Sweet Treats

Daily Bread

Bread has been getting a bad press for sometime and appears to have become the enemy. I could quite happily inhale the bread basket every time it's placed in front of me in a restaurant, but I spar with that voice in my head demonising the humble bread roll. I can definitely stuff my face with every kind of carb known to man and bread I find is particularly difficult to resist. I drool at the thought of focaccia, olive ciabatta, poilâne, bagels and brioche. However, it's with great sadness that bread and myself have had a very toxic relationship and as with any torrid love affair we have had to part ways.

My blissful childhood was filled with weekend picnics to the Lake District, family and friends in tow. My mother and all my aunts would make a mountain of puris and parathas accompanied with spicy potatoes and mango pickle. Bombay sandwiches and Frankie rolls were devoured in minutes. We would sit on blankets savouring this delicious carb laden food, all washed down with thermos flasks of hot cardamom chai and finished off with delicate homemade saffron and pistachio Indian cookies, Nankhatai. Those innocent, nostalgic, heady days were fun-filled and full of laughter, often resulting in food eating competitions. This often rendered me into a food coma and any maladies were put down to greed!

However, when I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in my early adulthood, I was able to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together. Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction of the immune system to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The only cure for this autoimmune disease is to eliminate all gluten from your diet and hey presto you're fine! Over the last few years, the market in gluten free products has exploded and being gluten free is seen as being fashionable, a fad even. Always wanting to be a purveyor of fashion, this is not something I had ever desired, to give up a part of my comforting, ingrained bread eating life. It was what I thought at the time a travesty and I even mourned the ramifications. The upside of this so called 'trend,' is that gluten free options are ubiquitous in supermarkets and most restaurants. London's gluten free bakery, Beyond Bread offers a smorgasbord of everything gluten free. I no longer have to pine for freshly baked baguette and finally I can have my gluten free cake and eat it!

I don't shy away from making everything for my family, I just don't eat it myself. Breads, cakes, pasta all feature in my repertoire, but I occasionally substitute certain ingredients for gluten free ones whenever I feel the need to satiate my desire for bread. One of my family's favourite desserts, that I would like to share with you, is Bread and Butter Pudding. The denouement of any meal, with this dessert will certainly result in happy endings. Let's break bread.

Bread and Butter Pudding

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 Brioche Loaf 400g

  • 400ml Milk

  • 600ml Double Cream

  • 6 Free Range Eggs, large

  • 225g Vanilla Sugar

  • 40g Golden Raisins

  • 30g Butter, softened

  • 50g Pistachio Nuts, shelled & unsalted

  • Few strands of Saffron (optional)

Method

  • Slice the brioche loaf into thin slices and cut each slice into two triangles.

  • Place the milk and double cream and saffron if you are using it, into a heavy based pan and slowly bring to the boil.

  • Once boiled, take it off the heat and allow to cool slightly.

  • Whisk the eggs and the sugar together until it is pale, light and leaves a trail.

  • Add the cooled cream and milk to the egg mixture and whisk together.

  • Butter a baking dish with the 30g of softened butter and arrange all the brioche triangles into it.

  • Scatter the golden raisins on top of the bread and carefully pour on the custard.

  • If any of the bread floats to the top, push it down with the back of a spoon, ensuring it is immersed in the liquid.

  • Chop the pistachio nuts into thin slivers and scatter over the pudding.

  • Leave the pudding for several hours or overnight to ensure that the bread has soaked up all the liquid.

  • Place the baking dish into a larger roasting tin, which has been lined with a newspaper. Fill the roasting tin with warm water so the water comes up half way up the side of the baking dish. This is a bain-marie, or a water bath and will prevent the milk from boiling and curdling the eggs.

  • Place into the oven and cook in a pre-heated fan-assisted oven at 165 degrees celsius or equivalent, for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, but there will still be a slight wobble.

  • Serve hot or cold.

Tips

  • If you do wish to make this dessert gluten free, use gluten free brioche rolls, slice and follow the instructions.

  • If you do not have vanilla sugar, just use regular caster sugar.

  • If you want to make vanilla sugar, add a vanilla pod into a container of caster sugar. Store and use as required.

  • It is best to use golden raisins, or even green raisins if you wish.

  • Using saffron is optional. It will change the flavour of the custard and will add a mellow yellow tinge to it.

Photo 30-06-2016, 23 50 16.jpg

Indian with Love

Valentine's Day is round the corner and the pressure to make it the ultimate romantic day of the year hangs in the balance. Or does it? I'm not convinced that it deserves the reverence and sense of occasion bestowed onto this day. Partners are under duress to exhibit their love with flowers, dinner, champagne and clichéd gifts, but really it's the over-commercialised cheese that I personally loath, not the notion of romance per se. I'm not a killjoy but there's so much more to love than a mere twenty-four hours of imposed romance. 

Being a self-confessed foodie, I love eating out, but the idea of dining out on Valentine's Day in a restaurant full of awkward couples, fills me with trepidation. In fact I think cooking a meal for someone is a significant act of love, now that's amore and as that old adage cites, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Or to a woman's for that matter. It's all about the effort and about making it deeply personal.

Valentine's Day falls during that post-Christmas time of year, when everything is a grey blur! I guess that February is only redeemed with the whiff of love in the air. I suggest that if nothing else, we celebrate this day with some delicious food and definitely some decadent desserts. I believe in making life easy, so if you're going to make a beeline for the kitchen to set the mood for love, keep it simple. Sharing-food is the obvious answer to heighten your romantic experience. By all means indulge in those traditional aphrodisiac foods, but I just want to draw your attention to a few ingredients that have proved to spark romance. Avocados, chillies, pine nuts, olive oil and rocket are all known to have 'lustful' properties, so let your imagination run riot and create some magic with these 'in the mood' foods. Of course don't forget to cook with love, the food always tastes better.

Chocolate and Valentine's Day go hand in hand. Apparently, chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical stimulant, which is released by the brain during a passionate exchange. So I think it fitting to end a Valentine's Day meal with a chocolate dessert. I want to share a chocolate fondant recipe, that is not only luxurious, extravagant and indulgent, but is also sophisticated and uber sensual. This recipe is very simple and it ticks every check box. Whether you're making this for a potential partner, lover, spouse, parent, sibling, child or family, it's sure to put a smile on everyone's face. And even if Cupid hasn't sharpened his arrows you'll definitely fall in love with this dessert! XOXO

Chocolate Fondant Dessert

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 90g Caster Sugar
  • 150g Unsalted Butter plus extra for greasing
  • 150g Dark Chocolate (70% Cocoa Solids)
  • 3 Free Range Egg Yolks
  • 3 Free Range Eggs
  • 1 tbsp Plain Flour

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 165 degrees celsius (fan-assisted oven), or equivalent.
  • Using the extra butter, grease four large ramekins, or dariole moulds and set aside.
  • Chop the butter into small cubes and break up the chocolate.
  • Place the caster sugar, butter and chocolate into a heatproof bowl, over a pan of simmering water. The water must not touch the bowl.
  • Simmer gently, until the butter and chocolate have melted and then remove the bowl from the pan.
  • Whisk the melted ingredients together.
  • Add the egg yolks and the whole eggs and beat well, into the chocolate mixture once it is cool.
  • Fold the flour into the chocolate mixture with a metal spoon.
  • Pour the mixture into the ramekins, or dariole moulds and fill up to three quarters of the moulds.
  • Place the moulds into the fridge for about 20 minutes and once chilled remove from the fridge and place onto a baking tray. 
  • Cook for 10 minutes and then remove from the oven.
  • These can either be served straight in the ramekin, or if you have made them in a dariole mould, you can turn them out onto individual plates.
  • Serve with double cream, whipped cream or clotted cream.

Tips

  • If you want to make these in advance, just keep them in the fridge and then remove 30 minutes before cooking them in the oven.
  • When you place your spoon into the chocolate fondant, it should have a melting molten middle.
  • If you're making this dessert for just two people, then by all means halve the recipe, alternatively, have the extra two for breakfast!
Photo 11-02-2016, 16 20 59.jpg


Berry Delightful

Baking cakes is therapeutic. There's even a theory that baking helps with depression. It certainly lifts your mood to be able to use very simple ingredients and create such glorious concoctions. A great sense of self satisfaction takes over. The whole nation is gripped with the cake revolution. Our very own Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have made baking very 'cool.' So not only do we feel worthy doing it, but we are being trendy in the process. The Women's Institute owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Great British Bake Off. In fact, it's such an addictive amateur baking talent show, that it doesn't matter if you bake or not, you can't help but get drawn in. We can't wait to tune in for the next episode to witness the journey from tears over treacle tarts to satisfaction in strudel mastery. Our cake obsession seems to have been exacerbated by this show and if you didn't before, you probably now suffer from a cupcake OCD! 

There's always been a calling for cake and whether it be times of joy, or times of adversity, cake is always there for us. There's a certain comfort that we derive from baking and despite this previously being reserved for the occasional afternoon tea, cricket tea or Granny's Sunday cake, we are a now an anytime baking nation with astounding skills. There's an abundance of baking clubs, local bake-offs and charity fundraisers hosting coffee and cake mornings. There is this tenacious feel good factor and it's all about the cake. So with all that in mind, delight in my quaint summer berry layer cake with lavender petals. There's no 'soggy bottom' here Mr Hollywood. On your marks, get set, bake!  

Summer Berry Layer Cake with Lavender Petals

Serves 8-10

  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 125g Butter
  • 150ml Single Cream
  • 175g Plain Flour
  • 3 tsp Baking Powder
  • 200ml Double Cream
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Caster Sugar
  • 800g Berries (Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries)
  • 2 Sprigs Lavender Petals

Method

  • Using 25g of the butter, grease two 22cm shallow cake tins and line with baking parchment.
  • Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar in a bowl, until the mixture is thick and creamy and the whisk leaves a trail.
  • Put the remaining butter with the cream into a pan and bring to the boil.
  • Allow to cool for a couple of minutes and stir into the egg and sugar mixture.
  • Sieve the flour and baking powder and fold it carefully into the egg and sugar mixture making sure that their are no lumps.
  • Divide the mixture between the two cake tins.
  • Bake in the oven (170º celsius fan assisted or equivalent) for 15 minutes or until they are cooked and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Remove the cake tins from the oven.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then remove the cakes from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack.
  • While the cakes are cooling, whip the double cream with the vanilla sugar until it is lightly whipped.
  • Prepare and clean the fruit and hull the strawberries.
  • Once cooled, place one cake onto a cake serving plate, or a cake stand.
  • Place half of the whipped cream onto the cake and arrange half of the fruit on top.
  • Put the second cake on top and then place the remaining cream on top. Arrange the fruit and finally sprinkle over the petals from the two sprigs of lavender.

Tips

  • I make the vanilla sugar by placing a vanilla pod into a container of caster sugar. 

  • Instead of whipping the cream with vanilla sugar, it can also be whipped up with a tablespoon of lavender sugar.

  • If you don't have any lavender petals you can omit them, or sprinkle over dried rose petals.

  • Don't overdo it with the lavender, as it will start to taste rather soapy.   



White Chocolate isn't really Chocolate.....

So here's the deal. We all know that white chocolate isn't really chocolate, that it's just cocoa butter with added ingredients which turn it into white chocolate and blah, blah, blah. Although, I'm no chocolate connoisseur, I'm also not a 'Milky Bar Kid!' not that Milky Bars ever purported to being chocolate.  

When my boys were younger, they often tried to convince me to buy them a bar of white chocolate as an after-school treat, claiming that it wasn't even chocolate! How do children even find these facts out at such tender ages? There were days where I would relent under pressure, three against one, so my compromise would be a bar of Lindt white chocolate to share, as long as I was included in the division!

Now we all know that every cook's repertoire has to have a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Everyone claims that theirs is the best cookie recipe, so I'm also going to jump on the bandwagon. Yes I think once you've had my cookies, 'you ain't goin' nowhere.' That's for all you Bob Dylan fans.

White Chocolate Chip & Pistachio cookies

Makes 18 Cookies

  • 200g Plain Flour, sifted

  • 1 tsp Baking Powder

  • 100g Butter, softened

  • 100g Light Brown Muscovado Sugar

  • 1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract 

  • 1 Egg

  • 100g White Chocolate Chips, good quality (I use a bar of Lindt White Chocolate)

  • 85g Pistachio Nuts, shelled and unsalted

method

  • Pre heat the oven to 165 degrees C. (My oven is fan assisted, so a moderate oven).
  • Break up the bar of white chocolate into the smallest pieces you can, (I use a rolling pin), and place them into a large mixing bowl.
  • Chop the pistachio nuts finely and add them to the chocolate in the bowl.
  • Place all the remaining ingredients into the bowl and beat until they are all thoroughly combined. (I use a hand held electric beater).
  • Use two baking trays and cover each with baking parchment.
  • Place 9 mounds of the mixture onto each tray, so 18 in all. Make sure that they are spaced well apart to allow for spreading during cooking. 
  • Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the cookies are slightly golden. (They may look underdone, but don't be tempted to leave them in. This is why they have the soft gooey centre).
  • Allow the cookies to cool on a wire rack before serving.

tips

  • You can make any variation of cookie, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, cranberry and pecan, chopped apricot and almond and so on.
  • I often place the cookies in batches of 9 into a cellophane bag and tie up with ribbon to give to my friends. Enjoy the whoops of joy!