Speculaas – Merry Christmas!

I’ve been suffering from the dreaded lurgy for the last week, so sadly haven’t been able to post any of the Christmas recipes I’d planned to over the last few days. I did manage to drag myself off my sick sofa for an hour or so today (and away from repeats of Nigellissima and Jamie’s Christmas…mmmm…) to make another batch of Speculaas however. Speculaas, or Speculoos, depending on where you’re from, is a traditional continental European Christmas biscuit. When I was younger my aunt and uncle lived in Holland and always brought all sorts of exotic festive goodies over for Christmas. Remember this was in the days before Aldi, Lidl and German Christmas markets up and down the UK so the sight of things like lebkuchen, gingerbread houses and speculaas was so foreign and exciting and just meant one thing – Christmas is here!

I found this recipe on BBC Food a few years ago and have made at least one batch every year since. They are really easy, keep brilliantly in the biscuit tin for ages (as if that’s really going to be a problem!) and most of all, they just smell and taste like Christmas!

It depends on what size of cutter you’re using, but this makes around 20. I have a snowflake and Christmas tree cutter from Munich Christmas market, suitably festive I think!

You’ll need;

  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g muscovado sugar
  • 70g butter
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped candied peel
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • flaked almonds

Mix together all the ingredients apart from the almonds and mixed peel. Once the mixture is beginning to come together, add in the peel, and continue to combine until it has formed a dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out until around 1/2 cm thick. Mmmm inhale that Christmas smell! Cut out and place onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Decorate with the flaked almonds and bake at 180 degrees for around 10-12 minutes. The biscuits will still look quite soft and doughy at this point but don’t worry, they will harden up as they cool! Dust with a little icing sugar and that’s it, easy peasy! Perfect with a Baileys coffee! ūüėČ

 

IMG_4345

IMG_4348

IMG_4349

IMG_4351

Merry Christmas Everyone! I hope you all have a fantastically festive time ūüôā

Advertisements

Christmas is coming…

The  nights are drawing in, twinkly lights and trees are cropping up in front room windows across the country and gluwein is being consumed in ever increasing quantities (at least in this house) yes, the festive season is upon us and somehow Christmas is just around the corner!

A few evenings ago we ‘festive-ised’ some of our lovely little Victorian fireplaces to get in the Christmas spirit. Cue lots of twinkly fairy lights and candles! And some ‘helpful’ cats!

IMG_4316

IMG_4331

All that decorating was of course hungry work, fueled by those classic Christmas snacks – gluwein, twiglets and dark chocolate covered lebkuchen!

IMG_4311

With the house looking festive and sparkly, it would have been rude not to invite some friends round for an evening of Christmas-themed food and drink! Mulled wine, mulled cider and winter pimms were accompanied by lots of goodies! One of my friends brought this awesome cranberry and walnut ‘festive bark’ – extra chocolately! Check the festive gold stars!

IMG_4341

I made some mince pies and speculaas – a Christmas spiced German biscuit. Yum! ¬†Unfortunately I was a bit rubbish with the camera (a bit busy with all that important alcohol mulling! ūüėČ ) so have no pictures of the mince pies, but here is one from last Christmas! (it’s been my trusty recipe for many a year now!)

mince pie

The speculaas fared slightly better, I do have a picture, but not quite of the end product! Here are some on the cooling rack, yet to receive their magic icing sugar dusting!

speculaas

I will post the recipes for these another day, right now I’m still recovering from last night’s over-indulgence in all these goodies and an early night is calling with a work Christmas party tomorrow! Hope you’re all having a good festive season too!


Homebaked bread

After catching up on the Great British Bake Off while nursing a red wine hangover on the sofa this weekend, the OH and I felt inspired to get baking. Which as it turns out, is an excellent distraction from that dull thudding headache and sense of despair! As you may have seen from my previous post, we made spiced blueberry buns but we also decided to try our hands at baking some bread.

We are both bread novices so were looking for something relatively straightforward to start off with. I decided to give Paul Hollywood’s easy white bread recipe from BBC Food a go.

This calls for;

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 40g soft butter
  • 12g fast-action dried yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Around 300ml tepid water
  • A little olive oil

Combine the flour and butter in a bowl then add the yeast at one side and salt at the other (you don’t want to mix the salt directly with the yeast as it will kill it). Mix ingredients together. Add around half of the water and mix with your hands. Continue to add the water a little at a time while combining the mixture with your hands. We found we didn’t quite need all the water. Once the mixture resembles a soft dough, rub a little oil on a clean surface and turn the dough out. Knead the bread (see the BBC recipe from the link above for a good description of the technique!)

Note, these are not my manly hands

Clean and lightly oil your bowl then put your dough back in. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove. The dough should have doubled in size after around an hour.

Work the dough again to knock out any air then shape into a loaf. Place the loaf on lined baking tray and cover with your tea towel again to prove further. Once it has risen again, sprinkle with flour and use a knife to create a pattern on top. Place the loaf in the oven at 220c. The recipe gave the top tip of putting another roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and filling it with cold water just as you close the door Р this creates steam which helps the loaf develop a crisp and shiny crust.

Bake for around 30 minutes until golden.

I was very impressed with how it turned out, if I do say so myself! I’d actually planned to add a little rosemary to the loaf but was so concentrated on all that kneading and proving I completely forgot. Now that I know how to make a basic loaf though, I’m looking forward to being able to customise it in all sorts of ways!

We ate ours with some homemade summer vegetable broth for a really wholesome nourishing tea, just what the doctor ordered!


Blueberry buns spiced with orange & cardamom

This rather rainy, grey, miserable bank holiday weekend called for a little baking and so I decided to make these buns from the Swedish section of my Jamie Oliver cookbook. They turned out really well and were really deliciously tasty enjoyed with a fresh pot of coffee! ūüôā I love anything with berries in anyway, and these were lovely; not too sweet and with a really tasty unusual kick from the¬†orange¬†zest and cardamom seeds.

I halved the original recipe in order to make 4 rather than 8 buns and altered it slightly depending on what we had in the house;

  • Half a standard 7g packet of yeast
  • 187g of warm milk
  • Around 10 cardamom pods
  • 1 medium-large egg
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 25 g melted butter plus 7.5g unsalted butter
  • 400g plain flour

For the filling;

  • 200g blueberries
  • 37g caster sugar
  • 1 orange (we used 2 clementines which needed using)

Combine the yeast with the warmed milk and set to one side. Lightly bash the cardamom pods to release the seeds, discard the husks and crush the seeds into a fine powder.

Beat the egg with a pinch of salt in a bowl then add the cardamom, sugar, melted butter, 500g of the flour and the milk and yeast mixture, whisking constantly. This should result in a thick gluey-like mixture. Mix in the remaining 300g of flour until you have a dough. Use floured hands to bring the mixture together (this was very messy and sticky РI needed quite a bit of flour on my hands!) then sprinkle the top with flour and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for around an hour.

While the dough is proving, and once you’ve finally cleaned all the clinging-on dough off your hands and cleaned the flour off the worktop!, you can make the mixture for inside the buns. Add the blueberries and caster sugar to a bowl, zest the orange and add most of this to the mixture, along with around half a clementine’s worth of juice. Mash the mixture together.

Once the dough has doubled in size, dust a clean surface with flour and pull and stretch the dough out into a sort of rectangle shape. Spoon around half of the blueberries into the middle of the dough and spread around.

Pull the sides of the dough up and into the middle like an envelope, and keep turning and pushing the dough together. Divide the dough into four portions, and stretch each one out into a sort of sausage shape then twist into a rough knot. Place the buns on a greaseproof paper covered baking tray with dollops of butter and demerara sugar spread around it. Make a little hollow in the top of each bun with your fingers and add some more blueberries, pushing them down into the middle. Then spoon over the blueberry juice as well as the remaining orange zest and some extra demerara sugar. Leave to rest for around 10-15 minutes while the oven comes up to temperature than bake for 20-25 minutes at 180c.

Absolutely delicious eaten warm straight out of the oven after the aroma of the orange and blueberries has filled your kitchen for the last half hour! We also found that our remaining two buns made an exceedingly good breakfast eaten cold the next day!! I think this is a recipe I’ll definitely be making again ūüôā



Fat free chocolate cake… well, sort of!

The other half and I were craving something sweet earlier this week but I didn’t want to be too naughty. I had a rummage around the kitchen, we had no proper butter and no eggs. We did however have an incredibly ripe avocado that needed using. (Having been away for the weekend and left my male counterpart to do the weekly shop, I have a lot of extra items that need using. Why buy just one avocado when you can buy a family pack right?!). I suddenly remembered watching saw random ‘raw food movement’ type programme on¬†television¬†a while ago. A very¬†enthusiastic¬†woman told us¬†incredulous¬†viewers that she was going to make a raw chocolate cake. Using avocado as a substitute for butter. So I took to Google and had a look at some recipes. It was quickly established that neither did we have the required array of ingredients nor was the other half likely to eat a flour-less raw chocolate cake. He was, however, willing to try a slightly less radical version.

So I decided to make the following recipe which I found online

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
  • 2 cups sugar (the recipe didn’t specify but presumed this was caster)
  • 1/4 cup almond oil
  • 1 large very ripe avocado, well mashed
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease cake tins.

Sift all the dry ingredients, except the sugar, together.

Mix all the wet ingredients together, including the avocado. I used a food processor to make sure it was really well mixed. Add the sugar into the wet ingredients and beat well with a whisk.

Looking pretty good, huh? Just like a normal chocolate cake mix? I, of course, had to sample a little at this stage, all in the name of research and all that… And can report that it was delicious! Nice and chocolately but not too sweet or rich, yummy! Very more-ish, infact….

Bowl licked clean…

Now, I must admit readers, I don’t often make a foray into the world of baking. This is for two reasons really. Firstly, I dread to think what size I would be if I baked regularly, I definitely don’t have enough restraint to have one little taste then give all the rest to the neighbours/friends/work colleagues (what’s the point in all that work, and more importantly, all those dishes?!) Secondly, while it may be a cliche, the kind of people who like experimenting with cooking and throwing together random ingredients tend to be a bit more ‘creative’ when it comes to specifics and measurements. I like to improvise. I am not very good at being precise and actually measuring things… Anyway, once the mixture is ready, pour into cake tins… here I showed my lack of baking experience. We could only find one of our cake tins. So I decided to whack the whole mixture into one. Big Mistake.

This of course meant the cake hadn’t cooked in the proscribed time (30 t0 40 minutes). We left it in a bit longer but the outside was beginning to burn so had to take it out.

As you can see, as a result of the one tin error, the cake had risen rather dramatically and did not look very pretty… it also meant that while we had to take it out as the outside was beginning to burn, the very middle was still chocolately gloop. Tasty warm gooey chocolately gloop. We had accidentally created a melt-in-the-middle chocolate avocado pudding! And it was actually rather tasty! So baking disasters can still turn out relatively ok!

We did not have the time or ingredients to make the avocado frosting to go with it, but here’s what the recipe called for;

  • 2 small to medium very ripe avocados
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 pound icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
I think I will have to try this again, in a less slap dash manor, and give the icing a go. I think it would also be nice with a chocolate icing or maybe even a mint one…
Just need to find the next excuse for baking!