flapjack in a criss-cross pattern and allow to set.
  5. Cut into 16 small bars with a sharp knife – or go mad and leave it as one giant flapjack!
Categories: flapjacks, Traybakes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Iris Tart

Our lovely and amazingly hardworking intern at work from the Netherlands, Iris, sadly left us a couple of weeks ago. To mark the occasion, I wanted to make her a genuine Dutch ‘vlaai’, which is a traditional tart made with fruit and a yeasted dough and topped with a distinctive lattice pattern.

Unfortunately, I only had a couple of hours to create one so I cheated and used an American recipe for a (supposedly) Dutch almond lattice tart with apricot jam that I found online and used regular shortcrust pastry instead of a dough that involved proving, kneading etc. The ingredients were pretty much all in tablespoons which was a bit frustrating (ever tried precisely measuring out a tablespoon of solid marzipan?!) and I didn’t have quite a few of the required ingredients so I ended up improvising and making up my own version. It took quite a while to cook in the oven, the top becoming ever browner while the middle remained soggy as I panicked that I’d incinerated it, convinced the finished product was going to end up an outright insult to the good people of the Netherlands.

Anyway, as is so often the case with cooking, it turned out fabulously and received lots of compliments from my colleagues. Despite its success, it’s certainly not authentic Dutch cuisine so I decided to christen it with its own unique name, Iris Tart, in her honour. I’ll certainly be making it again and will think of her when I do!

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INGREDIENTS

For the pastry:

  • 340g/12 oz plain flour
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 170g/6 oz butter
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

For the filling:

  • 115g/4 oz butter
  • 130g/4.5 oz marzipan (+ extra if you wish to use for decorations)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 85g/3 oz caster/granulated sugar
  • 45g/1.5 oz plain flour
  • 150g/5 oz dried apricots, snipped into small pieces
  • Sprinkling of demerara sugar

METHOD

For the pastry:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan), grease a large heatproof flan dish with butter/margarine and place the apricots in a jug of boiling water to soak.
  2. Place the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and then rub the butter into the mixture with your fingertips until breadcrumb-type bits form. Add the milk and form into a ball of dough. If it’s too sticky add some more flour and if it’s too dry and crumbly add a splash more milk.
  3. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 25 minutes.

For the filling:

  1. About 5-10 minutes before the pastry’s chilling time is up, beat the butter, eggs and sugar together in a bowl.
  2. Grate the marzipan block into the mixture (you may want to chill it for a bit if it’s too squishy to grate) and then fold in the flour and soaked apricot pieces.
  3. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out on a floured surface with a rolling pin until it’s about 0.5cm thick. Carefully transfer onto the prepared flan dish and gently press down into the fluted bits. Trim off the excess pastry with a knife.
  4. Squish the offcuts back together and roll out again. Cut into 9 strips, each around 1 inch wide and long enough to lie across the tart.
  5. Pour the filling into the flan dish and then carefully arrange the pastry strips in a lattice pattern on the top – ‘glue’ them together with a bit of water on your fingertip if needs be.
  6. Sprinkle the tart with some demerara sugar and then place in the oven for around 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling is cooked through.
  7. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool and decorate with extra marzipan adornments if you fancy. Enjoy the tart cold as it is or serve warm with a bit of cream or ice cream.

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Categories: Other Treats, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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