Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Goat's Cheese and Sweet Onion Tart with Thyme

I have finally succeeded in making something savoury and, in an unfortunate turn of events for my colleagues, something I was unwilling to share.

For a while now I've been intending to make a tonne of food at the weekend so that all my food for the week ahead is sorted. Like many people who work full time, I get home most nights feeling like a limp piece of spaghetti - tired, floppy and useless. It's all too easy to collapse on the sofa with a plate of cheese and crackers and the obligatory glass of wine.

And forget about making lunch the night before. That's why I can be found trawling Waitrose most mornings and shelling out for what I will admit is very good food.

But this weekend I dragged myself out of bed on Sunday to make one of my favourite recipes, tart au chevre, or, for the non-French speaker, goat's cheese tart.

I've made this a couple of times - it's a Nigel Slater recipe and I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, the first time I made it was a disaster of the highest order. After blind-baking the pastry case I accidentally threw it in the bin (don't ask, just don't ask) and my then-boyfriend came downstairs, hoping dinner was nearly ready, only to find me having a full-on toddler-style tantrum, drumming my fists on the floor.

However, this time it went perfectly - I actually made three tarts, the one pictured above, a smaller version of that and then a version replacing the onions with a couple of handfuls of spinach.

I'll give you Nigel's original version with one small twist - I replaced creme fraiche in his recipe with Greek yoghurt. No particular reason - I've always done it that way and I like it.

You will need:

For the pastry case:
200g plain flour
100g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
a little milk

For the filling:
400g sweet white onions, sliced very thinly
25g butter
2tsp thyme leaves
2 eggs
200g good quality unflavoured Greek yoghurt
100ml semi-skimmed milk
180g moist and crumbly goat's cheese
22cm tart tin with a removable base, at least 3.5cm deep, greased with butter

1. Put the flour and butter into a bowl and rub them together with your fingertips until a crumbly mixture is formed.

2. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and pour in the egg yolk and a splash of milk. Mix together until a loose mixture starts to form and then knead until it forms a dough. Use as little milk as possible, as it will make the tart shrink in the tin as it bakes.

3. Flour a clean surface and roll out the dough, then use it to line the tin. Push it into the corners with a lump of excess dough - if you use your fingers you may break through the pastry. Trim off any overhanging pastry. Put the pastry into the fridge for 20 minutes and preheat the oven to 200C.

4. While the pastry is chilling, take the butter for the filling and put it in a pan over a medium heat. When it has melted, add the thinly sliced onions and thyme and turn the heat down low. Gently fry the onions for about 20 minutes until very soft but not coloured.

5. When the pastry has chilled for 20 minutes, take it out of the fridge and line the tin with foil over the pastry, weighing it down with uncooked rice, dried beans or ceramic baking beans if you have them (it's a strongly held belief of mine that no one does).

6. Bake the tart for 20 minutes and then carefully remove the foil and beans/rice. Put the cooked onions in the pastry case.

7. Beat together the yoghurt, milk, eggs and seasoning and pour over the onions. Crumble the goat's cheese over the top and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes until almost completely set but still with a small wobble in the middle.

8. Eat while warm. Will also freeze well.

I really would advise you to use a tin of the size Nigel directs you to, otherwise you will have to make three tarts to use up all the filling and then sit up the kitchen table barking: "TARTS, TARTS, LOVELY TARTS" while trying to decide which one to take to work for lunch.

Yes, that is precisely what I did on Sunday.

And just in case you're interested, I took the larger goat's cheese and onion tart. The smaller one and the spinach tart are still in the freezer - so that's my lunch sorted for another week.

Au revoir,


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Bitcoin Shortbread Biscuits

So I know I said I was going to do something savoury for my next bake. But this Wednesday night I was forced to do an emergency bake, when a friend sprung a surprise on me.

I knew that Billy, my former colleague and erstwhile deputy editor of Retail Banker International, was leaving his job for pastures new. But I didn't know when and so was surprised to receive an email on Wednesday evening saying that Friday was the big day and would I like to come to his leaving drinks.

He signed off this email by saying "I checked out your baking blog the other day. Made me hungry".

So now, obviously, I had to bake something. But what? I had less than half a block of butter, a little plain flour and some light brown soft sugar - nothing else. And I had only two evenings to prepare baked treats, so I wouldn't have time to buy a load of ingredients.

Luckily, there is one thing that requires only butter, sugar and plain flour. The humble shortbread biscuit. Usually I would use caster sugar, but I thought the soft brown sugar actually gave the biscuit a good crisp texture.

Shortbread is probably one of the least demanding bakes in terms of both ingredients and technique. It's the kind of thing a celebrity chef would refer to as being made with "staple ingredients that everyone has in their kitchen".
I hate it when chefs say this because:

1. If you cook/bake a lot you will inevitably use a lot of these ingredients and so constantly run out of them;

2. It makes them sound terribly snobby because it implies that if you don't have a never-ending supply of these staple ingredients you are a not a fully functioning human being;

3. They are always referring to things like shittake mushrooms, pink peppercorns and fresh white breadcrumbs as staple ingredients and THEY'RE NOT, THEY'RE NOT.

Nevertheless, flour, butter and sugar are very useful things to have and I had to adjust this recipe because I had not enough of any of those things. But I'll give you a recipe for a full batch, which can make around 20-24 biscuits depending on how thick you cut them.

A theme for the biscuits was much easier to settle on - Billy has a long-standing fascination with and affection for the virtual currency Bitcoin, which although it has no physical form is usually depicted as a capital "B" in a serif font with two lines through it. For more on this digital currency and my last Bitcoin-themed bake go here. Or you could just google "Bitcoin" but then you won't see my Bitcoin cake.

You will need:

For the biscuits:
250g plain flour
175g unsalted butter, cut into rough cubes.
75g light brown soft sugar
a lined baking sheet
a 2 inch round biscuit cutter

To decorate:
100g white chocolate
25-50g icing sugar, sifted

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Take the butter, sugar and flour and rub it together with your fingertips to make a crumbly mixture. Quick tip - if your butter is too cold to be rubbed in, put it in a bowl of lukewarm water for a few minutes before fishing it out and shaking off the water.

 2. Knead the crumbly mixture until it forms a smooth, pliable dough - but not for too long or it will be rubbery once baked.

3. Roll out the ball to the desired thickness, then cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter and place them on a lined baking sheet.

3. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown, then leave to cool a little on the sheet then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. While the biscuits cool, melt the white chocolate over a bowl of barely simmering water and then beat in enough icing sugar to make the mixture a little stiffer and more easily piped - I find white chocolate with its low melting point is too runny and difficult to pipe otherwise.

5. Pipe your desired decoration on the biscuits and leave to set. I also added a little gold edible glitter.

You're done! Unfortunately these cannot be used as actual currency, but you can eat them, which is rather more satisfactory.

Next time it WILL be savoury, I almost promise.

Yours Begrudgingly,


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Dark Chocolate and Ginger Cookies

Sometimes, my bakes are meticulously planned and involve me buying ingredients weeks in advance.

And then there is the secondary bake, which is what happens when I have bought ingredients for a specific recipe, haven't used them up and want to get rid of them somehow.

Sometimes this ends up with me buying yet more ingredients to use up the ones I already having, thus entering a vicious circle of interminable baking. Although I would question to what extent any kind of baking can be referred to as vicious.

Happily, this was not one of these occasions. This recipe was partially inspired by the Hummingbird Bakery's double chocolate cookies recipe and mostly inspired by me having an awkward amount of dark chocolate that I needed to use up and having almost none of the ingredients to make the aforementioned cookie recipe. It makes 20-24 cookies.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

You will need:
225g dark chocolate
50g unsalted butter
2 eggs
170g light brown soft sugar
¼ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking powder
85g plain flour
2 tbsp diced stem ginger, in the syrup it comes with

1. Preheat the oven to 170C and whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until fully combined.

2. Set the dark chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (the water must not touch the bottom of the pan) and heat, stirring occasionally, until fully melted.

3. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time. Fold in the ginger. 

4. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and drop about 6 equal spoonfuls of the dough onto a lined baking tray, spacing them up to 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.

5. Bake for 10-15 minutes until glossy and cracked on top. Leave to cool on the trays for a few minutes before scraping off and cooling on a wire rack. Or just eat them.

These cookies are quite gingery, so you might want to tone them down a bit if you don't enjoy the kick. You could replace the diced ginger with chocolate chips - if you did you'd be closer to the original Hummingbird Bakery recipe.

Personally, I like these cookies how they are - rich, fiery and chewy.

I really must do some more savoury baking soon, before I and my victims - sorry, I mean friends and colleagues - start to get diabetes. 

Bye for now,


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Creepy Crawly Pumpkin Cake

Happy Halloween!

I know it's a couple of days late, but I've been busy turning out industrial quantities of gingerbread and making pumpkin-based food for a work lunch and then a friend's Halloween party on Saturday night.

Regular readers may remember I made first made these last year. You can find the recipe here.

I also made pumpkin risotto and a pumpkin cake, using the small homegrown pumpkin my dad proudly presented me with on my last trip to Surrey. It is this cake that I am going to give you the recipe for today.

To make this cake, I basically replaced the carrot in a carrot cake recipe with pumpkin. Instead of using the cream cheese frosting usually used in a carrot cake I used buttercream, because cream cheese frosting, though delicious, is less reliable for decorating purposes. This cake will serve 8-10 people.

You will need:

For the cake:
250g grated pumpkin flesh
225g self-raising flour
3 eggs
250ml vegetable or sunflower oil
225g light brown soft sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cake tins of equal size, greased and lined

For the icing:
450g butter
450g icing sugar
170ml boiling water
1 tbsp orange flavouring
170g caster sugar
3 tbsp powdered egg whites (can be found on the internet as ‘meriwhite’ or Dr Oetker has a version that can be found in most supermarkets in the baking aisle)

For the decoration:
100g dark chocolate
1 packet of Malteasers 
1 piping bag with a very fine tipped nozzle fitted

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Beat together the sugar and oil for the cake in a bowl.

2. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition and then add the grated pumpkin.

3. Add the self-raising flour and spices and fold in. Pour into the two tins and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown, cooked through in the middle and well risen.

4. Make the icing by mixing the powdered egg white and caster sugar.

5. Add the boiling water and whip the meringue mixture into stiff peaks, using an electric whisk or standing mixer if you have one.

6. Beat together the icing sugar and butter for the icing.

7. Beat together the two mixtures, again using an electric or standing mixer until smooth, glossy and stiff enough to hold its shape.

8. When the cakes have cooled, level off the tops with a sharp knife, making them flat. Sandwich together with the buttercream icing and then spread the top and sides of the cake with icing, using a spatula or palette knife. Smooth as much as possible.

9. Melt the dark chocolate by breaking into pieces in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, then spoon into the piping bag. Pipe a spiderweb on top of the cake and pipe a line downwards from each corner of the web. Dip the Malteasers in the remaining dark chocolate and leave to set.

10. When the Malteasers have set, put one at the bottom of each line of chocolate you piped down the side of the cake. Arrange the remaining Malteasers on the cake and pipe legs around each Malteaser.

Your creepy cake is finished! And here is a picture of the gingerbread men in situ:

I was dressed to match: