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A wedge of cake or a crumbly biscuit and a hot mug of caffeine to dunk it in can sometimes do wonders to lift the spirits… and if that cake can  raise some money for a charity that helps people who are really in need of a helping hand then the good feeling it brings is multiplied ten fold.

This post began with two biscotti recipes.  Seriously good biscotti recipes… but first I have to show you these cupcakes which were brought in for the comic relief bake sale at work because they really deserve to be given their due, as does the baker who made them.

I had such a horrible week that I didn’t even have time to bake anything this time and any amateur offering I might have touted in the name of charity would have simply paled in comparison so in a way my ego is glad I didn’t (I should point out that the biscotti were long gone by this point, I’m not that selfish).

The cupcakes were made by the wife of one of my colleagues at work, who has her own cake business called Regency Cakes and is clearly an amazing baker. Besides the fact that there were boxes upon boxes of the things, each one was perfectly and professionally formed and identical to its little neighbour so I can only imagine how many hours of sifting, beating, piping and sprinkling must have gone into making them all. I was so impressed and I thought putting so much effort into something with no personal financial gain, deserved a little recognition.

So if you need a cake fix or you just want some inspiration, stop drooling on my blog thank you and go and have a look at Lisa’s website.

Now… onto some other clever bakers.

I found these two biscotti recipes on completely separate internet wanderings but both immediately peaked my interest and when I finally got around to making them I landed up combining both. The first one from Tastefully Done grabbed me because it was so simple and the picture looked so delicious. The second from Yum!Therapy looked a little more complicated ingredient wise but had me sold from the minute I saw the words “lemon” and “white chocolate drizzle” (as you’ll see from the over excited exchange I had in the comments history!). Oddly enough, both recipes were adapted from  Giada De Laurentiis so that must say something about my tastes (and her baking).

A couple of weeks ago I decided I couldnt wait any longer to make the lemon ones but I didnt have any cornmeal in the cupboard or any almonds for that matter. Thankfully the dark chocolate recipe didnt need either so I decided to use that batter recipe and split to make a light and a dark version. I also had some pistachio nuts that were going to land up in the bin and they look so delicious on a dark chocolate background so they filled in for the almonds on one half. As it turns out, the dark ones go really well with coffee and the white chocolate go really well with tea so your dunking needs are covered no matter which beverage you’re in the mood for.

Without further ado, here’s my version of the two recipes combined and ever so slightly tweaked…

Dark Chocolate with Pistachio & White Chocolate with Lemon Biscotti

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar
  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 140g dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios (or 3/4 cup toasted almonds)
  • 140g white chocolate
  • zest of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 170°C.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Beat the sugar, butter, and salt in a large bowl to blend and beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in e thalmond extract. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended.

Split the dough into two and add the lemon zest to one and most of the pistachios to the other (keep a few for sprinkling on the top).  If you are using almonds then add half to each dough or add them before you split it.

Place the two dough balls onto the baking sheets and shape into two flattened logs, about 20cm long and 5cm wide. Bake for 35 minutes until lightly browned and cool for 5 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut the logs crosswise into 2cm thick diagonal slices. Arrange the biscotti cut side down on the same baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn off the the oven, but leave the biscotti in for approximately 10 minutes longer. The biscotti should be pale golden. Let cool completely.

Melt the two chocolates in bowls set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts (I did mine one at a time so that the second one could melt while I was using the first). Spatula the dark chocolate on to the tops of the pistachio biscotti and sprinkle with the extra nuts. Leave the lemon biscotti on their sides on the tray and drizzle over the white chocolate. Put them all in the fridge for about half an hour for the chocolate to set and then store in an airtight container (they keep well if you can make them last long enough).

If you have any melted chocolate left over I suggest spreading it out on some kitchen foil and sprinkling over any left over nuts. Set in the fridge and break into shards to use on top of deserts or as a snack when your biscotti run out (they make good writing fuel when you are typing up the results of your baking expedition!).

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I always think about volunteering for a charity in my spare time but I never seem to have any spare time. The one thing I can always find time for though is cooking so I’ve started sticking my hand up when they are looking for volunteers to bake for the charity bake sale at work – the charity gets a small contribution and I get to try out new recipes and polish my halo.

Besides good karma and the warm glow that comes from a successful experiment, I have another recipe to share with the readers of my blog. This week you get chocolate toffee saltines and lemon meringue cupcakes!

For those of you unfamiliar with the saltine, it’s a salted cracker. Something that is normally friends with things like cheese, caviar, smoked salmon… well if these are its friends then chocolate and toffee is its lobster (i.e. soul mate, slightly confused food analogies there). I wish I had discovered ages ago that I could make what amounts to edible heaven, from a few store cupboard ingredients and some left over crackers. I found the recipe during a late night stumble (I should point out I’m not referring to a drunken wander round the cookery section of Waterstones, if you haven’t discovered Stumble already, click here) and although tempting, I didn’t jump straight out of bed but saved the link for my ‘to make’ list and decided to try it out on some charitable work colleagues. The recipe belongs to Lisa of With Style and Grace and was her grandmother’s. Delicious, and so simple – just crackers, butter, sugar and chocolate. This woman is a genius.

The finished product tastes something like a daime bar with a sophisticated hint of saltiness. Rather than clashing as you might imagine, the hint of salt is just brings out the flavour of the toffee and the chocolate in a way that’s difficult to describe. You just need to make these and you’ll understand.

I had no need to adapt or fiddle with Lisa’s recipe so if you are sensible enough to want to make them yourself just click on the link to her blog where you will find all the details (and a much better photo than mine of the finished biscuits, in case mine was making you wonder what all the fuss was about).

The second recipe is my own, although I was a little dejected to discover that I’m not the first person to think up the idea of a lemon meringue pie turned into a cupcake. Although I wont be able to trademark the first LMC, I’m still very proud of the result and I like to think mine have a little edge. In my humble opinion, the edge comes from…

a) a layer of home made lemon curd sandwiched between the lemon cupcake and the meringue, which oozes deliciously into the sponge and

b) a toasted caramel finish on the meringue by attacking the finished cakes with a blow torch to get the same effect as baking the pie in the oven.

If you have a love of cakes (i.e. you are human) and you have a love of lemons then I can  recommend these babies.

Home-made Lemon Curd

  • 75g butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 230g caster sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons and a pinch of zest

Melt the butter in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Lightly beat the eggs and whisk into the butter (I take the butter off the heat while I do this to avoid scrambled eggs). Whisk in the sugar and then slowly whisk in the lemon juice and zest. Cook over the simmering water for about 20 min until the curd thickens, stirring often. Pour into a jar and cool before using.

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Sponge

  • 225g butter
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • zest of 2 lemons (minus a pinch for the curd!)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour and lemon zest and pour into lined muffin tins. Bake in the oven for 20-25 min until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Meringue frosting

(this version turned out to be fluffier and richer in flavour than the one I used for my gingerbread latte cupcakes so I’m afraid the last one gets the boot)

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups castor sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 tsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Put egg whites, sugar, water and syrup in a heat proof bowl and beat until mixed well. Place over a pan of boiling water and beat constantly with an electric beater while it cooks for about 7 min or until it will stand in peaks when the beater is raised. Remove from the heat and beat in the vanilla.

Spread each cupcake with lemon curd (to cram in extra curd, hollow out the top of the cupcake with a knife and pour the curd into the hole) and then pipe the meringue on top. Use a blow torch to gently caramelise the frosting and serve.

Ta da!

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Mothers

I’m lucky enough to have had two mothers in my life.

I had to lose one to gain another but I like to think things happen in the way they should and if they hadn’t I wouldn’t have the family that I now call mine. And despite the fact that I sometimes want to kill them as much as anyone does when it comes to family, I wouldn’t swap them for all the tea in china.

Both my mothers have fed me some seriously good food, taught me to eat just about anything (I am a bit of a goat when it comes to food), and taught me lessons about cooking, just by watching them doing things around the kitchen and nicking recipes which they have already tried and tested. I want to make sure I remember all these things and pass them on one day so writing everything down through this blog will come in handy when I dont have so much time on my hands to indulge in my own edible expeditions.

I mentioned that I had made more than one batch of biscuits last weekend so for those of you that have been eargerly awaiting the second recipe (and I’m not misguided enough to believe that anyone has actually been eagerly awaiting anything from my blog by the way but still), here it is.

I didnt actually have any recollection of these biscuits until a family friend read my blog and thought to send me the recipe which she had written on a scrap of paper from my mom. As soon as I saw the ingredients however my tastebuds twinged with a pleasurable but hazy memory of eating these when I was little. I had already planned to make the granola biscuits to use up my left overs but I didnt want to wait another week to see if my memory was telling the truth so I just made both and used my usual method for protecting our wastelines by taking some in to work. Mind you, not that many made it out of the kitchen in the end.

There were actually two recipes on the scrap of paper my mom’s friend, one called Norwegian Kisses and one called Melting Moments, both with almost identical ingredients. So I chose to make the melting moments as a first attempt and try the others next time round. I searched for other melting moments recipes online first to see if they were a common recipe or something specific to my family and I found several other recipes but none with my mom’s secret ingredient – custard powder. I have no idea whether there is any science behind this but I can confirm it makes a good biscuit so I’m not going to question hard evidence! I’d love to know if anyone else has come across something similar though so please leave a comment if you have.

I did make one small addition to the recipe. I am sure I can remember eating these with little slices of glacé cherries on top so I added this in to indulge my nostalgia but otherwise the recipe is copied exactly as my mom wrote it and it was passed to me with only a few notes in itallics to explain what I did (thank you Karin).

My Mom’s Melting Moments

  • 170g butter or marge
  • 60g icing sugar

Cream these two together.

  • 170g SR flour (self raising)
  • 60g custard powder

Cream these two together (I think she meant just whisk to mix as they are dry).

Mix the above (I use a small electric beater). Make walnut sized balls and flatten slightly.

(I used the back of a fork which makes a little pattern at the same time and then topped each one with a quarter of a glacé cherry).

BAKE 180°C (or 200).  10 to 15 minutes (…12 minutes).

(I baked at 180°C in my fan oven for 15 min but keep an eye out to make sure they don’t brown).

The result is a seriously buttery biscuit that really does melt as soon as you bite it. They aren’t actually that sweet though so you could try more icing sugar if you have a particularly sweet tooth. If you want to make the Norwegian Kisses instead just swap the self raising flour for 120g plain flour and use 120g butter instead of 170g. Please let me know which you think is better!

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Yesterday I made cut out biscuits for the first time and turned them into edible Christmas tree decorations which was also a first attempt (as is blatantly obvious by the somewhat dodgy icing job). I have been dying to try this and some other festive baking ideas so I planned a day of Christmas baking and enlisted a partner in crime, my friend Dawn (the same one that introduced me to Nigella’s Glitzy Chocolate Puddings and is the only person I know who gets quite as over excited about these things as I do).

Well after baking and icing something like 50 biscuits, giggling our way through the entire process and getting side tracked making mulled wine along the way, we didn’t get around to any of the other recipes besides a rather unsuccessful attempt at hokey pokey (Nigella’s honey comb recipe). I’m going to have to give that another go before I can share any useful information as ours turned out as a tasty but never-ending  jaw snapping creation rather than something like the crisp centre of a Crunchie bar. Having scoured the internet to pin down our mistake the only advice we could find was perhaps our sugar mixture wasn’t hot enough or we added too much golden syrup but if there’s anyone reading this who has perfected the art of honey comb please feel free to make suggestions as I dont think my jaw can cope with another failed attempt.

Back to the biscuits. We used a Nigella recipe from my December copy of Delicious magazine (this post is unintentionally turning to into an ode to Nigella) but made a few minor tweaks. We omitted the black pepper as we werent trying to deter small children from nicking them off the tree and added a few other spices for extra christmas-ness. We also made our own royal icing as we didnt have the ready made kind which Nigella suggests you use. I got my Christmas biscuit cutters from Amazon for pennies and a very handy squeezy piping bottle from Lakeland which I would definitely recommend as a handy tool (alternatively you could use a piping bag).

I have to say its not easy work making these and you need to make sure you have plenty of time to do all the icing (a partner for moral support makes it less of a chore) but you can’t get prettier decorations. They’re so Christmassy I’m going to enter them into the Most Wanted Yule-blog Bake Off just for fun. I doubt they will win any prizes for professional baking but I quite like the fact that they look so home made. Now I just have to resist the urge to keep wandering up and nibbling my Christmas tree!

Christmas Tree Biscuits

Adapted from recipe by Nigella Lawson. Makes roughly 50 biscuits depending on cutter size.

  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 100g soft butter
  • 100g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten with 4 tbsp of runny honey

Decorating

  • 1 egg whites
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • silver balls and any other decorations you want to use

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and spices. Add the butter and sugar, and mix into a sand like texture. Then, slowly add the beaten eggs and honey – don’t use all of this liquid if the pastry has come together before it’s used up. This is important, we used all of it because we didn’t read to the end and then had to add loads of flour to get the dough back to the right consistency. If you do the same thing, add more flour but don’t work for too long or you will warm up the butter and make it even less firm. Chilling will make a big difference.

Form 2 fat discs and place in the fridge or freezer for about 20 minutes until chilled. Leave the second one in the fridge while you prepare the first. In the meantime I recommend getting the mulled wine on the go!

Preheat the oven to 150°C and line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Dust a work surface with flour, roll out the disc, also floured, to about 5mm and cut out your Christmas decorations with cutters of your choice. Then place them on the baking sheets.

Re-roll and cut out some more and then put the left over dough back in the fridge and combine with the left over from the second disc at the end to stop it getting too warm. Once all the biscuits are cut out and the dough is used up take a small icing nozzle and use the pointy end to cut out a hole just below the top of each biscuit (to thread ribbon through later).

Place in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them, the smaller shapes might be ready after 15 min. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Make up the instant royal icing by beating the eggs and lemon juice together and then beating in the icing sugar to the required consistency (thick enough that it wont dribble off your biscuits). If you want different colours divide it up and then add food colouring.

Carefully ice the cold decorations and when the icing is set, thread ribbon through the holes for hanging on the tree.

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What a week.

My new kitchen is finally in working order (and I choose the words working order as opposed to finished because its still not actually finished… trials and tribulations of which I wont go into) but on top of the chaos the building work has caused in our little house, I’ve had an exam to write (at 4pm on a Friday afternoon after a 3 day intensive course which frankly is just cruel) and roof disasters to deal with (‘disaster’ may be exaggerating slightly but its been a bad week).

The net result of all this is that I havent had any time to sit down and work on my blog so this one is a bumper summary of the week’s cooking adventures with a couple of recipes I wanted to share.

First something old…

Last sunday I was in the mood to bake. I’ve been thinking about cheese muffins for a while because I used to have them all the time in South Africa but the Scots dont seem to have discovered the joy that is the savoury muffin. There are 3 versions from my past that particularly stick in my head – the ones at our school tuck shop which I used to eat every week for 5 years of my life; the little ones that my friend’s mom used to make for parties at her house and were particularly addictive (thanks Mrs Shepherd!) and the ones at Mugg & Bean coffee shop which always had stomach-grumble-inducing flavour combinations and were large enough to double as a lethal weapon if flung at someone’s head.

So, to satisfy my nostalgia and my Sunday food cravings I decided to make my own and thankfully the results turned out to be worth writing about. I mixed some chilli in with the cheese in this batch for a bit of kick but they can be made without or with any other spices or ingredients that compliment the cheese.  They are great on their own with a cup of tea or as a side with a bowl of soup and my favourite way to eat them is just cut in half , toasted and lathered in butter. Hopefully they will remind some of you of home. And hopefully they will introduce some of the rest of you to the tummy comforting effects of the cheese muffin.

♥♥♥

Something new…

Having made the muffins, there was still a biscuit shaped hole in my Sunday afternoon. I’ve never actually made biscuits and I wanted to try something new so I made these sugar biscuits from another blog I’ve discovered on my wanderings. I was going to make them into sandwiches with different fillings but they turned out to be really big (they spread quite a lot when they’re baking) so you wouldn’t ever get one in your mouth if they were stuck together. They were good on their own but not very exciting so I dipped the bottom of each biscuit in dark chocolate. The result is a chewy vanilla biscuit enveloped in a lovely velvety little chocolate sock, especially velvety when dunked in a cup of hot tea or coffee!

♥♥♥

Another highlight of my week was dinner on Wednesday night. We were back at Howies in the west end for a celebration with family and it was every bit as good as the first visit. I tried the duck liver pate with onion chutney this time as well as my favourites from before and it was delicious, very creamy and full of flavour.

The rest of the week is a bit of a blur and not as productive due to previously mentioned evil exam. I did make a new batch of pizza dough before things descended into chaos – I use a recipe from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros and it never fails (further praise for Tessa, her pizza dough recipe and my homemade tomato puree recipe to follow soon!).

I have to end this post by telling you about the pudding I had last night.  It was so rich it just about put us all to sleep but it was so worth the soporific effects for the heavenly experience of eating it and all the week’s stresses melted away in one mouthful. We were visiting friends and my friend Dawn, who is as mad about baking as I am, introduced me to these little chocolate sponge puddings by Nigella Lawson. These babies are seriously good, you HAVE to try them.

Just don’t eat them before driving or operating heavy machinery.

♥♥♥

This week’s recipes…

Cheese Muffins

  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp hot paprika
  • 1/4 sweet paprika
  • 2 cups grated mature cheddar cheese (the stronger the better)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • small handful of parsley, chopped
  • Optional – 1/2 a red chilli or a few sweet piquante′ peppers (e.g. Peppadew ones you can buy in a jar), finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade and grease a muffin tin. If you use muffin papers it’s still worth greasing them as the muffins tend to stick to the paper if you try and eat them when they’re still hot. Otherwise leave them to cool completely and they shouldn’t stick but who has that much self control?

Sift the flour twice, holding the sieve as high as you can to air the flour as much as possible. Then add the baking powder, salt, sugar and paprika and mix gently. Add the grated cheese and chillies or any other ingredients you’ve chosen.

In a separate bowl mix together the egg and milk and then fold into the flour mixture, being careful not to over mix. Pour the batter into the muffin tray so each one is 3/4 full and sprinkle with grated cheese. Place in the oven for 12 minutes or until the muffins bounce back when you touch them. Let them cool slightly on a rack before serving. They keep for about 2 days in an air tight container if you have enough restraint to make them last that long.

Sugar biscuits with chocolate socks

Adapted from Eat, Live, Run.

Makes about three dozen large biscuits but I recommend making them smaller which would also produce more.

  • 4 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 100g dark chocolate for dipping

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. Combine the sugars together and then add the vegetable oil, vanilla extract, salt, eggs and bicarb. Whisk well to combine. Add the flour and stir. The dough will be semi-dry. Roll out little balls of dough on a lined baking sheet. Press each dough ball with a fork to flatten and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for eight minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a rack to cool completely.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Dip the bottom of each biscuit into the chocolate and smooth with a spatula. Leave on a tray to set and then store in an airtight container.

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