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Flapjacks

Flapjacks

New Year is here and I am glad.  By now even I have had my fill of rich food, mince pies, Christmas cake, plum pudding and endless little snacks.  Not to mention the chocolates!

Today I feel I can say no more rich food.  There again I might say that in my mind but my somewhere else can’t quite go to the other extreme.

I need to cook a treat that is somewhat guilt free and perhaps something I feel that is not all bad.  Enter the Flapjack.  The butter, sugar and syrup might not be all good but the oats are, and that is the guilt free ingredient I am hanging on to.

When I started cooking I would look through my mothers cookery books for inspiration of what I might like to make.  Something that would be simple and that had a very small window for failure but tasted wonderful.  After I had persuaded my mother to let me use the kitchen, instead of going for simple I opted for complicated and the result was a complete failure.  This put back my biscuit making by quite a few months and I was barred from using the kitchen again.  I had to wait until my mother had gone out for the afternoon before embarking on my next choice, the Flapjack.

They didn’t disappoint me then and they still don’t disappoint now.  They are no oil painting of a biscuit but as the saying goes ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.

Flapjacks

Ingredients

4 oz/125g Butter

3 oz/80g Golden syrup (leave a metal spoon in boiling water for a few minutes then measure out the golden syrup, this will help the syrup to slide off the spoon)

3 oz/80g Soft brown sugar

8 oz/250g Rolled oats

Oven:  Gas Mark 4/350F/180C

Swiss roll tin 8” x 12” /20cm x 30cm (the tin size isn’t vital, there is a small amount of give and take)

Method

Put the butter, golden syrup and sugar into a pan and gently melt.  Once melted remove from heat and add the oats and stir well.

Spread the mixture onto a non-stick buttered tin roughly 8” x 12” using a fork, press the mixture down and spread-out evenly across the tin.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes.  Watching that the edges do not burn.

Leave in the tin for a few minutes, then with a sharp knife divide into fingers.

Straight out of the oven the mixture will be too soft to divide up so it’s best to leave it a few minutes.  The mixture cools very quickly and if left too long will not cut easily as it will become too brittle.

After dividing, leave it to cool before turning over the tin and tapping them out.  My method is to prise them out individually using the excuse of eating any broken ones.

Store in an airtight tin or container and they will keep a couple of days, the longer you keep them the softer they become.

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Every year I use the same recipe for my Christmas cake.  This is a well tried and tested recipe perfected over many years.  One year I tried five different recipes.  After much debating and tasting we whittled it down to one and then improved on it.  The family like it and that’s good enough for me.

When I was a little girl my mother had high hopes for her Christmas cake.  Cake icing was not a skill she possessed but each year she approached the task of icing the Christmas cake with new hope and vigor, thinking that this year she would create the perfect iced cake.  Each year the cake would be presented with an iced snow scene adorned with small fir trees, an overfed robin, and several patchy reindeer, topped off with the piece de resistance – the shop bought frayed red ribbon.

Achieving the snow scene was a torturous journey for both my mother and me.  It would start with the mixing of the royal icing. I would sit silently at the kitchen table watching.   This phase usually passed in a fairly upbeat mood, then the palette knife would make an appearance and my mother would attempt her foray into cake icing nirvana, kidding herself that the icing would just glide on and be perfect.   As each layer went on, the more uneven the cake became.  My initial encouragement of how good it was looking would soon dry up and a murderous tension could be felt in the air, at this stage I readied myself to flee.

In a last ditch attempt of redeeming things my mother would then move onto the icing syringe which was filled to the brim with royal icing, again she would struggle and labour over trying to squeeze out perfect shapes as demonstrated on the cover of the box but to no avail.  When eventually my mother realised she had been beaten, the palate knife re-appeared and with a few swift hand movements we were back to plan B; the snow scene.    Having stuck by my mother during her icing ordeal I would be rewarded with the task of pushing the aged but much loved cake ornaments into the deep waves of royal icing before it was finished off with a red ruff and, put on a raised dish and placed in the dining room, ready for Christmas.

My mother’s Christmas snow scene may not have been perfect but it has become a fond memory I hold with great affection along with those worn Christmas cake ornaments.

I have said it before and I will say it again recipes evolve because people change them.  If I don’t like currants, I leave them out and add the same weight in raisins.  If I don’t like cinnamon I don’t add it.  I am a big fan of cherries but I sometimes swap them for more apricots.  There are no hard and fast rules.

Christmas Cake

or

Rich Fruit Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Stage One

Ingredients

225g/8 oz currants

225g/8 0z raisins

225g/8 oz sultanas

50g/2 oz dried apricots chopped small

175g/6 oz glace cherries cut into quarters or halves depending on how I am feeling.

100ml/4 floz brandy

Method

Pick over the fruit for any stalks this might not seem important at this stage but I hate eating a piece of cake and getting a bit of stalk stuck in my teeth. 

Put all the fruit into an airtight dish and add the brandy.  Stir well to blend, seal and leave. 

I tend to leave mine in a dark cupboard for two weeks or more, stirring the fruit every week or so.  The smell is fantastic and after two weeks the fruit has plumped up beautifully.

Ingredients

Stage Two

50g/2 oz blanched almonds chopped roughly but small

50g/2 oz brazil nuts chopped roughly but small

225g/8 oz butter

225g/8 oz soft dark brown sugar

4 eggs

225g/8 oz white plain flour

5ml/1 level tsp ground mixed spice

 ½ level tsp ground cinnamon

Greaseproof paper

string

brown paper or an old large envelope

Method

Draw around the bottom of your 8″ cake tin on top of a double layer of greaseproof paper, cut out the circles and line the bottom of the cake tin with these.

Cut a length of greaseproof paper this is going to line the inside of the tin, this needs to be folded in half and placed inside the tin it should be raised above the height of the tin.  Then cut a length of brown paper folded over to go around the outside of the tin again raised above the height of the tin.  This is to help the cake from burning.  A little like a sun shield.

The oven needs to be set at 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.

Soften the butter and beat until soft and pale, now add the sugar and beat well until it is all blended.

In a measuring jug beat the four eggs and begin to pour them into the mixture a little at a time, beating constantly.  If the mixture begins to curdle add a tablespoon of flour and keep beating until it goes back to a smooth consistency.

Add the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon, and using a metal spoon gently fold into the mixture.  Add the fruit and the chopped nuts.  Using the metal spoon continue to fold in gently.  If the mixture for some reason seems dry or heavy, add 2 tbsp milk.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top with the back of the spoon making a slight dome in the centre.  This will help the cake to bake level.

Bake in the centre of the oven 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2 for 3 ½  hours.  I either write down the time I put the cake in or use the timer.  It’s important to get the timing right.  After 3 1/2 hours check the cake with a skewer.  If it comes out clean then it’s done, there is a lot of brandy-laden fruit in the cake so I look closely that it’s not fruit sticking to the skewer.

When the cake is done do not remove from the tin but allow it to sit until it is completely cold and then unwrap.  The cake will keep for three months but it needs to be wrapped in greaseproof paper and then foil and tightly sealed.  I then place the cake in a plastic bag, which is tied, and then into an airtight container.

I prefer to bake my cake in the middle of November to give it some time to mature.  I do not feed the cake with brandy after I have baked it.  I prefer to use the brandy to pump up the fruit.   I then cover the cake with marzipan and fondant icing.

I have also made this without marzipan and icing and instead have decorated the top with whole almonds and cherries, which I put on just before putting the cake in the oven.

If covered in the marzipan and icing it will stand being left on display which I do once it has had it final decoration but once its been cut I store it in an airtight container.  It will keep for ages like this.

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This is a quick and easy way to use up leftover chicken from a Sunday Roast.  It doesn’t have to be chicken, turkey would do.  Sometimes when I don’t have any left over roast chicken and I have a yearning for chicken pie, I just poach a chicken breast in a saucepan with some stock instead.

Leeks give the dish a little lift whereas onions would overpower the chicken.  They also give a little bit of colour too.  I sometimes replace the leeks with a sliced red pepper.  This is an easy recipe which can be played around with.

I also like to cook my pastry separately on a baking sheet as I like the pastry crispy all the way through.  This meal in some ways is a bit of a cheat because it can be put together very quickly.

I used a rough puff pastry recipe but you can also use frozen or fresh pastry from the supermarket.  Like everything else, homemade always tastes better.

Chicken Pie

Ingredients

Cooked Chicken (I used one breast left over from the roast and some extra meat from the carcass)

1 Leek trimmed top and bottom, washed and chopped into discs.

1 ½  oz butter

1 ½  oz plain flour

1 tsp Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

½ pint milk or a little more depending on how thick you like your sauce

½ lb mushrooms sliced

a small amount of butter or oil to fry the mushrooms

If you wish you could add sweetcorn to pad out the chicken.

Method

In a saucepan melt the butter then add the leek.  Using a wooden spoon stir and gently separate the leek rings so that they cook uniformly.  Do not let them brown you need them to soften.

Add the flour and stir leave on a low heat for a few minutes so that the butter incorporates the flour and the taste of the flour is cooked out.

Add the milk a bit at a time stirring continuously and bring to a gentle boil.  The sauce should be custard like and smooth, if not take the pan off the heat and give it your best spoon action until all the lumps have been beaten out.  If you want a looser sauce then add a little more milk.

In another pan add a little butter or oil and fry your mushrooms.  To keep their shape more cook on a medium heat.  When coloured slightly remove and drain and add these to the sauce along with the chicken and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Empty out into a pie dish and depending how you wish to cook your pastry either cover the dish with pastry or foil and place in the oven Gas mark 7/220c for 40/45 minutes.  I put the chicken warm from the pan on the middle shelf and the pastry on a baking sheet on the top shelf.  When the pastry has gone golden brown it is generally an indication that the pie filling is also done.  As the chicken is cooked already all you are doing is fusing the flavours.

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Spring is here and so is the Quiche and Flan season.  There is something about serving a Quiche in winter that doesn’t seem right.  It’s a summer dish – maybe it’s because of the sunny yellow that comes through from the eggs and cheese or maybe because its best suited to serve with salads, I just don’t know.  Quiche in winter just seems so wrong.    Neither do I know which title to give my little dish, is it a Tart, Flan or Quiche?

Quiche is so easy – I always seem to forget this little fact.  I have made the pastry in the morning, lined the tin with it and left it in the fridge until the evening when I have taken it out, blind baked while making up the filling.  The added bonus it can be eaten hot or cold so another meal is taken care of for the following day.  I have also taken it on picnics – the secret being to keep it in the flan dish so it doesn’t break up in transit.

Watercress Flan/Quiche/Tart

Ingredients

75g/3 oz plain flour

75g/3 oz wholemeal flour

pinch of salt

40g/1 ½ oz butter

40g/1 ½ oz lard (may not sound appealing but it does improve the pastry)

2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg yolk

Iced water to mix (I used 2 mean tbs water)

Filling

25g /1 oz butter

1 bunch spring onions chopped

1 bunch watercress finely chopped

3 eggs

142ml/5 fl oz soured cream (I couldn’t get soured so squeezed some lemon juice into double cream)

125g/4oz cheddar cheese grated

My method is to throw into a food processor the flours, salt, butter and lard and whizz for a minute.  If the mixture does not resemble  fine breadcrumbs whizz again for 30 seconds and check again.  Add the Parmesan and give a ten second whiz to mix.  Add the egg yolk and a little iced water (I used 2 small tablespoons) and whiz again until it forms a ball in the processor.

Roll out onto a floured board and line a 8 inch flan dish.  Push the pastry into the fluted edges of the dish.  Prick all over the pastry with a fork and place in the fridge for a minimum of 30 mins.  Longer is better.  Pricking the bottom and sides with a fork will prevent it from bubbling as it bakes.  It’s not the end of the world if the flan dish is 7 inches or oblong in shape.  The fabulous thing about pastry is that if there is any left over that would be enough to make a small tartlet;  wrap it in a freezer bag and place into the freezer and use when needed.

When the pastry has had the required rest, remove from fridge and line the flan with greaseproof paper or foil and weigh down with dried beans and cook for 12-15 mins at Gas mark 5/190C/373F.  Take out and remove foil/greaseproof paper and beans and put back in the oven for another 5 mins.

Then melt the butter in a pan and add the onions and cook for 5 mins not allowing them to burn.  Stir in the watercress and cook for 2 mins until wilted.

Beat the eggs and soured cream together;  add the cheese salt and pepper.

Spoon the onion and watercress into the flan, you will need to use a fork to spread out the mixture evenly then pour over the egg mix and return to the oven for 20-25 mins until golden brown.

Serve hot or cold.

I love to eat this when it’s cooled.  I have also found that if I put it in the fridge after its got cold the pastry tends to tense up and becomes a little bit firm.  So I tend to eat it within 24 hours and try to avoid putting it in the fridge.

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When I was at school we were taught Home economics which included all the basic skills to run a home.  Some of the lessons proved not very useful but others did such as rough puff pastry.  It’s a recipe that can be used in so many ways.  Savoury or sweet and is much easier and much much nicer than anything bought.

Sausage rolls made with rough puff pastry was one of the delights that returned home with me from school after a hard afternoon at the home economics hot house that was known as Santa Maria.  Home economics took up a whole afternoon and we had a choice each term of sewing or cooking.  We all looked forward to those afternoons because they were easy and laid back.

Santa Maria was a detached slightly shabby Victorian house that sat alone in woodland.  We would have to cut across a couple of playing fields to get to it and of course none of us rushed.  So, straight after the lunch register we were free to make our way over to Santa Maria on our own.  We would break up into small groups of girls and take our time finding fresh interest in the surrounding flora and fauna.  A couple of the more flighty ones would disappear off for a smoke.   There was no register taking at Santa Maria so not everyone felt obliged to turn up.

The house itself was lovely;  there was a large light hallway with a large wooden staircase, which no one seemed to go up, what went on upstairs was a mystery to us girls.  The main bay fronted room to the front was the sewing room and the cooking went on in the kitchen and pantry area.  We were split into twos and worked at little tables.  The recipe and instructions were read out to us and we would have to write this down in a notebook in pencil and then work from this.  I wish I had kept my little instruction books as everything was so precise and had a reason.  We also used to doodle hearts with our names plus the boy of the moment on the inside of the covers maybe imagining how blissful married life would be cooking and cleaning for the chosen one!!

Rough Puff Pastry

8oz / 225g plain flour

Pinch of salt

5oz / 140g unsalted butter cut into little squares

Very cold to icy water

Sift the flour and the pinch of salt into a bowl.  Add the butter squares.  Without rubbing in the butter add the water – there is no real measure you will need to add the water a tablespoon at a time.  Start by adding 4 tablespoons and if the mixture doesn’t blind together add another – remember you can add water but you can’t take it away!

Use a knife to incorporate the water and then use your hands, knead very lightly you just want to bring the ingredients together to form one ball.

Wrap the pastry and let it relax in a fridge for 10 minutes or longer.

After ten minutes take the pastry out and on a floured board and a floured rolling pin roll the pastry into a strip 12” x 4” or 30 x 10 cm.  Take this stage slowly and remember to roll away from you.  Don’t roll back and forth just press down firmly with the rolling pin and push away trying not to over stretch or break the pastry.

Now turn the pastry so it is in a long strip in front of you, fold the left side over and then the right side over this so it’s like a book.  Keeping the pastry with the fold to your left roll out again to 1/2”/1 cm thick.  Now fold this again in three and put wrapped in a freezer bag in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes or more.

Repeat the same process again by rolling into a strip and folding over twice.  Place back into freezer bag and into the fridge to rest for 15 minutes or more.

Roll and fold again one more time.  The pastry should be flexible and there should be no big streaks of butter showing.

Roll into shape and rest once more before cooking.

I prefer to cut my pastry into a pie shape or if I wanted to be posh a chapeau and cook it on a baking tray adding it on top of my pie filling when cooked.

If you use an egg wash on the top don’t brush it all the way across to the edge as this will seal the edge and stop the pastry from rising.

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A cream tea is something quintessentially English. It consists of a pot of tea, a scone, a pot of strawberry jam and clotted cream.  A proper cream tea is with clotted cream; some establishments I have had the misfortune to visit have had the nerve to replace the clotted cream with whipped double cream or even more heinous – squirty cream, which is nothing short of an insult to the scone.  Nothing beats the thick heavenly, buttery clotted cream with its yellow crust.

Heating cream in shallow pans until a thick layer or clots of cream appear, creates clotted cream.  It has the texture and colour of soft butter with a slightly crusty top, with a very rich creamy taste.  It can be served with any dessert.  Clotted cream needs no whipping, its used straight from the container.    If golden syrup is added over the top it is known as thunder and lightning.

My brother used to live in Devon and whenever I went down to visit, top of our list of treats was a cream tea at Angel’s Tearooms.  We would sit outside in the enclosed courtyard looking across Lyme Bay.  A large pot of tea and a couple of clotted cream and jam scones were our regular order.  We would sit and watch the world go by whilst stuffing our faces, always discussing how our mother was missing out.  She hated cream teas.  Her choice would be to drink the tea and then with a swift and practised hand, would whip open her serviette and deftly wrap the scone into a neat parcel, which would then disappear into her handbag, to be eaten at leisure in the comfort of her home.  What actually happened was that the scone was forgotten and by the time it was found it was past eating so would end up stale and in the bin.  We don’t know where she got this nasty habit from because all of us, including my grandmother, were all great fans of the great English afternoon cream tea.

Scones

8oz/225g of self raising flour

pinch of salt

3oz/75g of butter cut into small squares

1 ½ oz/40g caster sugar

2 tbs milk

1 large egg

Put the flour and salt into a food processor and add the butter.  Whizz until it resembles very fine breadcrumbs.  Add the caster sugar and mix.

Beat the egg with 2 tbs milk and add to the flour mixture and whiz for a minute.  If it hasn’t formed a dough ball add a little more milk, you can add but you can’t take away so be sparing.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and form a ball.  Roll the ball with a floured rolling pin to a 1-inch thickness this is not the point to be mean.  Better to have 8 fabulous scones than 10 not so fabulous.  I don’t guess I get out the ruler.

With a 2 inch/5cm cutter cut out the scones and place them on a baking tray.  Once the cutter has gone into the dough do not twist just make a clean cut and put them onto the baking tray.  I have found giving the cutter a squeeze or shake usually dislodges the scone.  When the dough is used up gently reform the left over dough and repeat until it’s all used up.

Brush the scones with milk and place in the oven Gas mark 7/425C/220C for 10-12 minutes.  After 10 minutes check to see how they are doing, they should be risen and a golden brown on top, if not leave them in for a few more minutes.   Remove and leave on a wire rack to cool.

Scones are lovely warm with clotted cream and strawberry jam.  I put a couple of slices of fresh strawberry on top of the jam so that I can fit a maximum amount of clotted cream.

The only down side is that they don’t keep well.  They tend to go hard and dry.

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Not a biscuit I had really heard of until a month ago.  I was talking to my cousin about our usual obsession of what each other is cooking and eating when she mentioned that she was baking some Anzac biscuits, how fabulous they were and that she used to cook them all the time.  Since then they have cropped up in conversation so many times that my intentional disinterest turned into an interest.  I googled Anzac Biscuits and was surprised to see how popular they were.  Which rock had I been sitting under?

The name comes from the Australian and New Zealand Army corps.  In World War I the families of the soldiers would often send these biscuits out to them as they kept so well during transportation.  The Australians are so protective of the name that there are laws protecting the recipe.  Apparently, Subway had to stop selling them because making the biscuits to the original recipe was too expensive to be cost effective and they were not allowed to sell anything else under that name.

The recipe for Anzac biscuits seems to be the same wherever I looked, with one exception, which is where someone has added raisins.  The classic recipe is the one I decided to try (little choice really).

Anzac Biscuits

85g/3 oz  porridge oats

85g/3 oz  desiccated coconut

100g/3 1/2 oz plain flour

100g/3 1/2 oz caster sugar

100g/3 1/2 oz butter

1 tbsp golden syrup

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tbsp boiling water

Heat oven to Gas mark 4/180C/fan 160C.

Put the oats, coconut, flour and sugar in a bowl.

Melt the butter in a pan and then stir in the golden syrup, I put a tablespoon in a mug of hot water for a few minutes to heat, this stops the syrup from sticking to the spoon and stops all those strings of syrup getting everywhere.

Add the bicarbonate of soda to 2 tbsp boiling water, stir then add to the golden syrup and butter.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter and golden syrup mixture. Stir gently until all the ingredients are combined.

Put dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on to greased baking sheets, about 2.5cm/1in apart to allow room for spreading. Bake in batches for 8-10 mins until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  I left my last batch in for a few extra minutes to see what the change would be.  They were darker and crisper.  I preferred the earlier batches which were crisp with a slightly soft centre.

Beware – eating just one is impossible.

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Sometimes a simple sponge cake is just not enough.  Not grown up enough.  A good old Victoria sponge doesn’t quite go with an espresso but this is a cake that does.  Its rich, moist, decadent and indulgent, and if that’s not enough it’s flourless.

Everytime I make this cake I just can’t quite believe that it will work.  A cake without flour seems odd.  It never to let me down.  Once it goes into the oven that’s about it, there is no filling, nothing more to add save a dusting of icing sugar and its ready to serve.

When I first started making a version of this recipe years ago I kept thinking I was not getting the recipe right or rather there was a flaw in the recipe because each time I removed the cake from the oven the top was cracked and the middle gooey.  I came to realise that either it was a happy mistake or it was meant to be like that.

This has to be my favourite of chocolate cake recipes.  It is pure chocolate cake heaven.    Can be served on its own with a dusting of icing sugar over the top, or as we like it, with a large spoon of clotted cream.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

200gms Dark Chocolate

100gms/3 ½ oz butter cut into small cubes

4 large eggs

185gms/ 6 ½ oz icing sugar

19 cm non stick cake tin

Method

Put the oven on to Gas Mark 4/180C/350F.

Break the chocolate into a bowl.  Add to this the butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of hot water without the bottom of the bowl touching the water.  Leave this on a low heat, making sure the chocolate melts gently.  As soon as the chocolate and butter have completely melted remove from the heat.

Separate the eggs.  Set aside the whites.

Whisk the egg yolks and all the icing sugar until pale and creamy.

Fold the melted chocolate and butter into the egg and icing sugar mixture.

Now whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gently fold them into the chocolate mixture, making sure you have completely combined the whites with the chocolate mixture.

Carefully pour mixture into cake tin and place in the oven for 30 minutes.  All ovens are different, I tend to allow an extra 5 minutes if using my old gas cooker.

When cooked the cake will have a cracked top and be still gooey in the middle.  Dust with icing sugar and serve.

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I am not a big fan of stem ginger, never have been but ginger in other forms is something I do like the taste of, especially in biscuits and cakes.  Gingernut biscuits have a warm slightly spicy taste to them.  They are just the perfect constituency for my habit of dunking in a cup of tea.   Unlike other biscuits that are easily broken or crumble, these are a little more robust.

I had forgotten how easy they are to make and how good they taste.  The only thing I will say is that they do need watching whilst in the oven.  Just before the baking time is up, check them and if needed, turn the baking tray round to stop the edges from burning.

Gingernut Biscuits

Ingredients

4 oz/100g self-raising flour

½ level tsp/ 2.5 ml bicarbonate of soda

1-2 level tsp/ 5-10ml ground ginger

1 level tsp/ 5 ml ground cinnamon

2 level tsp/ 10ml caster sugar

2oz/ 50g butter

3 oz/ 75g golden syrup.

Boil a kettle of water and fill a mug with the hot water and place a metal spoon in it.  After a couple of minutes take the spoon out and use to weigh out the syrup.  The heat prevents the syrup from sticking thus making life a lot easier

Method

In a bowl put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and sugar.

In a pan heat the butter and the syrup together until the butter melts.   Start the butter off on medium heat – you need to watch the butter, as you don’t want it to burn (burnt butter can nearly always be detected in the finished product).  Once melted pour into the dry ingredients and mix well, using a wooden spoon.

Lightly flour your hands and take an overloaded teaspoon of gingernut dough, roll into small balls, place well apart on greased baking sheets and flatten slightly with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the oven at gas mark 5/190C/375F for about 15 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes before lifting off baking sheet and place on wire rack to cool.  The cracked top that appears, is normal, this is supposed to happen.  Keep in an airtight container.

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Kourabiethes are a Greek biscuit, made at Christmas, Easter and Weddings.  The texture is very much like shortbread with the addition of brandy and almonds. These biscuits have been made for generations and there are so many variations of the recipe.

I use my great grandmother’s recipe.  I like the thought that a hundred years on I am re-creating her recipes, which no doubt she took from her mother, and so it continues.  I don’t think when she was writing the recipes down, she would ever imagine that her book would be read and treasured and her recipes cooked in an English kitchen.  What she wouldn’t know is how much I struggled with translating her writing and in places her lack of instruction!  I am guilty myself of writing the recipe down in a shorthand style.

In the picture the Kourabiethes sit on her plates and so without too much imagination I can guess that those plates have seen kourabiethes many times in the past.  What we eat is so important to keep us alive and healthy but it has many facets, the saying food for the soul is a very true phrase.  These biscuits are for me food for my soul and a thin golden thread that links me into a past and a tradition.

The biscuits are normally made in a small domed bun shape or a crescent shape.  I have read somewhere that is this is because during the Turkish occupation of Greece, the Turks insisted that the biscuits be cut in a crescent to represent their flag.  I just don’t know if this is true .

I have made some changes to the original recipe.  Firstly I didn’t soak the almonds in cold water overnight and I didn’t beat the butter and sugar for 2 hours.  What I did do is use the K beater on the Kenwood.  Is it any wonder these biscuits were saved for extra special occasions, there must have been some pretty strong biceps around!

Kourabiethes

Ingredients

300 gms/ 10 oz unsalted butter at room temperature

110 gms/ 3oz Icing sugar

120 gms/ 4 oz almonds skinned and chopped.  For a better flavour either roast them in the oven or in a pan, I prefer the pan method, toss them in a dry frying pan until they start to take on some colour, remove and leave to cool.

25 gms/  2floz/56ml Brandy (this is optional, you can use vanilla extract or even orange juice)

600 gms/ 1 lb 5 oz  plain flour

½ tablespoon baking powder

Method

Put the softened butter into a bowl (if possible a Kenwood or similar) and add the icing sugar, beat for 20 minutes, the longer you beat the crisper the biscuit.

After 20 minutes the butter will have become very pale and creamy, add the brandy, then add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder and mix slowly until a dough has been formed.  When touched it should not stick to your hand if it does continue to mix a little longer.

Taking a spoonful at a time, roll in your hands lightly into a ball and place onto a lined baking tray flattening them a little.  To make sure all the biscuits cook evenly  weigh each ball as you form the biscuits  (30gms per biscuit is fine – I made mine 35 gms).

Place in the middle of the oven Gas mark 3/160 for 20-30 minutes (in my oven I cooked the biscuits for 35 mins) until they just start to take on some colour.

When cooked remove the biscuits and cool.  To serve either put icing sugar in a bowl and toss biscuits in until completely covered or sprinkle icing sugar on with a sieve.  These biscuits keep really well in an airtight container but leave the icing until they are ready to serve.  Saying that all the biscuits I have had made for me and sent in the post have all been coated in icing and taste lovely – its up to you.

The rumour is that kept in an airtight container they can last up to three months, I have never managed to keep them more than two weeks, they get eaten.

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