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!

A British classic: carrot cake

Carrot cakeNot quite sure if it is actually British, but it surely isn’t a Belgian classic! I discovered this cake on my visits to London and became a big fan, so it was about time to give it a go. I decided to try Rachel Allen‘s recipe from her cookbook Bake which seemed to use most of the ingredients I expected to find in it.

Preheat the oven to 150 C and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Beat 2 eggs in a large bowl, then add 140 ml vegetable oil, 200 g soft brown sugar, 300 grated carrots, 100 g raisins and 75 g chopped nuts (use pecans or walnuts, or leave them out if you’re not a fan). Now add the dry ingredients: 180 g self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg and 1/2 tsp mixed spice and mix with a wooden or metal spoon to bring the mixture together.

Pour the mixture in the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for 1 h – 1h15 until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 min before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely. You can already serve it like this, or you can add a layer of cream cheese icing.

For the icing, beat 250 g cream cheese (straight from the fridge) and 50 g softened butter  in a bowl until combined. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract, 275 g icing sugar and the zest of 1 orange and mix to combine. The icing should be smooth and quite thick. Make sure the butter is softened by leaving it a room temperature for a while. This time, don’t soften it in the microwave, because it will be slightly melted which is too soft. Also, this is the recipe if you use regular cream cheese (like philadelphia), which has a good consistency. If, like me, you decide to go for a tastier option by using De Brabander (by Campina) cheese, only use half the amount stated in the recipe because it’s quite runny. I’m talking from experience here, my icing ran faster then Usain Bolt! If yours is too runny, just put it in the fridge for a while to stiffen. If that doesn’t work, add more icing sugar until you reach the right consistency (you may want to add a squeeze of lemon juice as well). If, on the other hand, yours is too hard, don’t be tempted to loosen it with water or more cheese. Just dip your knife in a bowl of hot water before spreading it out. Enjoy!

Chewy with a hint of cinnamon: apple and oatmeal cookies

Apple and oatmeal cookies
Apple and oatmeal cookies

Another recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days cookbook. It’s in the section “rainy day treats” but you don’t have to wait for a rainy day to make them! If like me you have some apples that need to be eaten fast, this recipe will do just the trick. It got the “delicious” approval of all my colleagues as well!

Preheat the oven to 170 C. Cream together 135 softened butter, 80 g caster sugar and 80 g soft light brown sugar. Add 1 egg and 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and mix thoroughly. Add 190 g plain flour in two batches, adding 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda with the second batch. Mix until a dough forms.

Peel and finely grate 2 apples (preferably Granny Smith) and squeeze all of the liquid out of them, discarding the liquid. Add 60 g rolled oats and 60 g of the grated apples to the cookie dough and stir by hand. Break off small pieces of the dough (size of a big marble), roll into a ball and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment (leave some room between each cookie as they will spread while baking). Place into the oven and bake for 15-20 min or until the cookies are a light golden brown. Leave to cool and set for about 10 min before transferring them to a wire rack.

They keep very well for several days. Enjoy!

A belgian classic: (gluten-free) speculaas

Belgian-style cinnamon cookie

I really love these cinnamon cookies that are mostly served around Sinterklaas, at the beginning of September. But that doesn’t stop me from eating speculaas the whole year round, and this family recipe does just the trick for me! In addition, you can easily make them gluten-free if you are allergic to gluten. With that allergy, you can’t eat bread, pasta or anything containing flour, which includes most desserts and of course cookies. But there is a solution: you can buy gluten-free flour and gluten-free baking powder. If you live in a modern country such as New Zealand, you’ll find them in the gluten-free isle of your supermarket. In countries where people thing that someone with a food allergy is just someone who wines too much (like Belgium), you need to go to a health food store to get them.

Gluten-free flour has a less dense and more powder-like consistency then regular flour, so it clings less to other ingredients. But for most cakes and bakes, that is not an issue because eggs can do all the sticking you need. That’s also true for this recipe. In addition, as the cookies are really flat, you don’t need any lift so you can do it without baking powder.

If you’re hungry now, I’ll have to disappoint you, the cookie dough needs to stand overnight… For starters, melt 150 g butter in the microwave. Add 125 g dark brown sugar, 1 egg yolk, 2 tbsp of water and 1 tbsp of speculaas mix. Or if you don’t have this mix in your spice rack, just grind the seeds of 2 cardamom pods and add them together with 1 tbsp of cinnamon. Now add 200 g of gluten-free flour or self-raising flour. You can use your hands to kneed the dough so that everything is combined. Let the dough rest in a cool place for 24 hours.

The next day, heat the oven to 180 C. Knead the dough again a bit to loosen it, roll little balls and flatten them on a baking sheet. Make sure to space the apart a bit as they will spread in the oven. Bake for 12 min and allow to cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

Use up left-over speculaas in speculamisu or in speculaas bread or us as a base for cheesecake.