avert any serious cookie crisis in 15 minutes flat…
How the hell I’m suddenly into week 34 of my pregnancy, I have no idea. It only feels like a few weeks ago that I hugged my husband in the car park of our local hospital on a very bright and sunny May afternoon and showed him pictures of the 12 week scan he wasn’t allowed to attend. Now the trees are suddenly shedding their leaves, we’re heading deeper into Autumn (and into another Lockdown – yeesh) and things are starting to feel very, very real. We’ve decorated a nursery, we’ve filled a drawer with baby clothes (and had several arguments over just how many cute polka dot onesies one baby actually needs – if you know the answer to that one, let me know), and – as of last weekend – we’ve reached the end of our Covid-proof Zoom NCT Classes.
Noticing how the weeks seem to be flying by, I’ve started thinking about everything I want to get done before I head into that – ohmygawd, baby could show up any second – end zone, and high up on my list is a heavy dose of batch cooking. Whilst I love cooking, and I’m sure there’ll be the odd day where I’m desperate to get back into the kitchen, I just can’t see it happening for at least the first couple of weeks. So I’ve started sifting through my favourite recipes, pulling out a few that’ll do well in the freezer. But what about deserts? I mean, frozen veggie chilli that’s just as good nuked in the ol’ microwave as it is fresh out of the pot is good, but something sweet to enjoy when the baby’s sleeping and you get to steal back a moment for yourself is even better, right?
One of the NCT girls had a great idea for any pre-baby batch cooking list, and you bet I’m adding it to mine. A foolproof 4am cookie dough that’ll go from frozen blob to crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle cookie in 15 minutes – perfect for perking up those early morning feeds. I’ve been working on an ultimate cookie dough recipe for a while – one that’s easy and adaptable in terms of fillings – and I’ve finally settled on this one, which just so happens to work best when the dough’s frozen. Now I just need to work out how many batches I’m going to need to get me through those sleepless newborn nights…
Emergency 4am Cookie Dough
125g softened butter
110g dark muscovado sugar
50g caster sugar
195g plain flour
1/2 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
200g chocolate chips (or whatever filling you fancy)
Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then crack in the egg. Stir until combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornflour and salt. Pour into the butter, sugar and egg mix, then stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Line a tray with grease-proof paper, then scoop out equal, rounded dollops of cookie dough onto it (I like to use an ice cream scoop). Transfer the dough to the fridge for an hour to firm up, then pop the blobs of cookie dough into a freezer bag to freeze and lie in wait for cookie emergencies.
When you’re ready to cook, set the oven to 200°C (fan), then bake the cookies on a foil-lined baking tray for 15 minutes – or until crispy on the outside and soft and puffy in the middle.
Leave the cookies to cool slightly and settle (resist attempting to move them until they have!), then enjoy!
Have a great week everyone! Let me know what your favourite cookie filling is in the comments – I’m going to need a little inspo ready for batch cooking week! 🍪🍪🍪
Valentines Day, Galentines Day… Love Yo’self Day… whichever one of the above you celebrate, the week of looooooove is upon us once again. Sunny and I actually celebrated a couple of weeks ago (here in Wales we celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day instead on the 25th of January) – so I’m totally free this Friday to celebrate the other loves in my life – and that includes myself. I’ve got a hot date with a bathtub, some gin and a good book, and I cannot wait. I’ve also got at least one of these Mini Blood Orange Cheesecakes still bashing around in the fridge; I’ve been saving it to scoff during my soak. 😉
I feel like my go-to for a homemade Valentines Day treat always involves a pack of Blood Oranges. It’s kind of becoming a tradition. Last year I made Blood Orange Curd, as well as this Heart Shaped Blood Orange Upside Down Cake. And who could forget those Blood Orange-Glazed Doughnuts I made the year before that? I think they’re quite possibly my all time favourite. Part of the reason I pick them is because they just happen to be in season this time of year – they’re definitely one of my favourite things to spot in the supermarket during January – but they also happen to be my favourite citrus fruit because I usually find that they’re sweeter and juicier than your bog standard orange. Oh, and lastly, they’re pink, and they’re pretty to look at and photograph. Duh.
These miniature cheesecakes are a bit of a throwback to the horrendously 80s cheesecake that my Mum and Dad used to buy down the freezer aisle when I was a kid (…and they still do to this day). You know, the one with the bright orange jelly and tangerine segments on top? The parts are all there, I’ve just shrunk it down to cupcake size and given it a bit of a face-lift. The base is made from blitzed Biscoff biscuits, the creamy, baked cheesecake filling has that slightly tangy New York Cheesecake flavour, and then it’s all topped off with a vegetarian blood orange jelly and a candied blood orange segment. They’re really easy to make and are a sweet way of treating your favourite people this Valentines Day.
Mini Blood Orange Cheesecakes
For the Cheesecakes:
24 Biscoff biscuits (around 180g)
30g melted butter
360g full fat cream cheese
70g sour cream
110g caster sugar
zest of one blood orange
2 eggs, whisked
For the jelly:
juice of one blood orange (about 100ml)
200ml cold water
50g caster sugar
1 sachet of veggie gel
For the candied Blood Orange segments:
1 blood orange, thinly sliced
200ml caster sugar
Grab a muffin tray and line it with ten muffin cases. Heat your oven to 180°C (fan).
First, make the cheesecake base: blitz your biscuits in a food processor until they’re soft and grainy (…and look a lot like sand!). Stir in the melted butter, and then spoon a little bit of the mixture into each muffin case. Gently press down to a create a level base. Make sure you don’t pack it down too much or your base is going to be hard when it sets.You want it to crumble a little.
To make the creamy cheesecake filling, whisk together the cream cheese, sour cream, caster sugar, eggs and blood orange zest. You want an airy, smooth texture (no lumps!); the smoother it is, the creamier the cheesecake. Divide that mixture equally between the muffin cases, and then bake for 20 minutes. The cheesecakes will puff and rise in the oven, and they’ll probably crack a little. You’ll know they’re done when they start to tan a little on top. Leave them in the muffin tray in their cases to cool.
While your cheesecakes are cooling, make the candied blood orange segments. Sounds difficult, but it’s actually really easy. First, grab a deep saucepan, pop your sliced blood orange segments into it and then cover them with water. Bring them to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes until the peel goes soft. Remove the blood orange segments and pop them in a bowl of cold water. Don’t throw away the water in the saucepan – it’s packed full of juice and you’re going to use it to make the syrup. Measure 200ml of that juice and then pour it back in the saucepan with the caster sugar. Dissolve the sugar on a low heat, and then pop the blood orange segments in. Allow them to simmer on a low heat in the syrup for 30 minutes – turning them occasionally to coat both sides. Once done, fish them out and then leave them to cool on a piece of baking paper.
Once your cheesecakes have cooled completely, make the jelly. Again, not as tricky as it sounds! Combine your blood orange juice and 200ml of cold water. Stir in the caster sugar until it dissolves, and then do the same with the veggie gel (watch out for lumps!). Pour the mixture into a saucepan and bring it to the boil – and then divide it between your cheesecake cups. Top each one with a candied blood orange slice.
Put the cheesecakes in the fridge to set and cool for at least 2 hours before scoffing. 😉
Seriously, is there anything better than a steaming plate of beans on toast? Especially this time of year when it’s grim and gloomy, and you get home in the dark and the drizzle and you just can’t be bothered to cook and the Chinese Takeaway is bloody closed (ours takes a three week long break every January on a count of Chinese New Year – EXACTLY when I need them the most – the nerve!)… For breakfast, lunch or brinner (not a typo – that’s “breakfast for dinner” for the uninitiated – you’re welcome btw), it’s always a winner when you’re in a pinch and just can’t be arsed to cook anything else.
(…Or blog about anything else? Hey c’mon, I’m having a slow January, alright?)
There’s always a healthy stash of tins of baked beans in my kitchen cupboard (none of that Branston nonsense; I’m a Heinz until I die kinda girl) – that’s the easy bit – it’s the bread that’s the trickier side to this duo. It’s got to be a doorstop wedge of fluffy, perfectly toasted bread to compliment a soggy slop of beans – which isn’t necessarily as readily available as it sounds. Thankfully, my husband’s taken up the only area of baking that I seriously struggle with and I’ve been finding myself drowning in homemade loaves (…definitely not complaining). Last weekend he played around with a lovely recipe fished out of an old recipe book for Oatmeal Bread – which made a pillowy soft loaf with a crispy, golden crust. As soon as I chewed down on a corner I knew it was THE weekend loaf to have on the recipe roster – perfect for sandwiches, dippy eggs and – oh yes – a banging plate of beans on toast. 🙂
Simple Sunday Morning Oat Loaf
For the dough:
170g strong, white flour
85g wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
30g melted butter
1 tsp clear honey
15g dried active yeast
1 egg, beaten
55g porridge oats
200ml semi skimmed milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp porridge oats
Gently boil the milk, then pour into a mixing bowl with the oats. Allow it to cool to about 30°C, then stir in the honey and yeast. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to do it’s thing (you should start to see tiny, pinprick bubbles – or a slight foam).
Next, add the egg and melted butter (make sure it’s cooled – you don’t want to scramble your egg!). Then, sift in both the strong white flour and wholemeal flour, as well as the salt. Stir together to make a soft dough.
Lightly oil your hands, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then knead by hand for about ten minutes – or until you get a smooth, stretchy dough.
Oil a mixing boil, then chuck in the dough, cover it with clingfilm and leave it somewhere warm to double in size for about an hour and a half.
Lightly grease a 1 lb loaf tin. Knock back the dough, then roughly shape it into a loaf and pop it in the tin. Cover, then leave somewhere warm to rise again for another hour.
Heat your oven to 220°C (fan). Glaze the surface of the loaf with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 30 minutes (after 15 minutes cover with paper if you think the crust is going to brown too much), then leave to cool before slicing up and scoffing with great big globs of butter.
Tell you what, my 2020 so far has been bloody spectacular (…are you picking up on the sarcastic subtext of that statement?). Firstly, a new year dog walk around the block with my mother-in-law resulted in a five hour wait in A&E after Bungle bolted and dragged her up a hill by the wrist. Not a day after the house emptied and a bit of normality resumed, Sunny went down with the flu. And a day after that, the other hairy bloke in my life caught bog-eye from shoving his face in too many butts (…I’m talking about Bungle, in case that wasn’t obvious). Then yesterday, the council oh so kindly informed me that pulling into a bus lay-by to drop your husband off for his Christmas Party is not cool and will result in a £75 fine. Awesome.
It’s been a howler so far, and so I shouldn’t really have been surprised that my first bake of the year turned out to be howler too. I’ve made plenty of cakes in my time – enough to be honestly surprised when one goes tits up – but the science behind it all still kind of eludes me – it is all just chemistry after all. All the basic ingredients need to be there and need to be balanced in a very specific way before you even get around to adding flavours and fillings. For example if you put too much structure-building flour into a cake, then it’s going to be dry. And sugar is responsible for more than just its sweet taste; sugar plays a huge part in the soft, spongy texture of cakes due to the way sugar crystals trap little pockets of air. Too little sugar and your cake’s not going to have a soft texture. Aaaand, if you put too much liquid into a cake – which I found out when I tried to make this London Fog Cake – then your cake’s going to be heavy and dense and is probs gonna end up going straight in the bin. I knew I’d put too much liquid in it as soon as it came out of the oven – but hindsight’s 2020, innit? (Badump tshhhh.)
Anyway, I managed to turn this baking fail into a baking win by making it my mission to read up a bit into the science behind good cakes, and now – hopefully – none of my future cake experiments will end up in the bin. I went back to the drawing board, and I have to say, my second attempt was much, much better. Pretty damn good, in fact.
If you’ve never heard of London Fog before (Just a heads-up, I’m not talking about the weather in London…), it’s basically just an Earl Grey Latte. Lovely bergamot-infused black tea made with frothy, hot milk. The perfect drink for glum (and sometimes foggy) January days. This cake is essentially the drink in cake form – a black tea-enriched sponge, with a creamy, vanilla-flavoured frosting.
London Fog Cake
3 Earl Grey teabags
75ml boiling hot water
3 large eggs, whisked
50g caster sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour, sifted
For the buttercream icing:
400g icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
First things first, make some tea! Empty the contents of the teabags into a cup, then pour on the 75ml of boiling hot water. Leave to steep, then cool.
Set your oven to 170°C and grease a small, loose-bottomed cake tin.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Pour in the eggs, then stir to combine.
Pour in the flour and tea mixture, alternating between the two. Stir to make a soft batter.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, then leave to cool. Meanwhile make the buttercream by whipping together the icing sugar, butter and vanilla bean paste.
Decorate the surface of the cake, then scoff (…with tea 🙂).
Have a lovely week! How’s 2020 treating you so far? 💓
The Crimbo Limbo, Twixtmas… whatever you call it, the gap between Christmas and New Year’s a bit of a weird one, isn’t it? I used to hate it as a kid; even though there’s still the New Year celebrations to come, Christmas is officially over. All the presents around the tree are gone, the family and friends who’ve come to stay are gone too and there’s about half the Sainsbury’s Cheese Counter and a Turkey carcass shoved into the fridge. It always felt a little sad to me as a kid, but now? I LOVE IT. Fridge full of cheese? Um, yes please. Enough leftovers to save me cooking for a week? Banging. A Bond film on the TV every night? Don’t mind if I do. Cake for breakfast? Why the hell not.
It’s the one time of year where adulting officially goes out the window and – even better – nobody’s going to think any less of you for it or worry that you’ve gone a bit mad. Brilliant! I was tempted to just whack my coat on over my Christmas PJs to take Bungle for his walk this morning, but changed my mind at the last minute. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, I guess, and for me that line falls somewhere between the neighbours seeing me in my jammies and scoffing cake for breakfast. Specifically, this Almond and Raspberry Cake – which I whipped up last minute on Christmas Eve and was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a total winner. It’s pretty enough to decorate a festive table, moist enough to last through the limbo, and slightly sour enough to be a fresh change when you’ve dipped into the tub of chocolates a few too many times. Eat it warm with fresh cream or cold for breakfast, that’s totally up to you – I won’t tell! 😉
Almond and Raspberry Cake
175g Caster Sugar
100g Self Raising Flour
50g Ground Almonds
Pinch of Salt
25g Flaked Almonds
Set your oven to 170° and grease a 20cm open bottom cake tin. Sprinkle with a little flour and then set aside.
In your mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Stir in the egg.
In a separate bowl sift together most of the dry ingredients; that’s the flour, ground almonds and salt. Combine with the wet ingredients to make a very dry batter (don’t worry, it’ll come together during the next step!).
Stir in the milk.
Pour the batter into your cake tin and smooth over the surface. Arrange the raspberries (hole down) on top, staring in the middle and working your way out to the edge.
Bake for 45 minutes, scatter with flaked almonds and powdered sugar and then serve up with cream. 🙂
Hope you’re having a lovely Crimbo Limbo/Twixtmas!