Hi! Welcome to my blog. I am a major foodie, with a haphazard cooking philosophy, currently making that transition from cooking and baking for friends and family to 'wonder if I could make this my career'. Follow me for recipes, the outcomes of a few experiments, and general lovely foodiness. Opinions, reviews and recommendations are all my own.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Flour Tortilla Wraps and Episode Two of 'Bread'

I'm going to start this post light of heart, as I am really enjoying my bread-making journey, and can feel my confidence growing more and more with every successful bake. So much so in fact, that I even went 'off-piste' from my self set syllabus this weekend and made pizza dough from scratch. I was particularly looking forward to this week's episode of 'Bread' featuring Paul Hollywood, as the theme was 'flat-breads', something that we consume a lot of in our house, but it had never occurred to me that they could be made at home... yes, I am a little slow on the uptake sometimes!

Paul took us around the world in this episode, giving us Cyprian Pitta breads, a Middle-Eastern Maneesh bread, and Mexican Corn Tortillas. As with the first episode, he evolved each of these bakes into a full on meal, each one oozing spices and flavours enough to have you slathering at the TV screen. As with the first episode, Paul demonstrated his bakes with a simple manner and a fistful of passion, that makes the show both easy watching, and yet very informative. I am enjoying this side of the 'silver fox', I find him much more sincere when he is baking alone, than when he is bantering and jesting with Mary Berry, and for me, because I am trying to learn here, I'm finding it a lot more accessible.

Gary and I watched the episode together, and at the end I asked him which of the breads from this week I should attempt as the next stage in my 'bread-ucation' (oh yes, I'm trade-marking that phrase right now!). We agreed upon the Corn Tortillas, from Gary's point, because he wanted to eat the Tortilla Stack that Paul made with the finished product, from my point, because it looked like the easiest of the three bakes to try first!

Here is where I hit my first stumbling block. The recipe calls for Masa Harina, a Mexican maize flour. I had no real expectation that I would find this in my local supermarket, however Paul's notes in the book said that you can substitute this for wheat flour. Now I'm not an expert in anything bread-related, and I'm not ashamed to admit I searched the supermarket shelves for 'wheat flour', and when nothing had such a title written on it, I went home, dejected.

I re-consulted the book, and decided to make flour wraps instead, and convert the stack idea into more conventional Fajitas. I have since realised, through research, and having a slightly calmer frame of mind, that all flour is made of wheat - duh, and that I should have been able to use a white or wholemeal flour to make the Corn Tortilla recipe.

Never-the-less. I had pressed on with my wraps, and tried to rectify the mistakes that I had made previously with my Bloomer. I weighed out the salt, sugar, butter and yeast first, so as not to get an overly salted bread like before. I practised my more aggressive kneading techniques, and placed my dough in it's 'warm place' to prove.

When I went back to my dough an hour and a half later as instructed in the recipe, I was alarmed to see that it had barely moved. The recipe did say that it didn't need to rise very much, but not at all!?!? Despite my panic, I soldiered on, mostly because we had nothing else for tea, but also because I needed to see how things turned out. I divided my dough, and rolled out the first circle. I quite quickly got into a motion of placing one wrap in the pan, rolling out the next, flipping the first and so on. They take literally moments to brown, and then it's onto the next.

I served our wraps with some lightly spiced chicken, and a selection of salsa, sour cream, guacamole and cheese. OH MY GOODNESS! These wraps were incredible! Still warm, soft and floury, they had a taste like nothing I'd ever experienced in shop-bought vacuum-packed wraps. I am NEVER buying them ever again!

I'm not going to post the recipe, as it's from Paul's new book, however the link for the recipe from the episode for Corn Tortillas is here. Roll on next week, and the next stage in my 'Bread-ucation'!!!!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Chicken Satay Skewers and Chinese BBQ Ribs

Continuing the write up of the dishes I served for my Girls Night In Chinese feast last weekend, here are the recipes for the two appetisers I made: Chicken Satay Skewers with a Satay dip, and Chinese BBQ style Ribs. The key to both of these dishes is in the marinading, literally, the longer the better. I prepared the marinades and the meat for these dishes around 5pm on the Friday night, so they had a good 26 hours soaking up their lovely spices and flavours. The cooking process is just as easy as opening the oven door... seriously! 

I love these recipes as I have evolved them to have an authentic taste (well, Chinese Takeaway authentic) but only contain store cupboard or very easy to obtain ingredients. I adore cultural cuisine, but not living in a very cosmopolitan area, I don't have access to any of the amazing specialist stores that you can find in places like London, and have to make do with what I can get from the supermarket.

For the Chicken Satay Skewers;

- 3 tablespoons Crunchy Peanut Butter
- 2 tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce
- juice of 1 Lime
- 2 teaspoons crushed Garlic, or two cloves
- 1 teaspoon crushed Ginger, or half an inch grated
- 3 tablespoons Honey
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Curry Powder
- 3 large Chicken Breasts
- 4 tablespoons Coconut Cream

Put the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime, garlic, ginger, honey and curry powder in a large bowl and mix well. Cut the chicken breasts into 1 inch square cubes, place in the marinade, and stir through so all the pieces are coated well with the mixture. Cover the bowl, and refridgerate for at least 12 hours.

Remove the bowl from the fridge. Place the meat onto medium length skewers, around three pieces per skewer. Line up the skewers on a tray, and place in the oven at around 200 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes until cooked.

Meanwhile, transfer the leftover marinade to a small saucepan, and heat gently. Add the coconut cream, and stir well. This makes a delicius creamy dipping sauce for your skewers. Serve, and enjoy!

For the Chinese BBQ Ribs;

- 4 tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
- 2 tablespoons Honey
- 1 teaspoon crushed Garlic, or one clove
- 1 teaspoon crushed Ginger, or half an inch grated
- 1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
- juice of 1 Lime
- 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice
- Rack of Ribs

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Take the rack of ribs, and using a sharp knife, seperate them into individual ribs. Do this by finding the fleshy part in between each of the bones, and make a clean cut. Place the ribs in a shallow oven-proof dish, and pour over the marinade. Move the ribs around so that they are coated in the marinade on all sides, cover the dish, and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours.

When ready for them, take the dish out of the fridge, unwrap, and place directly in the oven, at around 200 degrees, for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the meat is no longer pink. Serve piled high, with a roll of kitchen towel to hand for sticky fingers!

You can also see here the recipes that I used for Fortune Cookies, and Pineapple Sorbet and Coconut Ice Cream

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Pineapple Sorbet and Coconut Ice Cream

This weekend I made a Chinese feast for the girls. Despite being separated by up to 200 miles for the most part, every couple of months we get together for food and wine, and a good girly natter. Over time, these girls nights have evolved to have a culinary theme, the last time we met we enjoyed an amazing Caribbean meal made by Tara, for which I provided my Mango and Coconut Cheesecake. 

The last time we met, we were ticking off the themes that we had covered so far, and realised that we had somehow overlooked arguably the two main 'foreign' cuisines enjoyed in this country, that being Chinese and Indian. I decided to rectify this this month, as it was my turn to host, and set about planning for a Chinese banquet. 

Over the next few days/ weeks I will post the recipes that I used to create my feast. After a heavy and varied selection of dishes, I didn't want to go all out on a heavy dessert, and to be honest, there aren't many Chinese desserts anyway. I had already decided on making my own fortune cookies, but wanted to create something of a pallet cleanser after all the sticky Chinese food. I decided to make this Pineapple Sorbet and Coconut Ice Cream combo, as they are flavours that feature in Chinese dishes, and would be a nice, light, not overly sweet end to the meal. 

Coconut Ice Cream and Pineapple Sorbet

These are two separate recipes, however I would thoroughly recommend serving them together as I have here, the sweet sharpness of the Pineapple sorbet, with the hint of lemon, cuts through the rich creamy Coconut ice cream with a hint of vanilla, and are just heavenly together. Here's how I made them (sooo much easier than you'd think, especially the sorbet!) ...

For the Pineapple Sorbet...

- 300 grams diced fresh pineapple
- juice of 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons sugar

Place the pineapple in a large blender, and blend until fully liquidised. Add the lemon juice and sugar, and blitz again. 

Pour the mixture into a metal container, and place in the freezer for around 90 minutes. The mixture will start to set around the outside first. 

After 90 minutes, scoop the part set sorbet out of the metal container back into the blender. Blitz one more time to get an even texture to the sorbet, then pour out into a tupperware container. 

Place the lid on, and return to the freezer to set. It is best to make this the day before needed to ensure that it is set fully, however at a push you could make it in the morning for the same evening. 

Pineapple Sorbet

For the Coconut Ice Cream...

- 250 ml semi-skimmed milk
- 300 ml double cream
- 400 ml coconut cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 egg yolks
- 175 grams caster sugar
- 80 grams dessicated coconut

Put the milk, cream, vanilla extract and coconut cream in a large heavy bottomed saucepan, and bring to the boil. Once the mixture has reached boiling point, remove from the heat, and set aside. 

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until light and creamy. Slowly pour over the hot cream mixture, whisking continuously. 

Once all of the ingredients are combined, pour the mixture back into the saucepan, pouring through a sieve to strain out any lumps. 

Place the pan back over a low heat, and stir until the mixture starts to thicken slightly. Add the dessicated coconut and stir through. 

Pour the mixture into a metal container, cover, and set aside to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, cover with foil and place in the freezer for around 90 minutes. The mixture will start to set around the outside first.

After 90 minutes, scoop the part set sorbet out of the metal container back into the blender. Blitz one more time to get an even texture to the sorbet, then pour out into a tupperware container.

Place the lid on, and return to the freezer to set. It is best to make this the day before needed to ensure that it is set fully.

Coconut Ice Cream

Monday, 25 March 2013

Classic White Bloomer, and 'Bread' Episode One

Last week I blogged a review of the new cookbook 'Bread' by Paul Hollywood. I tried to get across the fact that I have in the past had very much mixed results when bread-making, and was relying on Mr Hollywood to teach me his ways, and equip me with knowledge to make the perfect loaf every time. 

On Monday, the first episode of 'Bread' aired on BBC2, and if you haven't had the chance to watch it yet, let me tell you it doesn't disappoint! If you read my book review, I explained how I found the book a little daunting at first glance, but thoroughly wonderful when I actually sat down and read it properly. The TV series however, is totally accessible and absorbing from the first moment. Paul's easy manner when demonstrating his recipes is captivating and yet brilliantly down to earth, and his passion for a good bake radiates from the screen. We have seen glimpses of Paul's teaching style during the Great British Bake Off Master-classes, however 'Bread' is 30 minutes of uninterrupted Hollywood doing what he does best. 

Coming back to my mission however to learn to bake bread, as I had a busy work week coming up, I got a head start on myself, and actually made my first attempt at the Classic Bloomer on Sunday, when I knew I had time for the proving etc. I used the book and followed the instructions to the letter, and overall was very pleased with the results. After watching the episode on Monday evening, there are a few things I would do differently, it just goes to show that you can get so much from something in writing, but watching it happen really positively enforces the method. 

My first attempt at Paul Hollywood's Classic Bloomer

As I used the exact recipe, I am not going to lift it, but you can find it here on the BBC Food website. I will however share a few baker's notes from my experiences.

  • When adding the yeast and the salt, you have to make sure that the two do not touch each other directly until you start to mix. I use a set of digital scales, and weigh as I am adding to the mixture. For some reason, when I added my salt, the scales did not register any additional weight, and I had to second guess the quantity. My bloomer was a little too salty to taste, and I am unsure as to whether this is because of the quantity of salt in the recipe, or a fault in my measuring. Next time, I will measure the salt out separately and then add it. 
  • In the book, and on the show, Paul says that you do not need to prove bread in a warm place, any normal kitchen at room temperature will be fine. I tried this, and after around 90 minutes there was hardly any rise in my dough. Taking matters into my own hands I relocated my dough to my go-to 'warm place' and it flourished very nicely after that. 
  • After the knock back, you shape the dough, and then put it on a tray, cover it and place it in a bag to rise. When I made my bloomer on Sunday, I found that it rose beautifully, however the weight of the greaseproof paper and then the bag caused the dough to expand more sideways than upwards. I ended up with an albeit tasty, very wide and low loaf, that was a bit misshapen at one end. When Paul made the bloomer in Monday night's episode, he place two upturned mugs on either side of the loaf before covering with the greaseproof, so that it didn't touch the top of the loaf. Genius. 
And there you have it! I was really pleased with my bloomer, and I'm confident that the next time I make it (which will be soon) I will get it just right! Now I'm really looking forward to tonight's episode, which will be about various flatbreads... Yum!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Honey Cream Cake and the First Ever Chesterfield Clandestine Cake Club

Logo created by Anita Mangan Inspired by her designs for the CCC Cook Book. Linked to her website ‘The Cooper Family’ where you will see more of Anita’s design work.
Last Monday evening heralded the first ever meeting of the Chesterfield division of the Clandestine Cake Club. For those of you not yet familiar with the growing sensation that is the Clandestine Cake Club, here is a little potted history. Founded by Lynn Hill in Leeds in 2010, the CCC is a gathering of like-minded cake folk. Lynn's vision was to create a club that would allow people to get together over Tea and Cake and socialise. All the attendees bake and bring a cake, usually against a set theme for the meeting, and spend a few hours chatting and sampling the cakes on offer. The clandestine part comes from the fact that the location of each meeting changes, and is not disclosed to the group until just before the event. 

Fast forward two years, and many of the bloggers that I follow and love are members of their local CCC. I have greedily read their blog posts about their fantastic bakes, and seen the photos of tables groaning under the weight of the most glorious selection of cakes. So imagine my excitement when browsing the CCC website and I saw that Fiona had only gone and set up a Chesterfield division! I emailed her immediately and signed up. 

We met on Monday night, and the event was held at Harleys Hairdressers on Chatsworth Road. I'd never been to Harleys before, but want to just take a second to describe this gorgeous little salon. Harleys is a Hair and Beauty Salon, but with a stunning boutique gift shop attached (Harleys Interiors), and a cosy little waiting area with plush couches and chairs. The unprepossessing exterior of Harleys barely hints at the stylish, yet homey atmosphere inside, and I can easily imagine losing a day in here, being pampered, getting my hair done, and browsing the shop. It made a great venue for the CCC as well, as the cakes were displayed around the salon on the hair stations, so we could easily meander through and assess enjoy each cake on its own little podium!

'Spring has Sprung' Honey Cream Cake

Anyways, back to my cake. The theme for our first meeting was 'Spring has Sprung' (haha as I type this there are 3 inches of snow on the ground outside). Fiona had advised me that there were already several Lemon based creations on the list, so I wanted to provide a different flavour. With March not really heralding a great selection of seasonal produce that could form the basis of a cake, my thought process took me to emerging buds, and flowers coming back to life after winter, and I pictured bumble bees starting to gather pollen again to make honey...so Honey Cake it was! Made with leftovers and things that I had to hand in the pantry, this recipe is one of my own creation. I have since discovered it is very similar in make up to a Russian Medovnik Honey Cake, although the Medovik cake generally has 10 much thinner layers to its make up than the four here in my cake. 


For the Honey Cake

225 grams butter
450 grams golden caster sugar
4 eggs
350 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
200 grams honey flavour greek yoghurt
80 grams honey

For the Honey Cream filling

1 x 395 gram tin of condensed milk
3 eggs
2 tablespoons honey
60 grams unsalted butter

For the 'Spring has Sprung' decoration

500 grams unsalted butter
500 grams icing sugar
Food colour gels in orange, yellow, and green
A selection of sugarpaste blossoms


To make the cake - pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees, and lightly grease two 9 inch cake tins. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in well. 

Put the yoghurt and honey in a jug and stir together. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, and add the bicarb and the salt. 

Now gradually add the flour and yoghurt mixtures a bit at a time, alternating between the wet and the dry, and fold into the egg mixture. Stir well to make sure that all the ingredients are well combined. 

Spoon the mixture evenly into the two prepared tins, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until it passes the skewer test. Remove the cakes from the tins, and place on a cooling rack. 

To make the honey cream filling - Put the condensed milk, eggs, butter and honey in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat over a low heat until all the ingredients have melted and blended together. Turn up the heat and bring to a low boil. Stir the mixture continuously until it thickens, then transfer to a bowl, and set aside to cool.

Once the mixture has cooled, place it in the fridge to set a little. You may need to occasionally stir or whisk the mixture to prevent it from getting lumpy. 

To assemble the cake - take a large serrated knife, and carefully flatten the tops off the two cakes. Then slice both cakes horizontally so that you end up with four even flat cakes. Build up the cake by layering cake, then the chilled honey cream, then cake, and so on until you have used all the layers. 

If you are serving the cake just like this, reserve some of the cream for the top of the cake to finish it. If you decide to go on and decorate like mine, make the top layer cake, and use all the cream on the inside. 

Four Layer Honey Cream Cake

For the 'Spring has Sprung' decoration

Make up the buttercream by beating the butter until pale and creamy, the gradually mixing in the icing sugar. Split the buttercream into 4 equal quantities. 

Using one quarter of the buttercream, roughly crumb coat the sides of the cake, by applying a thin layer all over. This helps to seal in the cream, and stop crumbs sticking to the finished design.

Place the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the crumb coat to set. Meanwhile, using the remaining three portions of buttercream, colour them in yellow, orange and green, and put into piping bags. 

Take the cake, and with the piping bags, pipe a row of dots vertically down the side of the cake, alternating the colours. Using a pallet knife, smudge the dots sideways to create the petal effect. Pipe the next row of dots over the tail of the smudged petal. By shifting the colour pattern up by one, you can start to build a spiral effect around the cake. Repeat until the pattern runs all the way around the cake. Then do the same on the top of the cake. Here I have made circles of the colours graduating to the centre. 

Finally to finish the cake, place some sugarpaste decorations in the centre. I made some blossoms and daffodils to finish mine, using flowerpaste rather than sugarpaste. 

Flowerpaste Daffodils and Blossoms

Of course, one of the best things about the Clandestine Cake Club, is that any cake that isn't eaten at the end of the night gets to come home! Here is my little take home tin, with a selection of yummy treats...

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Fortune Cookies and a Girls Night In

Tonight I'm hosting a Girls Night In, with a group of close girlfriends. I've set myself the rather ambitious challenge of creating a full Chinese takeaway from scratch, the magnitude of which as always, only hit me after I had committed myself to the cause. 

After batting a few text messages around, to find out what my guests normally order in from their local takeaway, then making a few calculated choices, this is the menu that I have arrived at... recipes for all the dishes listed will be posted up here over the next few weeks as I get chance to write them up;

- Chicken Satay Skewers
- Chinese BBQ Ribs

Main Courses:
- Sweet and Sour King Prawns
- Chicken with Cashews
- Sweet Chilli Crispy Beef

- Egg Fried Rice
- Chow Mein

- Pineapple Sorbet
- Coconut Ice Cream

Last night, as an addition, I decide to attempt to make a batch of fortune cookies to really add a Chinese restaurant feel to the meal. Making fortune cookies is not unlike making Tuile biscuits, there is a simple batter, a knack to getting the biscuits thin enough before baking, and then the hot biscuit has to be shaped quickly before it starts to cool. This for me was the tricky part, and I had slightly tingly fingertips by the time I had finished my batch, however there really is now way to avoid this, just carefully pick up the hot cookie and work fast. Here are my finished cookies... I made two batches, and the first were a little too thick, but they definitely improved in batch two.

Homemade Fortune Cookies
To make approx 12 - 15 Fortune Cookies...


2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 tablespoons plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cornflour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons caster sugar
3 teaspoons water

The most important thing to start making your fortune cookies is of course the fortunes. Write or print your fortunes on thin strips of paper, and then fold and fold again to be roughly 1 inch long. I left Gary to write the fortunes, so that they would be as much a surprise to me as anyone... this could be interesting. 

Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees c, and grease a large baking tray. 

To make the cookie batter, place the egg whites, vanilla and almond extracts and the vegetable oil in a large bowl, and beat with an electric whisk until frothy but still runny. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl sift the flour, add the sugar, cornflour, and salt, and mix well. 

Add the water to the flour mixture and stir through. This will start to clump together, don't worry, it's supposed to do that...

Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg whites, beating continuously, until a smooth batter is formed. The batter should be of a dropping consistency. 

Now, using a tablespoon measure, drop an even tablespoon of mixture well spaced out on the baking tray, I would recommend making about 5 cookies at a time, firstly because the mixture will spread, and secondly, because you need to move quickly to shape the cookies before they cool and become brittle.

Bake the cookies for 5 - 10 minutes, checking the progress constantly. As soon as they start to colour on the edges as shown, they are ready to mould. 

Using a spatula, remove all the cookies from the tray (if you only do them one at a time they will crisp up, and not come off the tray in one piece. 

Now, moving very quickly, but being careful not to burn yourself...

...flip the cookie upside down...

...place a fortune in the centre of the cookie...

,,,fold in half, pressing the edges together...

...bend over a bowl like so...

...place the shaped cookie in a muffin tin, or half sphere mould to keep its shape whilst it cools.

Repeat the process until you have used all your batter, or all your fortunes. 

The recipe for these cookies is very easy, the process a little more tricky, but only due to the speed needed, and the handling of the hot cookie. They are however well worth making, they taste great (of course I had to sample) and I have no doubt that they will add the final authentic flourish to our party tonight... and there goes the doorbell! 

Night x

Friday, 15 March 2013

Book Review: Paul Hollywood's 'Bread'

With every bakers' favourite 'silver fox' (sorry Schofe, but the title is definitely in contention) due back on our screens imminently, I, along with many others I suspect, am very much looking forward to a great BBC production, some fabulous recipes and great artistic shots of gorgeous loaves of bread... foodie heaven. Now I love a good food show as much as the next person, I ogle the baked treats on The Great British Bake Off, I watch Masterchef with a cocky 'I could do better than that' attitude when really I know I'd freeze in front of the camera worse than anyone, and my Saturday morning cleaning spree wouldn't be the same without James Martin navigating celebs and chefs across the TV screen in the background.

But my anticipation for Mr Hollywood's new series goes much deeper than the superficial love of a good TV show, because, despite many... and I mean many... attempts, I have yet to really master baking a loaf of bread. And it goes to show my faith in the man himself that when I first heard about the new show, and the cookbook that underpins it, my first reaction was 'finally! I'm going to learn how to bake bread!'

'Bread' by Paul Hollywood, is in all good bookshops already, and I have my copy here, ready and waiting for me to painstakingly follow episode by episode. My plan is to watch the show, pick up the tips, learn from the master so to speak, and then attempt to recreate the bakes each week, until I am much more confident in reaching for the strong white flour and yeast and creating good homemade breads.

The blurb on the back of the book gives a clear message about what can be found inside, in Paul's words: 'It's time to take bread off the side plate and put it back where it belongs: in the centre of the table." In short, the book contains a wide collection of bread recipes, from bloomers to sourdough, ciabatta to corn tortillas, flatbreads, brioche and fruit loaves. The twist is that with each bake, Paul has then suggested a full recipe that incorporates the bread. Irish soda bread therefore becomes Irish Rarebit, Malt Loaf is embedded in a Marmalade version of Bread and Butter pudding, and there are stews, curries, and salads galore.

At the first initial thumb-through of the book, I must admit to feeling a little over-whelmed. I couldn't see the bread for the Limoncello Trifle, and I wasn't sure whether I was going to get what I wanted out of this and learn the basics of making good bread. Because the recipes have been grouped together by type of bread, rather than the traditional starters, mains and desserts format that we are used to, the pages jump from pudding to salad to snack and back to pudding again, with pictures of loaves in-between.

I needn't (kneadn't!! Sorry..) have worried though. Sitting down with a mug of tea, and my concentrating face on, I read the book again, as intended from front to back. It truly is an incredible culinary feat. Paul begins by outlining his mission, and quickly moves on to a really good overview of the best equipment, ingredients and techniques to use. The descriptions are clear, and honest - "Bread doesn't need much kit".

Then the real baking begins. We get eased in with a Classic White Bloomer, a few Rye Breads, and Maltloaf. Then, as the book progresses, we graduate from Classic Breads to Soda Breads, then Flatbreads, Continental bakes, and eventually to Enriched Breads, with Danish Pastry Dough and Brioche. The photography that supports each page is stunning, with great action shots of Paul spinning pizza dough alongside rustic style photos of each bake and dish. And what won me over completely are the step by step pictures that underpin the methods for making the bread doughs, so that a novice like me can refer back at each stage and check that the dough looks like it is supposed to do.

This isn't a normal cookbook, and if that's what you are looking for, then this might not be the book for you. There is the odd curry, a few puddings, and a sprinkling of breakfast recipes, and it isn't easy to pick up if you are looking for some last minute inspiration for dinner. What this book is however, is a baker's masterclass in bread-making, with a real clear cut mission to move us away from the classic white loaf, and back into traditional bread-making and thinking about pairing bread with great home cooking.

The more I have studied this book, the more pages I have folded, notes I have jotted, and recipes I have spotted that at first were lost in the masses only to be uncovered like little gems. To summarise, a little daunting at first glance, but actually a really good beginner to baker journey, this is definitely a cookbook to follow and learn from, rather than just thumb through for a random recipe. I await episode one of the show on Monday night with great anticipation, and look forward to sharing my attempts at bread with you all...

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this post are my own, and are not part of any sponsored or paid for activity.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Super-Posh Chewy Cookies

Lovely people, let me tell you now, there are a lot of recipes out there that jostle for the title of 'World's Best Cookie'. And a lot of them are probably very worthy winners. This recipe however, for me, stands firmly above the rest, holding the belt high - the undefeated champion of champions, for oh so many reasons...

Super-Posh Chewy Cookies
Just look at them, they have everything don't they!? Cherries, almonds, two types of chocolate, vanilla, and that naughty little splash (Ok, glug) of cherry brandy. The recipe is originally from The Hairy Bikers, I found it many years ago on my quest for a great chewy cookie recipe. There were a couple of steps that didn't quite work for me, so I have adapted it slightly here in both the ingredients and method. That said, thank you to Dave and Simon for bringing these incredible cookies into my life!

Warning: There is a high risk that a large amount of the cookie dough will be consumed before you get around to baking it...

Ingredients (makes approx 20 medium sized cookies)

100g golden caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
100g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large free range egg
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
100g glace cherries
2 tbsp cherry brandy
100g white chocolate chips
100g dark chocolate chips
75g chopped almonds or hazelnuts


Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees, and lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, cream together the golden caster sugar and butter. Beat well until pale, light and fluffy.

Add the sunflower oil and brown sugar, and beat well again until well combined.

Add the vanilla extract and the egg, and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, add the baking powder and salt and mix together. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture, and fold in, mixing to form a dough.

Chop the glace cherries into quarters, and add to the mixture, along with the cherry brandy. Stir well, so that the brandy is evenly distributed through the dough. The dough should now be quite loose and sticky, but holding its shape. 

Add the chocolate and the nuts, and stir through again so they are evenly distributed. 

Take a large spoonful of the mixture, form it into a ball, and place it on the baking sheet. Press down with the back of a spoon to flatten the ball. Repeat until the tray is full, leaving 1-2 inches between each cookie, as they will spread. 

Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes. The cookies should be a golden brown colour, and a little darker around the edges when you take them out, but, and this is important, they should still be soft to the touch. The heat in the cookies will continue to cook them when they are out of the oven, so if they are hard when they come out, they will only harden further and lose their chewiness. 

Leave the cookies to cool on the tray for 5-10 minutes, until they are hard to touch. Lift them off then using a pallet knife, and place them on a tray to cool completely. 

You may need to bake these in batches, I only have one large baking sheet, so it normally takes me three batches to use all of the cookie dough. Inevitably, at least one of the cookies from batch one has disappeared before batch three make it off the baking sheet... 

What is the best cookie recipe you have ever found? Would love it if you would share the link in the comments box below..

V x

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Hot Cross Buns

For the last three years now I have been perfecting Hot Cross Buns for Easter. It has taken me that long to get the recipe, ingredients, and technique right, and I have experienced a huge amount of disappointment, tears, and muscle burn from the constant kneading but I stand before you now, slightly dishevelled and covered in flour, with I believe the best recipe, and a few hints and tips that I hope will make your Hot Cross Bun journey a little less bumpy. And, I can promise, once you have tasted home-made, you will never buy shop-bought again... (apologies to Jonathan Warburton for the decline in sales next year...)

Hot Cross Buns
Having said all this, I have made a couple of substitutions today when making these up for this post, simply because of necessity. Normally I make these with orange zest, and a mixture of cranberries and sultanas, today, because of what I had in the house, they are made with lemon zest (as we had some leftovers from Gary making Lemon Chicken earlier in the week) and a mixture of sultanas and mixed peel, as that was what was in the cupboard. I guess really you can use whatever dried fruit you fancy, however I strongly recommend adding the cranberries if you get the chance. My sultanas were a little on the dry side, so I pepped them up before I started baking by soaking them in cold tea, and then draining them on a sheet of kitchen towel. 

Now, I do not profess to be an expert in anything bread related, in fact I am eagerly awaiting Paul Hollywood's new series (starting 18th March BBC2) to try once and for all to master the craft, however, my Grandpa was born and bread (sorry, bad pun) a baker, and I have picked up all my hints and tips from him along the way, and they have never failed to make baking easier for me...


  • 1 and a half teaspoons fast action yeast
  • 625 grams strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 45 grams unsalted butter
  • 85 grams caster sugar
  • the zest of one orange (or lemon!)
  • 1 egg
  • 275 ml tepid milk
  • 125 grams dried fruit (recommend sultanas and cranberries, however use any dried fruit to suit tastes)
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom honey (you could use any honey or golden syrup)


1. Tip: Get a head start on the yeast. Put one and a half teaspoons of dried fast action yeast into a small dish, and add a teaspoon of warm water, and a teaspoon of the milk. Mix well to form a paste and set aside. This allows the yeast to start to ferment straight away, before you add it to the dough. 

2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, and add the salt and mixed spice. Mix well. 

3. Chop the butter into small cubes, and add to the flour. Using you fingers, rub the butter into the flour to create a fine breadcrumb like texture. 

4. Add the orange zest (or lemon), the caster sugar, and the yeast. Try to add the yeast on top of the sugar. Mix them all well through the mixture. 

5. Make a well in the centre of the flour. Beat the egg lightly, and add to the well. Start mixing into the flour, and gradually add the tepid milk (I tend to blast my milk in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to bring it up to temperature). 

6. Mix the liquids into the flour mixture until a dough starts to form. At this point, it's time to get your hands dirty. Put down the wooden spoon, and bring the dough together with your hands, working in any dry bits of flour mixture that might be left. 

7. Empty the dough out of the bowl, and onto a lightly oiled work-surface. Most recipes dictate a floured work surface, however using oil instead prevents getting additional unnecessary flour worked into the dough, and yet still prevents the dough sticking to the surface. You only need the smallest amount of oil though. 

8. As you start to knead the dough, work in the mixed fruit a handful at a time. 

9. Knead the dough well. This will take around 15 minutes to achieve the required texture. I tend to knead in a V shape, alternating hands, and pushing the dough out with the palm of my hand, and then pulling it back in to the centre. You need (knead - oh gosh another bread pun) to find a method and a rhythm that suits you, as it does take time. I have tried to master Paul Hollywood's method of kneading, but it just doesn't work for me like the V pattern. 

10. The dough is ready when it takes on an elastic-y texture, is shiny, and when you pinch it it springs back to it's original shape. Tip: You can never over-knead bread - but you can under-knead. Make sure that your dough meets these three tests. If it doesn't, keep kneading until it does. (There is a point about 10 minutes in when you think it will never happen, but keep going, it all comes together quite quickly in the end). 

 11. Take a large, clean bowl, and oil it with a little vegetable oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, and then cover with clingfilm, also oiled on the underside. The oil prevents the dough from sticking to the clingfilm, and collapsing when it is removed. 

12. Put the bowl is a warm place for the dough to prove. If you are lucky, you may have an aga to place your bowl on. If you are luckier still you may have a super new oven with a proving drawer built in. I have neither of these things. I have tried little places all over the house for years to find the best places to prove my dough. Now I turn my oven on low, and put my dough in the (turned off) grill compartment above with the door open. Works a bloomin' treat I tell you! 

13. Leave the dough to prove for at least one hour, and until the dough has doubled in size. It should look a little like this... If the dough hasn't doubled, leave it to prove until it has, otherwise you will end up with hard, stodgy buns at the end. 

14. Tip the dough back out onto the work surface and knock it back. Start by pressing down on the dough with the back of your fists to press the air out, then re-knead the dough for 5 minutes as before. 

15. Shape the dough back into a ball, and place it back in the oiled bowl. Cover with the clingfilm again, and return to the 'warm place'. Leave to prove again for around 30 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size again. 

16. Lightly oil two baking trays, and set to one side. Take the proven dough and turn it out onto the work surface. Take a knife, and cut the dough into 12 evenly sized pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and place on the oiled tray, 6 pieces to each tray. Leave around 1 - 2 cm between each ball, they will grow a little more and join together. 

17. Loosely wrap each tray in greaseproof paper, then place in a plastic carrier bag and tie the bag tightly so no air can get to the dough. Return the trays to the warm place and leave again to rise for around 45 minutes. (There is a lot of waiting to prove in making Hot Cross Buns. Bear with them, they will be worth it I promise).

18. In a small pot, mix two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of water to make a smooth paste. The paste should be fluid, but thick enough to retain it's shape when piped. Transfer the paste to a piping bag. Turn your oven up to 200 degrees.

19. Take the trays out, and remove the bags and greaseproof paper. Using the flour paste, pipe crosses across each of the buns. 

20. Put the buns in the oven. Bake for around 10 minutes until they are a golden brown colour all over. They should make a dull hollow sound when tapped. 

21. Remove the Hot Cross Buns from the oven, and transfer from the tray to a cooling rack. Heat the honey immediately (a couple of seconds in the microwave will make it runny enough) and brush over the still hot buns with a pastry brush. Leave the buns to cool completely. 

And there you have it - 12 gorgeous, sticky, sweet and fruity Hot Cross Buns, to impress your nearest and dearest. Toast them, butter them, and sit down with a large mug of tea to bask in their glory. Just be warned, they will disappear so quickly that you will be back at Step 1 again before you know it! 

I am entering these Hot Cross Buns into this month's Calendar Cakes run by Rachel at Dolly Bakes, and Laura at Laura Loves Cakes - Laura is hosting this month, and you can find the full challenge here. The theme is Easter Extravaganza.