Bourbon pecan brownies

Bourbon pecan browniesI made these bourbon pecan brownies quite a while ago, now, so apologies for the brief nature of this post! I decided to make these when I was idly flicking through Dan Lepard’s excellent Short and Sweet baking recipe book and remembered that my husband had recently acquired some rather nice bourbon. Lepard says you can make these without the booze, but that’s not something I can really understand!

The brownies were pretty easy to make, especially as I ignored Lepard’s instruction to sift the flour and cocoa twice and only did it once (rebel or what?), because, you know, life’s too short. The cooking time was spot on for the perfect brownie texture – slightly crisp on top and round the edges, but delectably gooey in the middle.

Bourbon pecan brownies
I have to say, you can really taste the booze in these brownies – which is nice, because I’ve fallen foul of many a recipe involving booze where you can’t really taste the alcoholic element, which is always a shame (and a waste of good booze!). There’s a good chocolate flavour, too, especially if you use the decent dark stuff with at least 70% cocoa solids.

You can find the recipe online here, but I do urge you to check out Short and Sweet if you’re in the market for a good baking book. The bread recipes I’ve tried are excellent (I’ve made his pitta recipe many times), and the sweet bakes are all fantastic with some great flavours, and not too difficult to throw together.

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Ginger, pecan and rum brownies

Ginger, pecan and rum browniesThis is definitely not a bake for anyone trying to be even vaguely healthy at the moment. I made 20 of these ginger, pecan and rum brownies and only let myself have one – they’re so rich, but oh so good!

I suppose the flavours are a bit wintery, but we haven’t exactly had a lovely sunny summer recently, so I felt perfectly justified in making these brownies. I also hadn’t made brownies in aaaages before these.

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies
I found the recipe on BBC Food, and was instantly drawn to the combination of stem ginger, rum and dark chocolate. It’s a typical brownie recipe – melt the chocolate and a huge amount of butter together, stir into a whisked mixture of eggs and sugar, then fold in a miniscule amount of flour and the other ingredients.

I used a smaller tin than called for in the recipe, so I was prepared for these to take longer to bake than stated. I was a bit worried about overcooking them, but they turned out pretty perfectly texture-wise – phew!

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies
Like I said, I only had one brownie (the rest went to work and my husband), but I’m not going to forget it in a hurry! The ginger and rum together are SO nice (and yes, I added a splash more rum than called for. What?) and the pecans add a welcome crunch. I used some dark chocolate with about 85% cocoa content, so the brownies were very chocolatey too. Yum!

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies

Basic baklava

Basic baklava
Another week, another Paul Hollywood recipe. This time, I made a very basic baklava from How to Bake. I must stress that this really is a simple recipe, but one that can be customised to create your own dream baklava!

Baklava is one of those desserts that be really, truly, utterly scrumptious when it’s made right. There’s something about the combination of thin flaky pastry, flavoursome nuts, lots of butter and a fragrant sugar syrup that ticks all the boxes for me.

Paul Hollywood’s recipe calls for pistachios only, but as I didn’t have enough, I made up the difference with almonds and walnuts. As this is a basic recipe, nothing goes in with the nuts, but I was sorely tempted to add some cardamom or another warm spice to them. However, I chose to stick to the recipe as closely as possible!

The baklava was easy to assemble – it’s pretty much just layering lots of filo on top of each other, brushing each layer with butter, then scattering the nuts on top and adding more filo and butter on top. The whole lot then goes into the oven, and you make the sugar syrup to pour over when it’s cool.

The sugar syrup is the other part of the recipe where lots of flavours can be added, but Hollywood opts for just lemon juice. Again, I had to fight the urge to add *something* else! Once the syrup was poured over the baklava and the whole lot had cooled, it was ready to eat.

Basic baklava
It was very nice – the star of the show for me was the richness of the butter paired with the trio of tasty nuts. However, the syrup felt a little but too simple – the pure lemon made it almost stark, if that makes sense, even for what is supposed to be a basic baklava recipe.

Hollywood admits himself that this is a very simple baklava and that you could add rose water or orange flower water to the syrup, which I would strongly recommend that you do. I would also experiment with different spices in the nuts, as I do think the right combination can make for an excellent baklava (see my gushing praise of this masala chai baklava by GBBO’s Chetna Makan). This is a great base recipe to start from, but don’t be afraid to add to it!

Masala chai baklava: my first GBBO bake!

Masala chai baklava
I am, of course, a huge fan of the Great British Bake Off. This year’s series featured perhaps my favourite contestant of all – Chetna Makan. I really admired her inventive approach to baking, often combining the classics with some amazing Indian flavours, and I pretty much drooled whenever the camera panned to her creations on screen – including this divine masala chai baklava.

This is actually my first attempt at a recipe from the show. There have been many GBBO recipes over the years that I’ve bookmarked for a later date, but I’ve never quite got round to trying them! Then my boyfriend and I started planning an informal Indian-themed dinner party for some friends a couple of weeks ago, and we thought of this baklava for dessert…

I’ve never made baklava before, but it was pretty simple in the end – and OF COURSE I didn’t make my own filo pastry, you crazy people. If even Mary Berry thinks the idea of making your own filo is a silly one, then I’m never even going to think about attempting it (those poor contestants, though!).

Masala chai baklava
The filling is just cashews, almond and cardamom ground in a food processor. The filling is then wrapped in butter-soaked sheets of filo, rolled up and twisted round to make a spiral shape The whole lot is then baked and soaked with the masala chai syrup, left to stand for a bit and soaked with some more syrup for good measure. As you can see from my pictures, that’s a LOT of syrup! I ended up with a fair bit of the nut filling left over, so I simply decorated the baklavas with it.

I did toy with the idea of deviating from the recipe and using my mum’s tea masala mix in the syrup (see my one attempt to incorporate it into my baking here!), but I’m glad I didn’t, because the flavours of the baklava were absolutely amazing. It’s so easy to go wrong with cardamom, but the recipe has just the right amount and goes so well with the nuts, ginger, tea and bucketloads of sugar.

The baklava went down a storm with our guests, and it was nice to be able to have some leftovers for breakfast the next day (what?). I would very definitely make these again, and soon! Well done, Chetna – you may not have won the series, but you’ve definitely won at baklava!

Masala chai baklava
The recipe

Can be found on the BBC Food website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/masala_chai_baklava_33678

Re-bake: cherry, white chocolate & coconut traybake

White chocolate, cherry, coconut and almond Sometimes, all you want is something baked and sugary, PRONTO. This flourless recipe is perfect for just this craving, as all you have to do is stir everything together and bake. Easy! Of course, this recipe is also perfect if, like me, you have a penchant for the holy trinity of white chocolate, cherries and coconut.

I’ve made this once before and stuck religiously to the recipe with a very nice result. This time, I was forced to improvise a little as I didn’t have quite enough dessicated coconut (I have been baking with it quite a lot recently!). I instead made up the difference with some roughly chopped flaked almonds.

White chocolate, cherry, coconut and almond traybake mix

White chocolate, cherry, coconut and almond traybake mix

The chocolate was a mixture of Aldi’s Choceur (I think that’s how it’s spelled!) white chocolate and Tesco Value white chocolate. The Aldi version definitely wins hands down in terms of flavour – the Tesco stuff was just far too sweet and not white-chocolatey enough. If that even makes sense.

Once baked, you end up with a baking tin full of gooey chocolate combined with coconut, glace cherries and almonds… yum! However, it’s worth resisting the urge to dive straight in with your spoon and let it cool. Once cold, it’ll be nicely set and you can slice it up into neat little bars.

White chocolate, cherry, coconut and almond traybake 2I have to say, the addition of the almonds is a definite winner – they add a wonderful crunchy texture that goes perfectly with the soft coconut and cherries. This is a very sweet recipe, so it’s only really recommended if you can hack all the sugar – which I most certainly can! *ignores toothache*

The recipe

From the BBC Good Food website here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1269637/

First bake: banana cake with pecan crumble crunch

Banana pecan cake

This is the other thing I made with the leftover bananas at work last week. It took much longer than the caramel banana blondies, but was still a success! I love using pecans in baking, so this cake really appealed to me.

There were quite a few stages to making this cake; making the crumble topping, mixing the dry and wet ingredients separately, whisking the egg whites, and combining everything together. It also seemed to take me an inordinately long time to line the cake tin!

Crumble for banana pecan cake

Crumble for banana pecan cake

The crumble topping was simple to make – pecans, sugar, nuts and a little flour were rubbed together to create a crumb-like texture. The other stages were also pretty simple, although I was a bit worried my bowl wasn’t big enough at one point when I’d combined the wet and dry ingredients, but had yet to add the egg whites.

Banana pecan cake mix, pre-egg whites

Banana pecan cake mix, pre-egg whites

Luckily, the egg whites just about managed to fit into the bowl. I had to bake the cake for a good while longer than the recipe said; the cake ended up pretty tall and it was a good job I’d lined the tin with a sheet of paper that stood higher than the actual tin.

Banana pecan cake mix in tin

Banana pecan cake mix in tin

The cake itself was lovely. The banana flavour was very strong, and the hint of cinnamon together with the pecans rounded things off perfectly. The cake was a little soft at the bottom where it hadn’t completely cooked through, but it was still edible! Plus, it was very light thanks to the use of oil instead of butter.

I don’t think the crumble topping was as crunchy as it could have been, but that might have been because I only got round to trying a piece the day after baking it.

Banana pecan cake

The recipe

From BBC Good Food here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/6067/banana-cake-with-pecan-crumble-crunch