Posts Tagged With: cooking

Pineapple & White Chocolate Pavlova

Following the success of my first ever homemade meringues back in October last year, I’ve been keen to have a go at a full-blown pavlova. A sweet, snowy mountain adorned with smooth white cream and colourful fresh fruit, I’ve always thought pavlovas make a spectacular dessert, as well as being a nice lighter alternative to cake.

I thought if my attempt turned out like the delicious marshmallowy-on-the-inside-crisp-on-the-outside individual little clouds I made previously I’d be happy, but I was worried that this monster version would be more temperamental, and cook unevenly or shatter into sad little bits of chalk dust when baked. Luckily, I needn’t have had such concerns as it came out beautifully.

Although the topping combination was my idea, I can’t take credit for the meringue base here. My kitchen-whizz mum suggested I use her failsafe pavlova recipe from her trusty old copy of The Love of Cooking by Sonia Allison (from 1972!), and it proves that the oldies are certainly goodies as it worked perfectly. It’s definitely going to be be my go-to recipe in future!

20170311_203249-1

Now here I must confess that I’m not a massive fan of berries, which are a staple of the quintessential pavlova. I love anything strawberry, raspberry or blueberry flavoured, but I just don’t enjoy the texture of the fruits themselves. However, I needed something that would cut through the sweetness of both the meringue and white chocolate, so I decided to use refreshingly sharp pineapple instead and I think it worked really well.

The finished article went down an absolute storm with my family, and I’ve definitely been bitten by the homemade meringue bug, so I’ll certainly be making more pavs in the future!

20170218_180430-1

INGREDIENTS – serves approx. 6 people

For the meringue base:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 225g/8 oz caster sugar
  • Quarter tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 1 tsp vinegar (any kind will do)

For the topping:

  • 1 36g sachet Dream Topping + milk as needed by the packet instructions (or 250ml/0.5 pint double cream)
  • 1 432g can pineapple chunks or slices in juice, drained
  • 50g/1.5 oz white chocolate, chopped into chunks
  • A sprinkling of white and pink edible pearls (optional)

METHOD

For the meringue base:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 130 degrees C (or 110 fan) and line a large flat baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Place the egg whites in a very clean mixing bowl and whisk with the cream of tartar until white and frothy.
  3. Continue to whisk while adding the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until stiff, glossy peaks form – this will take a good few minutes (you should be able to hold the bowl of mixture over your head without it spilling out!)

    IMG_rd1c9n

  4. Gently fold in the cornflour and vinegar with a spatula (and don’t panic at the odd acidic smell like I did – this will disappear once it’s cooked, I promise!)
  5. Dollop the mixture in a rough circle on the baking parchment, ensuring it’s in a thick layer so you can’t see the paper through it at any point.
  6. Place in the oven and bake for around 1-1.5 hours, until a crisp shell has formed and the meringue is very slightly golden on the top but mostly white.
  7. When cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

For the topping:

  1. Prepare the Dream Topping (or cream) according to the packet’s instructions – it should be quite thick and not runny – and then pile it on top of the meringue base.
  2. If using pineapple slices, cut them into small chunks and scatter on top of the Dream Topping, followed by the white chocolate chunks.
  3. Finish with a sprinkling of a few pretty pink and white pearls if you fancy, and serve immediately.
Advertisements
Categories: Other Treats | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gooey Toffee Apple Flapjacks

Hurray, Autumn is upon us again! As corny as it sounds, is there anything more heart-warmingly lovely than taking a quiet pink-cheeked walk in the September/October sunshine amidst a crisp breeze while taking in all the gorgeously coloured leaves, fallen apples and shiny conkers underfoot? It’s at this time of year that I’m glad I can walk to work, and recently I haven’t been able to resist stopping to take photos on the way as my scenic route looks particularly stunning of an autumnal morning.

img_20160928_184225

Most importantly, Autumn marks the arrival of one of my favourite things – scrumping season! My mum and I did our usual ritual of venturing out to the nearby fields on the first Saturday in September and came back with a glorious bounty of apples, blackberries and plums. The majority of the berries and some of the apples were used to make vast quantities of my beloved blackberry, apple & cinnamon jam, but it wouldn’t be right to not keep a few aside for some baking.

The scrumped apples have made a delicious addition to various recipes that I’ve tried, including Waitrose’s spiced apple & walnut blondies and my go-to Weetabix loaf. However, I think my favourite 2016 Autumn apple creation has to be these toffee apple flapjacks. They’re squidgy, sweet and sharp, and remind me of a cross between a flapjack and a crumble – perfect for a chilly evening. They’re also yummy served warm with custard.

For another wonderfully autumnal treat where apples are the star, why not check out my Autumn Bliss cake?

20161008_150432

INGREDIENTS – makes 15 flapjacks

  • 130g/4.5 oz butter or margarine
  • 170g/6 oz brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 255g/9 oz oats
  • 2 eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks about the size of a 10p piece
  • 60g/2 oz mini toffee/fudge pieces (I used Aldi’s mini salted caramel fudge pieces), or larger toffees/fudges chopped into small pieces
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

20161008_132122

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line a rectangular baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Put the butter/margarine, sugar and maple syrup in a heatproof bowl and melt together in the microwave in blasts of 1 minute until smooth, stirring at each interval. Alternatively, melt together in a pan on the hob over a low heat, stirring regularly.
  3. Stir the oats, apple chunks, toffee/fudge pieces and cinnamon into the liquid mixture until thoroughly coated.20161008_132436.jpg
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tray and place in the oven for around 15-20 minutes, or until slightly golden at the sides.
  5. Leave the flapjacks to cool on a wire rack and then slice into squares with a sharp knife.
Categories: flapjacks, Traybakes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Banana, Peanut Butter & Caramac Loaf

I wouldn’t like to estimate the number of times I’ve said “this bake has got to be one of my all-time favourites” in my blog posts over the years, but I really think this one might actually be my all-time all-time favourite.

For me, it’s simply heaven in cake form. I love banana bread, I love peanut butter and I love Caramac, and they go together so darn well. This is what I make when I’m feeling blue or when I fancy some proper sweet, squidgy, unapologetic comfort food. I can only describe it as a warming hug in cake form, perfect for this time of year when the nights are drawing in and another Summer bids a fond farewell.

I know it looks, at best, unremarkable and, at worst, downright sloppy, but, honestly, it tastes SO good it really doesn’t need any aesthetic adornments – the flavour says it all. No frills, no fuss, just pure unadultered pleasure. Happiness = biting into a big slab of this sweet, nutty cake as a pool of gooey Caramac melts in your mouth (with a cuppa on the side, of course). What could be better??

And if you’re bananas for this cake, why not check out my recipe for scrummy banana and toffee cake with brown sugar buttercream too?

img_20160917_1758141

INGREDIENTS – makes 1 standard loaf cake

  • 175g/6 oz butter/margarine
  • 175g/6 oz brown sugar
  • 175g/6 oz self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 ripe or overripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 x 110g bag Caramac buttons or 110g Caramac bars, roughly chopped

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C (or 150 fan) and line a loaf tin with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter/margarine and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs, peanut butter, cinnamon, vanilla extract and mashed bananas.
  4. Fold in the flour and Caramac buttons until a batter of soft dropping consistency has formed.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for around 30-40 minutes or until a cocktail stick inserted into the sponge comes out clean (although it doesn’t do any harm to leave it a bit squidgy in the middle!)
  6. Leave to cool on a wire rack before turning the cake out of the tin, cutting into slices and devouring with gusto.
Categories: Loaf Cakes, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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?

20160618_145234

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.

20160618_184651

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

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?

20160615_222928

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.
    hfuhg20160615_193601
  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

A Year in Cake – 2015

As the end of 2015 is very nearly upon us, I thought I’d have a look back at the year’s baking and eating adventures and muse what culinary activities 2016 might have in store.

I don’t want this to become one of those tedious new-year-new-me-embarking-on-a-detox-diet-frenzy-until-the-novelty-wears-off-after-a-week type posts that are a common side effect of January’s imminent approach. However, I have been thinking about my recent eating habits and would like to make more of an effort to be healthier in the new year.

I drink gallons of water and, in terms of my savoury diet, I eat a good deal of wholegrains, fish and a hell of a lot more veggies than I used to, but fatty, sugary sweet treats really are my downfall. My typical daily work situation is as follows: eat a lovely healthy lunch of delicious homemade cous cous salad with, say, mackerel or a bit of feta cheese, accompanied by a banana, a nutritious homemade oat or raw/vegan-type bar and perhaps a packet of low fat crisps, preceded by a mid-morning snack of dried fruit or a cereal bar…and then the 3pm slump hits and I stuff my face with the abundance of chocolate, cake and/or biscuits that are a continual feature of the office.

One of my weaknesses is that I am terrible with portion control – I can’t stop at a couple of squares of Dairy Milk or one Bourbon biscuit once I start munching. I eat a balanced home-cooked meal when I get home, and then the sweet cravings start again later in the evening, only this time tenfold.

And this is why I have put on weight and frequently feel more bloated than a waterlogged whale without a blowhole. Although I walk to and from work, 20 minutes each way, every day and practise yoga once a week, my energy levels are currently zero and I generally don’t feel great in myself. This is why I really want to better my eating habits – I don’t want to use the word ‘diet’ as I’m not about to launch some desperate bid to lose a ton of weight (although shedding a few pounds would be a welcome bonus); it’s more for general reasons of all-round health and happiness.

With this in mind, I’ve been bookmarking some delicious-sounding healthier bakes. I’m also looking forward to making some of the lighter recipes I’ve tried out previously with success when feeling health-conscious, like my Christmas pudding brownies, matzo meal muffins and other treats that can be found here: https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/category/healthier/ (I’m hoping 2016 will see this category of my blog expand!)

Here are a few new recipes I’ve found that I’m already keen to try out soon:

  • Healthy Digestive Biscuits – http://www.talesfromthekitchenshed.com/2015/01/healthy-digestive-biscuits/
  • The Hairy Dieters’ Low Fat Fruit Tea Loaf – http://www.waitrose.com/home/recipes/recipe_directory/h/hairy-bikers-lowfatfruittealoaf.html
  • Skinny Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes – https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0ahUKEwj_6Mrh0ITKAhVBVxQKHUUtBQ0QFggmMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fsallysbakingaddiction.com%2F2013%2F02%2F19%2Fskinny-chocolate-peanut-butter-swirl-cupcakes%2F&usg=AFQjCNGet8gHepME-iC6PzI4BJbtI8MAGA
  • Vegan Apricot Crumble Bars – http://embracethecake.co.uk/post-a-recipe/2015/6/12/apricot-crumble-bars
  • Cinnamon macaron-style cookies; I haven’t found an actual recipe yet but I’m thinking of experimenting with maple syrup or sweetener or something to lower the refined sugar content in these low fat cookies – watch this space!

Aaaand finally, here’s a selection of my favourite bakes from 2015 🙂

collage

  1. Healthy No-Bake Choco-Date Bars (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/healthy-no-bake-choco-date-bars/)
  2. Autumn Bliss Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/autumn-bliss-cake/)
  3. Banana Toffee Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/banana-toffee-cake-with-brown-sugar-buttercream/)
  4. Cherry Bakewell & Cherry Chocolate Scones (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/cherry-bakewell-cherry-chocolate-scones/)
  5. Mary Berry’s Coffee Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/cookbook-challenge-1-mary-berrys-coffee-cake/)
  6. Nigella’s Devil’s Food Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/cookbook-challenge-2-nigellas-devils-food-cake/)
  7. Trine Hahnemann’s Scandi Marzipan Tarts (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/cookbook-challenge-3-trine-hahnemanns-scandinavian-marzipan-tarts/)
  8. Nigella’s Chocolate Fudge Cake (available at nigella.com)
  9. Oatmeal Gingerbread (from the 1000 Cakes & Bakes cookbook)
  10. Minimalist Raisin Spice Christmas Cake (from the 1000 Cakes & Bakes cookbook)
  11. Stollen Biscotti (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/stollen-biscotti/)
  12. Neapolitan Cake (https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/neapolitan-cake/)

Best wishes for a fantastic 2016, fellow bakers and bloggers – I hope it’s a happy and healthy one!

Love,
Cloud9.1 x

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sundried Tomato & Feta Oat Bars with 5-Minute Microwave Chutney

I realise that I’ve been a bit rubbish at regularly updating my blog recently – what with work, writing, frantically making lots of pom pom bunting for a recent charity craft fair and the inevitable neverending to-do list that comes with the run up to Christmas I’ve been very busy! I’m planning on posting some more seasonal recipes very soon, but firstly I must share these super scrummy but non-festive (ruby red tomato flecks and snowy feta notwithstanding) creations.

The idea for these was spawned from the porridge bars I blogged about here: https://cloud9point1.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/virtuous-fruity-porridge-bars-sinful-nutella-porridge-bars/. This time I wanted a lunchbox snack that wasn’t sweet but I couldn’t be bothered to make bread…which I will attempt one day; actual, proper bread, with yeast. Not soda bread. Maybe. Anyway, while the sound of tomato and cheese porridge in the traditional sense sounds grim at best, I couldn’t see any reason why applying the same method as before, but replacing the sweet ingredients with savoury ones, wouldn’t work. I’m pleased to say that the experiment paid off and the results are very tasty, with a great medley of flavours; the closest thing I can think to compare them to is corn bread. They are delicious served hot or cold and, most importantly, they do not taste like savoury porridge!

I needed something with a mushy consistency to replace the apple compote/Nutella required for the sweet versions and ended up throwing some bits and bobs together to create a surprisingly flavoursome cheat’s chutney. It took all of five minutes to prepare in the microwave so I thought I’d share this recipe too. You could, of course, just use the shop-bought kind but this is so easy to throw together using only most basic of storecupboard ingredients.

IMG_1089

INGREDIENTS – makes approx. 15 bars

For the bars:

  • 300g oats
  • 3 tbsp chutney (see recipe below)
  • 50g sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 50g feta cheese, chopped into small cubes
  • 225ml milk
  • Pinch of black pepper

For the chutney (yields roughly enough for the above recipe plus 1 small jar):

  • 3-4 apples (any kind will do)
  • 4 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 0.5 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

METHOD

For the chutney:

  1. Peel and core the apples and cut into chunks no bigger than a 50p piece, then place in a heatproof bowl or large jug.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir, then place in the microwave on a medium to high heat for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir again and put back in the microwave for a further 3 minutes, or until the apple chunks are soft enough to squash with a spoon.
  4. Leave to cool before spooning into a clean jar.

For the oat bars:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line a rectangular cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. Pour the oats into a large mixing bowl, then add the chutney, sundried tomatoes, feta, milk and pepper. Stir until combined.
  3. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin then pop in the oven and bake for around 25 minutes, or until the mixture feels fairly firm and slightly crisp to the touch.
  4. Allow to cool and slice into bars with a sharp knife.
Categories: Savoury, Traybakes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Low Fat Christmas Pudding Brownies

I’ve recently been compiling a ring binder of print-outs of healthier recipes that I’ve found online so that I can easily look them up when I feel like cooking something that’s not too chock-full of calories, fat and sugar. One Google result that caught my attention was the original chocolate version of this recipe, which I came across here: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/1107/i-can-t-believe-they-re-low-fat-brownies.aspx. It included the genius idea of adding mushed prunes in place of butter or margarine to create a gorgeously moist but less fatty cake.

I don’t understand why prunes are so neglected as a fruit. I know they’re infamous for being used as a means of ‘keeping you regular’ and carry metaphorical connotations of wrinkles, shriveling and general lifelessness, but they’re so underrated as a food in their own right. I bought some for the first time in forever recently and had forgotten what a deliciously rich, almost caramelly, flavour they have.

Anyway, I digress (I swear I’m not being paid by some kind of Prune Advisory Board) – I’m in the grip of full-blown Christmas fever at the moment as the end of November rapidly approaches, so I decided to add a festive twist to the original recipe by incorporating some extra fruit and nuts and a dash of warming winter spice. When both my dad and I sampled them, our immediate thoughts were of Christmas pudding, hence the title!

I also reduced the amount of sugar used in the original version as it annoys me when recipes are labelled as ‘healthy’ due to low fat content but include an obscene amount of the sweet stuff. I wouldn’t say these taste identical to regular brownies but they’re utterly delicious – rich, moist and full of flavour – and I really don’t think people would know they were low fat and lower sugar if you didn’t tell them. I also like the fact that they’re a healthier alternative that don’t require expensive and/or obscure ingredients. I love the new wave of inventive vegan/raw/generally all-round-saintly treats but coconut oil, agave syrup and near-industrial quantities of cashew nuts don’t come cheap.

The final cherry on the proverbial cake is that these brownies are dairy free so they’d be ideal for lactose-intolerant friends.

I’ll definitely be making them again very soon!

20151121_150601
INGREDIENTS – makes approx. 18

  • 55g/2 oz plain flour
  • 110g/4 oz pitted prunes
  • 130g/4.5 oz brown sugar
  • 6 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 55g/2 oz raisins
  • 55g/2 oz chopped mixed nuts (e.g. pecans, almonds, walnuts)
  • 1.5 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 18 pecan halves, to decorate (optional)
  • Silver shimmer spray, to decorate (optional)

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 fan) and line a rectangular baking tin with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, mixed spice and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Roughly snip the prunes into pieces with scissors and place them in a separate heatproof bowl with the water, then microwave on a medium setting in two blasts of 1 minute until soft and mushy.
  4. Squish the prunes with a potato masher to form a paste and add to the dry ingredients.
  5. Stir in the cooking oil, eggs, raisins, chopped nuts and vanilla extract. Mix until well blended.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and pop in the oven for around 15 minutes until a cocktail stick inserted into the mix comes out mostly clean.
  7. When baked, leave to cool on a wire rack before cutting into 18 squares with a sharp knife.
  8. Push a pecan half into the top of each square and finish with a festive spritz of edible silver shimmer spray, if you fancy.
Categories: Chocolate, Healthier, Traybakes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Budget Brand Buys – What’s the Scoop?

My supermarket shopping trolley tends to be a mixed bag of products of different brands and prices. The number of products with modestly-packaged budget alternatives seems to be at an all-time high but their quality varies – I find that some items are hardly distinguishable from their more costly counterparts, while others are nothing short of an assault on the palate! Cheaper chains Aldi and Lidl are currently enjoying something of a Renaissance, having become very in-vogue with shoppers recently due to their stocking of great quality products at low prices, as well as winning various taste tests (Aldi even beat Fortnum & Mason for the best mince pies last Christmas!), suggesting that the standards of cheaper groceries are rising. But is this true of the larger supermarkets’ budget lines? Earlier this year, Good Food magazine conducted a large-scale taste test study of value groceries in all the main supermarket chains and concluded overall that the majority were received favourably, with the notable exceptions of meat, eggs and jam. This post is based on my personal experience from Tesco’s Value and Sainsbury’s Basics range.

Everyday Value range

Image copyright thedrum.com

Here are my top and bottom 6 buys…

Top 6

1) Chocolate
Okay, admittedly nothing’s ever going to beat Cadbury’s Dairy Milk for me in the chocolate stakes, but both Tesco Value and Sainsbury’s Basics milk, white and dark chocolate bars are actually very nice. The white and milk varities are lovely and creamy and the dark, though its cocoa content is significantly lower than more costly brands, has a nice fudgy taste. I always have plenty of all three types in my cupboards for baking as I find them surprisingly forgiving when they’re melted in the microwave, but I often find myself nibbling on them purely because of their taste as well.

2) Flour
Flour is one of those things where I simply can’t tell the difference between the budget types and the more expensive ones. Perhaps the pricier ones are slightly more finely ground but personally I wouldn’t pay more when my cakes always turn out fine using Value or Basics self-raising.

3) Cream cheese
If I’m opting for a full-fat variety, I find Tesco Value cream cheese a fantastic cheaper alternative to Philadelphia. It has a smooth, creamy taste and texture and is great for cheesecakes.The ironic thing is, I actually don’t like the Tesco (non-Value) own-brand Healthy Eating version and tend to buy Philadelphia Lighter if I’m feeling calorie conscious and want low-fat cream cheese.

4) Biscuits
I love Tesco Value milk and dark chocolate digestives and individually wrapped chocolate digestive biscuit bars. I also find their bourbons, custard creams, shortbread and ginger nuts very eatable considering the low price tag. I’d buy fancier biccies if it was for a special occasion but these old faithfuls are perfect to keep in the cupboard to go with a cuppa.

5) Jam (for baking)
I can see why budget jam tends to be unpopular with shoppers in comparison with more expensive brands due to its overly smooth, synthetic taste and lack of real fruit pieces, and it certainly doesn’t compare with homemade. However, I often use Value or Basics strawberry jam in baking as its smoothness and spreadability (is that a word?!) makes it perfect for sandwiching sponges or biscuits or putting a neat blob in thumbprint cookies without any lumps or bits.

6) Margarine spread (for baking)
I certainly wouldn’t spread this on my toast but when you’re on a budget and make lots of cakes the big 1kg tubs of cheap margarine are a thrifty godsend. I tend to use real butter in things like shortbread or scones, especially if I’m making them for other people, as I find I can taste the difference in these, but I honestly can’t fault budget margarine for a nice fluffy Victoria sponge or chocolate cake.

Bottom 6

1) Mayonnaise
The less said about Tesco Value mayo, the better. I find the vinegary taste and sloppy texture simply awful. Hellman’s or Heinz all the way when it comes to this condiment!

2) White bread
I try to avoid eating too much white bread as a rule anyway as it doesn’t agree with my digestive system but I find budget sliced white particularly unpleasant. I remember reading that if you scrunch a piece of bread up in your hand and it doesn’t uncurl it’s a sign of a poor quality loaf, which your stomach will not thank you for ingesting as it struggles to break down its toxic stodginess. In my experience, Tesco Value sliced white bread is the epitome of this!

3) Teabags
I wouldn’t say these are outright disgusting but their flavour and strength doesn’t match brands such as PG Tips, Tetley, Typhoo, Yorkshire Tea or Twinings in my opinion. As a passionate tea drinker, I really like to properly enjoy my cuppa, and I like it strong!

4) Meat
I’m really not a fan of any budget brand meat, despite its wallet-friendly price tag. I remember buying some cook-from-frozen Value chicken fillets packed full of additional water, salt and preservatives and they shrunk by at least a third of their size when cooked! They also tasted pretty hideous. For great meat, you really can’t beat your local butcher; it’s well worth the extra pennies.

5) Cereal
I recently tried Tesco Value’s Shreddies equivalent and I have to say they were quite nice, but the budget versions of Coco Pops, Rice Kripsies and Cornflakes are grim in my experience, with a bland flavour and strangely chewy texture.

6) Cakes
I sang the praises of budget biscuits earlier but for me the same can’t be said for cakes. Tesco Value jaffa cakes are the worst offenders in my view – they’re horribly dry and stale-tasting. Tesco’s Value chocolate chip cake bars aren’t terrible but they taste rather processed and look a bit sad and lifeless.

What are your experiences of budget products, good or bad? Are you a fan of supermarket value ranges or do you avoid them completely? I’d love to know other bloggers’ thoughts!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.