Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I the fabric in the background.

Or, 'The Return of the Martha Metricator'.

I don't know about you, but I think both titles have their charms.

This is another recipe that I have been meaning to write about for ages. Truth be told, the reason I haven't done so is that I don't like the photo I took of them, but after the Mushroom Cookies, it seemed like a natural thing to do. Sharing the American recipe love with the rest of the world, I mean.

Whoopie Pies aren't popular at all in the UK. They should be though; they're basically cake sandwiches at the end of the day. And if a cake sandwich cannot be popular in the country that brought you the sandwich in the first place (thank you, John Montagu!), there is something terribly wrong.

I saw Martha make these on television when I was in New York once (I was towelling my hair not really paying attention, and at that point didn't even know who Martha was, but there's only so many times you can hear somebody repeating the word 'whoopie' in an odd voice before you sit up and take notice), and immediately decided to make them for Halloween the following year. Which was this year and also my friend Bridie's birthday - she had the cake stand. More than enough cause for a baking session, I'm sure you'll agree. I don't suggest you wait for such a reason though. Just get in the kitchen and get going right now!

Incidentally, Lynda, who I know reads this (Hi Lynda!), told me when we were staying at her place in Melbourne, that in her neck of the American woods (so to speak... She's not an Aussie), they call these cakes 'Moon Pies'. I think that's a much better name! So that's what I am going to call them from now on.

I halved the recipe by the way. You don't need to feed an army.

Pumpkin Moon Pies

You will need:

200g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp ginger
200g dark muscovado sugar
125ml vegetable oil
400g pumpkin purée (one can - you could just steam and mash a butternut squash, and then weigh 400g of it)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

200g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Sift the dry ingredients together. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the oil and sugar, using a wooden spoon.
  3. Then add the eggs, vanilla and pumpkin, and stir until smooth.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture.
  5. Using an ice-cream scoop, place dollops of mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, well spaced apart.
  6. Bake for about 12 minutes or so, until a tooth pick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.
  8. When cool, sandwich the cakes together, flat sides facing, with cream cheese frosting, which you make by mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth.
  9. Eat! They make great sharing food. But I won't judge you for having a whole one to yourself.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Cake Unveiling

Ta da!
I told you it would be kitsch.


I know it isn't actually Christmas for another few days, but this is the only chance I shall have before the big day itself to post a picture of this year's cake, as promised. I have been away since Friday, and would normally decorate a cake like this on Christmas Eve, but as I'll only get back from Paris late on the 24 this year, I had to do it before I left. Since I had all of about four minutes to do so before I had to catch the train to Manchester, I will be expecting your kind forgiveness for the bad photography.

Recipe is here.

Have a delicious (x 3) Christmas everybody!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Pumpkin Mini-Pies

This is not a Pumpkin Mini-Pie. You must scroll down for those!

I recently inherited a pie dish.

Well, actually, I suppose strictly speaking that isn't true: I rescued it from the box of stuff that Mr. Other P's mum was sorting to give away to the charity shop last time we were at her house; nobody had to die for me to get my hands on it. I don't want to be accused of sensationalising the facts here, you do see.

You'll probably never find anybody who loves pie more than me (though I think that conveys quite the wrong impression about what I look like...), and although I have made pies before, I have never done so in a proper dish. So getting one, was, for me at least, quite exciting.

But it did bring with it a big question. What would the first pie I made in it be?

Let me tell you: I was determined it would not be a sweet pie. I know you won't believe me, but it's the truth. Every fibre of my being wanted it to be savoury. I even had it nailed down to two choices (which, for those who are interested, were a sausagemeat pie with a herbed crust, or a puff-pastry pie made using the leftovers from a roast chicken, bound in a creamy and well seasoned béchamel as the filling). But needs must, dear reader, and my pie-related daydreaming proved to be time wasted.

The fact was, we needed another dessert to cater for Christmas pudding haters at our Un-Christmas Christmas earlier this month. (That's the one you have with friends at a time that's convenient for everyone to attend, for anybody who isn't familiar with the term).

My love for all things pumpkin has been well documented elsewhere, so I know you won't need further explanation of how and why we arrived at the decision to make pumpkin pie and ice cream that second dessert. However, I had never made a pumpkin pie and in fact, don't even remember having eaten one in my life before now either, except for a one-off occasion when we were little, and it was hideous. (Sorry Mum, but it really was.)

Anyway, time not being on my side (though when is it ever?), I decided to just follow the recipe for 'Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie' printed on the tin of pumpkin I had. I was dubious about it, I must say - I always think that nobody ever follows these kinds of recipes, and that they are just made up by a team of people who need to find something to fill space on packaging. So I was unsurprised to find that the recipe made more than enough filling for my pie, despite using the right size dish and everything. Fail? Well, not quite.

You would have to be a very negative person - yes, more so even than me - to be unhappy about having too much pumpkin pie filling on your hands. I think it may be one of the most delicious liquids known to man. And as it happened, I had extra pastry on my hands too (making mince pies you see - when you buy a house with an oven as big as the one that the previous owner left in our kitchen, you never switch it on to cook just one thing at a time) .

And happy day! This chance occurrence led to these...

We passed them around on a platter with welcome Champagne.
The glamour!


...Pumpkin Mini-Pies! Are they not quite possibly the best thing you've seen in 2009? (And just in the nick of time too!)

You should also know that we still had filling left even after making 18 mini-pies, as well as the full sizer. We just baked it alongside, in a little Pyrex dish, and had crustless pie with ice-cream as a cook's treat afterwards. Well, you always need one of those.

Pumpkin Pie (Libby's)

You will need:

250g shortcrust pastry (I made mine - you can use shop-bought if you don't mind wasting money on something that is simple, quick and easy to make)
2 eggs
425g can Libby's pumpkin
175g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
250ml evaporated milk (or single cream)

  1. Line a 23cm pie plate with the shortcrust pastry and bake blind for 15 minutes in a 220°C oven. I don't really think you need do this, but it says to on the tin. I didn't bake blind for the mini-pies, and they were fine.
  2. Mix everything else together, and pour into the baked pastry case. Don't over fill! Bake at 180°C for 40 minutes or so, until it has set. It will still be a little moist though. Rejoice in the squishyness.
  3. Use the leftover pastry (you'll have some!) and filling (ditto) to make mini-pies, using a mini-muffin tray. They take about 25 minutes to cook.
  4. Cool slightly, and serve with ice-cream.
Optional extra: sprinkle large pie with pumpkin seeds, and place one seed on each mini-pie. I think you'll agree this makes them look very sweet indeed, and as such, is not really 'optional' at all.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Mushroom Cookies


I remember consoling myself when I found out that Father Christmas wasn't real, that at least there was still the Tooth Fairy. Then when Mum told me, in the same breath, that, actually, she wasn't real either (the Tooth Fairy. Of course my mum is real!), I was really fraught. All this took place in the bathroom by the way. Strange, the details you remember. She had yellow rubber gloves on and was cleaning. Again, my mum, not the Tooth Fairy.

The biggest shock of them all though, which has haunted me for a great many years (and get ready if you don't know, 'cause this is big), was discovering that BETTY CROCKER IS NOT REAL.

I know. I'm sorry. The shock. The horror. But it's the truth. You need to face it. On the bright side, there's a bad joke in there somewhere: 'What do Santa, the Tooth Fairy and Betty Crocker have in common?' Ha.

I just didn't get it. How could nobody write the greatest cook book in the world?



That's this book, unless you didn't know
where I was going with that... And that's a first edition!

I don't want to dwell too much on the negatives; we must pull ourselves together. The fact is, you still get Christmas presents without Father Christmas, the money for teeth has kept coming to all the children in my family with or without fairies, and you can still bake Betty's cookies, even if someone else wrote the recipes for them because Betty herself was just made up by cold and calculating company executives.

Now, quite aside from reminding ourselves that there is no Santa, all of this is very seasonal. Honest! My Mum had Betty Crocker's Cooky Book when she was younger, and now I have it (one word: Theft). And there's a recipe that I have wanted to make from it for years and years and years. And years. It is for Chocolate Crinkles and it is on page 23, right next to the recipe for Snickerdoodles, which we made lots when we were children.




Now you may ask why I haven't made these cookies before. Well, there are two reasons. And here they are:

  1. The recipe makes 6 dozen cookies! That's about 3 million more than I need.
  2. The recipe contains vegetable oil. That's fine for carrot cake, but the idea of using it cookies makes me feel a bit sick. Tell me you don't feel the same.

But then recently, when I was looking through the Cooky Book, it occured to me that if you are the type who makes cookies to give away at Christmas (and I am), having 6 dozen of them made in one sitting is pretty good going. You can see where this thought led.

But there was still the problem of the icky-sicky vegetable oil. What to do? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here's what I did: I allowed myself to be inspired by Betty 'I'm not really real' Crocker, but decided to see what Martha 'I'm real and can be held accountable if the cookies are horrid, just like when I was held accountable for lying about a stock sale and had to go jail' Stewart had to say on the subject. Turns out that Martha makes the same cookies, only she adds more chocolate (hurrah), doesn't use oil (swell) and calls them 'Chocolate Crackles' instead (not sure about that one).

This is irrelevant though, because I have named them Mushroom Cookies. This is because when we were making them, Mr. Other P, who sometimes joins me for a bit of kitchen ker-plutzsky, especially when I offer to make him a Snowball if he does, said that they looked like mushroom tops. He was right; they do, and I am now dying to make them in different colours, so that they look like toadstools. Don't even try to tell me that you too don't want to see that. I will consider it my sacred duty to do so, and report back.


He has a point, no? Mushrooms.

Because it's the Season of Good Will and all that, I have taken it upon myself to metricate Martha's recipe (and alter it, slightly, to use the sugar that I had in the house). Consider it my gift to all non American cup-measuring mankind; just call me 'The Martha Metricator'. (I love Martha. She's fierce!)

I didn't get 6 dozen cookies by the way, but that's because I made them big. I think we got about 50. Cookies, not dozen. And they were chewy and rich and tasted GORGEOUS!

Mushroom Cookies

You will need:

225g plain chocolate
225g plain flour, sifted
30g cocoa, sifted with the flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
115g butter, at room temperature
225g sugar (180g muscovado sugar, 45g granulated white sugar)
2 eggs
80ml milk
granulated sugar
icing sugar

  1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a basin of hot water. Allow to cool. Make yourself a Snowball. It's Christmas, and you'll want something to drink while making these.
  2. Cream the butter and sugars until smooth and light. Then add chocolate and the eggs, and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add sifted flour and cocoa, as well as the baking powder and salt. Add the milk. Mix well. Chill the dough for an hour or so. We left it over night. Don't worry. You can have another Snowball tomorrow.
  4. Set the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Put some granulated sugar in a bowl, and some icing sugar in another.
  5. Roll pieces of the dough into balls the size of a walnut, and then roll them first in granulated sugar and then icing sugar. Place well-spaced apart on baking sheet, and bake for 14 minutes.
  6. Cool on a wire rack. Pack and give away, if you can bear to.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Food Memories: Azuki Bean Stew


Some of you reading will know this already, but for those that don't, I have been lucky enough to live abroad several times in my life (I'm not counting Wales, where I live now, although you do cross water when making the journey back to my home town of Manchester, in England, so maybe I'm technically still an ex-pat...). I say lucky and mean lucky, because although there are times when living in a foreign country can make you scream and shout to please be allowed to return to the normaility of wherever it is that you call home, on the whole I think it can be an extremely positive and even life changing experience. And what's more, you get to eat all kinds of food that usually isn't available elsewhere. For clarity, I have lived and studied once in France, and lived, studied and worked in Japan twice. We can talk about the things that made me scream and shout another time (and do let's!), but today I want to talk about food.

It's funny how food and taste memories can remind you of places you have been or people you've met. The first time I was in Japan, I did homestay with a family in Hachioji, Tokyo. My host mother is an amazing cook, and would literally cover the table with different dishes for me to try at dinner time. Every day there was something new to try, and I've said many times how grateful I am to her for making such an effort to show me her country's cuisine. Whenever I taste shiso leaves, or smell sakura-mochi, I remember the evenings we spent eating, drinking tea and talking late into the night. I learned a lot from my host family, but sadly not how to make any of their amazing food. It's not that my host mother wouldn't show me -I just never asked.


Different kinds of beans and sesame seeds on sale in Japan.

When I returned to Japan for work, this time to the Kansai area (much too far to pop round for dinner!), my host mother sent a huge package of food she'd made to my flat. I think she was worried I wouldn't be able to cook for myself. To this day it's one of the most thoughtful gifts anybody has ever given me. Along with a bag of rice, some umeboshi (which she knew I love), packages of home made stew and meat sauce, she'd also packed rice crackers, soy sauce, and confusingly (to me at least), a packet of azuki beans. When I asked her what they were for she said she must have put them in the box by mistake. I thought that was hilarious - mistaken beans - and could just picture her rummaging through her cupboards for things to put in the box. I put the packet on my shelf and forgot about it, because although the beans were beautiful, like shiny little rubies or garnets, I really hadn't a clue what to do with them.

Around this time, I met my friend Katy, and we really hit it off. I lived in an urban area between Osaka and Kobe, and she lived and worked two and a half hours away in Kurodasho, a small village set among sprawling rice paddies and fields. We each thought the other had it better - I lived close to the city and all the convenience that that brings, whereas she had a much larger house, surrounded by lush green. We quickly started a routine of visiting each other on alternate weekends. When she came to my place, we'd eat out at izakayas or noodle bars and sing karaoke all night (and well, I might add. At least on Katy's part!). When I made the journey to see her, she'd usually cook or we would go for okonomiyaki, then sit outside her house by the river drinking beer and talking. (For the record, Katy did have it better - in the Summer we'd see fireflies by the river's edge, and hear the frogs croaking in the rice fields. At my flat, if you went outside, all you got was a view of other people's washing the noise of air conditioners!)

It was Katy who first made this stew, which I think she discovered online, although I can't find the recipe anywhere now - I have it scrawled in my notebook. And for all the lovely food I ate when I was in Japan the second time, it's this relatively simple dish that most reminds me of the whole experience. I ate it all the time; once Katy had made it a few times, I started making it too, and not only used up that bag of azuki beans on the shelf, but had to replace it. From one hour in the kitchen, I would get enough stew for five meals and frequently made a batch on Sunday night to have in my bento at work during the week. I should make clear, it isn't a Japanese recipe at all - it is thick with tomato, warm with paprika, and has parsley dumplings swimming around in it. I don't know who created it (but I do think they were very clever, because I certainly wouldn't ever think to put these flavours together). In Japan, azuki beans are used in sweet foods pretty much exclusively, so my Japanese colleagues were at first surprised that I would make stew with them. But they loved it too, and some took the recipe as well.

I really hope you'll give it a try! It's a chunky, fresh-tasting stew of mushrooms, beans and chopped vegetables. But I do think there are a few important rules to follow if you are to get it right, and these are what they are:

  • Try and use Japanese azuki beans (try your local oriental supermarket); the best ones come from Hokkaido. I've tried using beans from China and I think they taste different.
  • Use shimeji mushrooms, which are also Japanese. I have seen these in Waitrose supermarkets, and I bought the ones in the photo from Cardiff Market (at the stall opposite the fishmonger at the front, if anybody is a local). They have a lovely texture, and buttery flavour (or so I think). Obviously, you can use button mushrooms too.
  • Get everything ready before you start cooking! This doesn't take long, but you don't want to be trying to stir and chop at the same time. Unless you are female and can multi-task.

Azuki Bean Stew

You will need:

100g azuki beans, soaked overnight
50g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 thin leeks, washed and sliced
1 carrot, diced
200g mushrooms, preferably shimeji
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp flour
300ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tomato purée
400g tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley

100g flour
25g butter
2 tbsp dried parsley
3 tbsp milk


  1. Simmer the soaked beans until soft. This should take around 40 minutes, but depends how old your beans are.
  2. In a large pan, cook the onion in the butter until soft, then add the garlic, leeks, carrot and mushrooms. Cook gently for 5 minutes.
  3. Season, and stir in the flour and paprika. Cook for another minute.
  4. Add the stock, soy sauce, tomato paste and tinned tomatoes. Bring to the boil, and simmer gently for ten minutes.
  5. Make the dumplings; rub the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs, then add the parsley. Add milk to bind, and knead to form a soft dough. Form into 8-10 dumplings.
  6. Add the cooked beans to the stew. Return to the boil, then add the dumplings, cover and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the stew from sticking to the pan (it will be thick by this point).
  7. Check for seasoning, and serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Lemon-Vanilla Marmalade



It feels quite strange to be writing in December about something I made back in February, but I suppose that's the good thing about preserves; they keep. I've actually wanted to write about this marmalade for a long time, but decided to wait until it was nearer Christmas, since I made it in the first place with the intention of giving jars away as presents. And apparently, lemons are now in season, though as you can get them all year round, I don't really know what that means.

Just three beautiful ingredients.

It's no secret that I love to make food for other people, be it in regular meal-form, or as gifts like this. But although I like cooking very much (oh so very much!), there are a few things that I have always thought were either a waste of time to make yourself, or troublesome in the extreme to do so. Example of the former: pasta; of the latter: jams and marmalades.

Now, I do accept that anything is worth doing if the process is enjoyable and the results worth the time spent; I am sure that one day I will try making pasta and it will be a complete revelation. I'll probably even spend ages telling you about how wonderfully easy and fantastically delicious it was, and how you should make it too. And maybe you will. But I really, really never thought I'd bother with marmalade. All that faffing about with sterilising jars, using sugar thermometers and setting points - surely only retired old W.I. members had time for that?

Then last year at Christmas, I was given this book and everything changed. This collection of recipes achieves what many would deem impossible; it makes putting things in jars sound exciting. Yes, really. Exciting! And what's more, it shows that not only is sterilising jars easy, but that you don't actually need a sugar thermometer at all. For anything!


Did you ever think that lemon rinds soaking could be so pretty?
No. Of course you didn't. Neither did I.

My enthusiasm must show that I have been converted. I'm not going to go as far as saying that 'putting up' is the new going out (though it is tempting to do so. You must admit, it's a catchy phrase.), but I really do think this is worth making. The vanilla is my own addition. I'm sure it's not an original one, but it makes the marmalade look stunning, flecked as it is with beautiful black grains, and brings an exotic flavour and fragrance to whatever you add it to. I can recommend it not only for the obvious morning slice of toast, but also spooned into hot bowls of rice pudding or to top porridge.

I really recommend it with porridge.

You can see I recycle old jars. So could you!
Lids were bought here.

I have mentioned Pam 'the Jam' Corbin, and her recipes before, when we had the glut of vegetables from Mr. Other P's parents. But I want to mention her again now to say that her book would make a perfect present this Christmas for anybody you know who likes to cook. I have enjoyed reading and using it immensely; I'm sure lots of people would. And if you think (quite wrongly) that marmalade is too much of a faff to make as a present, then it's the next best thing you can give.

Lemon-Vanilla Marmalade

You will need:

1 kg lemons
2 kg granulated sugar
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped out and reserved

  • Top and tail the lemons. In other words, cut the bumps off the ends! Juice them, and then slice the rinds as thinly or thickly as you like. I think thinly is better, but will allow you the freedom to choose.
  • Put the juice, rinds and 2.5 litres of water into a large bowl, and leave to soak overnight. I don't know if you really need to do this, but Pam says to and she knows better than me.
  • Transfer the lemon mixture to a large (LARGE!) pan, and cook gently for a few hours until the lemon rind is soft. The liquid will have reduced by about a third.
  • Add the sugar. Boil, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then boil rapidly until the setting point (* see note) has been reached. This took about 40 minutes for me, though start checking at 20.
  • Turn off the heat. Stir through the vanilla seeds, and pour into hot, sterilised jars (* see note). Seal immediately. Use within 2 years.
NB: To check for setting point: when you start boiling the jam, put a saucer in the freezer to chill. After boiling for the required time, drop small dribbles of the jam onto the saucer and wait a moment. If, when you poke the puddle of jam with your finger, the surface forms a wrinkle, the setting point has been reached.

To sterilise jars, see here.

Christmas Cake Recipe


A few well-placed hearts have saved my Christmas cake decorations' modesty. Crazy, aren't they? I bought them in Japan last year, and have no idea why they are naked from the waste down. All I know is that they are part of a range of collectible figures called Sonny Angels, and trust me, make amazing-looking cake toppers. Since I didn't take any photos of the making of this cake, I thought I would at least show you what I plan to put on it. Kitsch in the extreme, I think you'll agree.

Several people commented that I should have included the recipe for my Christmas cake in my last post (about how good it smelled as it cooked). It's true that I was not exactly inundated with requests, but still, I was really happy to see that some of you wanted to know. I suppose I thought that most people would have their own recipe to follow anyway, as these things are usually passed down through the generations of different families, so nobody would have wanted mine.

Reading my last post back though, I see I should have included it; writing a paragraph that basically says 'I have just made a cake that smells absolutely incredible and I'm not going to tell you how to make it, so there' is hardly what you would call community spirit, is it?

Anyway, this is not a family recipe. My mum does in fact make the best Christmas cake in the world, even though she would tell you she doesn't. This has to do with the fact that her Christmas cakes always crumble when you cut into them. Personally, I LOVE fruit cakes with a texture like that though, and have a feeling the she only ever says that she doesn't to draw attention to the fact that what she's made is as good as it gets in terms of fruit cake. I really must get a copy of her recipe actually. (And readers - if you have a family recipe, leave a link. I'd love to see.)

I usually make several Christmas cakes, because my mum doesn't always have the time to bake one, and I like to have one at my house, too. And I usually follow a Nigella Lawson recipe which makes enough mixture for two cakes in the tins I have. This year I haven't, because Mum has made one, and I can't scale down Nigella's recipe to fit into just one tin. I've tried once before, and although it was delicious, it didn't cut it in the height department; nobody wants a short, flat Christmas cake. Nobody.

So, not wanting a shed-load of extra cake mixture on my hands I did a spot of light research. Well, research of a sort - I read my cookbooks, and Googled. It seems that actually, most fruit cakes follow a similar proportion of the usual suspects - flour, butter, sugar and eggs - to regular cake. Then you just add lots whatever dried fruit you have to hand. And I mean lots; I think there should be so much fruit that you feel as though your arm will break from stirring the mixture. It's the season of excess after all.

I was in a rush this year, so just went to my local spice merchant (I don't know what else to call him!) and bulk bought whatever I fancied. This included a 1 lb bag of mixed vine fruit, some dried cranberries, ready-to-eat prunes and absolutely no glacé cherries, because they are disgusting. I didn't get any candied peel, although he does sell the good stuff, because I bought some a few months ago (along with a chunk of candied pumpkin - I didn't even know you could buy that, and was suitably ecstatic) from a little place I know of in Rome. I soaked it all overnight in whiskey (no brandy, you see), and used a four-egg cake mixture.

You should know by the way, that even though I am writing this almost a week after baking my cake, it isn't too late to make yours if you haven't yet. Provided you do it two weeks before Christmas you'll be fine. And make one you should - nothing says Christmas better than a home made cake, and even someone who has never baked anything except potatoes before and has no fancy kitchen equipment can do this standing on their head.

The Delicious Delicious Delicious Christmas Cake Recipe

You will need:

450g assorted dried vine fruit (mine included raisins, currants and sultanas)
200g dried cranberries (I used a pack of Ocean Spray 'Craisins' - I can't remember the weight exactly)
150g ready-to-eat prunes, each cut into three or four pieces
150g finely chopped candied peel and/or candied pumpkin
150ml whiskey

250g butter, softened
250g dark muscovado sugar
250g plain flour
4 eggs
a pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp marmalade
grated zest of an orange and a lemon

  1. The night before you make the cake (or several days before - it doesn't matter), put all of the dried fruit in a bowl, and pour over the whisky. Mix well, and cover.
  2. Prepare the cake tin (I used a deep 20cm round one); line with baking parchment, and tie a folded piece of brown paper around the outside with string. Apparently this helps stop the cake from burning at the edges. It won't burn in the oven though, don't worry! Pre-heat the oven to 140°C.
  3. Make the cake mixture in the usual way; cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time and then fold in the flour. Use a wooden spoon for this cake - Christmas is one of those times when it feels good to be traditional.
  4. Add the rest of the cake ingredients, stir very well, and then fold in the fruit mixture. Make sure to add every last drop of the whiskey the fruit was soaked in. It will be a very heavy, fruit-filled mixture. Taste it. Is it not delicious?
  5. Transfer to the prepared tin, and bake for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. It is ready when a skewer or cocktail stick pushed into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Cool in the tin, on a wire rack overnight.
  7. Next morning, feed the cake (make holes in the top with a skewer and pour over some more whiskey), and then wrap in baking parchment and foil. Keep in a tin until Christmas.
  8. Ice and decorate as you wish. Check back to see mine!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Christmas Cake News Flash

You do not need another recipe for Christmas cake.

But you do need to know that mine is baking in the oven as I type, and that no house has ever smelled as good as mine does now.

There is bad news too, however: I have already done the washing up, so Mr. Other P can't lick the bowl.

Black Sesame Madeleines


Yesterday, when I was rummaging around in my box of cake tins in the spare room (which I am quite sure is not where the majority of people keep their cake tins, but sadly, I am without a choice in the matter - we have terrible condensation at the back of our kitchen cupboards, and until we get the problem sorted, I won't put anything in them.), I came across the madeleine tin that I bought for about three Euros in a French hypermarket donkey's years ago when we went to stay in Dave's cottage.

I am loathe to say that it was a waste of money, but the fact remains that I have only ever used it twice.

My first thought was to put it in the charity box. We moved house recently, and as such, the thought of hanging on to anything I don't need fills me with dread. I hate having too much 'stuff'. When we move, it all has to be either sorted out and given away anyway (not a fun way to spend a weekend) or moved with us (ditto).

But then I came to my senses. It's only a madeleine tin; it's tiny! And rather pretty. And I like madeleines. So then I decided that since we were having friends over for dinner anyway, pudding was going to be madeleines. You see? No need to throw away any bake ware at all.

Now. The first time I made madeleines, I just followed the recipe that came with the tin. It was a terrible mistake; they were awful. Really dry and tasteless. So the next time, I decided to try a Nigella Lawson recipe for madeleines flavoured with rose water, and it worked brilliantly.


I couldn't resist getting my teapot out for these pictures.
It's from Tokoname, near Nagoya, an area famous for pottery.

We were going to have Japanese food for dinner though, so I wanted to change flavours a bit. I'd made some green tea ice cream already, and so decided that black sesame would be a good flavour for the little cakes to go with it. Especially since the sesame seeds on my shelf were the only vaguely Japanese ingredient I had to use for dessert. Soy sauce madeleines didn't sound quite so inviting...

So the flavour was sorted, but I didn't have a recipe. Which brings me rather conveniently to something else.

Recently, I've started to dislike following other people's recipes. I'm beginning to feel like I have been cooking and playing with food long enough that I don't need to, which is actually quite liberating, especially when it comes to making cakes and baking - I used to do EVERYTHING by the (cook)book. Now I usually just take inspiration, as opposed to instruction, from food writers. I'm not trying to make myself sound like an incredible cook - I am just being honest with you. Nigella (my favourite of them all - that woman knows deliciousness), anyway, has always admitted to doing the same.

So for these madeleines, I followed her method, but not recipe: I added more flour, more sugar and less butter. This wasn't because I thought they would taste better. I just had an unsteady hand with the dry ingredients, and didn't have quite enough butter to follow her recipe exactly, as I had to keep some back for something else (Christmas cake, as it happens).

I have to say that they were very good. Grinding the sesame seeds really helps make their flavour stronger, and gets rid of any gritty texture, which I wanted, obviously, to avoid.

I think madeleine making might become something of a habit, you know: there's something really exciting about making cakes that only take 4 minutes to bake. It's rapid fire baking!

Give them a try. Or, if you make some other crazy flavours, do let me know how they are. Unless you decide to go with the soy sauce...



Black Sesame Madeleines

You will need:

1 tbsp black or white sesame seeds
40g butter, plus a little extra to grease the tin
1 egg
50g caster sugar
60g plain flour, sifted
icing sugar

  1. Lightly toast the seeds in a dry frying pan. Cool, crush in a pestle and mortar and set aside. Melt the butter, cool and set aside.
  2. Using an electric hand mixer, cream the egg and sugar for 5 minutes. It will triple in volume.
  3. Add the flour, and fold in gently.
  4. Now pour in the cooled melted butter, and crushed sesame seeds. Mix together gently and then leave the mixture to rest in the fridge for an hour.
  5. Remove the mixture from the fridge and let stand at room temperature for half an hour. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.
  6. Brush the madeleine tin with melted butter. Using a tablespoon, put some batter into each shell-shaped indentation, and bake in the oven for about 4 minutes. Keep an eye on them though - you may need to give them less time.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 18 madeleines

About Delicious Delicious Delicious


Delicious Delicious Delicious is a blog about food. More specifically, food made by me, Mr. P. That's me, up there, hiding behind some cupcakes.

I am a twenty-something thirty year old (yuck!) Englishman living in Cardiff, South Wales, and am a borderline food obsessive. I love eating food, making food, growing food (weather permitting, of course - this is Wales after all) and writing about food.

If you asked my friends or colleagues about me, they would perhaps tell you that I am prone to doing things on a whim. Examples of this include learning to knit, becoming a flight attendant and moving to Cardiff without bothering to check where it was first.

You can see that they might have a point.

Starting Delicious Delicious Delicious, though, was different. I thought about blogging long before I dared to do it. Yet here I am. And not on a whim.

So welcome to the site! It's lovely to have you. Here you'll find recipes, photographs, and extended wittering about the food I make and eat. I hope you'll enjoy looking around, and come back for seconds.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Almond and Macadamia Nut Cookies



I have been meaning to write about these forever. They are one of my favourite cookies. I say one, because anyone who tells you that they only have one favourite cookie is simply not being realistic. One? Please.

How could these not be your favourite?

Everybody and their dog seems to like chocolate chip cookies, and while I would never turn one of them down (well, would you? Didn't think so.), I don't think chocolate is really where it's at when it comes to biscuits and cakes. It's nice. Don't get me wrong. But it's not the best thing in the world. I'm not trying to style myself as one of those über trendy-types, who fashionably claim not to like chocolate unless it's dark and has at least 70% cocoa solids when I say that. (And for the record, fashionistas, you aren't fooling anyone.) I just think that chocolate is best when it's a piece of chocolate. Turning it into, cookies, or cakes, or even ice-cream, seems unnecessary. It doesn't improve it. *

Not everybody shares my view though. So I have dutifully added some white chocolate to today's recipe to try and please the chocoholics, who would otherwise feel that they were missing out. But, really, the star players here are my favourites... The nuts! And so, without further ado...

You could add even more...

Friends, Romans, Countrymen...

These are my Almond and Macadamia Nut cookies. And you should make some.

I think the greatest thing about them is the texture. Soft, and chewy, with chunks of almond and whole macadamia nuts, they make a seriously satisfying pick-me-up with a cup of tea at around four o'clock. Not that that's how I eat them. Usually, when I've made cookies, they go from jar to mouth, before the tea has even brewed. Unless we've company. Then they go on a nice plate.

I know macadamias are the most expensive nuts (although the price of pecans also has to be seen to be believed - who buys them? Do they remortgage beforehand?), but they are also the most delicious; I love the waxy crunch. I think you'd miss them if you left them out, but you could play with this however you like otherwise. Substitute walnuts for the almonds; use peanuts instead, or, and I can't believe I didn't think of this before, crumble in a Mr. Tom bar (my love for Mr. Tom has been detailed elsewhere - Mr. Other P and I will drive to get one if we have to).

It's a strange feeling to wax lyrical about a recipe you made up yourself, but these really are sensational. And they make a great gift, as once baked, they'll keep in a jar for a whole week. The nuts help to keep everything nice and moist.


The unbaked dough is more than perfectly edible as it is!

Some notes:

  • I flavoured them with maple extract, because I have some from a trip to America; vanilla would be fine, cinnamon would be insanely good.
  • Bake them for longer if you prefer crisp biscuits. 15 minutes should do it. I like them under-baked, so stop at 9-10.
  • Using dark and light brown sugar gives a nice flavour, but at the end of the day, sugar is sugar. Use what you have!
  • I wouldn't mind if you added 75g dessicated coconut.


* The one exception to this that I know of is double chocolate chip cookies, which have dark, bitter cocoa mixed into the chocolate chip-studded cookie dough; I accept that in that case, culinary nirvana is more than achieved.

Almond and Macadamia Nut Cookies


You will need:

125g butter
150g soft light brown sugar
25g soft dark brown sugar
2 eggs
225g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp maple extract
100g raw macadamia nuts
100g raw almonds
150g chocolate chips, white for preference (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Chop the almonds, but leave the macadamias whole. Toast the nuts in a hot frying pan until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy. Add the extract and eggs. Mix well.
  4. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add the salt and sifted ingredients to the egg mixture and combine thoroughly. Fold in the cooled nuts and chocolate chips.
  5. Using an ice-cream scoop (as always), drop small mounds of the mixture on the baking sheet. Leave plenty of space for the cookies to spread.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown at the edges. Cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.
  7. When cool, keep in a biscuit barrel, tin or jar.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

On losing my mind

I haven't gone mad. At least I don't think I have. But I did just photograph a raw cabbage. I couldn't help myself; I think it's one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. What do you reckon?



Do you want to know the best thing about it? It was reduced. I got it for 49 pence!

Apparently, it's a January King cabbage - I grabbed it thinking it was a savoy. The wrapper said that the January King was a favourite variety in Victorian times, but is not really cultivated very much now. Is it just me who thinks this is a crying shame? Were I a cabbage farmer, this would be all I'd grow. In fact, I if we ever get our vegetable patch up and running (along with my much-desired kitchen extension, it's wishful thinking at present), I might try to get some seeds. Just look at the colours! That fabulous, deep pink-purple tinting the vivid green leaf edges... Maybe I have gone mad. It is only a cabbage after all. But I love cabbage! I know that there are some people out there who don't. At all. But they are probably the same people who think it's a good idea to put carpet in a bathroom. So each to their own, I say.

We had half of the January King for dinner last night, braised with lemon and juniper, and topped with some cinnamon-glazed pork chops. I'm afraid that I forgot to take photos, but the combination was fantastic. Even though I haven't a picture, I'll jot down what I did anyway. You could cook any crunchy, leafy green vegetable this way.

  1. Shred your cabbage fairly finely, and heat a splosh of good olive oil in a large pot.
  2. Add the shredded cabbage, along with the grated zest of a lemon and about a teaspoon of juniper berries. Stir-fry for a few minutes, making sure the cabbage doesn't catch.
  3. Pour over about a cup of hot vegetable stock, and the juice of the lemon you just zested. Season, stir and cook with the lid on until the cabbage is done to your liking. I give it about five minutes, but I am often accused of under-cooking vegetables. I like them with c-r-u-n-c-h!
  4. Check the seasoning and serve piping hot.

The bright, zingy flavours in this (juniper is so underrated) should be sufficient to convert even the most committed members of the Anti-Cabbage lobby. I don't know what we're going to do about their bathroom carpets though...

Enjoy!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Honey-Nut Bundt


I know that I am supposed to be making a conscious effort to put more focus on the savoury here at DeliciousDeliciousDelicious, but with today being a Day of Supreme International Importance, I see no way out but to break my self-imposed ban on baking. I think we all knew it wouldn't last long. I certainly did. Welcome back flour, butter, sugar and eggs! How I missed you.

Anyway, you might be wondering what I'm talking about. Well, it's National Bundt Day in America. And I'm making it world-wide. Well why not?

I should first say that I wouldn't have actually known about this if it weren't for The Food Librarian. I follow her blog daily, and she loves Bundts. LOVES them. In a big way. She's been baking a different flavoured Bundt every day in the run up to today, and in all will have made thirty of them. Thirty! I actually think that this lady's dedication to baking and love for cake surpasses even my own. A round of applause for The Food Librarian, if you please.


The Food Librarian loves Hello Kitty, so today's
post features my special thirtieth anniversary plate!
I know, I know... You want one too.
Anyway, I have been inspired. I've tried to make Bundts before and had mixed success. I don't even talk about the botched Hansel and Gretel cottage Bundt, because it's too painful and I'm still not over it. All you need to know is that it was the day before Mr. Other P's birthday, it didn't turn out, and I had to stay up all night making emergency carrot cake in secret. Which was less than fun, I can assure you.

(Isn't that a lovely thought though - emergency carrot cake?)

I may one day try the cottage Bundt again, but have otherwise stuck firmly to my Gugelhupf pan ever since. Luckily, cakes baked in this fella do not follow suit. For that reason, I brought him out today for my Bundt Day Celebrations. What can I say? I wasn't in the mood for failure.

I've been planning to make this all week, and have gone though a million or so different flavour variations in my mind (I'm prone to food day-dreaming), but decided when I got home today to make something that didn't require any shopping. We have over-loaded food shelves, and most of the weight they carry is from my baking stuff, a lot of which need using up. A quick inventory revealed three jars of peanut butter. Three! Nobody needs that many. So I decided to make a peanut butter cake. I also found an open packet of peanuts and a jar of honey that has been hanging around for what seems like forever, and well... It doesn't take a genius to see that that's a killer combination right there.

The trouble with my Gugelhopf pan is that it doesn't seem to be a standard size - a one egg recipe doesn't fill it, and a two egg can overflow. So I just made this up as I went along, which I have to say, has made me feel like a very accomplished baker indeed. If the ingredients look a little unbalanced, it's because I deliberately added quite a lot of flour. To get the shaping from the pan, I think a slightly stiffer cake dough is better. Not that I really know anything about it.

I should confess though that the no-shopping for ingredients rule didn't quite work out. When the cake was in the oven and the smell came wafting into the lounge, I realised that a cake like this wouldn't be complete without a nut brittle topping, so ran out to grab a Mr. Tom from the corner shop. And looking at the cake now, I do think it completes it. I'm adding a photo for the people who don't know what a Mr. Tom is. Isn't it the best packaging you've ever seen? It is.


I Mr. Tom. He'll never let you down.

We're having friends over for Bundt Day festivities (cake and Scrabble) later today, so I haven't been able to taste this yet. I'll update when I have, but for now I'm left in the torturous position of not being able to eat the delicious smelling cake in my kitchen until everybody comes around. Awful!

Happy (Inter)National Bundt Day!

Update: It was REALLY good. And the people who ate it noted all the flavours without being told, which is always nice. One to make again.



Honey-Nut Bundt

You will need:

125g butter
150g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 heaped tbsp peanut butter
50g salted peanuts, chopped finely
a splash of milk

3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp warm water
75g icing sugar, sifted
1 Mr. Tom bar, or any other peanut brittle
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 175°C, and grease your Bundt pan (or a regular 20cm sandwich tin).
  2. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the peanut butter and blend thoroughly. Beat in eggs until combined.
  3. Sift over dry ingredients, and fold in gently. Add a splash of milk if you think the mixture seems dry, then stir through the nuts.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
  6. Stir together the honey, icing sugar and water to make a thick glaze. Drizzle over cake.
  7. Crush the nut brittle roughly and use to top cake, pressing the pieces of brittle into the glaze to help them stick.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Rigatoni with Smoked Salmon and Courgettes

I feel like I should subtitle this post 'Dispelling Food Myths'.



In fact, I'm going to.

Dispelling Food Myths

I hate the term 'Foodie'. I hate it for a plethora of reasons, and could write for hours about each and every one of them. I'm not going to, simply because I myself am what you might possibly, according to some people's definitions, call a bit of a Foodie, and I'm not in the mood for a written exercise in public self-loathing.

I think my main gripe with the term is that when I think of a Foodie, I think of somebody with that vile, despicable and hateful 'I-know-more-about-food-than-you-do' attitude which is so prevalent in certain circles (and that you seem to find in restaurant review columns in Sunday newspaper supplements).

I'm embarrassed to say that I have in the past shown evidence of this way of thinking myself. When I became a food obsessive (at around the age of twenty-one, if anybody's interested, though we can talk about that another time. And yes, that is my preferred term!), I started to read cookery books as thought they were great novels. I'd go to bed and read about food cultures that I'd never heard of before, and dream about tastes and smells of dishes from across the globe. And I started to think of what I'd read as facts. After all, if something is published in a book, it ought to be well-researched. Right?

Thus in Japan, diners are expected to start a meal always with a sip of the miso soup. When eating a Swiss fondue, you must never drink anything carbonated with it, for fear of indigestion. And Italians never add cheese to pasta with seafood.

Francesco shot that last one down in flames recently. He made this amazing pasta for us when he came to stay last, and when I remarked, during the preparation, that it was unusual to add parmesan to a fish dish, he said he'd never heard that said before. And that he often did. And in one fell swoop my food world fell apart.

OK, I'm making this more dramatic than it was, but in all seriousness, I was surprised. I have read about the cheese and seafood thing countless times, in so many different books by lots of different writers (though I have a sneaking suspicion that all the authors are quoting the same source, and I think it's Anna del Conte: I'm going to have a little check).

Anyway, the point is, Foodies and Foodie Knowledge are annoying! And they can be wrong. So there. Eat what you want how you want it. It's all good in this game called food. And thus, in the spirit of this new finding, I have resolved never again to tell Mr. Other P not to put ketchup on his pizza. I'm not putting it on mine though.

I have digressed. This was meant to be about pasta!

Quick summary -

This pasta is incredibly delicious, and was invented by Francesco. Reasons you should make it:
  • most salmon pasta dishes have cream sauces, and this doesn't;
  • it dispels a food myth;
  • you can feed four hungry people really well for less than a fiver;
  • you will use the blender. Everybody likes the blender;
  • because I told you to.

Rigatoni with Smoked Salmon and Courgettes

You will need:

500g rigatoni, or other tubular pasta. Penne would be fine.
1/2 an onion, diced very finely (you could grate it - chopping that finely is a nightmare)
100g smoked salmon, chopped finely (you can use trimmings; they are cheaper)
2 large courgettes
vegetable stock
white wine
75g parmesan (we used pecorino Romano, but only because of my Rome trip), grated

  1. Cut the courgettes into four chunks each. Place in a pan of simmering stock and cook gently until tender, around 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, sweat the finely chopped onion in olive oil, adding a little wine (or some of the stock) from time to time, to help it soften. After about 10 minutes or so, you should have a nicely softened mixture. Turn the heat up, and add the salmon. Cook briefly, until it just changes colour. Set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta, according to packet instructions.
  4. Put the drained courgettes in the blender with a little of the stock. Blitz to a vibrantly green purée. Add two-thirds of the cheese and blitz again.
  5. Drain the pasta, and dress with the courgette mixture and salmon and onions.
  6. Serve in warmed bowls with the remaining cheese.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Gift idea


No food today. In fact, not even a very long post. But I want to write about the gift Mr. Other P and I made for Bridie's birthday.

I wanted to buy her a cake stand. Cake stands are good gifts. You would never buy one for yourself, would you? The trouble is that they can be expensive. Or ugly. Or even ugly and expensive. Just like when you go shoe shopping, and look for the perfect shoe that you've visualised in your mind's eye, but never find it, shopping for a cake stand can be difficult.

So we made our own, using craft glue and some vintage blue and white china plates and sherry glasses we found in a charity shop. I'm not pretending that this was an original idea - I've heard of this being done before. But I think the end result is really good. This will look great bedecked with cupcakes, or sandwiches for afternoon tea.

If you fancy giving this a go... Use strong glue! And make sure all surfaces are clean and dry before gluing.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sweet potato, apple and ginger soup


I have noticed that there's been a lot of sweet stuff happening around here.

I don't think that there's much wrong with that, per se, but I am also aware that it looks as though I eat nothing but sweets. It's true that I have a sweet tooth, and I do hate it when there is not any cake in the house, but I am coming across as a bit of a sugar-glutton! So I'm upping the savoury ante, starting with this soup, which is quite special, even if I do say so myself.

I never thought I would write about soup. Soup, I always think, is boring. Boring in the making and boring in the eating. Boring boring boring.

But then, suddenly, and most often unexpectedly, along comes a good one and completely changes my mind. This soup is one of those.

It's pretty simple; four ingredients and a quick whizz in the blender. But you'd never guess when you taste it. I think that's because of the sweet potatoes. Regular potatoes never seem to make such a velvety soup, but I don't think you should hold that against them, because without regular potatoes, you would not have fish pie. Puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

Mr. Other P didn't seem convinced when I told him we were having soup with apple in it, but upon tasting changed his mind. Not that I'm worried about seeking his approval or anything. Apple seemed a natural addition to me - I remember making a lot of soups with my mum when I was younger, in her huge green stockpot, and her approach was always to chuck in whatever we had to hand. And apple and ginger is a really common flavouring for those expensive caffeine-free herbal teas you can buy, which smell absolutely amazing, and offer such promise, but which taste, disappointingly, like rusty nails.

My soup does NOT taste like rusty nails. It tastes wonderful.

Such pretty colours in the pan...

I used a Cox's Orange Pippin apple, because apple season is in full swing, and they are my favourite. As a child, I remember reading Roald Dahl write that if you shake a Cox's Orange Pippin in your hand and listen carefully, you can hear the seeds rattling inside. I also remember getting into trouble in the supermarket for doing this, so I can vouch for what Mr. Dahl says. Give it a go. But please buy the apple first.

We ate this with big hunks of tiger bread, which is exactly what we'll be doing next time as well, and what you should do, too.

Sweet potato, apple and ginger soup

You will need:

2 fairly large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 apple, cored and diced (don't peel it)
small chunk of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
1 vegetable stock cube (well, be honest...)

  1. Put everything in a pan, and pour over cold water to just cover.
  2. Bring to the boil, and simmer until the sweet potato is soft. This will take around 10 minutes, maybe a little less.
  3. Whizz in the blender, season as you like with salt and pepper, and serve.
  4. Take a moment to think about how underrated soup is. Resolve to change your mindset.
NB: Reading this back, I feel as though I have made my mum out to be some kind of Old Mother Hubbard character, working away in a soup kitchen. I would like to clarify that this is not the case. She is beautiful, glamorous, vivacious and hard-working, and I love her very much!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

I have a problem...

...I'm a pumpkin addict.

I can't stop cooking with them, baking them (just made pumpkin whoopie pies for a birthday), or even buying them. I've tried growing them (I don't talk about that. When they don't ripen it's like a kick when you're already down), and now it seems I even photograph them. Obsessively. I came across this fella in the window of The Yankee Store on Wellfield Road, in (fabulous) Roath, and walked all the way there just to take this picture.

And the minute I saw what Coby, who posts on nigella.com, and blogs here, had done with a cantaloupe melon, I knew I had to put a copy of it here. So creative! I think it's my favourite of all.


Are they not amazing? They are.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Halloween Cookies


I'm getting a bit Halloween crazy this year. Considering I'm actually going to be at a concert on Saturday night though, and won't be celebrating by dressing up either, I am giving myself free-reign to do some Halloween baking a tad early.

And more importantly, last year, there was a November sale of Halloween-themed cookie cutters in Rossiters, and I have been waiting a whole year - a whole year - to use them. But I think the wait has been worth it. I had such fun making these! Although, actually, I think I could have made the faces look better. But I'm not going to beat myself up over it. Life is too short for that.

Now, whether you celebrate Halloween or not (most people in Britain see it as a nuisance) is up to you, and I don't mind if you have no intention whatsoever of making cut-out cookies this weekend (although you should). But I'm putting these up here because I think my method of decorating them is the best of all.

I've tried doing it the proper way, as described by Peggy Porschen in her books (which incidentally are the shizzle when it comes to cake decorating - she makes you want to put glitter on everything), beating egg whites and icing sugar to get just the right consistency of royal icing, then adding colour, piping an outline, filling it in, etc. etc... And you know what? It was exhausting. And I hated the results. I couldn't do it neatly enough, because I'm rubbish at piping (A case in point: the faces on these biscuits!)

So when it was my sister's birthday, I changed track and came up with this method to make some New York-themed cookies. And I'm not going back.

The point is, anybody can colour and roll fondant icing. And if you use the same cutter you used to cut your cookie to cut the fondant, you'll have a perfectly sized piece of icing to top it with. Foolproof. There is no need to bother with piping at all.

It's important to use the right biscuit recipe. And that recipe is Peggy Porschen's. It's perfect because it doesn't spread in the heat of the oven, so your fondant cut-outs fit their cookie bases like Cinderella's glass slipper. Her recipe was in the Daily Mail, so I am not going to feel bad about putting a link here. You can still buy her book if you want to!

So here we go. Mr. P's renegade method for cookie decoration. Enjoy! And if you've decorated some cookies for Halloween, please leave a link to them. I'd love to see. Happy Halloween!

You will need:

baked cookies, plus the cutters you used to make them
ready made fondant icing (or marzipan - you get a brighter colour than with fondant)
food colouring paste - available here
icing sugar
jam
sprinkles, tubes of squeezy gel icing and the like (optional)

  1. First of all, knead your fondant icing with some food colouring (go easy at first - it's strong). Marzipan will give more vivid colours than icing, but some people don't like it (weirdos). When you're happy with the colour, roll it out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar. You can make it as thick or thin as you like.
  2. Wash and dry your cutters if you haven't done so (they might still have crumbs of dough on them - not desirable). Cut as many shapes as you need.
  3. Then, heat a few spoons of jam (any flavour) and a few spoons of water in a pan, and pass it through a sieve. This is your glue.
  4. Brush the tops of the cookies with jam glue, and carefully place the icing cut-outs on top. Press down gently.
  5. Decorate as you like! If you have any annoying white icing sugar left on the surface of your fondant icing, brush with a little boiled and cooled water to dissolve it.
(For the pumpkins, I made some green fondant icing and used the cutter as a template to make stems. But then I remembered I had some green sugar, so used that instead with some more of the jam glue. You are limited only by your imagination! Get busy.)


Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Halloween Pumpkins!


Couldn't wait any longer. I know it's not Halloween until Saturday, but the pumpkins were so cheap at the market today...

What do you think? I am really proud of him!


Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

Another birthday, another excuse to go wild in the kitchen. There's another one coming next weekend too, so I'm in my element at the moment. I wish I could do birthday cakes every week!

This time it was a thirtieth, so there was an excuse to get the champagne out as well. I have never actually eaten cupcakes with champagne, and there was a little bit of me that wanted to exploit the connection and make a champagne cocktail flavoured cupcake. But when I saw what Mr. Other P had chosen to give Kate (whose birthday it was), that idea went out the window, though you never know when it might return.

He'd been into town and bought a big selection of American junk food from the food hall in House of Fraser. I love looking at all that stuff! There was some Hershey's fudge topping for ice-cream, a bag of Reese's Pieces (nearly snaffled those for myself), a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix, some raspberry twizzlers, and a whole host of other things with exactly the right kind of gleaming, colourful packaging that makes junk food so attractive.

But something was missing. It took a while to figure out what it was, but I got there. Oreo cookies. Aren't they supposed to be America's #1? I might be making that up, but I'm sure I heard that somewhere. Probably written on the packet...

Anyway, there were a couple of reasons why there were no Oreos. The most obvious was the price of the damn things. Nobody's going to pay £7.00 for them, whether they are America's #1 or not. House of Fraser would do well to remember that. I mean, come on... Seven quid for biscuits?!

The second reason was that Mr. Other P doesn't like them. He thinks they're dry and tasteless, despite looking like they are going to be chocolaty and delicious. If pressed, I would agree with him, but I do still like them because they are always the biscuits you find in cookies and cream ice-cream. Which most people would agree is very, very delicious indeed.

So, since there were no Oreos in the birthday hamper, I decided to make Oreo cookies and cream cupcakes. And because I've had a bottle of peppermint extract knocking around on the shelf for a while, I decided to use that too. I don't think it's an obvious pairing, but it fits in with my new 'why hold back?' approach to flavours (as evidenced by this post), and more importantly, it works. It may sound immodest, but seriously, these are incredible. And yes - other people said so.

I should add, I didn't buy the £7.00 American Oreos. I got the 'Made in the EU' version that come in different packaging but taste the same. A bargain at 89p from the corner shop!

If you don't want to make the cupcakes themselves chocolate flavour, then don't. It's all about the frosting with this one.

Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

You will need:

125g plain flour
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb. of soda

30g butter, softened
100g full fat cream cheese
250g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 packet Oreo cookies

  1. Line a 12 bun cupcake tin with paper liners, and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Use my usual, lazy method to make the cake batter. Dump everything in a bowl and mix, adding a splosh of milk if necessary, using electric beaters, until creamy and combined. Use an ice-cream scoop to transfer the batter to the prepared tin.
  3. Bake for 20 minutes, and then turn the cupcakes out onto a wire rack to cool. If they've risen a lot (mine did), level the tops with a sharp knife, so they look pretty when you ice them.
  4. Make the frosting: Cream the butter and cream cheese, then slowly stir in the icing sugar. You might need a little less or a little more to get the consistency you want - don't be afraid to adjust quantities. Add the extract, and taste. You might need more if yours isn't as strong as mine. Crush 5 Oreos and mix in until nicely combined. You will be amazed at the beauty of what you have created!
  5. Frost the cupcakes, smoothing the frosting out evenly. It looks very pretty swirled, but you could pipe it if you prefer.
  6. Chop remaining biscuits in half, and use to top the cupcakes. Sprinkle with green edible glitter.
  7. Devour!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Roasted Sweet Chestnuts


There is no getting away from it: This is officially free food. And, what's more, I didn't even have to go foraging for it! It was a gift. I don't think it gets much better than that.

Francesco came to stay this weekend. The man's a genius in the kitchen, and whenever he comes around, you know the eating is going to be good. He always arrives with a small case and the first thing I want to do when we collect him from the station is ask what he has inside. Of course, I don't, because I'm quite a well-mannered sort of chap, but I know he knows that's what I'm thinking!

Quite often, it will be a selection of Italian products that I ask lots of questions about (like a culinary version of show and tell), and make a note to buy next time I'm in Italy, or it might be an Italian book of recipes, which he kindly translates for me.

But this time it was something quite different. A bag of dirty nuts.

Now, I'm someone who tends to see the glass as half empty. So you'd think if somebody dumped a load of grubby conkers on my kitchen counter I'd be distraught. Well, I don't know what came over me, but I wasn't. I was intrigued. Though admittedly, only after having found out that they weren't conkers.

He said they were sweet chestnuts, gathered from a few trees at work, and that we were going to roast them. How seasonal!

I've had hot roast chestnuts before, and even thought they were really nice, but I think I always assumed you needed special equipment to roast them at home. As it happens, it's dirt simple. And since I can't be the only person in the world to have held this misconception, I have decided to put the method up here in case anybody else wants to try. So hold on to your hats, readers - we're about to go Dickensian!


Roasted Sweet Chestnuts

You will need:

chestnuts - we ate about 10 chestnuts each, after dinner, but we are greedy. You may need less.

  1. Wash the nuts in cold water to get rid of all the soil and dust. Leave to soak for a few minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 200°C. If you are using bought nuts (and I don't blame you - I'm hardly a hunter-gatherer myself!), you can probably skip the washing.
  2. Drain and dry the nuts, and score each one width-ways with a sharp knife. This stops them exploding in your oven.
  3. Spread the nuts out in a roasting tin, or on an oven sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes. Shake them about after 10 minutes. They are done when the shells look slightly burnished and you can see the insides starting to poke out.
  4. Serve immediately, remembering they will be hot. Don't burn your tongue.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Birthday Cake De Lux


I can never resist a cake, and a birthday cake is even better. The thing is, you'd never make an outrageously over-the-top cake in the daily run of things, but when it's a birthday you get free license to really go to town.

Quite often, that means decorating for me. For example, last year I recreated the Welsh flag in cake form for Mr. Other P's thirtieth, complete with a glittering red edible dragon. Yes, really. Even though neither of us are true bloods. He just likes flags. And maps. And I like messing about with sugar, so it was a nice project.

Anyway, when I was in New York with my Mum and sister this February, I had my first contact with what I like to think of as 'The American Baking Scene' (doesn't that sound grand?). I say my first contact - I'd been to Magnolia with Mr. Other P the first time I was there, but that didn't really impress me (the cakes were dry. All that fuss for dry cake!). But did you know that there's a place in Brooklyn where they make carrot cake cheese cake? It's not flavoured cheesecake - it's cheesecake with carrot cake as the base. And it has frosting! Is that not amazing? I think it's one of the most creative and unique ideas I've ever seen. It blew me away. When I got back, I googled the place (it's called Junior's), and it turns out that they've been making this amazing stuff since before I was born, so why it was kept a secret from me until the age of 26 I do not know. They deliver, if anyone's feeling hungry.

The point is, the Americans get creative with flavour, whereas sugar craft is often boring when you bite into it. So, given that a birthday cake is a reason for excess anyway, I decided to go about this the American way. And I'm glad I did, because this one's a keeper.

I started with Mr. Other P's favourite flavour combination, chocolate and cherry (born after having eaten these). Well, chocolate was easy: I made a regular chocolate cake mixture and thought about what else to add. Without too much ado, a large bar of Belgian chocolate was smashed up and stirred in, along with a whole bag of crushed almonds and half a pot of sour cream (well, why not?).

I then layered in some tinned cherries. I planned to use a glass jar of those fancy-pants morello cherries you can buy from the deli in town, but when I saw how much they cost I realised we'd have to remortgage if I did. It's fine; the tinned ones tasted nice enough to me.

Now, ordinarily I'd stop there. But birthday cakes need icing. It's a rule. I thought about making a pink glaze from the juice the cherries came in, but since Mr. Other P ran the Cardiff half marathon in less than 2 hours at the weekend (that's his medal in the photo!), I figured that it was acceptable to make a chocolate fudge frosting instead. I don't know if I can really call it that though, as I just made it up, using what ingredients I had left. The texture is quite soft - it's smoothes out much easier than buttercream icing, and I think you could get it perfectly smooth quite easily. I just like it looking rugged and swirly.

And so there we have it. Double Chocolate Cherry-Nut Fudge Cake! A step up from just chocolate, methinks. Do not think about the calories and fat involved. It's a birthday cake!


Double Chocolate Cherry-Nut Fudge Cake

You will need:

250g plain flour
250g soft butter
125g granulated sugar
125g dark muscovado sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarb. of soda
150ml sour cream
200g good quality dark chocolate
200g ground almonds
1 tin of cherries in natural juice, drained

225g butter
300g good quality dark chocolate
1tbsp golden syrup
100g icing sugar, sifted
150ml sour cream


  1. First make the cake. Put the first 8 ingredients into a (LARGE!) bowl, and beat together using a hand whisk until nicely combined.
  2. Stir though the sour cream, then add the almonds and roughly chopped chocolate.
  3. Grease and line the bottom of a 23cm round cake tin, and add half of the mixture. Smooth out, then cover with as many cherries as you like (I used half the tin... Because I'd eaten the rest.). Top with the remaining mixture, smooth out and bake in a 180°C oven for an hour, or until done.
  4. Cool on a wire rack.
  5. Make the frosting. Melt the chocolate and butter together, and add the syrup. Stir. Chill for 2o minutes. Then add the sour cream, and icing sugar, and beat until thick and creamy. Use to frost the cake.
  6. Add sprinkles and candles.
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