Thursday, 15 January 2015

My Mum's Simple Lasagne

I want to start a revolution. A pressure cooking revolution. The slow cooker has had its day and now it's the turn of the pressure cooker. The slightly scary sounding vessel which acts like it is about to explode (and indeed will if you try taking to lid off before you have let it release all its pent up frustration steam) needs some attention. Who is with me? Ok, so half of that was a lie. Slow cookers have nowhere near had their time but I'm telling the truth when I imply that pressure cookers need a lot of credit too. They speed up meals drastically, keep lots of nutrients in which would be lost via steaming or boiling and cut down on washing up. What is there not to appeal? All you have to do is get over the scary sound that it makes when the sealed unit reaches its pressure and starts screaming its head off.
Pressure cooker lasagne. Pasta sheets layered with creamy, gooey cheese sauce and a rich tomatoey meat sauce cooked in the pressure cooker
My mum has always used a pressure cooker. It took me a good number of years to stop being frightened of the noise it makes as the pressure inside builds but as soon as I did, I joined her in singing its praises. Mum uses her pressure cooker for all sorts of things - to cook several types of veg at once with the potatoes for mashing underneath the trivet, to start off a baked ham so it doesn't take all day, to give braising steak a boost before it gets cosy with the gravy and other trappings, soups, stews, chilli.....and lasagne. Yes, lasagne in a pressure cooker. Well, the meat sauce at least. And boy is it good. 
Pressure cooker lasagne. Pasta sheets layered with creamy, gooey cheese sauce and a rich tomatoey meat sauce cooked in the pressure cooker
Mum has always made her lasagne really simple. Minced beed, onion, garlic, herbs, seasoning and tomatoes. No extra vegetables or different types of meat. The cheese sauce is always made with Red Leicester and a little bit of mustard. For me it is perfect. I've had different lasagnes in restaurants and have always enjoyed them (apart from one tasteless mistake in Gloucester but let's ignore that) but Mum's extra saucy, tomatoey recipe is y favourite. So this is the one I present to you now. And why not when it is everything a lasagne should be.
Pressure cooker lasagne. Pasta sheets layered with creamy, gooey cheese sauce and a rich tomatoey meat sauce cooked in the pressure cooker
A rich, herby minced beef sauce swimming in a tomato pool sit flush with a buttery, slightly sweet, slightly tangy yet still creamy cheese boosted by a little bit of English mustard. Interleaved between the two are sheets of lasagne pasta which bake in the oven, absorbing the liquids of both to meld the two contrasting sauces together in a cerremony of delights. A final layer of gooey baked cheese adds a final flourish. It is no wonder it is my favourite dinner of all time. So much so that I am willing to risk horrendous pictures taken with glaring overhead lighting to bring you the virtues of my mum's lasagne.
Pressure cooker lasagne. Pasta sheets layered with creamy, gooey cheese sauce and a rich tomatoey meat sauce cooked in the pressure cooker
The best part is that the pressure cooker speeds up the process so you needn't spend all afternoon making it. While the meat sauce is pressure cooking you can be making that sinful but wonderful silken cheese dressing then it's a simple job of layering up in dishes and giving the dish a final bake to bring to whole thing to bubbling joy. You won't want to waste a drop so make sure you serve with crusty bread to mop up every molecule of goodness. Maybe not the best thing for a January diet but who cares when something is this good.

Simple Lasagne
Serves approx 4
Use a pressure cooker to speed up the process of making this wonderful dish. Layers of flavourful tomato mea sauce meld with gooey cheese and baked to perfection lasgane pasta sheets.

For the meat layer:
  • 1lb minced beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • Pepper to taste
  • 0.5 tsp each basil and oregano
  • 1 beef or veg stock cube dissolved in half pint boiling water
  • 1 large tin of chopped tomatoes + a good squeeze tomato puree (or 500g passata)
For the cheese sauce:
  • 1oz flour
  • 0.75 pint milk
  • 1oz butter
  • 4oz cheese, grated (Red Laicester is good, as is mature cheddar or even a mixture. I often add a scoop of Philadelphia too)
  • 1 tsp mustard
To finish:
  • Dried lasagne sheets
  • Grated cheese
1. First make the meat sauce. Add all the ingredients to the pressure cooker and seal the lid on. Over a high heat bring to high pressure. When high pressure is reached, reduce the heat by half and time ten minutes then release the pressure by running the vessel under cold water before removing the lid. If you want a thicker sauce, stir in a paste of cornflour and a little water and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile make the cheese sauce using the traditional method or this cheats method. In a saucepan, stir a splash of milk into the flour to makie a smooth paste. Gradually stir in the rest of the milk then add the butter. Over a medium/high heat melt stir the sauce until the butter melts and the sauce begins to bubble and thicken. If it begins to go lumpy either sieve out the lumps or whisk like mad to make them disappear. Once thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and mustard until melted.
3. Set the oven to 200 C/180 C fan. In a large baking dish or individual ovenproof dishes lay out sheets of lasagne so the base is covered. Add a layer of the meat sauce then a layer of cheese sauce. Repeat until the dish is full or the components are used up, making sure to end with a layer of lasagne followed by cheese sauce. Don't worry if it isn't neat.
4. Sprinkle on the extra grated cheese and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until everything is bubbling. Serve straight away or let stand in the oven with it turned off for a little while to let the pasta absorb more of the juices.

I'm sharing this recipe with Jacqueline's Bookmarked Recipes at Tinned Tomatoes because I always have this bookmarked from my mum as it is my all time favourite meal. Pressure cooking saves on money so is perfect for Credit Crunch Munch, this month hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, alternatively hosted by Camilla at Fab Food 4 All. Also, Lucy from Supergolden Bakes hosts CookBlogShare and Emily from A Mummy Too hosts Recipe of the Week for all sorts of recipes.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

White Chocolate Green Tea Shortbread Cookies and Teavivre Review

Sometimes you have to just go with things. No questions, no pondering, just do it. An idea might float into your head and the only thing you can do is give it a go. Get the ingredients out from where they live and make your idea. Like when I decided to make a green shortbread by adding tea leaves to the mixture. And hopefully like when you see the shade of green the cookies came out like but you try them anyway.
White Chocolate Green Tea Shortbread Cookies - biscuits made with Teavivre Chinese tea
Yes that's right. I ground up some green tea leaves and added to the simple combination of good butter, sugar, flour and a little semolina. Hey, I made Grinch shortbread! I had been intending to adapt my Madeira cake recipe to make a tea loaf instead but with Christmas cakes still haunting our kitchen sides, we really don't need any more. We don't even need any more biscuits but I needed to bake because I am currently at the point with my revision that I don't think I can do any more. Like if it hasn't gone in by now it isn't going to go in. What I do know will go in though is a batch of cookies. With numerous cups of tea. Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE tea?
White Chocolate Green Tea Shortbread Cookies - biscuits made with Teavivre Chinese tea
Talking of tea, Teavivre recently got in touch and asked me if I'd like to sample some of their products. They hit me at a weak spot. Would I like to review Teavivre traditional Chinese teas harvested and produced following traditional methods and chosen by tea experts working closely with suppliers? YES PLEASE!
A quick nosey around the site and I was impressed. The team behind Teavivre clearly know their stuff. Besides having some beautiful teaware available to purchase, they have an impressive range of teas right from different varieties of black tea through many green teas all the way to gorgeous flowering teas. The range of teas should keep the true connoisseur happy while for the novice who simply gets very enthusiastic about drinking tea and pairing it with baked goods (i.e. me) their is a range of information to bring you up to speed with what you need to know to make the right choices to match with your own personal tastes or the occasion your are buying for. Despite accepting a cup at every opportunity, I knew very little solid information about the history or health benefits of tea and I hadn't even heard of the Chinese Gongfu Tea Ceremony before. China really has something special.
White Chocolate Green Tea Shortbread Cookies - biscuits made with Teavivre Chinese tea
I got to sample Silver Needle white tea, Guang Dong Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong tea Yun Nan Dian Hong black tea, Huang Shan Mao Feng and Hangzhou Tian Mu Qing Ding green teas. The last was my favourite so I chose it to use in my baking too. Described as having a fresh and mellow taste I hoped the flavours would pair well with a luxurious buttery shortbread base and the creamy sweetness of white chocolate. I was right. 
White Chocolate Green Tea Shortbread Cookies - biscuits made with Teavivre Chinese tea
No single flavour overpowers the rest. The butter base provides a well rounded support to the earthy, fresh taste of tea and the vanilla hued nuggets of white chocolate which had begun to caramelise in the heat of the oven. Each bite is a crisp path through the limited resistance of a short, melting structure. The cookies let you embrace something new while holding onto the classical nature of a well made shortbread biscuit. Put the kettle on please. There is always time for tea.

White Chocolate Green Tea Shortbread Cookies
Makes approx 16 cookies
Use the sllice and bake method to make these discs of buttery, melting shortbread, flavoured with Chinese green tea and caramelised white chocolate.

  • 4oz butter, softened
  • 2oz caster sugar
  • 5oz plain flour
  • 1oz semolina, cornflour or ground rice
  • Approx 7g green tea leaves, finely ground (I ground them to almost dust in a blender)
  • 2-3oz white chocolate, finely chopped
1. Beat the butter until very pale and creamy. Mix in the sugar until evenly combined. Add the flour, semolina and ground tea and mix. You will probably need to finish mixing by hand, kneading/squashing the ingredients together until smooth and combined. Knead in the chocolate then bring together into a ball.
2.On a lightly floured surface or a sheet of baking paper roll the ball into a log about 4cm across. The exact size is up to you. Wrap in baking paper or cling film and chil in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours. 
3. When ready to bake, set the oven to 180 C/160 C fan and remove the dough log from the fridge. Use a sharp knife to slice it into about 16 cookies, depending on how thick you like them. 
4. Place on a lined baking sheet spaced out and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 mins depending on how thick they are. The edges should be very lightly browned - you may need to lower the oven temperature slightly and give them an extra five mins to dry out.
5. After a couple of minutes out of the oven, carefully lift the cookies onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Don't leave it too long or steam underneath the cookies will make them soft again.

I didn't get to enter any challenges last month so I'm extra pleased to be able to share these cookies with Tea Time Treats. Janie from The Hedgecombers, who hosts alternatively with Karen from Lavender and Lovage, has set the theme this month as Packed Lunches. Lunchtime requires a biscuit or cookie to round off for me. I'm not sure whether Stuart from Cakeyboi (hosting this month) and Kat from The Baking Explorer will agree that shortbread are healthy treats but I'm going to try entering them into Treat Petite anyway because green tea has numerous health benefits right?! Last but absolutely not least I'm sharing them with my own challenge the Biscuit Barrel. There was no challenge last month because I've had to cut back on blogging but Alexandra from The Lass In The Apron has been an amazing support and volunteered to host until I finish my exams in May. I cannot say thank you enough. It would be a massive favour if you could pop over to her blog and say hi. Her chosen theme this month is Innovation & Discoveries - I've never baked with green tea before but now I love it.

Disclaimer: I was sent the tea samples from Teavivre free of charge but was not required to write a positive review so all opinions are my own. All images are also my own besides the flowering tea which has been used from the Teavivre website.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Swineherd Pie

My second savoury recipe in a row. I know. It isn't normal but I can't say I'm sorry. I did this to you last year, first with a pearl barely bake and then with a baked risotto. Both of those recipes tasted amazing (but that doesn't stop me laughing at those photographs.) Sometimes, most of the time if truth be told, leftovers make the best meals and I'm always trying out new things to get inventive with them. Who is with me?
Swineherd Pie - leftover pork mixed with vegetables and rich gravy topped with creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes.
I felt pretty pleased with myself coming up with the name Swineherd Pie until I googled the term. Of course it isn't a new concept. Still, it is an absolutely delicious one and a perfect way to use up leftover roast pork. Or slow cooked or pulled pork as in this case. Any old veg looking sorry for itself could go in there too or whatever else you think might complement pork. Just go with it. Trust your instincts and I know you will be rewarded with a gorgeous meal and murmurs of satisfaction from all those who eat it. No more than murmurs because people will be too busy enjoying their meal. I know. That is exactly what happened today.
Swineherd Pie - leftover pork mixed with vegetables and rich gravy topped with creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes.
Beautifully tender apple scented pork diced into little chunks nestle in a bed of rich gravy with softened carrots, onions and mushrooms. An eiderdown of fluffy mashed potato lies on top and is made all the more luxurious sensuous by a splash of cream and a heavy sprinkling of mature cheddar. A hug on a plate. Let's just ignore the mess I made of dishing it up.
Swineherd Pie - leftover pork mixed with vegetables and rich gravy topped with creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes.
I've always loved pies. I've said it many times before - I like all the healthy things. My last recipe was this Kitchen Sink Pie which made use of Christmas cold meats and a variety of vegetables to produce something which lifted the spirits of us all when we needed it. I'll also never get over how versatile a gnocchi topped pie can be. This one though, this one might just be a new favourite. Ok, until I get let loose with pastry or potato again.

Swineherd Pie
Serves 3-4
The pork version of cottage or shepherds pie made using the most tender of leftover pork mixed with leftover vegetables in a rich gravy and topped with a creamy mash. Dig in.

For the filling:
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, trimmed, peeled and finely diced
  • A handful of chestnut mushrooms, wiped and chopped
  • A generous handful (as much as you would like really) leftover pork, chopped
  • A little oil
  • About half pint of thick gravy (I used leftover gravy made from the stock I slow cooked the pork in)
For the topping:
  • 2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • Splash of milk/cream
  • Pepper
  • Handful of Wensleydale (or other cheese), grated
1. First start preparing the filling. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the vegetables. Slowly cook over a medium heat while you prepare the mashed potato topping. When softened, set aside.
2. Meanwhile, place the potato chunks in a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 5-10 mins until soft. Drain and mash, mixing in the milk/cream, pepper to taste and half the Wensleydale.  
3. Set the oven to 200 C/180 C fan and place an ovenproof dish on a baking tray. Mix the vegetables with the meat and gravy and spread out in the dish. Spoon over the mashed potato and spread out, roughing it up a bit if you like crunchy bits. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 mins until piping hot and the gravy is bubbling. Serve straight away.

I haven't done so in a while but I'm mightily pleased to be able to link up with Lucy's CookBlogShare over at Supergolden Bakes once again.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Recipe Round Up - Favourites of 2014

Happy New Year to you all! I wasn't going to write this post, simply because recent events just before Christmas have put a downer on everything but having read so many 2014 review posts from other blogs, and having enjoyed all of them, I realised that many other people might enjoy them as much as me. And so another round up would only be beneficial to them surely?! I thought so. It has also been my first January to December full year of blogging too so it seems only fitting. 

I've learned so much this year, about baking, photography and blogging. Yes, it has been hard work but I've loved it. So without further waffle, here are the top ten most viewed recipes on I'd Much Rather Bake Than... from 2014. Did any of your favourites make the list?

10. Tunis Cupcakes - Not many people have heard of a Tunis Cake but more of you have now thanks to the mini version that these cupcakes present. I'm extra pleased they made the top ten because they were something I've wanted to bake for a very long time and I publised the recipe less than two months ago.
Tunis Cupcakes

9. Overloaded Chocolate Party Brownies - These brownies proved that chocolate upon chocolate upon chocolate is always a good thing. They were devoured very quickly when I took them into uni and loats of you said how wickedly indulgent they looked. Oh they are!
Overloaded Chocolate Party Brownies

8. Sprinkle Dipped Viennese Fingers - Proving that a revamped classic appeals to many, these biscuits keep the original buttery flavour and melting texture but inject a sense of fun into your tea time treat.
Sprinkle Dipped Viennese Fingers

7. Speculaas Spiced Shortbread - I made these to show off the speculaas spice mix which I finally got my hands on. Shortbread is the perfect partner for so many flavours as it tastes wonderful while letting the flavourings take the limelight.
Speculaas Spiced Shortbread

6. Suet Free Whisky Christmas Mincemeat - I frequently talk about how I don't like the taste of alcohol but love it in baking and this is another way I got creative with whisky this year. It's also the first mincemeat I enjoyed when I discovered how nice it is without suet in.
Suet Free Whisky Mincemeat for Christmas

5. Gluten Free Lemon Drizzle Traybake - I'm pleased a gluten free recipe made the top ten. I made this for my coeliac housemate as her favourite cake is lemon drizzle and I've been thinking about it ever since.
Gluten Free Lemon Drizzle Traybake

4. Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Courgette Brownies - these really were a treat and a half. Ultra decadent in both taste and gooey texture, it is hard to believe they are actually a lightened up version of a brownie and an ideal way to help use up a courgette glut.
Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Courgette Brownies

3. Chocolate Chilli Loaf Cake - A flavour combination that some people love and some people hate but a recipe which produces a velvety soft treat and an economical one at that - the whole cake cost less than £1 to make.
Economical Chocolate Chilli Loaf Cake

2. My Favourite Madeira Cake - I have been on a search for what I consider to be my favourite Madeira cake recipe and I finally found it. Lots of you thought so too and agree with me when I say that sometimes a simple classic is the best sort of cake.
My Favourite Madeira Cake Bundt

1. Double Chocolate Chunk Courgette Loaf Cake - This is the first thing I made with courgettes and it was an amazing success taste wise. Ultra chocolatey and incredibly moist, it was a dream to make too. Clearly you thought the same because it was my most viewed recipe of the year!
Double Chocolate ChunkCourgette Loaf Cake

A pretty fine list I think. I love each and every one of those recipes in their own way and I couldn't pick a favourite from amongst them. Who knows what 2015 will bring what with me finishing my masters degree and everything alse that is going on but one thing is for certain - there will be plenty of chocolate and sugar involved!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Kitchen Sink Pie aka Boxing Day Pie

I didn't expect to be writing this, what with my admittance that I needed to drastically reduce blogging in this post here. Then my life got turned upside down just before Christmas and the days have been pretty rubbish since then due to dealing with what happened, revision, final year stuff etc. I've been just about managing to revise for a couple of hours each morning but in the afternoon/evenings I can't face any. My current book is a bit naff, I can't get to the shops to buy some more wool to carry on with my crochet blanket and I'm fed up of watching films. So I thought I'd write. And tell you all about the most awesome pie I made for lunch yesterday. Insert your choice of superlatives here.....
Kitchen Sink Pie aka Boxing Day Pie. Use up your meat and veg leftovers and all sorts of other treats in one delicious and hearty pie. Pure comfort food.
There are numerous titles I could give this dish. Kitchen Sink Pie because it has everything in it. Boxing Day Pie. Cheesy Ham and Vegetable Pie. Slow Cooked Honey Mustard Glazed Ham and Mixed Veg Pie with Rich Wensleydale Sauce and Parsnip and Potato Topping. Yeah, the last one took it a bit too far but it is the one that covers it best. It also tells just how much. I love cooking with leftovers. It forces you to get so creative. I've found it so relaxing too after my bouts of revision. The satisfaction of producing something so delicious while saving things from going to waste is a real boost too. And we could all do with that at the moment in this house. Grief is a soul sucker I can tell you.
Kitchen Sink Pie aka Boxing Day Pie. Use up your meat and veg leftovers and all sorts of other treats in one delicious and hearty pie. Pure comfort food.
This is actually the second goddamn awesome pie I've made in the last week. The first used the same sauce with turkey, ham, caramelised leeks/mushrooms with a pastry lid. I didn't get any pictures of that one though. And even though this one only produced a couple of very quick pictures I had to tell you about it. It has everything. Smoked ham with the delicate flavours produced by slow cooking with marmalade, honey and mustard. Slowly softened leeks, mushrooms, carrots and sprouts with hints of caramelisation. Creamy Wensleydale sauce with lashings of indulgence. Wholesome parsnip and potato mash topping. And finally, my secret ingredient. A scotch egg. Honestly. They needed using up so in one went. The egg in the sauce and the sausagemeat shell finely chopped and sprinkled on top. This pie has the power to ease a stressed, busy mind into relaxation as well as coaxing someone who has been too distraught to eat to enjoy a meal. My mum told me she enjoyed it twice. The highest praise possible. 

Kitchen Sink Pie
Serves 3-4
Ultra comforting and very economical using up lots of seasonal leftovers including veg, meat and chilled treats. And how to cheat at making a sauce!

For the filling:
  • 1 large leek, washed, trimmed and sliced 
  • 2-3 carrots, trimmed, peeled and finely diced
  • A few chestnut mushrooms, wiped and chopped
  • Approx 10 sprouts, trimmed, peeled and quartered
  • A little oil
  • Pepper
  • Parsley
  • A handful of slices cooked glazed ham, roughly chopped
  • 1 scotch egg
 For the sauce:
  • 15g plain flour
  • 15g butter
  • 200 ml water
  • 100 ml milk
  • 1 chicken or vegstock cube
  • Approx 40g Wensleydale, grated
For the topping:
  • 1 large parsnip, trimmed, peeled and sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • Splash of milk
1. First start preparing the filling. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the vegetables. Slowly good over a medium heat while you prepare the other components of the pie. When softened and beginning to caramelise, add the pepper and parsely to taste and set aside. Remove the egg from the scoth egg, roughly chop and place in a large bowl with the ham. Finely chop the sausagemeat from the scotch egg and set aside.
2. In a saucepan, slowly mix the water into the flour, starting off with just a little to make a smooth paste, then adding the rest slowly. Place on the heat, add the butter and crumble in the stock cube. Stir continually getting right into the corners of the pan to avoid lumps forming. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens and begins to bubble. If lumps do form simply whisk the sauce well and they should disappear. When thickened, stir in the cheese until melted then set aside.  
3. Meanwhile, place the parsnip and potato chunks into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 10-15 mins until soft. Drain and mash until smooth, adding a splash of milk if necessary to get the topping to your desired consistency. Set aside until needed.
4. Set the oven to 200 C/180 C fan and place an ovenproof dish on a baking tray. Mix the vegetables with the ham and egg, followed by the sauce and pour into the baking dish. Spoon over the mashed topping and spread out, roughing it up a bit if you like crunchy bits. Sprinkle over the chopped scotch egg sausagemeat and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 mins until piping hot and the sauce is bubbling. Serve straight away.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Gingerbread Biscotti

Hello again! See, I haven't abandoned you forever. My final year of a MChem degree was never going to keep me away entirely. For those of you who have only just met me, I explained why I would be absent a lot of the time from my beloved blog in this post here for Tunis Cupcakes. I'm back for a bit though to squeeze in this post for Gingerbread Biscotti because I've looked forward to joining in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2014 since I found out about it last year.
Gingerbread Biscotti - full of lovely warming spices. A crunchy texture perfect for dunking.
Have you heard of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap? It's a really fun way to raise money for charity while simultaneously getting to discover new blogs and receiving surprises parcels in the post. You are assigned three blogs to send a batch of twelve cookies (biscuits to me) to and in return you receive three lots of mystery cookies yourself. The blogs assigned to me were Victoria Sponge Pease Pudding (I have my eye on that recipe for Maple and Candied Walnut Chocolate Celebration Cake), What Sass Says (lots of brilliant advice to be had there) and Digital Diva (the best mixture of recipes, reviews and all aspects of life). I really hope they liked their gingerbread biscotti. In return I received my one of my favourite combinations of chocolate and hazelnut cookies from Foodie Laura, Chocolate Dipped Earl Grey biscuits from The Vanilla Bean and Cranberry, Ginger and White Chocolate Cookies from Annie's Noms. I was spoilt. Don't ask me to pick a favourite. All I will say is that they disappeared helped with my revision.
Gingerbread Biscotti - full of lovely warming spices. A crunchy texture perfect for dunking.
Like I mentioned, I first cake across the Cookie Swap last year and I've been waiting since then to join in. What a fantastic way to meet new bloggers and get parcels of freshly baked goodies in the post. I had to pick my parcels up from the Post Office because I missed the postie man and it was all I could do to wait until I walked back to my house before ripping open the packaging. I'm sure I've mentioned before that I have no self control. It took me a while to decide what to bake for my contribution because I had so many ideas floating around my head. Then I remembered the breakthrough biscotti I had made, the ones that meant I had recently cracked biscotti making and I simply had to make my gingerbread version again. 
Gingerbread Biscotti - full of lovely warming spices. A crunchy texture perfect for dunking.
Previous to this I've had the same problem over and again with biscotti. I simply couldn't get them to go crunchy after their second bake. Now I've got a base recipe which work for me though so I'll be away with all my ideas. I would quite happily much these all year round but let me state right now that if you are looking for a truly seasonal biscuit then this recipe will deliver. Dunk them in tea, hot chocolate (yes!!!!) or coffee, pretty much any steaming hot drink you can think of and you will sink into a state of welcome bliss. Pre-dunking each bit brings a satisfying crunch reminiscent of amplified boots walking on fresh crisp snow. After dunking they biscuit hold itself together long enough to reach your taste buds where it will dissolve and release its warming, quilted sensation to wrap you up against the winter chill. Not a fan of ginger but love spices? That's ok, simply replace with your favourite spice or even some Speculaas spice mix. I've already proven how wonderful Speculaas shortbread is.
Gingerbread Biscotti - full of lovely warming spices. A crunchy texture perfect for dunking.
If you are a blogger then I encourage you to join in the Cookie Swap next year. If not, then I still encourage you to look over all the other entries and get yourself into a baking frenzy. You might wear yourself out making so many delicious biscuits and cookies but you will have to best of rewards at the end of it. Let me know which flavours of biscotti I should make next then go pop the kettle on.

Gingerbread Biscotti
Makes 24-28 biscuit
Crunchy, spicy, warming biscotti. Dunk them in your favourite hot drink for an extra special treat.

  • 280g plain flour
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.75 tsp cinnamon
  • 0.25 tsp ground cloves
  • 0.25 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp black treacle or molasses
  • 55g butter, melted
1. Set the oven to 180 C/160 C fan.  
2. Sift together, the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices. In a jug, mix together the remaining ingredients then mix into the dry ingredients.  
3. Knead together until evenly mixed then lay a piece of baking paper onto the kitchen surface. For the dough into two logs, roughly 30cm x 13 cm, on the paper.
4. Slide a baking tray under the baking paper and bake in the preheated oven for 25 mins (pat back into shape part way through if they spread too much for your liking) then remove from the oven and lower the temperature t 150 C/130 C fan. While the oven cools, slice each log into 12-14 pieces and lay them cut side down on the baking tray.
5. Return to the oven for 25-30 mins ( less/more depending on your oen), turning the biscuits over every ten minutes or so. They will firm up but remain slightly soft. Remove from the oven and trasnfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool wherre they will ery quickly firm up to the desired crunchy state.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Mincemeat Christmas Pudding Cake

When Waitrose got in touch recently asking me if I would like to take part in their Waitrose Christmas Desserts campaign they are running at this festive time of year my answer was immediately yes. Everybody knows how obsessed I am with baking and baking in the run up to Christmas seems all the more special somehow. I was thinking of Christmas recipes all the way back in the summer though I managed to wait until October to publish my first Christmassy recipe. I've since followed that up with this suet free mincemeat galette, this Speculaas shortbread and these vintage Tunis cupcakes. All of them delicious and all of which I had fun baking.
Mincemeat Christmas Pudding Cake - a fun combination of Christmas pudding and Madeira cake. So very easy.
Waitrose have found out that the top five desserts enjoyed by people at Christmas are Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, mince pies, chocolate Yule log and trifle. My task was to bake one of these things and put my own personal twist on it. Challenge accepted. My favourite thing to bake will always be cake but I'm saving my Christmas cake bakeathon until nearer the big day. I really enjoy making Christmas pudding but I'm not a huge fan of eating it. I've had an idea in my head for a while now to combine the two and this was the perfect chance to see if it would work. The result? Brilliant.
Mincemeat Christmas Pudding Cake - a fun combination of Christmas pudding and Madeira cake. So very easy.
I wanted to create something that as many people as possible could enjoy. First of, the recipe had to come together quickly because practicall everyone is pushed for time towards the end of the year. Easy peasy - just use and all in one mixture like these Tunis cupcakes. Don't like Christmas pudding? No worries, this is a cake disguised as a pudding. For those who prefer something plainer, the base of this is a Madeira cake. For the chocolate lovers there is a thick slathering of white chocolate ganache instead of the traditional brandy icing used on Christmas pudding.  For those who like mincemeat there is a generous helping stirred through the mixture and baked right inside. Multiple factors of Christmas baking rolled into one recipe. I was mighty pleased when I first took a bite. And then another. Aaaaaand several more. 
Mincemeat Christmas Pudding Cake - a fun combination of Christmas pudding and Madeira cake. So very easy.
The taste is that wonderful richness that comes with using ground almonds. Not too rich though, just enough to leave you feeling pleasingly indulgent. Almonds add to the silky osft crumb texture too, clinging onto every bit of moisture for days after. The whisky from the mincemeat warms you slowly from the inside complementing the sweet creaminess of the white chocolate ganache as only the slightly dark hints of distilled spirits can. The fruit dispersed throughout gives an extra little pop of flavour each time you catch some in every bite keeping you alert so you can enjoy every last morsel. Fancy another slice? Go on, it is Christmas after all.
Mincemeat Christmas Pudding Cake - a fun combination of Christmas pudding and Madeira cake. So very easy.
I baked my Christmas pudding cake in a Pyrex bowl. If you don't have one you can easily use a deep bowl as long as it is oven safe though I would highly recommend buying one because they are so useful. Alternatively, Lakeland do a hemisphere cake tin if you want to add another bit of kitchen kit to your collection. Or get creative and carve the dome shape from a deep circular cake. Whatever you do, have fun and enjoy eating your masterpiece. And maybe enter it into the Waitrose #BakeItForward campaign too. You never know what might happen.

Mincemeat Christmas Pudding Cake
Makes 1 large cake
Buttery madeira cake with whisky mincemeat baked inside and finished with a layer of white chocolate ganache. Add piped chocolate decorations and sprinkles for an extra special touch to this quick and easy alternative Christmas cake.

 For the cake:
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g very soft butter or buttery margarine
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • Zest of one lemon or orange, finely grated
  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 150-200g good quality mincemeat
To finish: 
  • 100g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 25g dark chocolate, melted
1. Set the oven to 170 C/150 C fan and grease a medium sized Pyrex bowl with butter, then dust with flour. Set on a baking tray.
2. Place all the cake ingredients into a bowl, apart from the baking powder and mix together with an electric mixer until just smooth. Sprinkle over the baking powder and mix again to evenly distribute. (if you think you'll forget it this way, just add with the other ingredients instead. It will still work fine.)
3. Transfer the mixture to the bowl, level off then create a shallow dip in the centre with the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, depending on your oven and the depth of your bowl,  untill  a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. If the top of the cake looks like it is getting too dark before it has finished cooking, gently place a disc of foil over the top of the cake to prevent it browing too much.
4. When the cake is cool, gently invert the bowl onto the wire rack and remove the cake. If it needs encouraging, carefully run a knif round the edge of the cake to loosen it.
5. For the ganache icing, place the white chocolate and milk in a bowl set over a pan of inch deep simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Stire frequently until melted and smooth - it looks horrible at first but then comes together beautifully. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, stirring every so often so it doesn't set. Meanwhile, place the melted dark chocolate in a piping bag with a narrow hole in the end and pipe shapes onto some baking paper or a silicone mat. Leave to set fully.
6. Once the ganache has thickened to your desired consistnecy pour/spread over the cake and add sprinkles. Gently press the piped chocolate shapes into the top of the cake before the ganache completely sets.

Disclaimer: Waitrose sent me some goodies and a voucher to cover the cost of ingredients and my time. I was not required to write a positive view and all thoughts expressed are my own.