Recipe: Popcorn Rocky Road [AD – gifted]

If I had to choose a favourite TV snack it would be popcorn. Bite-sized, not *too* messy and all too easy to eat a big bowlful whilst watching something trashy, to me it’s the perfect ingredient for a girls night-in with Mean Girls, a solo evening with some Disney classics, or a date-night binge-watching our current favourite (right now it’s Blown Away on Netflix – a little like Bake Off, but with Glass Blowing). And of course it’s absolutely obligatory to purchase an extra-large box when you go to the cinema, right?! Given my love for popcorn you can imagine my response when Popcorn Shed got in touch and offered to send me some goodies to use in a recipe.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road_zpsibsgkcwv.jpgMade to a secret family recipe (and dear me, I’d love that recipe!) their popcorn comes in sharing boxes or snack bags which are perfectly portioned for lunchboxes or to control calories if, like me, you struggle to stop eating the stuff. It’s all natural ingredients and the variety of flavours is pretty good – there’s some cheesy savoury ones (I’m not a huge fan of these personally, but I’m a sweet popcorn gal anyway) and loaddssss of chocolately and nutty ones. My personal favourite is the Berry-licious – dark chocolate and raspberry is SUCH a good combo.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road 4_zpsxuzcxqcg.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 9_zpspwsok4tu.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 15_zpsnsrrfjx7.jpgMuch as I wanted to just eat the stuff, I did manage to come up with a “recipe.” And recipe is in inverted commas because this is SO easy I struggle to think of it as a recipe at all. It’s quite a dangerous recipe as it takes no time at all and, after some tortuorous chilling, you have an amazing snack – it’s perfect for work bake sales or taking along to an event. I actually made one for a Youth Group social and it went down *extremely* well. I’m now adored by members as they loved it so much! Easy to make and a crowd pleaser, what’s not to love?!

I prefer a chunkier rocky road, more crumbly with biscuits and other treats but if you prefer a firmer, more chocolately one I’d suggest upping the quantities of chocolate and butter.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road 8_zpswnlfdbmq.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 12_zpsnirsq5sl.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 14_zps7udxawbm.jpgRecipe – makes 16 generous squares

  • 200g Rich Tea biscuits
  • 150g butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100g mini marshmallows (be sure to find vegetarian ones if needed)
  • 100g popcorn

Place 200g digestive biscuits in a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin until broken up. You want some dust and some larger pieces, but nothing more than bite-sized.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, dark chocolate and golden syrup over a gentle heat, stirring constantly until there are no lumps of chocolate or butter visible, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cool add the biscuits, marshmallows and popcorn and stir until everything is covered.

Tip the mixture into a 18cm square baking tin (greased and lined), and spread it out to the corners whilst pushing it down. Chill for at least 2 hours then cut in 16 squares.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road 16_zpsembuc1iu.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 13_zpsatjbsbgo.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 11_zpsknby80oe.jpgThis recipe is so easily adaptable too. Use dairy-free margarine and chocolate (I always use accidentally vegan Bournville anyway), and buy Freedom Mallows and you’ve got a vegan rocky road (without the Popcorn Shed popcorn, as unfortunately that contains dairy). And of course you can adapt to whatever you have… next time I’m going to use the Butterly Nuts flavour and add a little bit of peanut butter to the chocolate when melting – I think this salty-sweet combination will work wonderfully with some pretzels added for extra crunch!

*I was gifted some Popcorn Shed products to come up with a recipe for my blog. There was no payment for this post and all opinions are my own, as always.

Are you are sweet or salted popcorn person?

Recipe: A Classic Lemon Drizzle Cake

If I had to choose a favourite cake, it would be a toss up between a really good carrot cake (no raisins, plenty of orange, covered in a cream cheese frosting) or a lemon drizzle. Soft and almost soggy with lemon and a good crystallised top. The lemon drizzle cake is also one of my favourite to bake – it’s super quick and easy, smells amazing in the oven and doesn’t need fancy decorating or piping.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Cake_zpsydshechd.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 5_zps3zsgblsw.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 8_zpsubcu8nhv.jpgI like my lemon drizzle cakes to be super citrussy and zingy – something sharp that will make you suck your cheeks in on first bite, but still sweet from the glaze. I also don’t stop at just adding lemons. The photographed version switched out one of the lemons for a lime, and I’ve also added oranges to the mix before. Anything citrus goes in my opinion! I’ve also added a spot of gin to the drizzle mix before which may or may not have gone down rather well…

The point is, once you’ve got the basic sponge mixture down (the unzested mix could also be used for some delicious cupcakes, just add a spot of vanilla essence and cover in buttercream) you add the zest of 2 citrus fruits. Once baked, poke with a skewer and pour over a mix of sugar and the juice of those two fruits.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 16_zpsolkwo115.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 17_zpsc8yeshyy.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 18_zps6dgg2xdm.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake  9_zpshnaek7pv.jpgRecipe – 8-10 generous slices

Using a loaf tin makes it perfect for sharing in the office too, thin slices cut in half means I’d get a good 20 servings out of this recipe which is enough to keep my team happy!

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • finely grated zest 2 lemons (or 1 lemon + one other citrus fruit)
  • for the drizzle topping – juice 2 lemons (or 1 lemon + one other citrus fruit and 125g caster sugar

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy (top tip – beat the butter on it’s own first to make sure it is soft enough), then gradually beat in the eggs. Sift in 225g self-raising flour, then add the lemon zest and mix until well combined. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 900g loaf time, and level the top. Bake for 50-55 mins at 180C until a skewer comes out clean.

While the cake is cooling in its tin, mix together the ingredients for the drizzle.  Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer (go most of the way through the cake but try to avoid going through to the tin entirely) then pour over the drizzle – the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a lovely, crisp topping. Make sure all of the cake is covered. Leave in the tin until completely cool, then remove and serve.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake  13_zpsd70rasl5.jpgAnd that’s it. My favourite cake, in all it’s glory!

What is your go-to cake choice?

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cake

This year was the year that I planned to do *all* the Easter baking. The first Easter weekend in four years that wasn’t immediately before an exam period, the first time I could actually enjoy the bank holiday without feeling guilty. I wanted to make Hot Cross Buns, bread, fancy-pants lamb dishes, and I had a real desire to make Lemon-y cookies. I managed to do exactly none of that.

 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake_zpsjipcyg4w.jpgI could make excuses (and to be fair, it was too hot to be inside baking over the Bank Holiday weekend!) but in all honesty? I couldn’t be bothered. It was the first time in what felt like a long time that I could truly relax, and I just wanted to sit. To read a book without feeling guilty. Have a bath without taking study notes with me. To binge watch something anything (Fleabag was the series of choice, SO good!). Baking was quite far down on the list, and so this was the only thing that I made.

A birthday cake for my dad, veganised so my sister could enjoy it. Chocolate-y because it was Easter after all. If it hadn’t have been a birthday cake I probably would have decorated with mini-eggs. And, y’ano, vegan.

As far as vegan cakes go, this one is pretty “normal” – there’s no weird substitute ingredients, no flaxseed pretending to be egg. I don’t have anything against those ingredients, but I also don’t tend to find that they necessarily work in the way they are intending, and I find getting them evenly incorporated in to get an even rise quite tricky. So this is pretty basic. Milk and butter swapped out for plant-milk (we used Oatly) and Flora spread. It works. It rises (to the point we did have to prise one layer off the over rack above). It’s light and airy and tasty. The buttercream is rich and chocolately and indulgent. Even better was this stayed fresh (covered with an upturned salad bowl…) for a good few days, which I was quite impressed by. My only criticism is that it was super-crumbly and so virtually impossible to slice neatly.

 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 18_zpspwtpjlky.jpg photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 13_zpsc3boeqhz.jpgIngredients (makes an 8 inch sponge, giving 10 generous slices)

  • 300ml vegan milk
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar (we used apple cider as that’s what was lying around)
  • 150g vegan spread (we used Flora)
  • 60g golden syrup
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 275g plain flour
  • 170g sugar
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder (we used raw cacao powder)
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • For enough frosting for the middle/top – 75g vegan spread (again, Flora worked fine), 180g icing sugar, 4 tbsp cocoa powder, 2 tbsp vegan milk

Stir the vinegar into the milk and set aside, stirring every so often. Some plant milks will thicken and slightly curdle which is fine (this is the same as turning dairy milk into buttermilk) however oat milk is unlikely to do this! In a pan over a low heat, melt the spread, golden syrup and coffee granules together. I added a tiny splash of boiling water to encourage the coffee to dissolve. Along to cool slightly, then stir in the milk mixture.

Weigh the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) into a large mixing bowl and whisk together – whisking will incorporate some air without the need for sifting.  Gradually pour the milk and melted margarine mixture over the flour mixture and stir well until it becomes a smooth batter.

Divide the mixture between two greased and line sandwich tins (8 inches in diameter) and bake for around 30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. I found that these did crack a little, but as you’re piling on the buttercream it doesn’t matter!

Allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack before making the buttercream. Beat the spread in a bowl until soft and creamy, then add in half of the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add the rest of the icing sugar and the cocoa powder and beat until smooth and thick, then gradually beat in up to 2 tbsp of milk (you may not need it all) until the icing is a soft and spreadable consistency. Spread over the top of one cake, sandwich the other on top, and spread the rest of the icing on top. If you want to add icing on the sides, I’d multiply all of the buttercream ingredients by 1.5(ish).
 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 3_zpsatde0rhb.jpg

Did you do any baking over the Bank Holiday weekend? Are there any other vegan bakes you’d like to see?

Food: What To Bake This Festive Season

It’s Christmas Eve Eve baaaabbbeee! I’m now feeling all sorts of festive and I’m SO excited for Christmas. Not only is it our first as a married couple, I’m also really excited (although a little apprehensive not being at home) to spend the day with my in-laws for the first time. We’ll also not forget my Christmas last year was rather odd, with Christmas night spend in A&E and then quarantining myself away from everyone for a few days (spraying Dettol at anyone who dared come near me) – though I succeeded in avoiding the winter vomiting bug everyone else had! Anyway, it’s Christmas, I’m excited, and here’s why.

 photo Festive Baking_zpswfswoozq.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 5_zpsafdd0i4x.jpgFood.

I’m all about that festive food.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Chloe Ellen (@life.and.loves) on

Turkey, goose, pigs in blankets. Two types of potato (mash and roast). The obligatory sprout. Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Toblerone. Quality Street (strawberry cremes for the win!). Alllll the cheese. Then the leftovers. Bubble and squeak, cold cuts, turkey curry. And that’s before we get onto dinner parties for the New Year parties.

All of that is good, but my absolute favourite thing is festive baking. Not only are the results delicious, but I find it really brings people together. Whether it’s me and my husband having a flour fight, the taste of my grandma’s jam tarts (she always made them for the mince pie haters) or children decorating baked tree decorations, festive baking is just so heart warming. With that in mind I’m sharing some of my favourite festive bakes. Whether they’re tried and tested by me, family favourites or just ones I’m desperate to make having seen them in the blogging world, they’re all things I’d suggest spending a cosy afternoon making. Pop on your most festive socks and jumpers, turn up the Christmas playlist and get in the kitchen!

Chocolate Orange Brownies

Brownies are probably my favourite bake to eat, and adding orange (and a pinch of festive spice) is the perfect way to inject a Christmassy feel. I usually stick to my Ultimate Brownie recipe, adding in all sorts of extras. This year I’ve poached orange slices in a sugar syrup, chopped most of it up finely and stirred it through the mixture, and used the remainder to top the brownies. Switch out the usual chocolate chunks for some chopped Terry’s and you’ve got the perfect chocolatey treat for this time of year!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Chloe Ellen (@life.and.loves) on

Mince Pies

Ok, disclaimer right here. I’m not a Mince Pie fan. I hate dried fruit so the idea of them is just a bit bleugh, but I will accept they are a staple part of Christmas for so many, and I do love the smell of them baking! My tip for these is to buy ready-made mincemeat and then pimp it up. Add extra orange (always) and some alcohol (whisky is our go-to, but the more traditional brandy is an obvious choice). Serve warm with cream and you may even convince me to take a bite…

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Chloe Ellen (@life.and.loves) on

Edible Gifts

One of my favourite things to do the week before Christmas is bake some little treats that I can bag up, decorate with pretty ribbon and give out to my friends and colleagues. It’s something I really love to do, as it shows my appreciation for them without breaking the bank.

This year I’ve been super busy at the office (think still being at your desk way into the night on the Friday before Christmas, plus I’m working Christmas Eve too!), and so I turned to some super-quick yet super tasty recipes which I knew would be crowd pleasers. Super-Easy Peanut Butter Fudge – see my recipe here – is one of my favourite recipes. It’s so perfect to package up into little homemade gifts, hardly takes any time, just a while in the fridge to set, and is the perfect combination of sweet and addictive peanut butter. I’ve also been making snowball cookies (chocolate recipe here) though this year I’ve given them a twist by removing the chocolate and making with a combination of maple and pecans.

Gingerbread House

Making a Gingerbread House brings back so many memories for me. On our first Christmas as a couple (an unbelievable 8 years ago now) W and I decided to make one. I can’t say it went particularly well, from memory we snapped one of the roof pieces so ended up with a flat topped ‘shed’ – and then we decided to ice our initials on…

And yep. The Gingerbread Toilet was born.

 photo Gingerbread Toilet_zps2ojbaecy.jpg

Isn’t she a beauty?!

 photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 4_zpsxob82420.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 2_zps1ys0yiz5.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 1_zps7pd4cu3s.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 7_zpsapnachso.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 6_zps4b146sin.jpgFortunately when I was invited along to a Gingerbread House Bake Off with NEFF and Currys PC World things went slightly better! When an evening kicks off with mulled wine and cheese you know it’s going to be a good one, and this was one of my favourite December experiences of 2018. Divided into teams and provided with gingerbread dough, icing ingredients and a whole kitchen of shiny equipment (including those ovens with the slide-and-hide door from a certain tent…) we were tasked with producing a fully decorated gingerbread house and a few trays of canapes in just a few hours.

We got the dough in the oven in record time, prepped up some canapes (Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche and Dill bruschetta was a winner for me!) and *just* about managed to get more of the sweet decorations on our creation than in our tummies. A lot of giggles and some groans (the team next to us unfortunately suffered a catastrophic collapse) we presented our houses to the judges. Unfortunately we didn’t quite win, but it didn’t really matter – we made a great looking house, and most importantly had an amazing time. I met some bloggers who I’d been following for years (hey Victoria) and some of the loveliest new-to-me bloggers too (Sophia and Corinne in particular).

And that’s what Christmas baking is, for me, all about. It doesn’t matter if it’s stunningly presented, even to the point of being a collapsed gingerbread house. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. It’s all about getting together as friends, as family, as couples and enjoying time together in the kitchen baking up something filled with care and love.
 photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 8_zps7vvbzaaz.jpg

*I was invited to attend the Gingerbread Bake Off event, but this post isn’t sponsored – and of course all opinions are my own!

Have you ever tried to make a gingerbread house? What’s your go-to festive bake?

I’d also like to take this as an opportunity to thank you, my readers, for continuing to support me over 2018. Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Recipe: Coffee & Walnut Cupcakes

Over summer I had a *massive* craving for coffee ice-cream. It’s a flavour I absolutely love, but avoid making or buying as W doesn’t react well to caffeine – and believe me nor do I when he keeps me up all night after having some! When I finally got round to grabbing some coffee, we had the classic British problem of ‘it went cold’ and so ice-cream went out of the window and these cupcakes were born.

 photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes_zpstohzuo5f.jpg photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 15_zpsde4gi9re.jpgCoffee and Walnut is a classic sandwich cake combination, but I wanted to keep these a little daintier. I find cupcakes are far easier for sharing at the office too! These cupcakes are light, fluffy, full of coffee flavour, topped off with a delicious vanilla buttercream – giving a really creamy finish that reminds me of fancy coffee drinks. They are quite strong on the coffee front, as I used plenty of coffee grounds (Illy is my brand of choice, gifted as part of my Degustabox collaboration) – however keeping the topping coffee-free ensures, for me at least, they aren’t too strong. A perfect coffee hit, but not bitter or overpowering. Perfect as an afternoon snack!

 photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 9_zpsmhb8dmtv.jpgRecipe (makes 9 cupcakes)

  • 100g soft butter, at room temperature
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tsp instant coffee, mixed with 100ml/3½fl oz boiling water, then cooled
  • 25g walnuts, chopped, plus more for topping
  • For the frosting – 200g mascarpone, 2 tbsp golden caster sugar, 2 tsp vanilla extract

Line a  bun tin with 9 fairy cake cases. Beat the butter and sugar together, then add the egg in gradually, beating well. Add the flour and fold in, followed by around 4 tsp of the coffee and a pinch of salt until creamy. Stir through the chopped walnuts, then evenly spoon the mix into the cases. Bake for at 180C for around 20 minutes, then allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, pop the mascarpone, vanilla and the sugar into a large bowl, then beat together. Spread a dollop of the frosting onto the top of each cake, then finish with some more walnuts. Enjoy – though don’t do as I did and enjoy as an evening snack at gone 10pm!
 photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 7_zps2asjutb4.jpg photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 14_zpsr2997ttr.jpg

Are you a fan of cupcakes, or do you prefer a slice of a larger cake? 

Recipe: Cheesy Courgette & Spinach Muffins

Yet another courgette recipe from me! I just can’t get enough of this vegetable, so versatile and great for bulking out dishes and adding a little bit more towards your five-a-day.

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins_zpsjhp3wsfg.jpgThese muffins are the perfect rainy day snack. Best served warm (I zap in the microwave at work), they’re delicious split in half and spread with salted butter, or perfect alongside some soup. Having said that they do work quite nicely at room temperature along with a platter of cured meat, more cheese and some salad, so they’d be great for a picnic. I can imagine them being a hit with children too, just maybe grate the courgette finely and chop the spinach really well if they’re particularly veg-phobic!

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 5_zpsdeuqun4z.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 17_zpswy7jwulf.jpgUnfortunately this recipe doesn’t use a *huge* amount of courgette so it won’t be that great if you’ve got a glut of it in your garden, but it does use around 1 small one and the muffins freeze well for a couple of months which helps!

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 21_zps0hog0daz.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 27_zpssqnywgbp.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 19_zps2kp3vbat.jpgRecipe – makes 12 muffins

  • 125g courgette
  • 50g feta cheese
  • 75g cheddar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 75g baby spinach
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 250ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp dried herbs, I used a mix of basil and oregano
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds, for sprinkling

Coarsely grate the courgette into a large mixing bowl. Crumble the feta into the bowl and sprinkle over 75g grated cheddar. Roughly chop the spinach, and add along with the flour, baking powder, salt, herbs and plenty of black pepper. Beat the milk and eggs together then stir into the bowl; lightly mix until everything is just combined. Spoon into the muffin cases (around 2 tbsp in each) and sprinkle over the pumpkin seeds and extra cheese.

Bake for around 30 minutes at 180C until firm, golden and a skewer comes out cleanly. Allow to cool for 10 minutes;  then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 20_zpsna12sqkc.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 18_zpsdo0qnr9e.jpgI reckon you could easily switch these up. Add some extra hints of summer with some dried-tomatoes, add some finely chopped crispy bacon. I also think you could use this recipe to make a riff on cornbread – add some spices, stir through some corn and bake as normal. Yum!

Are you a fan of savoury muffins?

Recipe: Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake

I promised a recipe for this Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake a few weeks ago (when I spoke about my favourite ways to use up a courgette glut) – and here it is. In fact this is probably perfectly timed, as courgettes are still coming through, but I have noticed them starting to be a little more bitter, more ‘woolly’ and not their best. This recipe will certainly transform below-par courgettes into something delicious.

 photo Courgette Orange Loaf Cake_zps789aalfg.jpgPacked with citrus flavours (I added lemon zest as well as orange for a real zingy hit) you’d never guess this is filled with a vegetable. I mean, it’s still not a healthy cake by any means, but it is slightly less guilt-inducing! The courgette doesn’t really impact much flavour, but what it does bring to the party is an amazing texture. The loaf cake is moist and tender, but still has a good ‘cake’ feel. It’s not mushy by any means! And it also seems to taste really well, in fact it was almost even beter after a day in the fridge (I wouldn’t usually keep cakes in the fridge, but cream cheese frosting and the UK heatwave wasn’t a combination I wanted to try out!).

 photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 5_zpsn5m9gfsz.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 18_zps8bqddjvz.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 15_zpsuhv0k6uw.jpgRecipe (makes a large 900g loaf tin- though I made mine in mini-loaf tins for ease of portioning out to various offices – based on a BBC Good Food recipe)

  • 350g courgettes
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 3 eggs
  • grated zest 2 oranges
  • grated zest 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp orange extract (we used Dr Oetker*)
  • 300g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Frosting – I wasn’t too impressed with my attempt at the frosting and so won’t give the recipe, but next time I’d try this recipe

Lightly oil and line a 900g loaf tin. Finely grate the courgettes (no need to peel unless the skin is particular though), then squeeze out as much liquid as you can with your hands. I also let the grated courgettes sit in a sieve, weighted with a bowl filled with baking beans, whilst I weighed everything else out.

Stir the courgettes with the sugar, oil, eggs, zest, and orange extract, then fold in the flour and baking powder. Like with banana bread it’s really important not to overmix or the texture will be doughy and not particularly cake-like. I found the mix was particularly dry and stiff, but don’t worry as the courgettes release a lot of water as the cake cooks.

Scrape the mixture into the tin and bake for 50 minutes at 180C, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean (mine needed an extra ten minutes). Remove from the tin after a few minutes, and the cool on a wire rack. Make sure the cake is completely cool before icing with your chosen frosting.

 photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 12_zpshmh8ruae.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 3_zpscup8eypb.jpgThis Courgette & Orange Loaf went down a storm when I took it into the office – it’s actually been my most popular bake and disappeared before lunch. I was very glad I’d left a slice at home for me to enjoy later or I wouldn’t have got a look in…

Are you a fan of vegetable cakes? Would you choose to bake with courgette?

Cooking From: Blackberry & Custard Biscuits (Sweet by Ottolenghi)

Confession time! The actual recipe in Sweet (by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh) is for Rhubarb & Custard Biscuits and, whilst I’m sure they are utterly delicious, it just isn’t the season for rhubarb. I’ll be making them for sure next spring, but for now we’re using the very much in season (and very foragable, unless you live in London!) blackberry. We actually bought blacberries in our weekly shop, expecting the first weekend of September to be cool enough for a crumble – wrong. The heatwave made a brief (albeit slightly cooler) reappearance and so biscuits it was.

 photo Blackberry Custard Biscuits_zpsox78ji5s.jpgAnd what delicious biscuits they are. Sweet custardy biscuits, made with Bird’s custard powder so that they taste of my childhood. Tart homemade blackberry jam, beaten into buttercream and used to sandwich the biscuits. It all combines beaitfully, with the vanilla-sweetness tempering down the sharpness of the berries. It tastes like a bowl of crumble and custard, but it’s far easier to eat. Almost too easy, as the batch disappeared rather quickly…

And the other recipes in this cookbook are just as good, though I confess we’ve used it very sparingly over the year. It aims to “bring the Ottolenghi hallmarks of fresh, evocative ingredients, exotic spices and complex flavourings – including fig, rose petal, saffron, aniseed, orange blossom, pistachio and cardamom – to indulgent cakes, biscuits, tarts, puddings, cheesecakes and ice cream.” It certainly delivers, and in part that’s why we’ve not used this book as much as I’d like. Quite a few recipes seem to request more unusual ingredients, or use a more time consuming method, and quite often we bake as a random, spur-of-the-moment decision. Having tried this recipe, however, I know I need to make more of an effort to thumb through and use it more.

There are around 100 recipes, and a lot of them are very original – you’re not going to find basic brownies. Instead there’s brownies laced with tahini and halva – and as soon as I can find some halva I’ll be making them. There might not be your usual choc-chip cookies, but there are “Chocolate O Cookies” which are said to be the ultimate homemade Oreo. There’s a coffee and cardamon pound cake which sounds delicious. There’s several cheesecake recipes, many desserts we’d prepare for a dinner party (I’ve genuinely already started planning a feast for our next New Year’s Eve dinner – despite not having any guests yet!). Whilst we’ve not really used this, I can imagine it will be a book that will become well-thumbed over the years. Now I just need to get hold of some of Ottolenghi’s savoury cookbooks…

 photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 15_zpssfwr42xd.jpg photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 12_zpsqspu1gi6.jpg photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 18_zpsonjwyria.jpgRecipe (makes around 15)

  • 175g flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 65g custard powder
  • 65g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 170g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • For the icing: 1 small stick of rhubarb (or 2 handfuls of blackberries – roughly 70g of fruit), 65g unsalted butter, 130g icing sugar, and 1/2 tsp lemon juice

If you making the rhubarb icing: spread pieces of rhubarb on tray and roast at 180C for 30 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven and cool, then puree in food processor before adding butter. Add icing sugar and lemon juice and continue to process for a few minutes until it thickens. Transfer to a small bowl and let sit in the fridge to firm up. To make our blackberry filling, we popped the blackberries in a small pan with a tiny splash of water and simmered until soft, pureed, passed through a sieve to remove the pips, and then added butter and continued as per the recipe.

For the cookies, cream the butter with the flour, custard powder, icing sugar and salt on low speed til the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Increase speed to medium and beat for about 30 seconds until a dough forms. Roll dough into balls about 3cm round – they should weigh about 15g. Place on lined trays about 4cm apart. Dip the back prongs of a small fork in the extra flour and then press firmly but gently into the back of each ball so that the cookie flattens. Bake at 170C on lined baking trays for about 25 minutes, let cool on trays for about 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble, spread 15g of icing on the flat side of a cookie and sandwich with the flat side of another. The forked sides should be facing out. Store in an airtight container if you manage not to eat them immediately.

 photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 8_zpsajnh5wwy.jpg photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 20_zps78yop1qu.jpgThese we found were the perfect afternoon snack for a weekend. Lovely with a cup of tea (I’m favouring Yorkshire’s Biscuit Brew at the moment), they were light, sweet and had a really comforting taste coming from the custard powder. The biscuits really melted in the mouth too! I’m looking forward to next year’s rhubarb season when I can try the full recipe…

Have you tried any of Ottolenghi’s books? Which do you recommend? 

Recipe: White Chocolate & Pretzel Cookies

These were dreamed up early on a Saturday morning. W was snoozing in bed, I was flicking through recipe books. I wanted to back, but I didn’t know what I wanted to bake. It had to be portable, as it was being dragged halfway across London to a BBQ. It needed to be quick and fairly easy, as I’m impatient. It needed to involve minimum baking time, as it’s far too hot in the UK right now to have your oven on for hours on end.

 photo White Choc amp Pretzel Cookies_zpsbyvwl3aj.jpg photo White Chocolate and Pretzel Cookies 25_zpsut9uyxfd.jpgCookies seemed like the obvious choice. But we *always* make cookies. And sure our cookies are delicious, but I wanted something new. Something different. Something a little unusual.

And so White Chocolate & Pretzel Cookies were born. A combination of creamy sweet white chocolate with a crunchy and salty hit from the pretzels, they skyrocketed straight into my top-cookie-spot. The sweet and salty flavours together go so well in the chewy cookie base, with the pretzels adding an amazing texture. I clearly wasn’t the only person who was a massive fan, as the 28 we took to the BBQ disappeared far too quickly, leaving only two left for us to enjoy the next day. Whoops. Basically, make a big batch.

 photo White Chocolate and Pretzel Cookies 21_zpsskyfiraa.jpg photo White Chocolate and Pretzel Cookies 23_zpswcscdcpf.jpgRecipe, makes roughly 30 large cookies (we used the same base recipe as we do for all of our cookies, it just works so well!)

  • 250g butter
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 250g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 415g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp hot water (plus a little more if needed)
  • 1 pinch of sea salt
  • 250g white chocolate – chopped into big chunks
  • 150g pretzels – roughly crushed, plus some whole ones for the top

Beat the butter slightly until soft, them cream together with the two types of sugar. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and gradually beat into the butter/sugar mix. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warm water, before adding to the mix along with the salt. Stir in the flour, followed by the chocolate and pretzels. Drop large spoonfuls (we used tablespoons) of the mix onto lined baking trays and roughly roll into a ball. Top each with a pretzel, pressing down lightly (don’t flatten). These cookies spread quite a lot, so avoid putting more than 5 or so on a tray.

Bake for around for 10 minutes at 180C, and allow to cool a little before transferring to a white rack to cool as much as you can bear before eating. I find these are perfect served with a glass of ice cold milk – cliched as it may be, but I do love milk and cookies!
 photo White Chocolate and Pretzel Cookies 14_zps3tttriaa.jpg

Are you a fan of sweet and salted foods?

 

Recipe: Lemon & Olive Oil Cake

Despite being a self-confession chocoholic, my go-to flavouring for a cake is lemon. There’s something about a zingy sponge, perhaps filled with a vibrant curd or topped with a crunchy drizzle glaze, that just makes my heart sing and tastebuds dance.

I usually make a lemon drizzle cake (recipe will be coming soon), but this is something a little different. This cake is smarter, it’s perfect for a dinner party dessert served with zest creme fraiche and raspberries, but it’s also delicious with a cup of tea. As it’s not too sweet, I confess I’ve also enjoyed it for a lazy weekend breakfast with some yoghurt! It’s a super moist cake with a tender crumb, a whack of lemony zing and subtle grassy flavours of olive oil.

Speaking of the olive oil, I used Terre Di San Vito*. I’ve been using this olive oil for the past month or two, and I have to say it’s good. It’s grassy and well-flavoured, without being overly harsh at the back of your throat. It makes wonderful salad dressings, and I’ve enjoyed far too much of it served simply with bread and some balsamic vinegar. Yum!

Back to the cake. It’s super simple to make, though does require some careful folding and a decent hand whisk or stand mixer. But really it’s hardly any effort at all, especially as I’ve simplified the method compared to many similar recipes I’d found – this gal ain’t got time for separating eggs and whisking whites and yolks individually!

Recipe (Makes 8 generous slices, 10 more dainty ones)

  • 5 medium eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 120ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice (roughly one lemon)
  • 125g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 50g icing sugar, for dusting

Using stand mixer (you could do it by hand, but you’ll be exhausted afterwards), beat the eggs and sugar on high until the mixture is fluffy and has doubled in volume (it took just over 6 minutes in my KitchenAid). While the eggs and sugar are mixing, in a separate bowl measure the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest and whisk together.

Using a spatula, fold in the olive oil and lemon juice into the egg mixture, followed by the flour mixture. Fold until the flour disappears, but be careful not to overmix.

Pour the batter into a greased and lined 9 inch cake tin, and bake for 40-45 minutes at 175C until the top is a light golden brown and a skewed poked in comes out clean. Sift over some icing sugar before serving, to decorate.

Told you it was an easy cake recipe! I find this one is best eaten the day after baking, as it gets slightly more moister and almost sticky as it sits. I think it would be the perfect cake to take along to a summery BBQ…

*I received two bottles of Terre Di San Vito olive oil to promote on my Instagram page. No blog post was required, and all opinions are (as ever!) my own. No money exchanged hands in this collaboration. 

Have you ever tried baking with olive oil?