As promised for this month of Veganuary, I’m trying to up the number of vegan meals I eat. This has been massively helped by the acquisition of two recently published vegan recipe books authored by talented fellow food bloggers. You’ll find reviews of the books below along with a recipe for veggie chilli which has been rather heavily adapted from one of them. Twas ever thus …
In the last year or so, the Happy Pear have gradually seeped into my consciousness. I’d heard them mentioned by Riverford, Jamie Oliver, in the press and through various food bloggers, but I’d never seen any of their recipes. I’m now the happy owner of their latest book The World of the Happy Pear, to be published soon, on 2nd June. To celebrate National Vegetarian Week, I’m excited to say, I also have two copies of the book to giveaway.
It’s pancake day and having just eaten the most delicious pancake wraps with spiced lentil dhal, I would urge you all to try something a little different today. The recipe I adapted comes from a rather special book from fellow blogger Dannii Martin, Hungry Healthy, Happy. I’m also reviewing another fabulous book from fellow Cornish blogger Jane Sarchet, Secret Kitchen, Southwest England. Read on for my recipe and the two book reviews.
The Cranks Bible: a timeless collection of vegetarian recipes by Nadine Abensur is one of my treasured cookery books. I bought it when it was first published in 2001 and have taken inspiration from it ever since. Despite its frequent use as a bed time read, there are many recipes I’ve barely looked at. The one for aubergine purée with cumin pitot is one such, or in my more prosaic terminology, aubergine dip.
Whereas chocolate peanut butter cups have long been popular in the US as has peanut butter and jelly (jam), the salty sweet combination has only recently blossomed here in the UK. Following on from the craze for salted caramel, comes chocolate combined with peanut butter and it seems to have taken the nation by storm. I’ve become rather enamoured too.
With my sweet tooth and lifelong addiction to sugar, I was fascinated to find a whole encyclopaedia has been devoted to the story of the human predilection for sweet food – ah, it’s not just me then. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein, has just been published and happily a copy landed on my desk.
It’s always exciting when a fellow food blogger publishes a book and when it’s a book as good as Teatime in Paris, it doubles the pleasure. French pâtisserie is something many of us aspire to, but believe it’s too complicated to make at home. This book debunks that myth and makes many of these elegant pastries accessible to us all, as suggested by the subtitle a walk through easy French pâtisserie recipes.
Gingerbread is almost synonymous with Christmas and making some to hang on the tree is something I aspire to each year. This year, I’ve actually done it. Not that we have a tree to hang any on, but I’m hoping that the friends we are giving them to will.
Reading through a review copy of What to Bake & How to Bake It, I noticed a recipe for iced gingerbread cookies that used treacle as a variation. I find the word treacle very hard to resist – something to do with childhood memories of my mother’s treacle pudding, I imagine. Decision made: I would knock up some gingerbread. I followed the recipe almost exactly, adding only a little chocolate (of course) and a few additional spices. A pinch of black pepper for additional warmth was needed I thought as well as some allspice for Vanesther’s Spice Trail and some nutmeg.
What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby (published by Phaidon Press at £19.95), is a rather beautiful book. It’s quite a large hardback and has a turquoise textured paper cover that makes me want to stroke it. Two matching turquoise bookmarks add distinction and there are plenty of gorgeous pictures to admire. It appears to be more a work of art than a manual. It’s certainly a book to treasure.
As the title suggests, this book is aimed principally at those who are new to baking or who require a confidence boost. Each recipe is spread over four to six pages, with lots of step-by-step aerial photography and accompanying instructions. Ah, so it is a manual, albeit a rather lovely one. Methodologies, terms and equipment are covered at the beginning and there are plenty of tips and tricks to be found throughout. Anyone working through a few of these recipes would learn pretty much everything they needed to turn out fabulous, cakes, breads, biscuits, pies and desserts. Despite this, I think the book is also useful to the more experienced baker; most of us still have something to learn. Creating a Swiss roll is one of my bêtes noirs, so maybe I’ll be able to crack it with the steps shown here.
There are fifty recipes in total and although the classics are represented, there is plenty here to keep the more experienced baker interested and inspired. Shortbread is covered for example, but orange, lavender, pecan and chocolate versions are also given. I have my eye on the malted chocolate birthday cake as I’m a sucker for a malteser and if I hadn’t been ill in the run-up to Christmas, I would have made the pistachio and fig biscotti which sounds exotic and comforting in equal measure. Other bakes that might restore me to health include: blueberry-cinnamon crumb cake, cranberry stollen and Linzer cookies.
This is how I made:
Spicy Gingerbread with Limoncello Icing
- Melted 110g Rodda’s salted butter in a large pan with 200g dark brown sugar, 2 tbsp treacle and 25g dark chocolate.
- Allowed to cool a little then beat in a duck egg (large hen’s egg would be fine).
- Beat in 2 drops Holy Lama cinnamon extract (2 tsp ground cinnamon), a drop of black pepper extract and a drop of nutmeg extract.
- Sifted in 150g wholemeal flour and 200g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp allpice and a heaped tsp ground ginger.
- Mixed until just combined, then left in my cold kitchen to firm up for an hour.
- Gathered the mixture together to form a ball of dough and rolled out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a £1 coin.
- Cut various shapes from it, rerolling the leftovers again and again until the dough was all used up.
- Placed biscuits on a lined baking tray and baked at 180C for 7 minutes – mine were quite small and larger biscuits would need a couple of minutes or so longer.
- Used a chopstick to make holes for threading whilst the biscuits were still hot from the oven, then removed them to a wire rack to cool.
- Mixed 3 heaped tbsp icing sugar with just enough limoncello to make a thick, but slightly runny icing.
- Piped this onto my biscuits and left them to dry.
- Made about 80 biscuits.
The biscuits smelt wonderful, both in and out of the oven and were as warming and delicious as I’d hoped. The touch of limoncello icing gave an added note of sophistication. They may not have looked very sophisticated, but I’m blaming the flu virus for that. CT and I quickly polished off all the rejects and the rest got packed into bags for gifts.
I am sending these biscuits of to Vanesther over at Bangers & Mash for The Spice Trail, which is allspice this month.
Some are also winging their way to Karen over at Lavender and Lovage who has appropriately chosen sugar and spice for this month’s Cooking with Herbs.
Here are a few ideas for stocking fillers if you are feeling a bit stuck. You will surely find something here for the food lovers in your life. I’d certainly be happy to find any of these in mine.
Drinking Chocolate Christmas Baubles
Hans Sloane is probably my favourite hot chocolate and I’ve tried a few over the years. It makes a rich and creamy beverage, even without the addition of milk and it is not overly sweet. Made with water, these make excellent drinks for vegans or those with a dairy intolerance. You can read my previous reviews of Hans Sloane drinking chocolate Madagascar 67% and Ecuador 70% and Rich Dark (53%) and Natural Honey.
|Photo courtesy of Hans Sloane|
The latest to come my way is this adorable Christmas Bauble full of 53% chocolate beads that rattle around when you shake it. The sight of a Christmas tree groaning under the weight of these substantial baubles would be a remarkable sight; when I tired of the spectacle, it would be good to know that I could pop them individually into mugs and liberate the contents with some hot water or milk. From tree to tea-tray in a trice. Perfect! £2 per individually packaged bauble and they will arrive in time for Christmas if you order by 18 December. Alternatively the 270g packs cost between £4.49 and £5.49 and can be found at Tesco and Waitrose as well as online.
Personalised Cornishware Mug
I grew up with Cornish Blue and the plates, cups and jugs are still in regular use in my mother’s kitchen on the edge of Bodmin Moor, though somewhat cracked and chipped these days. They hold a special place in my heart, though I now have a preference and yearning for Cornish Red. This personalised mug adorned with my moniker I found especially appealing. It’s just the right size and has a chunky, hand warming quality about it – perfect for those bedtime mugs of cocoa I’m so fond of, or even chocolate tea. Next time maybe Santa will bring me a red one. £10 for an 8oz personalised Cornishware mug.
Having received my dose of antioxidants and minerals internally, how about applying chocolate externally, in this case in the form of soap? Made locally in Liskeard by Cornish Soapcakes, I was frothing at the mouth at the thought of trying this. With its simple but effective packaging, this certainly looked good enough to eat when I opened it. Made with Green & Blacks chocolate rather than the usual cocoa butter. Is this a first for Liskeard and who knows, the world?
Cheese Making Kit
Cheese making is all the rage at the moment and Cheeky Monkey Cream Chargers have cleverly seized the opportunity and are making kits for home cheese making. I was sent a Goat (Chèvre) kit, which I’m excited to try, but haven’t quite found time to do so yet. I adore goat’s cheese which is fabulous for cooking and pairs remarkably well with chocolate. You can see some of the recipes I’ve tried with this combination. The kit comes with instructions, recipes, cheesecloth, citric acid, cheese-salt and herbs de Provence. It will make about 3 lb of chèvre. All I need to do is buy the milk and follow the instructions. I will report back when I have done so. There is a mozzarella and ricotta kit too, which sounds equally attractive. Both kits cost £6.
Made by husband and wife team Soph and Ian in Suffolk, Raw Nibbles are on a mission to create delicious and healthful products which retain the nutritional benefits of chocolate by keeping processing to a minimum. All products are handmade, vegan and free from dairy, wheat, gluten, beet sugar, cane sugar, soya, egg and artificial additives. Not only that but they are organic, with Soil Association certification, which always endears a producer to me.
Double Chocolate Brownie – dates, cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, vanilla powder, almonds hazelnuts.
This is substantial and dense, but with a fudgy texture consistent with a good brownie. It’s certainly very tasty; I noticed that the date flavour comes through quite strongly – maybe it’s my Middle Eastern genes, but I really liked that: I found myself desiring more than a nibble. Weighing it at 110g, it’s currently on offer for £2.80.
Crispy Raw Chocolate – cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, sprouted buckwheat, vanilla powder.
Sprouted buckwheat in chocolate? This was a first for me and I have to say I was a little dubious. My mistake. Buckwheat usually has a powerful and distinctive flavour, which is not to everybody’s liking. I needn’t have worried, they tasted just like nuts with the same crunchy texture. The chocolate had a good snap with a feel of “real” chocolate. My mouth didn’t feel assaulted by vast quantities of sugar – really nice. Currently on offer at £2.40 for a 50g bar.
mberry – Miracle Fruit Tablets
The fruits of the miracle berry, Synsepalum dulcificum, a West African shrub, are compressed and dried into tablet form. The effects are the result of a taste modifying process caused by miraculin, a glycoprotein found in the berry’s flesh. So what does all this mean? The theory is, it turns sour and bitter flavours sweet.
CT and I gave it a go. We each let one tablet dissolve on our tongue. It took rather longer than I was expecting and tasted fruity with a berry like tartness. So far, unremarkable. Then we tried drinking some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Wow! We’d heard it was meant to make things taste different, but it was still a surprise to find the lemon juice tasted sweet, really sweet. What fun. Fool your tongue like never before. An ideal party piece to amaze your friends at Christmas to go with the magic lantern show and other curiosities. Dickens would have loved these. Available from mberry at £12.99 for a pack of ten.
Crumb – Ruby Tandoh
For those that haven’t been following the Great British Bake-off, Ruby, a young law student, was a finalist in the 2013 competition and now writes regularly for the Guardian. For fans of this iconic programme, she will need no introduction. Her book Crumb is filled with enticing recipes for bakes of all kinds; they not only sound highly flavoursome, but are down to earth and fancy free. The law’s loss is our gain.
The book is both intelligently and clearly written, so it’s engaging as well as informative. The recipes are easy to follow and full instructions are given for the novice cook. Each chapter begins with a “how to” section explaining ingredients and techniques. Answers are given throughout to many of the common questions which even experienced bakers may have: why is my cake too dense? Why is my bread too yeasty? Why is my Danish pastry leaking butter as it bakes? Ruby is also good at demystifying those little tips and tricks that the experienced baker takes for granted. So what does it mean when you say a curd has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon? Well she shows you.
Innovative bakes and twists on old favourites abound, inspiring me to get off the computer and into the kitchen. So far I have only made a batch of wholemeal walnut cobs and a jar of her lemon curd; both were simple to make and delicious. I have, of course, bookmarked a rather ambitious number of other recipes. These include: cherry stollen with pistachio marzipan, dark chocolate orange bourbons, blackberry ricotta cheesecake, chocolate lime mudcake and spiced chocolate tart. There you have it, my New Year’s resolution.
Published by Chatto & Windus in September this year, the substantial 336p book costs £20.
Some festive chocolatey treats rolled in, just in time for Christmas – a stocking to fill a stocking it would seem. Hotel Chocolat is the best High Street chocolatier out there and I do miss not being able to pop in to the Plymouth store with the regularity I was once able to. A box of chocolate reindeer made from the house special 40% milk chocolate was much appreciated as was the Christmas stocking filled with white, milk and caramel chocolate santas, presents and bells. Thank you Hotel Chocolat.