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.
Well, three of a kind is a bit of a misnomer really – I just liked the snappy title. There are three books and they are all cookbooks; they are even all of the same size, but there the similarities end. The fact that all of them contain recipes for chocolate is, of course, a given.
Chocolat by Eric Lanlard
The subtitle of this book, seductive recipes for bakes, desserts, truffles and other treats says it all really. If you know anything about Eric Lanlard you will know that moderation, when it comes to ingredients, is not his strong point – something I heartily approve of. Last month’s We Should Cocoa was all about making chocolate cakes for £1, these recipes go to the other extreme. The book screams indulgence and my goodness what a lot of mouth watering recipes there are.
Eric starts off with a brief history of chocolate. Given the extraordinary and long history of chocolate, this one page summary really is rather brief, but will no doubt be interesting to those who have little knowledge of it. In the context of this work, it’s absolutely fine; it’s a book of recipes not a treatise on chocolate. Next up is a short section on working with chocolate which includes melting and tempering. Again, there isn’t a great deal of detail given, but the basics are there. The main part of the book is divided into four chapters: From the Bakery, Desserts & Puddings, Truffles & Treats, Drinks, Spreads & Sauces. Here are some recipes that took my fancy: white chocolate and passion fruit cheesecake would make a perfect dessert for a dinner party; salted butter caramel cake is on my absolutely must bake list; pink fizz champagne truffles are surely an essential for any wedding and I’m planning on drinking my way through the swathe of cocktails, shakes and hot chocolates.
As you can imagine, the photographs look absolutely sumptuous and I was pleased to see there were a lot of them. Not every single recipe has an accompanying picture, but the vast majority of them do. I defy anyone not to crave something dark and decadent after viewing any one of them.
I’ve made a number of recipes from this book and they’ve all proved to be a rip-roaring success. Last year I made the dark chocolate moelleux for a Liskeard event and it was one of the first cakes to disappear. A large rich, dark and very tasty chocolate sponge is filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with a dark chocolate ganache and as much summer fruit as you want to put on it.
For the same event I adapted Eric’s recipe for white chocolate strawberry tarts. These also proved to be extremely popular and disappeared rather fast. I had already played around with making some white chocolate raspberry tarts based on the same recipe, so I knew they were good. An enriched sweet pastry is filled with strawberry compote, topped with a white chocolate Chantilly cream and then decorated with strawberries. The Chantilly cream works wonderfully with fruit and I’ve used it on a number of occasions since.
White chocolate and lemon madeleines are another recipe I’ve tried. Like the others, they still haven’t been written up – oh the life of a busy chocolate blogger! Again the recipe worked extremely well. Not only were they very tasty, but they had the classic foot too, which isn’t something that always happens with madeleine recipes in my experience.
Everyone needs a book of indulgent chocolate treats I reckon and this is one well worth having. This 176 pages of sumptuousness is published by Octopus Books as a hardback and retails at £18.99
Chocolate by Jennifer Donovan
Compared to the previous book, the recipes and photographs are more restrained and less extravagant. The subtitle, heavenly recipes for desserts, cakes and other divine treats is still highly applicable though.
I’d not come across the author Jeniifer Donovan before receiving this book, so I was interested to find out about her. She was born in in Australia, but now teaches cooking in London. She has written several cookbooks including The Big Book of Chocolate – gosh!
The introduction briefly describes what chocolate is, how to store it and how to cook with it. Tempering is mentioned but not described, which seems a little strange for a book all about chocolate. This is followed by a few basic recipes such as shortcrust pastry, chocolate custard and caramel sauce.
The main recipes are divided into seven chapters: Quick-Fix-Desserts, Chocolate Heaven Desserts, Cakes & Bakes, Pastries & Puddings, Ices, Chocolate Treats & Drinks and Sauces, Icings & Frostings. After the index there is a handy page to make your own notes on, something I’d find useful as I don’t like to spoil books by scribbling all over the recipes – I am a Librarian by training after all!
I haven’t had the book as long as Chocolat so although many of the recipes are bookmarked, I’ve only made a couple of them so far. We had these chocolate scotch pancakes for Pancake Day. They worked well and were thoroughly delicious especially smothered, as they were, with maple syrup and nectarines.
Chocolate & chestnut mess sounds like an excellent alternative (or addition) to the Christmas Day pud and one that I might be trying this year. A handy tip for making some rather striking mini white chocolate cheesecakes is to line a muffin tray with a strip of paper so the finished cheesecakes can be lifted out easily without damage. A chocolate ricotta cake I spotted has absolutely to be tried. I’m still unsure as to the combination of dark chocolate and lemon, so I might need to make the tangy lemon and chocolate tarts to help me decide. Chocolate sorbet has long been on my to make list, so I was pleased to see a recipe for it in the Ices section. Peanut butter & milk chocolate truffles sound quite unsophisticated compared to the cranberry & port truffles, but just the thing I would find quite scrumptious. In my book, you can never have too many sauce and icing recipes, so chocolate rum frosting here I come.
If you like coconut, as we do, these chocolate cherry macaroons are rather moreish, though the glacé cherries did make them quite sweet. This was the first time I’ve every made coconut macaroons using coconut cream. This gave an extra dimension to the general coconuttiness and made these macaroons more sophisticated than your average.
I was surprised to see that the recipes in this book have no introduction, something I take as a given in any serious cookery book. A little note from the author giving some background information or stating why they like a particular recipe makes a big difference when choosing a recipe to make. It also personalises the book making it an interesting read in its own right, rather than just a collection of recipes.
This is a good book for cooks who have some experience but want to increase their recipe repertoire.
Published by Duncan Baird in 2013, this is a hardback with 207 pages and retails at £14.99.
Paris Pastry Club by Fanny Zanotti
Whilst not exactly a chocolate book, this is all about the sweet stuff and does include a fair few chocolate recipes. Sumptuous was the word that sprang to mind when I first saw the book. Like Eric Lanlard’s Chocolat, the recipes are rich and indulgent and the photographs leave you in no doubt of this fact. I guess it must be that French love of butter, cream and other naughty fare – oh la-la! I can’t be far wrong because the subtitle here reads: a collection of cakes, tarts, pastries and other indulgent recipes. Fanny is a pastry chef who grew up in France, has travelled the world and now lives and works in London. She blogs at likeastrawberrymilk.com. This is her first book.
As can be seen from the front cover, there is a sense of fun here. I found it to be really quite delightful. The book is “served” by the author with the following recipe:
- 150g kneading
- 100g piping
- 120g whipping
- 100g drinking
- 2 tsp talking
- a fat pinch of laughter
- a pinch of crushed delight
- Classics (everything a girl needs to know).
- Some Thing Are Bound to Happen (like chocolate cake on a rainy day).
- Break-up Menders (treats for one).
- Breakfasts of Kings (or anyone you want to wake up next to).
- Lazy Summer Sweets (for glittery days and balmy nights)
- Dinner Party Desserts (the perfect end to a perfect evening)
Fanny demonstarably has a very sweet tooth. Whilst ricotta & honey doughnuts sound delicious in the extreme, I can’t see these making their way to my puritan breakfast table any time soon. However the almost-instant chocolate fondant cake is a must. Pistachio nougat sounds delicious, but it is one of those things you really need a stand mixer for and I don’t have one, so this will have to wait. Vanilla ice-cream with olive oil is a completely new one on me and now must of course be tried. The deconstructed pumpkin pie really isn’t my thing, but I guess all chefs have to have a go at this trendy style. Spicy chocolate pots-de-crème are definitely on my to make list, especially after the recent success of my Amaretto pots au chocolat. I do adore spices and these ones are flavoured with cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and chilli.
I had a go at making an adapted version of the banana split(isn) sundae in the Treat for One section. Despite the chapter’s title, the recipe stated that it served two! According to Fanny “my super-decadent treat is to layer some better-than brownies cookies in a tall glass with caramelised banana, vanilla ice-cream and an insane chocolate fudge sauce. The perfect break-up cure”. Well I hoped breaking up wasn’t on the cards so went ahead and made it anyway. I opted for fresh strawberries and whipped cream instead of the bananas and ice-cream, but I made her cookies for the base and insane chocolate sauce to drizzle over it all. The quantities seem a little off, I halved the amounts given for the sauce and there was still plenty left over, not that I’m complaining. Unsurprisingly, it was very good indeed, a real treat, although vraiment I wouldn’t say the cookies were anywhere near as delightful as a brownie.
Published by Hardie Grant in 2014, this is a hardback with 160 pages and retails at £20.
If you are anything like me, you will have odds and ends of recipes scattered around the house, used as bookmarks, scribbled on scraps or in piles somewhere or other and never to be found when needed. I keep meaning to get organised and to collect my favourite not to be forgotten recipes in one place, but somehow don’t seem to have managed it – yet.
Recently, I was sent A Cake Lover’s Recipe Notebook by Jane Brocket which would be perfect for this exercise or at least for keeping all my favourite cake recipes together. Published by Jacqui Small, it comes as a spiral bound hardback measuring roughly 20 x 23cm with a pretty vintage style textured cloth cover. The notebook is divided into sections, mostly categorised by type of cake and separated by tabs. It starts with an introduction, encouragingly entitled, let’s eat cake which celebrates the joy of baking. There then follows a chapter on baking essentials, which usefully outlines essential ingredients, equipment, methods and techniques. At the back of the book, you can find a list of addresses for suppliers. Each section includes two pre-prepared recipes. These are not meant to be particularly innovative, but classic cakes which, we are assured, are failsafe and perfect for the beginner. The recipes are all accompanied by beautiful vintage type illustrations that make me want to throw a tea party immediately.
Each section has about 16 recipe cards with space for ingredients, method and what size cake it makes or how many. It also has a handy little tick box for “make again”. There is a page to list the shape, size and number of your baking tins (or moulds in my case). I think I shall find this particularly useful as I don’t have the room to have them all in one cupboard or even all in the kitchen and often lose track of what I’ve actually got. At the back of the book, you will find pages for notes as well as favourite cake and baking shops, an idea I felt was particularly appealing.
Out of the twelve recipes included, I was relieved to see that three of them were chocolate ones: brownies, mocha cake and bûche de Noël. However, after considering making fondant fancies and covering them with chocolate icing, I decided to adapt the almond slice recipe instead. I had a jar of my chilli chocolate mincemeat left over from the Christmas before last and it was in need of using up. I thought it would make an ideal substitute for the raspberry jam in the recipe. I made only half the quantity as sadly, I had no tea party to give.
This is how I made:
Almond Mincemeat Slices
- Poured 100g flour (half wholemeal, half white) into a mixing bowl together with 25g ground almonds and 25g cardamom sugar (caster).
- Added 60g cubed unsalted butter and rubbed this into the flour until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
- Added 1 tbsp of cold water and stirred with a knife.
- Poured the mixture into a 7″ sq silicone mould and pressed it down with a spoon to form an even layer on the bottom.
- Baked at 180°C for 10 minutes.
- Creamed 70g unsalted butter with 70g cardamom sugar (caster) until light and fluffy.
- Beat in 1 duck egg.
- Sifted in 70g ground almonds, 40g flour (half wholemeal, half white) and ½ tsp baking powder.
- Stirred until just combined.
- Spread a layer of mincemeat over the shortbread base (about 8 tbsp) then covered this with the frangipane topping.
- Scattered a handful of flaked almonds over the top and baked at 180°C for 18 minutes until the top was risen and golden.
- Left to cool in the mould, then cut into 12 slices.
These slices were a true delight. The shortbread base was short and crumbly, the frangipane top was light and almondy and the chocolate mincemeat held it all together very nicely.
As my mincemeat was about to walk out of the cupboard and into the bin, I just got there in time. So I’m submitting this to the No Waste Food Challenge, normally hosted by Elizabeth’s Kitchen but this month by the wonderful Chris of Cooking Around the World.
Thanks to Jacqui Small for the notebook. There was no requirement to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
As the title suggests, Lorraine Pascale’s latest baking book, A Lighter Way to Bake, is all about baking in a healthier way. It is not about cutting out the treats, but reducing the amount of fat, sugar and refined flour in the sort of bakes we are familiar with. As regular readers will know, I have been using wholemeal flour all my life, so I was particularly pleased to see a TV chef catching up with the idea. Although I have a sweet tooth, I bake at the lower end of the sugar scale. When it comes to fat, I am of the Weston A Price persuasion and don’t actually believe that good quality butter and eggs, where the livestock has free ranged on grass, is bad for you, quite the contrary – see my post on ingredients are the key. Eating too much of it, of course, may well be a problem.
This is one very dense book. Although it is more or less the same size as Lorraine’s Baking Made Easy and is also published by Harper Collins, it seems to weigh a lot more. It does have 286 pages, which is about fifty more than her previous title, but I don’t think that accounts for it all. I like this feeling of weightiness and solidity in a cookbook, it gives me a sense of security. It is packed full of recipes and pictures. There are a hundred recipes covering breakfast & brunch, bread, savoury bakes, puddings & desserts, cakes, cookies & traybakes, teatime treats, special occasions and pastry. Unusually, there is a picture for every bake covered, although not always on the same page. They all look very enticing and don’t have any of the annoying fading out shots, where you can only see part of the picture clearly. There is a particularly intriguing picture of a raspberry, vanilla & white chocolate cake with almond flowers that I am now keen to attempt. There are also a couple of superflous pictures of the author, which always seems a bit odd in a cookbook. It’s good to have one good picture for interest, but I don’t really see the point of any extras. It does appear to be a modern trend though and I suppose there aren’t that many of them.
Rather strangely, the paper is very shiny, which can make it reflective when the lights are on and thus a bit difficult to read. The choice of print is also a bit odd, or rather the choice of colour. The print size isn’t that big and both the introduction to the recipe and ingredients are printed in a pale red colour: I found myself squinting on more than one occasion. Thankfully, the instructions are all in black. Red is a key theme that runs throughout the book and this colour is used on some pages and for most of the utensils.
The recipes all look good and I’d be happy to make or eat most of them. There are a few meat and fish recipes included, which I skipped over fairly fast, but the savoury section had an equal number of vegetarian recipes in it, eight of each, which I found very pleasing. I bookmarked the butternut squash naked bean burger with apple and mango chilli salsa as soon as I saw it. Being a bit of a squash fiend, I’m also rather keen to try the sweet potato, squash, apple and sage muffins from the breakfast section. Having watched all the breadstick action recently on the BBC’s Great British Bake Off, the oregano & thyme grissini caught my eye in the bread chapter and I’m looking forward to trying them out next time I have friends around for a meal.
Lorraine has gone for healthy, but has made an effort that this should not be at the expense of taste. Butter has not been cut out entirely, but is often substituted in total or in part by oil or yogurt. Ground almonds and wholemeal flour feature quite strongly and there is more emphasis on fresh fruit rather than dried. Many of the recipes use only egg white or have a ratio of more egg white to yolk to omit some calories; what, I wonder, do you then do with all the egg yolks? I can’t bear waste, but it rather defeats the object of not eating them in the first place if you then make a massive amount of curd or custard. Each recipe has a nutritional breakdown at the bottom of the page and gives a comparison to a more conventional recipe, although I have no idea which recipes those are. One of the almond blackberry and peach friands, for example, are 179 calories compared to 270, with 9.8g less fat, 5.5g less saturated fat, 4.4g less sugar, 0.1g more protein and 1g less salt.
There were plenty of chocolate recipes to choose from, which is most definitely a good sign. The chocolate Guinness and blackcurrant cake is a must as is the chocolate, chocolate torte. But first, I decided to try out the soft choc, choc chip cookies. The only change I made to these was to use rapeseed oil rather than olive oil and a slightly higher quantity of wholemeal flour as my duck eggs were quite large.
This is how I made:
Lorraine Pascale’s Choc Chip Cookies
- Creamed 75g unsalted butter with 100g light muscovado sugar until pale and fluffy.
- Added 25g of extra virgin rapeseed oil and beat some more.
- Beat in 2 duck eggs, one by one.
- Sifted in 110g wholemeal flour, 100g white flour, a tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda and 25g cocoa powder.
- Added 25g rolled oats and stirred until all incorporated.
- Stirred in 50g milk chocolate chips.
- Ran some cold water over my hands and rolled ping pong sized pieces into balls. The recipe said to divide into 12, but I made 16 large biscuits.
- Placed on a lined baking sheet and pressed down to about 1 cm in depth.
- Baked on the top shelf at 180°C for about 10 minutes.
- Transferred to a wire rack and left to cool – apart from one which I just had to try!
The biscuits turned out beautifully and were quite large. They didn’t spread too much, but rose up quite considerably. Warm from the oven, they were crisp on the outside and soft and slightly chewy on the inside. When they cooled down, they were soft on the outside too. Lorraine describes them as half way between a biscuit and a cake and I think she has that spot on – a whoopie pie by any other name. They were just the right side of sweetness, not overly sugared allowing for the chocolate to shine resulting in a really flavoursome biscuit.
I was sent a copy of A Lighter Way to Bake to bake from with no requirement to write a favourable review. As always, all opinions are my own.
This post is a bit of indulgence. I have a heap of posts waiting to be published or written that should be taking priority. But rather unexpectedly, I was able to lay my hands on my first cookbook last night and couldn’t resist baking something from it this morning. Claire at Foodie Quine is to blame for this little renaissance. She got rather excited about finding a copy of her first cookbook, wrote a post about it highlighting a few other first cookbooks and is now hosting an event this month for bloggers to post about theirs.
It just so happens that Janice of Farmergirl Kitchen has the very same book as mine – My Learn to Cook Book: a children’s book for the kitchen by Ursula Sedgwick with fabulous and much loved illustrations by Martin Mayhew. We both still have our original copies, although mine resides at my mother’s and we were both given our books as a present from a Great Aunt. Mine was given as a Christmas present when I was eight and I immediately set to and cooked my way through the entire book. I don’t think there is a recipe there I didn’t attempt, some with more success than others. You can tell which recipes I used a lot by the copious staining on some pages. The page for Zoo Biscuits is almost completely blue from the food dye I used to paint the biscuits. Some recipes such as the Chocolate Mousse I carried on using well into my adulthood. Some recipes are frankly, a little bizarre. The fruit fried sandwich, which is two slices of bread sandwiched together with bramble jelly and grated apple and then fried in butter is not something I find immediately appealing. On the other hand, I’ve just made some bramble jelly and I have a house full of apples ……….
A couple of years ago, I made Crispy Crackolates from the book for the first time in many a long year. This time, I decided to have a go at the Chocolate Drops – more commonly recognised nowadays as choc chip cookies. Although the book gives fairly explicit instructions most of the time, it does let you down on occasion. I had no clue as to how many biscuits the mix was meant to make. As I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t want to have to prepare more than one baking tray, I heaped mine up into 12 mounds which made for crispy edges and a chewy middle. Sixteen would have made a better and flatter size, but you live and learn or at least that’s what you are meant to do. I used wholemeal spelt flour and Willie’s Venezuelan 72% chocolate drops for added wow factor and because I’d just managed to get some on special offer.
This is how I made:
- Creamed 2 oz unsalted butter together with 2 oz caster sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in a medium sized egg and a ¼ tsp vanilla extract until combined.
- Sifted in 3 oz wholemeal spelt flour and a pinch of sea salt, then stirred until just combined.
- Stirred in 2 oz dark 72% chocolate drops, which I’d previously cut into pieces as they were quite large.
- Spooned heaped teaspoonfuls onto a line baking tray to make 12 mounds – now realise 16 smaller mounds would have been much better.
- Baked at 180°C for 12 minutes until brown around the edges and golden on top.
There are three books out this year which have caused a lot of excitement amongst many a food blogger. Unusually, they are all by the same author. It almost feels like a shared success when one of our own gets a cookbook published. Charlotte Pike of Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary went one better than writing her first book and getting it published, however – she managed three all in one go. How she achieved this whilst running a successful business, blogging for the Guardian and Hello magazine and giving cookery demonstrations beats me. It’s an astonishing feat which I put down to a lot of hard work and very good planning.
The Hungry Student – who doesn’t resonate with that concept? As the name implies these books are aimed at students living away from home for the first time and offer simple but tasty recipes that don’t cost the earth. Just a few years out of University herself, Charlotte remembers well what it was like to survive on a very tight food budget. My student years were spent consuming lentils. I have a great fondness for this humble pulse, but my repertoire could have been expanded and any one of these books would have been ideal for the task.
Never mind the hungry student, these books are ideal for the hungry worker too. I know when I get home from work or have been digging down at the plot, I want something hearty, filling and quick. Charlotte delivers plenty of ideas along those lines.
The recipes have all been tried and tested prior to publication, both by Charlotte and a willing team of testers – I know because it was my privilege to be one of them. One year on and I still remember how good those peanut butter blondies were. I really must make them again.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the books and finally see what they looked like. As a thank you for the testing, I was sent all three copies. As they arrived around my birthday, I took them to be a very welcome impromptu birthday present. I was really impressed with their overall appearance and ease of use. The covers are fun and colourful. The layout is clear and uncluttered and there are plenty of mouth-watering pictures although sadly not all recipes are accompanied by one. There are some recipes that appear in more than one book, which is a bit annoying if you have the complete set, but to be fair there isn’t too much of an overlap. Published by Quercus, the books can be bought as single editions or as a set and are extremely good value I reckon at only £7.99 per book.
The Hungry Student: Easy Baking
Being a keen baker, this was of course, the very first of the three that I energetically leafed through. Whilst this is an excellent book for the beginner, there are a multitude of recipes that will appeal to the more experienced baker – they certainly appealed to me. It starts with some information and a few handy hints focussing on key ingredients and baking techniques. Chapters include: Small Bakes, Big Bakes, Traybakes, Baked Desserts and the not to be forgotten Breakfast Baking where the picture of a tray of cinnamon buns had me leaping around with delight. Bread has not been forgotten and the chapter on Easy Breads includes some basics such as crusty white loaf, wholemeal soda bread and pizza bases but also some more unusual flatbreads and a spectacular sounding cheesy courgette caterpillar bread loaf, which, with the current courgette glut we are experiencing, is on my list of things to bake soon.
No sooner did I see Charlotte’s recipe for chocolate fudge brownies, than I had to give them a go. I made them for the Liskeard pop-up cafe back in July where they received rave reviews and every single one of them disappeared. Luckily, I did manage to snaffle a piece so I can attest they were truly fudgy with a satisfying crunchy top. In fact, I would go as far as to say these were amongst the best brownies I’ve made and I’ve made quite a few.
The Hungry Student: Vegetarian Cookbook
As well as a host of useful tips on cooking, ingredients and equipment, this book includes a section on How Not to Poison Your Friends – if you value your friends, you will follow this advice. As well as the sort of chapters you’d expect in a student book, such as pasta, curries and easy dinners, there is a handy one on Feeding Friends which gives a few more elaborate recipes and ups the quantities somewhat. The Morning After chapter gives a host of interesting breakfast dishes which are simple but tasty and make a nice change from a bowl of cereal.
Being vegetarian, I was especially pleased to have this book and I remember well the lovely creations I tried out when recipe testing. Lentil shepherd’s pie is a dish I make regularly, but Charlotte’s take on it was quite different to mine with added mushrooms and red wine and it was very good indeed. Veggie toad in the hole is another regular in this household, but I’d not had it with onion gravy before and that notches it up a few levels. Until testing these recipes, I had never baked a risotto in the oven, but the baked squash risotto was delicious and so easy. With plenty of Swiss chard down at the plot, one of the first recipes I made was spiced spinach with black eye beans and very tasty it was too. Baking, of course, gets a mention and I was so intrigued by the chocolate red wine cake, I had to make it immediately. Assuming the concept of leftover wine is not a foreign one to students, this is a brilliant use for it. I jazzed it up a bit with icing and decorations and took it into work where it went down a storm.
The Hungry Student: Cookbook
This is an all round cookbook which includes a bit of everything. As with the others, it starts with sections on stocking up your store cupboard, loving your oven and various other cooking tips and techniques. A section on watching your budget is a particularly useful one for students and includes the suggestion to “see if your parents will take you shopping” which made me laugh. The book was divided into the same chapters as the vegetarian cookbook, although most of the recipes were of course different. Being a bit of a bread head, the chapter In Bread and on Toast grabbed my attention. I’d already tested both the cheese and beer rarebit and the cheese and leek rarebit. The latter was so good, I’ve made it several times subsequently.
As a vegetarian, I still found plenty in the book to keep me going. Coconut rice was one of the first things I tested. Adding coconut milk to basmati rice and serving with toasted sesame seeds is such a simple adaptation, but very effective and quite delicious. I remember the patatas bravas with great fondness, but keep forgetting to make them again. On my list of things to try out soon are the black bean quesadillas and the halloumi and roasted vegetables with lemon dressing – another way of using up courgettes. When I make pancakes, I tend to make English ones, but I was inspired by the tempting photographs for American pancakes in this book and was very pleased I gave them a go. Adding blueberries to the batter is a technique I have subsequently adopted.
In summary these books are for students of life, not just university. That said, as students prepare to head off and face life in a shared kitchen, now is the perfect time to buy these books. Perhaps parents could assist by taking their little darlings book shopping.
One wet lunchtime at work, I was browsing around Waterstones as I occasionally do and I spotted the title Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose. The title drew me in, so I picked up the book and had a look. I knew then that she had beaten me to it: this is exactly the kind of book I wish I had written. The central premise is about making delicious cakes and bakes, but making them as nourishing as possible – just what I have been doing (mostly) on my blog all these years. After flicking through the recipes for a while, I felt I wanted to know more about the author so I turned to the introduction. Well, what a surprise I got. It turns out that Amber Rose grew up on a small holding in New Zealand and puts her love of good food down to her horticulturally inclined mother Kay Baxter, who not only grew and prepared the food, but was an excellent cook. It was at this point that that my curiosity was really aroused. Could this be the very same Kay Baxter who CT and I had visited one particularly wet and windy day at Koanga Gardens in Northland, New Zealand? The simple answer was yes, she was the very same. CT wrote about our visit (amongst others) to Koanga Gardens on his From Our Owen Correspondent, it’s worth a read. A short while later, I was sent the book to review.
The subtitle of the book says it all: healthier cakes, bakes and puddings full of fruit and flavour. Spelt and other non wheat flours such as buckwheat, rye and barley are used throughout and many of the bakes are gluten free. My only complaint here was that Amber used white spelt rather than wholemeal or even a mix of both would have done. Unrefined sugars are used, with maple syrup or honey playing a starring role in many of the recipes. A plentiful supply of fresh fruit, flowers and herbs are also used. But don’t be put off if this sounds too worthy for you – the joy of both baking and eating runs throughout the book. Food that is nourishing for the body as well as the soul is something Amber mentions quite frequently; she is definitely a woman after my own heart. The recipes use butter, cream, creme fraiche, cheese and free range eggs. This got a sigh of relief from me as I am generally not keen on manufactured low fat options. There are layer cakes and fairy cakes smothered with icing. There is a whole chapter on tarts and meringues; the rosewater and pistachio pavlova with strawberries had me week at the knees just looking at the picture.
Virtually every recipe in the book appeals to me and the pictures are very tempting, but sadly, the chocolate recipes are few and far between. In fact there are only six; but when have I ever let that stop me? I was hoping to make the chocolate and cherry pots for this review, but I’ve not yet come across any English cherries. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s a bad season, it’s a late season or if I’ve missed the boat entirely. I did however make the caramelised pear and buckwheat pudding cake, although I adapted it slightly to include carob. It was deliciously light and aromatic and I loved the affect of the sunken pears.
Having studied the book in a lot more detail since I first browsed through it at Waterstones, I am definitely a fan. The final chapter was the clincher: Herbal Teas. A good slice of cake is definitely more enjoyable if accompanied by a nice cup of tea. I drink a lot of herbal tea, fresh from the garden when in season and dried out of season. Lemon balm and blackcurrant leaves is one of my favourite combinations, but I also like lemon verbena and lady’s mantle. Amber gave me a few other combinations I haven’t tried before and my new favourite of the season is fresh mint and nettle tea. I’ve never really liked nettle tea even though I know it’s good for me, although strangely, I love cooked nettles. The simple act of combining them with mint turns the tea into something quite refreshing. In this chapter, Amber also talks of her love of good quality tea and talks us through some of the different types of Black, Oolong and Green and the best way to prepare and taste them.
Other chapters include: Seasonal Cakes, Puddings, Small Bakes and Creams, Custards and Compotes. As I said earlier, there is very little in this book I am not keen to try, but Amber has come up with some really interesting combinations that I find particularly appealing. I’m looking forward to the apple season to try her apple and polenta cake. Her passionfruit and lime syrup cake is on my must bake very soon list as are the fig and mascarpone tarts and the buckwheat drop scones with apricot butter. Oh and did I mention the blood orange and rosemary tart?
|Image from Love Bake Nourish|
I particularly like Amber’s use of fresh flowers – it must be something to do with her name – and many of the bakes in the book are decorated with them. Some are used just as they are and others are crystallised. Instructions on how to crystallise flowers are included and also a useful list of flowers which are not only edible but are good to use. These are divided into: savoury herb flowers, mild herb flowers, sweetly floral flowers and mild floral flowers. There are several in the list I would not have thought of using.
The feel of the book is nostalgic and evokes a bygone era that probably never existed yet one which I long to return to. The book itself is quite beautiful and has a vintage country style which is both homely and elegant at the same time. It is country living but without the pretension of a certain glossy magazine. The photographs are lovely, although there is by no means one for every bake. They have a matt finish and depict some of the bakes along with beautiful or whimsical vintage china or rustic props. Perhaps I should coin a new phrase – rustic chic?
I shall be working my way through the book and although I doubt my photography will be quite so evocative, I will be posting some of the bakes here in due course.
Published by Kyle Books, Love Bake Nourish is a 208 page hardback and retails at £18.99.