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The greatest thing since sliced bread…

1 Jun
Freshly baked home made bread

Freshly baked home made bread

Bread. I love the stuff. But it’s the real stuff that I love, the sourdough, the slowly-risen loaf. It doesn’t seem right that commercially produced highly processed loaves, made by the intensive Chorleywood process can even be called by the same name. They just are not the same thing. So, the greatest thing sliced bread is…. unsliced bread. Naturally.

Rant over. Probably.

Bread. When I think of eating bread, I think of friends, of sharing it, of tearing off great chunks and dipping it into olive oil & balsamic vinegar, of making slices of toast and spreading them with butter and marmite. And sometimes peanut butter too. Of my father, sitting at the head of the table, and cutting the bread, then spearing the slice on the point of the bread knife to pass it to your plate.

And all this sharing with friends is appropriate: the word companion literally means ‘with bread’ from the Latin ‘com’ (with) and ‘panis’ (bread).

I’ve been a baker for years, but most of my baking was biscuits and cakes and scones and traybakes, basically things without yeast. And then we started using the bread machine. Unlike many bread machiners, we used it 3 or 4 times a week, and with a bit of trial and error, and the purchase of some super-tasty stoneground flour, we started making really amazing loaves. I occasionally made a loaf by hand, but not so often.

I bought lots of books, made sourdough starters, killed sourdough starters when I forgot to do anything with them. And replaced the bread machine, three times. (Yes, we used it so much we wore it out).

And then I bought the best bread baking book: James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. He writes easily. Or perhaps he doesn’t, but it reads easily. His explanations make sense, and help you understand why you are carrying out each process. And he starts you off with the easiest bread in the world – it needs no kneading. It takes up so little of your time to make it. And it tastes delicious.

I’ve adapted it slightly, to make use of my sourdough starter, which gives it a wee bit extra flavour and chewiness, which I like.

A few things before we start:

  • this recipe requires NO kneading. It is easy peasy. You have no excuses not to make it
  • buy a set of digital scales. They aren’t terribly expensive but they will repay you every time you use them, and quite possibly will change the way you bake (in that you can weight things directly into any bowl or pan, rather than into the bowl provided with the weighing scales)
  • use the biggest bowl you own; if you don’t have a really big bowl, consider buying one
  • procure a shower cap – the ones you get free from hotels are fine, in fact perfect. Using this, and re-using it over and over again, is much more sensible (and easy) than using cling film
After proving, ready to bake

After proving, ready to bake

There are other things you might want to buy if you really get the bread-baking bug, but wait a while to see if you get it or not. Otherwise you’re going to end up with an unused proving basket in your cupboard, which will just annoy you (instead of giving you these lovely ‘flour rings’ on a loaf).

The best white bread (and it’s easy)

  • 500g strong white flour (I use a stoneground from Bacheldre Mill, it’s lovely and comes in big 16kg bags if you get the bug!)
  • 10g salt (see why you need digital scales)
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 330g tepid water
  • a good dollop of sourdough starter (about 50g)
  1. Put the flour in a big bowl
  2. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl
  3. And the salt on the other
  4. Keeping them on their own sides of the bowl, mix them in with your fingers and then make a slight well in the middle
  5. Pour in the water, and add the big dollop of sourdough starter
  6. Now, using your hand like a paddle, mix all the ingredients together, until they are all combined
  7. Cover the bowl (with a shower cap if you have one, with cling film if you don’t) and leave it for about half an hour
  8. Go off and do something for a while; I recommend watering your tomatoes in the greenhouse, if you have any. Or reading the magazine section of the Sunday paper
  9. Now, take the shower cap off the bowl. Wet your hand under a tap, and keeping your hand a bit like a paddle, put your hand under one side of the dough and scoop it up, folding the dough over itself.
  10. Twist the bowl a quarter of the way around and do this again. Repeat several times, going all around the bowl, and round again. You should notice that the dough feels much smoother, slightly silkier than it did half an hour ago.
  11. OK, once  you’ve got it back in a nice wee lump in the middle of the bowl, pop the shower cap on again and leave it for a couple of hours at room temperature.
  12. Just get on with your life, and ignore the dough.. it’ll do its doughy thing quite happily without your interference or worry.
  13. This time you’re going to need a wee bit of flour and either a proving basket (if you’ve got the bug) or your baking tray. Prepare the proving basket / baking tray by dusting it with flour. Dust your table or board with flour too.
  14. Now scoop the dough out of the big bowl onto the floury surface. You’ll see that there are lots of bubbles within the dough and that it feels a bit like a balloon full of water, sort of squishy, but not really squishable.
  15. Try to work relatively quickly with the dough… Make it into a sort of brick shape, and then pull it at each end and fold those ends over into the middle, and squish it down a bit. It might be a sort of round-ish shape now. Squish it in the middle and pull it at the ends to make an oblong brick again. And pull those ends out and over into the middle again to make a round. Do this another couple of times if you want, or not if you’re bored by now.
  16. Place your dough on the baking tray (or into the proving basket) – either make it a nice round ball shape, or a sort of oblong.
  17. And walk away and leave it, for an hour or two, depending how warm your room is (the warmer the room, the less time it should be left). The dough is now ‘proving’ which just means that it is rising again – the wee bubbles in the dough are expanding and the gluten in the flour is nice and elastic now, so it’s stretching, and holding those bubbles in place. You want the loaf to almost double in size, but don’t fret if it hasn’t
  18. Heat your oven to GM7 / 425F / 220C. And when I say heat it, I mean switch your oven on a good 10 minutes before you pop the loaf in the oven, to make sure the bread goes into a properly hot oven. If you want a scrummy crust, put a dish of water in the bottom of the oven, to create some steam.
  19. Before you put the bread in the oven, cut a slash in it, which will allow it to stretch as it rises again in the oven. For a round, you can just do a cross on the top, and for an oblong try a long cut down the middle and then diagonal cuts on each side, like a leaf, or a feather. The cut doesn’t need to be deep, just cut through the skin of the dough.
  20. Bake for about 40 mins.
  21. Place on a baking tray once it’s cooked, and try not to slice it and eat it till it’s cool.
Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Top tips

  1. Complete up to stage 11 in the evening, and then pop the dough in the fridge with its shower cap on. It will be quite happy overnight in the fridge instead of 2 hours at room temperature. The next morning, start from step 13.
  2. If you have a proving basket, use a really liberal dusting of flour before you leave the dough to prove in it. Once it’s proved, turn it out onto the prepared baking tray, and slash its top and pop in the oven.
  3. Use semolina or polenta instead of flour on the baking tray
  4. Increase the volume of sourdough starter, and reduce the water slightly
  5. Don’t worry about timings at all – if it’s left for 4 hours instead of 2 it will probably be fine

Want to see more recipes? What about making some lemon curd to spread on your home made bread? Or imagine how good it would be with home made chicken liver pate?

All my recipes are here: SheWolfInTheValley.

Boozy mini cakes for BozzyFest

10 May

We get the Sunday Times every weekend. And occasionally the Times on a Saturday too. Last weekend the Times promoted that it had recipes for Bank Holiday baking. So, of course, I didn’t see much of the rest of the paper (apart from the utterly ace column by Caitlin Moran).

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top mini pear cakes

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top of mini pear cakes

I was kinda sniffy about the Bank Holiday Baking initially. I mean, it’s just the very beginning of May and the first thing I’m being encouraged to bake is Blackberry and Crumble Cake. Now, I’m sure the Blackberry and Crumble Cake is lovely, but brambles are seasonal fruit, and this really  is NOT their season. Get real cookery writers! And please stop encouraging supermarkets to stock fruit and veg that is out of season – it is more expensive to produce and ship and probably doesn’t taste as good.

There, rant over.

Then I moved on and spied Pear Cakes with White Chocolate, and Lemon Curd. I had literally just made some lemon curd (in a bid to do something else with our glut of eggs – my girls laid seven in one day earlier this week). And I’d just bought some pears. Yup, I know, pears aren’t in season either. But there they were on the shelf at the farmshop, and they looked delicious. And they store better than brambles, so perhaps it’s not quite so mad to buy them out of season?

Anyway, given that I clearly don’t have a leg to stand on in the ‘seasonal rant stakes’ I’ll move on. The recipes are all from Andrew Dargue of Vanilla Black. I’d never heard of Vanilla Black before, but now I’ve looked at the website, they are ‘Michelin-recommended’ and they have a book coming out this week. So that’ll be why I’ve seen his recipes in various places.

I made the Mini Pear Cakes, complete with white chocolate frosting, but something made me add a slug or two of gin to the frosting. And it was ace.

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes ak the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes aka the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

This weekend I made the cakes again, adding some gin to the cake batter too, and took them along for the volunteers at the wonderful Boswell Book Festival.  It wasn’t an entirely selfless act, supporting both the literary and volunteering community, for I wanted to see Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown give a talk. He’s the most remarkable man – he has flown more different types of aircraft than any other person, living or dead. And it is unlikely (allegedly) that his record of 487 aircraft will ever be beaten. He also interrogated a number of Hitler’s henchman, including Goering, Messerschmitt and Himmler, and the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His description of what he witnessed at the camp, in its last few days was incredibly moving – after almost exactly 70 years to the day he still can’t stop smelling the stench of the dying and near dying in that awful place.

But anyway, I digress.  These cakes were just going to be called Mini Pear Cakes with Gin and White Chocolate Frosting. yes GIN! But they clearly need to be called the Boozy BozzyFest Cakes instead. They are utterly delish. I’ve adapted the original recipe, but only slightly, so thank you The Times and thank you Andrew Dargue. These rock.

And so long as you use GF baking powder, these are gluten free badboys.

Boozy BozzyFest Mini Cakes

Preheat the oven to 155C / GM3. Grease a large muffin tin – this quantity works well for 12 proper-sized mini cakes. Don’t bother with muffin or cake cases, you don’t need them if you prepare the tin well, with lots of butter to prevent the cakes from sticking.

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 125g light brown sugar
  • 100g buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 small very ripe pears, cut in half and cored
  • 1 TBsp gin
  • 1/2 tsp almond essence (or vanilla, depending on what mood you are in

For the boozy icing

  •  100g white chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 TBsp gin
  1. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl
  2. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and mix well together
  3. Add the gin and essence
  4. Using a large grater, grate the pears into the mixture. This should be possible if you hold onto the skin side, and just grate the flesh – you should be left holding the skin, with all the flesh grated into the cake batter
  5. Mix again, but only lightly to combine everything
  6. The batter is pretty runny, but don’t worry – it’ll work out. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, filling each hole about two thirds of the way to the top.
  7. Bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
  8. Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then use a knife to run around the rim of each cake to loose them from the tin, and turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
  9. For the icing: melt the chocolate in a microwave on the lowest power setting, or in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
  10. Beat the butter and icing sugar together. Add the gin.
  11. Fold in the melted chocolate until well combined
  12. Smoosh the icing on to each cake or if you want to be a bit posher, pipe it on (it’ll look smart but not too twee if you use a plain round piping nozzle).

Want other recipe ideas? Take a look at my index of recipes. It’s got everything from croutons (I kid you not!) and boiling an egg (twice) to spicy turmeric chicken, which I’m going to eat tonight. Oh, and more recipes for brownies than is strictly necessary.

 

May Bank Holiday Marmalade

4 May

So, I’m here in Galloway for 24 hours again. I love it here, especially in Spring. I probably say ‘especially in…’ every season, but it really is particularly gorgeous in Spring with the zingy lime green of the newly opened leaves on the trees, the wee calves and lambs boinging about in fields and everything just beginning to sprout. The whole countryside is full of hope, just bursting to get going. It’s almost as though it’s written itself the best list ever and now it’s ticking them off one by one: lambs – done; daffodils – done; primroses – done; magnolias – done; surprising late frost – done!

Yes, we had some lovely warm days a couple of weeks ago, fooling us into believing that we might have seen the last of the cold weather until the Autumn and then BANG! Several nights of relatively hard frost. A few of Mum’s shrubs were just beginning to poke their wee leaves out and now look as though they just might not bother at all  this year. And her magnolias had just flowered and now the flowers on them are all smooshy and ick, and the leaves haven’t appeared. So, despite it being beautiful, not everything is being ticked off on the list as it should.

So, we got here for lunchtime, which is always the best time in this house. The legendary Wolffe Lunch never disappoints. Today there was soup (of course) – a vegetable broth with barley – and then home-made bread with a choice of pates (smoked salmon, brussels or a ham hock terrine). There was green salad, olives, fresh beetroot in a delicate sweet vinegar, smoked salmon, cheese. And then coffee with madeira cake or mini pear cakes with white chocolate and gin frosting. Yes, I might have been responsible for that last element. They’re delicious. But more on them later.

After lunch I made some rhubarb marmalade. I think it’s really orangey rhubarb jam, but the recipe calls it rhubarb marmalade, so perhaps I should go with that.

The recipe is from my go-to preserves book: Jellies, Jams and Chutneys by Thane Prince. Trust me, she knows her preserves. Having said that, I often find myself boiling things for much longer than she recommends in her recipes in order to reach a set, so perhaps I just don’t boil things hard enough?

So this recipe is only slightly adapted from Thane’s original.

Rhubarb orangey jam (or rhubarb marmalade in her world)

  • 2lb 4oz rhubarb, wiped clean and cut into 1cm chunks
  • 1lb 12oz jam sugar
  • finely grated zest and the juice of the most enormous orange I have ever seen
  • about 2cm fresh ginger, grated
  • about 50ml liquid pectin
  1. Put the rhubarb, sugar, zest, juice and ginger into a heavy saucepan. Put it on a low heat and bring gently to a boil. I put mine on the low side of the rayburn and then went and put the bedding on to wash. Then I came back and stirred it a bit and put it on the hotter side of the rayburn. Then I remembered I hadn’t sterilised any jars, so I went to look for some nice jars in Mum’s cupboard under the stairs (she now lives in a bungalow, but the larder has always been called the cupboard under the stairs, so it still is). I washed the jars and then popped them on a tray and put them in the rayburn. Then I remembered I hadn’t yet put the saucer in the fridge, for testing for jamminess later. So I did that. And then I went to see what Mum was potting on: dahlias mostly. Then I went back and the pot was just about near boiling, with the sugar all dissolved and at least three times the juice there was last time I’d looked at it.
  2. Once it’s boiling, allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes. The fruit should be soft, the sugar all dissolved.
  3. Now take the pot off the heat for a minute and add the pectin and stir it all in gently. Return to the heat and boil properly for another few minutes. Thane suggested two minutes might do it. But then she didn’t use jam sugar, and used more pectin. Anyway, keep testing for a jamminess, by putting a wee teeny wee spoonful onto the cold plate from the fridge. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger it’s ready. If it’s still runny, it’s not. Don’t do what I did. Don’t jar it up anyway, in the hope it might really be ready when it’s not. You’ll realise after a couple of jars that it wasn’t ready and that you need to boil it all up a bit further.
  4. Anyway, once it’s boiled enough and you’re sure it will set when cool, take it off the heat, and pour it into the sterilised jars. If you’re at my mother’s house you might not have a jam funnel, but you’ll find that a jug dipped into the pot of jam works almost as well. And anyway, if you don’t like sticky stuff, don’t make jam.
  5. Now, remember to put a label on the jars. It’s like sowing seeds – at the time you can’t imagine that you’ll ever forget what you planted in those wee pots on that shelf in the greenhouse. But in 4 weeks time you won’t know if it’s asters or arctotis; if it’s basque chillies or ohnivecs. And it’s better to know which is rhubarb jam and which is rhubarb chutney. I guess.

If you want the real Thane Prince recipe, with her considerably less wordy instructions buy her book. If you like making preserves you’ll be glad you did. And it’s got other delicious sounding things like spicy plum ketchup, and frozen cranberry vodka. Surprisingly, I’ve never made either so can’t vouch for them.

If you want to know what else I’ve been making, go here: Shewolffe recipes. You’ll find another version of this same recipe, which I should have checked before I started writing this one out. And rhubarb chutney. And various cheese scones, each one tastier and easier than the last. And a scrumptious millionaire’s shortbread. And so much more.

There isn’t yet a recipe for that wee pear cake with white chocolate and gin frosting. But there will be soon, so keep looking back.

Let me know what else you’d like to see here. What ingredients should I cook with next?

Crunchy, tasty, sweet and salty.

3 Mar

I’m one of those people who likes their sweets to be slightly salty.

Tasty homemade snack bars

Tasty homemade snack bars

I don’t cook with a lot of salt, preferring to use herbs and spices. I’ve bought into the ‘fact’ that too much salt is bad for you. However, there was a credible article in the Sunday Times the other week, highlighting new evidence which showed that the low sodium diet was as damaging as the high sodium one. My father has always just tipped the salt pot upside down and sprinkled it liberally over his plate, often then creating a small salt mountain on the side of the plate to dip forkfuls of food into. He’ll be 95 in a couple of months, so his super-high salt diet hasn’t exactly limited his life too much.

Anyway, although I like my sweets salty, I’m less keen on my savoury dishes being too sweet. I’m not a big fan of putting fruit into a stew or casserole. My exception is good redcurrant or rowan jelly with a roast meat. Or a not-too-sweet apple sauce with roast pork.

But back to the salty sweetness. When I was in the US last year, with a work colleague, we discovered Nature Valley’s Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars. It was love at first bite for me. They aren’t available here in the UK, although there’s a huge variety of similar products. But I can’t be trusted in a sweet shop, so have to confess I haven’t tried terribly hard to find a suitable substitute.

I hadn’t thought of making my own. Why hadn’t I? I must be entirely mad.

Anyway, once the thought came to me, I flicked through all my recipe books and scoured the internet for the perfect sweet and salty crunchy nutty bars. And then I adapted. This isn’t entirely true. I can’t lie. What really happened is that I came across a recipe on Half Baked Harvest’s blog and decided it was time to get experimenting. This recipe is adapted from hers. It is the perfect crunchy, sweet, salty, nutty snack. But it’s not as healthy as eating an apple, so although they are addictive, try to ration them.

Crunchtastic sweet and salty nutty bars

  • 250g / 3 cups porridge oats
  • 35g / 1 cup rice krispies (or any puffed rice cereal)
  • 40g / 1/4 cup roasted salted nuts (peanuts is fine, but mixed nuts would work just as well)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g honey
  • 130g peanut butter
  • 30g butter or coconut oil (I prefer to use coconut oil these days)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F or GM4. Line a 9″ x 13″ baking tray with greaseproof paper. Leave an overhang of paper over one long side of the tin (to make it easier to remove the bars later)

  1. Mix porridge oats, krispies, nuts, salt, and bicarb of soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre
  2. Put the honey, peanut butter and butter (or coconut oil) in a small pan and warm gently till all the ingredients are melted
  3. Add the vanilla
  4. Stir the melted ingredients till they are all combined into a sweet and goopy sauce
  5. Pour all this melted mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingreds.
  6. Stir well to combine it all together. Try to make sure there are no dry bits left in the bowl
  7. Pour this into the prepared tin. Get a big metal spoon (or a metal measuring cup) and lightly oil the back of it, then use this to press all the mixture down into the tin
  8. Put in the oven and bake for about 20 mins, or until golden brown. Watch out, it can go from perfect to ‘slightly burnt’ quite quickly.
  9. When you take it out of the oven, try to slide the whole lot out of the tray onto a heatproof surface, and then walk away from it for at least half an hour. (I’m only telling you to do this so that you don’t end up trying to cut the bars when they are still in your baking tray, and you end up ruining your tray, with knife scores across it)
  10. Once it is cool, try to cut it into pieces. You’ll need a sharp knife, and some of it might crumble a bit. Any extra crumbs left, pour into an airtight pot and use for sprinkling over yoghurt, or ice cream or in a crumble.
  11. Keep the bars in an airtight tin, for as long as possible. You may need to put them on a very high shelf, out of your reach. Or to give them to friends.

Suggested adaptations – you could add dark chocolate chips, or dried fruit (cranberries, chopped up apricots, raisins). Or desiccated coconut. Or, cinnamon would be nice, Or chopped dried apples, with some cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and some ginger. You could probably replace the honey with agave syrup, or golden syrup, although I’m not sure why you’d want to do that.

And apologies if you don’t have digital weighing scales. I was old-school for YEARS, but bought a digital set recently (so I could weigh out my 7g of yeast to make home made bread) and it has entirely changed how I bake. Just pop the bowl on the scales and add the next ingredient. Easy peasy. They’re not expensive and take up hardly any room in your cupboard. Isn’t it time to treat yourself?

Want to find more of my recipes? Take a look here: Shewolffe’s Recipes. If you like this, you’ll probably like my salty nut brittle, but go see what else is in there.

Blondie

23 Jan

The first record I bought was Abba’s Arrival. The second was Blondie’s Parallel Lines. I was a little in love with Debbie Harry. Weren’t we all?

Blondie has stood the test of time. But these days Blondie is less of an aural treat and more of an oral one for me. I have at last discovered the Blondie (as opposed to the Brownie). It’s a squishy tray bake, like a chocolate brownie, but with a caramelly buttery flavour, almost like butterscotch. And of course the regular blondie can be pimped up, by adding all manner of bling. In this recipe I’ve added dark choc chips, brazil nuts, ginger and dried sour cherries. And they rock.

Pimped up blondies

  • 100g butter, melted
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar, bashed to get rid of all the lumps (or use a soft brown or light muscovado sugar)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 140g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g crystallised ginger, chopped into wee nibs
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped into wee nibs
  • a handful of brazil nuts, chopped
  • a handful of dried sour cherries (or cranberries)

Grease and line an 8″ square baking tray. Pre-heat oven to GM5.

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Leave to one side.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar and melted butter – this is easiest with an electric beater. Don’t worry if it’s still a bit bumpy and grainy.
  3. Add the egg and vanilla and keep beating – it’ll change colour to a much lighter tan and will become fluffy and almost moussy.
  4. With a large metal spoon stir the flour mix into the buttery mix. Fold it in, without beating, or you will lose the lightness of the mix.
  5. Add the ginger, nuts, chocolate and cherries (or whatever you are pimping the mix with) and stir through.
  6. The mix will be relatively thick. Spoon it onto the baking tray, and spread it out.
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the blondies are smelling too good to leave for a minute more, and they look golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and cool for about 20 mins before removing from tray and cutting into slices.

Perfect with an afternoon coffee. A proper real strong coffee.

Other ways to pimp your blondies:

  • Add smarties or M n Ms
  • Add any dried fruit
  • Try salted nuts if you enjoy that sweet-salt hit
  • Gobs of peanut butter stirred through once the mix is in the tray
  • Coconut
  • Chopped up mint toffees
  • Oh, just raid your cupboard, or the sweetie drawer (what you don’t have a sweetie drawer?) and see what inspires you

Sweet and salty nut brittle

18 Jan

Is salted caramel still on trend? A couple of years ago it seemed to be everywhere. And I was happy. I love that combination of sweetness and saltiness. I adore peanut butter, adore it even more on hot buttered toast with marmite. Or incorporated into a sweet with chocolate and a biscuit base.

So, a simple salty, nutty caramel brittle is pretty much the perfect sweet to make. And it turns out it was pretty much the perfect home-made Christmas present to give to nephews too! (Although obviously not for you, if your nephews have nut allergies).

Salty nut brittle 

  • 340g mixed nuts, preferably not salted. The type of nuts doesn’t really matter, but why not buy a bag of peanuts, of brazil nuts and pecans. Or hazelnuts, and macadamia and almonds. Whatever you prefer.
  • 400g sugar. Ordinary granulated sugar is fine, or you could use caster, or golden caster
  • 120mls water
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Maldon sea salt (there are other brands, but please use a good quality salt in flakes, not ordinary table salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM 4
  2. Spread the nuts onto a big baking tray, as big as you’ve got – you’re aiming to get them into a single layer, if possible
  3. Roast the nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes, give or take. You’re looking for a golden browniness, not burnt.. and there’s a relatively short window of opportunity between the two. To make it easier in a minute or two, pour the nuts onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper or kitchen foil, or a bowl (this is so that you can QUICKLY pour them from whatever receptacle they are in, into a pan of hot hot hot caramel later on). While you’re at it, get another sheet of greaseproof paper, and line the baking tray with it, and leave to one side. You’ll need it soon.
  4. Now put the sugar, water, butter and golden syrup into a heavy based saucepan, and gently heat, stirring till the butter is melted and the sugar has all dissolved.
  5. Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan, and leave it in there while the mixture heats up to the boil. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally if you can’t stop yourself
  6. Keep an eye on that sugar thermometer, and as soon as it reaches 150C (which incidentally is between ‘soft crack’ and ‘crack’ on my thermometer) take it off the heat, and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
  7. It should all swoosh up a wee bit which is exactly what you want it to do. Work quickly – pour in the nuts and stir them in. And then pour the whole lot out onto a baking sheet, with a piece of greaseproof paper on it
  8. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture nice and thinly … but not TOO thin
  9. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes
  10. And now walk away for a while. Leave it be. Come back when it’s cool
  11. Break it up with your hands and store in an airtight container. Then hide it somewhere you can’t reach, just to save yourself from eating more than you really should

I popped great big shards of this into kilner jars as Christmas present this year, and they went down a treat. If the shards had been smaller, I might have considered dipping them in chocolate to add to the sugar-salt-nut treatiness. It wasn’t required, but just imagine it enrobed with lush dark chocolate. Mmm.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

 

Desert Island Bites

3 Jan

I love Radio 4. I can’t remember what age I was when I first realised that it was what I wanted as the soundtrack to my life, but now it’s on whenever I’m cooking. And I cook a lot.

Weekends nearly always include Desert Island Discs, while I’m baking or making soup, or stew or something that’s caught my eye in a cookbook. I’ve never quite worked out what my eight discs would be, but it would probably include more 80s hits than I’d like to admit. And maybe some early Genesis. Years ago I decided my luxury would be a pack of cards, and my book would be a compendium of games of solitaire. But I think I’ve grown up since then, and doubt that I would want to while away my hours (days? weeks? months?) on my desert island perfecting game after game of solitaire. Or not. Because how many of the games would actually be all about chance and not about my skill level? How frustrating would that be?

Anyway, I’m no longer sure what my luxury would be – perhaps some endless supplies of glorious perfumes, so I could make my own hand and body lotions, with whatever I can forage (I’m imagining coconuts here) and then I could perfume them as I wished. Or I could just spritz myself with something delicious in times of need. One of my claims is that all situations can be improved with a spritz of perfume, and an application of lipstick. Many’s the time I’ve been seen to do this ‘double’ at my desk.

There’s a chocolate bar in the UK called a Bounty Bar. It’s a lovely soft coconutty thing, smothered in chocolate, either dark or milk. In the 80s the Bounty advert was set on a desert island, with beautiful people in cropped tops (it was the 80s remember) having a hedonistic time and eating Bounty bars. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

So, here is my recipe for my version of a Bounty Bar. It’s not really the same, but it is delicious. And very easy to make. And your friends will be very impressed when you give them a wee bag of your home made desert island bites.

Desert Island Bites

  • 3 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • a very large bar of good quality chocolate – milk or dark, whatever you prefer
  1. Mix coconut and icing sugar in a large bowl
  2. Add in the condensed milk and melted coconut oil
  3. Mix well together (using your hands is the easiest way to do this, perhaps the stickiest as well)
  4. Take about a teaspoon sized bit of the mixture and roll it in the palms of your hand to create a wee ball
  5. Place the ball of coconut truffle on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper
  6. Do this again and again and again until all the mixture is used up
  7. Pop the balls in the fridge or freezer for about half an hour
  8. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a double boiler
  9. Now comes the messy bit. Drop the balls, one by one, into the melted chocolate and then rescue them out again with a couple of forks. They might need a sort of a shoogle to shake of excess chocolate.
  10. Pop the chocolate coated truffles onto another baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and when you’ve done them all, pop them in the fridge. Unless your kitchen is as cold as mine ,in which case you won’t need to.

Serve with an espresso after you’ve had a lovely relaxing supper. Or put them in a nice wee box with some tissue paper, to make them look a bit chi-chi, and give them to a friend who needs a wee treat. Or head off to your desert island and be a hedonist.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

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