Saturday, 1 October 2016

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Last year I went on holiday to Porto, the second largest city in Portugal and home of port wine.

A friend that I met through my MA journalism course was getting married not too far away and a group of us from the MA course decided to make a holiday of it.

We didn't all arrive and leave at the same time, but we all overlapped enough to meet up most days. I was staying in an apartment with Alice and we were just across the street from Julie, who happens to be my flatmate and colleague.

Every morning I would go for breakfast with Alice and Julie at one of the local cafes.

Breakfast usually consisted of a small cup of strong coffee with a pastry of some kind. Alice and Julie were on a mission to try as many Portuguese custard tarts (pasteis de nata) from as many different cafes as possible.

I tried a few, but I preferred brioche for breakfast, because I could dip it in my coffee without flaky pastry crumbs falling off and choking me when I drank my coffee.

But I couldn't deny that the nata were good. Made of a silky custard filling encased crisp puff pastry and often lightly browned on top, these pastries were best served slightly warm and dusted with icing sugar.

After our tans had faded and we'd finally got the sand out of our summer clothes, the memory of the nata lingered on.

Many a time I have thought aloud that I should have a go at making nata. If Julie happened to hear me thinking aloud, she agreed enthusiastically. So for her birthday I presented her with a voucher redeemable for a batch of nata.

When I say voucher it was actually a post-it with a picture of a nata drawn on it.

Julie's birthday was in July, so I was running a bit late by the time I made the nata. But I think they were worth the wait.

They were even worth making puff pastry. But if you don't want to make puff pastry, just buy a sheet, it's sold in all good supermarkets.

The puff pastry recipe will make 500g puff pastry, but you'll only need 300g for the nata. The  rest can be frozen and then thawed for use later.

You will need:
250g plain flour
250g chilled butter
120ml ice cold water
1 tsp lemon juice

1. Cut off 50g of the butter and cube it, then add to the flour. Rub together the flour and butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles crumbs.

2. Slowly add the water and lemon juice, stirring it into the flour mixture with a round bladed knife or spatula. You may not have to use all the water. Stir it until it begins to come together as a rough dough, then knead into a ball with your hands, wrap it in clingfilm and chill for 15 minutes.

3. Lightly flour both sides of the remaining butter, then put it between two sheets of clingfilm. Beat it with a rolling pin until it is about half the original thickness, then fold it in half and repeat until it is pliable. It should still be cold. Beat it into a square with sides about 13cm long.

4. Roll the dough out on a floured worktop in four directions to make four flaps with a square about 15cm across in the middle. Place the butter in the middle.

5. Fold the dough flaps over the butter and seal by lightly pressing on the flaps with the rolling pin.

6. Turn the dough over and roll it out away from you into a rectangle about 54 x 18cm. Then fold the dough into three by folding the bottom third up to cover the centre third, then fold the top third down to cover the other two layers. Lightly press the open edges of the dough with the rolling pin to seal them.

7. Turn the dough 90 degrees anticlockwise so the folded edges are to the left and right, roll the dough out into a rectangle and fold it in three again. Wrap and chill for fifteen minutes.

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 twice, making sure to chill the dough in between and then repeat them once more before using.

Now for the fun part - the tarts! You might even want to make the custard before the dough to give it time to cool, it's up to you. This recipe makes 12 custard tarts.

You will need:
1 egg
2 egg yolks
115g golden caster sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
400ml full fat milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
300g puff pastry
1 cupcake or muffin tin

1. Grease the cupcake tin and preheat the oven to 200C.

2. Whisk together the egg, yolks, cornflour and sugar in a pan and mix well together then add the milk a bit at a time until you have a smooth mixture.

3. Put pan on medium heat and stir constantly until it thickens and begins to boil, then remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

4. Put custard in bowl to cool and cover the surface with clingfilm to stop a skin forming.

5. Roll the pastry out to a rectangle around 26cm by 40cm, then cut it in half and stack one sheet on top of the other so it measures 26 cm by 20cm.

6. Brush the pastry lightly with water and roll pastry tightly from the long side into a log. Seal the edge by pressing down with the rolling pin and maybe run a wet a finger along the edge and press down if it is still not sealed.

7. Cut 1cm off each end of the log, then cut the log into 12 evenly sized rounds.

8. Roll the pastry rounds into discs about 10cm across, then put them into the cupcake tray, using one off the offcuts to press the pastry into the corners.

9. Divide the cooled custard between the pastry cases.

10. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the pastry has expanded and is golden brown and brown spots are forming on top of the custard.

Done! They are best eaten that day, but if you can't polish them off that day, a minute or two under the grill will only improve them.

Happy Baking,


Sunday, 18 September 2016

Gin and Tonic Cake

It was my mum's birthday the other week. Inspired by one of the cakes made by a contestant on the Great British Bake Off, I made her a gin and tonic cake.

The recipe I was following was advertised as a recipe for a gin and tonic cake. Unfortunately, despite me putting eight shots of gin in it, four in the cake and four in the syrup that I drizzled over it, the gin was indiscernible.

Mary Berry would not have been impressed. Luckily we'd bought some supermarket own-brand gin, so I didn't waste the Bombay Sapphire. We used that to make gin and tonics later.

Also the syrup didn't have the finish on it that I would expect. And I was in constant fear that the cake mix would curdle from the amount of extra liquid going into it. I had to add extra flour.

But the cake was beautifully moist, with the syrup oozing all the way through. So I have made a number of changes to the recipe, which will hopefully improve it.

Before I share the recipe, just a note about ingredients. All the cake ingredients should be at room temperature before you start. Otherwise the cake mix can curdle.

You will need:

For the cake:
4 eggs
250g self raising flour
250g softened butter
250g caster sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
a loaf tin, greased and the base lined with greaseproof paper
a cocktail stick or wooden skewer

For the syrup:
150g caster sugar
150ml gin
dash of tonic water
juice of 1 lemon

To finish:
125g icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Cream together the butter and sugar for the cake until light and fluffy.

2. Make sure your flour is weighed and then add the eggs one by one. Add 1-2 tbsp of flour with each egg, this will stop the mixture from curdling.

3. Fold in the rest of the flour along with the lemon zest and juice.

4. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until a metal skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. If it's not done after 45 minutes, cover it in foil so it does not brown too much.

5. While the cake is baking, mix together the caster sugar, lemon juice, gin and tonic water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Take the cake out of the oven and put on a cooling rack, with something below it to catch drips.

6. Mark the cocktail stick about 2 inches up. While the cake is still warm, use the stick to pierce the cake all over with 2 inch deep holes, leaving about 2cm between holes. Reserve 2 tbsp of the syrup, and then pour it over the cake.

7. Beat the icing sugar into the last two 2tbsp of syrup and drizzle over the cake to finish. When the cake has cooled, eat it with a large G&T!

Happy Boozing!

Um, I mean, baking.


Saturday, 10 September 2016

Gluten-free Raspberry and Coconut Slices

Last week I held a gluten-free bake sale at work to raise money for Coeliac UK, the charity I am running a half marathon for on 9 October.

I made raspberry and coconut slices and chocolate brownies, while colleagues and friends helping me out made apple cake, sweet potato cake, lemon drizzle, chestnut and rum cake and more brownies.

It was a great success - we raised over £100 and my company agreed to match this amount. This puts me over the target of £350 for Coeliac UK!

I'm thrilled to have reached my target a full month before race day. But I'm even more thrilled that we proved that gluten-free cake can be every bit as tasty as gluten-y cake.

Some people (we all know who I'm talking about, Mum) were not very supportive and thought it was a bad idea to bake only gluten-free cakes.

But there was barely any cake left at the end of the day and I think £100 is a pretty good result.

So without further ado, here is the recipe for my gluten free raspberry and coconut slices, which I adapted from a non gluten-free recipe and another recipe for gluten-free shortbread.

You will need:

For the base:
250g gluten-free flour (I used Doves Farm)
pinch of salt
150g butter
90g caster sugar
an 8 inch spring-form cake tin, base lined with greaseproof paper

For the topping:
100g dessicated coconut (finely grated if possible)
half a jar of seedless raspberry jam
2 eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Rub the butter and flour for the base of the slices together until they resemble breadcrumbs. Mix in the salt and sugar.

2. Knead the mixture together until it just sticks together, then put it in the baking tin and flatten it with your hands until it covers the base of the tin. Bake for 10-15 minutes until it starts to get a faint golden tinge, then take out of the oven.

3. Warm the jam on the hob or in the microwave until it becomes runny, then spread it over the biscuit base with the back of a spoon.

4. Mix together the coconut with the beaten eggs and then spread over the jam.

5. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden brown on top.

A lovely, sweet treat that doesn't need many changes to make it gluten-free.

Happy (gluten-free) baking!


Monday, 8 August 2016

Race Day Flapjacks

So you've trained. You've eaten healthy. You've stopped drinking. You're at your fittest, fastest best.

Now race day is fast approaching. And whether you're a cyclist or a runner, if it's going to take more than 90 minutes, you'll need to refuel on the hoof (or foot, or bike).

You'll need sugar, to give you an instantaneous energy boost, and slow-release carbs to sustain you in the hours to come. This isn't a good time to stress about your waistline.

Flapjacks are perfect for this - the sugar and golden syrup will give you the sugar high, while jumbo oats will give you the slow-release carbs. Sprinkle in some nuts, pumpkin seeds for protein and soft apricots for flavour and you're good to go.

So when my boyfriend Tom asked me to knock up a batch of something to sustain him on a 100 mile bike race, flapjacks were the obvious answer.

The smell of the golden syrup, brown sugar and butter melting together melted my willpower instantaneously and I had a flapjack with a cup of tea after baking them. I had gone to parkrun that day though.

You will need:

250g whole rolled oats
125g light brown soft sugar
125g butter
2-3 tbsp golden syrup
handful of soft apricots, roughly chopped
scant handful of pecan nuts, roughly chopped
2-3 tbsp pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Measure out the golden syrup, sugar and butter into a small saucepan.

2. Heat the mixture over a low flame, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and the mixture is thick, treacley and smooth. If it has any lumps in it give it a quick whisk.

4. Put the oats, apricots, nuts and pumpkin seeds in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

5. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until fully combined and you have a sticky mixture that clumps together.

6. Grease a rectangular baking tray and line it with greaseproof paper. Also grease the paper to stop the flapjack sticking. Pour the flapjack mixture into the tin and use the back of a spatula to press it down firmly.

7. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and quickly divide into 12 squares while still hot, before the flapjacks harden.

8. Eat or wrap in cling film for your big day!

Tom took two for his ride and said they were the nicest thing he ate during the race. Mind you, I told him to say that.

They are however quite crumbly - probably because I used whole oats. But if you want the slow-release carbs then there's not a whole lot I can do about that.

It shouldn't be a big problem on a bike ride because apparently cyclists stop regularly foer "feed stops". As a runner, I can't relate to this. But it looks like it might be back to the drawing board to find something I can bake myself for my half marathon.

Anything for an excuse to bake!

And here is a picture of Tom himself, relaxing in Hyde Park after a long, tiring ride.

Could you refuse that face flapjacks?

Keep baking!


Saturday, 30 July 2016

Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate and Coconut Cream Cake

I love chocolate. The thought of being vegan and unable to eat it is deeply distressing to me.

But my sister is both lactose intolerant and vegan and when she asked me to make her a chocolatey birthday cake, I knew I had a difficult task on my hands.
I later found out she was in fact an egg-eating vegan (I know, right?), which would have made my life a lot easier if I had known beforehand.

I made her a cake that I found on this blog called PurelyTwins. Surprisingly, it wasn't a disaster. Despite not being filled with sugar and butter and eggs and all the things that make cakes nice, it was very edible. It had a rich dark chocolatey taste and an almost normal texture.

Flora (the aforementioned sister) then made me slather some pre-made coffee flavoured buttercream all over it. It was vegan, but had very little else to recommend it.

So when I had a chance to make the cake again, with a more suitable topping, I went for it. This whipped coconut cream topping is very simple and easy, but before you want to make it, leave the cartons of coconut cream in the fridge overnight.

When choosing a nut butter, the general rule is that the fewer ingredients there are, the better the nut butter. I use a brand that contains only peanuts, a little salt and sustainable palm oil. 

This cake is vegan, gluten free and the only refined sugar it will contain is any that is in the applesauce or the peanut butter. So it's chocolatey, rich and best of all, guilt-free.

You will need:

For the cake:
225g slightly unripe banana
115g applesauce
65ml coconut oil (if yours has solidified, just warm it in the microwave for a few seconds)
2 tbsp nut butter 
half a tsp baking powder
half a tsp bicarbonate of soda
half a tsp sea salt
4 tbsp protein powder
70g raw cacao powder
an 8 inch springform cake tin, greased and with the base lined with greaseproof paper

For the icing:
2 cartons of coconut cream
grated zest of one lime

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Mash the banana and mix with the applesauce, coconut oil and nut butter until thoroughly combined.

2. Fold in the protein powder, cacao, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. 

3. Use a hand-held blender to blend the mixture until smooth. 

4. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes.

5. Repeat step 4. Leave the cakes to cool while you make the icing.

6. Cut open the top of each packet of coconut cream. The cream should have semi-solidified into a block which will be surrounded by coconut water. 

7. Carefully drain off the coconut water without disturbing the cream. Put the cream in a bowl and beat with a whisk until smooth.

8. Spread the coconut cream over the top of each cake layer and then place one on top of the other. 

9. Grate the lime over the top of the cake to decorate.

Cut yourself a big, chocolatey, creamy, guilt-free slice.



Friday, 22 July 2016

Banana and Peanut Butter Breakfast Muffins (no refined sugar)

This month I am going to be doing something a bit different on this blog.

I am trying to avoid refined sugar, junk food and booze until I go on holiday on 17 August.

This is because I want to wear crop tops on holiday. And I'm also training for a half marathon and would like to drag as little weight as possible around the 13 mile course and don't want to lose any training days to hangovers.

So I have discarded the usual basics of baking - white flour, caster sugar, butter and I am getting creative.

One of the first things I wanted to do was make a healthy breakfast option. I never seem to have much time in the morning, so I usually end up smearing half a jar of peanut butter on toast and shoving it into my face before running out the door.

So I decided to make muffins - something I could take with me to work. I included bananas for sweetness, some peanut butter for protein, wholemeal flour for fibre, some oats for more fibre, seeds for essential fats and some more peanut butter for good measure.

Next time I make these I will get some deeper muffin cases and make 6-8 bigger muffins, so they are big enough to just have one for breakfast. I also might try separating the eggs and whipping the whites to see if I can get them to rise a bit more.

You will need:
3 bananas
100g smooth peanut butter
125g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp jumbo oats
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
a muffin tray and 6-8 deep foil muffin cases

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Mash the bananas in a bowl and add 50g of the peanut butter, the egg, the milk, the vanilla and whisk together.

2. Mix the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.

3. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Put a teaspoon of peanut butter in the bottom of each muffin case.

4. Divide the rest of the mixture between the muffin cases.

5. Sprinkle the oats and pumpkin seeds over the muffins and bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and cooked through.

6. Eat while still warm or microwave for 10 seconds before eating.

Nutritious, delicious, convenient and completely free of refined sugar.

Happy (and healthy) baking!


Monday, 27 June 2016

Almond Madeleines

Yesterday, I just fancied a little something sweet in the evening.

I didn't have any chocolate or biscuits in the cupboards - I tend not to buy them as I'm likely to demolish half a packet before you can say "portion control".

What I did have was flour, butter, eggs and caster sugar. The base ingredients to make all manner of baked things - I could have gone for sponge cake, cupcakes, shortbread. The possibilities, while not endless, were many.

But what I hadn't made in a long time was madeleines. Small, fluffy and shell-shaped, these little French cakes are elegant, lightly flavoured and perfect with a cup of tea. And I had just enough ingredients to make half a batch.

I won't go into my explanation of Proustian moments, which is another great reason to make madeleines, but you can read it here.

I had to poke around in the dark corners and under the bed in my bedroom until I found my silicone madeleine tray, which just goes to show how long it had been since I made them.

If you do not own a madeleine tray (apart from baking equipment obsessives like me and professional bakers, who does?) you could make these in cupcake cases instead.

I had to use whatever flavourings I had in the cupboard for my madeleines. I could have used vanilla, but that seemed a bit boring, so I used almond extract and some ground almonds and I am very pleased with the results.

This recipe makes 30-32 madeleines but I halved it and only made 16.

You will need:
150g butter, melted and then cooled slightly (still fully liquid) plus extra to grease
100g plain flour plus extra to dust
100g caster sugar
2 tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp almond extract
2 medium eggs
icing sugar, to dust

1. Prepare your tray by greasing it with melted butter and dusting liberally with flour, tilting the tray to get flour into all the corners.

2. Whisk together the caster sugar and eggs until frothy.

3. Whisk in the remaining ingredients (except icing sugar) and leave to stand for 20 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200C.

4. Whisk the mixture again then drop a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each madeleine mould.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and risen. Dust liberally with icing sugar and serve.

Except for the 20 minute resting time (which gives you a perfect opportunity to put your feet up and watch some Netflix), this is a really quick recipe. It's also very simple and can be made with just a few ingredients that, if you're into baking, you will probably already have.

Enjoy with a cup of tea.

Au revoir,