Baking round-up: coffee and walnut cake + chocolate flapjacks + upside down blueberry cake + snake pie!

I can’t believe it’s been over 5 weeks since I last posted! Did you miss me?! I haven’t been away or anything – just lazy about updating the blog, and I also seem to keep losing time to playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild (it’s seriously, seriously great).

I have, however, been baking…

Coffee and walnut traybake


This is a Mary Berry recipe (of course) that is very similar to the coffee and walnut cake recipe used on Bake Off a while ago. The only difference is that this is a single layer traybake as opposed to a two-layer round cake.
The recipe calls for coffee essence, which I’d never heard of and couldn’t find in the supermarket, so I made up a small quantity of very very strong coffee instead, and stirred that in.

The coffee flavour ended up being somewhat subtle, but it didn’t seem to matter because the sponge was just beautiful – exceedingly light and fluffy and very more-ish. It didn’t last long, I can tell you!

Double chocolate flapjacks

I had a strangely specific urge for exceedingly chocolatey flapjacks a couple of weeks ago, so I dug around the internet until I found this recipe.

I tinkered with the recipe a little by pouring the melted chocolate on top of the flapjacks instead of dipping each one into it. I also (rather randomly) chopped up a couple of Penguin bars and threw them into the flapjack mix for extra crunch and chocolateyness.

The flapjacks ended up slightly overbaked, but they were still delicious! I can’t say I particularly noticed the Penguin bits in there, but I’m sure they didn’t hurt.

Upside down blueberry cake

Confession: I made this so long ago that I have no idea where I got the recipe from – sorry! However, it was pretty straightforward and very similar to pretty much any other upside down cake. The cake itself contained ground almonds, which added a nice summery flavour to the proceedings.
It was a delicious cake; I only wish I could remember the recipe so I can make it again…!

Moroccan snake pie

My husband and I (mainly my husband!) made this for a Moroccan-themed meal at his mum’s house recently. Also known as m’hanncha, snake pie is basically a lot of filo stuffed with a sugary, buttery, almondy mix that is then rolled up and coiled around to form a ‘snake’, before baking.
It was a little labour-intensive and there was a panic when the pie started leaking in the oven, but it turned out really well and was warmly received by all! The recipe is a Jamie Oliver one and can be found here.

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Mince pies

Mince piesI’ve been using Dan Lepard’s quick mincemeat and extra rich pastry recipes for my mince pies for the last few years. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve already made two batches to this recipe this year (what can I say? I’m keen!), but I decided to go with a straightforward sweet shortcrust pastry for my third batch earlier today, mainly due to running out of ground almonds!

Mince pies
For this, I adapted a Nigel Slater recipe I found online, while using the last of the mincemeat I made to Dan Lepard’s recipe (albeit with a few variations – see below). Nigel Slater’s recipe is largely fine except for two things: 1) there’s no sugar in it and 2) he doesn’t call for the pastry to be chilled before rolling out. I added some light muscovado sugar and chilled the pastry for 20 minutes just to make doubly sure all would be well… and it was!

Mince pies
As you can see above, I’ve also been making sure to properly fill my mince pies this year – not that I’m usually stingy with the mincemeat, but as I tend to make slightly thick pastry, it’s always nice to balance it out with a generous helping of the filling.

Mince pies
I have to say, the mince pies turned out very well indeed. The pastry is lovely – crisp, buttery and not too sickly (even with my addition of sugar!). The mincemeat I made this year was properly boozy, but also sharp and flavoursome, which is pretty much perfect in my eyes! I need to make some more, but I don’t think I’ll stray too far from my tried-and-tested formula.

Mince pies
Mince pies recipe

Makes approx. 15 pies

  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
  • 50g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1-2 tbsp milk
  • 375g mincemeat (I use Dan Lepard’s recipe – this year I substituted the cherries for dried cranberries and used Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale, as well as 2 tbsp dark rum and 2 tbsp calvados for the spirits at the end. The recipe makes enough for around 3 batches of mince pies.)
  • icing sugar, for dusting

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the sugar, making sure to break up any large lumps.
  3. Add the yolk and 1 tbsp of the milk to begin with. Mix and press together until the mixture resembles a rough dough. Add another tablespoon of milk if it looks dry.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until it comes together properly to create a smoother dough.
  5. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Grease a muffin tin. Cut some baking paper into strips that you can place in each hole of the tin to help you get your pies out more easily (see the third photo above).
  7. Unwrap the chilled pastry and roll out on a floured surface to around 3mm thick. It’s easiest to split the dough into two or three pieces and roll each bit out separately.
  8. Use two cutters to cut out two discs of pastry for each of pie – one large disc for the base of the pie and a smaller one for the lid. I use 68mm and 88mm cutters for this, but the sizes you use will depend on your muffin tin. It’s best to cut one big disc, then one small disc, then one big disc, and so on, to make sure you have enough pastry for the same number of base and lid discs.
  9. Gently place the larger discs in the holes of the muffin tin (ensuring that there’s a strip of baking paper underneath), pushing them down to the bottom and ensuring the sides are level. You should have baking paper sticking out on opposite sides of each pie.
  10. Fill each pastry-lined hole with mincemeat, trying to be as generous as possible without overfilling (keep the filling level with the edges of the pastry).
  11. Brush the edges of the pastry with cold water, then place the pastry lids on top, pressing around the edges to close any gaps.
  12. Use a skewer or the tip of a knife to cut a small hole in the middle of each pie.
  13. Bake the pies in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, until they start to brown on top.
  14. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then use the ends of the strips of baking paper to lift each pie out of the tin and onto a baking rack.
  15. When the pies are nearly cool, sift a little icing sugar over them and serve.

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!

Portuguese egg custard tarts

Portuguese egg custard tarts
I have a huge list of things I would quite like to bake that has been in the making for a few years (see my Pinterest board!). I’ll probably never get round to making even half of them. However, sometimes I spot a recipe that grabs me enough to make me want to get baking straight away – and these Portuguese egg custard tarts are one such recipe.

Portuguese egg custard tarts
I saw this recipe in BBC Good Food magazine and immediately started thinking about when I could make them. It’s odd, because while I love a custard tart, I’ve never really thought that much about making them – especially as I’m still a bit nervous with pastry.

Portuguese egg custard tarts
However, the recipe seemed fairly straightforward and Portuguese egg custard tarts have such a good reputation that I just knew I had to make these. The pastry is a quick version of proper puff pastry and is more flaky than anything else, as it doesn’t have as many layers as standard puff pastry.

Pastry for Portuguese egg custard tarts
It involves making a basic pastry and then layering it with grated butter, folding, turning and layering again, before chilling in the fridge. It wasn’t too fiddly; the most difficult part for me was rolling out the pastry sheet to the right size each time.

Then it was a matter of rolling up the pastry sheet, cutting it into 12 and rolling out each bit into circles to line a muffin tin.

Pastry for Portuguese egg custard tarts

Pastry for Portuguese egg custard tarts

Pastry for Portuguese egg custard tarts
The custard was also easy enough to make. I’ve never made it before, but I know it can quickly go wrong, so I kept a close eye on it all the way through and followed the recipe to the letter. And it worked!

Making custard for Portuguese egg custard tarts

Custard for Portuguese egg custard tarts

Custard!

I think my muffin tin must be on the small side, because I only used up about two-thirds of the custard when filling the pastry cases. It keeps in the fridge for a few days, though, so I had some of the rest with a quick microwaved syrup sponge a few days later.

The custard puffs up in the oven, and you need to make sure it doesn’t rise and sink while the tarts are still baking. They should puff up before you take them out, and then sink while they’re cooling.

Portuguese egg custard tarts
And that’s it! The tarts were so delicious. I’ve never had the ‘proper’ Portuguese variety before, but if the ones I made are anything like the real thing, they must be bloody good.

Why not give these a go for Easter?

Portuguese egg custard tarts

Portuguese egg custard tarts
Portuguese egg custard tarts recipe

Can be found on the BBC Good Food website here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/portuguese-egg-custard-tarts

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
We had our office Halloween bake sale yesterday, and I was still dithering over what to make up until last weekend, when I saw these rather lovely-looking spiced pumpkin brownie pies on Sunday Brunch.

I have to admit that I do roll my eyes a little whenever I see a recipe combining two or more things that should really be separate – anyone who’s on Pinterest will know what I mean when I say something like ‘salted caramel brownie cookie cake pie with muffin buttercream’. It’s just overkill and, as much as I like a calorific snack every now and then, those kinds of recipes really do sound like a heart attack waiting to happen.

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies 7
However, I was rather taken with these pies, particularly the spiced shortcrust pastry and the pumpkin puree combined with maple syrup. The recipe was cooked on Sunday Brunch by a chocolatier, so his main focus was on the brownie topping and how to get that exactly right with the best chocolate. He also made a praline with pumpkin seeds to go with the pies, but I didn’t – which I’m rather glad about, because I found the pies time-consuming on their own!

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Spiced pastry

I started off by making the pastry the night before doing the rest of the legwork. It’s a rather rich pastry with egg yolks, so it seemed a little too ‘wet’ before I put it in the fridge. However, it was perfectly alright when I took it out of the fridge the next day. The recipe on the Channel 4 website doesn’t tell you when to put the spices in, but I just added them with the flour. I didn’t have any mace so I used ground ginger instead.

Pumpkin puree for spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Pumpkin puree

The next day, I *deep breath* hacked apart an entire pumpkin just to get 250g of flesh, roasted it, pureed it with maple syrup, reduced it in pan to get rid of the excess liquid, made the brownie mix, rolled out the pastry, cut out discs to go into a muffin tin, spooned the puree in the bottom of each pie then added the brownie mix on top. And then I baked the pies. *and exhale*

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
The pastry looks rather thick in the pictures here, but I actually ended up with enough pastry for 14 pies rather than just 12, so imagine how many pies I would have had if I’d rolled it out any thinner!

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
One thing I was surprised about was the lack of a raising agent in the brownie mix, but it was actually fine and I didn’t end up with any horribly hard brownie crusts. Phew. I used some posh chocolate with 85% cocoa solids from Asda.

Brownie mix for spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Brownie mix

I thought there was a good amount of pumpkin puree in each pie, but after baking the weight of the brownie crusts flattened the pumpkin layer considerably. I think I would make more of the pumpkin puree next time, and less of the brownie mix (I had some left over even after filling 14 pies with it – but I didn’t let it go to waste!).

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Can you see the pumpkin layer?

The baking time specified in the recipe seemed about right. I’m not particularly experienced with pies so I found it hard to tell when they were done, but I trusted that the slight browning around the edges was a good sign! I’m not sure whether they would have passed the ‘soggy bottom’ test, though!

The pies went down very well in the bake sale and I managed to sell all of the 12 pies I brought in. I’ve just tried one of the remaining ones for the first time and it was delicious, particularly the decadent brownie. I think the pumpkin could come through a little more, but the spices in the pastry are absolutely lovely.

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
I’d like to say I’ll make these again, but I have the rather pressing matter of what to do with all the leftover pumpkin I have in the fridge and I don’t think I can face going through all the different steps again any time soon… a simple loaf cake beckons!

The recipe

Adapted/corrected from this recipe on the Sunday Brunch website:

Makes 12 pies

For the spiced crust:

  • 175g salted butter, softened
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 25ml water, at room temperature
  • 250g plain flour
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger

For the pumpkin puree:

  • 250g fresh pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2.5cm cubes
  • 25ml maple syrup

For the fudge brownie topping:

  • 50g butter
  • 40g golden syrup
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 140g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 35g plain flour

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3. For the puree, place the pumpkin on a baking tray, cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes until very soft.
  2. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth, then add the yolks and beat well, then add the water mixing well.
  3. Mix the spices with the flour and add in 3 additions, taking care not to over mix.
  4. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (you can make the pastry in advance and chill overnight).
  5. Blend the soft pumpkin with the maple syrup, then tip into a saucepan and cook until it reduces, around 5 minutes.
  6. For the brownie topping, melt the butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan until smooth. Take off the heat and add the chocolate, mixing well until very smooth. Add the eggs and beat well, followed by the flour.
  7. Once the pastry is chilled, roll out the pastry on a floured surface and cut into discs to line all 12 cavities in a greased muffin tin. Tip: cut small strips of greaseproof paper and place them across the middle of each cavity so that when you put the pastry disc in, the ends of the strip of paper are poking out of the top. This will make it easier to get the pies out after baking – you can simply pull the two ends of the paper to lift the pie out.
  8. Place a teaspoon of the puree into the bottom of each pastry case, then top with the brownie mix, covering the puree completely.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes (keeping the oven setting the same as when you roasted the pumpkin), or until golden-brown and set. Allow the pies to cool in the tins then turn out. When they’ve completely cooled, dust with a little icing sugar and serve.

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

First bake: savoury witches’ hat pasties

Witches' hatsWe had a Halloween bake sale in our office the other week, and I decided to go savoury with my offering. After much faffing, I settled upon these puff pastry pasties in the shape of witches’ hats.

I cheated and bought the puff pastry, as I didn’t have the time or confidence to make my own! I bought it in those massive blocks, though, and with hindsight I probably should have got the pre-rolled version to save more time… ah well.

I decided to make two fillings – cheese and onion, and spicy chickpea and potato, both my own inventions. For the cheese and onion filling, I gently fried some chopped onion until soft (but not browned) then mixed it with a big pile of grated mature cheddar, a little milk and seasoning.

Witches' hats

Filling for witches’ hats – cheese and onion (left) and spicy chickpea and potato (right)

The chickpea filling was a bit more complicated due to it being based on a chickpea curry recipe handed down by my mum, but basically involved cooking lightly mashed tinned chickpeas and chopped potato in a variety of spices. I held back on the chilli to begin with, but then worried that it wasn’t spicy enough and added a load more towards the end. Oops.

To fill the pasties, I painstakingly rolled out the pastry, cut it into diamond shapes, brushed them with beaten egg, added a spoonful of filling to the middle then folded the diamonds over to create triangles. I then attached a strip of pastry to the bottom edge to make them look like hats, although as you can see from the pictures, some of these managed to unattach themselves from the triangles during baking. Tsk.

Witches' hatsThe main issue I had, though, was the pasties opening up in the oven. This wasn’t a huge issue for the chickpea pasties, as the filling was quite dry, but the cheese filling melted and seeped onto the baking tray, resulting in a couple of pasties not having any filling at all! Not all of them were lost, though, which was a relief! I probably didn’t seal the edges quite as well as I should, which is certainly a lesson learnt.

Overall, the pasties turned out well and sold out remarkably quickly at the sale. If I ever make these again, I might try some different fillings, but they were delicious enough as they were!

The recipe

Based on this BBC Good Food recipe for wizards’ hats. Follow the method for the pastry and baking (double the quantities if you want to make two types of pasties), and see below for my filling recipes:

Cheese and onion

  • 100g grated mature cheddar
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • butter, for frying
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • Salt and pepper, to season
  1. Melt the butter in a frying pan and slowly cook the onions over a low heat until soft (about 15-20 mins).
  2. In a bowl, mix the onions with the cheddar, milk and seasoning.

Chickpea and potato

  • 1 x 400g tin cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 150g potato, peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • Half a small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 0.5 tsp green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 0.5 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • handful of chopped coriander
  1. Lightly mash the chickpeas in a bowl with a potato masher or fork.
  2. In a frying pan, heat the oil and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Fry over a medium heat until you hear the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the green chilli, garlic, ginger, red chilli powder, turmeric and salt, and cook for 3 minutes more. Stir in the chickpeas and potato, and cook until the potatoes are soft.
  4. Add the ground cumin, garam masala and coriander, stir and turn off the heat to let the filling cool.