Sunday, 17 August 2014

Anzac biscuits

This is a recipe that has been on my ‘to bake’ list for far too long.  Before baking them I had never eaten an Anzac biscuit but I knew I would love them as they contain three of my all-time favourite ingredients: oats, coconut and golden syrup.

Anzac biscuits originated in war-time and were, so the story goes, a popular biscuit sent by Australian and New Zealander wives to their soldier husbands serving overseas.  The biscuits are egg-free (like so many war-time recipes), keep well and are robust enough to withstand transportation.  There are stories on-line that the military-issued Anzac biscuits were quite different to these lovely home-baked treats; made from hard tack – a long life bread substitute made from flour, water and salt – the soldiers referred to them as ‘dog biscuits’, ‘tooth dullers’, ‘sheet iron’, ‘molar breakers’ and I suspect several other names that I wouldn’t be able to include on my nice, family friendly blog!

I made two batches of biscuits; the classic version and a chocolate chip version.  The latter is identical to the former but for the addition of some chocolate chips, which melted due to the hot butter.  Both were lovely!  The biscuits were crisp and chewy with a lovely buttery taste.  These aren’t tiny, thin little biscuits that you eat without knowing; these are substantial hearty biscuits – perfect with a big mug of tea.

This recipe came from the BBC Good Food site (I love that site!); some of the commenters said the mix was too dry and they had to add milk.  To combat this, in my chocolate batch, I added 2 tablespoons of golden syrup which is why they spread much more than my plain batch (which used 1 tablespoon).  You don’t need any extra liquid and I think I twigged why people may have had a problem.  The key to shaping these biscuits is to do it while the butter is still warm; as soon as it starts to cool the mix becomes crumbly.  Work quickly and it’s fine.


100g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons boiling water
85g porridge oats
85g desiccated coconut
100g plain flour
100g caster sugar

Optional: 100g milk chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper or non-stick foil.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan making sure it doesn’t burn.

Remove from the heat and mix in the golden syrup.

In a bowl (use a larger size than you’d think based on the quantities as it will froth up!) mix together the bicarbonate of soda and boiling water.

Add the bicarb liquid into the butter syrup mix and stir together.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, flour and sugar.

Make a well in the centre and pour in the butter mixture.

Stir to incorporate all the ingredients.

If using, stir in the chocolate chips.

If the mixture is very dry and won’t hold together when you squeeze it, add the milk – only use if necessary.

Take scant tablespoons of the mixture, roll into balls, flatten and place onto the baking sheet – leave them 3-4cm room to expand on baking.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden.  I like to rotate the baking sheets halfway through cooking time to ensure a nice even bake.

When I checked on them after 8 minutes they had puffed up a bit so I poked them to let the air out.  Brutal, but it works!

They will be soft straight from the oven so leave them for 10 minutes to firm up before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

The biscuits will store in an airtight tin for several days…given the chance!

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Pine nut and honey tart

A lot of my baking recently has been selected based on the limited time I had available and how low faff the recipe was.  Rather gloriously, this weekend I was able to accommodate a bit of faff, which was fortuitous as I had a hankering for pastry.  I’ve adapted this recipe from the BBC Good Foodwebsite and used dates and sultanas instead of glace fruit.  I still find glace fruit hard to love and had a box of dates a friend had bought me back from Oman (thanks, Jasmin!) so the stars seemed in alignment to make this happy substitution.

Normally, when a recipe gives the option of soaking fruit in either rum or orange juice I will ALWAYS pick rum.  But I fancied a change this time so surprised myself by opting for orange juice.  It did a nice job of plumping up the fruit and added a fruitiness to proceedings.

The filling is reasonably runny pre-baking so, although you mix the fruit into it do not be disheartened when you cut into the tart and see the fruit has settled at the bottom.  This is what’s meant to happen.

Fruit aside, the tart filling is virtually identical to a bakewell tart.  If you’re fed up with jam or berries in your bakewell this recipe provides a nice variation.  The pine nut and honey topping also makes a tasty change.  I don’t use pine nuts very often in my baking but they work very well and take on a lovely toasted flavour.

The flavours in this tart are gentle and harmonious.  There are many different influences in this recipe and I struggled to think how to describe it.  If you like bakewell tarts, baklava, Eccles cakes, marzipan and sticky toffee pudding you will love it!


For the pastry:
175g plain flour
85g unsalted butter – cold
30g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

For the filling:
100g raisins
40g sultanas
100g dates – chopped so they are a similar size to the raisins and sultanas
3 tablespoons or either rum or orange juice
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
50g plain flour
175g ground almonds
5 eggs
85g pine nuts
2 tablespoons clear honey
 To serve: thick cream


Start by making the pastry: place the flour and butter in the food processor and blitz until you have fine crumbs. 

Add the sugar and blitz briefly.

While the machine is still running tip in the egg yolk and the water.

Stop the processor when clumps are starting to form.

Tip the clumps out onto a sheet of clingfilm and, using your hands, bring them together to form a ball of pastry.  Handle only enough to achieve this – you don’t want to overhandle the pastry and make it tough.

If you wish to make the pastry by hand rub the butter into the flour until you have breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar, egg and water and, using your hands, bring together to a ball of dough.

Roll the pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm so it is large enough to line a 23cm round loose bottomed tart tin.  Don’t expect lots of spare pastry overhanging the tin – this recipe makes just enough!

Prick the base of the pastry with a fork.

Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for 1 hour.

While the pastry is chilling, start the filling: place the raisins, sultanas and dates in a bowl and add the orange juice or rum. 

Stir so all the fruit is covered with liquid and leave to soak, stirring occasionally if you happen to pass by.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/gas mark 6.

Cover the chilled pastry with baking paper or non-stick foil and weigh down with baking beans.

Bake for 10 minutes, before removing the paper and beans and baking for a further 5 minutes or until the pastry is just starting to turn golden.

Remove from the oven and put to one side while you make the filling.

Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Now make the tart filling: beat together the butter, sugar, flour, almonds and eggs.

Stir in the soaked fruit, including any liquid left in the bowl.

Spoon into the pastry case and level the surface.  It will look full but don't worry - it doesn't rise much on baking.

Scatter the pine nuts over the top.

Drizzle over the honey.

Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the filling comes out clean.

If your tart browns too quickly (I’d check after 40 minutes) cover it loosely with foil and continue baking.

Leave to cool, in the tin, on a wire rack and de-tin for serving.

Serve at room temperature with thick cream.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Chocolate ricotta cake

I’ve been baking a lot with fruit and ‘lighter’ summer flavours of late.  This week I just wanted something sinfully chocolatey with that lovely rich ‘stick to the ribs’ quality.  Chocolate, ricotta and almonds – perfect!

This is almost gluten free…I know that’s not very helpful and also not possible: something is either gluten free or it isn’t.  I point this out simply because, if you needed it to be gluten free, I wonder whether you could substitute more ground almonds for the flour; it’s only two tablespoons after all?  If any gluten free bakers know whether this would work please let me know via your comments. 

Realising I knew very little about ricotta I did some research.  The first thing I learned was that ‘ricotta’ literally means re-cooked.  I think this is because of the second fact that I learned: ricotta is produced from the by-product from the production of other cheeses such as mozzarella.  It’s made from the whey that’s left behind when the curds are strained – a bonus cheese no less!

The cake is meant to be served warm; I liked it at room temperature too but the texture becomes a little heavier.  This isn’t a bad thing as, like all (almost) flourless cakes the sticky, squidgy texture is a joy.  Serving it with cream was probably an unnecessary indulgence but… I apologise for nothing! (smugly award yourself bonus marks if you know which – admittedly obscure – cartoon character I’m quoting!)


150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
150g chocolate, melted and left to cool – I used half dark, half milk
3 eggs, separated
250g ricotta cheese
100g ground almonds
2 tablespoon plain flour

To serve: thick cream


Preheat the oven to 170°C/ fan oven 150°C/325°F/gas mark 4.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – do not skimp on this stage as this is your chance to get lots of air into the mix.

Add the chocolate, egg yolks and ricotta and stir until just combined.

Stir in the ground almonds and flour.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they reach soft peaks.

Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  This is best achieved by stirring a spoonful of whites into the chocolate to slacken the mix, which will make the rest of the egg whites easier to fold in.

Pour into the prepared tin – it will be quite runny.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the cake is set around the edges but retains some wobble in the centre.  A skewer will not help you here!

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before attempting to de-tin.  It will settle a little as it cools so don’t panic!

Serve the cake warm (although I liked it just as much at room temperature!) with thick cream.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Light ginger fruit cake

If you find traditional celebration fruit cakes too rich and heavy this may well be the cake for you.  Once baked it will store just like its heavier counterparts, and can also be decorated.

There are two options with this recipe – you can soak the fruit in 200ml of ginger wine and bake a spongy, light fruit cake; or you can take the route I did and use 400ml of ginger wine resulting in a cross between a fruit cake and bread pudding.  My cake came out dark and squidgy but was still light.

On my travels I came across Gran Stead’s ginger wine
.  I’m glad I went for the “dark and mellow” rather than the fiery one as it still had some sting to it!  It’s also non-alcoholic so the finished cake doesn’t have that burn of booze that some cakes have.

This cake keeps for ages –just like its more traditional cousins...but, you might also want to bear in mind how awesome it is warmed up and served with custard or ice cream (my nod to summer!) as a dessert.


350g raisins
125g sultanas
125g currants
200ml or 400ml ginger wine – depending on whether you want a spongy or a pudding-y cake, plus 4 tablespoons extra
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g dark muscovado sugar
4 eggs
200g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2-3 teaspoons ground ginger, depending how hot you want it!
1 tablespoon black treacle


The night before you make the cake place the dried fruits and ginger wine in a bowl to soak.  Stir occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan oven 140°C/320°F/gas mark 3.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper ensuring that the paper comes up about 2cm above the height of the tin.

Beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and well combined.  The mixture will lighten a bit in colour.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding some of the flour if it looks like it might curdle.
Mix in the flour, almonds, spices and treacle.

Stir in the soaked fruits along with any liquid left in the bowl.

Spoon into the tin (it will come up almost to the top) and level the surface.

Bake for 30 minutes then lower the temperature to 150°/fan oven 130°C/300°F/gas mark 2 and bake for a further 1 ½ - 2 hours, but definitely check after 1 ½ hours as mine was almost done.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, pierce all over with a skewer and brush on the 4 tablespoons ginger wine.

Leave the cake to cool completely in its tin before removing and wrapping in baking paper and foil.  Once wrapped the cake will keep for up to 3 months.  If however, like me, you wish to eat the cake straight away, simply de-tin it and put it on a serving plate!

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.