Christmas morning biscotti

I love biscotti especially with a ridiculously expensive cup of coffee but until now I have never tried to bake them.”Biscotti” is the plural form of biscotto. The word originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning “twice-cooked/baked.” (as quoted byWikipedia). I think it is this twice baked method that has put me off. As I have mentioned before, I have long-standing love affair with biscuits and biscotti is no exception so I bit the bullet and had a go at making them.

The recipe that I adapted for these biscotti came from the Good Food Guide and was called Christmas Biscotti. Now when it comes to Christmas, most families have their own little traditions such as everyone sitting down together to watch the Queen’s speech at 3 o’clock or having a slice of pork pie and a sherry for breakfast (yes, thank you, Su, for that one!). Ours, not surprisingly, involved biscuits.

Ben and I have been on our own for over 13 years now and when he was little we would load up the car on Christmas eve and do the 3 hour journey down from North Wales to Worcester to spend Christmas day with my family. Then we would do the reverse journey on Boxing day so that Ben could spend the week between Christmas and New Year with his dad in Liverpool. This went on for several years until eventually Ben and I decided that we wanted to spend Christmas day at home together, where he could make as much noise as he wanted and could play with his toys (nowadays it is his X-box!) and we could just relax.

We now have our own little traditions. We buy each other new pyjamas which we wear all Christmas day because it is the only day of the year when we don’t have to go out and no-one visits! We are both allowed to open one small present on Christmas eve but only one. This was to stop Ben spontaneously combusting as a small child from sheer excitement! And we always have freshly baked cookies for breakfast and served with an ice-cold glass of milk.

I am sure in the next few years this is all set to change. Ben has growing up fast. At 15 he towers above me and I am fast learning that just because I think something is a good idea, it doesn’t mean to say that Ben thinks the same! He is a young man with his own mind who is not afraid to share this opinions and thoughts. My little boy is almost a young man.  That is a frightening thought in itself! The one thing that I can depend on not changing, however, is our Christmas morning cookies since Ben has already asked if we can have my chocolate chip cookies this year. Having seen how easy these biscotti are to make I think that these get my vote for Christmas Morning Biscotti too.

Ingredients:

12 oz plain flour

2tsp baking powder

2tsp mixed spice

9 oz caster sugar

3-4 free range eggs, beaten

1 tsp orange oil

3 oz raisins

3 oz glace cherries halved

4 oz flaked almonds

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C / 160C fan.
  2. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking parchment
  3. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and mixed spice in a mixing bowl then a stir in the eggs until a soft dough forms.
  4. Add the fruit and nuts
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and split the dough into 4 equal pieces.
  6. Lightly flour your hands then roll each piece of dough into a sausage shape approximately 12 inch long.
  7. Place the dough onto the prepared trays, making sure they are well spaced.
  8. Bake for 15-25 mins until the dough is well risen, firm to the touch but not too brown.
  9. Allow to cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack.
  10. Reduce the oven temperature to 140C / 120C fan
  11. Cut the dough diagonally, using a bread knife, into 1cm thick slices.
  12. Place the slices back onto the baking sheets, cut side down, and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  13. Turn the slices over and bake for a further 10-15 minutes.
  14. Allow to cool completely.

 

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Fool-proof fairy cakes

I’m not sure whether it is the prospect of the Diamond  Jubilee, Euro 2012 (apparently it is some kind of soccer tournament) and of course, the London Olympics but here in the UK people are becoming very patriotic and decidedly nostalgic. 1970s retro is the new black!

For those of us of a certain age the 70’s represent our childhood. We are talking space hoppers, chopper bikes and CHiPs on TV. 1977 was, of course, the Silver Jubilee and we like many other people had a street party. Yes, the wall papering tables were erected and bedecked with red, white and blue crepe paper and anything that stood still long enough was tied up with bunting! We are talking cheese and pineapple on sticks, sausage rolls and dried up egg butties that no-one ever eats. One “posh” neighbour even provided vol-u-vents! The pudding table was laden with sherry trifle, black forest gateaux (hey, it was the 70s!), pink wafer biscuits and of course, fairy cakes.

Well, so I’m told anyway! Jubilee day I had German measles so was in quarantine! Whilst everyone else was outside enjoying themselves I was in bed poorly sick.

The afore mentioned fairy cakes are experiencing a bit of a revival at the moment. Cupcakes have been very popular for number of years now but many people, myself included, find them a bit overbearing. I would certainly struggle to eat a whole one! Fairy cakes, however, are absolutely perfect,  couple of bites and they are gone.

 This recipe is meant to be fool-proof so with fools in mind lets set out a few ground rules:

  • allows preheat your oven. If you put your cakes into a cold oven they will not cook evenly.
  • invest in a set of scales, ideally ones that measure in imperial and metric. Baking is a science, you need to weigh your ingredients accurately
  • always use a fairy cake tray to stand your cake cases in. If you don’t the weight of the cake mixture will cause the case to open out and your cakes will be big and flat.
  • weigh out all your ingredients before you start. There is nothing worse than discovering half way through making your cake that you don’t have enough flour or cocoa or baking powder!

Ingredients

4 oz butter or margarine

4 oz  caster sugar

5 oz self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

a splash of milk

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 160◦ C fan / 180 ◦ C. Place the cake cases into the cake tray.
  2. Beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. I use a Kenwood mixer but you can just as easily do it by hand, just make sure the butter is really soft.
  3. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract
  4. Gently stir in the flour and baking powder until evenly mixed. You may need to add a splash of milk. The mixture should drop easily from a spoon.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake case until the cases are half full. I use a small ice cream scoop for this.
  6. Bake in the oven for 10-15 mins. It takes 12 minutes exactly in my fan oven. The cakes should be golden brown and well risen.
  7. Remove the cakes from the tray and place on a cooling rack.
  8. Once cooled the cakes are ready to decorate.

Decorating suggestions:

  • pipe a swirl of buttercream on the top of each cake
  • make them into butterfly cakes by cutting the crown of the cake off. Add a small blob of buttercream. Cut the removed crown in half and sink into the buttercream on an angle.
  • ice the cake with glace icing (icing sugar and water mixed into a stiff paste). Add half a cherry or sprinkles.

This recipe can easily be adapted too.  Try the following:

  • substitute 1oz of flour for 1 oz of cocoa
  • add a little grated lemon peel or orange peel to the mixture
  • add 1-2oz sultanas or raisins to the mixture
  • add 1-2oz quartered glace cherries to the mixture
  • add 1-2oz chocolate chips to the mixture

This recipe is perfect for that rainy Sunday afternoon when the kids need to be entertained and you need a nice tea time treat. They would be the perfect addition to any Diamond Jubilee street party feast too.

Enjoy!!

Love

Ali xx

 

Pint of this, pint of that Tea loaf.

We English are an eccentric bunch and quite proud of it. We, as a nation, underwent decimalisation on 15 February 1971 yet many of us still ask the butcher for half a pound of sausages and pop to the shops to buy a pint of milk. Well, it doesn’t sound quite the same asking for 227g of sausages and 473 ml of milk does it?

And it is the same when it comes to cooking. I originally trained as a clinical biochemist so I worked day in-day out with microlitres and millilitres and solids were weight to 2 decimal places in grammes. Yet in my own kitchen I more often than not work in pounds, ounces and pints! I am slowly getting the hang of using cup measurements but it really goes against the grain to do it!

This recipe is a doddle! It , as the name suggests, literally uses a pint of this and a pint of that. So simple! The beauty of this recipe is its adaptability. As long as you have a total volume of 1 pint of dried fruit, it doesn’t matter what you use. I love cherries so always include them but you can just as easily include dates or raisins. Similarly, you can vary the flavour by changing your choice of tea or including a spirit such as whisky or rum but in each case you must use a dark tea or spirit. I make a pot of good old-fashioned builders tea to soak my fruit in. Nothing fancy I assure you!  I quite often throw in a teaspoon of mixed spice too! See, I told you it was adaptable!

There is nothing better than a slice of this with a bit of butter on it and a steaming hot cuppa!

Ingredients:

1 pint dried fruit

0.5 pint soft dark brown sugar

0.5 pint of strong cold tea

1 egg

1 pint self-raising flour

Method:

  1. Soak the fruit and sugar in the tea overnight.
  2. Mix in the egg and flour until you a smooth batter.
  3. Pour into greased loaf tins. I split this mixture between two smaller tins but you can just use 1 large one.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven (160 degrees C. 325 F) for 40-60 mins depending upon the size of the loaf tin.
  5. Turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool.

This tea loaf keeps really well in a cake tin but will freeze well too. I love it toasted and dripping in butter! Is it any wonder I struggle to keep my weight down?

 Hope you enjoy it!

Love

Ali x

Instant chocolate fondue

This recipe came about due to my lovely teenage son inviting friends for tea but neglecting to inform me. The first I would know about it, would be when I opened the front door to greeted by “Hiya! What are we having for tea? Ooh, what’s for pudding?” Yes, Macca, I mean you! So after the initial panic of what  main course to feed them ( let’s face it they have bottomless pits for stomachs so beans on toast was not an option!) I then have to provide a suitable pudding. My instant chocolate fondue was a winner from day one.

Following a rummage through my cupboards and hidey-holes (am I the only person who has to hide things so their teenage offspring doesn’t devour it on sight?) I came up with lots of bits of things, plenty of chocolate and a pot of cream. A pudding was born!

The beauty of this recipe is that it is brilliant at using up left overs. You don’t need to be picky about the type of chocolate you use and you can alter the recipe to taste and to suit your requirement. The fondue shown above was made with a 2:1 ratio of milk to dark chocolate but I have made it with just milk chocolate. For a more sophisticated dessert or for adults try upping the amount of dark chocolate. I would be reluctant to use all dark chocolate because it might be a tad bitter.

Ingredients:

300g chocolate – anything goes!

10 fl oz single cream

Method:

  • Break up your chocolate into a heat-proof bowl then pour in the cream.
  • Suspend the bowl over a saucepan of hot water
  • Stir the mixture until the chocolate is melted.
  • Use a balloon whisk to beat the mixture into smooth, glossy gorgeousness.
  • Pour into bowls and serve with a variety of dippable things

You might want to try:

  • marshmallows
  • fruit – strawberries, apples, pineapple , cherries all work very well.
  • salted pretzels
  • mini doughnuts
  • left over cake
  • Biscuits
  • sponge fingers

Hope you enjoy this!

Ali xx

 

 

 

 

 

Heavenly Brownies

Now I’m not a religious person but, since it is Palm Sunday, I thought I would share with you my recipe for the most heavenly of brownies. They are crisp on the outside and gorgeously soft and chewy inside. Absolute chocolate heaven!

My son is an avid brownie fan and this is by far his favourite brownie recipe. Trust me, we have tried a LOT of them! I like this recipe because it is dead simple and very versatile. I often throw in cherries and walnuts but it is entirely up to you.

Ingredients:

190g butter

190g good quality dark chocolate

3 free range eggs, beaten

1.5 tsp vanilla extract

250g caster sugar

120g plain flour

0.5 tsp salt

(100g dried fruit or nuts if you fancy it)

Method:

  1. In a heatproof bowl melt together the chocolate and butter. I do this in my Kenwood Mixer metal bowl which means that nothing is lost on transfer and saves on washing up!
  2. Allow the mixture to cool a little then mix in the beaten eggs and vanilla extract. It is important that the chocolate mixture is not too hot before adding the eggs. You do not want to end up with a bowl of chocolate scrambled eggs! Yuck!
  3. Mix in the flour, sugar and salt until smooth. The salt is important as it stabilises the mixture and adds a depth of flavour to the chocolate. Stir in any fruit or nuts at this stage.
  4. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 8 inch square tin. Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees C) for 20-25 mins or until the top has dried out and is a speckled brown colour. Don’t bother doing the skewer test as the center will still be gooey.
  5. Allow to cool completely in the tin then cut into portions. I cut that cake into 9 pudding sized portions but you can easily get 16 snack sized pieces.

If you have a cake sale or a school fund-raiser, this recipe works really well when you double the mixture. For High School teachers it is a really quick and relatively cheap treat (bribe)  for Year 11 pupils.  I promised my class that I would make them brownies when everyone had handed their coursework in. You wouldn’t believe how quickly they completed their work!

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!