25 July 2014

Cherry Buckwheat Brownies

 It's been ages since I last blogged. Frankly, I've been feeling a little un-inspired, or perhaps, more accurately, over-inspired. I've got so many wonderful recipes that I want to try, as well as a whole raft of ideas tucked away in my brain, that sometimes I spend more time deliberating about what to bake rather then actually baking. Once I've finally decided on something, I suddenly start to worry that I'm missing out on something even better. It's pathetic, I know, but true. Even though I've made a few things here and there, nothing has motivated me to actually put pen to paper, as it were, and blog. Until this recipe.

For the last few weeks, most of Britain has been enjoying a 'heat wave' - in other words, what the rest of the world would term 'normal summer weather'. Sadly, the day that I had planned to do some painting (of furniture, not pictures) in the garden, the weather decided to change and pour with rain. Always one to make the best of bad situation (I'm really not), I decided to stay inside and bake. Hence, these brownies.
I sort of feel like 'Cherry Buckwheat Brownies' doesn't really sum up everything these babies have going for them. Like all good brownies, they are packed full of chocolate. The edges are firm and slightly chewy, while the middle slices give way to luscious chocolaty goo. So far, they tick all the prerequisites for a good brownie. It's the extras that take these to a level far above and beyond other brownies I've made. The cherries, slightly tart and juicy, cut thought the chocolate, the hazelnuts sprinkled on top add texture and crunch. There's a dash of coffee essence thrown in too for good measure - next time I would perhaps increase the amount for a more pronounced flavour. The combination of ground almonds and buckwheat flour make these brownies gluten free, although I personally couldn't detect much difference in flavour or texture because of this. Tonight, we had 9 people around our dinner table enjoying these with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and everyone loved them, so they are certainly what I would term an all-around winner.

Cherry Buckwheat Brownies (Gluten free)
Adapted from these Buckwheat Flour Brownies from London Bakes
Makes 20 - 25 brownies, depending on how you slice them - they are very rich so personally I prefer smaller pieces

150g unsalted butter
125g dark chocolate 
250g brown sugar
40g cocoa powder
50g ground almonds
50g buckwheat flour1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1 tsp coffee essence
200g pitted cherries
50g chopped hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 23cm baking tin. 

Break or chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it, together with the butter, in a large heatproof bowl. I always use the microwave to melt chocolate, but you can, of course, do this over a pan of simmering water. 

Stir in the sugar by hand, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time, using electric hand-held beaters. 

Fold in the cocoa powder, ground almonds, buckwheat flour, baking powder and coffee essence until just combined. Pour into the tin and sprinkle over the cherries and hazelnuts.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes. I always find baking brownies stressful as the stakes, to me, feel so high (i.e you could end up with the travesty that is a dry, over baked brownie). The brownies should be set and just starting to come away from the edges of the tin. 

Cool in the tin before slicing. 

24 June 2014

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a bit of a cliche these days - it's what all the hipsters and cool health food bloggers seem to be eating, along with kale. Although I wouldn't put myself in those categories, I'm still a convert to quinoa, and not only because it has some amazing health benefits.

Quinoa packs a powerful protein punch, among other things, which is great for me as I'm a vegetarian and people are constantly asking me how I get protein into my diet. Protein isn't just found in meat, people! Not only is quinoa a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential animo acids), it has a bunch of other good stuff like fibre, antioxidants and good fats. Quinoa is basically a little like that one friend that everyone has who is good at so many different things it's kind of infuriating; it's an all-round good egg.

However, despite being a bit of a superstar quinoa is surprisingly un-showy. To really shine, taste-wise, it needs a good base of other flavours; a squeeze of this, a drop of that, a half teaspoon of the other. I like doing this. I like piling the steaming, fluffy quinoa into a bowl and flitting around the kitchen collecting things to toss into the bowl. Lemon and fresh herbs from the fridge, dried herbs from the corner cupboard, garlic from the bowl on the counter, maybe, and on and on. It's the add-hoc nature of this type of savoury cookery that I think encapsulates what I find so enjoyable about making food - it's the experimentation, the freedom to take a recipe and make it yours, which is exactly what I've done with this recipe. I've these quinoa stuffed peppers twice now, and not only can I report that they are very, very good, but they are also one of those charming recipes that are happy to accommodate what ever you have in the cupboard.
I'm going to direct you to the original recipe, which is here, but also note the variations to the ingredients that I've tried. For starters, I omitted the pomegranate molasses and mint leaves completely, I've substituted the cranberries once for raisins and once for apricots. In place of cashews I've used pine nuts or flaked almonds and in my opinion, having tried it with and without the feta cheese, there isn't much difference. The star of the show is the beautifully soft, sweet, slightly blackened pepper encasing the quinoa, well flavoured and studded with the died fruit and nuts.

Other Quinoa recipes I want to try:

15 June 2014

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Cardamon Fruit Compote

As it's Fathers Day today, I asked my Dad what I should make for dessert. As he is a die-hard chocolate fan, I was a little surprised when he suggested a panna cotta. Actually, I think his choice was spot-on. Panna cotta is a stunning dessert - smooth, creamy, flecked with vanilla. The brown sugar in this recipe gives just a hint of caramel-like richness. 

Another bonus is that I could literally whip this up in minutes in between revising for my final exam, which is tomorrow. 

After telling my Dad just how simple and fool-proof panna cotta is to make, I actually messed these up by pouring the fruit compote over the set panna cotta whilst it was still warm. As you can see, it melted the surface of the panna cotta, giving it that mottled look on top. I think it may have been for the best though, as having the fruit mingled in with the base of the panna cotta itself provided a delicious union of light creaminess and slightly sharp, slightly sweet cardamon tinged fruit.
As I oh-so-causally mentioned above, my last exam is tomorrow. Tomorrow! The very idea is alternately filling me with excitement and nervousness. Exams have been pretty much dominating my life for weeks, so having so much time on my hands will feel strange, but hopefully in a good way. I plan to get stuck into some good books, hit the gym as much as possible (believe it or not, I've actually missed working out) and go on an epic pre-summer holidays shopping spree!

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Cardamon Fruit Compote
Serves 6

300ml double cream
200ml milk
1 vanilla pod
2 leaves gelatine
50g soft light brown sugar

200g summer berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries etc.) - I used frozen berries
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1 leaf gelatine
1 tsp lemon juice
4 cardamon pods

To make the panna cotta's, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and add to a pan with the cream, milk and sugar. Whisk together over a low heat until the mixture is simmering. 

Place the gelatine leaves in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Leave for a few minutes until soft, then remove the leaves and squeeze out any excess water. Whisk the softened gelatine leaves into the cream milk until smooth.

Pour the mixture into small ramekins, leaving a little space at the top for the fruit. Once cool, transfer to the fridge for a least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the fruit compote, stir the berries, sugar, and the seeds from the cardamon pods together in a pan over a medium heat, until the fruit is slightly broken down and juicy. Soften the gelatine leaf as described above and stir into the fruit along with the lemon juice. Taste and add more sugar if required. 

Leave the fruit until cooled a little, but not set, then spoon it over the chilled panna cotta's. Return to the fridge for another 2 hours or until set.

27 May 2014

Chocolate and Buttermilk Ice Cream

As part of my birthday last year (which, incidentally didn’t get a mention on my blog, despite being a rather lovely birthday involving, among other delights, a salted caramel chocolate torte) my Dad took me out for a meal. The dessert I chose included a buttermilk sorbet, which I proceeded to rave about for the next few days to anyone within earshot. I remember it as being incredibly smooth and light, sweet but with a slight tanginess from the buttermilk. So when I was flicking through the Green and Blacks recipe book and came across this recipe for bitter chocolate buttermilk ice cream, I instantly remembered that buttermilk sorbet and decided to try it.
As decisions go, it was a very good one. This ice cream was the smoothest, silkiest ice cream I’ve ever made. I used chocolate containing 74% cocoa (I think that that’s correct – am I the only one slightly confused as to what the percentage actually measures?), which made the ice cream quite rich and slightly bitter, with the buttermilk adding that distinctive tang that I remembered from the buttermilk sorbet I tried. 

It was a fitting way to return to the world of baking and cooking after a few weeks of absence due to revision. Most of my exams are, at long last, over, so I finally have time to cook and blog again. Hopefully this is just the first of many delicious recipes I'll be able to try over the summer!

Bitter Chocolate and Buttermilk Ice Cream

3 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
250ml milk
250ml double cream
200g dark chocolate, finely chopped
180ml buttermilk

You will need to put the canister from the ice cream maker in the freezer at least 24 hours before you plan to churn the ice cream.

Combine the milk, cream and half of the sugar in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

Whisk together the egg yolks and remaining sugar until pale, then pour over the hot cream mixture and whisk well. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a very low heat, stirring continuously until it just starts to thicken. This can take quite a long time: just be patient, and keep stirring. Don't allow the custard to boil. 

Once the custard has thickened, remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Whisk in the buttermilk until well blended. 

Pour the mixture into a bowl or jug and allow to cool before refrigerating, preferable overnight. Churn the mixture in the ice cream maker according to manufactories instructions. Keep in the freezer until required - apparently this is best served within a few hours of churning. 

18 April 2014

Revision Cookies

I say revision cookies, you might say double chocolate pecan cookies. Either is fine, really. Seeing as my life is pretty dominated by study right now it seems an appropriate title!

I'll admit to sometimes getting a bit disappointed when a see a blog post about chocolate chip cookies. I mean, come on, another recipe for a plain ole' chocolate chip cookie? Sure, they probably taste great, but most people already have their favourite recipe, and if not, there are millions of recipes out there on the internet. There really is only so much you can say about them.
It's only when I finally go and bake some cookies myself that I remember, yet again, that a good cookie really is one of life's happy things. The best cookies I've ever made were probably these ones, but I fancied trying something a bit different today. I had a tub of coconut oil that I kept meaning to try and use in baking, but had never gotten around to it. Based on thorough research some quick google-ing, I tired substituting it for butter at a ratio of 1:1. It totally worked, producing an incredibly tender, melt-in-the mouth cookie. I also wanted to experiment with some different types of flour to make the cookies taste a bit more wholesome, so I used a mix of ground almonds, ground oats and wholemeal spelt flour. I liked the extra oomph they gave the cookies, making them a feel a bit more substantial. Overall, a successful experiment.
Being up to my eyeballs in revision is not fun, but it's strangely rather comforting to know we have a tin of cookies downstairs, just incase of emergencies …..

Double Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 20

125g coconut oil
225g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
50g dark chocolate chunks
50g pecans, roughly chopped
65g oat flour (ground oats)
75g ground almonds
45g wholemeal spelt flour
3/4 tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp baking powder
35g cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Beat together the coconut oil and sugar until smooth and well combined. Beat in the egg, then stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.

Mix in all the remaining dry ingredients until completely combined.

Take small spoonfuls of the dough and roll them into smooth balls. Flatten them slightly, then place then on a greaseproof paper lined baking tray.

Bake for 10 minutes. Leave to cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

14 April 2014

Cherry Bakewell Tarts

In the two weeks since I last posted here, I've established several things. Firstly, I suck at blogging regularly. Secondly, revision is kind of taking over my life (and physics is totally the worst). Thirdly, I discovered I actually like bakewell tarts. Who know? It's a revelation! I've spent my entire life avoiding them, thinking I hated them, when actually they are, to borrow a Mary Berry catchphrase, 'rather scrummy'.
My main problem with a traditional bakewell tart was the addition of jam. Without it, a bakewell tart isn't really a bakewell tart. It's an intrinsic element, but one that provides a bit of a problem for someone who doesn't like jam - in other words, me. I think I'm the only person I know with this dislike of jam. I can't quite pin down my main problem with it - its probably a combination of the intense sweetness and the strange, slightly slippery texture which puts me off.

I found a suitable replacement however, in the form of some cherries, slightly simmered with a bit of sugar and lemon juice. It adds an extra step to the process but I really think it was worth it - it provides a slightly sharper layer of fruit on the bottom, with the cherries mainly still whole and just a little softened.
Since I'd already made one tweak on the traditional recipe, I decided to go all out and make another. Although I think that my ability to make pastry has improved vastly from the days of the completely rock solid pie crusts I used to make, it's still nice to have a change, so in these pies I used shortbread dough. It made a delicious alternative to shortcrust pastry, providing a buttery-crisp base for the afore mentioned cherries and the sweet, densely-fragrant almond sponge. Although I love the look of the flaked almond topped beauties here - my main inspiration for making these - I opted for a simple icing sugar and water icing to top off the tarts. I'm so glad I discovered the joys of the bakewell!

Bakewell Tarts
My inspiration to make these was from London Bakes beautiful little bakewells found here - I used her recipe for the almond sponge. The shortbread base recipe comes from here.
Makes 12 

200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
260g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

300g cherries - I brought frozen ones which are already de-stoned
80g caster sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

115g unsalted butter, softened
115g unrefined caster/granulated sugar
1 egg
115g ground almonds

Start by making the shortbread dough. Beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. Mix in the flour until the mixture starts to form a dough. 

Cut out 12 long thin strips of greeseproof paper to go across the bottom of each hole in the muffin tin. This will make removing the finished tarts a lot easier. Tip the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll out thinly. Cut into circles about 10cm across, and press each circle into a cup of the muffin tin, making sure the greaseproof paper strip is positioned underneath. In my experience the shortbread dough was prone to tear but was easily patched up. Leave the tin in the fridge to chill for about half an hour. 

Now make the cherry 'jam'. Tip the cherries into a small saucepan along with the sugar and lemon juice and simmer rapidly for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a jam jar to cool down a little. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. To make the almond sponge, beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes until very light and fluffy, and then beat in the egg. Fold in the ground almonds. 

Remove the muffin tin from the fridge. Place about 1 tsp of cherries, along with a drizzle of their juices, into the bottom of each shortbread case, then top with a dessertspoonful of almond sponge. 

Bake for about 35 minutes, until the pastry is browned and the almond sponge is cooked. Leave the tarts to cool down for about 10 minutes before carefully transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

Either serve the tarts as they are, or top with an icing sugar and water icing. I didn't measure the quantities of icing sugar and water that I used, but it's quite hard to go wrong, really. Just make sure the icing isn't too runny, or it will seep down the sides of the tarts.

I only had about 5 minutes to photograph these, hence the awful quality of the pictures. In an effort to put my perfectionist tendencies to one side, and because these really were delicious, I decided to post them anyway.