Due to the “storm” that was about to hit London (even Barry the Thames Barrier has gone down) on Thursday, my train to the gym was severely delayed, therefore I abandoned exercise and was able to come home from work at a decent time.

My Mum and Dad were coming late last Sunday night, determined that we would fit in a Lebanese at a newly opened local establishment down the road upon arrival. The purpose of their visit was some minor DIY, and I needed to give them energy whilst tiling my kitchen windowsill the following morning.

So I recreated one of Mum’s favourite biscuits, if that is indeed the culinary category in which this treat falls. Millionaire’s shortbread. What better tea time (or any time) treat?

Sparkly shortbread

Crunchy shortbread biscuit, a large amount of soft, sweet, caramel, and a definitive dense chocolate topping, The chocolate and biscuit are working together to hold in that caramel, and the ratio of biscuit to caramel in this recipe is far more generous than most shop bought equivalents (and of course contains no nasty preservatives).

As has been a feature of several recent(ish) posts, I have borrowed someone else’s recipe (in this case Carnation’s, of condensed milk fame) and adapted it a little.

http://www.carnation.co.uk/recipes/60/Millionaires-Shortbread

This is a rather simple recipe, and you don’t even need a sugar thermometer to get the caramel right (see reference to disastrous macarons in previous post I am still holding out for one for Christmas).

I have made this recipe several times, and feel that I am close to perfecting it. I find the base works best when you blitz the shortbread in the food processor, finer crumbs = sturdier biscuit base. This is the cheat’s shortbread base, you can also make your own from scratch which is straight forwards but more time-consuming.

Stirring up shortbread

Next, you make the caramel. Gently stir together the butter and sugar until fully melted, and then drizzle in the condensed milk, stirring continuously as you don’t want it to burn. I don’t know why but I find a wooden spoon helps this process. And you can smack away any fingers trying to get an early dip of the sweet nectar!

Keep stirring even though you don’t want to, for fear of burning. I also have a fear of the caramel not setting, so I do stir it until notably thicker. Then pour on to the cooled shortbread and leave to chill out for a while.

Caramel

Leave the caramel to cool in the fridge and melt two bars of chocolate (200g in total) over a bain-marie, which is easier to control the temperature than melting in a saucepan directly. Dark, milk and white chocolate toppings are all delicious, or even a combination of them together.

To get a celebration-like finish to the shortbread, I then melted white chocolate and flicked it across the top, then scattered tiny edible gold stars over the tray.

Mini shortbreads

I am experimenting with finger-sized treats that I can parcel up as presents, and so made some tiny shortbreads in silicone petit-four cases.

Petit fours

My biggest tip for making shortbread is to score the chocolate topping before it has entirely set, otherwise it is a nightmare to cut in to straight lines.

Scoring the chocolate topping

There are loads of sweet (terrible pun – sorry!) recipes on this site. I want to try the fudge recipe next time, but not until I have my sugar thermometer…

I have been experimenting with a few things in the last few weeks, but work had caught up with me and I haven’t made a chance to sit down and write about my efforts. I have also been busy mourning the end of the only TV show I religiously watch, the Great British Bake Off. Content with the finalists and the winner, I have been inspired to try a few different recipes, so I guess there is a happy ending after all.

I can summarise my rises and falls (#GBBO puns) of recent escapades with the following statements:

– Don’t try to adapt a Mary Berry cake recipe – she is official Queen of Cakes for a reason
– Successful Pierre Herme macarons require patience, precision AND a sugar thermometer (now on the Christmas list)
– Lemon curd really IS easy to make
– Despite my first ever attempt at brioche being a success, I am still scared of baking bread

good crumb structure

Whilst my chocolate cake for my friend Vic’s birthday turned out alright, I did fail on an adapted version of Mary Berry’s  spiced orange cake. Pulverised lemon in a cake does NOT taste nice.

Chocolate cake

However I would say that I have perfected my white chocolate icing recipe. I made another chocolate birthday cake, another Mary Berry recipe and added fresh raspberries and white chocolate chips to the batter. I have already had a re-order for next year so that must be good feedback!

Another choc cake

In a somewhat less successful episode, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a photo of my failed macarons. What have previously been such beautiful treats were reduced to burned splodges after trying to rush through the 36 steps of making  macaron shells, according to the master Mr Herme. I will try again, hopefully once in possession of a sugar thermometer, and will report back on progress. Passion will prevail over precision!

Inspired by my friend Sally’s delicious macarons (which were never a failure), and in anticipation of warm, fresh brioche, I had a go at making some lemon curd. I also had a lot of egg yolks and lemons to use up after the above failures. I followed Delia’s lemon curd recipe and as usual, her words of wisdom are right on the mark. Zingy lemon curd with just the right tinge of sweetness was ready to be slathered on to brioche.

Lemon curd

Moving on to the main subject of this post, Bronya’s brioches.  Bronya is Jess’s mum (see “a bit of savoury on the side” for cooking adventures with Jess).  As teenagers, she was picking Jess and I up in the early hours of the morning after a night out and bringing us tea and toast in bed the next day. As adults, she is sharing her delicious bread recipes with us.

This recipe makes makes one large loaf, which can be shaped to make it easy to share. It has a crisp, sugary coating and soft, fluffy, buttery middle. Yum!

Brioche

I was so proud of my loaf, no soggy bottom (GBBO reference) and it tasted delicious.

nice bottom

Just a little forward planning is required as you need to assemble the dough the night before baking it.

Before proving

 

Look at how the little beaut rose after a few hours of proving…

after proving

Bronya’s recipe is below, unadulterated and with full credit to her. Delicious served warm with lemon curd or another spread of your choice.

Crispy sugary topped brioche

Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
7g salt
50g caster sugar
10g instant yeast
140ml warm full-fat milk  I have used skimmed, it works
5 medium eggs
250g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

Method

1. Put the flour into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the milk and eggs and mix on a slow speed for 2 minutes, then on a medium speed for a further 6–8 minutes, until you have a soft, glossy, elastic dough. Add the softened butter and continue to mix for a further 4–5 minutes, scraping down the bowl periodically to ensure that the butter is thoroughly incorporated. The dough should be very soft.

2. Tip the dough into a plastic bowl, cover and chill overnight or for at least 7 hours, until it is firm and you are able to shape it.

3. Grease a 25cm round deep cake tin.

4. Take your brioche dough from the fridge and tip it onto a lightly floured surface and fold it in on itself a few times to knock out the air. Divide it into 9 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball by placing it into a cage formed by your hand and the table and moving your hand around in a circular motion, rotating the ball rapidly. Put 8 balls of dough around the outside of the tin and the final one in the middle.

5. Cover with a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for 2–3 hours, or until the dough has risen to just above the rim of the tin.

6. Heat your oven to 190 c

7. When the brioche is proved, bake for 20–30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Bear in mind that the sugar and butter in the dough will make it take on colour before it is actually fully baked. Remove the brioche from the tin and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

One month in to my new job, and several episodes in to The Great British Bake Off (the only TV show I watch), I was inspired to try out a new recipe.

Not just a new recipe, but a recipe for something that I don’t usually enjoy eating, hence why I have never made them before. Bear in mind that my only previous experience of these English delicacies was cold, soggy-bottomed, supermarket versions a long time ago (perhaps they have gotten better since circa 1993?).

The bakers on GBBO made them look so appealing during the technical challenge in “Pies and Tarts” week that I just had to give it a try. The result?

Delicious egg custard tarts!

Paul's tarts

OK so those are Paul Hollywood’s tarts but mine were still tasty! The sweet, crisp almond pastry complements the soft, silky custard topped with a defining sprinkling of nutmeg.

Final tartlets

I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe published on the trusty BBC Food website http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/egg_custard_tarts_15352

A fair few eggs are required…

Beaucoup d'oeufs

…However it is a simple recipe with only a small number of ingredients.

It would also be easy to make this recipe gluten free, by using gluten free flour, such as rice flour. My auntie Freddi asked whether I would be blogging some more gluten free recipes so I will have a think about a couple for next time.

Ingredients

I made two batches, the first were slightly burned however still delicious.

Slightly burned pastry

One piece of advice, let the tarts cool for little while before removing, but don’t leave it too long or they risk being stuck to the tin!

Tarts in a tray

They may not be the neatest, prettiest looking pastries ever made, and mine were certainly not as neat as Paul’s however this did not detract from the taste at all. The recipe warns to eat them within a few days otherwise the pastry will all go soggy, however this was not an issue in our household of two, all of them went in just over 24 hours!

I would definitely say, overcome any childhood prejudices and give these a go. Rather easy and very satisfying. Plus you can make meringues and macarons with the excess of egg whites that you are left with!

I call these brownies “coveted” because in the many years I have been making them, I have probably been asked for (and have shared) the recipe around 25-30 times by various friends, family and colleagues.

I really feel that brownies must be intensely chocolatey and also have some sort of treats within them; I can’t stand dry, bland tasting brownies that feel like you are eating a stale chocolate sponge. Therefore, triple chocolate chips are used throughout the intensely moist, chocolate-packed brownie mixture.

They are so easy to make that at work I have shamelessly bribed numerous office workshops and group exercises with brownie-shaped refreshments. The last team that I worked with instigated a “brownie bake off” following my departure, to see who can make the best brownies in order to replace me – a compliment I’m sure!

It must be said upfront however that this is not wholly my own recipe, it is indeed adapted from Anthony Worrall Thompson for BBC, and this is the link I always offer people when asked for the recipe:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/triplechocolatebrown_7685

Over the years I have adapted Anthony’s recipe, but feel free to use either version (see below) and read on for a few tips I have learned along the way.

Firstly, I have never claimed that these brownies were low in calories, as I may do with some recipes, since a full 600g of chocolate are required to make these little beauties. My biggest tip would be to use good quality chocolate (minimum 70% solids dark chocolate and decent white chocolate), it truly does make a difference to the richness and taste of the finished product.

Quality chocolate

Secondly, follow the recipe. Whilst I do not often stipulate the order in which ingredients should be added, the ingredients in this recipe must be added in order due to the heat of the butter/ chocolate mixture at the start. You want to stir the sugar in whilst the mixture is still hot, however you must wait for it to be cooled with flour and eggs added before adding the chocolate chips, otherwise they will melt before cooking and end up a squidgy mess (and not in a good way!).

Brownie mixture

Thirdly, trust your judgement when deciding whether the brownies are sufficiently cooked. This can be a bit tricky, but make sure that the top is firm and only moves a little if you shake your hand whilst pressing lightly onto it. Unlike a sponge, it is fine for the mixture to still be a little moist after cooking since they will solidify as they cool.

Brownie tray

Fourthly, these chocolatey treats are great cooked just before guests arrive, since they will fill any space with powerful cocoa aromas.

Good enough for a true celebration as well as a tough workshop, they were recently requested for a wedding by my great friends Vic and Rowan as part of the dessert table I made for them.

Brownie stack

Ingredients:

300g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
250g unsalted butter
325g caster sugar
100g milk chocolate, cut or broken into large chunks
100g white chocolate, cut or broken into large chunks
100g dark chocolate, cut or broken into large chunks
175g plain flour
1 tsp. baking powder
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F. Grease a 30x20x3.5cm/12x8x1½in tin (I use a standard sized roasting tin) with butter
  2. Put the plain chocolate and butter in a large bowl, place over a pan of simmering water and allow to melt. Stir often
  3. Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and stir in the sugar
  4. Add the eggs and mix all together by hand until combined
  5. Fold in the baking powder, flour and chocolate
  6. Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes. The top should be firm but the inside should feel soft when cooked
  7. Cut brownies into squares whilst still warm but wait until cool to remove from tin. I tend to trim any crisp edges.

The last days of summer leave us rushing for our beach towels and sun cream, clinging to grasp those precious rays of sunshine. It also yields the best of the bunch from the allotments and gardens of the lands outside central London.

Following a bountiful trip to his parents’ village in Buckinghamshire, Will returned home yesterday with nearly a kilo of rhubarb. I decided on making a rhubarb compote to go with our granola and yoghurt breakfasts.

Rhubarb

I didn’t want to load the compote with sugar, so after a little research online adapted a couple of recipes into one. The result, rhubarb and rose compote with strawberries and honey. Perfect because the strawberries and honey naturally sweeten the rhubarb whilst keeping the refined sugar count a little lower.

Rhubarb and strawberries

Rhubarb and strawberries

Rhubarb, rose and strawberry compote (yields at least 6 servings):

Ingredients:

700g rhubarb
Punnet of strawberries (approx. 300g)
3 tablespoons of honey
Several glugs of rose syrup or rose water

Method:

  1. Wash and chop rhubarb into 1 inch long pieces
  2. Wash strawberries and core, cut in halves if large
  3. Put rhubarb in a heavy based pan and add some of the honey
  4. Stir often with wooden spoon until the rhubarb structure starts to break down
  5. Add strawberries and rose syrup
  6. Continue to stir until rhubarb is soft but maintains its shape
  7. Allow to cool, this will cause the consistency of the compote to change – it will become less runny
  8. Enjoy with icecream, crunchy biscuits, granola and yoghurt, or however you please!

Compote

So, my first ever post and I thought I would keep it to a simple but delicious kitchen staple.

I’d like to share a recipe for what I have finally created as perfect banana bread. Not only is it really tasty, it takes literally five minutes to whip up the mixture and around 40 minutes to bake. It smells and tastes heavenly.

We get through at least 15-20 bananas a week in our house, two per work day for Will, one per day for me, plus extra for the weekend. However any change to the routine (such as a much coveted free breakfast at work) and we are left with surplus bananas. This is a great recipe for using  up bananas that are beyond their best.

Whilst not such a pleasure to eat, it is imperative that your bananas for this recipe are old and manky; brown, spotty and quite soft. This lets the banana juices flow during cooking and makes the texture so sweet and sticky.

I experimented a couple of times with various recipes, including odd/ unnecessary ingredients such as buttermilk, and didn’t like how they turned out. My first attempt was too dry (not enough banana) and second attempt was too plain-tasting (I subsequently discovered that this was due to using the wrong sugar).

Most recipes call for caster sugar, but during my second attempt I used some muscovado due to a shortage of the white stuff in the kitchen. It was sticky and almost caramelised once backed, making the cake smell of warm toffee, however it was a little too heavy. It did give me the idea of using soft brown sugar though, which has made it into the final, perfect recipe.

I was then having a small dilemma between putting cinnamon or chocolate chips in the banana bread, surely you can’t have both? Then, I realised that since there was no law against it (quick Google check for obscure cooking rules in other geographies), why could I not have both!? Of course, both are optional according to taste, you may want the focal taste to be the bananas. But don’t be afraid to experiment!  As an alternative, I think some small pieces of stem ginger would also give the cake a great zingy taste.

Beautiful, breakneck speed, banana bread recipe (makes one loaf):

Ingredients:

100g softened unsalted butter
2 ripe bananas
175g dark soft brown sugar
2 eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/ Fan 160C/ Gas 4
  2. Grease loaf tin with a little soft butter
  3. Put all the ingredients listed above in to a large mixing bowl
  4. Mix together using a hand whisk, fork or mixing spoon
  5. Continue mixing until all ingredients are combined
  6. Bake in pre-heated oven for between 45-60 minutes, rotate cake to ensure even cooking if you do not have a fan oven
  7. Check that a skewer/ knife comes out clean from the centre of the cake and then remove to cool on cooling rack
  8. Carefully run a knife around edges before removing cake from its tin

Serving suggestions:

Banana bread

Sliced and buttered with a cup of tea or wrapped in foil for lunchboxes

I actually added a freshly made, warm caramel sauce and ice cream to this as a variation on our “Sunday night sundaes” – to be detailed at a later date…

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