Tag Archives: Baking

Taking the Biscuit

Speculoos Refrigerator Biscuits

Speculoos Refrigerator Biscuits – Meant for Taking

Yesterday I hosted a meeting for a group of proto-freelancers that I have joined. As is customary, I was going to serve biscuits and tea. Since I prefer to make things from scratch (a tendency that has only got worse since it also gives me something to blog about!) I decided that I was going to make the biscuits. I have not actually attempted to make biscuits for a number of years, since they aren’t really something that I have around the house. In fact, the only time that I really ever think to buy them is if I am going to make a cheesecake, or another dessert with the requisite buttery biscuit base.

The last time I was really into making biscuits was as a fairly young kid (maybe 8ish?). Once the Sunday Dinner had been cleared away, and the washing up done, I would bake things, some sponges cakes and the like, but mostly biscuits, while my parents were either out on the garden, or dozing in front of the Eastenders Omnibus. These baking sessions were always using recipes from the tried and trusted Dairy Book of Home Cookery.

I had been given some Lotus speculoos paste by a good friend who was returning to Australia, and had one too many items from Europe in her case. I have always known that I will make biscuits with it, since these are traditionally served with coffee and tea in every cafe in Holland. And what better opportunity to have a go than for a meeting? So it was to these things that I turned when looking for inspiration.

The Dairy Book has a basic recipe for refrigerator biscuits, which seemed easy enough to adapt, so I used this as a starting point for my treats. They are called refrigerator biscuits because you wrap them up like a sausage, then let them rest in the fridge for at least an hour. I actually made these a while ago, when we were originally going to have the meeting, but we had to postpone due to a particularly nasty flu that several of our people had. You can keep the dough in the fridge for a week. The mixture also freezes well, and the amounts given here will make a lot of biscuits (up to 60 depending on how wide you roll the sausage), so I divided it in two and still have a sausage of dough in my freezer. You can defrost them on the counter, or (if you can cut them) cook them from frozen, allowing a minute or two longer cooking time, but you will need to watch them.

Recipe: Speculoos Refrigerator Biscuits

Ingredients

200 g plain flour

100 g butter

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp speculaas spice

2 tbsp Lotus speculoos paste

150 g caster Sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

vanilla sugar for sprinkling

Method

Rub together the flour, baking powder, butter and speculoos paste, like you would for making pastry. Once you have the breadcrumb texture, mix in the sugar.

Add the egg, and bring together to form a dough. I did all of this with my hands, but you can do it with a spoon if you prefer.

At this point, I tasted the dough, and decided that the speculoos didn’t give quite the spicy punch I wanted, so I decided to add some speculaas spice that I still had from making Kruidnoten. I also gave the recipe for the spice mix on that post, if you want to have a go at making these, and you are not in the Low Countries, where it is readily available.

At this juncture I should point out that raw cookie dough has been linked to outbreaks of e. coli infections, and should not be eaten if you are in a vulnerable group, or if you are worried about this sort of thing. In this case, I took the risk for you, so if you choose to make these biscuits, you can also skip the testing, and simply add the spice when you mix in the flour, as I suggest above. If you can’t find any speculoos paste, then you can also just use the spices.

Once the dough has formed, it should be pretty dry, and workable. I found I needed to use a tiny bit of water, to help the dough form, because the only egg I had was on the small side, but I added it splash by splash, because I wanted to get the texture right.

Roll the dough into a sausage. You may need to cut it into two here. I did. Once the sausage is the sort of width you imagine your biscuits to be, wrap it tightly in foil or cling film, making sure the ends are sealed well. It is worth noting that these biscuits will spread a little, during cooking, so you will need to roll the sausage a bit thinner than you want.

Once wrapped, bung the dough in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight if you can. Or you can freeze it immediately.

When you are ready to bake, heat your oven to 190°C.

Meanwhile, grease your baking sheets with some old butter paper, which should have enough butter on it to cover your trays with a thin layer of butter. If not, rub it over a pat of butter before rubbing the tray. Butter paper is also something that I never throw out, until I have got maximum use from it. You can substitute it for tin foil to wrap food (but not for cooking with), you can using for greasing baking utensils, and you can use it as a cartouche to retain moisture or prevent a skin from forming on a liquid. My mum has always done this, and I have also always done this, it was just a habit really.

I have two baking sheets, so I used both in the oven at the same time, to reduce energy consumption. If you do this, be aware that the top biscuits will be ready slightly earlier than those lower down in the oven. They catch really quickly, so take these out first.

Slicing Biscuits from the Dough Log

Slice ’em Up. If you use a sharper knife, then you can get thinner biscuits than I did here

Then, thinly slice your biscuit dough along the length of your dough sausage. Probably thinner than I have here, if you like. One tip is that the sharper the knife you use, the less you will compress your roll, and thus will not have to constantly reshape or have odd-shaped biscuits.

Arrange the biscuits onto the trays, allowing space for them to spread out a little as they cook. I sprinkled mine with a little vanilla sugar, because I always have it to hand as a by-product from custard making. Caster sugar will be just as good. You can also dust it lightly or a little heavier if you would like more of a crisp.

Speculoos refrigerator Biscuits Sprinkled with Sugar

A Sprinkle of Sugar

Stick them in the oven, and check them after 10 minutes. Mine were done then, but you can leave them in for up to 12 minutes.

Allow them to cool a little on the tray before removing, and serving. If you do have any left, put them in an airtight container, where they will keep for a day or two.

The actual time you spend on these biscuits is minimal. I probably spent about 10 minutes in total on preparation. But, I can guarantee that your guests will appreciate the effort that they will think that you have gone to. Unless you have hundreds of guests, you will also have enough for a couple of batches, and what could be handier to have on standby in your fridge or freezer, for meetings, drop in guests, or a visit from the WI?

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Making the Most of a Marmalade Mistake

Breakfast  Flapjacks

What a Comeback

The clementine marmalade I made caught slightly on the bottom of the pan. This is what comes of trying to cook and blog at the same time! I only took my eye off the ball for a couple of seconds, while I had a spoonful of the golden, orangey preserve waiting for the fridge test.

Most of the marmalade was fine, so I bottled it up. But there was about half a jar on the bottom which had gone too far. As you know, I cannot bear to waste food, and this is no exception. I won’t inflict this on my friends, but there is no reason why I can’t still use it.

Marmalade makes a great glaze for both sweet and savoury food. I did bake a yoghurt cake, and then melted 2 tbsp of the marmalade with a tbsp of water to make a glaze. I poured the glaze over the cake while both were still warm, and then left the lot to cool in the tin. Unfortunately, I have never made a yoghurt cake before, and clearly didn’t beat the egg, yoghurt and oil together enough, so it was too dense, so I haven’t photographed it. It was fine, when splashed with a little Cointreau (or orange juice would also be fine), and served with fresh Greek yoghurt.

I have also kept a little marmalade in reserve, because I have another glaze in mind, but this time for a nice duck, a wild one if I can get hold of it. I shall add shallots and thyme, and make sure I baste the bird as it cooks. I guess you can expect to see it here, if it is a success.

However, I left the lion’s share of the leftover marmalade for the recipe I am about to share with you now. The first thing that came to my mind when it was clear I would have some marmalade was flapjacks. I’m not really sure why, but I knew that I had to try it. I had a feeling that the thick cut, sticky marmalade would be the perfect foil for the oats. Both of them are traditionally associated with breakfast, and I really thought this could fly. I thought about it some more over the next few days, and it became clear that I could substitute the marmalade for the usual golden syrup.

There is a golden ratio for the usual kind of flapjack. As long as you stick with this ratio, then you can’t go far wrong. It also works for metric, imperial, volume, or if you prefer to measure your ingredients by a more eccentric means. The ratio is as follows:

  • 2 Golden Syrup
  • 4 Butter
  • 6 Brown Sugar
  • 8 Oats (or oats & other dry ingredients, such as seeds)

This is the ratio that I was taught as a small kid, and it has never yet done me wrong. You can then add more stuff, like dried or fresh fruits, candied peel or crystallised ginger, spices, chocolate, and so on. I always use a mix of whole rolled oats, and the finer, chopped sort that is best for porridge, because I find this gives it a better texture without falling apart. You can add seeds and other grains as well if you like, but you should adjust the amount of oats, so that you maintain the ratio.

These were unconventional flapjacks, not just in the sense of substituting syrup for marmalade, but I have to admit in this case, I also decided to adjust the proportions of the ratio as well. I wanted the orange to really shine in the mix, and the marmalade has a lot of sugar in it anyway. It may not please your grandmother, but it worked for me in this instance.

After a bit of fiddling, I settled on a 4:4:4:8 ratio, and the results worked really well. The bars are chewy, albeit in a slightly different, stickier way than regular golden syrup ones, but I like it.

I prefer my flapjacks on the chewier side, but if you are one of those people who like crunchier flapjacks, you may need to add some golden syrup, or possibly more butter to prevent the marmalade making the bar too hard in the  (slightly) longer cooking process. It is not something that I experimented with this time, but I would be happy to if others are interested. You don’t have to use up marmalade mistakes – ordinary marmalade from a jar will do just as well here.

The amounts I am going to give were enough for a 20 x 25 cm tin. I tend to line my tins with baking paper, because it makes the finished flapjacks a lot easier to remove from the tin, but you can just grease the tin really well, it is up to you. If I were a more dedicated baker, I would invest in that reuseable silicon parchment stuff, to reduce waste. I have got a birthday coming up, so who knows?

Recipe: Breakfast Flapjacks

Ingredients

160 g marmalade

160 g butter

160 g brown sugar (I used light muscovado and demerara, because it is what I had)

300 g mix of whole and chopped rolled oats

30 g pumpkin seeds

30 g dried cranberries

Method

Put your oven on at 180 °C.

Melt the marmalade, butter, and sugar over a medium heat, stirring so they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Mix the oats, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries in a large bowl.

When the sweet goods and the butter have all melted and combined together well, pour onto the dried ingredients, and mix well to ensure that they are all well coated and no streaks of white oats remain.

Press the flapjack mix into the baking tray. You want to press it in fairly well, to help the mixture set into lovely bars. Then smooth it over with the back of a metal spoon, making the top smooth, and the flapjack layer as even as you can.

Bake it for about 25-30 minutes, depending on how chewy or crunchy you want it. Flapjacks are really forgiving, so they are easy to cook with other things, to maximise your energy use from the oven. They won’t collapse if you open your oven at the wrong time, and don’t really absorb other flavours. I haven’t tried cooking them at the same time as smoked fish, for example, but they are fine t go in with stews, other cakes, roasting meat etc.

When they are nice and golden all over, then remove them from the oven. You will need to mark them into the squares or rectangles that you intend to serve them in fairly soon after coming out of the oven. I got 12 bars from this amount of  mixture. Then they should be allowed to cool completely in the baking tray.

These flapjacks are really tasty, and the pieces of orange and cranberry really do add an interesting texture, as well as the marmalade, giving them a bit more kick than your average flapjack. Marmalade – it’s not just for toast, you know!

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Cold Comfort Cake

Coffee & Walnut Cake

Comfort and Cure

I used to eschew sponge cakes. I have never been particularly interested in making a classic Victoria sponge; the iced party versions take too much time and artistic talent; and I don’t have a lot of patience for the imbalance of cupcakes. If I am to offer a dessert, I prefer to go for a nice tart, or something that requires custard.

I know a lot of my friends would disagree with me. And I recognise that the popularity of the cake is on the rise, judging by the plethora of baking shows, those about outlandishly decorated 6 feet tall cakes, and cupcakes there seems to be on the TV, these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Great British Bake Off almost as much as Mel Geidroyc, but there is an awful lot of baking going on our screens, of varying quality and value.

However, last weekend, the weather took a real turn for the colder. This is the time of year when I long to curl up in the living room with a cup of tea, and a nice slice of cake. The fact that I had a little bit of a hangover after catching up with a few friends on Friday had nothing at all to do with it…

So, after a little indecision, and a rootle around the cupboard to see what I could make without actually having to go to the shops (and a little discussion with the Big Guy to see if he would be prepared to go, which ended in a compromise – not a massive shop, but he would go out for some mascarpone!), I came up trumps with a bag of walnuts. That pretty much settled it – coffee and walnut cake it was then. With a mascarpone glaze; given that I am not too keen on buttercream, and felt it would have been too much for me that day (which had everything to do with my Friday night).

The cake that I made (as pictured) was a little bigger than I had anticipated, because I totally forgot that the amount of cake mixture that I give in the recipe is supposed to be split between two cake tins, and I didn’t want to cut it in half when it came out of the oven, fearing that my hand was not the steadiest. So I made another cake of the same size. I have 25 cm cake tins, this baby was huge! It also meant that the mascarpone glaze was not as generous as it should have been, so don’t do this. The base also got a little bit more coffee in it than the top, so they are sightly different shades.

Don’t worry though, the amount given below is for one normal-sized cake, not a giant one like this one.

Despite all this, what you get is a lovely moist cake, but with all the lightness of a sponge. Brilliant comfort when the weather draws in, and also a great hangover cure. Take one slice in the evening with a big mug of tea.

Recipe: Coffee and Walnut Cake

Ingredients

For the cake:

175 g caster sugar – I used raw cane sugar, to give it a depth of colour and flavour

175 g softened butter (i.e. not from straight out of the fridge, bring it up to room temperature

175 g self raising flour

3 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp coffee granules  in 1 tbsp warm water  (or 1 tbsp warm, strong espresso if you don’t have instant)

2 x 20 cm cake tins – you’ll need a removable base on each. I have spring-form tins, which is better, but use what you have

60 g chopped walnuts

For the glaze:

250 g Mascarpone

70 g icing sugar

1 tsp coffee granules in 1 tbsp warm water (or another tbsp warm, strong espresso)

Some more chopped walnuts. Or you can keep them whole and decorate the cake with them, but I am not hugely keen on big lumps of walnuts. I had about 8 walnuts left, so I used them, but the amount is up to your individual taste

Method

Firstly, line the base of your cake tins with some greaseproof paper. Cut it to size, unless you like the wrinkled cake look. I also then greased and floured the sides of my tins. I do this because my mum always did, and it is ingrained in my psyche, although I think that it is probably unnecessary in this non-stick age. You will be really glad of the greaseproof when it comes time to turn the cake out, however.

Heat your oven to 180°C

Beat the sugar and butter together until it has gone a very pale colour. Don’t scrimp on this stage, it helps with the final lightness of the cake. It is best done  with a food mixer, or an electric hand blender if you have one. It is possible with a wooden spoon, but you will end up looking like Brian Shaw, which is a good look if you like very muscular men. It will also take you ages. I had neither the time nor the patience for this on Saturday.

Once you have a nice pale butter and sugar mixture, add the eggs. I usually add a little of the flour with each egg and make sure that I have mixed it in well before adding the next egg. Don’t add all the eggs at once, or the batter may split. They always say this in cookbooks and on the TV. I am not sure what you should do if the batter does split, because it has never happened to me, but I assume that it will affect the rise and texture. I also have no idea if you can salvage it.

Once all of the egg is added, fold in the rest of the flour, and the baking powder. Be careful not to overwork it, or the cake won’t rise as much, but also make sure that there are no seams of flour that haven’t been mixed in.

Add the coffee solution and continue to fold until the batter has an even coffee colour, then stir in the walnuts. This should take about 15 minutes in total, unless you are going for the bodybuilder look. Divide the cake between the two tins, and put them into the oven for about 25 minutes, but check them after 20. If a thin item like a small-bladed knife comes out of the centre clean, then they are done. If it looks sticky, they need a few more minutes.

Tip them out of their tins, remove the greaseproof paper, and leave them to cool on a cooling rack, flat side down.

Make up the glaze by mixing all of the ingredients together until they are all thoroughly combined. You will need to chop the walnuts fairly fine before you add them. Don’t refrigerate this, because it will be too hard to spread later.

When the cake has cooled down completely, you can ice it. If you do it while the cake is still warm, it will melt, and will be difficult to work with.

If you are using a flat surface to serve the cake, you will need to cut the arc of one of the cakes off, to allow it to lie flat on the board, and for the other cake to lie flat on it. I was being lazy, and I have plates that have roughly the same curve as one of my cakes in any case. I just flipped it over, laid the arc side down on the plate, and worked with the flat side for my icing. If the bottom cake wobbles, cut it flat anyway.

Use about a third of the glaze to spread over your bottom cake. Get it in as even a layer as you can. Place the second cake on top of this, flat side down. Then glaze the top and as much of the sides of the cake as you can with the rest of the mascarpone mixture.You can decorate it with walnuts if you are that way inclined.

Then you will need to get the kettle on for that tea!

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Charming Cherries

Cherry Clafoutis

Clafoutis

We are back from the lovely land of Australia. We had a fabulous time, and lots of great foodie experiences, leaving me with quite a few posts to catch up on, which will appear here in the next few days.

I have always wanted to have a go at making a clafoutis, and what better opportunity than when you can find large, plump and a deep, deep red cherries? Again, this is a summer dish at it’s best, and the riper you can get the cherries the better.

Clafoutis can also be made with any ripe fresh fruits, although apparently the proper name for those without cherries should be flaugnarde.

Whatever your fruit, and whatever you call it, this is a great way to use up a glut of fruit, as long as they are really ripe.

Traditionally, the clafoutis is served lukewarm, which makes sense when it is the height of summer, as you don’t want a hot pudding for a warm, sticky evening. However, if you want to use winter fruits, like apples or pears, I see no reason that you can’t serve this warm, possibly with a nice custard.

I made this for a friend who is lactose intolerant, so I used soy milk, but you can use whatever you like here.

I hope that you have a go at this dish, it really is so easy, but looks very impressive. Your friends and loved ones will appreciate you for it.

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

Ingredients

50 g plain flour

2 eggs

150 ml milk

Pinch of salt

Seeds of half a vanilla pod

Cherries – enough to cover an ovenproof dish or cake tin in a single layer

Method

Heat the oven to 220 °C.

Mix all of the ingredients, except the cherries, into a thinnish batter. Some recipes also call for a little sugar (in the region of a couple of tablespoons). You can add this too, if you want, but I thought that the cherries I was using were quite sweet enough for the whole dish, so I didn’t use any. Leave the batter aside to rest while you prepare the cherries.

The original Limousin dish left the stones in the cherries, which, it is said, impart an almond flavour. I didn’t try this way, because it is a little unseemly to be spitting out cherry pips when you are in company. Instead, I halved and stoned the cherries, then laid them out, flat side down in a baking dish, until the bottom was covered in one layer of cherries.

My friend only had a spring-form cake tin, which I lined with baking parchment as a precaution against spills, which was entirely unnecessary, as it turned out, so just use a cake tin, or any largish baking dish you have to hand.

Tip the batter in and around the cherries. At this stage, it should not cover the cherries over completely, but will almost do so. Don’t worry, they will rise to the top again as the dish cooks.

Put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the batter looks cooked across the pudding. You want it light and airy, though, not crispy, although slightly crispy edges are almost inevitable.

Dust with a little icing sugar while still warm, and leave to cool before serving. The Big Guy and I had a little natural yoghurt with ours, but my friend eschewed the yoghurt, and ate it au naturel. It is very good either way.

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Mince Pies

And so we finally come to the stars of the party, my mince pies. If they weren’t, I would have had to call it a Mulled Wine and Some Snacks Party,and  to be quite honest, I’m not really sure it would have had the same draw.

Mince Pies are a traditional British Christmas snack. My best friend refuses to eat them, due to an early childhood disappointment when he discovered that they did not contain mincemeat, but rather that they had fruits and spices inside. Originally, they actually did contain spiced meat, which was a way of disguising the fact that by the middle of winter, the meat was not at its freshest. They also contained some dried fruits.

Mince pies have existed since about the 13th Century, when crusaders brought back the idea of mixing spice with meat from their trips to win the hearts and minds of the residents of the Middle East. They were considered symbolic of garish Catholic Idolatry by the professional miserablist Oliver Cromwell, but apparently it is quite difficult to come between us Brits and our little Christmas pies, so he was not successful in his attempts to ban them. Again, quite lucky for me and my themed parties.

There is something to be said for the traditional ritual of baking these little treats that I find really restful, but exciting at the same time, as it heralds the start of my Christmas celebrations.

I had made some Pear and Ginger Mincemeat back in September, which I got out. You can just use mincemeat to fill your pies, but I like to fiddle some more, for a more luxurious pie. To ordinary fruit mince, I would add nuts and port, and let them soak for a few hours. As this mince had ginger wine in, I let this one soak in a little brandy, although I did add more nuts, for some crunch.

I had invited some people to the party that are vegan, and so I made up a batch of the Vegan Shortcrust Pastry. Some people prefer puff pastry in their mince pies, but I really think this is pastry overkill. Shortcrust is traditional, and for me it is the best way to get the right balance of pastry to filling.

The best bit about making these pies is getting the right mix of the circles between base and lid, so as to maximise the number of them you can cut from a single roll of the pastry.

Making mince pies

Terrific Tessellation

Firstly, you need to get the right size of circle for your tins. I use muffin trays, because I like the added depth that you can get than with ordinary tart trays. Whichever you choose, you need to cut out 2 sizes of circles for the base and the lid. The base should be about 2 cm larger than the diameter of the “hole” in your tray – this is to allow the pastry to sink into the tray, and to come right up the side. The lid should be about the same diameter as the hole. If you are going to use pastry cutters, then choose the size down from the base. I have also used a variety of glasses, and find a wine glass and a shot glass is also fine to use.

Roll out your pastry thinly. If you can 2-3 mm is ideal. Cut out the same number of base and lids. You will be likely to need to collect up the offcuts and re-roll these. If there is any left over, you can make a pasty with your mincemeat, or fill it with currants, a little sugar and some lemon zest and make an eccles cake.

Grease the tart or muffin trays well using butter or olive oil, and put the oven on at 180°C. Then gently put the bases into the trays, and press down with a little offcut pastry.

Add a heaped teaspoon of the mincemeat into each base. It needs to be generous, but not too full, otherwise your pie will burst in the oven.

Take the lid, and brush round the rim of one side with a little water (if you are not making this for vegans, then you can use egg wash or milk). Place the lid, watered side down, over the pie. You will need to seal the pie, which I do by placing a glass that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the lid over the lid, and pressing it down to seal he base and the lid together.

Filled pies

Pies – filled and sealed

Brush with a little water and place into the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is a golden brown.

Serve the pies warm with a little icing sugar sprinkled over the top. You can make these in advance, and warm then through in a low oven before serving.

Mince Pies

Mmm Mince Pies

Great on their own, or with cream. Best served with a glass of mulled wine!

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Making Meringues

I am sure that you may have noticed by now that I use a lot of egg yolks – in stuff like custards, mayonnaises, pasta, pastry and sauces. This leaves me with a lot of egg whites to use up.  Since I hate waste, I try always to use them, which invariably means making macaroons, and meringues. I need to expand this repertoire, so expect to see consommés and more stir fries appearing here soon. If you have other suggestions for using up egg whites (although not the egg-white omelette, please, some things are a step too far, even for me!) feel free to leave them in the comments.

I had originally intended to make advocaat, in keeping with the Anglo-Dutch theme for my party, but I ran out of time. However, this time, the advocaat was actually the by-product of the intention to make meringues, instead of the usual situation where I have a load of egg whites left over from something else. No one missed the advocaat, anyway!

Since I make them so much, I thought that I would share my technique here. I haven’t given a recipe, as it will depend on how many egg whites you have and to some extent how old they are.

Start by heating the oven to 110°C. Then measure out  45 g sugar for each egg white. I like to use raw cane sugar, but you can also use caster, granulated or icing sugar. I have also seen sugar solution, but that seems to be for Italian or Swiss style meringues, and I tend to stick with French. It is possible to use soft brown sugar, but be aware that this makes it very hard to get a crisp, dry meringue. I think this technique may be best left alone or, if you insist, only use it to top lemon meringue pie.

Put the egg whites in a very clean bowl. There must be no fat or detergent in it. If you are unsure, wipe it with the cut side of a lemon (or other citrus), which will act as a degreaser. If the bowl has any fat, it may affect the ability of the eggs to maintain the air that you are about to whip into them. The same goes if there are any traces of egg yolk, so be careful when separating the egg, too. Note that the fresher the egg, the less likely that the egg yolk is to break when you separate it.

Next, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. This is when the egg whites look drier, the whisk or a spoon will create peaks when you remove it from the mixture, and if you are brave, you can upend the bowl and the egg white will not slide out. I would advise using an electric whisk if you don’t want it to take you hours.

Egg Whites at the Stiff Peak stage

The stiff peak - sadly lacking in many ski resorts this year

Then, a tablespoon at a time, add the sugar and whisk in thoroughly before you add the next spoonful. The egg white will stiffen further, as you add the sugar. At this stage, you are beating to incorporate the sugar, not to add any further air, so it won’t increase in volume.

Egg Whites plus half the required sugar

About half way through - stiffer and peakier, but not more voluminous

Keep adding the sugar, and whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Eventually, the mixture will become really stiff, to the point of being really hard to work,  and will look shiny. This is when you stop adding sugar. Because I use cane sugar, I find I need less than the stated 45 g per egg white. If you are using caster or icing sugar, you may find that you need to use all of it. This is also fine.

Finished Meringue mix

The final product - glossy, thick and much harder to beat

Don’t add more sugar than needed to get to this stiff consistency (or than the 45 g, whichever happens to come first), otherwise your meringues will leach sugar. This does not really affect the taste, but it does give them a rather unattractive look. A bit like a tree that is leaching sap.

Now your meringue is ready to be shaped. You need to line a baking sheet with some greaseproof paper. You can stick it down with oil or by dabbing a bit of the meringue in each corner and the centre of the paper and using this as glue to stick it to the baking sheet. Once the baking sheet is ready, you need to choose what shape and size you are going to have your meringue. You may wish to have it as a pavlova, in which case you need to shape one large disc, with slightly elevated sides, to hold the fruit in. I normally go for individual ones, because these are better for parties or for sharing. Most commonly, I will get two spoons and shape individual quenelles, which can then be stuck together with cream and fruit in a sandwich. However, I wanted to fill these with Chestnut Jam, so I decided that mini versions of the pavlova-style would be better suited to the task.

Some people would use a piping bag for that, but I lack the finesse, and the piping bags, so I made do with shaping them with two spoons. You can try either, I think both are just as good. I made them vaguely circular, like a nest.

Meringue nests

Not sure what I did here, but you get the meringue nest picture

Then it is ready to go in the oven. Bake the meringues for up to 1 ½ hours (but check after 1). If you have made one large pavlova style meringue, you will need longer – check after 1 ½, and leave in the oven up to 2 hours.

A Meringue nest

Meringue nest - a better view

The idea is not really that the meringue cooks, more that it dries out. You need to check that it is no longer soggy to the touch, and that it generates a hollow sound when tapped very gently on the base.It will have darkened a little, even if you use icing sugar. Mine are generally more golden than off-white, because the unrefined sugar I use is a light brown.

When you get the hollow sound, it is done. If it is at all possible, turn off the oven, but leave the meringue in there to continue to dry overnight. This will give the best result, but it will be OK if you leave it to cool outside the confines of the oven.

Once it is done, fill it with fruit, cream, fruit and cream, jam, or serve it with ice cream, mash it up with fruit and cream to make Eton Mess – whatever you like, really.

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Kruidnoten – Christmas Cookies

Kruidnoten

Kruidnoten – really tasty christmas treats

Dutch and Flemish children do not have to wait for Christmas to celebrate. On the 5th December, the Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas, when St Nicholas visits them and fills their shoes with sweets and biscuits.

One of the traditional biscuits that are given out at this time of year are Kruidnoten. These are little aniseed – flavoured biscuits, that are given to children, and also appear on your saucer whenever you order a coffee in December.

I really like them, and wanted to try my hand at doing some myself. the recent Mince Pie Party seemed like the perfect place to start, and my guests wouldn’t have to wait until Christmas either. As a bonus, these biscuits are vegan, as they contain no butter. Much older recipes do use honey, but these days stroop is a great alternative.That link is in Dutch, but stroop is basically a viscous sugar syrup, often the by-product of refining sugars. It is widely available in the Netherlands and often used on pancakes.

If you cannot get stroop where you are, golden syrup is also perfectly acceptable.

I got the recipe that I used from here. I have translated it below, and adapted it very slightly, to make it wholly vegan.

Recipe: Kruidnoten

Ingredients

200 g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

150 g stroop or golden syrup

2 tsp speculaas spice. This is widely available in the Netherlands. If you are not in the Netherlands and fancy trying these, you can mix up your own – I will give the proportions at the end of this recipe.

1 tsp ground aniseed (I grind mine fresh when I need it in a pestle and mortar)

Method

Preheat the oven to 160°C

Mix the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt in a bowl. Then make a well in the centre.

Add the stroop to the well, and stir in the flour. It should form a firm dough, but if it doesn’t, add a little more stroop or some water. I found that I needed a little of both, for this amount of flour.

Brush a baking sheet with oil.

Break off small chunks of dough, and roll them into balls. Press them into the baking tray, so that the base is flat. You will need to have well floured hands, and if the mixture gets a little sticky, roll it in a little flour as well.

Bake for about 15 minutes until the biscuits are browned. They should still be a little soft at this point, because they harden as they cool.

Recipe: Speculaas Spice

According to mijnreceptenbook.com speculaas spices can be made up yourself in the following proportions:

50 g ground cinnamon

15 g ground (or finely grated) nutmeg

10 g ground cloves

10 g ground ginger

5 g ground pepper

5 g ground aniseed

This mix will kep well in an airtight jar. If you want to make this up, you could reduce the amount of  each spice proportionately, or make up the lot, and try it in gingerbread, cakes and other recipes that call for either ground ginger or ground cinnamon to ring the changes.

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Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

Sticky Gingerbread

Old fashioned gingerbread – sticky, not crunchy

On Friday, we had our annual mince pie and mulled wine party. I have been so busy baking for this that I have not had much time to write these recipes up, nor to publish the older posts. I managed to wipe out all of the photos, and have not taken good records, so it is a little time-consuming to go back through all my archives and find the right pictures. I also had an international Christmas dinner for other friends yesterday. I have a lot to write up.   They will all be up soon, I’m  sure!

This year, I decided to try to make some other nibbles from English and Dutch traditions, most of which will appear here in the next few days.

I wanted to make gingerbread, the old-fashioned kind that is dense and soft – not biscuity, like the sort that you make gingerbread men with.

The basic idea is that you make a syrupy sponge, and then let it sit for a couple of days, so that it acquires the dense, sticky texture that I desired.

Of course, you can’t decorate them like you can with gingerbread men, but since this was an adult party, then I don’t suppose any of my guests minded.

I have been making this recipe for years, but there are many very similar ones that I have seen in cook books.

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

Ingredients

280 g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

170 g softened unsalted butter. I use the pat of butter that I keep in a butter dish out of the fridge

90 g lichte basterdsuiker, or soft brown sugar

220 g golden syrup. I get this from home, but if you are in the Netherlands, and cannot get golden syrup, then I am pretty sure the stroop that you can buy to eat with pancakes will be fine instead.

1 egg

200 ml milk

4 balls of preserved stem ginger

2-3 tbsp ginger syrup (from the preserved ginger jar)

Method

Set your oven to 180°C

Mix the dry ingredients together. I don’t often bother to sieve ingredients when baking, although many recipes will call for it. It has never really affected anything that I bake. If you are in the sieving camp, then do so by all means.

In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and the butter together. I used an electric hand whisk, but if you have Popeye arms (or would like them) then a wooden spoon will do just as well. The mixture needs to be fluffy and several shades lighter than when you started.

Beat in the golden syrup, and the ginger syrup until it is thoroughly combined. When trying to get the golden syrup out of the tin, use a hot spoon (just hold it in hot water for a few seconds), if you don’t want to spend way too long waiting as the syrup drips sloooooowly from your spoon to the mixture below. If you are using stroop, then this is a little runnier than golden syrup, and comes in a handy squeezy bottle, so you shouldn’t have this problem.

Add the egg, and a tablespoonful of the flour mix (which should stop the batter from separating) and beat until it is all well combined.

Mix the flour in really well, then beat in the milk. You should get a really thick batter.

Finely chop the ginger, and stir it through the batter.

Pour into a square cake tin, about 20cm across. the bottom must be lined with greaseproof paper, and the sides well buttered (or brushed with oil). If you only have a round one, this is also fine, but I like to serve flat slices, for aesthetic purposes.

Because I hate waste, and don’t have children, I use a spatula to ensure that I get all of the batter into the tin, and scrape the bowl and the remains off the whisk. I did allow myself a tiny bit from the spatula after I had as much in the tin as I could physically get. It was a good job I waited too, the golden syrup makes this batter as moreish as crack.

Bake it in the oven for about 40 mins, or until a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Leave it in the tin until it is cool enough to handle, then put it on a wire cooling rack.

You can eat it like this, when it is spongy and cakey. Better still, wrap it in greasproof paper and store it in an airtight container for 4-5 days, whereupon it will be sticky and dark and lovely. This is really good with a nice, proper cup of tea. People who enjoy Pickwick need not apply!

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Vegan Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

A lot of people (including me before I really thought about it) think that it is difficult to cook for vegans. However, with a little forethought, and some minor adjustments, it isn’t actually that difficult.

If you make it yourself, pastry is one of the easiest recipes to adapt to a vegan diet. When I was younger, and the world hadn’t woken up to the horrors of transfat, my mother used a special kind of margarine that as a solid at room temperature, and as a vivid yellow colour.I have no idea what was in it, and I am probably a bit afraid to find out!  Nowadays you can get a number of olive and vegetable oil-based ones. These are not so yellow either.

The following recipe is enough to give you the base for a large tart, or several smaller ones. I got 24 mince pies using this recipe.

Recipe: Vegan Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

Ingredients

250 g plain flour

125 g block margarine (not the stuff that you spread on your bread – it needs to be more solid)

50 g icing sugar

Zest of a lemon

Method

First, measure the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl, and zest the lemon into a separate container. Take the margarine out of the fridge, and try to work with it as cold as you can. Cut the margarine into cubes and add to the flour. Try to hold as little of it in your hand as possible, to avoid melting.  Rub the flour, sugar and margarine to a fine breadcrumb, by rubbing your hands through the flour and margarine with your thumb over your upturned fingers. When you are done it should look like this:

flour dough as breadcrumbs - before you ad liquid.

The breadcrumb effect

At this point, mix in the lemon zest.

Then get some cold water in a jug – run the tap a little first to make sure that it is as cold as you can. Pour a little at a time into the flour and margarine mix and stir with your hands until it comes together to form a nice dough. At this point cover tightly with either cling film, greaseproof paper or foil. I never use cling film, so I just wrap my dough with whichever of the other two I have to hand. refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow the pastry to relax. If you don’t do this, the pastry will be difficult to work with, and may be too sticky or too short (crumbly).

Roll the pastry out thinly on a well floured surface. To get it even, turn it 90 degrees after each roll, and this should give you an almost circular piece of dough to work with. If you do not need all the dough at once, cut it in half, and put the bit you are not working with back in the fridge,after you have wrapped it up again, until you need it

Use in any recipes that require pastry, but that would be otherwise suitable for vegans. Instead of greasing the tin you are going to bake it in with butter, just use a liberal coating of olive oil.

Wherever you would use an egg/milk wash – i.e. any part of the finished product where the dough will be on display, such as pie crusts; or where you may need to add a liquid filling after a prebake, such as tart bases, then simply brush with water.

The resulting dough is quite short, but a bit denser in texture than all butter dough, and it is paler. My take on it is though, if you have one vegan guest, the other can eat vegetables, whereas your vegan friend cannot eat their food. This dough certainly passes muster for people who are used to eating animal products, so no need to cook special food for one or two.

UPDATE: I have now tested this same pastry with ground almonds, and it makes the pastry richer, and has a lot of flavour. For the amounts given in this recipe, add an additional 75 g ground almonds with the flour, and work with the butter, as above.

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Happy Birthday, Big Guy!

Raspberry and Chocolate Chesecake

Alternative birthday cake

Yesterday was the Big Guy’s birthday. In his native Sweden, it is customary for the rest of the family to get up early, and prepare a pancake cake. Some members of his family also insist on having spaghetti with tomato ketchup for breakfast as well.

Since I am not going to sin against the Flying Spaghetti Monster and neither of us are morning people, these are not a traditions that I intend to uphold. Although you should probably try the pancake cake I linked to on Ted’s blog, they really are very good.

However, he does get to choose whatever he wants for his dinner, and then we usually go for drinks with friends.

This year he asked for a lasagne and a cheesecake.

I am not about to blog a recipe for lasagne. I know from experience that everyone thinks that they make the best one, and this way trouble lies. There are a million different ways to cook it, and most of them were based on lasagnes they had in childhood.

However, the BG did get a baked cheesecake, which is something that I do infrequently, I prefer the ease of the non-baked version, but I have recently stumbled on a formula that seems to work quite well, and is quite easy too.

This version requires little faffing, no fiddly water bath techniques, and looks as though you have gone to a lot of effort.

Recipe: Baked Raspberry and Chocolate Cheesecake

Ingredients

200 g digestive biscuits

80 – 100 g melted butter – I find that the digestives in the Netherlands are a bit more absorbent than the ones in the UK, and so require more butter to glue them together

250 g mascarpone cheese

200 g cream cheese – or make it easy on yourself a tub of each

2 eggs

120 g icing sugar

3 tbsp plain flour

1 tsp vanilla extract – please don’t use vanilla essence, it is horrible

Zest of a lemon (use unwaxed)

200 g raspberries, plus more to decorate

100 g chocolate. I used a really good milk chocolate, because I can’t stand white. You use whichever sort you like.

Method

Firstly, crush up the digestives. This is quickest done in a food processor, but you can also crush them in a bowl with a rolling pin, or wine bottle; or you can stick them in a plastic bag and crush them with the aforementioned wine bottle, or even with your hands. If you choose the latter method, you can do it in front of your favourite soap on the telly. Last Night of the Proms would also be suitable, I guess,  but that is only on once a year.

Once your biscuits are in a fine crumb, then you need to add the melted butter and mix well. The biscuits and butter should form a solid-looking base in the bottom of a spring-form cake tin, when pressed with the back of a spoon. If they don’t then add more butter and mix in again. Keep trying the tin, until you have the desired base. Remember that the butter will harden, so don’t make it rock solid at this stage – the crumbs just need to look as though they are sticking together nicely.

Bung the tin in the freezer to harden off the base while you make the cheesy bit.

In a bowl mix together the cheeses, the sugar and the lemon zest until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and the flour, and mix these in well. The mix should be fairly sloppy at this stage. If it isn’t add an egg yolk.

Gently crush the raspberries with the back of a spoon. The idea is that you want to get fewer large raspberry lumps, but not that you have crushed them so much they become a coulis.

Break up the chocolate into manageable sized lumps. I kept my chunks quite big – maybe half the size of the chunks that the chocolate bar comes divided into, but this will depend on the size of the chunks the manufacturer makes. You don’t want them too small or the chocolate will melt when you bake it. Too big, and you risk people getting stabbed in the roof of the mouth by a too-chunky chocolate corner.

Mix the raspberries and the chocolate into the cheese mixture, then pour the lot onto the biscuit base. Bake it in the oven at 180°C for about 40 minutes. You want the cheesecake to be set, but to have a slight wobble in the centre. Don’t bake too much or it will crack, although this is just an aesthetic consideration, because it will still taste just as good.

Leave it in the tin to cool, then decorate with some more raspberries. Great served with lemon cream. Or just a cup of tea.

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