I’ve just had a week away by the seaside with my family in Cornwall, and I have to say it is just what the doctor ordered. Nothing beats some quality family time. The best bit for me was our visits to the beach. Watching my children happily run around for hours building sand castles and paddling in the sea, whilst enjoying a little bit of sun on my face made me a very happy lady.
I loved being cooked for each night, but I did miss not being able to bake for a week, even though I suspect that it was probably good for me! So as soon as I had unpacked I got the ingredients out and started baking for this blog post. I was up for a bit of experimenting and here is the result.
I think the best way to describe these chocolate olive oil cupcakes with a goats cheese frosting is ‘bittersweet’, but in the best possible way. This applies to both the recipe and the final taste.
A contradiction in a cupcake? Not sure? Well let me reassure you. Remember that Paula Abdul song Opposites Attract? Here’s a verse to jog your memory…
“She makes the bed, and he steals the covers. She likes it neat, and he makes a mess. I take it easy, baby I get obsessed. She’s got the money, and he’s always broke I don’t like cigarettes, and I like to smoke. Things in common? Just ain’t one. But when we get together, we have nothin’ but fun.”
And here’s the video if you fancy a trip down memory lane. It’s worth a look if only for the cool little rap in the middle and Paula’s choice of fashion and break dancing attempts. I am a little bit embarrassed to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and caught myself at one point ‘bopping’ in my chair!
Ah, I loved that song! But the reason I’m talking about it is because the underlying message applies to my cupcakes. You may think that they won’t work because the ingredients are not ones that you might put together ordinarily, but these are quite possibly the best cupcakes I have ever made…and that is saying something.
The cupcake sponge is dark and moist (due to the olive oil) and has just enough sugar added to balance the dark chocolate, cocoa powder and coffee which are three of the main ingredients. These are not in any way bitter, I did not mean that literally, just far less sweet than your average sugar and butter laden cupcake. The word sophisticated comes to mind.
The goats cheese frosting is the sweet part. Both in taste and surprise. The goats cheese works well sweetened and actually makes a mighty fine frosting. Yes you do have to like the taste of goats cheese to start with, but I was genuinely impressed. It’s different, and that is partly why I like it so much.
The inspiration for these cupcakes is two fold. The first is this month’s ‘We Should Cocoa‘ blog challenge hosted by Chocolette, who shares it with Chele from Chocolate Teapot blog. Always trying to keep us on our toes, the challenge was to blog a recipe which had chocolate and cheese in it. In all honesty I did panic a bit when I read this. But in actual fact it’s not so bad, and I doubt I would have made these special little cupcakes if it had not been for the WSC challenge.
The second inspiration was from an American blog that I found whilst looking for chocolate and cheese recipes. It’s called the Vanilla Bean Blog and it is a lovely blog to visit if you have a spare 5 mins. The only problem is that all the recipes are in American cup measurements. Having converted this one I now realise what a nightmare it is. Converting cups to grams depends on what is in the cup, so it all got a bit complicated especially as I was halving the recipe too. Anyway, with a few educated guesses and an new IPad app to help me convert I was more than a little relieved to pull a beautiful set of dark moist cupcakes from my oven.
These are most certainly worth a go!
Chocolate olive oil cupcakes with a goats cheese frosting
What you will need:
- 50g dark chocolate cut into small pieces
- 175ml hot coffee (I used decaffeinated filter coffee)
- 85g cocoa powder
- 250g caster sugar
- 2 regular eggs
- 315g plain flour
- 80ml olive oil
- 180ml buttermilk
- 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt
- 1 tsp bicarb of soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used my homemade one for the first time)
- 20 cupcake cases (I use the foil ones as they are sturdier and old their shape better)
Makes approx 20 cupcakes
Goats cheese frosting
- 30g soft unsalted butter
- 50g cream cheese
- 50g soft goats cheese (one without the rind which looks a bit like cream cheese)
- 1 tsp vanilla paste (not extract as too much liquid for the frosting then)
- 250g icing sugar (I used natural golden icing sugar which gave the frosting its caramel colour, but it would be fine to use normal icing sugar too)
- 50g chopped walnuts for decoration
How to Make:
- Preheat oven to 190c/375f/gas 5
- Put the chocolate, cocoa powder and hot coffee in a bowl together, stir and leave to melt
- In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, bicarb of soda, baking powder and salt. In a second bowl whisk up the eggs in an electric mixer for about 3-4 mins until light and fluffy
- Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla and melted chocolate mixture to the eggs mixing until well combined
- Then add the remainder of the dry ingredients to the mix half at a time and mix with the beater until just combined
- Fill your cupcake cases until 2/3 full. I over filled one and it took another few minutes to cook so it is worth taking your time to get this bit right
- Bake in the oven for 14-15 mins. Test with a knife which should come out clean. If not put back in the oven for another couple of minutes
- Once baked, leave in tin for 10 mins then transfer to a cooling wrack
- To make the frosting beat the butter until softened then add the cheeses and vanilla paste. Mix for about 3 mins until smooth
- Then add the icing sugar bit by bit and beat for about 8-10 mins as this will result in a super smooth frosting. This frosting is not as stiff as butter cream so can’t be piped onto the cupcakes
- Using a palette knife smooth over the frosting onto each of the cupcakes and sprinkle with chopped walnuts
My blog is 6 months old on the 10th April! It only seems like yesterday that I was sitting on this very same chair at my computer wondering if I should take the plunge and start my own blog. I was scared. Mostly of opening up a window into my life for others to see. What would people think of me? What if nobody read my blog? Why would anyone want to read about me? But deep down I had a bubble of excitement. I could imagine how wonderful it would feel to inspire others to bake and maybe people would like what I write and enjoy reading it! So I went for it and it’s safe to say I have not looked back.
In the 6 months of writing my blog, I feel like I have come so far. I had no idea how much fun it would be or how I would feel writing about something I love in my own way without any rules. I have had unwavering encouragement from my family and friends and I have made so many new friends both online and face to face. There is a fantastic blogging community out there which is incredibly supportive, and I have loved becoming part of this. Planning my posts, baking, photographing what I have made and writing about it is now a very important part of my week. People often ask me where I want to go with this blog, and although I can’t give a precise answer, I do know that it is a fabulous adventure which keeps getting better and I am thoroughly enjoying the ride.
One thing I have learnt in the last 6 months, is that the blogging world is full of awards. Which is a great because whilst writing a blog is a fantastic thing to do, it is also a lot of hard work behind the scenes. I have had many late nights baking, writing, formatting and organising blog posts to ensure that my blog is the best I can make it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist!
Many of these awards are based on votes from readers, and I kind of wish they weren’t as I’m just not used to canvasing for votes. However, last week I found out that I have been shortlisted out of 12,000 nominations for the ‘Tasty’ category in the Britmum’s Brilliance in Blogging awards which I am so chuffed about, I just could not keep it quiet.
So firstly I need to say a big thank you to everyone who nominated me in the first instance. It feels amazing to have made the shortlist it really does. I am 1 of 20 shortlisted blogs in this category. The next stage is to become 1 of 8 finalists which would mean an invitation to an awards ceremony in London, (and therefore a new dress) where a panel of high profile judges pick the final winner. Being a finalist would be incredible. Just having that recognition for my blog would be such an achievement and would mean lots of new and exciting exposure for my blog.
But I’m not just going to ask you to vote for me, I’m going to give you good reason to take the time and vote for me. In celebration of my blog being 6 months old and for making the Brilliance in Blogging shortlist I have created the most scrumptious celebration cake you ever did see (and taste). Inspired by my favorite summer flower, my love of pink champagne and a my very dear friend Anna (because its pink and has champers in it) I have come up with a cake that will make any celebration one to remember. I made it mini sized because that was perfect for me, and it is my celebration cake after all. But also I think there is something special and understated about making an individual sized cake for someone. It’s not over the top, yet all the effort and sentiment is still there in extremely cute proportions.
How to vote:
So here is how to vote if you would like to. Click on the BIB logo below and you will be taken to a survey monkey form. Scroll down to the ‘Tasty’ shortlist (it’s not that far down, category number 2) and click next to Homemade By Fleur. Scroll to the bottom and click submit and that’s it. A big thank you to anyone in advance who votes xxx I’ll let you know how I get on.
Recipe: Mini Pistachio and Rose Celebration Cake with Pink Champagne Buttercream
What you will need:
- 2tsp rose syrup (I used Star Kay white rose water)
- 120 ml whole milk
- 120g plain flour
- 100g sugar
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 40g unsalted butter
- 30g pistachio nuts (25g for cake, 5g for decoration on top) finely chopped. I put mine in the food processor for 1-2 mins
- 2 x 11cm sandwich cake tins greased and lined
- large metal spoon
Pink Champagne Buttercream
I prefer not to have too much buttercream on my cake, but if you like lashings of it, you might want to double these quantities.
- 40g unsalted butter
- 165g icing sugar
- 25ml pink champagne (there should be plenty left in the bottle to pour yourself a glass once you have finished the cake :-))
- Pink food colouring (optional)
- Palette knife
- 150g royal icing sugar
- 1-2 tsp water
- Pink and green food colouring (most supermarkets sell natural colours although I did not use them on this occasion)
- Small rose and leaf icing tips
- Icing bags
How to make:
- Preheat your oven to 170c/325f/gas 3
- Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and butter in an electric mixer and combine with a paddle attachment until thoroughly mixed in and has a sand like consistency
- Slowly add the milk, then the rose water, then the eggs
- When you have a smooth batter, fold in the chopped pistachio with a large metal spoon ( remember to save a bit for the decoration)
- Divide the batter between the two cake tins, gently smooth over and put in the oven for 25-30 mins. To check that they are done stick a knife in both cakes and it will come out clean if baked. If not, pop back in for another 5 mins
- Let the cakes cool in the tins for 5 mins, then turn out onto a cooling rack
- Whilst cooling you can make the buttercream. For this just add the icing sugar and soft butter to a bowl and start to mix with an electric mixer. Then add the champagne slowly. Once all the champagne has been added, add a few drops of pink food colouring. I just did one drop at a time as I knew I wanted a light pink. Once you are happy with the colour, continue to mix the buttercream for another 5 mins or so. This step is quite important as it stops your buttercream from being grainy and gives it a light fluffy texture
- Once your cakes are cool slice off any bumps that have risen up on the top of each sponge. Then slice each sponge in half lengthways. Then fill each layer with butter cream and build up your 4 layer cake.
- Then use a small palette knife to cover the outside of the cake with the remainder of the buttercream. I used upwards motions in the side of the cake
- Sprinkle your remaining chopped pistachio around the top of the cake, then make your royal icing by mixing the royal icing sugar and water together until it forms soft peaks. It is probably best to add the water slowly and watching the icing come together. You may need a little less or more water than I have suggested
- Divide your royal icing into two and colour one dark pink and the other one green. To make a rose I watched a couple of You Tube videos, this video is a good one. Essentially you start with the fat part of the icing tip at the bottom and pipe a small closed circle. In some videos they used a flower pin to do this, I just had my cake on a turntable and moved it round as I went. You then start to add on the petals piping 3 around on the first layer and then 4/5 on the second layer. I does not look like a rose to start with but quickly becomes recognisable. I needed a few practice goes first and I piped mine straight onto the cake when I was ready.
- To create leafs, just point the leaf tip close the rose, flat side down and pipe out some icing pulling away as you do and stop piping when it is big enough pulling high to break the icing off
- Give to someone very special and make their day x
If you are inspired by this cake you must also check out fellow blogger Cakeboule’s Tiffiany inspired champagne layer cake. It’s stunning.
I’m also going to send this over to Kate from What Kate Baked to enter the Easter themed Tea Time Treats. This challenge is shared with Karen from Lavender and Lovage. As Easter is a celebration and a time for getting together with the family I think this little cake would make a lovely addition to any table of treats over the Easter weekend.
Today the weather was pretty grim. It basically rained all day long. It was not much fun doing the school run and I almost made the decision to skip after school ballet as I just wanted to stay dry. But I managed to sum up the motivation and you’ll be glad to hear that we did all make it to ballet in the end. Some days, (like today) I actually lose count of the amount of times I lift my youngest in and out of the car. Luckily, he seems to enjoy tagging along with his big sisters and is pretty laid back. No doubt this is probably a result if being a third child and having to fit into the daily circus that is life in our household. My Giddy Aunt (she’s not really giddy, that’s just what we used to call her as kids) came to visit last week. It was lovely to see her, but I do hope she will visit again. I fear that we may have scared her off!! It must have been very loud and hectic here in comparison to normal life at home for her in the picturesque village of Melmerby in Cumbria.
I do get my evenings though and they are my sanctuary. Peace and quiet with no one demanding my attention is bliss. I normally have lots of accumulated jobs to do but I will make sure there is also time for a few guilty pleasures. Maybe a hot bath with lots of bubbles, (door locked obviously in case anyone is not quite asleep), a glass of red with crackers and Roquefort, baking and then eating said baking, catching up on sky+ (tv is so rare for me these days) and reading blogs, baking magazines and cookbooks in bed! So rock and roll I know, but that is what I love.
Talking of cookbooks, the new random recipe challenge from Dom over at Bellau Kitchen is to pick book number 17! Well I’ve got to say, that’s about as random as it gets Dom, (and Choclette) but 17 might have to be my new lucky number because my latest cookbook purchase turned out to be my number 17! It might have rained all day today but this was really lucky because I love my new cookbook so much and am thrilled to be able to share a snippet with you.
It is Recipes From My Mother For My Daughter by Lisa Faulkner. Lisa who won celebrity Masterchef in 2010 is someone I admire greatly. I’d be lying if I did not admit to being a wee bit jealous of her too. When her cookbook arrived I sat for ages looking through it and just dreamed of a day when I could create a cookbook like that too. It’s beautiful! But you will see if you get the chance that Lisa has worked so hard for her success. At the start of the book there is a wonderful narrative where she opens up about what she calls her ‘food journey’. She talks of the inspiration her mother gave her and about times in her life when baking helped her through. I felt privileged to read it, and for me it makes the book even more special. It is a marvelous collection of seasonal recipes, each one with a special meaning to Lisa. Some are her take on everyday classics like macaroni cheese, and others are suitable to serve at your next dinner party. In fact, I’m going to make Lisa’s lemon sole fillets with shrimp butter on Saturday for friends who are coming over. There is also a few gorgeous looking cakes to try which will satisfy those baking mad types…me!
For this blog post I have been inspired by Lisa’s hazelnut meringues which can be found on page 187 of the book. I know this will mean a few sweet blog posts in a row, but I just thought why not and I have a nice savory one planned for next week. I willingly took Lisa’s advice where she writes; “I want you to experiment with these recipes, try them, substitute ingredients, posh them up, dress them down.” and have come up with Marbled Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringues. So thank you Lisa, here it is, and I can safely say that I really enjoyed it!
Changes I have made from Lisa’s recipe include lowering the amount of sugar and chopped hazelnut as I felt that not as much of either was needed, but then I always try recipes with less sugar. I have also added cocoa powder to create the chocolate marble flavour and effect.
What you will need:
- 4 egg whites
- 200g caster sugar
- 75g toasted chopped hazelnuts
- 1.5 tbsp of cocoa powder
- 250ml double cream
Makes approx 8 sandwiched meringues
How to make:
- Preheat your oven to 140c/275f/gas 1 and line 2 baking trays with non stick baking paper
- Put 50g (save the other 25g for when the meringues are assembled after cooking) of your hazelnuts in a food processor and whiz until they are chopped up as small as possible.
- Whisk the egg whites in an electric mixer until soft peaks form then add the sugar bit by bit and keep whisking until the meringue has stiff peaks
- Use a large metal spoon to fold in your finely chopped hazelnuts
- Now sieve your cocoa powder into the meringue and fold again but this time only do 3 or 4 turns with the spoon s o that a marbled effect is created
- Now use a smaller spoon to create small balls of meringue on the baking tray and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon
- Place in the oven for 1 hour and then turn off the oven and let the meringue sit in the oven until it cool completely. These are quite good to cook in the evening and leave them to cool in the oven over night
- When you are ready to make the meringues up, whip the double cream in an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks. Keep you eye on it as it is very easy to over whip and be left with a bowl of clumpy cream
- Then spread cream onto the flat slide of one of the meringues and sprinkle with a few of the chopped hazelnuts that you saved from putting into the food processor and then sandwich a second meringue on top. Continue until you have sandwiched all the meringues together
The other great news is because meringue stars with ‘M’ I can also enter into this months Alphabakes blog challenge run by Caroline from Caroline Makes and is shared Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker. Love this challenge so thrilled to enter again.
I’m an old romantic at heart. My husband and I literally met by bumping into each other on the street. It was fate that he got off the bus just as I was walking past with my pal, and for our eyes to meet. It could of easily been a ‘sliding doors’ scenario as a minute later and we would have been heading off in different directions, lost in the crowds having never seen each other. Obviously, I’m so glad it wasn’t, as 13 years later we have been married for nearly 7 years and have 3 wonderful children.
Our household is a pretty busy place as our children are still young and as a result I think it is easy to forgot the romance when real life gets in the way. My husband and I are like ships in the night sometimes. He works long hours and as a result so do I. It can be a struggle to find time for one another when we are both exhausted at the end of the day, but its so important. This is why I try and do something special every year for Valentines. I’m not a fan of the commercial side of Valentines day so it won’t be anything big or costly. Just a little token of love.
This year there was no doubt that anything I do for Valentines was going to be homemade. After making 6 Christmas hampers and being a self confessed baking addict, it was also going to be edible. It had to be unique but also useful. Cupcakes look pretty but were just not going to cut it, I’d make 12, he’d eat 1 and then have a sandwich! Same with most other treats. Then the idea of a valentines packed lunch came to me. At the moment my husband buys his lunch spending far too much on a dry sandwiches, but he has no incentive to make his lunch and I don’t have time ordinarily either. A packed lunch made with love would be perfect. I spent quite a while working out what I would make him. A number of criteria had to be met including portability, deliciousness and thoughtfulness. Below is what I came up with. I hope it inspires you to do the same for your partner or for someone you care about this valentines.
For all the recipes I am giving you enough to make more than just one packed lunch. No point going to all that effort if you can’t enjoy some of it too. You could even invite a friend over for lunch on the day you make it all to join in with the enjoyment and impress by pretending that this is the sort of lunch you eat every day!
You can be as creative as you like in packaging it all up. A ribbon and a tag would be a nice finish I think.
Blood orange, walnut and goats cheese salad with avocado hearts
This salad uses ingredients that I love and means you can justify buying lots of blood oranges which are amazing but only in season now for a short few weeks.
What you will need:
- packet of ruby gem lettuce, or any other lettuce with red in
- 100g goats cheese
- 4 blood oranges
- 50g walnuts chopped
- 1 avocado (needs to be fairly large)
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp blood red orange juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp walnut oil
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- Small heart cookie cutter
How to make:
- Wash and chop your lettuce and arrange in the bottom of a Tupperware dish.
- Cut the ends off your oranges and then use a knife to cut off the peel and pith working from the top down and round the orange. Cut into chunky slices and arrange on top of lettuce.
- Crumble a portion of the goats cheese and sprinkle on top of salad, then add some of your chopped walnuts onto the salad.
- Cut your avocado in half, skin and take the stone out then cut thin slices. There should be the fat bottom bit on each slice. Use this to cut out your hearts and place on top of the salad.
- Finally, to make the dressing mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl or dish then pour over the salad using as much as you think it needs
Keeping with the theme of valentines, I thought these rolls would be perfect as when the lucky recipient cuts into them they will find a gorgeous red inside.
Makes about 8 large rolls (freeze any you don’t use)
What you will need:
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 200g strong wholemeal bread flour
- 7 sundried tomatoes chopped
- 3 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 sachet of 7g dried yeast
- 75g grated cheddar cheese
- 450ml hand hot water – not too hot or it will kill the yeast
- Sunflower seeds for top (optional)
- Put the flour, salt, tomato puree and yeast into a bowl
- Add water and mix with hands until a dough is formed. Remove from bowl and knead for 10 mins. Alternatively, use a dough hook on an electric mixer for 5-6 mins
- Use your hands to push the dough out flat onto your work surface and put cheese, sundried tomatoes and basil in the middle on top. Fold the edges of the dough back over the cheese, tomatoes and basil and then lightly knead for a few minutes until you think everything has been incorporated into the dough. You might find that bits fall off as you go but don’t worry just pick up and place back into the dough and you will soon start to see that most it has been mixed in
- Once you feel the cheese, tomatoes and basil had been evenly mixed into the dough, put it back into the bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size
- Gently take you dough out of the bowl and gently knead to punch the air out of it and then make 8 or so small rounds of dough and place on a baking sheet. Cover with cling film again and leave for another 30-40 mins somewhere warm.
- Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6. The small balls should have grown into bigger rolls. Don’t worry if they are slightly misshapen, I think this adds the homemade appeal. At this point I put a sunflower seed heart on top of my rolls and then placed them in the oven. Feel free to miss out the sunflower seeds if you wish
- Bake for about 20-30 mins. Timings will depend on the size of your rolls but you are looking for a crusty top and a hollow sound if you tap the bottom
I adapted this recipe from my Hummingbird Bakery cook book. I used natural red colouring (mine was Dr Oetker), and found the silicone heart shaped bakeware in my local Sainsburys, (and I was extremely chuffed too). If you cant find the heart moulds, small round cake tins would be fine as well. I hope you are getting the red theme here folks 🙂
Makes 4 small cakes
What you will need:
- 60 g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 10g cocoa powder
- 20 ml red food colouring
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 120ml butter milk
- 150g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
- 1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
- 300g icing sugar
- 50g butter, room temperature
- 125g cream cheese
- 1 tsp orange extract
- A few sprinkle decorations of your choice. I used white chocolate stars and mini chocolate stars, both found down the baking aisle of my local Sainsburys
How to make:
- Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/gas 3). Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg and mix until incorporated
- In a separate bowl mix the cocoa powder, red colouring and vanilla extract to make a paste
- Add the paste to your butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix well
- Then add half the buttermilk and mix, then half the flour and mix, then the remaining buttermilk and mix and the remaining flour and mix
- Add the salt, bicarb of soda and vinegar and beat well for a couple of minutes.
- Pour mixture into your cake tine and bake for 25 mins until the top is slightly firm to touch and a knife comes out clean. Take cakes out of their tins and leave to cool on a wire rack
- To make the frosting mix the butter and sugar together in a bowl with an electric whisk. Add the cream cheese and orange extract and beat until smooth
- Ice your cakes with the frosting using a palette knife if you have one and then sprinkle our chosen decoration on top
Present on Valentines morning, and expect a few ‘nom, nom, nom’ texts throughout the day…for the sake of my lovely blog readers, my husband got his packed lunch early!
I’m also entering this into Cakeboule’s virtual valentines craft and bake competition 2012. Looking forward to seeing all the other entries too.
Because it’s Christmas, and I’m really getting into the swing of blog writing, this will be the first of two Christmas Biscuit special’s this week. 🙂 Look out for part two a little bit later in the week! I also ought to take this opportunity to thank everyone who gives me encouragement and tells me that they enjoy my blog. It’s your feedback that makes writing this so rewarding.
Getting back to biscuits, let me tell you why just one blog post on these seasonal treats would not be enough. Once a week on a Thursday morning I volunteer at a local drop in clinic for new mums. When they walk though the door sleep deprived and emotional, one of the first things I offer them is a cup of tea and a biscuit. The effect this small act has is quite amazing. Not only does it tell them immediately that they have come to a welcoming and caring place, but it helps them to relax, which is key in order for them to feel like they can stay and chat. I too will try and find 5 mins each day just to sit down with a cup of something hot and a biscuit. In fact, I’m not sure I could get through the day without this! I see it as recharging the batteries ready for either the school run or bath and bedtime! I guess what I am trying to say is that a good biscuit can work wonders, and it is for that reason that they make especially nice gifts. This week both my daughters finish school/nursery for Christmas, so I will be busy baking biscuits and filling little cellophane bags to give to the teachers. They don’t need lots, just 3 or 4 to feel like a treat and to share if they wish.
In keeping with the theme of Christmas, this shortbread is sweet and spicy. One bite into them gives you crunch, followed by melt-in-the-mouth butteriness, followed by the warm spice of ginger and aniseed. These really are a biscuit to savour and to eat slowly. The addition of aniseed into this recipe stems from my own love of it. When I was a child we were only allowed sweets once a week, so every Saturday morning I would go into the sweet shop, spend ages looking at all the sweets in jars stacked on shelves right up to the ceiling, but always end up choosing either a quarter of aniseed twists or a quarter of aniseed balls! The aniseed I used for this recipe were actual seeds and I found them in my local health food shop. They are a very welcome addition to my spice cupboard and I’m sure I will be trying to sneak them into my baking for a long time after Christmas. The combination of ginger and aniseed together was, if I’m honest, a bit experimental. It made sense to me in theory as they are both hot and spicy, and I was thrilled with how they actually tasted once baked. I think the flavours compliment each other beautifully, but mostly I like the fact that these are just a little bit different and unique. Anyone you might make them for is bound to take notice of these, and that makes the baking of them totally worthwhile.
I used the Great British Bake Off Cookbook for the main shortbread recipe, just adding the extra ingredients as below.
- 200g unsalted butter softened
- 100 g caster sugar (plus a little extra for sprinkling)
- 260g plain flour
- 40g cornflour
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- Pinch of salt
- 50g chopped crystallised ginger
- 1 tsp aniseed seeds (I used green)
Makes about 20 biscuits
How to make:
- Put butter in a mixing bowl and beat with a electronic mixer until pale and creamy. Add the caster sugar slowly beating well after each addition. The mixture should be looking lighter and fluffy in texture when ready
- Sift in flour, cornflour, ginger and salt into the bowl. Add chopped ginger and aniseed
- Mix together using hands until combined and a dough is formed
- Take dough out of the bowl and shape dough into a log shape about 20cm long. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 20-30 mins until firm
- Preheat oven to 170c/325f/gas 3
- Unwrap the dough and cut across the log to form discs. Place discs on a greased baking sheet slightly apart
- Bake for about 20 mins or until firm but not coloured. Take out from the oven and sprinkle with caster sugar straight away. Then leave on the trays for a few mins before transferring to a cooling rack
- Eat slowly with a cup of tea, or wrap and give as presents
If you can’t find the aniseed there are plenty of other things that you could use instead. These include chocolate chips, orange zest, hazelnuts, raisins, cranberries, ground cinnamon, and pistachios to name a few.
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and at Christmas time it is even more essential, especially if you have the task of cooking the Christmas dinner. Energy will definitely be required. However, if your house is anything like mine, we get through cereal like it is going out of fashion. I would hate to add up how much we spend a year on the stuff! The grand total would no doubt cause my husband to choke on his mulled wine, so I’m not going to actually add it up, but hopefully you get my point. The other problem is that shop brought cereal often contains hideous amounts of sugar which is obviously not good for anyone, and most of all my children, who on Christmas day will have already eaten numerous chocolate coins and such like before 6.30am! On Christmas day chocolate at what is effectively the middle of the night has to be allowed, but seeing them eat a healthy breakfast would certainly make me (and them) feel better. Well, luckily for those of you reading my blog and empathizing with the cereal issues I have outlined above, I have a proposition for you. The perfect solution is to make some homemade granola. How can I say that so flippantly I hear you ask? Well do read on as it will all start to make sense.
This fabulously versatile cereal hits the spot for a number of reasons. Firstly, oats which are the main ingredient are as David Dickinson likes to say, ‘cheap as chips’ which is good news for your budget, and might actually help you save a few extra pennies towards the cost of Christmas. Oats are also healthy and give ‘slow release’ energy, which is more likely to get you through to lunch without a sugar crash and the inevitable ‘Mr Tickle’ arm into the biscuit barrel that follows. I’ve been there and done that many a time, especially after a bad night with the kids, so anything that might help kick this biscuit related habit is surely worth a try. The other thing to say about granola is that is absolutely delicious, and can be used in a variety of ways including with milk, on top of yogurt, in the children’s snack box to nibble on and as a gorgeous unique gift to a loved one this Christmas. Do what I did, make double the quantity and bag some up to give away, but keep the remainder for yourself :-).
The recipe I have used is taken from Nigella’s Christmas Cook Book. A few minor alterations means that it has the, ‘homemade by Fleur‘ stamp, making it even more enjoyable I hope. I have swapped the blanched almonds in the original recipe to chopped hazelnuts as I prefer them. Feel free to do the same and make your own swaps too. Add dried fruit or nuts that you like or have in the cupboard, go with what is in season or what is on offer. The other change I made is to replace some of the honey for agave syrup. Agave syrup is a little gem to have at hand, it is a substitute to sugar and honey but has lower GI and slower release sugars. Most supermarkets or health food shops should sell it. Here is what it looks like.
The last but by no means least point to make about this granola is that it will be my first ever blog challenge entry. The Forever Nigella challenge hosted by Sarah at the brilliant Maison Cupcake blog has certainly caught my eye, and I am very excited to be submitting this blog post. One of many more I hope.
So all that is left to say is put the ingredients on your shopping list and get baking. This is a wonderful treat which the whole family will enjoy and appreciate. Be careful though, if Santa finds out you have some of this in the house, you may have an extra guest for breakfast!
What you will need
- 225g rolled oats
- 60g sunflower seeds
- 60g white sesame seeds
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 75g runny honey
- 75g agave syrup
- 50g soft brown sugar
- 60g chopped roasted hazelnuts
- 60g flaked almonds
- 50g raisins
- pinch of table salt
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 150g dried cranberries
Makes enough to fill a 1.2 litre tin or jar, (3-4 small gift bags or 2 large gift bags)
- Preheat the oven to 170c/355f/gas 3
- Put everything into a large bowl expect the dried cranberries and mix well with a wooden spoon
- Spread the mixture onto a couple of lined baking trays and bake for about 40-50 mins
- The mixture should be turned over about half way though, and even more if you think it needs it towards the end. I set my timer for 20 mins then 10, and then 10 and turned it each time. Keeping an eye on it like this should prevent it from burning, and instead result in a lovely golden crunchy cereal
- Once cooled mix in the dried cranberries. My daughter actually helped me do this so I could take the picture!
- If using for gifts this will keep for several weeks bagged up and then placed in an airtight container. If you have made it for yourself, keep in an airtight tin or jar
For Christmas this year I have decided to make some homemade food hampers for a few unsuspecting special family members. I’ve not attempted anything like this before, but it makes perfect sense for me. First and foremost it is a great opportunity for me to be creative not only by making the items but also packaging them all up to look really special. Our garage is currently full with lots of different sized boxes that I have been collecting, but it feels good to be able to reuse them! This little project is also a way for me to give gifts that will hopefully mean something to the people receiving them. I just could not bring myself to buy another pair of socks! However, if the thought of creating a hamper fills you with terror along with all the other Christmas preparations, maybe consider just giving one homemade item along with another gift. I’m sure this would be thankfully received, especially if you make them something scrummy!
Red onion and apple chutney
I will be putting this red onion and apple chutney in my hampers. There are two main reasons why I have been inspired to include it and I hope some of you may identify with these. They are:
- My love of cheese at Christmas time – I’m thinking now of roquefort and chutney on a nice crisp cracker and trying eat it in one piece without dropping crumbs down the sofa whilst watching the Christmas day evening film!
- The pot of similar shop brought chutney in my fridge which I just knew I could make a better version of and for much less cost.
Alternatively, you could just make it to have at Christmas time with your family and friends. How wonderful to be able to offer homemade chutney with your after dinner cheeseboard! Then after Christmas you can try using this chutney on pizza. Spread it on top of your tomato base, sprinkle mozzerella and goats cheese over it, cook and serve with fresh rocket.
The ingredients list looks long, but most of it should be things that you have already got. They may be hidden at the back of the cupboard but I bet some of them will be there. So make sure you have a good hunt before you write your shopping list. I actually found my apples when I parked next to an apple tree at my local gym. Freshly fallen but perfectly ripe and otherwise going to waste I’m sure. However, the best bit about this recipe is that once you have chopped and measured everything you just leave your saucepan full of ingredients to work its magic over the hour and a half it takes to cook. It just needs a stir every time you walk past.
What you will need
- 1 kg apples – peeled, cored and chopped
- 250g white onions – peeled and chopped
- 250g red onions – peeled and chopped
- 25g fresh grated ginger
- 1.5 tsp ground ginger
- 200g seedless raisins
- 2 tbsp dijon mustard
- 3 tsp mustard seeds
- 1.5 tsp ground cloves
- 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- 250ml balsamic vinegar
- 50ml cider vinegar
- 300g cane sugar
- 100g preserving sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- Good grinding of pepper
- A large saucepan
- 6 250ml jars with lids
- Put all the ingredients into the saucepan, and mix together. Cook over a low heat for 1 hour with the lid on and half an hour with the lid off
- Whilst cooking stir regularly to stop the chutney from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan
- Sterilize your jars by either putting them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher or washing them in hot soapy water by hand and then putting them in a low oven for 30 mins or so until hot and dry
- Once cooked fill the jars with the chutney. Use a long thin implement like a chop stick to push the chutney down and push away any gaps of air
- Place somewhere cool and leave for at least a month to mature and improve. Just in time for Christmas!