People just love to bake. The smell of a freshly baked cake or a tray of biscuits coming out of the oven always brings a smile and a feeling of comfort and warmth.
This week a few of my favourite things to bake and share or sell for that matter. Tiny scones are made in minutes; instead of traditional butter and jam or cream why not try a dab of orange or coffee butter cream. The sour cherry Amaretti are relatively new to our repertoire – a delicious recipe given to me by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi when they taught here last year. A tin of bakewell slices with toasted almonds on top can be served with a cup of coffee or as a pudding with a jug of custard or a bowl of softly whipped cream. Brownies are a perennial favourite, these have some banana added and are a terrific way to using up a couple of ripe bananas. Almond macaroons are gluten free. Chocolate chip cookies are also a brilliant standby, you can make a batch, and then shape it into rolls, some can be frozen and some just popped into the oven immediately. I have several recipes for what are called refrigerator cookies – they must have an American origin but they are terrific to know about and are the best standby to have – just slice a few rounds, pop them into the oven and by the time the tea is made they’ll be ready to enjoy.
In general, I find a conventional oven best for baking, a fan assisted oven is a more drying heat perfect for meringues but cakes and biscuits cooked in this type of oven seem to stale faster. But this is not a problem if they are delicious – they won’t be around long enough for it to matter.
Yotam’s Sour Cherry Amaretti
A totally delicious biscuit and with the added bonus of being gluten free.
Makes about 20
180g (6 1/4 ozs) ground almonds
120g (4 1/4 ozs) caster sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 drops of natural almond extract
a pinch of salt
60g (2 1/2 ozs) dried sour cherries, roughly chopped
2 free-range egg whites
2 teaspoons honey
plenty of icing sugar for rolling
Preheat the oven to 170°C/325ºF/Gas Mark 3.
Put the ground almonds, sugar, lemon zest, almond extract and salt in a large bowl and rub with your fingertips to disperse the zest and essence evenly. Add the cherries and set aside.
Using a manual or electric whisk beat the egg whites and honey until they reach a soft meringue consistency. Gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture. At this stage you should have a soft, malleable paste.
With your hands, form the mixture into 20 irregular shapes. Roll them in plenty of icing sugar, and then arrange them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Place in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes. The biscuits should have taken on some colour but remain relatively pale and chewy in the centre. Leave to cool completely before indulging, or storing them in a sealed jar.
Rachel’s Bakewell Bars
Makes 12 Bars
75g (3oz) butter, softened
25g (1oz) caster sugar
1 egg yolk
175g (6oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
200g (7oz) raspberry jam (see recipe)
100g (3 1/2oz) butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs, beaten
a few drops of almond essence
100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds
100g (3 1/2oz) semolina
100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar
flaked almonds for sprinkling
20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square cake tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
First, make the biscuit base. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and mix well, then sift in the flour and mix together to form a dough.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface to the right size to fit the base of the tin and then press into the prepared tin. Spread the raspberry jam over the top then allow to chill in the fridge while you make the topping.
Place the melted butter in a bowl, add the beaten eggs and almond essence and mix well. Stir in the ground almonds, semolina and caster sugar.
Take the tin out of the fridge and spread the almond dough over the jam, being careful not to mess up the jam too much. (I usually place the almond dough in dots over the jam, then join it all together using the back of a spoon).
Sprinkle the top with the flaked almonds and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and set in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin, then cut into fingers.
Banana Nut Brownies
Moist, rich and delicious. Can be an irresistible nibble or a gorgeous pud with a blob of crème fraiche.
Makes 24 medium or 18 large squares
175g (6oz) butter, cut into dice
300g (10oz) light muscovado sugar (5ozs caster sugar and 5ozs soft brown sugar)
175g (6oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
100g (4oz) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g (4oz) walnuts and hazelnuts chopped
3 organic eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4
20cm x 30cm (8 x 12 inch) swiss roll tin (deep tin)
Line the swiss roll tin with silicone paper. Put the butter, sugar and chocolate in a saucepan on a gentle heat stirring until it’s smooth and melted. Remove the pan from the heat, cool a little
Sieve the flour and the baking powder, add the chopped nuts. Beat the eggs and add to the chocolate. Add the mashed banana to the chocolate mixture. Finally add the chocolate mixture into the flour, mix well and pour into the prepared tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until almost firm in the centre. Cool in the tin, then turn out and cut into squares.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 36-40, depending on size
225g (8ozs) butter
200g (7oz) brown sugar
165g (6oz) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
350g (12 oz) plain white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
150g (5oz) chocolate chips
100g (3 1/2 ozs) chopped nuts – hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Cream the butter add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the egg bit by bit, then the vanilla extract.
Mix the dry ingredients together and fold them in. Lastly, add the chocolate chips and the chopped nuts.
Divide the mixture into 7g (1/4 oz) pieces, for teeny weeny pieces, or 25g (1oz) for medium sized or 50g (2oz) for American style cookies onto baking sheets. Remember to allow lots of room for spreading. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, depending on size. Cool for a few minutes on the tray and then transfer to wire racks. Store in an airtight container.
Coffee and Walnut Scones
In the US scones are rarely eaten with butter or cream so be generous with the icing. I came across this version in a tea-shop in Manhattan.
Makes 18-20 scones using a 7½cm (3inch) cutter, or twice as many if you use a smaller cutter. Without the icing they freeze brilliantly.
900 g (2lb) flour
pinch of salt
50g (2oz) castor sugar
170g (6oz) butter
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
3 free range eggs
2-3 tablespoons coffee essence
425ml (15floz) approx. milk to mix
140g (5oz) walnuts, chopped coarsely
450g (1lb) icing sugar
scant 2 tablespoons Irel coffee essence
4 tablespoons boiling water approx.
First preheat the oven to 250C/475F/gas mark 9.
Sieve all the dry ingredients together. Rub in the butter and add the chopped walnuts. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs and coffee essence with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to about 2½cm (1inch) thick and stamp into scones. Put onto a baking sheet. Bake in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile make the coffee icing: Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of thick cream.
Spread each scone generously with coffee icing. Allow to set.
Almond and Orange Florentines
One of my all time favourite restaurants in London is Ottolenghi. This recipe comes from Ottolenghi The Cookbook – published by Ebury Press.
Makes about 20
vegetable oil for brushing
2 organic egg whites
100g (3 1/2oz) icing sugar
260g (9 1/2oz) flaked almonds
grated zest of 1 orange
Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas Mark 2.
Line a heavy baking tray with greaseproof paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil. Next to you have a small bowl with some cold water.
In a mixing bowl place together the whites, sugar, almonds and zest. Mix them gently until blended. Dip your hand in the bowl of water and pick up portions of the mix to make little mounds on the lined tray, well spaced apart.
Dip a fork in the water and flatten each biscuit very thinly. You want to make the biscuits as thin as possible without creating many gaps between the almond flakes.
Place the baking tray in the oven and bake approximately 12 minutes, until biscuits are golden brown. Check underneath one biscuit to make sure they are cooked through.
Allow to cool down well. Gently, using a palette knife, remove the biscuits from the baking sheet and into a sealed jar.
Such a terrific recipe to have up your sleeve. The dough can also be flavoured with chopped walnuts and hazelnuts, orange or lemon zest, ground ginger or almonds.
Makes 50 approximately
225g (8oz) butter
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1 organic egg
1 tablespoon double cream
300g (10oz) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
pure vanilla extract (or lemon juice or ground ginger)
Cream the butter and caster sugar in a bowl, then stir in the beaten egg, cream, flour, salt, baking powder and vanilla extract. Shape the dough into a long roll or rolls, about 5cm (2 inches or smaller if you prefer) in diameter, and wrap in silicone paper or foil. Chill in the fridge until the next day.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5.
Cut the dough into thin rounds, no more than ¼ inch rounds. Arrange well apart on 1 baking tray. Sprinkle them with castor sugar and cook for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven until they are a pale golden colour. Transfer to a wire rack. There is no need to bake the dough all at once; cut off what you need and put the rest back in the fridge until you fancy another bikki.
If you would like different flavours, divide the dough into three, and flavour each mixture differently.
Irish people have loved ginger ever since it started coming to these islands, and ginger nuts still account for a good chunk of Irish biscuit sales. These homemade ones make an excellent substitute! They’ll keep for ages in a tin if you can hide them away.
350g (12oz) white flour
150g (5oz) sugar
2 level teaspoons ginger, ground
2 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175ml (6fl oz) golden syrup (290g/8 1/2oz in weight)
150g (5oz) butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Sieve the dry ingredients together into a bowl. Meanwhile, warm the syrup gently. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the warm syrup and mix well. Roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls and arrange well apart on a baking tray lined with silicone paper. Bake in your preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Leave on the tray for 2-3 minutes, then lift off with an egg slice and cool on a wire rack.
Makes about 35
These delicious biscuits keep for ages in a tin, but they are so irresistible that they are seldom around for very long!
110g (4 oz) butter
2 tablespoons castor sugar
3 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
140g (5 oz) pecans
140g (5 ozs) plain white flour
Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/regulo 2.
Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until soft and light. Grind the nuts finely in a food processor, mix with the butter and sugar, add the sieved flour and vanilla extract. Pinch off teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls. Place well apart on greased baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes or until pale and golden.
Remove from the oven and roll quickly in icing sugar. Handle the pecan puffs very carefully as they will be fragile, brittle and extremely hot! Return to the oven and bake for 1 minute, to set the sugar. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight tin. Dust each layer with icing sugar. Separate each layer with greaseproof paper.
Fool Proof Food
These are so simple to make and can easily keep for 4-5 days in an airtight container.
4ozs (110g) desiccated coconut or ground almonds
3ozs (75g) caster sugar
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Put the desiccated coconut or ground almonds, caster sugar and the egg white into a bowl and stir to combine. It should be firm, but slightly sticky. Roll small dessertspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a wet fork. Cook for about 10 minutes or until pale golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: These are also good with the grated zest of 1 lemon or orange mixed in with the coconut/almonds and sugar.
The Soil Association Annual Conference – always an inspiration – will be held in Manchester Town Hall 9th and 10th February, 2011 – a two day public debate on Food and Farming. Tickets are available at www.soilassociation.org/shop
Irish Maol Cattle
Kerry beef farmer Patrick O’Sullivan from Ardfort who rears rare Irish Maol cattle has a number of animals for sale at present. This traditional Irish breed is a hardy dual purpose animal which produces both high quality beef and milk. The name Moile is derived from the Gaelic language and relates to the distinctive dome or mound on top of the head. In the 20th Century the breed declined in numbers as it was superseded by new more specialised breeds. The handsome hornless cattle can thrive and develop their unique flavour on rough terrain and deserve to be better known and appreciated. Interested chefs and butchers should contact Patrick on 0876472683 or contact the Irish Moile Society – 048-2588030 www.irishmoiledcattlesociety.com
The best chocolate biscuit recipe I have tasted for ages can be found on Rory O’Connell’s new food blog www.roryoconnell.blogspot.com