Double Apple Pie

With autumn here, it seems an appropriate time to make an apple pie so we dug out our copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess and got cracking. The recipe is a bit unusual, in that it includes a special recipe for pastry which includes cheese! I can understand the logic here – cheese can go well with apple, but I can’t say I fancied the idea for this pie, and Mark isn’t a big fan of cheese either, so instead we went with the tried and tested sweet shortcrust recipe which I got from John Whaite’s Kitchen.

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There are two types of apple used here – Bramley and Coxes. The Bramley apples are diced and fried in butter until they start to turn to mush. This is then blitzed in a food processor along with some spices, egg and sugar.

The coxes are cooked in a similar way – fried in butter – but are kept in larger chunks. The pastry is then used to line a springform cake tin and the Bramley mush is added first, followed by the Cox chunks which get “pushed” into it. The whole thing is topped with pastry and then put in the oven.

The recipe makes a really big, really satisfying pie – and regular sweet shortcrust pastry works really well. If I were to make it again though, I’d swap the spices – Nigella calls for ground cloves and grated nutmeg; I’d probably go with a more traditional cinnamon next time.

Bitter Orange Tart

This recipe is something of a mash up.

The original recipe for bitter orange tart can be found in Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat. In that version, it’s a tart with a pastry base and quite a lot of sugar (a mix of muscovado and caster).

She then revisits the same recipe in Simply Nigella, replacing the pastry base with one made from crushed ginger nut biscuits. The muscovado sugar gets dropped as well.

Our version uses the Simply Nigella filling (less sweet), but with a How to Eat inspired pastry base. And, because it works every time, I used my John Whaite sweet shortcrust pastry method.

Since it’s not the season for Seville oranges, and I’m not sure where I’d buy them even if it was, I used regular oranges with some lime juice. I made my pastry case and blind baked it, then added the filling and chilled. The resulting tart isn’t at all heavy, and although it’s bitter you could quite happily eat this on its own. As the picture reveals though, we found it went wonderfully with chocolate ice cream.

It kept well in the fridge (covered with cling film) for about 4 days, but by the end of the pastry had lost its edge.

Lemon and Thyme Bundt Cake

We keep going back to bundt cakes ever sine we got a tin and this week is no exception. Fortunately Simply Nigella contains quite a number of these, and we seem to be working our way through them with this lemon and thyme bundt cake. If you want to find a copy of this recipe online, you can find it at Chatelaine.

The cake is pretty easy to make – basically bung it all together and stick it in the tin (or at least that’s my recollection!). It rises enormously though – this was by far our biggest bundt do far! We topped it off with some lemon icing (badly) and sugar stars. It looked pretty enough and the slices were huge!

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It was a hugely substantial and hugely satisfying cake, but the flavour wasn’t quite as strong as we were expecting. This is possibly because I didn’t put enough thyme it, and possibly also because I forgot to add the juice of one of the lemons (I just added the zest). The result was more like a Madeira cake with a hint of lemon – but that’s certainly no bad thing and we demolished the lot!

Cider and Five Spice Bundt Cake

Last week’s bundt was a hit, so we decided to get our money’s worth from the bundt tin and make another. It’s another Nigella recipe this time, but it comes from her most recent book, Simply Nigella.

The ingredients for this cake are, well, to be frank, a bit weird. Cider? Chinese five spice? And it’s described as a ginger like cake but there’s no dried ginger in here, only some fresh.

The first step is mixing the wet ingredients – Nigella uses vegetable oil, but I only had olive oil to hand and used that. This is then mixed with treacle and brown sugar, plus the cider which has been opened in advance to remove some of its fizz. Deliciously, we only needed half the bottle of cider so the other was a mid-afternoon treat! Mixing these ingredients is touch – the treacle kept getting clogged up in my whisk but eventually it dissolved… sort of! It was a bit of a weird consistency but seemed OK. Also, I should mention that I didn’t have enough treacle and so replace the last 100g with an equivalent weight of golden syrup.

In a separate bowl you then mix the dry ingredients and then pour them into the wet ones, beating all the time to try and avoid any clumps of flour. The resulting batter is very runny but it smells amazing.

After about 45 minutes in the oven the cake emerged and it’s utterly delicious. Kind of like a rich ginger cake, but with a different level of spice – quite similar to German Lebkuchen actually. We’ve found its dense consistency goes really well with double cream!

Maple & Pecan Bundt Cake

Mark’s been hankering for a bundt tin for quite some time but we never seem to see many of them in the stores here in the UK (or at least, not attractive ones… most seem pretty plain, and surely the whole point of a bundt tin is that it should be highly decorative?).

Mark’s done plenty of research in the meantime and come to the conclusions that a) Nordic Ware bundt tins seem to get the best reviews and b) they’re more expensive than most others. So we would often hunt through stores like HomeSense in the hope that they may have some in stock – they never did, until this weekend! Suddenly we were spoilt for choice and came home with a new cake tin to use! I can’t find the exact one on Amazon, but this one is pretty similar.

The first recipe book I had to hand was good old Nigella Kitchen, and it has a recipe for a maple and pecan bundt. They’re basically two of my favourite things so it seemed a no brainer to make this one!

The ingredient list isn’t too exotic – creme fraiche, pecans and maple syrup were the only things we didn’t already have in the cupboard or fridge. The method is a bit fiddly though – basically you need three bowls on the go.

In the first you mix butter and flour with a fork to create a kind of crumble. To this you add chopped pecans, a teaspoon of cinnamon and some maple syrup, then mix it all together with a fork to create the most amazing smelling mixture – this is your filling.

Next mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in a second bowl.

In a third bowl, cream butter and caster sugar together. Add a tablespoon of the flour mixture to this and beat in, followed by an egg, then another tablespoon of flour, and then another egg. Beat it together after each addition, and then add the rest of the flour. The resulting mixture is pretty stiff so you may get tired when doing this! Finally, the creme fraiche gets added to this.

To assemble, pour about 2/3 of the mixture into the bundt tin. It’s a thick mixture, so you can then make a bit of a “trough” into which you pour the nutty filling. The important thing is that the filling shouldn’t touch the sides of the tin – you want in encased within the cake. You use the rest of the mixture to cover it up, and then bake in the over for 30 – 40 minutes. Once it’s out and cooled you dust it with a bit of icing sugar. It looks so pretty, Nigella herself even retweeted our photo!

A tip from Nigella – she suggests oiling the inside of the bundt tin first and standing it upside down over some newspaper whilst you get on with the rest. This way it’s oiled, but not too oily (it seemed to work for us, the cake came out of the tin really easily).

The result cake is lovely – the sponge itself is fairly plain and light, but the sweet and nutty filling gives a great contrast. Delicious and beautiful!

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A chance trip into Waitrose to pick up some milk saw me grabbing a copy of their free weekend magazine, and in amongst various articles and recipes I spotted this one for Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk cookies. Since we had some peanut butter left over from the recent chicken and peanut stew we made, this looked like a good opportunity to use up some left overs.

The ingredient list is actually really simple, and the only thing we needed to buy in was a bag of chocolate chips. The method is incredibly simple too – I won’t repeat it here, just follow the link above. The only thing that’s a little tricky is shaping the balls of mixture since it’s a little on the sticky side but it’s not too bad and certainly doesn’t make much mess. They also take no time at all to prepare and cook, so are perfect if you need to produce something at short notice.

I’ve never really had much luck with making cookies and biscuits (except for that shortbread!) but these worked out incredibly well. The resulting cookies have that perfect combination of firmness and softness, and the peanut butter and chocolate flavouring is wonderful. It required all our willpower not to eat these in one sitting!

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!

Shortbread Biscuits

We came back from our holiday to Japan with a little treat to ourselves – we always try and pick up a fridge magnet and tea towel from our travels, but we also found some cute little katakana stamps for biscuits. It’s basically an alphabet set so you can clip the letters you want into place and then stamp them onto what you’re making.

I decided to spell out “Hungry Boys” in katakana. An online tool told me it was ハングリ ボイズ, but I’ve since been informed (thank you, eiichinyc!)that it should be ハングリーボーイズ . Not too far off, anyway! Now we needed a biscuit recipe which would hold the imprints of the letters, so we turned to good old traditional shortbread.

The Guardian has a great article on how to make the best shortbread, and they favour adding some rice flour to the plain flour. However, it also mentions Sue Lawrence’s recipe using cornflour and I realised we actually had the book this recipe came from on our shelf – Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking. We also had cornflour in the cupboard, so no trip to the shops was necessary.

The shortbread recipe is practically perfect – it produces some truly scrumptious biscuits. They also held the imprint of our stamp really well. We will be making many more batches of these, I believe!

Pineapple, Courgette and Walnut Loaf

The government says we should always try to get our five portions of fruit and veg every day, and Thrive on Five is a great book for finding tasty ways of doing just that. We’ve made one of their cakes before and it was fantastic, serving up 2 portions per slice. This cake only serves up 1 portion per slice but that’s still a portion we’d have missed out on otherwise!

The list of ingredients is pretty long, and grating courgette is tedious work. Beyond that though, it’s pretty simple. Mashing the pineapple in a mortar and pestle was a bit tedious, and the recipe was unclear as to whether the resulting juice should go in the cake or not (I assumed it should, and this seemed to turn out OK).

End result is a great looking and tasting loaf – it took a bit longer in the oven than expected and nearly burned so I had to cover it with tin foil for the last 10 minutes. It’s not often you can have a slice of cake and say it’s one of your 5 a day though, so the effort is definitely worth it.

Apricot and Orange Sponge Cake

It’s been a while since I made a cake, so I had a crack at this one from Nigel Slater’s Appetite. The main recipe is actually for a lemon cake, but the variations suggested that orange could be used instead, and I love an orange cake.

Nigel describes this cake as incredibly easy, but I’m afraid I don’t agree. It’s easy, yes – if you’re using a food processor. By hand? Not so much. First up you have to cream the butter and sugar until “white and fluffy” – this takes a really, really long time by hand. I also found Nigel’s technique to be misleading – the next step described is to zest and juice the fruit… but he actually expected you to NOT add them to the bowl at this point. I realised too late, and because I’d used an orange rather than a lemon I had quite a lot of juice… this began to dissolve the sugar so I was going to lose all the air I had worked so hard to incorporate.

I decided to add an extra bit of raising agent in the form of a teaspoon of bicarbonate. I chose this over baking powder because I believe the latter includes bicarb and acid – but with all the acidic orange juice in the mixture, I decided that would be enough.

Nigel also says you need to chop some apricots until almost like a paste – again, that’s an easy task for a machine but not by hand. Fortunately I have a mezzaluna (this one, in fact) which made things easier than they may have otherwise been.

Once I was done with all that hassle and stress it went into the oven and actually rose really nicely. It sank a little in the middle afterwards, and a bit of the butter separated out in the middle making it look a bit greasy but – all things considered – it’s a bloody nice cake. We had some warm on the first night with raspberries and a blob of skyr, and then some more the next day after keeping it in the fridge. I think it was better for being in the fridge, and Mark prefers his with Greek yoghurt rather than skyr.

If you’ve got a food processor, try this one out. If not, give it a go anyway but make sure you read the entire recipe through before you begin and be prepared for some hard work!