Fresh From the Oven Challenge April: Hot Cross Buns

hot_cross_buns

Little spiced buns with a sticky syrup glaze

Hot cross buns. The name for these Easter treats always anthropomorphizes them in my eyes: rather than being crossed for religious reasons, I always imagine them as hot and bothered: a flustered little addition to any baking repertoire. Luckily making these lovely seasonal buns is anything but bothersome. A simple enriched dough of flour, sugar, butter and egg is stirred through with mixed spice and additions of your choice – typically raisins, sultanas and candied peel, although chopped dried dates, apricots, cherries or even chocolate are all delicious alternatives – before being quickly kneaded, left to rise then divided into perfect little pillows and marked with a cross.

This month I’m hosting the Fresh From the Oven challenge and I’ve decided to task anyone who wants to get involved with making spiced buns. With Easter just a few days away and the shelf-life of a homemade hot cross buns a little less than 48 hours, now couldn’t be a more perfect time to get baking. But don’t worry if you’ve been hugely organized and already baked a batch for your freezer  – there are some suggestions below for alternatives to your standard hot cross bun, and the more diverse and imaginative the entries the better!

Continue reading

Chocolate biscuit birthday cake

birthday_chocolate_cakeA couple of weeks ago a certain young couple tied the knot amidst a media frenzy. As they prepared for the big day (I imgine thanking a higher being for their respective soon-to-be enlarged bank account and expanded gene pool), the nation (and beyond) became obsessed with every detail of the wedding; who would be attending, what they’d be wearing, the flowers, the food, the drink and, of course, that dress.

The hot topic closest to my little loaf heart, however, was who would be making the cake. This honour fell to the fabulous Fiona Cairns, who produced a suitably stunning creation, but, not being a huge fruit cake fan, what really caught my eye was Prince William’s chocolate biscuit groom’s cake. Apparently this simple slab of unbaked chocolate, butter and biscuits is a childhood favourite of William’s. Not hugely regal or royal – I love the thought of dignitaries from around the world munching on what is essentially a glorified Rice Krispie cake – but totally delicious and a funny insight into a slightly more human side of the Windsor family.

chocolate_refrigerator_cakeChocolate biscuit, or refrigerator, cake is a firm favourite in my family, and has been since childhood (nope, I’m not secretly a member of the royal family, although we clearly share a similarly sophisticated palate when it comes to cake. . .). My mum used to make it for birthdays in a bunny-shaped mould, presenting the giant chocolate rabbit shape on a bed of green jelly grass. The height of six year old sophistication. Over the years our biscuit cake has matured and we now serve it in thin, rich slices, laced with dried fruit and booze as an alternative to Christmas cake. But at heart it’s still a birthday treat, so when my aunt asked me to bake a cake for my cousin’s 21st, we knew it had to be chocolate biscuit.

chocolate_birthday_cakeMaking a cake for fifty people is no mean feat. This concoction required a kilo of chocolate, a tin of golden syrup, enough slabs of butter to block your arteries just by looking at them, a vast packet of digestives (McVities take note, apparently Will’s cake was made with Rich Tea biscuits. Schoolboy error.) and a whole box of eggs. Chocolate biscuit cake, while incredible to eat, is hardly very elegant, so I also whizzed up butter, sugar and cocoa to create a thick buttercream frosting to mask the lumpy bumpy bits – totally unnecessary but actually rather delicious to have that contrast between the cool, crunchy cake and soft, creamy icing. I topped the whole thing off with some beautiful homemade chocolate roses (actually really easy, read my earlier post for instructions here) and was pretty happy with the final result. It certainly got polished off pretty quick by the hungry crowds.

A cake fit for a King? Who knows, it might just make the grade.

Chocolate biscuit cake for 50
(For a more manageable recipe simply divide each quantity by 5)

Ingredients:

625g butter
375g golden syrup
1kg dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
5 eggs
500g digestive biscuits
250g walnuts

Method:

Grease and line two large cake tins (I used one 20″ and one 22″ square) and set aside.

Melt together the butter and golden syrup in a large pan. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie, then mix throughly with the butter and syrup mixture. Pasteurise the eggs by beating slowly and continuously into the hot chocolate mixture.

Put the biscuits in a large plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin until broken into a mixture of powder and larger chunks. Do the same with the walnuts then add to the chocolate mixture and stir until fully incorporated. You could also add raisins or other dried fruit at this stage if you wish, along with a splash of rum or other alcohol.

Press the mixture into the prepared tins and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 5 hours.

Buttercream frosting

Ingredients:

500g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
Dash of milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder

Method:

Blitz the sugar and butter in a blender. Add vanilla extract and enough milk until a thick, creamy frosting is formed. Transfer approximately 1/4 of the mixture into a small bowl and pop in the fridge (this is for the paler piping you can see in the pic). Add the cocoa powder to the remaining mixture and blitz until fully incorporated.

Remove the cakes from the fridge. Transfer the larger cake onto a plate or cake board and layer the next one on top, securing together with a small amount of icing. Cover the cakes in a smooth layer of chocolate buttercream, then pipe the plain vanilla frosting round the edges. Decorate with chocolate roses, then return to the fridge and chill. Remove from the fridge around 40 mins before you want to serve to allow the flavours to really come through.

Did you know? When googling Will’s groom’s cake I read that while a classic wedding cake is served to the guests at the wedding reception, the groom’s cake is meant to be sliced up, placed into packages and given to them as favours when they leave. Single women at the wedding would take their pieces of cake home and sleep with it under their pillows in hopes of dreaming of their future husbands… (!) Bizarre advice and not something I’d recommend. Chocolate biscuit cake is meant for eating and will likely result in a hugely sticky mess if left under your pillow (although on reflection it would provide a pretty good midnight feast…)

Chunky chocolate, raisin & walnut cookies

perfect_chocolate_chunk_cookies

The perfect chocolate chunk cookie?

A couple of weeks ago I posted the results of my recent quest for the perfect chocolate chunk cookie. Dense and chewy, with a crispy edge and large dark chocolate chunks, these giant cookies were definitely up there. But perfection isn’t a finite thing, and yesterday I decided to rustle up another batch, using the lessons I’d learnt from last time round.

Continue reading

Ottolenghi’s Swiss Bircher Muesli

delicious_creamy_bircher_muesli

Inspired by the beautiful light mornings that have arrived with the clocks going forwards, I’ve been getting up early to go to Beautcamp Pilates before work. After such a virtuous start to the day I want to put something good into my body, but at the same time, the early morning workout means I’m pretty hungry by the time I get around to eating breakfast.

blackberries_blueberriesBircher Muesli is the perfect solution. Invented by Swiss doctor Maximilien Bircher-Benner for his patients in the late nineteenth century, this is the perfect morning sustenance, and totally versatile depending on the fruits, nuts and seeds you have to hand that day. Dr. Bircher revolutionized the eating habits of his era by advocating fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts over meat, white bread and other refined produce, and I guarantee that when you try this recipe you’ll be overcome with a certain feeling of smug virtuosity.

The recipe here is adapted from a Yottam Ottolenghi recipe I found in The Guardian. I love Ottolenghi’s experimental yet unpretentious use of ingredients, and this recipe is no exception. A slight departure from my beloved breads and toasts, but incredibly delicious nonetheless.

Swiss Bircher Muesli (adapted from Ottolenghi’s recipe)
Serves 2

100g rolled oats or oat mixture (I used Rude Health’s 5 grain mix, Morning Glory)
120ml cold milk
40ml cloudy apple juice
80g natural yoghurt
1/2 an apple (Braeburn or Granny Smith)
20g honey or maple syrup
Juice of 1/2  a lime
Dash vanilla essence
30g chopped walnuts or pistachios
30g raisins
Dried cranberries & pistachios to decorate

Pour the oats into a bowl and cover with milk and apple juice. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 10 minutes (I do it just before I go to bed so that by morning the oats have absorbed all the liquid to become soft and delicious).

When ready to serve grate in the apple, and stir in the yoghurt, honey or maple syrup, lime juice, vanilla essence, fruit and nuts. Stir, transfer to serving bowls and scatter with additional toppings.

This is such an adaptable recipe. It would be delicious with banana, pomegranate, fresh berries, stewed peaches, plums or rhubarb, different nuts and seeds or even chocolate and a splash of alcohol for the ultimate indulgence. After all, you can’t be virtuous all the time.

bircher_muesli_with_berries

Crispy, chewy oatmeal raisin cookies

oatmeal_raisin_chocolate_chip_cookie

Crispy and chewy – the perfect cookie

Oats are pretty amazing things. Packed with nutrients including vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, iron and more, they are a good source of protein (I can almost hear carniverous boyfriend shaking his head at this claim. Ok. A good source of protein that tastes good in cookies. Chewy chicken breast cookies just aren’t going to cut it with this little loaf). They can even help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Basically, oats are a good thing.

I first tasted Bircher Muesli several years ago on holiday in the Caribbean, and have been searching for the perfect recipe ever since. Packed with oats, fruit, and mulchy, milky goodness, it is the perfect healthy oaty breakfast. I think I may have just about cracked the perfect blend – blog post to follow soon – but in the meantime, my various attempts mean I have a big old stash of rolled oats sitting in my cupboard.

Some of them have been turned into porridge. A few more met a delicious, sticky end in my adaptation of Dan Lepard’s fudgy tahini flapjacks. And this weekend, another handful made its way into a batch of crispy, chewy oatmeal raisin cookies.

I’m quite particular when it comes to cookies. I like them big (at least the size of my palm), thick and chewy, with a slightly crispy edge. I’m not a tea drinker so I don’t care about dunkability – I want the real American doughy deal, perfect with a glass of milk and more of a delicious dessert than a flimsy biscuit. Buttery, chewy and packed with chunks of chocolate, fruit and nuts, this recipe is the answer. I slightly overcooked mine as you can see from the pictures, but follow the timings below, and they should be spot on.

oaty_chocolate_walnut_raisin_cookie

Tip: To get a thick, chewy cookie that doesn’t collape in a buttery puddle across the baking sheet when heated, chill the dough for at least 2 hours before cooking. Alternatively you could freeze the slightly flattened cookie balls and cook on demand for that ‘fresh out the oven’ warmth – they just need a few minutes longer.

Crispy, chewy oatmeal raisin cookies with walnuts

75g softened butter
85g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg, beaten
50g wholemeal flour
1 tsp ground cinammon
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
75g rolled oats
75g raisins
50g chopped walnuts
50g chocolate chips (optional)

Cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla essence and egg. If you don’t have an electric mixer you can do this by hand, but it really needs to be as smooth as possible, so a good 5-10 mins of beating is required. (healthy oats and an arm workout, this recipe is a winner!)

 

In a separate bowl whisk together the wholemeal flour, cinammon, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Add the rolled oats then stir into the butter and sugar mixture. Stir in the raisins, walnuts and chocolte chips if using.

Shape the dough into small rounds, flatten slightly and chill in the fridge for two hours. This is optional, but I’d recommend you be patient if you can, the results definitely are better. The dough could make anything between five and twenty cookies depending how giant you like them.

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Place cookies two inches apart on a non stick baking tray. Bake for 10-15 mins until just coloured – this will give a crispy edge but a soft, doughy middle.

Leave to cool and enjoy.

yummy_chocolate_oat_raisin_cookies