March 2014

March 2014

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Vanilla biscuits

A short while ago I  bought a mini tyrannosaurus biscuit stamp, which I thought would be ideal to use to make some cookies when we next saw my great-nephew, Ruben, who is mad keen on dinosaurs. 

The opportunity came last weekend and I used the cutter to make simple Vanilla Cookies.

150g unsalted butter softened
150g caster sugar
1 small egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
300g plain flour, sifted

1. Line a baking tray with parchment.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C or gas 4.

3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the beaten egg, vanilla and salt and mix well. Gradually add the flour and mix until incorporated. Bring together into a dough, wrap and chill for 1 hour.

4. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to a thickness of 3-4mm. Dip cookie cutter in flour before each use. Arrange them on the prepared baking tray.

5.Bake the biscuits on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven for about 12 minutes, or until firm and golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Ruben was given his dino-shaped cookies, together with one or two mini icing tubes and some sweeties, so that he could decorate them at home. As you can see, he did a fantastic job! 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Banana and spice loaf

Bananas defrosting from the freezer
A short posting today as I am preparing for this evening’s Clandestine Cake Club event ‘Use your loaf’, i.e. all cakes must be baked using a loaf tin and, with no suggested flavours this time, it’s all about the shape!

Whilst trawling my old recipes a fortnight ago, I came across an old favourite which is a Banana and Spice Loaf - ideal for tonight’s theme - and, as I had about 20 bananas in the freezer ready to be used in baking (a perfect place to store over-ripe examples that are left in the fruit bowl), I didn’t have to buy too many ingredients.

The recipe is as follows, easy as chips, and a real winner for those that like warm, dark, sweet and fruity flavours together with a sumptuous chocolate ganache topping - you can’t go wrong!
Banana and spice loaf

For cake:
100g raisins
50ml brandy (if preferred use orange juice)
185g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
2 tsp cinnamon
125g unsalted butter (I used soft marg)
150g soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 small very ripe bananas (defrosted if frozen – cut off tops and squeeze out flesh from skin)
1 tsp vanilla extract
For topping:
90 ml or 3fl oz double cream
20g unsalted butter
100 grams dark chocolate, grated
Edible gold glitter to dust (optional)

1.    In a small pan pour the brandy (or orange juice) over the raisins and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and soak (I prepare this the night before baking).

2.   Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/Gas 3. Sieve together flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.

3.   In a separate bowl mix the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Then stir through the mashed banana, soaked raisins and vanilla extract.

4.   Fold in the flour and place mixture into a 900g (2lb) loaf tin. Bake for 1 – 1 ¼ hrs – or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

5.  To make the topping, heat the cream and butter in a small saucepan to just boiling then take off the heat. Add the grated chocolate and leave for a couple of minutes to melt before gently stirring into the cream. Leave to cool and thicken slightly before pouring over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with edible gold glitter (if using).

Monday, August 5, 2013


Wild cherries
From childhood, cherries have always been a favourite fruit for me and I have almost loved them even more than the quintessential English strawberry. I remember hanging double-stalked specimens over my ears to mimic earrings and a treat bag full of fresh cherries was, for me, just as good as a quarter pound of sweeties from the local shop. It’s sad that the cherry season is usually fairly short but, this year, due to the wet spring and long hot summer, I’m told that supplies have been a little late but unusually abundant.

We recently travelled to Brogdale Farm in Kent, home of the National Fruit Collection, and timed our visit to coincide with the annual Cherry Festival. I was in my element as the Collection holds an incredible 320 different varieties of cherry. We toured the many planted acres on a tractor ride and sampled numerous fat, juicy examples of fruits before buying some to bring home. I was especially amazed to discover that, according to one study, cherry juice contains more antioxidants than 23 portions of fruit and vegetables! I wonder why fresh cherry juice isn’t more widely available in the supermarkets?
Lucia Stuart

One of the highlights of our Brogdale visit was an introduction and cookery demonstration by forager Lucia Stuart into using wild fruits, such as cherries, as well as edible flowers in the kitchen. She actually runs several courses from her company ‘The Wild Flower Kitchen’ and has published a book on the subject. 

And so, with Lucia’s inspiration – she said ‘wild food has vitality and freshness’ - when I got home I foraged sufficient wild cherries from our local park to make some jam. 

Simmering cherries
I cooked the cherries first, until softened, and then strained them through a sieve to remove the stones. I finally measured the resulting juice and added the same amount of sugar before bringing it all up to a boil for a couple of minutes. The result is a thick, dark and unctuous preserve, just perfect for a slice of toast or warm scone, but would be equally good added to a sauce for duck or game.

“Life is just a bowl of cherries
So live and laugh, aha!
Laugh and love
Live and laugh,
Laugh and love,

Live and laugh at it all!”