Blueberry Bars

I don't really do much baking now that I'm on my own, but sometimes I have a need to make a cake!
I bought some blueberries from our local market. They're one of my favourites fruits, and I used to have a bush in my garden. Sadly the winter before last killed it. I love them on porridge, but I had an urge to make a cake with them. I decided on a streusel cake - I love these cakes with the crumbly topping.

So you need:
For the topping
25g caster sugar, 2 tbspn flour and 55g soft butter
For the cake
3 eggs, 200g caster sugar, 220g melted butter, 1 tbspn vanilla extract, 250ml buttermilk, 320g flour, 1 tbspn baking powder, pinch salt,  400g blueberries [washed and dried]

Preheat oven 180C/gas4         Grease and flour a 9"x13"  [23x33cm] cake tin

For the topping - mix the sugar, butter and flour together till like crumbs.

For the cake - In a large bowl beat together the eggs then gradually whisk in the sugar till the batter is nice and thick and fluffy. Beat in the melted butter, then the vanilla and buttermilk.
In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add these to the batter and stir till everything is mixed together.
Spoon into the pan and sprinkle the blueberries over the top. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit.
Bake for about 1 hour till golden.
Leave to cool in the tin then cut into squares.

The bars are nice and light, fruity and moreish. They'd be good for breakfast, as a pudd with cream or ice cream or with a cuppa. Will certainly make them again.


Chocolate Cappuccino Tart and Apple, Cinnamon and Caramel Cake

I made Mary Berry's Chocolate Cappuccino Tart as our Easter dessert from her recent Quick Cooking series. My son and family were due to arrive for Easter Sunday lunch, but he had to go into work for an emergency, so my daughter and I were left with a huge leg of lamb and Mary's dessert!
It took us all week to eat it!


I didn't finish the top in the same way as Mary, just added some Easter eggs. Thought enough cream had gone into it! It's extremely rich and a small slice is enough. Maybe I should have tried to freeze it rather than to eat it all! My neighbour was given several slices, as was a friend.

Yesterday my son and family did finally arrive to eat with us, so I decided to make a special cake. My son loves anything caramel, so this recipe seems just the thing. I found the recipe on an American site, but changed the recipe to suit us, and changed the cups into grams.

Cake: 150g soft brown sugar, 2 tspn cinnamon, 225g soft butter, 200g caster sugar, 4 eggs, 3 tspn vanilla extract, 375g plain flour with 31/2 tspn baking powder, 250ml milk, 2 medium apples and the juice of 1 lemon.
Filling :  4 tbspn Carnation caramel plus extra for pouring over the top
Topping: 60g soft butter, 1/4tspn vanilla extract,2 tspn cinnamon,125g icing sugar and 1 tbspn milk

Grease and line 2x20cm cake tins              Preheat oven 160C/gas3

Peel and chop the apples then add the lemon juice.
Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together.
Beat the butter and caster sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and the vanilla extract.
Fold the flour mixture in gently, then add the milk and mix till smooth.
Put 1/4 of this batter into each tin, sprinkle over a layer of apple then top with another 1/4 of the mixture. Top with any remaining apple and the cinnamon/sugar mix.
Bake for 40-50 mins, then remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.

When the cakes are cool, put one onto a cake plate and spread a layer of caramel over the cake.
Make the buttercream by beating all the ingredients together till smooth, then spread this over the caramel layer. Top with the second cake. Heat some caramel in the microwave and drizzle over the top of the cake.

It's a lovely mixture of flavours -  apple cake, cinnamon buttercream and caramel . It has a moist light crumb and a nice cinnamon flavour. We found if very moreish and quite rich, so small slices!


Spicy Chocolate Praline Cake

I love the little spicy biscuits you get with a coffee, and this cake is made using these and the spread you can now buy which is made with the same mixture - Lotus Biscoff biscuits and spread.
They're also called Speculoos biscuits, and my Dutch friend sends me the spice mixture every year. You can buy fantastic wooden moulds to make them.
I bought my jar of their version of the spread from Lidl at Christmas, but am not sure if they sell it all year round.

It's a loaf cake, which I love making, and it has a great mix of ingredients.

You need:

150g butter, 3 eggs, 100g caster sugar, 100g sr flour, 100g praline chocolate, 50g Lotus spread, 20g ground hazelnuts, 1 tspn vanilla extract and 5 Lotus biscuits.

Preheat oven 180C/gas4                    Grease and line a 900g loaf tin

Break the chocolate into pieces and crush the biscuits into smallish lumps.

Beat the eggs and sugar together for 10 mins in a mixer or using an electric hand mixer.
Melt the butter then add to the mixture with the flour. Beat together then fold in the hazelnuts, vanilla extract and the spread.
Put half of this mixture into the tin then top with the crushed biscuits and chocolate pieces. Spoon the rest of the batter on top.
Bake for 35 mins.

My photo doesn't do justice to this cake. It has such great flavours and a soft texture. It's so spicy, and has the slightly nutty taste of the hazelnuts. Then you have the praline taste of the chocolate. I love it!


Date, Apricot and Brazil Loaf Cake

This cake is another result of a baking cupboard sort out. I had some brazils, apricots and dates to use up, but not enough of each to use on their own. I love loaf cakes, and just took out the mixed dried fruit from the recipe I usually use in this cake, and added my store cupboard finds.

140g soft margarine
2 large eggs
250g self raising flour
60ml milk
140g caster sugar – reserve 1-2tbspn for cake topping
125g each of dried apricots and pitted dates - each piece cut into 3
65g chopped brazil nuts
1 level tspn mixed spice 
  Preheat oven 150C/Gas 2  Grease and line a 900g loaf tin. 
 Cream margarine and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs to the mixture a little at a time and one by one, mixing well . 
Put the fruit and nuts into a bowl and add 2 or 3 tbspn of the flour to coat the fruit and nuts. Sieve the rest of the flour and the mixed spice into the cake mixture.  Fold the fruit and nuts into the mixture as well. Add the milk and gently mix in.
Spoon into the tin and smooth the top then sprinkle over the reserved sugar.

A good cake for afternoon tea with a cuppa. Nice chunks of fruit and nuts, and a soft texture to the cake.

Raspberry and Chocolate Cake

My daughter loves dark chocolate and raspberries, and as she was coming up for the weekend, I found this recipe in my scrapbook which was perfect for her.

I know raspberries aren't in season, and I know you could use frozen ones, but I found some at a reasonable price in my local market.

For the cake you need: 

250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
200g butter
1 tspn instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tbspn hot water
5 eggs
100g caster sugar
75g plain flour
100g raspberries 

Preheat oven 170C/gas3                    Grease and line a 20cm springform tin

In a saucepan, put the chocolate, butter and coffee and heat over a low heat till melted and glossy.
In  a bowl beat the eggs till pale and fluffy.  Pour in the chocolate mixture, add the flour and fold together gently.
Pour this batter into the tin and sprinkle the raspberries over the top. Bake for about 40 mins till the cake is firm.

This cake is good with a cuppa, but also makes a nice dessert. It's very rich and 'chocolatey', so a small slice is enough! It's good hot or cold. I like the contrast between the squidgy cake and the soft raspberries.

Lovely eaten warm or cold!


Chicken and Leek Pie

As it's National Pie Week, I thought I'd post a pie recipe that's one of my family's favourites.

The leeks are a belated homage to St David's Day [I did make Welsh cakes and have daffodils!]. It's an easy pie to make as you use ready made puff pastry. 

So for 6 people you need: 

2 tbspn oil - I used rapeseed
6 skinless chicken breasts cut into cubes
2 medium leeks - sliced
4 tbspn white wine [opt]
15g butter
1 tbspn plain flour
750ml milk
1 chicken stock cube
s & p
500g butter puff pastry
1 egg to brush top of pie

Preheat oven 200C/gas6           23 x30 cm pie dish

Heat 1 tbspn of the oil in a pan and add the chicken. Brown all over then take out.
Add the other tbspn of oil [and the wine if you're using it] and then cook the leeks till tender [and the wine has evaporated].
Melt the butter in another pan then stir in the flour to make a paste. Add the milk a bit at a time, stirring continuously till the sauce gets thicker.
Add the chicken and leeks to the sauce, crumble in the stock cube or add a Knorr chicken stock pot and season with the s& p. Cover and simmer for about 10 mins over a low heat.
Roll out the puff pastry and line a 23 x30 cm tin, keeping pastry back for the top.
Spoon the filling into the tin and cover with the rest of the pastry. 
Bake for about 15-20 mins till the pastry has risen and is golden.

I used my favourite enamel pie dish. You could add herbs to the chicken and leeks, or sliced mushrooms, but we like it as in the above recipe. It's tasty, and there's a good contrast between the creamy filling and the crunchy pastry.


Grapefruit and Lemon Tart

And now for something completely different! I fancied something a bit exotic and fresh, so found this recipe in an old cookery book I picked up in a jumble sale years ago. It has lots of recipes for using fruit, so as I had a grapefruit and some lemons, decided to try this tart.
It's fairly easy to make, but does need time chilling before you eat it.

You need:  150g caster sugar, 70g soft butter, 4 eggs, 2 lemons, 1/2 grapefruit, a pack of shortcrust pastry [or make your own] and 1 tspn cornflour

Preheat oven 200C.   You need a 23cm Tart tin

Roll out the pastry to fit the tart tin. Line base with piece parchment paper or foil and cover with baking beans or rice. Bake for 15 mins, remove beans and paper or foil and bake for another 19 mins.

Wash and dry the fruit then grate the zests. Put a pan of water on to simmer and in a bowl put the zests, the juice of the fruits, the beaten eggs, sugar and cornflour. Beat this over the pan of water till it thickens. Once it's thick, take it off the pan and continue beating till cool. Add the very soft butter and whisk until it's incorporated into the mixture.
Pour the mixture into the pastry case then chill in the fridge for 4 hours before serving.

It has a really lovely fresh and zingy taste. If you want it a bit more exotic, grate some ginger over the top or add some mint and grated chocolate. You can see that I just put a couple of lemon slices on top for a simple decoration. A hint of summer in winter!


Merveilleux au Chocolat

Thought I'd post something sumptuous for Valentine's Day. I'm cheating a bit because my daughter made this, with a little help from me. It's a lovely dessert with a meringue base, delicious chocolate cream layer, more meringue, then topped with a good layer of grated chocolate.
You could buy 2 large meringue discs to save making them. This is a recipe from my French friend, and she says it originates in the North of France.

Meringues:  2 egg whites, 60g caster sugar and 60g icing sugar
Ganache:     150g dark chocolate, 150ml single cream
Topping:      100g grated dark chocolate

It's best to make the meringues the day before, but it's up to you!

Heat oven 160C/gas3              Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone sheets

Beat egg whites till stiff and add half of the 2 sugars. Whisk again then add the other half and whisk till shiny.
Put into a piping bag and pipe into 2 large discs onto the papers. Bake for 1hr 30mins, then turn oven off and leave meringues to cool in the oven. 

Ganache - put the cream and chocolate in a pan over simmering water. Allow to melt slowly, stirring from time to time till melted and glossy. Take off the heat and pour into a cold container, cover with clingfilm and when cool put in fridge for 4 hours. Take out and beat with a hand mixer to get a sort of Chantilly cream [liked whipped cream].

Assemble the dessert - put one of the discs onto a serving plate then cover with half the cream. Put the second disc on top and cover with the rest of the cream. cover the top generously with grated chocolate and put in the fridge for an hour. Take out just before serving.

You could make 8 small discs instead of 2 large ones. Sorry, I didn't get to see it cut as J took it back with her. Ah well!
She says - 'It's very rich and moreish. The bottom layer of meringue seems to hold it texture better than the second one, which seemed almost to dissolve into the cream! Delicious all the same. A lovely treat for an occasion such as St Valentine's Day.'


Date and Banana Cake

I found some dates in the cupboard and looked for a recipe to use them up that wasn't sticky toffee!
I found this one which was perfect as I also had some ripe bananas to use. I think it's from an old free supermarket magazine.
150g dried stoned dates
4tbspn orange juice or dark rum
200g very ripe banana (peeled weight)
125g butter, softened
125g sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
2 large free-range eggs (or 2 smaller ones and a yolk)
175g sr flour
 Preheat oven  180oC/Gas 4. Line a 2lb loaf tin . 
Make sure that each date has been stoned and cut each into four using kitchen scissors.  Put the date pieces in a small pan, cover with the orange juice (or dark rum) and gently bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat and leave to cool. 
Mash the banana in a bowl with a fork.
Beat the butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, along with a tbspn flour with each one.
Sift in the rest of the flour, along with the mashed banana, the dates and their cooking liquid.
Pour the mixture in the lined cake tin, making sure it goes into the corners and the top is level.  Bake for 45-50 minutes.  When it is cooked the top will spring back when it is lightly pressed.
7.  Turn out of the tin, removing the paper and cool on a wire tray.

I love the combination of flavours, the toffee like chewy dates and the soft banana, and cake has a soft texture.The recipe said to soak the dates in rum, but I'm not keen on it so used orange juice. You could use other dried fruit instead of dates, or add chopped nuts. I'll certainly make this again.


Quiche Provençale

Thought I'd post something savoury for a change. We love quiches and this one has the flavours of Provence. Good for using up odd veg in the fridge. 
Using ready made butter puff pastry makes quiche making so easy; only the veg to prepare.

You need: 1 pack puff pastry, 3 eggs, 1 small pot of crême fraiche, 100g grated Gruyère cheese, 2 onions, 1 pepper, 3 tomatoes, 1 small tin tuna, drained, 10 olives, stoned and cut into slivers, Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper, green leaves to decorate

preheat oven 180C/gas4                           23 cm tart tin

Roll pastry out and line the tin. Slice tomatoes and put into base of the tin. Put into the fridge.
Chop the onions into dice and the pepper into thin strips, then put into a large bowl. Add the tuna, beaten eggs, cream, cheese, olives, herbs, salt and pepper and mix together well.
Remove tart tin from the fridge and pour in the mixture. Bake for about 45 mins till golden.

This was delicious. We ate it warm and there was a bit left over for the next day, which I ate cold. Think it's nicer warm. Lovely combination of flavours and textures. Crunch from the pastry, good cheese flavour, nice salty hit from the olives. I'll certainly make it again.
You could use any veg you have, though I suppose then you'd have to change its name!


Galette de Rois with Lemon

Sorry about the big white blank on my last post. My computer went a bit haywire that day, and even my son couldn't sort it out, so we left it!

It's a tradition in our family that I make a Galette de Rois for Epiphany. They sell them in all the pâtisseries and supermarkets in France in January, with golden cardboard crowns for the person who finds the fève or china figure in the galette.
I wanted to try something different, having made chocolate ones in the past as well as the usual almond ones. I decided to add one of my lemons from my tree in the greenhouse.
Am amazed at how well this tree does in its big pot. It still has 8 large lemons ripening and many small ones, as well as some flowers. Not bad in Northants!

Back to the Galette! It's easy to make - you need:

2 packs puff pastry [butter puff if possible]
125g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
80g butter
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
3 drops vanilla extract
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven 180C/gas4             A tart tin about 23 cm

Roll out the first pack of pastry and line the tin.
In a bowl cream the butter till white then add the ground almonds and sugar and mix together well.
Beat the 2 eggs and add to the bowl, and finally add the vanilla and lemon juice. Beat together.
Spread the mixture onto the pastry in the tin hiding a bean [or fève] then roll out the second pack on top. Use a fork to join the edges together and brush the top with the beaten egg yolk. Mark the top of the galette with a knife.
Bake for 35 mins and cool before eating.

The almond cream filling smelt delicious with a lemon perfume, and it had a lovely fondant texture, contrasting well with the pastry. Not sure the lemon added anything much to the galette, so prefer the original version.