Warming and delicious: apple and spice muffins

apple and spice muffinsI already knew that apple and cinnamon make a great combination, but on a recent holiday I had it as a hot drink with added ginger. I’m a huge ginger fan in any way or form so I immediately loved the taste and decided it would be equally delicious (if not better) in a muffin. For extra indulgence, I decided to top the muffins with a crumble topping, so easy and totally yummy! Usually I freeze half of my muffins (wrapping them one by one in tin foil, you can take them out of the freezer in the morning to take to work and they will be perfect for lunch) but this time they were all gone before I could wrap them up! Here’s how to make them:

First, prepare the crumble topping: stir 50 g light muscovado sugar with 50 g plain flour25 g porridge oats (or rolled oats) and 1 tsp mixed spice together in a bowl, then rub in 50 g butter with your fingertips until clumpy.

For the muffins: preheat the oven to 180 C and line a muffin tin with paper cases. In a bowl, mix 375 g self-raising flour with 220 g sugar and 1 tsp baking powder. Make a well in the center and add 125 ml vegetable oil (sunflower or rapeseed work best, avoid olive as you will taste it), 125 ml milk1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod). Give the liquids a good stir to break up the egg yolk and bring the dough together in a few stirs.

Now add 300 g chopped apples (about 3 apples in total, if you only have say 200 g that will work as well), 2 balls stem ginger (chopped – you could also use 5 pieces of candied ginger or just double the ground ginger), 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp ground ginger and stir again to disperse them evenly. Distribute the dough over the 12 muffin cases and add 1 to 2 tbsp of the crumble topping on each of them (if you are too lazy to make the crumble topping, just give them a good sprinkle of granulated sugar instead to get the extra crunchy top layer). Put in the oven for 30-35 min until golden brown and springy to the touch (cover with tin foil for the last 10 min if they brown too easily). Enjoy!

Because at Christmas you can go crazy: “crazy” spiced orange cake

Christmas spiced orange cakeA month before Christmas, my parents came to dinner and my mom started browsing through the newly arrived edition of GoodFood. She flicked through the pages and then suddenly stopped, proudly announcing she had found the dessert she wanted for Christmas. Glancing at the recipe I quickly understood it was the decoration she was interested in, and not so much the cake underneath. So I decided to mix-and-match and I opted for Mary Berry’s spiced whole orange cake with orange mascarpone icing for the cake with an adaptation of the GoodFood icing recipe on top. Luckily, I was able to recruit my sister to help me out with the decorations (she made all the Christmas trees). You can of course just opt to make the cake, as with all of Mary’s recipes, it’s a fast and easy all-in-the-bowl cake mix. Here’s how to make it:

For the cake:
Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins with baking paper (if you only have one, bake in 2 batches or put everything together in a 24cm tin and stick to 3 layers instead of 4). Place 1 whole orange in a small saucepan, cover with boiling water and boil for 30 minutes, or until soft. Leave to cool (I recently read you get the same result by putting the orange in the microwave for a few minutes but I haven’t tested it yet). When the orange is cold, cut in half and remove any pips.

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Roughly chop the orange and blend, including the skin, in a food processor until medium-chunky in texture (if you don’t have a food processor, just use a hand mixer) and set aside, reserving two tablespoons for the icing.

Put 275 g self-raising flour in a large bowl with 2 tsp baking powder, 275 g sugar, 275 g softened butter, 4 eggs, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp mixed spice. Blend in a food processor or with an electric hand whisk until just smooth (be careful not to over-beat the mixture). Then, carefully stir in the pulp that you have set aside (all except the 2 tbsp for the icing), then divide between the two prepared tins and level the tops.

Bake for 35 min, or until well risen, lightly golden-brown and shrinking away from the sides of the tins. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Peel off the baking paper.

For the icing, place 50 g softened butter in a mixing bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, gradually beat in 175 g icing sugar until smooth. Add 250 g mascarpone cheese and whisk together until smooth and creamy. Add the 2 tbsp reserved orange pulp and mix until smooth.

Slice each cake in half to make four layers (if you only used 1 larger tin, try slicing it in 3). Divide the icing into four and then stack the layers of cake – icing between each layer and finishing with icing on the top.

For the crazy Christmas icing:
Beat 2 egg whites with 1 tsp lemon juice and 2 tsp liquid glucose in a mixing bowl. Gradually sift in 300 g icing sugar, beating all the time until you get stiff peaks. Swirl it thickly over the cake and let it drop down the sides a bit to create a “snow” effect. For the Christmas trees, the recipe suggested making a pistachio paste, but you know me: too much work so I went for the shortcut and just opted for marzipan instead (adding some green food colouring – in my case a mix of yellow and blue – to get the right colour). Tip: when colouring marzipan, where plastic gloves or you will go to the party with green fingernails… once the colouring is thoroughly kneaded in, it won’t give off any colour anymore. To make the trees, roll small balls and flatten them, stack them from larger to smaller and finish with a cone shape. Enjoy!

Gluten-free and dairy-free: swiss roll with marshmallow icing

dairy-free gluten-free swiss rollI haven’t been blogging for a while, but I had good reasons for it: at the end of last year, I wasn’t baking (or cooking) either, so I had nothing to blog about. This was caused to the nausea that comes with being pregnant… it being twins apparently made it worse! Luckily it passed the week before Christmas, so I could get back to my usual baking habits just in time (and with assistance from my sister, in charge of the cake decorations this year). So here is the first of my Christmas recipes, but you could make this at any time of the year (omitting the Christmas trees of course). As my sister-in-law is on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, I opted for a swiss roll, swapping flour for gluten-free varieties. Here’s how to make it:

Preheat the oven to t180 C. Separate 3 eggs (you need 4 eggs in total) and beat the egg whites until really stiff (add a pinch of salt to speed up the process). No need to wash your mixer, you can go straight ahead and start mixing the 3 egg yolks and the left over whole egg together in a separate bowl with 120 g sugar until you get a foamy mousse (about 5 min). Stir in 50 g gluten-free flour, 25 g cornflour and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (to be replaced by 75 g self-raising flour if you don’t need a gluten-free version), followed by the beaten egg white.

Cover a baking sheet with tin foil (fold up the sides of the foil a bit to create an edge) and pour in the mixture (or use a swiss roll tin if you have one). Bake for 10 min until lightly golden and it springs back when you touch it. In the mean time, take another piece of tin foil and sprinkle it with a bit of sugar. Take the bake from the oven and turn it upside down onto the prepared foil. Gently peal of the layer of foil from the bottom. Spread your favourite jam all over (I used home-made forest fruit jam – made from half frozen fruit en half sugar (with pectin) and a squeeze of lemon, just follow the recipe on the sugar packaging if you want to make some), leaving a gap along one of the long edges. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar and start rolling it up from the opposite long edge. Put it on a serving plate with the seam at the bottom and leave to cool completely.

If you don’t feel like the extra effort (or sugar level), just dot the roll with some fresh raspberries and you’re done. Or go all the way and make the marshmallow icing by putting 2 egg whites in a heatproof bowl with 115 g golden caster sugar, 1/2 tbsp water and a good pinch of salt. Place over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the hot water, and whisk until thick and leaving a prominent trail from the beaters (this will take about 4 min). Remove the bowl from the heat and continue whisking for another 3 min until cooled slightly and really stiff. Spread over the swiss roll using a large (palette) knife, you can use the back of a spoon to make a log pattern or just go wild with a piping bag. Use a cook’s blowtorch to toast the meringue to a golden brown (this will go really fast). It’s worth the effort, the toasting makes all the difference!

Decorate any way you want and enjoy!

Easy and delicious: sesame cookies

sesame cookiesOn a recent visit to London, my friend Jia showed me the new cookbook she bought because she thought I would like it. I took one look at it and immediately went out and bought it myself! As soon as I got home I had to try it, and I started of with these sesame cookies from the Okashi cookbook. They are really easy to make and as my colleagues can confirm: totally delicious too! Here’s how to make them:

Put 220 g plain flour in a bowl and put it in the freezer to chill (the recipe says to sift the flour, but I don’t bother, these days flour is fine enough already). Beat 100 g softened butter with 100 g icing sugar until soft and creamy. Add 2 egg yolks and mix well. Add the chilled flour and 100 g grilled sesame seeds (the recipe suggests using half white and half black sesame seeds, but I didn’t have that so I used all the same) and fold in with a spatula.

Divide the dough in half and transfer each to a piece of cling film. Shape into a 12 x 7 x 2.5 cm rectangle (just think “cookie size” – no need to get your ruler out). Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Slice the chilled dough into 5-7 mm think slices and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 20 min until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Will easily keep for a week in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Signs of autumn: dried cherry and pistachio biscotti

cherry and pistachio biscottiI absolutely love winter and I think autumn is a great prelude. Although these past days have been very nice, it’s been too warm and sunny for me. I love seeing the wind through the trees and hearing the rain on the roof, nothing like a good thunderstorm to make me sleep like a baby! Autumn also means you can start putting lots of hearty stuff on the menu: the first tajine is already tasted, fish pies, mashed potatoes, meat loaf… are all still to come. And for tea no more ice cream or frilly bits but something with a good bite, like these biscotti. I found the recipe in my Kitchen Aid cookbook (it came with the machine – yes, I finally got one!) but you can easily make it even if you don’t have one. Here’s how to make it:

Heat the oven to 160 C. In a bowl, mix 300 g plain flour with 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 150 g sugar and 1 tsp szichuan pepper (if you don’t have this, you can just leave it out or replace it by a grind of black pepper and some lemon zest – I opted for mixed spice, but only half a teaspoon as the cinnamon in it can be quite overpowering). Add 3 eggs and mix to a soft dough (it will be slightly sticky). Add 75 g dried cherries and 75 g pistachios (unsalted and shells removed) and mix again until incorporated (you can do all this by hand as well).

Divide the dough in 2 parts and roll each to a diameter of 4 to 5 cm.  Place on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment and bake for 20 min until the sides are starting to brown. Remove from the oven (leave the oven on, you are baking them twice – hence the name, “bis-cotti”) and leave to set for 10 min. Then cut in 1 cm slices and place on the baking sheet again. Another 10 min in the oven and some cooling on a wire-rack and you are ready to dip them in your coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Enjoy!

Use up left-over dried cherries in cherry and chocolate cookies.

Sunshine in a bowl: mango sorbet

mango sorbetSummer is well and truly over so what to do when you can’t find sunshine outside? Just get some on your plate! This was the perfect ending to a very successful thai cooking workshop (my kitchen was the backdrop, the chef a bubbly laotian colleague of mine and the food totally yummy!) and a great excuse to test my new pride and joy: our kitchen aid, including the ice cream maker. Finally, it’s another way to eat more cardamom, anything I can add that spice to just makes me happy. I looked on the internet to find a great recipe and in the end decided to go with my own blend. Here’s how to make it:

Cut 2 mangos in chunks, add 150 g icing sugar, the juice of 2 limes and the crushed seeds of 5 cardamom pods (optional of course, you can just leave them out or add any flavour you prefer with mango, such as mint leaves for example) and mix to make a smooth puree (you can also do this in a food processor of course).

Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn to freeze according to the instructions of the manufacturer (it only took 20 min in my kitchen aid bowl). Transfer to a container and put in the freezer until you are ready to eat it. That’s it!

Don’t have an ice cream maker or the patience to freeze this stuff for a couple of hours? You can also use a short cut: just buy frozen mango in the supermarket and take it out of the freezer 10-15 min before you want to eat your sorbet. Mix it and serve: you now have a 100% fruit sorbet that is good for you and your diet! If you want you can add some sugar, lime juice … but you will notice it doesn’t need it. This also works with any other type of frozen fruit, such as forest fruit or raspberries. Enjoy!

Sweet and tart: chocolate and cherry cookies

chocolate and cherry cookiesPart of having your birthday is taking treats to work for your colleagues. As we both work in big offices, that means lots of colleagues, and cookies are always a great option in that case. These are the cookies my boyfriend chose to take for his birthday. The recipe is from my trusted Les cookies de Laura Todd book (the basic recipe is always the same, so you can add whatever you want). I made a huge batch (hoping to have some left for the weekend) but not a single cookie returned… the dried cherries needed for this recipe are now a big hit in my household, some end up in granola, others just go “missing”. Here’s how to make them:

Preheat the oven to 140 C and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Mix 250 g softened butter (you can use margarine as well) with 350 g soft brown sugar until fluffy and soft. Add 1 egg and beat well until incorporated. In two batches, add 375 g self-raising flour (or use regular flour and add 1 tsp baking powder as well), a pinch of vanilla powder (I used a small bag of vanilla sugar, you could use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract of the seeds of half a vanilla pod as well) and a pinch of salt and mix well. Now add 150 g dried cherries (chopped if they are too large) and 250 g dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.

Roll small balls of dough with your hands, put them on a baking sheet and flatten it lightly with the back of your hand. Space the cookies well apart as they will spread. Put in the oven for 15-20 min. Enjoy!