Chocolate Tart with Nougat

A very easy, quick dessert.
My younger daughter came yesterday. She is a chocaholic, so dessert had to be something chocolate. Recently I was given a bar of pistachio nougat so decided to use this with the tart, but any nougat would work as it's only the topping.
I made a sweet pastry using 200g of flour, 120g butter and 70g of caster sugar, binding it together with a beaten egg. Put in the fridge for 30 mins.
Preheat oven 190C/gas5 and grease a tart tin or flan dish.
Roll the pastry out to fit the tin/dish and bake blind in the oven for 20 mins. leave to cool.
Grate 200g of dark chocolate finely. Bring 20cl of single cream to the boil, take off the heat and add the chocolate. Carefully mix together and leave to cool. Spread it over the pastry case and smooth it out. Put in the fridge for about 20 mins. 
Chop up 100g of nougat and use it to sprinkle over the chocolate tart.

Sorry, am still having problems with my camera, so photo is a bit blurred! It's an easy basic chocolate tart to make, and it can have whatever topping you fancy - chopped up Mars bar, Maltesers, rosettes of double cream, little Easter eggs at Easter etc. -  the sky's the limit!


Tiramisu Cookies

                                      Merry Christmas and a very Happy and Healthy New Year.

These are a nice treat to have if anyone pops in for a coffee or a hot chocolate over the festive period. The recipe makes about 14 cookies. The biscuits have a chocolate filling with a coffee mascarpone topping.

Preheat oven 200C/gas6 and line 2 baking trays with baking paper or silicone sheets.

For the biscuits you cream together 60g of softened butter with 90g of caster sugar till nice and fluffy. Add 1 beaten egg and mix in, then fold in 60g of plain flour. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe 28 blobs on the baking paper, spacing them a bit apart.
Bake for 6-8 mins till firm in the middle and beginning to go brown at the edges.

For the filling - put 150g mascarpone cheese in a bowl; stir 1/2 tspn of instant coffee powder into 1 tbspn of dark rum and stir till the coffee is dissolved, then add to the mascarpone together with 1 tbspn of light muscovado sugar. Cover this and put in the fridge to chill.

For the topping - melt 90g of white chocolate with 1 tsbpsn of milk and stir it till it's nice and smooth.

To assemble the cookies - spread a little of the filling over half of the cookies, put the other halves on top and spread over the white chocolate topping.
To finish them off, break up a couple of  Flake bars and sprinkle over the cookies.

These are very moreish


White Chocolate Mousse Cake

I made this as my dessert contribution to my OH's family's Christmas get together. I had a couple of bars of white chocolate in my baking cupboard, so these were the basis for the cake.
I wanted to make a chocolate sponge base with a light topping, and I'd made a similar topping for a cake before, only using a 50% dark chocolate. It's a bit of a faff to make, as it uses gelatine [not my favourite ingredient], but the results are worth the effort. Hope you think so too!

Preheat oven 180C/gas4
Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper.

To make the sponge base, whisk 2 eggs with 60g of caster sugar till thick and creamy. Add 60g plain flour and 1 tbspn cocoa powder into the batter and fold in. Gently add 30g of melted butter and mix together.
Spoon or pour into the tin and bake for 20-25mins till firm to touch.

For the topping, sprinkle an 11gm sachet of gelatine over 3 tbspns of cold water and leave to sponge.
Melt 200g of white chocolate carefully and add 60g butter. Stir in the yolks of 4 separated eggs.
Whisk the 4 whites into stiff peaks and also whisk 284ml of double cream into soft peaks.
Melt the gelatine over a pan of hot water, then stir into the chocolate mixture.
Fold in the double cream and then the whisked egg whites.
Pour this over the baked sponge base and chill for at least 4 hours, but better still, overnight, till the mousse has set.
Take the cake out of the tin, peel off the baking paper and put on a serving plate.
The mousse cake will keep in the fridge for 2 days, but don't recommend you keep it any longer than that.

I piped some rosettes on top of the cake to make it look more festive. I know it's not a dessert for the diet-conscious, but it is Christmas! It really just melts in your mouth.


Holly Christmas Biscuits

This is such an easy recipe, but I like the holly decoration on the top. It's a bit fiddly to do, but I think they look Christmassy and a bit different from other Christmas biscuits. The basic biscuit recipe is one I've had for years, and I saw the holly and berries idea in a baker's shop window. I went in and bought some bread and asked about the holly biscuits and the kind lady explained how they were done. So easy, and adaptable to other designs and cutters.
The recipe makes about 12 biscuits.

75g butter
50g icing sugar
grated rind of a lemon
1 egg yolk
175g plain flour
pinch of salt

2 egg yolks
red and green food colouring

Preheat oven 190C/gas5

Lightly grease 2 baking trays.

Beat the butter, sugar and zest together till fluffy; beat in the egg yolk and add the flour and salt. Mix to a smooth dough. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for about half and hour.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 3mm thick, then using a 6cm cutter cut out round shapes. A good tip is to flour the cutter so it doesn't stick.
Put the biscuits onto the baking trays.

Mark the tops of the biscuits lightly with a 21/2 cm holly leaf cutter for the leaves and the tip of a 5mm plain piping nozzle for the berries. Chill again for about 10 mins till the biscuits are firm.
For the decoration - using 2 egg cups, put an egg yolk in each one and mix red colouring into one cup and green into the other. Using a small paint brush, paint the colours on the leaves and berries.
Bake for 10 - 12 mins till the biscuits start to colour round the edges.
Cool for a bit on the tray and then finish off on a wire rack.


I've bought a new set of Christmas cutters, and am going to try out this icing and painting technique with a small snowman and a bell.


Orange and Almond Cake

My friend came for tea yesterday and she loves anything with almonds, so I made this cake for her. It's simple but delicious. The recipe comes from my friend who has the little cake shop, so has been well tested!

240g ground almonds
120g caster sugar
6 eggs
50g of plain flour
the juice of 2 medium oranges
zest of 1 of the oranges
1 tspn baking powder
pinch of salt
20g butter
icing sugar to decorate

Preheat oven 180C/gas4
Grease a 23cm springform tin well, and line the base.

Mix the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl.
Separate the egg yolks and whites, then beat the yolks with the caster sugar until white and fluffy. Gently fold in the flour.
Add a pinch of salt to the whites then beat them into stiff peaks with a beater.
Add the ground almonds to the batter mixture and stir in gently, then pour in the orange juice and zest.
Add the egg whites little by little very gently till it's all mixed in, trying to keep the air in the whites.
Spoon into the tin then bake for about 50 mins till golden. Cool on a wire rack.

As you can see, I used a stencil to make a pattern on the top with icing sugar. This just made it look a bit more festive. The cake has a lovely almond flavour, complimented by the orange. It has quite a firm texture from the ground almonds, and the oranges make it a lovely moist cake.


Pain d'Epices au Miel - Honey Gingerbread.

I was inspired by a recent post on the excellent Strong as Soup blog          http://asstrongassoup.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/black-sticky-gingerbread-random-recipe.html  to look for a recipe my neighbour gave me for a gingerbread made with honey. This is a very different gingerbread from the dark moist one on Phil's blog.
The method is unusual in that you put the dry ingredients into a bowl, then heat the honey and pour it over.
It's got a good spicy flavour and as Phil said in his post, gingerbread is great for taking on an Autumn walk, or with your afternoon cuppa, or even as a dessert with some custard.
The original French recipe used 'quatre epices' but I don't think there's much difference between that and our mixed spice, and I found some ground aniseed in a local deli, but you could leave it out if you don't like it.

250g runny honey
250g plain flour
100g caster sugar
1 tspn baking powder
1 tbspn vanilla sugar
1 tspn ground aniseed
1 tspn grated nutmeg
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn ginger
1 tspn mixed spice
2 eggs
10cl of warm milk

Preheat oven.160C/gas3

Put the flour, baking powder,sugars and spices in a bowl.
Heat the honey in a microwave or in a saucepan then pour the hot honey over the flour mixture.
Mix together with a wooden spoon then add the eggs a little at a time, then the warm milk and mix together.
Grease and flour a 900g loaf tin then pour the mixture in and bake for 1 to 1hr 15mins till golden.
Leave to cool in the tin and wait 24 hours before eating.

This cake keeps well, up to a week, if you wrap it in foil, so a useful standby for Christmas. Maybe a little cinnamon or ginger icing would make it look more festive? But with this cake, it's all about the flavour - spicy with a lovely honey flavour too.


Spicy Christmas Trees

We have a houseful for Christmas this year, including 2 lovely people from Poland, so thought I'd try out a few family biscuit recipes from the French friend I mentioned recently. The first one is spiced Christmas trees.
G's paternal family live in Alsace, so she's grown up with the lovely spicy biscuits and bakes they make at Christmas. I'm going to try out a few and have my grandsons help me, and then they can choose their favourites [as they're going to be here for Christmas anyway].
My daughter and dog came up for the weekend, so we roped her into helping us. She loves decorating cakes and biscuits, so she helped the boys with their trees, and the photo is of her creations. The boys didn't want their efforts put on here, so they ate them!
I expect every family in Alsace has their own recipe for Christmas biscuits, but this is the translated Ruff family one, but the decoration is the boys' idea - they wanted garlands on the trees and baubles!

100g butter at room temperature
85g soft brown sugar
250g plain flour
125g honey [I used some local honey, not the runny sort]
1 tbspn rum [opt]
1 tspn lemon zest
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn ginger
1 tspn cinnamon
2 pinches of salt
To decorate - icing sugar and silver balls.

Preheat oven 180C/gas4        Grease and flour a baking sheet.

 Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the honey, lemon zest and rum.
Beat well together.
Add the spices, baking powder and salt to the flour, then mix gently into the batter to get a nice dough.
Make into a ball and cover in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 2-4 hrs.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface as thinly as possible. Use a Christmas tree cutter to cut out shapes and put onto the baking tray.
Bake for 8-10 mins till lightly golden and cool on a wire rack.
Make up some thickish glace icing then pipe garlands on the cooled trees. Decorate with the silver balls to look like baubles.

 You could cut the biscuits out with any Christmas cutters and decorate them as you like. It's a good basic spiced biscuit to have in your repertoire.


Crumbly Plum Cake

We love plums, but despite this being a bumper year for fruit, I've only managed to find 3 lots of British plums. Victoria's are my favourite and I wish we had the room for a tree in our small garden.
I succumbed to a BOGOF offer in the supermarket and bought some Italian plums. I decided to make a cake, one with a crumbly topping and use them as a layer in the cake. The idea for the recipe came from this recipe on the Good Food site, but I used bits from several recipes in my folder to make the final cake.

If the plums aren't very ripe, I like to roast them first to add to their flavour.

Put 450g of plums cut side up in a tin, sprinkle with 2 tsbps of granulated sugar and bake them in oven 180C/gas4 for about 20 mins till they've become soft. Take out, but leave the oven on.

You need a 20cm springform tin lined with baking paper.

It's an all in one cake, so put 175g soft brown sugar. 175g butter or margarine, 175g sr flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 tspn baking powder and 1 tspn vanilla extract in a bowl and beat together till nice and creamy.
Pour the batter into the tin, then put the plums in a layer on top and pour in the juice [shouldn't be much].

Make the topping by melting 50g butter, then take it off the hob and add 50g flour, 1 tspn cinnamon, 25g oats and 25g flaked almonds. Stir them together, then sprinkle over to cover the plums.
Bake 180C/gas4 for about an hour or so till the top is nice and golden.

The idea was a crumble topped cake, but when the cake was cooked, a lot of the topping had sunk down into the cake, and the cake itself had a flapjack type of taste with a nice chewy top. You could use apples, or any fruit of choice instead of the plums. A good versatile recipe for a dessert or a cake for tea.


Pear and Almond Cake

My friend gave me some pears from her tree, so I had to use the ripe ones quickly. Pears are one of my favourite fruit, but there seems to be such a short time between being unripe, ripe and too ripe.
Another flavour we love is almond, and pear and almond go well together.
When living in France I went on several cookery courses, and the lady who ran them became a friend. Her recipes were family ones, and she's kindly let me use any of her recipes on my blog. This is one of them.
It always impresses guests because it looks like something you'd buy in a patisserie [at least I hope mine does too!], but is easy to make. I've used British cake tins and temperatures and translated her recipe.

Grease and line a 20cm springform tin and preheat oven 180C/gas4

Cream together 175g butter and 175g caster sugar and 1 tspn vanilla extract till nice and fluffy, then beat in 3 eggs. In a bowl add 175g sr flour, 50g ground almonds and 1/2 tspn baking powder. Mix together then add to the batter.
Peel and core a large ripe pear [about 300g unpeeled], then thinly slice a quarter and chop the rest up finely.
Fold the chopped pear into the cake mixture with about 2 tbspns of milk to make a nice dropping batter.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and arrange the pear slices on top, pressing them down gently so that they lie in the batter but you can still see them.
Bake for 1-1/4hrs till golden. Brush the top with a tbspn of apricot conserve or jam which has been warmed, then leave the cake to cool in the tin.

It's a good mix of textures, the almond flavoured sponge and then the softness of the pear chunks. We ate ours as a dessert with some creme fraiche, but it would be equally good with a cuppa.


Nutmeg Cake

This is a very plain looking cake, but it's full of flavour. It comes from Indonesia and has been influenced by the spice traders who passed through during the centuries. I love spices, but haven't made a cake with nutmeg before - the odd grated bit in a cake, but this one has 2 tspns of it.
It's made by the rubbing-in method and a half the crumbs are put into the base of the cake tin then covered with the rest of the crumbs which has been mixed into a batter mixture.
The recipe has been adapted from one I found in 'Bake Your Cake', a book I borrowed from the library a while ago. It's by an Australian author, but I forgot to write down her name!

250g plain flour
250g brown sugar
1 tbspn mixed spice
2 tspns baking powder
130g butter
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 egg
2 tspns nutmeg
150ml milk
2 tbspns caster sugar

Preheat oven 180C/gas4
Grease the sides of a 20cm spring form tin then line the bottom with baking paper.

Mix the flour, brown sugar, mixed spice and baking powder together in a bowl, then rub in the butter till it’s like breadcrumbs.
Spoon half of this into the tin.
Whisk the egg, bicarb and nutmeg into the milk and add into the rest of the cake mix. Stir well to mix.
Pour this over the mixture in the tin and sprinkle the caster sugar on top.
Bake for about an hour till golden and nice and springy.
Cool in the tin for 5 mins then turn onto a wire rack.
That’s it! Enjoy!

iI has a crumbly texture and a lovely spicy flavour. It's also good as a dessert served warm with some cream.


Raisin, Pecan and Banana Upside Down Cake

Haven't been well lately, so no baking.
Had some family coming today so thought I'd better make and effort and make this cake. It's one I've made many times, using many different toppings, but as I had a lot of uneaten bananas thought I'd use them for a change. It's quite a big cake, made in a 26cm tin ,and served warm, makes a great dessert.
The original recipe was in a French magazine I bought when we lived there, but it's been adapted so many times that I'm going to claim it as mine!
If you like upside down cakes, this is one with a difference.

You make the topping first.
Melt 80g of butter in a heavy pan then sprinkle over 200g caster sugar and 100g brown sugar; add the juice of a lemon and 2 tbspns of boiling water. Bring this to the boil then simmer for 10 mins till a golden colour and like caramel.
Then slice 5 small ripe bananas into thick slices and add these to the pan with 100g pecans and 100g raisins. Cook for 3 mins over a high heat so that everything's coated in caramel. Spoon this into a 26cm springform tin which has been lined with parchment.
Preheat oven 180C/gas4
Beat 250g butter and 250g soft brown sugar together till creamy, then add 4 eggs. Add 250ml buttermilk or sour cream and mix together.
In another bowl sift 380g sr flour with 1/1/2 tspns baking powder, 2 tspns cinnamon and 2 tspns ginger, then add this to the batter. Mix together gently.
Pour over the nut mixture and bake for 75 mins till nice and springy.
Leave to cool in the tin for 5 mins, then place a plate on top of the tin and turn it over. Take off the sides, then the base and the paper. You should have an upside down cake!

Sorry, it's not a very clear photo, but the cake has gone so I can't take another one!

You can vary the topping to other nuts and fruit, or use different spices in the cake. It's got a good spicy flavour and a lovely contrast between the cake and topping. The bananas were a good addition and the caramel gave them a new dimension. As I said earlier, it's a great dessert with some cream or creme fraiche or even ice cream.


Hazelnut and Almond Gateau

Because we're now just 2 of us most of the time, I've decided not to join in any more challenges. I felt I was baking just for the challenges, and then we had to eat it. I know challenges are meant to do just that, but unless it's something that will fit in with us, I'm not going to join in.
So there will only be 'fancy' cakes as my Mum would say, when we have the children or visitors. But looking through my cookery books and great files of recipes, there are many simpler cakes I've never baked which we'd enjoy, so that's a challenge!
This cake came about because I found a packet of ground hazelnuts in my baking cupboard, and they needed using up. I've made this recipe before just using ground almonds, and replacing these with half ground hazelnuts worked fine; it made a slightly nutty cake. The filling is not the usual one for this recipe;T It's a bit extravagant, but delicious.
It's such an easy recipe to do, and takes very little time to make. The filling is the longest part, and this could be changed to a simple chocolate butter cream or even Nutella!

Grease 2x18cm sandwich tins and lines them. Preheat oven 190C/gas5.

Whisk 4 eggs with 100g caster sugar till white and creamy. Fold in 50g ground hazelnuts and 50g ground almonds. Then fold in 50g plain flour. That's it - just spoon it into the tins, scatter 50g flaked almonds over the top and bake for 15-20 mins till nice and springy. Cool on a wire rack.

Filling:   Melt 100g dark chocolate, take off the heat and add 15g chopped up butter. Leave it to slightly cool.
Whip 300ml double cream till just holding its shape, then fold it into the chocolate mixture.Stir gently till mixed.
Put the cake without almonds on a plate and spread over the filling; put the other cake on top and chill for about and hour to let the filling set. Eat!

A nice light sponge with a nutty texture. There's a lot of filling, so maybe half the amount would be sufficient.
Nice contrast between the cake and the filling and the crunchy almond topping.


Welsh Harvest Cake

I went to a farmer's market yesterday and couldn't resist buying yet more apples. It's the time of the year for them, for pies, cakes, chutney, jam. What could I do with them that would be something different? I remembered some apple recipes I'd cut out of a magazines ages ago, so I looked through them and found this one. I'm sure there are many recipes for regional Harvest Cakes, but my being Welsh, this recipe seemed very appropriate, and it's not long since we had Harvest.The countryside around us has been buzzing with combines and tractors.
It's an unusual cake because the fruit is put in in middle like a sandwich filling, and it seems as if there's much too much fruit for the batter. But have faith, all will be well!

Preheat oven 180C/gas4 and grease and line a 18cm cake tin

Melt 175g butter with 175g soft brown sugar - don't worry if it's not all dissolved, but stir it. Cool for a bit then add 2 beaten eggs. Sift 225g sr flour together with 1 tspn mixed spice and 1 tspn cinnamon then add the melted ingredients and mix together.
Put 450g apples [this is the weight after coring and chopping] with 100 g of dried fruit [sultanas and currants] and 50g flaked almonds in a bowl and mix together.
Spoon half of the cake batter into the tin then add the fruit and nuts then spoon the rest of the batter on top. It looks an awful lot of fruit to mixture, but don't worry.
Smooth the top of the cake batter and bake for about an hour.
Leave it in the tin for about half an hour to cool then turn out onto a wire rack.

I served this as a pudding today with a little cream; the fruit was nice and juicy and the cake had a good hit of spices. A good cake to have in my folder. We'll try it cold tomorrow, and see which we prefer.


Peanut, chocolate and pecan cookies

My grandsons came for the weekend, and as the weather wasn't very kind, I wanted to find something to do with them. They enjoy cooking, so we made some cookies.
The original recipe had walnuts in it, but I needed to use up the last of my pecans. We found the recipe in an old Blue Peter book, which had belonged to the boys' Dad. They were then called biscuits, but cookies sounded more modern.
They all took a turn beating the mixture, adding ingredients and making the cookies into balls. I have to own up that I drizzled the chocolate over the ones in the photo - their efforts had the chocolate mainly over the worktop! They proudly took the finished cookies [well most of them!] home for their Mum, and wanted to take some in their lunch boxes.
We made 15 cookies.

Preheat oven 190C/gas5 and grease 2 baking trays.

Put 125g butter, 70g soft brown sugar and 70g caster sugar in a bowl and beat together till nice and creamy. Add 1 beaten egg and beat into the mixture. Fold in 200g of plain flour which has had 1 tspn bicarbonate of soda added, then add 2 tbspn of crunchy peanut butter, 100g chopped chocolate and 100g chopped nuts.
Mix it all together, then pull together with your hands to make a ball of stickyish dough. If it's too sticky just add a little more flour.
Make 15 balls and put them on the baking trays, leaving some space for the cookies to spread. Squash them down a bit.
Bake for 10-12 mins till golden and cool on a wire rack.
Melt 100g chocolate and either drizzle the chocolate over the cookies, using a fork to make lines, or put the chocolate in an icing bag and pipe lines over.

We only tried one each, so they could take the rest home. Lovely textures - crunch from the peanuts and pecans, then a good hit of chocolate. Very moreish.


Apple Ginger Cake

Another simple but delicious apple cake.
Many years ago I entered a competition in a small magazine called 'Home and Freezer Digest'. You had to send in your favourite apple recipe, and the best 100 would be published. I did get a recipe [called 'Nutty Apples'] in the book, and I won a copy of the book [100 Best Apple Recipes] and a year's worth of the magazine. Why am I saying all this, well I found the rather tatty book in the loft recently, and it has some great apple recipes in it.
I still had a few of the windfall apples left so decided top make an apple and ginger cake from the book.
It's a small cake, so perfect for the 2 of us. It's unusual because the apple puree is mixed into the cake mixture rather than being a layer in the middle of the cake. This gives the cake a good flavour.
It could be used as a pudding with some custard - ideal for this colder weather.

Preheat oven 180C/gas4 and grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

You need:
225g of apples [I used the windfalls and an odd Bramley to make up the amount] - cored, peeled and sliced.
You cook these with 25g of sugar and 2 tbspn of water over a low heat till soft, then beat them into a puree.
Put 50g soft brown sugar, 100g golden syrup and 75g butter in a large pan and gently melt. Leave to cool down.
Sieve 150g sr flour with 2 tspns of ginger and 2 tspns of cinnamon and add to the pan with 1 beaten egg and the apple puree. Mix together well.
Spoon into the tin and bake for about 35-40 mins till golden. Cool in tin for a few mins then cool on a wire rack.
I made a rather poor layer of icing for the top [ ran out of icing sugar!] using a little apple juice instead of water.

As you can see from the photo, I decided to take out a little of the apple before it was cooked, to give a bit of texture to the cake.

It's a spongy texture, quite dense, with a fresh taste from the pureed apples. Glad I left some apple a bit chunky as it added another bit of texture, and there's a good hit of spices. Liked the icing, and it was enough for us, as we don't like things too sweet. A different kind of apple cake, and one I'll certainly make again.


Autumn Apple Loaf

This is my kind of cake - a nice simple apple loaf cake - just right for using up some apple windfalls which a friend gave me. Have been busy making chutney and trying apple butter [delicious]. I made some apple muffins and scones for my children to take, and this loaf for us. It's also nice as a dessert.

You preheat oven 170C/gas3 and line a 900g loaf tin with some baking parchment.

Using an electric mixer, beat 175g caster sugar and  175g butter together till nice and fluffy then add 3 eggs, one at a time. Add a tspn of vanilla extract and mix in.
In another bowl mix 225g of plain flour together with a tspn of baking powder, a tspn of ginger and a tspn of cinnamon.
Add this to the batter and fold in. Then add about 25ml milk to make a soft batter.

Peel and core about 3 small apples - chop most of it into small pieces, but leave a few pieces to slice for the top of the loaf. Mix the apple pieces into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the tin and arrange the slices along the top. Sprinkle about a tbspn of dark brown sugar over the slices.

Bake for about an hour till golden.

                          A lovely moist cake; you can taste the spices and then the soft apples pieces.

                                   I suppose the recipe is really a variation on a basic Madeira cake.


French pear crumble

I love crumbles of any kind, but this one has become my new love. Pears are one of my favourite fruit, so this recipe was a must try. It came from my French friend, as 'les crumbles' are very fashionable in France too. She likes trying out new flavour combinations and the ones she uses here are very different.
When cooked, pears always seem to go mushy, but cooked in this way, they seem to hold their texture.
It's also a new way of making a crumble - sprinkling it onto pear halves, instead of onto sliced or quartered pears.

You need:
for the crumble:
100g flour
80g soft brown sugar
1/2 tspn ginger
80g butter + about 20g to grease the dish
1 tspn soluble coffee

for the rest:
4 pears
50g sultanas or raisins
30g butter

Preheat oven 180C/gas 4

Put the sultanas or raisins in a bowl of warm water and leave them to soak for about 2 hours.

To make the crumble - put the flour in a bowl, add the ginger, sugar, coffee and the butter cut into pieces. Rub the butter in till you have breadcrumbs - not too fine.
Wash the pears, cut each in half and take out the core.Melt the 30g of butter and coat the pears with it.
Butter a gratin dish and put the pears, skin sides down into the dish and cook for 15mins in the oven, then take them out.
Drain the fruit. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over each pear half and add some of the fruit.
Cook for 20 mins till the crumble is golden and serve the pears warm.

The crumble topping was delicious - I loved the subtle hints of coffee and ginger. This has made me want to try out other flavours in a crumble mix. The pear was soft but not squishy - a great way to cook it.
Another recipe I'll be making again.


Sticky Toffee Cake

I love Sticky Toffee pudding, so having it in a cake form is my idea of heaven. The ingredients are virtually the same, just baked instead of steamed. Icing replaces the toffee sauce, but again you use almost the same ingredients. The recipe was given to me by a friend who runs a small cake shop, and this cake is one she makes regularly for her shop, and it's a best seller.

So, first preheat your oven to 180C/gas4. Grease and line a 28x18cm tin.
You need 225g of dates which you cut into pieces and put in a pan of water and bring to the boil. You boil them uncovered for about 10 mins till the dates are soft. Then take them off the heat and stir in 1 tspn of bicarbonate of soda, and leave to cool.
Cream together 175g of soft brown sugar and 115g of butter of margarine; add a tspn of vanilla extract.
gradually beat in 2 eggs and fold in the dates and 175g sr flour.
Spoon this mixture into your tin and bake for about 35 mins till nicely risen. If you need to, cover the cake for the last 10 mins as the dates are liable to burn.
To make the icing you heat 6tbspns of double cream, 80g soft brown sugar and 25g of butter gently in a saucepan till the sugar dissolves. Then bring to the boil and cook, uncovered for 4 mins till it's golden. Don't stir. Watch the mixture carefully, and take it off the heat if it gets too dark. Leave to cool.
When it's cool, beat in 25g of sifted icing sugar till it's smooth, then spread over the cake. I use a palette knife which I've wet to make a nice pattern on the cake. Leave the icing to set before you cut the cake.

A very indulgent cake - moist sponge, rich sticky sweetness from the dates, toffee icing - heaven in a slice!


Apricot and Ginger Loaf

I haven't made a loaf cake for a while, but having a sort out of my baking cupboard, I found some wholemeal flour, stem ginger and a bag of dried apricots that needed using. Thought they'd make a good combination in a loaf cake. I find using just wholemeal flour make cakes too heavy for my taste, so I always do half wholemeal and half white.
It's a quick loaf to make - preheat your oven to 180C/gas 4 and grease a 900g loaf tin.
Put 115g wholemeal flour and 115g plain flour in a bowl with 11/2 tspns of baking powder. Add 150g soft light brown sugar, 115g butter, 2 eggs, zest of a lemon and 2 tbspn of milk. Beat together using an electric mixer for about 2 mins then fold in 175g of dried apricots [not the ones you have to soak] which have been chopped. Finely chop 3 pieces of stem ginger and you need 4 tbspns of the syrup from the jar, Add these to the cake mixture. Thinly slice 1 more piece of stem ginger. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and level the top, then arrange the slices of ginger down the centre.
Bake for 1-1/4 hours and cover the top with some foil if it's getting too brown.
Leave the loaf to cool in the tin for a while then put it on a wire rack.
I decided to ice it with some glace icing using 115g icing sugar and 1 tbspn of lemon juice.

I think the stem ginger gives the loaf a much better flavour than ground ginger. The apricots worked well with the ginger, and I think the lemon icing gave it the finishing touch. 


Blueberry Buckle

Have been trying to unravel the difference between various American words used in desserts - slump, grunt, cobbler and buckle. I've made a cobbler a few times, cutting out scone-like cobbles to put on top of the fruit but what's a grunt or a slump? Great words, and what  pictures they conjure up.
I found a recipe in an American book I bought from 'The Works' years ago, for a Blueberry Buckle. This sounded intriguing so I had to make one. What is it? It's a cake mixture with the fruit added which is put into the bottom of the cake tin, and a streusel type mixture is spooned on top. The name Buckle is supposed to have been used because the top of the baked dessert looks like it's buckled under the heat  - it does, so maybe there's some truth in this idea.

I altered some of the amounts in the recipe, as there seemed to be too much flour in the cake part. I'll certainly make the recipe again, but I'd use less sugar in the topping as it was way too sweet for our tastes.
I should also have tossed the blueberries in some flour before adding them to the cake mixture, as most of them sank to the bottom of the cake.

If you want to try a Buckle, then here's my adapted recipe - the original was in cups, so I converted it to grams, and it worked out fine.

The original recipe came from a book called 'The Big Book of American Recipes' -  it has no named author and was published in 1992

150g sugar
                                                                55g butter [in the original recipe they used shortening]
1 egg
125ml milk
                                       200g plain flour [original used 300g]
                   2 tspns baking powder
   1/2 tspn salt
                   about 250g blueberries

Preheat oven 190c/gas 5
cake mixture - cream the fat and sugar, beat in the egg; mix the baking powder and salt into the flour and add to the mixture, alternating with the milk. Add the blueberries and spoon into a 8" square cake tin, well greased.

   100g sugar
45g flour
  55g butter
                                                1tspn cinnamon [my addition as I love it!]

 topping - rub the fat into the flour and add the sugar and cinnamon. Don't rub it too fine - you need it a bit lumpy. Spoon this over the cake mixture in the tin. Bake for 25-30 mins.

You can see how most of the blueberries have sunk to the bottom of the cake layer.  I loved the contrast between the soft cake layer with the juicy berries and the crunchy topping.  It's a delicious dessert, warm or cold, and OH ate his with cream.
Oh, I forgot to say that a slump and a grunt are the same thing; different parts of the USA use different names for them. It's stewed or baked fruit with a scone-like topping rolled out over the top [or put underneath in some areas with the fruit on top!]. This is one definition of them, but I'm sure other people would disagree and have their own ideas.


Plum tart

This is a really quick dessert I did to use up some plums which were going soft. It was in a supplement in Woman's Weekly magazine ages ago, and I've made it with various fruit - apricots, pears, apples as well as the original plums. I add cinnamon as we love it. It uses bought puff pastry and store cupboard ingredients, plus the fruit.

You need 500g puff pastry, 10 plums which you halve and stone, 4tbspn ground almonds, 1 tbspn icing sugar, 1 tbspn vegetable oil, a tspn cinnamon, about 55g flaked almonds, 2 tbspn honey and milk or beaten egg to brush around the edges of the pastry.
You can also use 100g marzipan which you grate, but I didn't use any.

You preheat oven 190C/gas5 and you need a baking sheet.

Roll the pastry out to a 30x20cm rectangle. Score it 2cm in from the edge all the way round, but don't cut it through.
Put the ground almonds, icing sugar and oil in a blender a make into a paste. I used a little more than 1 tbspn oil as my paste wouldn't come together. Then you spread this over the pastry, inside the lines you've scored, and sprinkle with the grated marzipan. Put the plum halves face down on top of this and sprinkle over the flaked almonds. Drizzle with some honey. Brush the edges with milk or egg wash.and bake for 25-30 mins till the pastry's golden and the plums are soft.
Cut into 8 slices when cool.

A nice easy, quick dessert.


Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

When living in France, I loved the homely cakes my French neighbours baked, as opposed to the great patisserie you buy in the specialist shops. We took it in turns to make a traditional cake to have with coffee or tea. If it was with tea, it was always a fruit flavoured one or a tisane, never our black tea [except in our house]. This is one my next door neighbour made regularly; it's her grandmother's recipe, and she called it a 'Gateau au chocolat a l'ancienne'. I make it in a loaf tin instead of in the usual 'moule a manque', the traditional round French cake tin. It's great with an afternoon cuppa, or as a dessert with some ice cream or creme anglaise. It's normally made using cooking or dessert chocolate [of which there are many good makes in France], but I use dark chocolate from a supermarket, not an expensive bar.
Here's the recipe - it's so easy to make and is delicious.

150g dessert or plain chocolate
3 eggs
100g caster sugar
60g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
50g ground almonds
80g butter
also some butter to grease the tin

Preheat oven 200C/gas 6

Grease a 900g loaf tin [or a 20cm round one if you prefer] with some butter.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt over a saucepan of simmering water with the 80g of butter and 5 tbspn of water.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar till it's white and fluffy. Then add the flour with the baking powder, the ground almonds and the melted chocolate. Mix well together.
Pour into the tin and bake for 30-35 mins.
Leave to cool in the tin for 5 mins before putting on a wire rack.

I forgot to say that I added a few nuts, but I didn't have enough, so in hindsight, it would have been better without them! That's my Mum's old flour sifter in the photo, but I use it for icing sugar, otherwise I make an awful mess!
The cake is light and has a good chocolate flavour. It's a useful recipe to have when you want a quick cake.


Indian Banana Yoghurt Cake

I wanted to make something different and this recipe fitted the bill. It was given to one of our friends when they were staying in an hotel in Mumbai and is supposed to be a good ending to a spicy meal.
I've made yoghurt cake before, such as the one using a yoghurt pot as a measure, but this is completely different; for one thing it uses ghee, clarified butter. There's a big Indian community locally so I was able to find it in one of the Indian shops, but I think I've also seen it in the supermarket.You can make your own - heat double the amount of butter you need and pour it into a dish. Allow it to cool for 15mins then carefully pour off the clear golden liquid on top - this is the ghee. You don't need the milk solids underneath.
The cake has an icing made with sour cream and icing sugar. I made a few changes to the recipe as I don't like dessicated coconut, which was used to coat the sides of the cake tin after they'd been greased. The leftovers were added to the cake mixture -I didn't do this, but I did toast some shredded coconut, which I also found in the Indian shop, and used it to decorate the top of the cake.
Here's the recipe - I don't know the name of the hotel B got it from, but thank you to them!

125g ghee
160g caster sugar
40g brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 medium bananas, very ripe
200g thick plain yoghurt
250g sr flour
1 tspn cinnamon
1/2 tspn mixed spice
200g sour cream or creme fraiche
100g icing sugar
50g toasted shredded coconut to decorate [opt]

preheat oven 190C/gas5
23cm springform cake tin - greased and base lined

Beat the ghee and sugars together till creamy then add the eggs one at a time, beating well.
Mash the bananas and add to the mixture with the yoghurt, flour and spices. Stir well to mix together.
Spoon into the tin and level the top.
Bake for 45-55 mins till firm and springy.
leave to cool in the tin for 15mins then turn out onto a wire rack.
For the icing - mix the sour cream and icing sugar together till it's thick and spreadable, then spread over the top of the cake and sprinkle on the shredded coconut.

This is a very dense and rich cake, so cut it into small slices. It keeps well in an airtight tin.
I loved the texture, but found it rather sweet; I think Indian desserts are often very sweet, so would use less sugar if I made it again. The banana makes the cake moist, as does the yoghurt. The shredded coconut was a good addition, and gave it another texture. A cake with a difference to try, but maybe only for a special occasion.
To make the cake exactly as the recipe said, you also need 80g of toasted dessicated coconut. When you've greased the cake tin you pour in the coconut and tip the tin around to coat the sides. Tip out the what's left and add it to the cake batter.


Jenny's Peach Tart

My friend Jenny came to stay recently, and as usual, brought me a few recipes she thought I'd like. We've always exchanged recipes, and her cheesecake is legendary in my family.
I have to say that I cheated a bit, as I used tinned peaches because I couldn't find any ripe ones in the shops; it still tasted great. It's very simple - peaches in frangipane. You can use bought pastry too. Jenny said that it tastes better if you grind whole almonds, instead of buying ground almonds ready done. It didn't take long to whizz them in the food processor.

                           400g shortcrust pastry [can use butter JusRol if you're feeling lazy]
                            200g whole blanched almonds
                            150g caster sugar
                            125g  unsalted butter
                            2  eggs
                            5 peaches, skins removed and halved (or you can use tinned - 10 halves!]
                            5tbspn apricot jam
                             icing sugar to dust

Preheat oven 180C/gas4
Grease a 23cm loose-bottomed tin

 Line the tin with the pastry, leaving edges overlapping and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Whizz the almonds in a food processor till they look like coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside. 
Beat butter and sugar together till light and fluffy, then add the eggs and almonds. Mix together.
Don't put it in the fridge or you'll never be able to spread it on the pastry! 

 Line the chilled pastry with foil and beans, and blind bake for 20 minutes. 
Trim off the overhanging pastry. 

Reduce the oven temperature to 150C/ gas 2. 

Add the almond filling and arrange the peaches on top.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, till golden brown. 
Melt the apricot jam in a saucepan and brush over the top of the tart, then dust with icing sugar. 
Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

I love the texture of frangipane - the soft almond mixture, then the contrast with the peaches and the crunch of the pastry. This would work with other fruit like plums, apricots or pears, but the fruit needs to be able to hold it's shape when cooked, so soft fruit wouldn't be any good. Another idea would be to make individual tartlets.  Suelle from Mainly Baking blog made some lovely gooseberry frangipane tartlets. Have a look here. Oh, my idea of not using soft fruit isn't valid!
I have a lovely fluted tartlet tin, so think I'll make some tartlets using a different fruit, which I'd slice before adding to the frangipane mixture.


Garden time

A few photos from my tiny urban garden. We've tried to pack a lot into it, and our veg are doing well in Grow Bags in the greenhouse. This year we're growing 5 different types of tomatoes, French beans, peppers  various types of salad, peppers and chillies.
My OH has built 2 large planters and one is full of herbs with a climbing rose growing up the bag on trellis, and the other has flowers, with another rose climbing at the back.

                             We have lots of pots around, and this one has a pretty azalea I bought earlier this year.

The climbing rose was here when we moved in, so we planted a clematis and this year it's been beautiful, growing up into the rose.

This rose is our farewell gift from our lovely French neighbours. We planted it in a pot, and now it's still in its pot but we've cut out the base so its roots can go down into the ground. It has a wonderful perfume.

I'm really pleased with these petunias I bought at my local supermarket. They look great in my French blue pots either side of the front door.

 Another pot we brought back from France was our lemon tree; it overwinters in the greenhouse and has several fruits on it, but they take ages to turn lemon!

I love the flowers on this clematis.It was a gift from my sil when we moved in, but last year it had clematis wilt, went brown, so we had to cut in right back. I thought we'd lost it, but one little shoot appeared and then it started to grow, and it produced these pretty flowers.

 Some peonies that grow in the corner of our garden. It's a shame the flowers don't last, but they're lovely all the same.

Finally, another photo of the clematis; looks as if it's asleep!


Chocolate and ginger cheesecake

We had some friends for a few days and it was G's birthday, so I wanted to make a nice dessert instead of a cake. He loves ginger, and I had a large jar of ginger confit bought on our last French trip. This could give the cheesecake a good ginger flavour, and be the decoration on the top. I read somewhere recently that ricotta makes a good cheesecake, so decided to use half ricotta and half my usual Philly. I used digestive biscuits, but could have used something with chocolate in them.

180g biscuits
250g ricotta
250g Philadelphia cheese
200g dark chocolate
2 eggs and 1 yolk
80g caster sugar
80g candied ginger and 50g for the decoration
60g butter
Icing sugar for top

Preheat oven 150C/gas2
You need a 23cm springform tin.

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor or bash them with a rolling pin.
Melt the butter and mix with the biscuits crumbs.
Use your fingers to press it into the base of the tin, then put in the fridge.
Melt the broken up chocolate in a microwave or over simmering water.
In a bowl beat together the ricotta, Philly, sugar, eggs and yolk. Add the melted chocolate and the chopped candied ginger and stir together.
Pour into the tin and bake for about an hour.
Let the cheesecake cool, then put it in the fridge overnight or for 12 hours.
Sprinkle some icing sugar over the top then decorate with the rest of the ginger, left in pieces this time and not chopped.

It had a really good ginger flavour, and I liked the mixture of the ricotta and Philly. Maybe another time I'll try half ricotta and half fromage frais.  The cheesecake had a nice smooth texture, and then the bit of crunchy ginger. I'll make the cheesecake recipe again without the ginger, and maybe use something else which is slightly crunchy, as I really liked the added texture to the smooth filling.


Apple, pecan and apricot loaf cake

We love tea breads and loaf cakes, or anything with fruit in really. I found this recipe in my cuttings folder, and I think it originally came from 'Woman's Weekly' magazine a few years ago. I adapted it to suit our tastes, as the original recipe used prunes, apple and pecans. It also used wholemeal flour, but I'd run out, so used white. I added some cinnamon, which is always good with apples, imho, and I didn't toast the pecans, as suggested.
So here's my adapted recipe:

1 apple [about 175g - I used a granny Smith with its skin on]
175g dried apricots
175g pecans
11/2 tspns baking powder
220g plain flour
110g butter or margarine
175g light demerara sugar
2 beaten eggs
3 tbspn milk

Preheat oven 180C/gas4

Grease and bottom line a 900g loaf tin.

Add the baking powder and cinnamon to the flour and sieve into a bowl. Then add the other ingredients, except the fruit and nuts, and beat together with an electric hand mixer. If the mixture seems to thick and doesn't drop off the beaters, add a bit more milk.

Spoon into the tin and bake for about 1 hr and 15mins. I had to cover the top towards the end, as the top was browning and the middle wasn't cooked. Leave to cool in the tin.

                      This is the mixture before being stirred together - rather a lot of fruit and nuts!

It's a very moist cake, and breaks easily. I think there's too much fruit, so would use less if I made it again. It does, however, have a great flavour. The original recipe said to leave the apricots whole, but this seemed a silly idea, so I chopped them in quarters, and even then they were fairly big chunks.


Marzipan cookies

These came about because I had a sort out in my baking cupboard and found some marzipan that needed using up.
 I remembered eating some biscuits in France that had a layer of marzipan in the middle, and they were delicious, so thought I'd have a try and make something similar. I used my usual cookie recipe, rolled out the dough and added a chunk of marzipan to the circles I'd cut out. To give an extra flavour I added a few bits of broken dark chocolate before putting another circle on top and sealing them together. I piped some white chocolate over when they were cold.

I made 12 complete cookies.

150g butter
150g light brown sugar
1 egg
250g flour
100g marzipan
100g dark chocolate, broken in small pieces
100g white chocolate

Preheat oven 190C/gas5
Line a baking sheet with some parchment paper.

Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, then beat in the egg. Fold in the
Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 1/2 cm thick, then using a 8 cm cutter, cut out 24 circles.
Put 12 circles on the baking sheet and add a chunk of marzipan and a few pieces of dark chocolate, then cover with another circle. Press the edges together so that the filling doesn't leak out. Bake for about 12 mins, then cool on a wire rack.
Melt the white chocolate carefully and spoon into an icing bag. Pipe lines on the cold cookies.

I loved them - loved the texture and the flavours of the marzipan and chocolate. The white chocolate decoration added a bit more glamour.
A question - are they cookies or biscuits - I don't really know what the difference is?


Scones with mascarpone

I'm on a quest to find the perfect scone. I've tried recipes from various people - Delia, Mary Berry, Nigella etc but still haven't found one that really makes me feel - yes, that's it!
Trying out yet another recipe today, one I've made before, I decided to try using some mascarpone as well as milk to make it more moist. I also used soft light brown sugar instead of my usual caster sugar. Would this be my perfect scone?
Here's my adapted recipe:

340g sr flour
1 tspn baking powder
80g butter in pieces
2 tbpsn soft light brown sugar
80g mascarpone
90ml milk
1 beaten egg to glaze the tops

Preheat oven 190C/gas 6-7
I used a silicone mat on my baking sheet, but a dusting of flour on a sheet would be fine.

Put the flour, baking powder, butter and sugar in a food processor and blitz till breadcrumbs. Add the mascarpone and blitz for a couple of seconds. If you don't want to use a processor just rub the fat into the flour and sugar then rub in the mascarpone. Tip this mixture into a bowl, make a well and add the milk. Use a knife to mix and your hands to bring it all together. Don't overwork it.
Roll out gently to about 2 cm thick, then cut out rounds with a 6cm fluted or plain cutter.
Brush tops with the beaten egg and bake for 10-12 mins till golden and risen. Cool on a wire rack.

I was very happy with the result; they rose and had lovely golden colour.I just gently broke them apart and buttered them and added home made strawberry jam, but no cream! They were really soft and the brown sugar gave them a lovely taste, but they weren't too sweet. I'll certainly make them again, but my search for my perfect scone continues.


White chocolate and rhubarb muffins

At long last our rhubarb plants in the garden have got their act together and produced a decent amount of fruit. I made a crumble and a cake, both of which I put in the freezer, and wanted to use up the last pieces. This is my dil's favourite muffin recipe - not with rhubarb and chocolate, but she loves blueberries and raspberries. I found the addition of Greek yoghurt rather unusual, as I usually use milk.
I was going to just make rhubarb muffins, then found I had some white chocolate to use up; it's a good combination.

80g butter
150g sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten
100ml Greek yoghurt
225g flour + 1 tspn baking powder
400g rhubarb chopped into small pieces
150g white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven 200C/gas6
Filla 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases

Beat butter and sugar together.
Add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract and yoghurt and gently combine.
Fold in the flour and then add the rhubarb and chocolate. Blend together thoroughly, but don't overmix.
Spoon into the paper cases and bake for about 20 mins.

A change from my usual recipe with oil. The Greek yoghurt makes them moist, and the muffins have a good texture, with a good contrast between the chunks of chocolate and the soft pieces of rhubarb. They're quite sweet, but this is balanced by the tartness of the rhubarb. I'll certainly make these again.

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