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.

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.

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!

Eton Mess (ish)

OK, this isn’t strictly an Eton Mess but it’s certainly inspired by that dish. The recipe was a Nigel Slater one we found via the BBC on one of those days when you want dessert but want to try and be healthy… so a fruit pudding seemed like a great idea!

We took the easy route and used shop bought meringues. Whip up some double cream, then crumble the meringues into it. Add the berries (we used blackberries and raspberries as suggested) and some shelled pistachios and fold it all together.

The end result is then served up with some ice cream and provides a really satisfying combination of flavours – sweet from the meringue, tart from the berries, smooth with the cream and crunchy with the nuts. A really delicious treat.

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Fudge Cake

Well, this is a strange one. The recipe comes from John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients, and whilst it looks like a run of the mill chocolate cake, one of these five ingredients is definitely not like the others. Yes folks, this cake really does include a tin of condensed tomato soup.

It would be fair to say I was very suspicious when making this, and the smell of tomatoes whilst making the mixture was much stronger than I had imagined – although I did use a bit too much soup (the tin we bought was bigger than the quantity required and I only spotted just before the last drops went in!). Once the cake batter is made it goes into two sandwich tins and bakes in the oven for about half an hour – and out comes chocolate cake! Quite an attractive looking one, too.

Meanwhile you make some chocolate icing/ganache from a mixture of water, cocoa, butter and muscovado sugar. I found that the quantities in the recipe produced about 25% more than I needed. However, I did find icing the cake to be quite tricky because both my sponges were quite domed, and when I assembled the cake the top sponge broke up a little bit – the icing ended up being more of a glue to hold the whole thing together.

The resulting cake is really nice, really rich and really fudgey. I’m not sure whether that’s due to the tomato soup, or if it’s the massive (and I do mean massive) quantities of sugar and cocoa used in the cake. Are they there in their own right, or to mask the flavour of tomatoes? I’ve no idea, but the cake will be demolished by us two I can assure you of that.

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.

Lemon Meringue Pie

This recipe is a coming together of many different things. There’s the recipe for sweet shortcrust pastry which I picked up from John Whaite’s Kitchen. There was the tupperware box of egg whites in the freezer. And there was Mark’s desire for lemon meringue pie.

The only thing missing was a recipe for the filling and the meringue itself, and The Guardian has one of their wonderful “How to Make the Perfect…” articles for this.

As a whole the recipe is fairly simple and light on cooking, but there are three very distinct phases. First up, you have to make your pastry. John Whaite taught me a technique which involves creaming the butter and sugar together first which works really well. The pastry gets blind baked with some baking beads for about 20 minutes, and then a further 10 uncovered.

The lemon curd filling is made to the instructions on the Guardian website. Very quick, very easy and very lemony! Once done, pour it into your pastry case which should be out of the oven by this point and leave it to cool. Once it’s set, it’s really quite firm.

Finally, make the meringue topping – again, we followed the Guardian instructions for this. Apart from the physical effort of whisking, this bit is really simple too. Then it’s into the oven for about 15 minutes and you’re done.

The end result was, if I do say so myself, brilliant. Crisp pastry, super lemony filling and a fluffy topping… delicious. There was one mistake I made though which was to not let the lemon curd cool completely before adding the meringue topping. As a result, moisture formed between the two layers and the finished tart “wept” a little bit, but not enough to spoil it.

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.