Autumnal Crumble and other Berrilicious Delights

So our gorgeous new puppy, Kenya, has been the catalyst for a serious increase in countryside walks and spin-off benefits include a freezer-full of blackberries. There is also a lot more mud to deal with, particularly as it has been so wet, but  I suppose there has to be some sort of cost to foraging….

I shall start with a plum and blackberry crumble, which was inspired by Nigella Lawson’s new series Nigellissima, to which I have been glued, naturally, but Amaretti biscuits are only just available in some supermarkets, so I have come up with a store cupboard alternative.

Autumnal Crumble (serves 6)

You will need for the fruit base: 2 punnets of Plums, (these are currently on offer in Sainsburys, the firm round variety), a punnet of Blackberries or 150g or so, 3 tbsp Marsala Wine, 2 tbsp of soft brown sugar.

You will need for the crumble: 150g Plain or Self Raising Flour, 75g Butter, fridge cold, 75g Rolled Oats, 75g Brown Sugar, 75g Chopped Hazelnuts or Chopped Almonds, pretoasted or not is fine.

So I expect this hardly needs directions but here we go:

  • Wash the plums, halve, remove the stone and halve again, pop in a saucepan with the Marsala, sugar and 3 tbsp of water.
  • Cook over a gentle heat until the plums are tender and the sugar dissolved, about 5 – 10 minutes. You want to retain some bite to the fruit.
  • Pop these in an ovenproof dish minus the liquid and add the blackberries and mix in.
  • To make the crumble topping, rub the butter into the flour either by hand or using a mixer until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs and then stir in all the other ingredients.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C
  • Just before you wish to cook your crumble sprinkle the topping over the fruit and then bake for around 30 minutes until any juice is bubbling and the topping is browned.
  • The cooking liquor from the plums can be reduced over a moderate heat to create a delicious syrup.

Another favourite round here, Orange Berry Salad (serves 4)

You will need: 4 or 5 Oranges, thin-skinned for preference, 4 tbsp of Maple Syrup, 2 tbsp of Orange juice, a large handful or more of Blackberries and a sprinkling of Toasted Flaked Almonds, (you can buy toasted flaked almonds or toast your own, but they toast quickly so don’t leave them to their own devices for a second).

  • Peel the oranges with a sharp knife so that you remove the pith too, and slice to give wheel-like slices.
  • Arrange on a shallow serving dish of appropriate size.
  • In a small saucepan heat together the syrup and orange juice, and pour over the oranges.
  • Scatter over some blackberries and chill.
  • Just before serving sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds

Goes well with cake or tarts like frangipan, something slightly dry on its own.

If you do not have maple syrup, you can make a sugar syrup with 50g of sugar and 50ml of water, heat gently in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves and allow to boil gently for 2 minutes. To flavour, add a little honey or brandy! Cool a little and pour over the oranges.

Pumpkin Cupcakes Every Witch Way

I’ve been promising the recipe for making pumpkin cupcakes for a couple of weeks, but of course, timing is everything so about now seems to be the optimum moment.

You can make the actual little pumpkin shaped cupcakes using either the following pumpkin flavoured recipe or a standard vanilla cupcake cake recipe which you can find here (make sure you use a large egg). The buttercream again can either be a standard recipe, such as given in the vanilla cupcake link substituting vanilla extract for orange essence for a nice twist, or again the recipe given below.

So you will need: 12 cupcakes or however many you wish, enough buttercream for the number of cupcakes you wish to decorate, orange coloured sugarpaste (allow 80g per cupcake so 3 x 250g packets will comfortably decorate 12, probably more) a little brown sugarpaste or Matchmakers or a Cadbury’s flake for the pumpkin stalk. Orange, black and green coloured sugarpaste is currently available in supermarkets.

Equipment needs: small palette knife or flat knife, 10cm pastry cutter or similar, a paintbrush or something to make a small round indent.

1) peel the cake cases away from your cupcakes

2) coat the sides and top of the cupcake in soft buttercream with the palette or flat knife

3) roll out about 80g of orange sugarpaste so that it measures at least 20cm diameter

4) Flop the sugarpaste disc over the buttercreamed cupcake and using the pastry cutter trim the disc to 10cm diameter

5) Tuck all the edges round the bottom of the cupcake

6) Sit the cake upright and using the back of a knife, score the pumpkin ridges

7) Using the end of a paintbrush, make an indent on the top of the cake in the centre, and then insert either a little piece of Matchmaker or Cadbury’s Flake or if you have the ‘where with all’ a small piece of brown sugarpaste fashioned into a stalk.

8) Tah Dah!!! Made by 8, 12 and 42 year old bakers….

9) Alternatively you can buy stencils which can be used to create Halloween-y images, once you have iced your cupcakes in the conventional manner, with cinnamon or cocoa powder.

Pumpkin Flavoured Cupcakes

Tricky to get a good bake and a good flavour it seems. I’ve had trouble with the straight Hummingbird recipe (wouldn’t rise) and the flavour of others can be a bit too spicy. This recipe worked for us though, giving the right amount of spice and a rise on the cakes,

For 12 cupcakes: 140g Plain Flour, 1½ tsp Cinnamon, ¼ tsp Nutmeg, ¼ tsp Ginger, ¼ tsp Salt, 1 ½ tsp Baking Powder, ¼ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda, 55g Butter softened, 100g Caster Sugar, 2 ½ tbsp Soft Brown Sugar, 1 Egg, 80 ml Milk, 125g Pumpkin Puree (you can make it or buy it in Waitrose!)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C and fill a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Into a bowl combine the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate or soda. Stir together and set aside. In another bowl combine the sugars and the butter and beat together ( I would say until light and fluffy but there is so much sugar here I don’t think you will achieve light and fluffy). Add the egg and beat into the butter sugar mixture until smooth, add the milk and the pumpkin puree and beat until combined. At this point it will truly look like a horrible mess, just press on. Stir in the flour mixture lightly until just incorporated and then dollop the batter into the paper cases.

Bake for 25 minutes or so until brown on top and springy to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out.

Once cold coat with the buttercream.

Buttercream with Maple Syrup

90g Butter, softened, 270g Icing Sugar, 1 tbsp Milk, 3 tbsp Maple Syrup

Pop the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and beat together until combined. Add the milk and maple syrup and beat slowly until incorporated and then turn up the speed on the mixture and beat for 5 minutes or so until light and fluffy. It should be very soft to spread.

Alternatively you can use a classic cream cheese buttercream: 50g Butter, softened, 300g Icing Sugar, 125g Cream Cheese, cold. Beat together the butter and icing sugar until well combined and then add the cold cream cheese and beat on a medium speed until you have a soft fluffy icing, about 2 minutes. Do not beat as ferociously as the standard buttercream or for as long as the cheese cream will render the mixture runny and it won’t pipe or spread well.

Pumpkin Puree

Cut up the pumpkin flesh into chunks and pop in a roasting tin with some water in the bottom. Cover with foil and bake until tender on 180 – 200°C. Once cooked, drain any remaining water away and blend until smooth.

Happy Halloween

Apricot and Rhubarb Oat Bars

Child 1 is cooking at school again and joy of joys the teacher has introduced the idea of developing their own recipes!

Initiative in baking, and cooking in general, I believe is an essential ingredient (!) in the art of being a confident cook.  Cooking instinct can be acquired with practice as well as be a raw talent but reliance on clear instructions, whilst helpful in the learning process, if always needed will leave cooking in the chore category and not elevate it to carefree hobby status or allow for ‘using up stuff’ a bit of a must for anyone on a budget, which frankly is most of us after all. My better half trained as a chemist and therefore following detailed and extensive recipes backed up with accurate weighing and measuring equipment presents him with no problems. Vague generalisations and scant instructions basically stresses him out particularly as he thinks I will have ‘something to say’ about his finished offering if not perfect. He confuses constructive advice with criticism.

So anyway, Child 1 sees the advantage in this as he can adapt recipes with ingredients he’s not keen on to include those he prefers…….

He brought home a version of the above with chocolate chips instead of apricots and strawberry jam instead of rhubarb. You couldn’t actually cut a slice as such, more heap a couple of spoonfuls into a bowl and eat it with a fork as apparently he was distracted at some crucial point and there was a step skipped with the topping…… Anyway like with a lot of these type of bars: it tasted great!

I was so intrigued with the basic recipe and had apricots and rhubarb lying around so I had a go at the weekend and this is the result; I have to say it is divine and Child 1 (despite the lack of chocolate) announced he liked mine more. I almost spat out my mouthful.

You will need (makes 12 bars):

For the base: 100g Plain Flour, 35g Self-Raising Flour, 100g Butter (at room temperature), 1 Egg Yolk, 110g Caster Sugar,

160g Jam: I made mine as I had rhubarb with 450g Rhubarb, 450g Sugar, 1 tsp Ground Ginger, juice of 1 Lemon, 50 ml Water

Topping: 60g Golden Syrup, 30g Maple Syrup or Honey, 50g Butter, 135g Rolled Oats, 40g Corn flakes or Special K, crunch up a little, 35g desiccated Coconut, 125g Apricots chopped, fresh or dried.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C and grease and line a 23cm (9″) square brownie tin or similar. Lining square tins can be a bit of a faff. Either scrunch up an appropriate sized piece of greaseproof paper into a ball and them smooth out and line the tin or cut a square which again is larger than the tin and then cut in toward the center on the diagonal from each corner for a few centimeters then line the tin overlapping the paper at the corners.

Jam: you can buy rhubarb obviously, or to make it, put a couple of saucers in the freezer for the testing process and make sure to have a couple of sterile jam jars handy for any excess (wash in dishwater at 60°C), then slice the rhubarb and add to a saucepan with all the other ingredients. Allow the sugar to melt over a medium heat and then turn up the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and test if done but adding a teaspoon to a very cold saucer. Give it a sec and then push the blob up the saucer with your finger. If the skin wrinkles, it’s done. If not boil for a few for minutes and test again. Pour into the sterile jar(s) and allow to cool a little.

To make the base: Cream together the sugar and butter in a mixer and once light and fluffy at the egg yolk and beat for a couple more minutes. Add the flour and fold into the creamed mixture. You will find you to need to finish this off with your hands to achieve a ball of dough.

Press into the base of the tin to give an even layer and bake for 15 minutes. The top should be browned. Remove from the oven.

To make the topping: Melt together the golden syrup, maple syrup/honey and the butter and stir to combine. Put all the other topping ingredients into a separate bowl and pour in the buttery mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat the dry with the wet.

Spread an even layer of jam over the base and then carefully spread over the topping. Pop it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. It should be lightly brown once done. Cut into bars whilst still warm and leave to cool in the tin.

If you have made jam don’t forget the wax covers and a tight-fitting lid. It’s delicious instead of marmalade.

Early Morning Victory for Murray so it’s Vermont Maple Syrup Breakfast Muffins

Well, finally we have a tennis champion after millions of years or whatever the statistic is. Fantastic news! So to celebrate I am making Vermont Maple syrup breakfast muffins with a British Autumnal twist as we woke up to the news early this morning here in the UK.

This is based primarily on a recipe in the muffin lovers Bible: The Joy of Muffins by Genevieve Farrow and Diane Dreher which is still in print I see and a snip at about £6, but with the addition of oat bran and blackberries.

You will need (for 12):

1 ½ cups of Plain Flour, ½ cup Oat Bran, 4 tsp Baking Powder, ½ tsp Salt, 1 large Egg, ½ cup Milk, ½ cup Maple Syrup, ½ cup melted Butter, cooled slightly, 1 cup Blackberries and a sprinkling of icing sugar.

Preheat the oven to 210°C/Fan 200°C.  Combine the flour, oat bran, salt and baking powder in a bowl and in a separate bowl combine the egg, milk, syrup and whisk together and then whisk in the butter. Add the wet to the dry and fold for about 10-15 fold actions and then add the blackberries and continue to fold in for another 5 fold actions or so. Don’t forget: a light touch makes for lighter muffins. Dollop into a 12 hole muffin tin, with or without cases and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with icing sugar.

The kitchen will take on a fabulous aroma of maple syrup firstly and then blackberries and when you try one, hopefully warm you have the rich flavour of butter behind the main ingredients and a lovely nutty texture. Yummy.

You can always leave out the oat bran and use 2 cups of plain flour instead and blueberries instead of blackberries.

Posts, I think are going to come weekly for the time being as we have very recently welcomed the gorgeous creature below into our home:

She is a cocker spaniel, 8.5 weeks and we named her Kenya.

Anyway, it won’t be long before she settles down, I hope, and the baking can continue in earnest, but in the meantime I am cooking speedily!!

Waffly Good Breakfast where the Old Countries Meet the New

Hello again, we are back from our holiday, the school term has started and cake orders are coming in again after the summer break.

We have been lucky enough to have seen this:

Had a go on this :

Eaten massive sandwiches looking like this:

and seen plenty of these:

Fantastic!!

And of course. maple leaves are on the flag for a reason and vats of syrup have been consumed and transported back to blighty. I feel a few maple syrup recipes coming on!

For starters how about this:

Waffles with mascarpone cheese, fruit, toasted nuts and maple syrup.

Child two has been eating toasted waffles like they have been going out of fashion. Here in the UK we don’t seem to sell the frozen boxfuls like they do in North America, however we do sell them fresh in packets or if you are feeling really virtuous you can buy a waffle maker and do it yourself. We ate breakfast at a diner called Tutti Frutti and as the name would suggest anything you ordered came with a huge pile of fruit, so inspired by Child two and Tutti Frutti, I made the following, (serves one):

2 or 3 waffles (warmed), 2 or 3 tbsp of mascarpone cheese (light or regular) or a mixture of mascarpone cheese and 0%fat Greek yoghurt, fruit of your choice, I used a banana, sliced, a nectarine, sliced and a handful of blueberries, a sprinkling of toasted nuts (almond, pecan, whatever you want) and a drizzling of maple syrup.  Pile it all up on the plate and off you go.

(Europe is referred to as the old countries by Canadians and the recipe fuses Italian and Spanish ingredients with Canadian; oh and these waffles were Belgian!).

‘Vintage’ Sofa prompts Granola Update

So the last couple of days have been rather manic, with any spare time devoted to the acquisition of this:

with this :

Not a lot of time for blogging then.

However I have been sitting on a granola update, as well as my new Chesterfield, for a couple of weeks so I am going to share that.

The original granola recipe is quite a free-form idea using rolled oats, desiccated coconut, nuts, seeds and dried fruit toasted in a slight honey/butter glaze. Commercially, of course, there are variations of these sorts of things and maple and pecan is quite a common combination. I accidentally bought some maple syrup flavoured Golden Syrup recently and an idea formed that the said syrup could replace the honey component. Therefore if you are bored with the original version, fancy a change or are not keen on dried fruit, try this:

250g Rolled Oats, 50g Desiccated Coconut, 60-80g Pecans, 60g Almonds (still with the skins on for preference) and 30g hazelnuts all roughly chopped, 75ml Maple Syrup flavoured Golden Syrup and 50g Butter.

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/Fan 155°C.

Measure out the dry ingredients into a large bowl and the syrup and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted. Stir to blend completely with the syrup.

Pour the wet into the dry and stir round until the dry is properly coated with the wet.

Spread out on a baking sheet and bake/toast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so to brown evenly.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before transferring to an air-tight container.

Good with other cereals as a garnish, on its own or with yoghurt and fruit. Yummy.

I’m sure this could be made substituting actual maple syrup for the flavoured golden syrup but in the UK, unlike Canada, it doesn’t grow on trees and really is quite expensive.

Perfect Pancakes and no Palaver

At Last! My perfect pancake.

As it’s Shrove Tuesday tomorrow I feel I should blog about Pancakes. However these delicious creations feature large in our house as Child 2 is a creature of habit and campaigns weekly, without fail, to have them for breakfast on Sunday mornings. Seeing as this is the least busy day of the week from the point of view of cooking something up first thing, I have generally been happy to indulge him.

Of course I’m talking about the American variety and therefore Delia just won’t do. I have been through several versions over the years and I have always been left wanting in some way. Typically I’ve used a recipe of Nigella’s but this involves melting butter which then has to be cooled to some degree before being added to the various other ingredients, which I could not commit to memory, basically a bit of a faff. At that time of the week, let alone morning, I want to be able to bang these out in a family-tradition-I’ve-been-doing-it-all-my-life kind of way, with a minimum of brain power, equipment and little opportunity to forget some vital ingredient. I have learnt this the hard way and after 5 years have finally come up with the ideal recipe, and here it is.

Adapted from the inspirational Rachel Allen, and the result of a happy accident, her Drop Scones recipe has been morphed into our American Pancake one, and because it is all about stateside in this post, I use my anglicised version of american measures:

a generous ½ cup self-raising flour, pinch of salt, 1 tbsp (15g) caster sugar, 1 egg, ½ cup milk, a drop of sunflower oil. That’s all you need apart from a bowl, a balloon whisk and a frying pan. (I do appreciate you can buy pancake mix (type in pancake mix at the link) which would be far simpler but that’s not what this blog’s about).

So put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the middle and add the egg and milk. Whisk until you have a smooth batter and that’s it. Heat 1 tsp oil over a moderate heat and after a minute, wipe the non stick frying pan with some kitchen paper, to remove the liquid oil or use that oil spray. Depending on the size of your frying pan dot single dessert spoonfuls of mixture around the pan. It will spread out, so to a say 22cm (9″) pan add about 3 dollops. Allow the mixture to cook on that side until you can see bubbles popping on the surface of the cooking batter, then get a little palette knife or fish slice under the pancake and flip it over, give it another 30 seconds to a minute and remove to a plate and a slightly warm oven whilst you carry on with the next batch, wiping the frying pan carefully with the oily kitchen paper between each batch. Keep going ’til you have used up all the batter, you will probably end up with around 12 or so depending on how big you decide to make them. There is no right size but you know what they should look like. We don’t go massive.

Delicious with the following:  honey, jam, eggs and bacon, any fruit, sliced to go with, and of course Maple Syrup.

Maple Syrup – Canada – Thinking Day (c.1982). What can the Girl Guides Thinking Day Celebrations have to do with all this I hear you asking? Thinking Day is also this week (22nd) and is celebrated by Guides world-wide as it’s their founder’s birth date. Back in 1982 we were duly celebrating this with other Guides from our town in a school hall somewhere. Each Guide Company providing a display from another one of the Guiding Nations. This was to include food from the relevant country for us to eat ourselves as a snack.

Our Company had picked Canada and so someone had kindly prepared a kind of Maple Syrup Tart (a bit like Treacle Tart) for us all. Maple syrup for the uninitiated has a distinctive, intense flavour in such a dish. I should like to point out that I adore maple syrup but as we all sat there that evening, hungry and picking miserably at this confection, we were all absolutely bright green with envy as we looked across to the Company who had chosen Italy……

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