Bran Loaf

This recipe for Bran Loaf comes from my gran’s recipe book, but to me it’s synonymous with my mum because she used to make it regularly when I was a kid. It’s a ridiculously easy recipe to put together – the recipe is done by volume, and requires equal parts of each ingredient (except salt). Using 1 cup, or 250ml, of each gives a decent sized loaf.

  • 250ml self raising flour
  • 250ml caster sugar
  • 250ml dried fruit (e.g. sultanas)
  • 250ml All Bran breakfast cereal
  • 250ml milk
  • A pinch of salt

First up, put the All Bran, milk, sugar and fruit together in a big bowl and give it a stir. Leave this for at least 2 – 3 hours.

Next, stir in the flour and salt until you have an even mixture. Pour it into a loaf tin and bake in the oven. My gran’s recipe calls for a “moderate” oven for 1hr 15mins. We went with 180C fan oven and it took about 45 minutes.

You must eat this sliced and smeared with butter. It’s fabulous.

Chicken Pie

We had a few requests on social media to post the recipe for this, so here goes. It’s basically the same as Diana Henry’s “Bird Pie” which can be found in “A Bird In The Hand“, but was a bit more of an impromptu affair. The pastry making technique is the one we learnt at John Whaite’s Kitchen. This is being written from memory, so I hope it’s accurate! If all else fails, consult Diana Henry – she’s the master behind this, although she uses puff pastry and we made shortcrust.

First, the pastry!

  • 100g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2g salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 – 4 teaspoons cold water

Begin by rubbing the butter into the flour and salt with your fingers. Keep going until you have something resembling breadcrumbs. Then make a well in the centre and add the wet ingredients, then use a dough scraper to cut everything together – keep going until it begins to come together as a dough. Finish off by hand, then chill for about an hour.

Whilst that chills, you can get on with the filling:

  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 3 tsps dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 2 tsps capers
  • 1 large leek
  • lots of cooked chicken!

Begin by melting the butter in a saucepan and adding the flour. Mix well so that they are well combined. Take off the heat and gradually add the milk a little at a time, mixing to make sure you end up with a smooth mix without any lumps. Then put back on the heat for a few minutes to cook the flour – it will thicken quite a lot. Then add the mustard, capers and creme fraiche and mix together. Set to one side off the heat whilst you cook the leeks. Cut them into discs and sauté in butter, then add a splash of water, cover and cook for a little longer.

Finally, combine the sauce, the leeks and the cooked chicken and heat everything through.

Now you can roll out your pastry, line the tine and fill it with your filling. Use some milk or egg yolk to glaze the top so it goes glossy when cooked. I guess you could be fancy and do a lattice lid but we didn’t bother and just did a plain one. We cooked it for about 30 minutes at about 200C.

I love this pie so much… I hope you do too!

Traditional Homemade Mince Pies (and mincemeat)

December is here, so time to legitimately eat our own bodyweight in mince pies! I’ve been thinking about making mince pies for a long time – my gran used to do so, as did my mother but over time that changed. Home made mincemeat was replaced with shop bought, and ultimately my mum started buying her mince pies rather than buying them.

I wanted to have a go at making my own, but my mum was unable to track down my gran’s recipe for mincemeat. I was then going to have a go at making Nigella’s cranberry and port mincemeat but couldn’t find any fresh cranberries, so I decided to have a go at making up my own recipe! Fortunately, it was a success.

There are a lot of recipes out there for mincemeat, but they vary widely. Many use suet, although Mary Berry prefers the taste of butter. There’s usually cinnamon, but after that the spices vary from recipe to recipe. There’s usually some nutmeg and either some allspice or some mixed spice. After a bit of thought and indecision I came up with the following recipe, which makes enough to fill two jam jars with mincemeat, or 24 mince pies:

  • 75g of unsalted butter
  • 125g of soft brown sugar
  • Zest and juice of a clementine
  • 75g dried cranberries
  • 400g seedless raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • About 1/2 of a nutmeg, grated
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons of port
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy

The method is really simple. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan over a low heat. When they’re well mixed, add the spices and the dried fruit and stir well – I cooked this for about 10 or 15 minutes. Finally, add the alcohol and mix in. If it seems a little too wet, you can always leave the heat on for a little longer – but as the butter cools the mixture will thicken up.

I then made a batch of sweet shortcrust pastry (125g unsalted butter, 50g caster sugar, 1 large egg, 200g plain flour, 2g salt) which was enough for 18 small mince pies using half the mincemeat, and 12 slightly larger pies using the other half.

Delicious! I definitely recommend making your own mincemeat – it’s surprisingly easy and the above recipe seems to work really well!

Chorley Cakes (v0.1)

My home town of Chorley is known for a particular food dish called the Chorley Cake. It’s closely related to the better known Eccles Cake which is a mixture of dried fruit, butter and sugar in puff pastry (I actually learnt how to make these as John Whaite’s “Perfecting your Pastry” class).

The Chorley cake differs in that it uses shortcrust pastry, and isn’t as sweet. Since it’s my home town I decided to give them a go, but I found it really hard to find a recipe. There are plenty of recipes online, but they all have quite substantial differences of opinion. Do you use plain or self raising flour? Do you add baking powder? Do you put an egg in the filling? Or spices such as nutmeg or allspice?

So I decided to have my own attempt at making these. It was a success of sorts – the end result was a really nice, buttery, fruity treat. But on the other hand… it wasn’t a Chorley cake. I think I need to chop my sultanas so that they get better distributed throughout.

So watch this space… I’m going to have another go and once I’ve perfected the recipe I’ll be posting it here!

Steak Pie

Sometimes only a pie will do. After the success of chicken pie last week it seemed appropriate to give a steak pie a try, but a quick skim of our recipe books didn’t really turn up anything suitable. So this recipe is put together from two places. Firstly, it uses the “Steak & Kidney Pie” recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, but because we were making it for two people we had to scale down the ingredients and as part of this we ditched the kidneys. But rather than making a pastry using self raising flour as Nigella does, we fell back on the good old reliable shortcrust recipe and technique we picked up from John Whaite.

It takes a while to make this one. You chop the celery, carrot, sage and onion finely and fry for a few minutes. Then the beef is tossed in flour, pepper and nutmeg and browned in a pan. The beef is then added to the vegetables along with some stout and beef stock in a casserole dish, then popped in the oven with a lid on at 150C for 2 hours.

In the meantime make and chill the pastry and line a dish (should be a pie dish but we used a cake tin!), then transfer the cooked steak into it, glaze the top with milk and bake in the oven at 190C for about half an hour.

The resulting pie looked spectacular and tasted great. The only grumble was that it was a bit bitter – I think this was because in scaling down the ingredients I’d not used as much beef stock as I should have and used too much stout. But this wasn’t enough to detract from what was a bloody marvellous pie!

Tomato and Bacon Quiche

I’d love to post the recipe for this, but it mostly comes from one of those recipe cards you can pick up in supermarkets (it was Waitress for this one).

The recipe calls for a pack of shortcrust pastry, but we followed the techniques picked up from John Whaite and made our own.

The filling was chopped cherry tomatoes and some slivers of streaky bacon which had been fried. Once the pastry had been blind baked, these were added to the tart case. I then mixed 4 large eggs, 150ml of double cream and about 100ml of milk and poured this into the tart case over the other ingredients.

Into the oven at 190ºC for about 35 minutes and it came out looking beautifully brown on top with a little bit of a wobble. We had to hefty slices for dinner and there’s more left over to reheat tomorrow.

Years ago, before I really started cooking, supermarket bought quiche was my go to “I can’t think of anything to make” dinner. Not any more!

Strawberry Tart

I’m going to take credit for this recipe and claim it as my own, but the truth is that it’s simply cobbled together from a few other bits and pieces. Firstly there’s the pastry, which is just sweet shortcrust pastry. You could buy this from a shop, but I used the technique which John Whaite teaches at his cookery school. I made the pastry, chilled it, rolled it out, put it into the tin and then chilled it some more. I then blind baked it using baking beans to prevent it from puffing up.

The second part is creme pattisiere – there are lots of recipes for this out there, and again I used the technique I picked up from John Whaite but his recipe is very similar to the one you’ll find in Nigella’s books. The creme pat was made whilst the pastry chilled and was then left to cool. Put it on a plate covered with cling film to avoid a skin forming.

Once chilled, the creme pat was transferred to the pastry and filled it. Then I added the sliced strawberries and glazed the whole thing with a little bit of apricot jam and water which I’d mixed and heated on the hob. The resulting tart just sits in the fridge. It’s both fresh and light, but also satisfying because of the creaminess of the filling.

Bakewell Tart

Mark is from Derbyshire, home of the Bakewell tart – or should that be Bakewell pudding? Either way, he likes a Bakewell tart and it was one of the first things I ever baked. Mind you, back then I used to use packet pastry… given my recent trip to John Whaite’s Kitchen it seemed appropriate to try out my new skills for this. I also deviated from the recipe I used to use and instead went with the frangipane filling from the pear tart I made with John.

The pastry technique here is one I’d not seen before, creaming the butter and sugar together as if you were making a cake. It sounds odd, but it works! The recipe also calls for 2g of salt… we used sea salt flakes which means they don’t get evenly distributed throughout but does make for a nice salty hit on certain bites. Either sea salt flakes or regular table salt will work, but we like it with the flakes.

Pastry Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2g sea salt flakes

Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, and then mix in the egg. Next add the flour and salt and bring the whole thing together in a small bowl using a dough scraper (although we used a spatula) until it comes together. Flour the counter well and turn the dough out and bring the pastry together with your hands. It shouldn’t take much work – then pat it out into a disc, wrap it in cling film and bung it in the fridge for an hour or so.

Whilst it’s chilling, make the frangipane filling…

Filling Ingredients

  • 120g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 160g ground almonds
  • 40g plain flour
  • 4 tbsp rum
  • Raspberry jam

Again, begin by creaming the butter and sugar, followed by the eggs. It can tend to look a bit curdled at this point but it’s nothing to worry about. Then add the almonds and plain flour… we were actually short of ground almonds and added about 120g and some extra flour… the end result was drier than expected so I recommend going with the full amount! Finally, mix the rum in.

Get the pastry from the oven and roll it out and line a 20cm cake tin or flan ring with it. Prick the base with a fork and then smear it with a layer of jam before pouring your filling on top. Then bake in the oven at 190C for about 40 – 50 minutes – keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn!

End result? Well it was very nice – especially the pastry. But the filling was a bit disappointing. This was possibly because of the late substitution of some ground almonds with some flour… I think this recipe needs revisiting with the same pastry but the old recipe I used to use for the filling.

Roast Chicken

Nothing fancy here – a whole chicken, smothered in olive oil and sprinkled with a little oregano and sea salt flakes.

Served up with some mashed potatoes and some broccoli fried in soy sauce, this makes for a surprisingly simple and easy dinner. There was chicken left over… looks like another recipe in the pipeline…

Salmon en Croute

I can’t remember where we first got this recipe for salmon en croute, but it was a firm favourite of ours for a long time – mostly because it’s so simple! The sauce is nothing more than mascarpone blitzed together with spinach. The salmon fillets are wrapped in pastry with the sauce and you’re done.

Normally I would have used ready made shortcrust pastry for this, but I got a bit cocky and decided to make my own. I won’t name the recipe I used but suffice it to say my pastry turned out much too dry and crumbly – it was near impossible to roll and definitely not suitable for wrapping anything in. But I tried all the same.

The end result was still nice tasting, just not very easy on the eyes.