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.

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.

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!

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!

Mackerel in Miso

We had a fantastic holiday in Tokyo last week and now that we’re back in the UK we are really missing Japan! So in no time at all we invested in a new cookery book – Kimiko Barber’s new title, Cook Japanese at Home, and tonight we gave it its first trial run.

Like a lot of Japanese recipes, there are some ingredients which may be unfamiliar at first. We already had konbu (seaweed for making stock) in the cupboard, but had to take a trip to the supermarket for miso paste and sake.

There’s quite a lot of prep for this one, but none of it is too strenuous – just leaving things to soak in water for half an hour or so. Also, it doesn’t really create anything tough to wash up so I was happy with that!

End result was nice with some authentic flavours, but didn’t really blow me away. That’s probably my inexperience as much as anything, but we’re going to be putting this book through its paces to get a real taste of Japan.

Chocolate and Orange Biscuits

Biscuits to us Brits, or cookies to the Americans. Either way I’ve never really had much success making either of them, but I decided to give it another go using the recipe in Delia’s Cakes. Yes, it’s weird that the book with “Cakes” in the title has recipes for biscuits, but never mind.

The recipe is pretty easy to put together, although I found the dough a bit dry and I added a little extra orange juice to bring it all together.

The resulting cookies look great and are very uniform in appearance, but they are too hard for my liking. It’s quite likely I overbaked them, but I also found the orange and chocolate flavour to be lacking. Not a big win in my book, but Mark seems to like them and tells me that they are even better when dunked in a mug of tea.

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.