Category: Fun

For the times when you just want to get in the kitchen and get hands on.

Christmas Wreath Pavlova

Christmas Wreath Pavlova

It’s been a bit of a topsy turvy term and an even crazier year, but here we are – about to say goodbye to 2019 and hello to some hopefully roaring 20s! It’s not been the best year, but it’s been a year and that’s something. I’ve started to look after myself a little more, so even though I still feel like I’m running down hill at least I’m now smiling. I’ve learnt to appreciate the little things – the way the light hits a building, or the sound of rain on the window – and yes I know I sound like an artsy white girl, but it’s true. Our minds have a tendency to dwell on the bad and fixate on things that need to be solved. But looking at what is and what’s been done can be just as important, so that’s something I’m going to try to do more in the new decade.

Right, insightful snippit over. Onto the food. I’ve really missed getting creative in the kitchen, and even though it’s done me a world of good stepping away from this blog for a little while I couldn’t wait to get back to it as soon as I hit the Christmas holiday! I started making another dish (which will be up soon!) and that resulted in a bowl of leftover egg whites on the side which was crying out to be made into a meringue – hey presto! In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure how this ended up like this – I’ve made meringues for years and I’ve never had one this stiff and shiny, but hey – I’ve managed to do it so you can to!

I’m a sucker for a traditional pavlova so whilst you could go more Christmasy on the flavours (see my suggested variations at the bottom of this post) I think you can’t beat the classic vanilla cream and mixed berries so that’s what we’ve got. And besides, with a peppermint-striped meringue and a wreath shape it already looks festive!

Recipe

Serves 8-12

Time: 2-3 hours

Ingredients

  • 2 Egg whites
  • 110g Caster sugar
  • Red gel food colouring (optional)
  • 300ml Double cream
  • A handful of frozen mixed berries (I went for blackcurrants, raspberries and blackberries)
  • A couple of sprigs of fresh mint to garnish

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 110C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Take a circular object (a plate or cake tin lid works well), put it on the baking paper and trace round it with a pencil to make an outline. Turn the paper over on the baking tray so the line is on the underside and then set the lined tray to one side.
  2. Put the egg whites into a spotless bowl (a metal bowl is best here and it’s the easiest to get grease-free). Whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until soft peaks form.
  3. Continue to whisk and add the sugar to the egg whites 1 tbsp at a time until completely combined and the mixture is stiff.
  4. Fit a pipping bag with a star shaped nozzle and then prop it up right by putting it into a pint glass. Take some red gel food colouring and brush it in lines up the inside of the pipping bag (I find a table knife is good at this).
  5. Spoon the meringue into the piping bag and then squeeze it down to the bottom until it’s just about to come out.
  6. Pipe small blobs of the meringue onto the baking paper, around the line you drew earlier to make a ring. Then pipe slightly large blobs in a ring on the inside and outside of the one you’ve just pipped. Bake the meringue in the oven for 1-2 hours until crisp on the outside. Then turn the oven off and leave the meringue to cool completely in the oven (this will prevent it from cracking).
  7. Meanwhile put the cream and vanilla into a bowl and whisk until it just starts to hold it’s shape (any more and it’ll go over when piped).
  8. Spoon the cream into a pippin bag and leave in the fridge until needed.
  9. Take the cooled meringue out of the oven and place it on a serving plate/board. Pipe blobs of the cream along the inside ring of the meringue wreath.
  10. Scatter some berries over the cream and then finish with a garnish of mint!

Alternatives to try:

  • Whisk 1 tsp Brandy into the cream and then top with fresh cranberries and orange segments instead of the mixed berries.
  • Whisk 1 tbsp cocoa powder into the cream to make a chocolate cream topping (this works well with fresh strawberries!).

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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How to Caramelize White Chocolate

How to Caramelize White Chocolate

There’s this new trend in the food-world that I’ve been itching to try for way too long that involves white chocolate getting a bit of a make over – so I thought I should give it a go! I feel like if you were to typecast chocolates, dark is the all-knowing friend who’s super healthy and idealistic; milk is the loving grandparent who’s always there to have a quick chat whatever the weather; whilst white is the super cute but annoying toddler who’s great in small doses and if you’re in the right mood. It’s nice, but a little too sweet and not much else. Well, here’s white chocolate’s chance to shine!

Caramelising chocolate is a really easy process in which you just bake the chocolate on a baking tray, stirring it every now and then until it turns all golden and beautiful. Doing this gives the chocolate a bitter caramel flavour which works really well with the sweetness of the white chocolate. You can then use the caramelised chocolate as you would a normal bar of white chocolate (cookies, ganache, mousse etc!). I’ve found that, whilst the technique is super easy, the type of chocolate you use will have a massive effect on the outcome of the process. If you use cheaper, more standard stuff it tends to come out dry and lumpy – great for cookies and cakes, not so good for mousses and ganache. Therefore if you do want a silky smooth end product you’ll need to use chocolate that has a cocoa content of over 30% (this info is on the back of most bars near the ingredients). I experimented with Sainsburys own brand, Lindt, Menier’s, and Green and Blacks and the Green and Blacks were the only type that came out smooth, so if you have any doubts that’s the one I’d recommend!

(^ this is an example of what you can use your caramelised white chocolate for – coffee walnut teacakes coated in caramelised white chocolate! Recipe going up soon!)

Recipe

Makes 200g caramelised white chocolate

Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 200g White chocolate (at least 30% cocoa butter), roughly chopped

Method

  1.  Pre-heat the oven to 120˚C. Spread the roughly chopped white chocolate on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper and put into the oven for around 10 minutes.

2. Take the tray out and give the white chocolate a good stir with a spatula until smooth. Then put back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

(^Chocolate after 10 minutes in the oven)

(^Chocolate after 10 minutes in the oven and a good mixing)

3. Repeat this mixing every 10 minutes for the next 30-50 minutes until golden and caramelised.

(^20 minutes in the oven)

(^30 minutes in the oven and ready to use)

3. The chocolate is now ready to use. If you want to store it for another day you can pour/spoon the caramelised chocolate into a jar or leave it to set hard and then wrap it in some grease proof paper to store it as a bar. It can be stored like this for up to 2 months.

 

Uses…

So far I’ve used this for two recipes – these delicious coffee and caramelised white chocolate cookies and the coffee walnut teacakes shown above (recipes coming soon!). As far as I can tell though, this will work really well in any recipe using chocolate! You can add it to your favourite cookie recipe like I’ve done here or why not try…

  • Pouring over 200ml warm double cream to make a ganache?
  • Sprinkling it over a cake or mixing it into some cake batter?
  • Making it into some ice cream? (I’ve heard this one is especially good!)

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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Plum and Apple Crumble Flat Crust

Plum and Apple Crumble Flat Crust

This summer’s been pretty crazy for me. Not because I’ve been all around the world or have gone on a fascinating internship or the like, but because it’s been the first summer in well over 4 years that I’ve just stopped and let myself think. I tend to plow on through life head first, doing as much as I can and I often wear myself out in the process, so this summer I’ve let myself rest, re-coup and try to sort out my head a bit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health guilt recently and the downward spiralling effect this can have on an already fragile mind. By mental health guilt I mean feeling as though you have no right to be depressed or feeling low because you think others have it worse than you. I think this something that a lot of people with depression experience at some point and I’ve been feeling it a lot myself recently. After all, I’m a white, middle class woman from a stable family in a relatively stable part of the world. I’ve had all the education I could wish for, all the opportunities I could imagine and yet I still find myself coming back to this really dark place.

Something I think that’s important to remember when you feel this way is that all pain is relative and personal. Everyone has different life experiences and struggles, and you can never know the full story behind what someone else is experiencing. Therefore, when it comes to mental health, it’s ultimately impossible to say that one person deserves help more than someone else, or that someone’s pain is worse than another’s. Surely if you feel in pain and it’s affecting you, you deserve the help and support you need, regardless of whether someone else has it worse or not. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the UK’s mental health system from my experience. At the moment there is massive under funding in the NHS and so as a result the only ones getting real treatment (and even then after a long waiting time) are those who are suffering at the most extreme level. This of course makes sense and it is important that we treat the most serious cases first, but it does make those with more minor, yet still serious conditions, feel as though their problems aren’t serious enough to warrant treatment – which when you’re feeling like you have no right to feel depressed in the first place isn’t helpful.

We can’t change this overnight, but we can start to make those who can make the changes more aware of the mental health crisis in the UK by talking about it more openly. There are great charities and campaign groups such as Young Minds and Heads Together who are doing amazing work to get better mental health provision in the UK, and supporting them in their work is probably the best shot we have to influence major change at ground level. For now though I’ll just say it’s worth remembering that it doesn’t matter if someone has it worse than you or if you don’t feel like you have the right to feel depressed.  Depression isn’t a choice, and although it can be formed out of circumstance it is inherently biological and beyond a person’s control. Therefore if you do feel down or low, in need of treatment or even just in need of a talk, reach out for it. Don’t feel like it needs to get worse before you’re allowed to get better, or that you’re being over-dramatic and should just calm down. It’s thoughts like that which lead people to end up in really bad places that are even harder to get out of.

For me it’s by no means been an easy summer, and I doubt it’ll be an easy autumn but I am looking forward to a new academic year and a change of scene. By taking it slow over the past couple of months I’ve found a rhythm for living which I hope I can translate into my working term at Uni and fingers crossed I can keep myself relatively stable. Most importantly for me I have re-kindled my love of cooking. Now, of course this never really went away but I’ve had a tricky relationship with food in that I cook to de-stress, but recently the mere idea of cooking has stressed me out.  Sometimes I don’t have the energy to cook, sometimes I don’t want to eat anything, and sometimes I just don’t have the patience. However I’ve started to find that these times are all totally fine and normal, and the important thing is that I always come back to the kitchen sooner or later and have fun when I’m there!

This new, relaxed approach to my cooking is how I eventually came up with this plum and apple crumble ‘flat-crust’. I wanted to make a tart but really couldn’t face the paph of lining a tart tin or blind baking etc, so I found that this was a great compromise. As it’s not made in a tin you don’t have to worry too hard about what awful shape your pastry is being rolled into which is a really nice thing. As long as it’s vaguely round and flat, you’re good. Quick, delicious, full of warming autumn flavours and all that good home comfort stuff we like to see around this time of year!

Recipe

Serves 12

Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 175g Plain flour
  • 2 tbsp Caster sugar
  • 115g Butter
  • 1 Egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp Water

For the filling

  • 2 Bramley apples (or medium sized cooking apples)
  • 1 tbsp Brown sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ¼ tsp Ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 3 Plums
  • 1 Egg

For the Crumble topping

  • 75g Butter
  • 2 tbsp Plain flour
  • 2 tbsp Porridge oats
  • 1 tbsp Brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp Ground cinnamon

Method

  1. Begin by making the pastry. Put the flour and sugar into a bowl and mix together with a round bladed knife (a regular table knife). Add the butter and use the knife to cut it into chunks in the flour.
  2. When you can’t cut the butter up any more, go in with your fingers and rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. (Shaking the bowl from side to side every now and then will help bring the lumps to the top).
  3. In a small bowl mix together the egg yolk and water and then mix this into the breadcrumb mixture. Mix with a table knife until a smooth dough forms. Wrap the dough in cling film and then leave it to chill in the fridge for at least an hour, or until needed.
  4. Now move onto the filling. Peel, core and then roughly dice the apples and put them into a large pan. Add the sugar, ginger and cinnamon and bring to a gentle simmer over a low heat. Leave to simmer for 25-30 minutes until broken down and golden, stirring the mixture every now and then to make sure nothing burns on the bottom of the pan. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool until needed.
  5. Meanwhile halve and de-stone the plums. Then slice the plums into smallish pieces (I find I get around 5 slices from each half).
  6. Now make the crumble topping. Put the butter and flour into a large bowl and rub the butter into the flour until you have a breadcrumb texture again, like you did with the pastry. Add the sugar and oats and then mix together with a spoon to make a crumbly mixture.
  7. When ready to start assembling pre-heat the oven to 180˚C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  8. Take your pastry out of the fridge and place it on a sheet on clingfilm on a work top. Place another sheet of clingfilm over the top and gently roll the pastry into a rough circle (don’t worry if you end up with more of a square, it won’t matter in the end!). Take a plate, cake tin or generally round object around 11” in diameter and use it as a guide as to how far to roll the pastry. You’ll want it around 0.5 – 1 inch wider all around, than this template.
  9. Peel the top sheet of clingfilm off the pastry and flip it over onto your lined baking tray. Then peel off the other sheet of clingfilm. Lay your template on top of the pastry and gently score the circular shape into the dough with a knife, being careful not to cut all the way through!
  10. Spoon the stewed apple inside the circle you’ve just marked, leaving a ½ inch gap around the edge. Next take your plum slices and lay them around the edge, making their top edges line up with the circle you’ve made. You should now have a ring of plum slices bordering a pile of apples.
  11. If you were worried about the edge of your pastry now’s the time we’re going to sort that out. If you have any bits that are really sticking out from the plum edge, and some other bits that are really close to it you can carefully peel off a chunky bit and squish it onto somewhere lacking in pastry. Then gently roll up the pastry all around the edge until you reach the plum boarder, to make a crust.
  12. Take the crumble topping and sprinkle it over the exposed apple filling. Then crack the egg for the topping into a bowl and whisk it up with a fork until the yolk and white are mixed. Brush a little egg around the edge of the pastry and then sprinkle over a little more brown sugar to give a crunchy crust.
  13. Bake the tart in the oven for around 15-20 minutes until the plums are shrivelled, and the crumble top and pastry are golden brown. Serve warm with fresh plums and custard!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave any comments, thoughts or feelings on anything in this post below!

Emma x

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Turtle Cookies

Turtle Cookies

So funny story about how I found these. I was originally searching on google images for pictures of turtle shaped cookies as I found pictures of the idea on pinterest and I wanted to make some of my own. However, the first things that came up when I searched ‘turtle cookies’ were tonnes of these treats, and they looked so mouthwatering I knew I had to try making some myself! They’re essentially rich chocolate biscuits, rolled in pecans (although I’ve used hazelnuts as I think they’re a superior nut) and then filled with salted caramel and drizzled with melted chocolate. I mean what’s not to love eh?

As you may or may not know it’s currently mental health awareness week – this year focusing on the very key issue of body image so I thought I’d briefly touch on this. We all have bodies and we all have varying opinions of them. Personally I’m not as positive about my body as perhaps I should be. I’m a little too round, too squidgy, too ‘curvy’, whatever is the most pc. I’ve also had an annoying conflict of interests between my passion for baking and my want to be healthy and slim for a really long time. I now find myself constantly swinging between being miserable because I’m not baking in an attempt to eat healthily, and disliking my body because of all the baked goods I eat. Of course there is something called self control, but I’ve never been very good at applying that to myself when it comes to baked goods.  But although I’ve not quite got to the point of accepting my roundness I have started to get to the point where I can accept how I look and not let it affect my mental health which is something for now. So if you’re in a similar position I just want you to know that if you’re insecure about your body firstly know that you are gorgeous, even if you can’t see it,  and secondly that there is so much more to life than how you look. So don’t let size get you down – there’s so much more to focus on and enjoy in life, and having a little extra padding won’t stop you from doing any of it!

Recipe

Makes 20

Time: Around 90 minutes

Ingredients

  • 80g Unsalted butter
  • 140g Caster sugar
  • 1 Large egg, separated
  • 2 tbsp Milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 140g Plain flour
  • 40g Cocoa powder
  • 200g Chopped hazelnuts
  • 200g Caramel
  • 1/2 tsp Table salt
  • 25g Milk chocolate to decorate

Method

  1. Begin by making the cookies. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  2. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until pale and creamy. Add the egg yolk, milk and vanilla and mix again until combined.
  3. Stir the flour and cocoa powder into the mixture to make a soft dough. Then wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  4. Take the egg white and whisk it until it’s frothy. Then put the chopped hazelnuts into another bowl.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it into 20 equally sized balls. Then dip each one in the egg whites followed by the chopped hazelnuts. Place the balls on a lined baking tray.
  6. Using a round measuring spoon (like a 1/2 teaspoon) press into the centre of each ball to make a dip.
  7. Bake the cookies in the oven for around 10 minutes until just set. They will harden more when cooled so don’t wait for them to crisp.
  8. Leave the cookies to cool completely on wire racks. Meanwhile put the caramel into a bowl and stir in the salt. Transfer the caramel to a pipping bag and leave in the fridge until needed.
  9. Pipe the caramel into the centre of each cooled cookie and then leave for 5 minutes to set.
  10. Meanwhile melt some chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Spoon the chocolate into a disposable piping bag and cut a small round hole in the bottom. Then pipe a drizzle of chocolate over the top of each cookie. Leave again to set and then serve!

Alternatives to try:

  • Fill the middle with a berry coulis instead of caramel, and then drizzle with dark chocolate.
  • Roll the biscuits in chopped peanuts (or any other nut you’d prefer).
  • Flavour the dough with the zest of 1 lemon/orange and fill with lemon curd/chocolate ganache.

Thanks for reading! For more info on Mental Health Awareness week click on the link here

Emma x

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Chocolate and Vanilla Rabbit Cookies

Chocolate and Vanilla Rabbit Cookies

Happy Easter! It might seem a little late to have a Easter-themed recipe, but if like me your whole family’s getting together today and you need a baking activity to keep little people occupied (and use up some of the vast quantities of mini eggs floating around) then look no further. I came across this way of shaping cookies online and it looked so cute that I thought I’d give it a try. Granted mine look a little more quirky than the ones I saw on Pinterest and whilst I quite like the variation in my herd I’m gonna blame this on my gingerbread man cutter. The idea is that you make gingerbread men, then fold the arms over a mini egg in the middle, turn them upside down and poke some eyes in and hey presto you’ve got yourself a rabbit holding an Easter egg! Unfortunately my gingerbread man cutter was very human shaped so the bodies were longer than they should have been and as a result I’ve de-capitated the men to get my rabbits, but hey ho I think it worked.

The best way to make this much easier is to make sure the dough is super super cold. I put mine the freezer before and half way through rolling as it made it easier to get the rabbits from the table to the baking trays – otherwise you end up with some very all-shapes-and-sizes kinda rabbits, which is sweet and endearing in it’s own way, but might not be what you’re looking for. You can also mix up the flavours in anyway you want when you’ve got the hang of the shaping. You could add spices or chocolate chips to the dough and/or dip the rabbits in melted chocolate and 100s + 1000s to jazz them up a bit!

Recipe

Makes 16

Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 200g Butter
  • 200g Caster sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 500g Plain flour
  • 25g Cocoa powder
  • 1 small bag of Mini eggs (around 16 eggs total)

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper or Teflon sheets.
  2. Cream together the butter and the sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until pale and creamy. Then add the egg and beat it in.
  3. Equally divide the mixture between two bowls (roughly 220g in each, but I’d recommend measuring the weight of all your dough then dividing it in 2). Add half the flour to each bowl and then add the cocoa powder to one. Mix everything in each bowl together until you have 2 smooth doughs.
  4. Wrap each dough in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and then transfer it to a freezer 30 minutes before rolling.
  5. Roll one of the doughs out between two sheets of cling film to make a sheet roughly half the thickness of a pound coin. Then cut out as many gingerbread men as you can. Transfer these to your lined baking trays, fold the remaining dough back into a ball and re-roll. Repeat until you’ve used the dough as much as possible. Then do this for your other flavoured dough.
  6. Once you have all your gingerbread men place a mini egg in the ‘belly’ of each with the pointy end facing downwards (towards where the ears will be).
  7. Turn your gingerbread men upside down and from now on think of them as rabbits. Take the two arms and fold them up over the egg to secure it in place. Then take a cocktail stick and if needed chop off the heads of the ex-gingerbread men and place to one side (you can bake these ‘heads’ alongside the rabbits to make bite-sized biscuits).
  8. Using the same cocktail stick poke two eyes in the top of each rabbit to make some eyes and then press the flat of it into each ear to make indents.
  9. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until just starting to go solid and brown a little. They’ll firm up a lot when out of the oven so don’t worry if they’re not crisp. Leave to cool and then enjoy!

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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