Quick Sunday Treat: chocolate, banana and caramel tarts

The problem with baking is that it often leads to more baking. Yesterday I blogged about delicious triple nut cupcakes. As a result of these little morsels of loveliness, I ended up with a load of unused chocolate ganache. Not wanting to waste, and not wanting to resort to eating it with a spoon in the middle of the night (experience tells me this could happen), I decided to make some quick little treats that Mr. Bandit and his work colleagues could enjoy to cheer up the inevitability that is Monday.

I didn’t want to do too much work though, so I came up with these little, quick tarts. Who doesn’t like a tart after all?

INGREDIENTS: A quantity of sweet shortcrust pastry, leftover chocolate ganache, a banana, a can/jar of caramel. THAT’S IT!

I would buy sweet shortcrust pastry in the supermarket, rather than bother to make it, because the supermarket ones are really good these days and, frankly, who wants to make pastry on a Sunday? Sadly for me, I couldn’t find any, so was forced to make my own. So if you do want to make it yourself I use the following recipe:

  • Put 100g of cubed butter (straight from the fridge – cold is important!) and 200g of sifted plain flour into a food processor and whizz until you get a breadcrumb consistency. It should only take a second.
  • Whisk an egg, and pour half of it into the food processor and whizz again. This may be enough, but if the pastry doesn’t start to come together, add a bit more. Its not an exact science and depends on your eggs. The mixture will start to come together but will be quite dry.
  • Use your hands to form it into a ball and cover in cling-film. Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Once you’ve got your pastry, and its cold, you need to choose a tart tin. I don’t have proper tart tins, so I used a muffin tin. You want them to be deep enough to keep the filling in, so don’t go for something too shallow. In the end, I went for a muffin tin and an 8cm pastry cutter to make the tart bases.

  • Roll out your pastry as thin as you can without it breaking, and use a pastry cutter to make big enough circles to give at least 1.5cm in height once you pop the pastry into the tin. Fill as many holes in the tin as you need and prick the bases of each tart.
  • Cover each hole in pre-scrunched baking parchment (makes it pliable) and then fill with baking beans or rice.
  • Pop in an oven set to 180c for 15 minutes, then remove the paper/beans and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes. The tart cases should be crisp on the bottom with some colour. (if you wanted to make one big tart, blind bake for at least 20-25 minutes with the beans in before you remove them for 5-10).

Before and After: The empty tart cases should be deep enough so that the filling stays in. You know they are done when the underside is a little brown.

That is the hardest bit!

  • Get a teaspoon full of caramel, and plop it into each tart, spreading it all around the inside. The add a slice or two of banana. If you fancy, add a little more caramel over the bananas, but make sure you leave enough room to cover the lot with chocolate.

The cases on the left are much flatter but the ones on the right turned out much better for this recipe. You want a good ratio of filling to pastry.

  • Then just pour the chocolate mix over the top until the tarts are full! If you had the ganache in the fridge, pop it in the microwave for 50 seconds to melt it down.

The finished product!

Just pop them in the fridge until the tops set. They’ll keep for a few days, but I suggest eating quickly to preserve the crispness of the pastry. Take out the fridge about 20 minutes before eating so they’re not too cold.

If you fancy some variations, maybe use a cherry mixture instead of the banana and caramel (cherries and chocolate mmmmm), or add some sea salt to the caramel and leave out the banana – that is delish!

 

So there you have it, a quick treat to enjoy on a Sunday. Hope everyone had a fabulous weekend.

Happy Baking!

BBx

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Holiday Inspiration: triple nut and chocolate cupcakes

Hello lovely blog readers and welcome back! Well, I should be welcoming myself back really after a little holiday related hiatus. Folowing a couple of crazy weeks of work, Mr Bandit and I spent a fabulous week on holiday in France. There was cheese, wine, sun, swimming and a LOT of eating. You see we went on holiday with my WHOLE family (well, a fair portion of them anyway), and everyone enjoys cooking, but mostly we all enjoy eating :). I wish I’d had the wherewithal to take pictures of the amazing French tarts (only bad innuendo I promise) and the scrumptious al fresco meals we enjoyed together as a family. But I didn’t, because I was too busy stuffing my face! I even found time to bake, although I forgot to take a picture of that too. I made a strawberry cheesecake pie. Perhaps I’ll make it again at some point or just post the recipe, it was a real crowd pleaser.

Anyway, as you’ll have realised by now, I have rather a sweet tooth, as does my mum, and one of our favorite things to eat when in France is sweetened chestnut puree. You can get it in the UK, but the really good stuff comes from France. It was on this holiday that we can across one of the best things ever, the credit for which needs to go to my gran. She found sweet chestnut puree in a TUBE! It was like a drug – a little sugary hit you could squeeze onto the end of your finger whenever you needed a hit. Amazing. Sadly I didn’t spot it anywhere, so had to settle for bringing home a big jar of the stuff (what a shame!).

Marron puree – joy in a jar

So then the big question was, what to do with it? And the answer seemed to be – bake! Now I’d come across a few recipes that use chestnut puree, but none of them sounded quite right, so this was a bit experimental. I’m not normally a huge lover of cupcakes – they have too much icing and tend to be style over substance. However, I decided that as these were rather rich, making them in small portions would be best. I’ve used almonds and walnuts instead of flour, and so the triple nut (quadruple if you count the ‘nut’ in nutella) cupcake was born! In the end, the chestnut puree gives a lovely subtle flavour that could be strengthened by increasing the quantity of puree or adding chopped chestnuts instead of walnuts.

So here’s what to do….

INGREDIENTS! Don’t panic – these cupcakes are supposed to be flourless.

  • Heat the oven to 160 (fan) or 180 (conventional) and line a muffin tin with cases.
  • Crack the six eggs into a mixing bowl and pour in the sugar. Using an electric whisk, beat until fluffy and pale. You want it really beaten – don’t skimp this stage because there are a lot of eggs and they will make the cakes light and lovely.
  • In another bowl, poor out the chestnut puree. I had a runny one, but if its a thicker mix, use a fork to whisk it a bit until its smooth.
  • Add half the egg mixture to the chestnut puree and mix carefully – don’t beat the air out of the eggs. It looks a little grim at this stage but have faith…
  • Add the almonds, walnuts and baking powder to the chestnut mix and combine. Then add the rest of the egg mix and fold in. You’ll be left with a runny mess that looks like this:

It looks sloppy but worry not – it’ll all come good in the end!

  • Use a ladle to fill the cases – its much easier! I found about half a ladle worked, but I guess it depends on the size of your ladle! Fill the cases about 2/3 full. I made 17 cupcakes, which was a bit of a random number.
  • For an extra hit of naughty, I plopped half a teaspoon of nutella into the top of each cupcake. I was hoping it would sink, but it didn’t. If you want the nutella in the middle of the cupcake, I suggest using the spoon to push it down into the mix at this stage. Then you’ll have this:

All ready for the oven!

Just pop them in the oven for 30 minutes and hey presto!

I wish blogging allowed you to transmit smells – these made the house smell wonderful!

 

Last but not least was the icing. I decided that a chocolate buttercream would be too rich/sweet, but it would work fine if that’s your preference. I decided to go for a decadent, dark ganache.

Ganache is even easier than icing – only three ingredients!

  • Put all the ingredients in a pan and let it all melt. Leave it on a low heat until everything is completely melted, but keep stirring or it’ll stick and burn. I decided at the last minute to add 3 tbsp of icing sugar, because I used very dark chocolate, but use a 60% cocoa solid chocolate and you won’t need to – unless you want to of course! Just make sure you sieve the sugar or you’ll get lumpy icing. PLEASE NOTE! This made a very generous amount of icing and I have leftovers in the fridge, so if you only like a thin layer, make half.
  • Once everything is melted, pour it into a bowl and leave it to cool. You can pop it in the fridge for a bit to thicken up, but don’t leave it too long or you won’t be able to get it out the bowl – it’ll set hard!
  • Once the cakes are cool and the icing thickening, spoon onto the cakes. You’ll have something like this:

The finished article!

 

These will need to be kept in the fridge, but take them out about 20 minutes before you want to eat them, because they’re better at room temperature. Any spares will keep in the fridge for a few days – if they last that long!

These were not only delicious, but have helped stem the post holiday blues a little. I suppose they aren’t French in the slightest, but they’re very yummy! Besides, I bet you’re glad I didn’t choose the pate we also brought back with us as my inspirational baking ingredient!

Happy Baking!

BBx

Food for Thought: Making Memories Through Taste

This blog is, on the whole, about charting my successes (and occasional failure) in the world of baking. It’s quite straightforward really. However, the other day I began thinking about why I enjoy baking so much. If it were just about having something sweet to eat, surely I’d just pop to the local cafe or bakery as an easier means of getting my sweet fix!

The truth is the very act of baking is the part of the process that I find most enjoyable. I find it therapeutic and calming. Unlike life, you know that, for the most part, if you follow a set of instructions and processes you’ll get a known outcome. I miss that sort of certainty in the rest of my life at the moment – my PhD feels a bit like one large amorphous being without clear stages and, at times, with no end in sight. I’m not entirely sure where my life will head after I finish either. I know I’ll get married next year, but from then on it’s a bit of a mystery. That’s okay – at 30 I don’t need to chain myself to the spot just yet, but a bit of directionality is always comforting. Those afternoons when I can easily spend a few hours pottering around the kitchen, or just reading recipe books, planning when some new doughy delight will make its mark on my world, make that train of life slow down a bit and give me some real ‘me’ time just to think, enjoy life, and take in what’s around me.

This made me think a bit deeper (I know, dangerous territory) about how so many of life’s important moments are punctuated by memories of food. Now this may just be relevant to me, but I have a feeling there are other people out there who have memories made of taste and smell, as much as sight and sound. I hate to admit it, but my earliest memory is of being in some sort of fast food restaurant (might have started with Mc – you’d have to ask my mother). There were tables shaped like trains, and on that day I was more interested in driving the train than eating the food; a habit that didn’t last but I was only three.

Brought up in a traditional Jewish household, it’s unsurprising that food has plays such an important role in my life. The old saying that Jewish tradition is all about fasting and feasting is no joke, although I’ve never been one for the fasting. Seder nights are one of my favourite times of year. Yes I will always will the service forward at break-neck speed so that we can get to the eating part, but having that evening, when the whole family gets together and we share in the joy of stuffing ourselves silly over a long, drawn out night together can’t be beaten.

I remember my great-grandmother via the smells of roast dinners and the memory of salads with grapes in (terribly exotic when you’re five), my first proper holiday with Mr. Bandit included a beautiful night spent eating barbequed suckling pig and local red wine that our lovely landlady brought us – it literally tasted like holidays.

Food also plays a part in the bigger events life throws at us. When my grandfather passed away a few years ago the day of his funeral was spent mostly helping my mother butter what felt like a million bagels, and through providing all his loved ones with some culinary comfort, yet another person in my life became linked to foodie memories (although he was already famous for his refusal to eat anything that might have been remotely good for him. At 87 my mother way lying to him about what went into his dinner to get him to eat his greens).

This brings me to the food item most wholly associated with marking a life event – the wedding cake. Now a lot of people these days aren’t that bothered with a wedding cake. On the whole they are extortionate if you buy them from a bakery, and most sensible people don’t want to be making one in the days leading up to their wedding. But for me, this is one of the few wedding day traditions that I genuinely love. Cutting a cake, feeding each other’s souls both symbolically and physically and having something big enough that all your loved ones can join in that feast is a special and poignant moment. It’s not about how much icing, what tops the cake, how many tiers or what flavours – it’s about sharing a moment that engages all the senses.

So in a week that has brought life changing news to several of my nearest and dearest, news that will change lives for better and worse, I’ve thought a lot about how I remember the people and moments in my life. Some may read this and think I need to remove my head from my backside, others may identify, but I just wanted to put it out there, and share my thoughts on how something so simple as making a cake, baking a loaf or just sitting down to a meal with the people who mean most to you, can give you a moment to breathe, think and get a little perspective on what’s important.

 

Normal service will resume in the next post. For now, thanks for listening.

BB x

Things Don’t Always Go to Plan…. Chocolate and Raspberry Brownies.

Recipe adapted from the BBC Good Food Magazine.

I discovered this weekend that when it comes to baking, no doesn’t always mean no (although at 2am when I’m trying to sleep and Mr. Bandit comes in reeking of booze and kebabs it certainly does). Having told me not to bake anything for a while because he was enjoying the cake a bit too much, this weekend, in his hour of cakey need, I was told that just because he said don’t make anything doesn’t mean I should have listened. So I sent him off to the shops and moments later was busily making chocolate and raspberry brownies.

I love soft fruits and at this time of year and generally find brownies a bit cloying so a hit of lovely tangy fruit was just what the doctor ordered. Mr. Bandit likes white chocolate with raspberries so I adapted the recipe a bit for him.

Now I was debating whether or not to blog about these brownies, because, frankly, things didn’t go to plan. But baking doesn’t always go to plan and even when things aren’t quite right, they are often salvageable. That’s what happened with these, so here’s what happened….

Whatever the final outcome, there’s still always a fight over who gets to lick the spoon!

  • For the brownies you need 200g dark chocolate, 100g milk or white chocolate, 250g butter, 350g soft light brown sugar, 4 large eggs, 140g plain flour, 50g cocoa powder, 200g raspberries.
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a tin about 20 by 30 cm with baking paper. Or, for ease, use two smaller tins.
  • Put the sugar, dark chocolate, half the white chocolate and butter in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has disolved and everything else melted.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and when its cooled a little, add each of the eggs one by one and whisk them into the mixture. Don’t do this when the mixture is too hot or you’ll get scrambled eggs.
  • Sift in the flour and cocoa and stir with vigour!
  • Stir in half the raspberries and then pour the mix into the tin/s. Scatter the rest of the raspberries over the top and do the same with the remaining white chocolate (but chop it into chunks first!).

Looking delicious even before they’re cooked!

  • Pop in the oven for 40 minutes and then check. There should be a spring in the brownies, you don’t want them too cakey, but they shouldn’t be runny either. If they’re still too runny, put them in for another 10-15 minutes but keep an eye on them.

So here’s what happened to mine. The original recipe said to cook for 30 mins. This was WAY too short a cooking time for the size of the tin. So the middle was still totally raw. However, I wasn’t paying attention, took them out the oven and left to cool, assuming they’d harden as they cooled. It was not to be – when I cut into it an hour later it was still totally runny in the middle. 😦

So, back into the oven it went, and 15 minutes later – because I’d let it cool in between – it still wasn’t completely cooked. However, by this point we’d been smelling the amazing chocolatey goodness for too long and we were too impatient. So out it came and we decided to dig into the hot, squidgy sort of finished brownies for a dessert.

Hot and squidgy – yum!

So, although this didn’t quite work initially as brownies, they made the most amazing dessert. The image doesn’t quite show but the middle of the piece is still a wee bit too gooey. However, the eggs are cooked so its totally ok to eat. This was like a giant chocolate fondant and would make an amazing pud with some ice cream or creme fraiche.

I then put the rest of the brownie tin back into the (now switched off) oven for 20 minutes and then they were cooked perfectly.

Despite not turning out quite right initially, we still managed to eat a good sized chunk!

So, these brownies didn’t quite work initially, but I’m pretty sure that 40 minutes in the oven followed by a check and then possibly another 10-15 minutes would work perfectly, or just 40 minutes if you fancy them as a dessert. Remember that even when cooked, they don’t properly harden until cool. I will have another go at these in the future and will update this post on cooking times once I’m 100% sure what works best. If you placed the mix in two smaller tins, 30-40 mins would be fine. These will keep in the fridge for a few days.

And the most important thing? It worked in the end and I discovered a very nice dessert in the process! And I also learned that in baking, no doesn’t always mean no. Having said that, Mr. Bandit is off to France next weekend, so I might have a weekend off baking then.

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend.

Bake well my friends

BBx

Celebrating life with lemons: iced lemon cake

Afternoon all!

Today I am trying to embrace our great British weather and I’m already on my second set of clothes for the day, having taken the dog out in torrential rain earlier! July? Summer?! I laugh in the face of summer…. To combat that feeling, here’s a little injection of summer in cake form.

Yesterday I had the delight of attending a lovely little celebration for two very special ladies. Donna and Kaz were celebrating 10 years of making beautiful jewellery at their Edinburgh studios and what celebration, I ask you, is complete without a cake?!!? Oh, and maybe some wine…. but they had that bit covered.

So I took a little time out on Friday afternoon to make a lovely layered lemon cake. Now I may have had a slight ulterior motive for making them this cake. As well as celebrating their success, I was keen to try out this recipe as a possibility for a lemon cake for our wedding next year. I am liking the idea more and more of a proper cake table, with a variety of smaller cakes at the wedding, so I thought I’d test this one out on some willing guinea pigs!

This recipe was adapted from the excellent Primrose Hill Bakery’s ‘Cupcake’ book.

Cake ingredients: 225g caster sugar, 225g self raising flour (sifted), 225g butter (room temp), 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, 25g cornflour, 4 large eggs, zest of 2 large lemons and juice of 3 large lemons.

  • Preheat oven to 170 (fan oven) and prepare 2x 20cm round cake tins. I grease and line the sides and base so that the cakes come out with a smooth finish. This is important for presentation because the sides aren’t covered in icing.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy in one bowl, and mix the dry ingredients in another bowl.
  • Add the eggs one at a time to the butter/sugar mix and beat between each addition. Then add the floury mix a bit at a time, mixing after each addition. The mix will seem quite stiff but add the lemon juice and lemon zest and it will be come a bit more runny. Its not a particularly runny cake mix though, so don’t worry.
  • Divide between the two tins and then pop in the oven for 25 minutes. Poke a  cake with a skewer to check they’re done after this time. The cakes will be pale gold but not particularly dark.

Pop the cakes on a rack, still in their tins, for about 10 minutes and then take them out the tins and peel of the paper. You should have two lovely smooth-edged cakes. Now leave them to cool. Don’t be tempted to ice a warm cake – it’ll go horribly wrong!

Icing ingredients: 120g butter (room temp), juice of 1-2 lemons (depends how lemony you like it. About 3 tablespoons works well), the zest of those lemons and 500g sifted icing sugar.

  • When the cakes are cool, place the one you decide to be the base on your serving plate. You can turn the cake over so that you have a flat layer to work on. My cake had risen quite dramatically in the middle, so I cut the top off to make it flatter – it just depends how professional you want it to look.
  • To make the icing, put the butter, lemon juice, zest and half the icing sugar into a bowl and beat. I do this by hand with a spoon to stop the icing sugar flying everywhere, but you can use a mixer or even the food processor. Then slowly add the rest of the icing sugar until its all combined. If you think the mixture still looks a bit stiff add a bit of water or some more lemon juice, but remember you want a thick mix that won’t run.
  • I spread a layer of lemon curd over the first cake, to add another level of lemony-ness and then followed with a layer of icing – about 1/3 to 1/2 of what’s in the bowl.
  • Plop the second cake on top – again you can invert it to get a flat top on your cake, but thats just about preference. Personally, I like the top a little rounded.
  • Spread the rest of the icing over the top of the second cake. Use a palette knife moving in the same direction all the time to create a swirl in the middle of the cake.
  • You can leave it like that, or finish it off with some nice sugared lemon slices.

I forgot to take a photo until I had already put the cake in the box to take with my to the gallery, so this is what it looked like from above:

View from above!

On the night, I didn’t have any (I had eaten the bits I’d had to cut off earlier in the afternoon) but several people at the event commented how nice it was, so hopefully we have a winner! Next time, when I have a little more time to plan, I may make some nice sugared daisies to decorate, just for that real celebration feel.

Have a good weekend everyone – don’t forget your wellies!

BBx

Good things come in small packages…

I hadn’t planned to write any more blog posts this week. After all, there hasn’t been any baking and I haven’t had the opportunity to go mooching in any lovely local cakeries.Then the postman came, and I had to share the joy the came in the mail…..

How cute are these little cake boxes?!

…. Yes people, these little beauties are boxes of cakey goodness. Our lovely friends who got married on Friday sent us each a piece of wedding cake as we were unable to attend their wedding. This is of course quite an old tradition, but not something that I’ve seen done myself. I was really touched – each box has a little message on the reverse – and it was lovely to think that after their wedding, they made the time to sit down and write those messages before they went away. Really I feel we should have sent them cake – after all, it was us who couldn’t attend their wedding!

So what do you think peeps? Is this a tradition that should be revived? I often get asked, jokingly, if I could just send some of my cake half way across the world. Well, clearly its possible! I thought it would be a lovely idea to stash away for our big day. We have a few elderly relatives who we’re pretty sure won’t actually attend, but who would really appreciate this little gesture.

Oh, and in case you were interested, the cake was delicious…..

BBx

A note about my mascot….

Anyone who knows me knows that there are two men in my life, one of whom I will be marrying next year. The other has four legs and a swooshy tail, and he’s called Harry.

Here’s Harry doing what he does best – looking a bit sleepy. I secretly think he’s a cat – no normal dog sleeps this much!

Now Harry is as much a fan of baking as anyone else I know. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Harry’s enthusiasm for food outshines even mine, which is saying something. When I bake, he is my constant companion. Ever optimistic, he waits by the kitchen door hoping that I’ll drop something and he can swoop in and get it. He’s always there, he’s my baking mascot.

Harry can usually be found trying to subvert the ‘no dog in the kitchen’ rule by letting a paw stray over the threshold. He thinks its a silly rule.

Now anyone who has a dog, especially a lab, will know how they luuuuurve to eat. So a while back I started making Harry dog treats. Now don’t get me wrong, he eats dog food normally and I also buy treats from the pet shop – he doesn’t get fed Kobe beef of a silver platter or anything. I make him biscuits because I’m a cheapskate and I can make enough dog biccies to last months for £2.50! That is worth 15 minutes of my time every few months.

So baking is something that can be enjoyed by the whole family – everyone likes to lick the spoon!*

Woofs and Cheers

BB x

* This is Harry’s spatula! All for him so that he gets a chance to lick the spoon when I’ve baked him something.

Lemon Curd Goes with Everything

Well, maybe it doesn’t go with EVERYTHING, but it is immense, and should be eaten as often as possible. Yesterday I posted a recipe for lemon meringue shortbread which used lemon curd and I commented on how I’d made my own. Now there’s a lot of good lemon curd available in the shops, but its so easy to make, and tastes way better homemade, so I thought I’d share this recipe. Now I realise its not strictly baking, but it can be used in so many recipes, including baking, that I thought it earned a spot on the blog.

Lemon Curd: 2 level tablespoons of cornflour, 100g golden caster sugar (you can use the refined white stuff if you like – that will give it a yellower colour), finely grated zest of 2 lemons, juice of three lemons (or two if you prefer it sweeter and less lemony), juice from a small orange, 85g of butter, 3 egg yolks and one whole egg.

  • Put the cornflour, caster sugar and zest into a saucepan with the lemon juice and heat gently. Add water to the orange juice to make it up to 200ml and then pour that in as well. Top Tip: pour the orange and lemon juice through a strainer to catch any bits or pips – you don’t want them messing with your lovely smooth lemon curd!
  • Cook and stir over a medium heat until the mixture smooths and thickens.
  • Take off the heat and beat in the butter, which you’ll need to cut into cubes.
  • When cooled a little add the eggs and beat that in too. It will still be hot, but too hot and the eggs will scramble, which you really don’t want.
  • Return the mixture to the heat and keep stirring. It’ll thicken up. Keep going until the mixture ‘dollops’ off the spoon. Then take off the heat and set aside to cool.

You could use the mixture now as a filling for a lemon tart of meringue pie, or you can store it for later. If you want to store it, it’ll need to go in the fridge. Sterilise some jars (it filled two small ones) and pop it in. When the jars are completely cool pop them in the fridge. Because of the fresh ingredients, the curd will only keep for about 1-2 weeks. Frankly, that’s long enough for it all to go in our house!

Homemade lemon curd isn’t as yellow as the stuff from the shops. But its super scrummy!

Here are some ideas of things to do with the lush new addition to your fridge:

  • Have it for breakfast! It goes on toast or crumpets, but also lovely swirled into yoghurt with some fruit
  • Put it in a cake! Makes a change from a strawberry jam Victoria sandwich, just spread in the middle of a sponge layer cake and then cover the cake with lemon butter icing.
  • Have it with ice-cream! Made a great sauce.
  • Give it away! Wrap a circle of brown paper around the lid and tie with a ribbon. Hand it to someone else who loves lemon curd.
  • Stick a spoon in the jar when no one is looking! Ssssshhhhhh. I won’t tell if you don’t.

Love and Lemons,

BBx

Sweets for Your Sweets: Lemon Meringue shortbread

Today I had the pleasure of visiting my lovely friend and her extra scrummy new baby girl. I wanted to take a present that was as sweet as her sweet baby, so yesterday I had a lovely afternoon concocting in the kitchen. I turned up the radio and made a LOT of mess.

These little treats are based on Mr. Bandit’s love of lemon meringue pie. I wanted to find a small and pretty way of getting that taste without having to make a full-blown dessert. Whilst I’m a fan of the biscuit base for the pie version, these little mouthfuls needed something less crumbly, so I’ve gone for a shortbread base. Here’s what I did….

Shortbread base: 75g butter, 125g plain flour, 25g ground almonds, 25g icing sugar, one egg yolk (hang on to the white!)

  • Sift the flour, almonds and icing sugar into a big bowl – big enough to get your hands into!
  • Cut the butter into small cubes – it should be straight out the fridge and cold. Plop the cubed butter into the bowl and using your fingers start squidging the butter into the flour until you get a mixture like breadcrumbs. I find that rubbing the mix between my hands is very effective. Just make sure you’ve got really clean hands!
  • Break up the egg yolk and then plop that into the bowl too. Use your hands to work the egg into the mix. It’ll form a dough quite quickly. Keep going until its smooth and forms a nice ball.
  • Flatten the ball of dough a bit and wrap it in clingfilm. Pop it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Get the oven ready by heating it to 150 (for a fan oven, maybe a tad higher if you don’t have a fan oven). Once you have your shortbread chilled, you need to work quickly. As soon as it warms up it gets much harder to work with. Roll it out to about 1/3 to 1/2 a centimetre (not too thin or you won’t be able to get them onto the backing tray), and then use your cutter of choosing to cut them out. I used a fluted round 4cm cutter, but anything that will produce a similar size will work. You could even cut the dough into strips rather than circles. Place all your cut out pieces on a baking tray, on baking parchment, and then stab them all over with a fork (not too violently!).

When you have all your cut out shortbread, get dolloping with the lemon curd. I made my own lemon curd (I’ll post the recipe for that too) but you can use a good quality bought one if you don’t fancy making it. The cheap stuff out of the squeezy bottles is no good because it runs, rather than sets, in the oven. You should have something like this….

Spread the lemon curd over the shortbread. This is what makes the meringue stick, so if you just leave it dolloped in the middle, the meringue ‘hats’ will come off. Be as generous as you like. I think I was a little mean with this batch – I’d up the lemon curd content next time.

Meringue hats: whites from two eggs and 100g of caster sugar.

  • Put the egg whites in a clean bowl that’s big enough to get a hand mixer or a whisk into. Whisk them until they form stiff peaks.
  • Now SLOWLY add the sugar as you continue whisking, and keep going until the mixture goes all glossy and the peaks stiffen again (oo-er).
  • Top Tip: don’t try and add the sugar before you’ve got the egg whites to stiff peak stage and don’t try and add the sugar all at once. Both of these things will leave you with a gooey mess that won’t stand up.

What you do next all depends on how much of a faff you can be bothered with. I put the mixture into a piping bag with a large star-shaped nozzle and swirled the meringue onto the top of the shortbread. You could just snip the corner off a freezer bag and use that as a home-made piping bag (I’ve done it many times, its very effective) or you can use two teaspoons and put a blob of mixture on each shortbread.

Put your little treats in the oven and leave to bake into wonderful goodness for 30 minutes. You should be left with something that looks a bit like this….

These would make a wonderful gift at any time of year, although they are particularly summery. The lemon could be swapped for all sorts of things, and if you have a favourite shortbread recipe, just use that instead. This recipe makes about 25 of these little beauties. They are quite delicate, so if you’re giving them away maybe put them in a small bowl and then wrap that in brown paper – looks lovely! I love these so much, I’m thinking about using them at the wedding….

Bake well my friends

BB x

Something for all the senses: ginger cake with fudge icing

The proof of the pudding (or cake) is in the eating. That said, sometimes its good to get the other senses involved. Its been a right old miserable weekend and when its wet and cold, its nice to fill the house with the nice warming smell of baking, followed by the all important eating!

So today I made a ginger cake. I’ve made it before, its an excellent cake, which I previously made without icing. But I also have a recipe for ginger cupcakes with fudge icing so I thought I’d try a bit of a recipe combo and see what happened. The verdict? Well, according to my chief taster (Mr. Bandit) it was ‘mmmmmmmm nomnomnommmmm’. I think that’s a thumbs up. Personally, I think its rather nice without any icing too, and its so moist and sticky that it doesn’t need any icing. But then again, when is icing really a necessity? Either way its very yummy!

The best thing about this cake (other than the taste) is the amazing smell as its cooking; a heady mix of ginger, golden syrup and cinnamon. Eat it still warm and a little squidgy and it’s a delight for the fingers and the taste buds. And before I get all Nigella on you, I’ll pass on the recipe…..

The most critical part of this cake is the tin preparation. The cake is sticky and fragile, so make sure you grease and line the tin (base and sides). I ran out of baking paper and only lined the base so my cake sides didn’t come out as smooth as I would have liked. If you’re icing it, its not such a big deal but if you want to serve it plain, its worth making the effort to keep it looking nice.

  • heat the oven to 150c (fan oven). Grease and line your tin/s – I make two 20cm cakes and freeze one but you can make one bigger cake (26cm) and just adjust the cooking time.
  • Then melt a 250g block of margarine, 50g of butter and 400g of golden syrup in a pan on a low heat. You don’t want it to cook, just melt all together. TOP TIP: Brush some oil round the bowl and spoon you use for measuring the golden syrup. The syrup will then run off the spoon/out the bowl easily without the mad sticky mess that usually comes with golden syrup. Also, you can make this entirely with margarine, in fact the original recipe I used didn’t include any butter, but I like it. Don’t try and use all butter though, it’ll be far too rich. Don’t worry, the cake doesn’t come out tasting margarine-y.
  • Use a food mixer and throw into it/a bowl 130g plain flour, 225g self raising flour, 110g of light brown sugar (caster sugar would work fine and dark muscavado sugar would make it a darker and richer cake) a pinch of salt and a big teaspoon each of cinnamon and ginger. Give it all a mix!
  • Beat an egg and then throw that into the mix and give it another whizz round in the mixer.
  • With the mixer running, poor in the melted marg/butter/syrup mixture and keep whizzing!
  • Poor 175ml of warm water over 1 and a half teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda and then poor that into the mixer as well.
  • When everything is thoroughly mixed poor it into the tin/tins. Don’t worry about the consistency – its a very runny mix!

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While its cooking it looks a bit like an aero as the light mixture cooks in all those lovely air bubbles. This is after about 20 minutes. The smell is amazing.

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  • If you’re cooking two 20cm cakes cook them at 150c for 50 minutes and then poke them with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean, they’re done! Otherwise give it another 5-10 minutes and then check again. The very centre of the cake will still look a bit undercooked and will be very springy, but it hardens as it cools. If you’re cooking one big cake, give it an hour and then check. The cake goes a very dark brown and the top will be very sticky.
  • When they’re done, leave in the tin/s on a rack for 10 mins. I would suggest that, unless you’re going to freeze the cake, keep it/them on the base of the tin. Its a fragile cake and getting it off the base is tricky. I suggest getting a small upturned bowl on the worktop, place the cake tin on top and then push the sides of the tin down, rather than trying to push the cake up. If you don’t fancy icing the cake, its rather nice still a bit warm, maybe with some ice-cream. Otherwise, leave it to cool ready for icing.

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  • If you are very greedy (and I am very greedy so I can attest to the fact that there is nothing wrong with that!) then here’s a recipe for a fudge icing. This is very sweet, so I haven’t made too much. The following ingredients are for icing one 20cm cake. Just double it for a bigger cake.
  • Melt 25g butter and 50g light brown sugar in a pan. Unlike with the cake, you do want this to boil. When its boiling add 2 generous tablespoons of single cream and turn it down to a simmer. Give it the occasional stir but let it simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and beat in 100g of sifted icing sugar until smooth.
  • Now, the important thing about this icing is speed. As soon as its make you need to get it on the cake. It starts setting the minute it leaves the warm pan. I suggest taking a big spoon and spreading it a dollop at a time round the cake, rather than pouring it all on the cake at once, because you’ll just get an icing mountain in the middle of the cake.
  • Before it goes completely hard you can sprinkle on some chopped nuts (I used walnuts – I’m still trying to get shot of my passover stash of nuts) or chopped up stem ginger to cut the sweetness of the icing and add another gingery hit.

This recipe is based on one I found in Good Food magazine, which apparently is a wartime cake – hence the use of margarine rather than butter.

Finally, eat, smell, enjoy.

Happy sunday baking one and all.

BB x