Bakewell Bars

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IMG_20141126_203734[1] 26/11/2014

A classic combination of light almond sponge and buttery shortbread sandwiched together with a layer of raspberry jam.

You could try any jam you like or even different curds. I’ve had good results with chunky homemade blackberry & apple jam and lemon curd is really tasty too.

Ingredients:

For the base:

  • 3oz butter, softened
  • 1oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 7oz raspberry jam

For the topping:

  • 3 ½oz butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon almond essence
  • 4oz ground almonds
  • 3oz semolina
  • 3 ½oz caster sugar
  • Flaked almonds, for sprinkling

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line an 8×8 inch cake tin with greaseproof paper and grease with butter.
  2. First, make the biscuit base. Cream the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mix is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, mix well then sift in the flour and mix to form a dough.
  3. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface to the same size as the base of the tin then press it into prepared tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes then remove and allow to cool.
  4. Spread the jam on the cooled base and place in the fridge while you make the topping.
  5. Place the melted butter in a bowl, add the beaten eggs and almond essence and mix well. Stir in the ground almonds, semolina and caster sugar.
  6. Take the tin from the fridge and spread the almond dough over the jam being careful not to mess up the jam. Place the almond dough in blobs then join them up with the back of a metal spoon to make this easier.
  7. Sprinkle the top with flaked almonds and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and set in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin then cut into bars.

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Sprinkle with icing sugar or brush with apricot jam to glaze for nice presentation or apply to face for a nice taste. Your choice.

Steak & Ale Stew

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IMG_20141111_183644[1] 20/11/2014

I have included ideas to use the steak & ale base as a pie or a stew. This is a really fulfilling base to experiment with as you wish.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound beef shin, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2-4 rashers smoky bacon, cut into chunks
  • 2-3 onions, chopped coarsely
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 bottle of your favourite ale
  • 250ml beef stock
  • A dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:

  1. Dredge the pieces of beef in the flour and set aside.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a large cast iron pot set over a medium heat. Once hot, add the beef in batches and cook, browning it on all sides. This should take several minutes.
  3. Remove the beef from the pot and set aside. Return the pan to the hot stove top.
  4. Add about 1/4 cup water to the pan (enough to cover the bottom), and scrape up the browned bits left from cooking the beef. Transfer the liquid/mixture from the pan to a bowl, and set it aside.
  5. Return the pan to the hot stove top. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, and when hot, add the bacon chunks to the pan, cook until brown and sizzling then set aside with the beef. Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring for about 3 minutes. Add the salt, black pepper, and garlic, and cook for another minute.
  6. Add the tomato paste to the mixture and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add the beer, broth, beef, the reserved liquid scraped up from the pan, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary.
  7. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and place in the preheated oven for 90-120 minutes, or until the beef is tender.

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Your base is now ready to use as a beautiful pie filling or hearty stew with dumplings.

For a pie:

You could make your own shortcrust or puff pastry lid or even use readymade. Why not try adding blue cheese into the dough for an extra kick of savoury flavour? Try adding peas, carrots and mushrooms to the filling too.

Once the filling is cool, place it into a pie dish and cover with your chosen pastry. Coat the rim of the pie dish with an egg wash to help the pastry stick, before finally placing the lid on the dish.

Once you have placed the lid on the dish, crimp the edges with your thumbs and fingers to form a seal and stop the pastry shrinking during cooking.

Trim the excess pastry from the edge of the dish and coat the top of the pie in egg wash.

Finally cut a cross mark in the centre of the lid of the pie with a knife to allow steam to escape through during the cooking process.  This should help avoid a soggy pastry.

Bake the pie in the oven for about 30-40 minutes at 200C

For a stew:

For a stew, add root vegetables such parsnips, swede and carrot. To make dumplings, mix 2oz suet with 4oz self raising flour in a mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and herbs of your choice then combine the mix with approximately 5 tablespoons of water or just enough to form a soft but not sticky dough. Divide the dough into 8 balls then when the stew is nearly ready and the beef is tender, place the balls on top of the simmering stew, cover tightly with the lid and allow to cook for a further 20 minutes.

By cooking in the oven, nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan or burns and the sauce bubbles into a velvety coating for the meat and vegetables.

Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

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IMG_20141111_150027[1] 11/11/2014

This recipe came about because I had a load of cream cheese in the fridge and half a jar of Biscoff spread that needed using. I very nearly didn’t bother experimenting with this recipe as I didn’t think it would work but man, I’m glad I did. The base of the cake is like a soft shortbread with subtle comforting flavour from the vanilla and salt. The gooey Biscoff topping is sweet, caramel-ey and creamy and together, the layers remind me of an old-school dinner dessert or those puddings in a tin that you microwave which is certainly no bad thing.

Ingredients:

Cake Layer:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 Tbs. milk
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract

Gooey Biscoff Layer:

  • 8 oz full fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup cookie butter/Biscoff spread
  • 16 oz icing sugar, sifted
  • A pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 9×13 inch baking pan with aluminium foil and grease with butter or margarine.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix with a whisk until well-combined.  Add the egg, melted butter, milk and vanilla and mix well until a dough is formed. Press the mixture into the prepared pan.
  3. For the topping, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and Biscoff spread and beat well until smooth and creamy.  Slowly add the icing sugar, sieving in batches, and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.
  4. Pour the Biscoff layer onto the cake layer and spread evenly.
  5. Bake for about 40 minutes. The edges will be set, the top will be shiny and the centre will still be a slightly wobbly but will continue to cook while the cake cools.

Cool the cake completely in the pan before cutting. It will have risen in the oven and will sink a little as it cools to create a lovely chewy topping.

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This recipe yields 20 squares of gooey deliciousness. I urge you to try this cake. It is so easy and so so tasty.

Espresso Cookie Butter Rice Crispy Treats

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IMG_20141108_200707[1] 08/11/2014

This recipe came about after crazily overestimating how many marshmallows I was going to need for toasting over the fire on bonfire night.

I made these rice crispy treats a bit more interesting with the addition of coffee and cookie butter and a few bits of crumbled speculoos biscuits for good measure.

Ingredients:

  • 10 to 12 speculoos biscuits, crumbled coarsely (I used Lotus Biscoff)
  • 6 cups crisp rice cereal
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (I used Nescafé Azera)
  • 12 ounces marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup cookie butter (crunchy or smooth, such as Biscoff)
  • A pinch of salt (optional)

Method:

  1. Foil and lightly grease a 9×13-inch pan with melted butter; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, crush the cookies and add the cereal; set aside.
  3. Combine the butter and espresso powder in a large saucepan set over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the marshmallows. Stir constantly until the marshmallows are completely melted. Add the cookie butter and salt (if using) and stir until just combined.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cereal mixture until it is evenly coated with the melted marshmallows. Once combined, press the mixture into the prepared pan. (A good tip here is to press the mix in with the back of a lightly oiled tablespoon so things don’t get too sticky). Allow to cool completely before cutting and serving.

Steak, Swede & Mustard Pasties

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IMG_20141104_194635[1] 05/11/2014

Now normally in my household, steak is to be served in enormous slabs, hot off the grill, bloody and with piles of chips. This recipe yields about 6 pasties and uses just one medium sized steak chopped up in the entire batch so I was a little apprehensive that I’d be asked where the rest of it was when serving up. This was not the case though as these pasties are so full of flavour and succulence, no one noticed. A result for my purse strings, my stomach and some anxious cows.

The rump steak bakes in the pastry crust to become meltingly tender and takes on the peppery succulence of the mustard.

Different fats produce different characteristics in baked or fried foods and hard fat will produce a crisper texture than any other. I have tried using beef dripping with this pastry and lard. Both have given extremely crisp results with their own savoury character.

The use of some strong flour also makes the dough a little more resilient to make shaping easier without sacrificing tenderness.

It may seem excessive to have so much pepper in the recipe along with mustard but the pepper really is the rock to the steak’s roll here and the mustard adds a background heat that brings what might otherwise be a potentially boring filling to life.

The mix of different mustards is purely my preference so if you have any favourites then feel free to experiment.

Ingredients:

For the rough puff dripping crust:

  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 100g strong white flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g beef dripping or lard, at room temperature
  • 150ml lukewarm water

For the filling:

  • 250g rump steak
  • 100g peeled and diced swede
  • 100g peeled and diced potato
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon each of wholegrain mustard, Dijon mustard and English mustard powder
  • 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Method:

For the rough puff dripping crust:

  1. Place the flours and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into little pieces and rub into the flour then cut the dripping or lard into 1cm pieces and toss it through. Do not rub it in. Stir the water in without kneading until the dough just combines then leave for 10 minutes.
  2. Generously flour the work surface to stop the dough sticking then roll out the dough to 50cm x 20cm. Fold the dough in by thirds then roll out again towards the unfolded ends and fold in by thirds once more. Cover the dough or place in a bag and let it rest somewhere cool (but not as cold as the fridge) for 30 minutes.
  3. Repeat the rolling, folding and resting twice more. The pastry is then ready to be used. You can also freeze it at this point in a sealed ziplock bag then just allow to thaw completely before using.

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For the filling:

  1. If you have time, put the steak into the freezer until almost frozen as it is then easier to dice evenly. Cut the meat into 1cm cubes, place in a bowl with the swede and potato, add the salt, pepper and flour and toss this together and chill.
  2. Roll the pastry out to about ½cm thick and cut out circles using a side plate as a guide.
  3. Mix the mustards and mustard powder together in a small bowl. Lightly coat the centre of each pastry circle with the mustard and brush the edges with water. Place a generous spoonful of filling on one half of the pastry leaving a clean ½cm border.                                              IMG_20141104_194911[1]
  4. Fold the pastry over the filling and press the edges together gently to seal. Crimp as you like. Repeat with the remaining pasties then place on a greaseproof lined baking tray. IMG_20141104_194831[1]
  5. Chill the pasties in the fridge while you heat the oven to 200C then brush them with egg wash and bake them for 45 minutes until the pastry is rich and golden and the filling is piping hot.

These pasties are great straight from the oven with lots of green veg and thick beefy gravy or cold the next day for lunch. The pastry reheats to a less flabby finish than shortcrust or puff pastry too.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

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IMG_20141104_194715[1] 04/11/2014

Crisp, buttery shortbread! Smooth, velvet caramel! Dark, luxurious chocolate! Rock salt that accentuates all of the above!

Ingredients:

For the Crust

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/8 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4oz cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon ice water
  • 1 large egg yolk

For the Caramel Layer

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3oz unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt

For the Chocolate Layer

  • 6oz dark chocolate, finely chopped, 70% cocoa solids minimum
  • 3 tablespoons double cream
  • Rock salt (optional)

Instructions:

For the Crust:

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminium foil, pushing the foil neatly into the corners and up the sides of the pan ensuring that the foil overlaps all edges to help removal from the pan later. Grease the foiled pan with butter.

Combine the flour, brown sugars, cornflour and salt and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined and no lumps of brown sugar remain. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until a coarse mix forms. Add the ice water and egg yolk and mix until moist clumps form. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and press with your fingers into an even layer (dust your fingers with flour if the dough is too sticky). Pierce the dough all over with a fork and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

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For Caramel Layer:

Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, brown sugars, butter, golden syrup, vanilla and salt together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Attach a sugar thermometer to the side of the pan and boil gently, whisking constantly, until the caramel is thick and the temperature registers 225F, about 6 minutes. Pour the caramel over the crust and cool for about 15 minutes or until the caramel is set.

Note that the caramel will not set completely. It will still be slightly soft in the finished product but this is definitely a good thing.

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For Chocolate Layer:

Place the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Heat gently until the chocolate and cream have melted. Spread the chocolate over the caramel layer. Lightly sprinkle some rock salt over the chocolate for extra flavour. Refrigerate the bars until the chocolate is set, at least 1 hour. Using the foil overhang, lift the bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into small squares and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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These bars will keep well in the fridge stored in an airtight container if not gobbled up before that.

Vanilla Cupcakes

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IMG_20141030_194643[1] 03/11/2014

This recipe is for a light vanilla sponge cake with a beautiful vanilla frosting.

I made these for a friend’s 40th birthday hence all the ‘40’ decorations in the picture but you can decorate them with nuts, chocolate, sprinkles or anything that takes your fancy.

Ingredients:

For the sponge:

  • 80g unsalted butter, softened
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 240ml whole milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs

For the vanilla frosting:

  • 500g icing sugar
  • 160g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50ml whole milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Food colouring (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C and line 2 deep muffin tins with muffin cases.
  2. Using a hand-held electric whisk, slowly beat together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until the ingredients are well mixed in and resemble fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Mix together the milk, vanilla and eggs by hand in a jug. With the whisks on a low speed, pour three-quarters of the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl to incorporate fully. Add the rest of the milk mixture and beat again on a medium speed until the batter is smooth.
  4. Spoon the batter into the muffin cases, about two-thirds full. You should have enough batter for 12-16 cupcakes. Place in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the sponges feel springy when you touch them. Leave to cool slightly before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. To make the frosting, whisk the icing sugar with the butter on a low speed using the electric whisk until fully combined and sandy in consistency. Add the vanilla to the milk and pour into the butter and icing sugar while still mixing on a low speed then increase the speed to high and whisk the frosting until light and fluffy.
  6. If you wish to colour the frosting as shown, divide it into separate bowls and add a few drops of your chosen colouring to each bowl.
  7. Once the cupcakes are completely cool, add the frosting wither by smoothing with a palette knife or piping. Decorate as desired.

This recipe generates a lot of frosting. Adapted from a hummingbird bakery recipe, I usually halve or use 2/3 of the quantity of frosting ingredients and find this gives a nice ratio of cake to icing.