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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Spinach and feta pizza pie

Spinach and feta pizza pie
This is a bit of an impromptu post; I wasn’t intending to blog about this spinach and feta pizza pie I made a couple of days ago, but I was asked for the recipe after posting a photo on Instagram and I thought I might as well get a blog post out of it!

In case you don’t know what a pizza pie (or deep dish pizza) is, it’s basically a pie made out of pizza dough with a filling in the middle and a conventional cheese and tomato topping (with whatever else you want to throw on top). It’s just the BEST invention if you love pizza!

I’ve made this with my boyfriend a couple of times before; the first time went well, but the pizza dough was a bit of a disaster the second time. However, I’m pleased to report that it went swimmingly this time round.

There’s a bit of effort involved with this wondrous creation, but it’s well worth it. The filling isn’t too difficult to knock up, but you need to prepare the spinach properly so it doesn’t go watery during baking.

Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to quite get the knack of it, but it’s still delicious regardless of how watery the filling is.

It’s worth either following the original recipe exactly (so use both Swiss chard and spinach, instead of just spinach as we’ve always done due to not being able to find Swiss chard in the shops) or using an alternative filling – I reckon roasted vegetables and mozzarella would work really well, or even a bolognese sauce.

Spinach and feta pizza pie
Apologies for the lack of photos, but I would have taken more if I’d known I was going to write a blog! The recipe below is based on this one. I originally found it in Vegetarian Living magazine, but it looks like the online version is a bit different, so the below is the version I’ve got with some extra changes/suggestions based on my experience of making this.

Spinach and feta pizza pie recipe

Serves 6

For the pizza crust dough:

  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 185ml lukewarm water
  • 0.75 tsp sugar
  • 225g strong flour, plus extra for rolling/dusting
  • 50g polenta
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing

For the tomato sauce (or use 200-250ml ready-made pizza sauce):

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 30g butter
  • 0.5 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped tomatoes
  • 2-3 sundried tomatoes, drained of oil
  • 0.5 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper

For the filling:

  • 850g Swiss chard (or spinach, but beware of the wateriness!)
  • 250g spinach (frozen is – bizarrely – less watery than fresh. Defrost it first.)
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped chives or spring onions
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped dill
  • 265g cottage cheese (drain off any excess water)
  • 250g feta, crumbled
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp chopped oregano (or use dried oregano)
  • salt and black pepper
  • 35g pecorino cheese, grated + 1 tbsp extra (or use parmesan)

To make the pizza pie crust:

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1.5 tbsp of the lukewarm water.
  2. Add the sugar and 1.5 tbsp of the flour, and mix well.
  3. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place for 15 minutes.
  4. Add about half of the remaining water, all of the remaining flour, and the polenta, salt and olive oil, and mix well, adding more water if needed to create a soft dough that’s not too wet. Use the heel of your hands to work the dough for 5 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic.
  5. Lightly grease the inside of another large bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough to it. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for 45-60 minutes, or until it has doubled in size. While it’s proving, make the tomato sauce (see below).
  6. Dust a work surface with flour and tip out the dough. Knock it back with one good punch to let any air out. Cup your hands over the dough and roll it around on the surface to create a smooth ball.
  7. Place the dough on a lightly greased baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove again for 15 minutes.

To make the tomato sauce:

  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan until the butter has melted.
  2. Add the garlic and onion and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes, until well softened.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and oregano, and simmer until the sauce has reduced to a rich, thick consistency – about 15 mins.
  4. Season to taste. Set aside and leave to cool.

To make the filling and assemble the pizza pie:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.
  2. Remove the woody stalks from the Swiss chard and spinach (if using fresh). Blanch the leaves for 2 minutes in salted boiling water then drain well, squeezing out the excess moisture with your hands and then wringing out any remaining moisture with a clean tea towel. At this point you can try to dry out the leaves further in the oven, on a low heat setting.
  3. Chop the leaves very finely and combine with the chives/spring onions, dill, cottage cheese, feta, eggs, oregano and salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin with olive oil and lightly dust a work surface.
  5. Separate the pizza crust dough into two balls, one weighing around 330g and the other around 170g.
  6. Roll out the larger ball of dough into a 35cm circle that’s about 3mm thick.
  7. Gently fit the dough to the cake tin, pressing firmly into the corners and up the sides so that there’s a 2.5cm overhang. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  8. Spoon the filling into the dough-lined tin and spread evenly.
  9. Roll out the remaining dough into a 20cm wide, 3mm thick circle. Prick it all over with a fork.
  10. Place the circle of dough on top of the filling in the tin. Fold the overhang of the other piece of dough over the top to form a thick edge.
  11. Spoon the tomato sauce on top and spread evenly.
  12. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 and bake the pizza pie for 15 mins, before rotating it and baking for another 15 minutes.
  13. Sprinkle the pecorino or parmesan on top and bake for a final 15 minutes or until the pizza is golden and crisp.
  14. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining 1 tbsp of pecorino/parmesan on top.
  15. Leave to rest for 5 minutes before releasing the pie from the tin. Serve and enjoy your pizza pie!

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.

First bake: extra rich mince pies

Extra rich mince piesAs a Hindu, I don’t really ‘do’ Christmas – happily, there’s no need for me to stress out about presents and cooking a big family meal! I do, however, very much ‘do’ the delicious treats that come with the festive period – especially mince pies.

I’ve always had shop-bought mince pies, but decided that, this year at least, I would attempt to bake them myself for a change. Having never even made pastry before (I know, I know), this seemed like a pretty huge challenge! So, after looking at quite a few different recipes, I settled on one particular source that I knew wouldn’t fail me – Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet.

There are a couple of mincemeat recipes in the book – a ‘proper’ suet-based one and another quicker one that’s suitable for vegetarians. I (obviously) opted for the latter, called dark rich mincemeat. The method involves whisking together brown sugar, lemon zest and juice, dark ale (I used Marston’s Oyster Stout) and grated Bramley apple before adding spices (I used cinnamon, ground cloves and mixed spice), raisins (I used sultanas), dried cherries, prunes, currants and more apple and leaving it to thicken on the hob. You then stir in a few tablespoons of brandy or rum (I used Captain Morgan’s Spiced) at the end.

Dark rich mincemeat ingredients

Dark ale + spiced rum + big pile of fruit =…

Dark rich mincemeat

…this!

I made the mincemeat on Friday night. Yesterday, I steeled myself for my first ever attempt at pastry. I used the extra rich mince pies recipe in Short & Sweet, as opposed to the standard sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, as I was rather intrigued by the idea of adding cream cheese (yes, really!), ground almonds and baking powder to the pastry. The addition of these ingredients makes for a sturdier, cakier crust than a normal mince pie might have.

The pastry-making went surprisingly well – I only had a near disaster when I realised I hadn’t cut out enough discs to go on top of the pies. Luckily, I had a small bit of pastry left over that I could just about roll out into the correct size! I think the dough could have been a bit smoother, but I had to grind some flaked almonds in a food processor, and they didn’t come out as fine as I’d have liked.

Extra rich mince pies

Filling the mince pies…

I initially followed the recipe by cutting out 10 and 8 cm discs, but as my tray was a little shallower than a standard muffin tray, I decided to switch to 9 and 7 cm discs after doing the first one. You can see the larger mince pie in the top left corner in the pic above. I was a little worried that I’d rolled the pastry out too thick, but it turned out to be just right what with using the smaller sized pastry discs.

Extra rich mince pies

Mince pies ready to go in the oven

Extra rich mince pies

The recipe required a hole to be cut into the lid of each pie, making them look a bit like pork pies, especially with the lack of fancy crimping around the edges. The holes help the steam escape from the middle during baking. I left them in the oven for the stated length of time – 25 minutes – but I probably should have checked on them earlier, as they came out a little browner than I’d hoped!

Extra rich mince pie

The browning didn’t matter, in the end. The pies were absolutely delicious; they did indeed feel very sturdy and the crust was pleasingly thick and a little cakey, due to the baking powder, I think. The filling was gorgeous – wonderfully rich, sweet and boozy. I had two warm from the oven and I nearly wept with joy at how lovely they were!

Extra rich mince pie

I’m very pleased with myself for making these, and for managing to make pastry for the first time! I would heartily recommend the recipes for both the mincemeat and pastry if you like the idea of a rustic-looking mince pie with a bit of heft (and aren’t at all bothered about calories…).

The recipe

Both the mincemeat and pastry recipes are from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard. They’re also available online here (mincemeat) and here (pastry).

Why I bake

My first experience of baking was at secondary school, when we had to make coconut pyramids in Home Economics (is it still called that? Or is it all Nutrition Technology or something now?). Although I enjoyed eating what actually turned out to be little piles of sugary dessicated coconut vaguely held together with a bit of egg, it didn’t really give me the baking bug.

I remember making a lemon drizzle cake for Mother’s Day a few years ago (it was a bit soggy and my mum was rather disdainful of it, unfortunately), and then I moved to Manchester and suddenly I had the urge to bake things like peanut butter and chocolate cookies, pecan pie and the now-famous toffee brownies.

Peanut butter and chocolate cookies

The brownies were such a hit with everyone who tried them (except my mum, who is mysteriously anti-brownie) I trotted them out every time it was my turn to do the charity baking for work. I started trying other recipes from the same book and something clicked. So I kept baking.

I joined Weight Watchers in the summer of 2010 and, curiously, baked more than ever, giving most of my efforts to my boyfriend/family/friends/colleagues and allowing myself a little morsel to spend my weekly ‘treats’ points on.

I made several full-fat Victoria sponges while on WW. The queen of cakes.

I also started to rely on baking as a way of de-stressing, most notably when I was burgled (of just my handbag, fortunately) while I was living on my own – pretty much the first thing I did after dealing with the police, bank etc was rustle up some marbled chocolate brownies!

Mostly, though, the combination of creating something utterly delicious all by myself and making other people very happy by sharing my baking efforts with them seems to be why I bake so much. In a way it’s partly about gaining approval from others; I find positive feedback incredibly motivating and inspiring.

If we’re going to get all Freudian about it I suppose it might be slightly related to absolutely hating being forced to help my mum in the kitchen when I was younger. I was (and still am) terrible at making chapattis and my mum would shout at me every time I got it wrong, which just made me feel even less inclined to keep trying.

While I’ve since learned to at least make a curry that *might* pass muster at home, I’m very glad to have found one area of cooking that I love and that I think I’m actually good at! Although my mum still shouts at me for baking ‘too much’ – I just can’t win…!

Right, that’s the self-analysis over with. Coming up soon: a post on baking tips and pics of my next sugary creation.

This post was requested by my friend and fellow cake lover at Japanophile. Post a comment if you’d like me to cover something in particular in a future post!