Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Love cookies? Love Snickers? You're going to love Snookies!

January is the month of New Years resolutions, and since we're over two weeks into the new year, it's fair to assume most have either abandoned their good intentions, or are at least wavering....

If you're going to break your resolve for one sweet treat, make it a Snookie. A Snookie is part cookie, part Snickers, and may be the most delicious thing I've tasted in quite a while!

Keep your resolution to make 2013 a healthy, happy year... Start by baking yourself happy...

This may seem like there are a lot of steps, but it's absolutely worth the effort.

To make the chocolate chip base:

Preheat oven to 170c.
Line 8" square tin with grease proof paper.

3/4 cup melted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g chocolate chips

1. Melt butter over a low heat.
2. Mix in sugars until well combined. It's a good idea to sieve brown sugar to eliminate any naturally occurring lumps.
3. Beat in vanilla and eggs.
4. Finally add sieved flour, baking powder and chocolate chips.
5. Mix until just combined.
6. Press dough into lined tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a damp spoon.
7. Bake the base for 20 mins/until a pale golden brown colour and firm.

To make the caramel layer:

You can make a start on this while the base is cooling.

1 tin Condensed milk
110g butter
100g light brown sugar

1. Add all the ingredients to a saucepan.
2. Over a low heat, keep stirring until you have a thick caramel consistency.

Things to note when making the caramel... This is important so pay attention!!

You need to do this over a low heat and have patience. Turning up the heat will give you burnt caramel, a saucepan I'd rather throw out than attempt cleaning, and the hassle of starting the whole process again. Have some patience! It's worth it.

Do NOT stop stirring! Again this will result in the ruination of both your caramel and saucepan! It only takes a few minutes so stick with it.

Recurring theme here? Have patience and you'll end up with a golden caramel like this....

Another vitally important piece of information.... Try not to taste the bubbling caramel... It's hot, and your mouth will feel like its on fire! Speaking from experience here... Totally worth it though!

You're almost there...only a few finishing touches left...

Spread the caramel over the base.
Top with a generous layer of salted peanuts. I used about 150g.

Finally spread 200g of melted chocolate over the top.
Place your Snookies in the fridge to set for 4 hours.

I recommend cutting these into squares in the tin. This will stop the chocolate from cracking, and the caramel layer from oozing out the sides.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Chewy, chocolatey cookies... and they're healthy (ish)!

Since the low fat chocolate mint cake went down a treat, I'm being bombarded with requests for cookies, cakes and traybakes with reduced fat and sugar.. thankfully I never really need an excuse to bake, so I'm more than happy to oblige.

Low fat mint chocolate cake complete with kettlebells,dumbbells and penguins for a recent gym Christmas party 

I was visiting a friend over the weekend, and never one to arrive empty handed, I decided to work on a reduced fat chocolate cookie...I have to say, I was delighted with the end result of a chewy, chocolatey cookie that tasted just as good as any other cookie I'd ever baked.

To make the cookies:

200g icing sugar
85g cocoa powder
30g plain flour
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g chopped pecans

Start by preheating the oven to 170d (fan oven)
Sieve dry ingredient into a large bowl.
Add egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add in vanilla extract, and stir in gently.
Finally fold in the chopped pecans until just combined.

This is quite a liquid mixture so don't be surprised that you haven't got a regular type cookie dough.

Using a spoon, place generous mounds of the mixture on a baking sheet. Leave small gaps between the cookies as they will spread during baking.

Bake in a preheated oven for 12-14 minutes, until slightly firm to touch. These cookies are supposed to be chewy so they need to be a little soft when you remove them from the oven, or you'll end up with crunchy
overcooked cookies.

These cookies are perfect if you're trying to reduce your fat intake.Whilst the pecans contain fat, nearly 90% of this is unsaturated 'heart healthy' fat.

Best of all, they actually taste pretty awesome!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

What happens when a childhood favourite and a cookie unite?...

For anyone who follows me on Twitter @gingerbreadmiss, you will have been forewarned of an impending annoying cheery Christmas post... so no complaints please, it's December so I'll ramble about Christmas right up until the big day.. deal with it!

Christmas is one of those times that brings out the best in everyone, even those who like to act like they've a stone cold heart. This Christmas, give someone the gift of your time, your conversation, a listening ear, a hug, or even just a smile... You never know how much the little things will impact upon someone else, and after all, smiling is contagious so who knows, you might just make someone's day by giving them the simplest gift... 

Baking for me, is all about giving... as much as it's about the food, there is a huge part of me that thinks taking the time to bake something for a friend, is worth so much more than a gift picked up in haste, with very little consideration. 

As a child, I always loved candy canes... well, technically that's not true. I loved the festive appearance of candy canes, but despised the artificial peppermint flavour. It was probably just as well that I wasn't a fan, since my mother was hugely opposed to boiled sweets since they are so bad for your teeth. Since candy canes are clearly the sweet of choice of the tooth fairy's evil twin, I decided to make candy cane cookies which are hopefully marginally less damaging to your teeth!

To make the cookies: 

200g butter
110g icing sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tsp peppermint extract (Always use the best quality you can afford as the flavour is far superior in the slightly more expensive varieties...I use this one)
300g plain flour
red food colouring (using a paste gives a much better colour)

Start by creaming the butter and icing sugar together until pale and smooth. 
Add in the egg yolks and peppermint extract, and beat until well combined. 
Next, add the sieved flour, and fold the mixture until you have a smooth dough. 
Divide the mixture in half, adding a few drops of your food colouring and mixing until you have a rich red dough. 

At this stage, it's best to place the two batches of dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow it to firm up, making it easier to work with. 
Preheat your oven to 170 (fan oven). 

To form your candy canes: 

Take a generous teaspoon of each dough and place on a clean counter top lightly greased with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. 
Using your finger tips, roll each ball of dough into a long sausage shape. 

Place the dough side by side, and again using the tips of your fingers, use a gentle rolling action to roll the two pieces together. 

By rolling gently up and down the dough, you will create a lovely swirl effect of a traditional candy cane.
Once you have rolled the dough together, place on a baking tray, curling the end into a hook shape to give the correct shape. 

Repeat until you have used up all the dough, or alternatively you can keep some of the dough in the fridge for a few days and bake as required. 

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until firm and pale golden. 

These candy cane cookies are light and crispy, with a beautiful peppermint flavour. They are simple enough for budding little bakers to make over the Christmas holidays, and if you're very lucky, they might even embrace the festive season, and share them with you! 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas.....

I've mentioned once or twice about my love of Christmas, so now that December has finally arrived, I will be unashamedly nattering on about all things festive..

I couldn't possibly fail to mention how Christmas came early this year for me, when I won the Arro Ghoulishly Good Halloween Recipe contest, taking home €1,000 worth of AMAZING baking equipment from Kenwood, Prestige Meyer and Kitchen Craft.

Incredible!! Like a kid at Christmas! 
I love everything about Christmas, the lights, the music, the parties, and obviously the wonderful food. For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past few years, you need to have Christmas FM in your life. It's a charity Christmas radio station raising money for the ISPCC, and I am addicted. I fully expect to be evicted from my house this month, given it's turned on the moment I wake in the morning!

Over Christmas, everyone has guests coming and going, and if you're like me, you love to have something home baked to cater for those unexpected guests. Pistachio, cranberry and dark chocolate cookies are this year's go to cookie recipe for me. They have a rich buttery taste which is only improved by the saltiness of the pistachios and the tangy dried cranberries. I also add a teaspoon of grated orange zest to the cookies, which makes them even more flavourful.

To make the cookies: 
160g butter
75g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
220g plain flour
80g pistachios
80g dried cranberries
40g dark chocolate chips (I always use Dr Oetker chocolate chips as they're heat stable, taste great and reasonably priced)

Start by creaming the butter, sugar and orange zest together until pale and light.

Add in the remaining ingredients, and mix until all the ingredients are combined giving you a smooth dough.

Place the dough in the fridge to chill and firm up for 30 minutes.
Roll out to 1/2 an inch thick, and use festive cutters to create the perfect Christmas cookie.

Place on a baking tray, and bake at 170d (fan) for 10-12 until firm, but still pale in colour.

This cookie dough is great to keep in the fridge for a few days to allow you to cater quickly for unexpected drop ins over Christmas. The green pistachios, and bright red cranberries make these cookies wonderfully festive, and they really do taste amazing.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Low fat mint chocolate you can have two slices!

Tastes like a mint aero! 
A friend of mine has been requesting a low fat chocolate cake for months now. I'm not really one for low fat alternatives, I always think they taste strange and would prefer to have a little bit of what you fancy as a special treat.

It's her birthday, and again the low fat chocolate cake was brought up. Fine!! Ok!! I'll make one!! Even though my last attempt a few months ago was a strange tasting, meringue-like chocolate cake that I wouldn't feed to anyone. It lacked flavour, so went in the bin and she was given gooey ridiculously chocolatey fudge cake instead. At about 500 calories per slice, it's not exactly a woman's best friend.

This chocolate mint cake only has a little fat in it, though like most things that are low fat, the sugar content is relatively high. You can't win 'em all, but for anyone following a low fat diet, you have to try this recipe.

For the cake:

250g plain flour
150g light brown sugar
60g cocoa
50g Splenda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp finely diced peppermint leaves
3 egg whites
2 tsp peppermint essence
1 1/4 cup milk
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 170d (fan oven).
Grease and line an 8 inch round tin.

Sieve all the dry ingredients into a large bowl with the peppermint.

Whisk together the egg whites, peppermint essence and milk.
Next stir in the boiling water.
This will be quite a thin liquid mixture, so don't worry that you've done something wrong.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.

 Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Leave the cake to firm up in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the icing:
150g extra light cream cheese
1 jar of marshmallow fluff *
2 tsp peppermint essence
2 drops green food colouring (just enough to give a pale green shade)

*You can pick this up in nearly all supermarkets, or in one of those retro sweet shops that are in most towns. If you can't get your hands on it, melt a bag of mini marshmallows with low fat milk until you have a spreadable consistency. Then beat in the cream cheese, flavouring and colouring.

Using an electric whisk (cos I'm a bit lazy about whisking by hand), whisk all the ingredients together until you have a smooth, glossy icing.

Cut the cake in half horizontally.
Use about 1/3 of the icing to sandwich the cake together.

Using a palette knife, spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake.

The cake is gorgeous the way it is, though I used After Eights to complete the decoration. You could use mint Aero or any after dinner mints you have to hand.

For a festive alternative, decorate with peppermint candy canes.

I'm devastated I can't cut a slice to show you how good it looks. From tasting the cake crumbs, and icing this cake is an absolute winner. It's rich, chocolatey and moist, and doesn't taste like a strange low fat alternative.

Let me know what you think...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Rice pudding like you had in school? I think not!!!!

I had a request for rice pudding this weekend...I'm a bit of a dessert snob, so looked at him in disgust.... '"You want rice pudding????"...It's baby food, lumpy school dessert food or even worse... dessert from a can food!!

Only one thing for it... I had to make it a little bit posh! And so vanilla rice pudding, with black cherries in a creme de cassis syrup topped with toasted pistachio nuts was born....

Could I be any more pretentious if I tried?... Well, I could have served it in a cocktail glass!!

Thankfully this is a pretty simple dessert to make... I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed going to great lengths for rice pudding!

For the vanilla rice:

800ml low fat milk*
4tbps caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split open
300g pudding rice

Start by bringing the milk, cream, caster sugar and sliced vanilla pods to a gentle simmer in a heavy based saucepan. 
Add in pudding rice and leave to simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes, (you can make a start on the compote and nut garnish while you wait) or until the rice is tender and you have a creamy pudding. 
At this stage, if you prefer a thinner consistency, add in a little more milk  if you find the pudding too thick for your taste. 

*The health nut in me just had to adapt this recipe. The original recipe called for 600ml whole milk, and 200ml of double cream. No doubt this makes a rich, creamier pudding, but a little excessive for a casual Saturday dessert I think! The low fat milk created a creamy pudding with far less calories, and I honestly don't think the double cream is a necessity. 

For the black cherry compote:

1 can of black pitted cherries, drained reserving 2tbsp of the syrup (there really is no need to search for fresh cherries, canned are just as good for this recipe... and they're already pitted! Win!!) 
2tbsp cornflour
5tbsp Creme de Cassis, or you can substitute with rum/vodka mixed with some of the syrup from the can

Place ingredients in a saucepan. 
Bring to the boil, and leave to simmer until you have a thick syrup coating the cherries.

To toast the pistachios:

I can't stand food that lacks texture... for me, I always need something crunchy to kill the feeling that I'm eating baby food! I adore pistachios, and there's not much that can't be improved by adding a little crunchy garnish.

100g shelled pistachio nuts

Take the shelled nuts, place in a dry frying pan/or baking tray in the oven, and allow to toast gently using a low heat for 4/5 minutes. Don't allow the nuts to brown, or you will end up with a burnt aftertaste in your mouth! 

Toasting the nuts allows the natural oils to be released, giving a better flavour, and a fantastic fresh aroma. 

To present: 
Even though I couldn't resist glamming rice pudding up, there's no need to go crazy on the presentation of the dessert. Sometimes, less is more, and the taste of this dessert speaks for itself. 

Spoon generous helpings of the rice into bowls. 
Pour some compote over the rice, and finally top with toasted pistachio nuts. 
Serve straight away. 

I have to admit, rice pudding was never really my thing, but I really liked this dessert. It was warming, flavourful, simple to make and most importantly got several nods of approval..

Monday, 12 November 2012

Brandy, apple and honey layer cake...

Light, sweet and warming...tastes like more...
A while ago, a friend of mine asked me to recreate a honey layer sponge she tasted whilst in Prague. This cake was made using 10 thin layers of honey sponge, sandwiched together with a smooth caramel icing, and topped with gingernut's known as 'Medovnik' in Eastern Europe, and is one of the nicest cakes I have ever tasted (and I've tasted one or two cakes!).. It's light, and not at all sweet despite what the ingredient list implies. When I made this cake, there were ooohs and aaahs of delight as people tucked into it..and since then, it has become one of my favourite cakes to bake. 

Apples seem to be my current ingredient of choice, they're a fruit so therefore any baked goods containing them are a health food....that's how it works right???? I had requests for Medovnik and apple bakewell pie, but I had to choose one...decisions decisions! I decided to go with a twist on Medovnik, and bake an apple and brandy version. 

Start by making the honey cake:
I did say this cake isn't like most cakes, so pay attention here! It seems a little odd at first, but bear with me..

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 30g butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 250g plain flour
Place the icing sugar, butter, egg and honey in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water. Stir until the ingredients are well combined and warm. 
Remove from the heat, beat in baking soda and plain flour to form a firm dough. 
Set aside to cool and firm up for 30 minutes. You can prepare the filling while you wait. 
Preheat the oven to 170d (fan oven)
Take the dough, and divide into 6 even pieces (I use my digital scales to be really precise) 
Roll out each piece into a thin round. I usually use a 6 inch round tin as a guide for this, and cut around the tin  using a pizza cutter for an even edge.

When you have you six rounds, place on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven for 4-5 minutes. You need to keep a close eye to the oven as each sponge disc is very thin, so will burn quickly. You're looking for a firm disc, with a pale golden colour...don't let them brown as they will dry out. 

For the filling: 
Instead of using the traditional caramel filling, I decided to make a chunky brandy apple puree, and chantilly cream. 

Apple filling:
Peel, core and slice 2 large cooking apples. 
Place in a pan with 2 tbsp water. 
Cook until the apples begin to are looking for a thick and chunky stewed apple consistency here. 
Next add in 2 tbsp of caster sugar, 2 tbsp of honey and 4 tbsp of brandy. 

Once the sugar is dissolved, taste some of the apple to make sure it is sweet enough for you, and either add more sugar if desired, or remove from the heat and leave to cool. 

Chantilly cream:
  • 284ml carton of whipping cream
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
Using an electric whisk, whisk the cream and vanilla together until you have soft peaks. 
Fold in sieved icing sugar gently. 
Set aside until ready to prepare the cake. 

To construct the cake:
Take a disc of honey sponge, cover generously with brandy using a pastry brush. 

Top with a thin layer of the apple mixture, followed by a thin layer of chantilly cream. It's important that you use thin layers, the cake is supposed to be firm rather than oozing with filling. 

Place the next sponge disc on top, and repeat until you have added all 6 layers. 

To decorate the cake, spread the remaining chantilly cream around the sides. 
Spread a generous layer of the apple filling on the top of the sponge. 
Take a pack of lady fingers, dip each finger in a bowl with a cup of brandy and 3tbsp of warm honey until slightly softened. Place the fingers around the edge of the cake. 
Store in the fridge until ready to serve.  
From the side

Thin layers of deliciousness!