Last week while visiting the in-laws in Somerset I was given 2kg of plums by one of their neighbours who had so many Victoria plums she didn’t know what to do with them all. We’re talking plum city!
So anyway, bringing a huge box of plums back to London did rather focus the mind, and so I decided to make jam for the first time (more on that later…) and also to whip up some lovely plum muffins. I figured the slightly sourish plums would combine beautifully with white chocolate and make for a seriously gorgeous muffin – which they do. I think this is the fourth muffin recipe to appear on the blog, and quite possibly the best! The whole family loved them.
So once you’ve made them, pour yourself a coffee and enjoy – with or without the kids.
As chance would have it, Rix, the Aga fuel people, are running a competition around recipes featuring plums this month so I decided to enter these beauts in the Rix Aga Inspired Recipes competition. You can find more seasonal recipes from them here: http://www.rix.co.uk/aga-cooker-recipes/
I know, talk about timing 😉
Plum & White Chocolate Muffins
You will need:
250g plain flour
170g caster sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
150ml plain or Greek yogurt (I used Greek)
2 free-range eggs
1tsp vanilla essence
12 ripe plums, stoned and flesh cut into chunks
75g white chocolate, chopped into small chunks (or use white chocolate chips)
zest of a lemon
dash of whole milk (optional)
poppy seeds to sprinkle on top
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C Fan/375°F and line your muffin tin with cases. (This will make about 12 muffins.)
- Melt the butter (in a bowl over a pan of simmering water) and set it to the side to cool while you mix together all your dry ingredients in a largeish mixing bowl with a wooden spoon – flour, sugar, bicarb, salt, baking powder.
- In a separate bowl mix your wet ingredients – the yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence – then add the cooled melted butter and stir.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together, but don’t overmix. Fold in the plums, white chocolate chunks and lemon zest. If it’s feeling a bit dry, add a dash of milk.
- Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each hole about two-thirds full, and sprinkle poppy seeds on top.
- Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 20 mins – test with a skewer – and cool on a wire rack.
These will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box. They also freeze well.
What a week! Talk about shock to the system. After two weeks off work, during which time the most difficult decision I had to make was whether to have more cheese or move onto pudding, it was back to earth with a bang as we went back to work and back to school here at OH HQ. When the alarm went off at 06:20 on Monday morning I swear it felt like I was getting up in the middle of the night.
So, just one week back and already my head is full of stuff, my house is full of clutter, my washing machine is just constantly full, and my purse is, er, empty. Hmm.
So in the spirit of thriftiness, I went through the kitchen cupboards and identified a few items that needed using up (dates, self-raising flour) and thought about what I could make, and what I could share with you, lovely blog reader. And came up with this, which is dead easy and very tasty. A slice with butter is perfect with a cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon, or it makes a good packed lunch addition (nut alert, mind you).
I made it with my 3-year-old, who was surprisingly helpful, helping me measure the ingredients, crack open the eggs and mix. A great team effort!
Date & Walnut Loaf
90g unsalted butter (at room temperature) + extra for greasing
90g soft brown sugar
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
90g walnuts, roughly chopped
250g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
You will need a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. Cuts into 12 slices.
What to do
- Lightly grease the loaf tin with butter.
- Combine the butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl and beat until well blended using a hand mixer. Add the walnuts, dates and milk and stir to mix.
- Spoon into the prepared loaf tin and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180˚C/160˚C Fan/350˚F for 1 hour until well risen and firm to the touch. A fine skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf should come out clean.
- Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve sliced – and buttered, if you’re feeling indulgent.
What a week. Work mad, kids deranged, parents crazy, #royalbaby watch gone into overdrive, relentless heat, Leah (she of pink lipstick fame – just wait for the Rimmel contract) won The Apprentice, my lovely son has read the whole of the BFG – and it’s only Thursday. It was our wedding anniversary this week, too, and I am ashamed to say we didn’t celebrate at all, other than to open a bottle of champagne we happened to have. Must try harder next year.
So, anyway, I know it’s hot, but what better than a slice of fruitcake and a cup of tea in the shade come 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, along with a good novel and no kids around? (yeah, dream on…)
Whenever I used to think about making a fruitcake I would push it to the back of my mind, thinking it would take too long. HOWEVER I have recently developed a recipe for a really quick tasty cake that is so easy and so delicious you will be thanking me forever. I recently made one and took it to work with me – we are an office full of cake aficionados – and it got the thumbs up, so I am sharing it here. The kids also love it – a slice in the old packed lunch goes down a treat.
For the best result, you need to make it the day before you eat it; so whip it up on Saturday morning when the kids are watching cartoons, ready for tea on Sunday afternoon. Mmmm.
If you can’t eat the whole thing in one go, cut it in half and freeze the other half! It freezes really well.
Note: If you have the time (and the inclination), the fruit is good pre-soaked, so it has a chance to plump up. Simply put the dried fruit into a Pyrex bowl, make two strong mugs of Earl Grey tea and pour over. Allow to steep for a couple of hours.
225g soft brown sugar
8fl oz milk
450g mixed dried fruit (raisins, currants, sultanas, chopped dried dates, peel)
3 eggs, beaten
450g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
- Preheat the oven to 340°F/170°C/150°C fan
- Melt the butter and sugar in a large saucepan and add the milk and dried fruit, stir and warm through until molten, then pour into a large Pyrex bowl
- Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix well
- Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 8” Springform cake tin (yes, it really is this easy)
- Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and cover with tin foil
- Bake for a further 45 minutes and then check with a skewer; stick into the middle of the cake and remove. If the skewer is clean, it is done, but if there’s any uncooked mixture on the skewer bake for 5 more minutes
- Cool in the tin on a wire rack and once cool, store in an airtight container
Sit under tree, pour tea, devour cake. Repeat.
If you like the sound of dishes such as Apricot Frangipane, Chilli Chocolate Cookies, Thyme, Cheese & Tomato Quiche, and Chicken, Pancetta & Maple Parsnip Traybake then look no further than Jo Wheatley’s new cookbook, Home Baking which is published tomorrow, 7 May. Having bought – and loved – Jo’s first cookbook, A Passion for Baking, I was delighted to get my hands on her second.
Once again, Jo keeps things simple – nearly all the recipes fit on one page, and there are no obscure ingredients. Like her first book, this is packed with gorgeous photography and has a nice clear layout. The book is organized by theme, and the chapters break down as follows:
– Biscuits, bars and cookies
– Bread and scones
– Baking with children
– Crumbles, tarts and pithiviers
– Quiches, pasties, pies and savoury puddings
– Quick and simple
– Special occasions
– Supper bakes
– Teatime treats
I was really pleased to see her include some delicious-sounding savoury dishes that can be baked in one pan in this book. Like me, Jo is a big fan of ‘recipes that involve as little fuss as possible, and hardly any washing up’ – she is talking my language – and indeed the language of any busy parent – minimum fuss, maximum flavour!
The recipes that appeal to me personally include Spelt Bread, Parmesan & Pesto Fantail Loaf, Lime & Coconut Tray Bake, Thyme, Cheese & Tomato Quiche, and Chicken & Leek Pie. From the Quick Bake chapter, Easy Italian Soda Bread and Coffee and Walnut Traybake sound great, and suitably speedy. The Special Occasion chapter features dishes such as Beef Wellington, a wonderful looking Easter Meadow Cake and Salted Caramel Chocolate Pots – fabulous. There is also a show-stoppping Toffee Apple Croquembouche, for the brave! She also does new takes on classic dishes such as Toad in the Hole, which I will definitely be trying.
I turned to the Baking with Children chapter and was interested to read that Jo believes in teaching children to cook and bake as she thinks it encourages a passion for food and eating homemade. Although I did think there was rather a lot of sugar in the Sweetie Spectacular Traybake!! For a special occasion, I imagine this would have the ‘wow’ factor, however.
I was completely won over by the photograph of the Owl Cupcakes, however and decided to try these with my daughter, who is 2¾. So mummy got on with making the cupcakes – I followed Jo’s recipe to a tee, using a blend of 80g wholemeal self-raising flour and 120g white self-raising flour (the recipe simply calls for ‘200g self-raising flour’) and they turned out beautifully. The buttercream icing recipe worked a treat, but I did find it was too much – half the quantity would have been fine, especially since these were for children and already quite sugary with the milk chocolate and white chocolate buttons going on top.
My daughter absolutely loved doing the decorating, to make them look little owls – I have never seen her so absorbed in doing something baking- or cooking-related before, so it was lovely to watch. Once they were finished, they looked completely beguiling. Needless to say, the owl cupcakes went down a storm among her, her brother and their cousins who all arrived to play next day. I will definitely be doing these again!
Home Baking by Jo Wheatley (Constable & Robinson) is published tomorrow, 7 May 2013, and available from Sainsburys for the introductory price of £8 (RRP £16.99).
Disclaimer: I was sent Jo Wheatley’s new cookbook to review. All opinions are my own.
Christmas is always a big deal in our house because it’s my son’s birthday on Boxing Day, and so we enter a New Year with him a year older, which always makes me feel older. My daughter is growing fast, too, and starting to exhibit a new level of enterprise and cunning; her latest trick of an evening is getting out of her Grobag and catapulting herself out of the cot with a wicked cackle of glee. I am in denial – she’s my baby – she can’t grow up. I won’t allow it.
So, anyway, 2013 has been quite busy for me already, what with one thing and another, and I haven’t had as much time to cook as I would like. Thankfully, the good old weekly Riverford box has come into its own, and I have been throwing together such things as aubergine curry, minestrone soup and cauliflower cheese. It’s amazing what you can rustle up without having to leave the house, if your store cupboard is fairly well stocked and you have some cheese knocking about (one of my store-cupboard faves is this Gia Sundried Tomato Purée, incidentally – it’s brilliant in so many dishes).
One thing I seem to have had a glut of is bananas. And so I made my quick and very tasty banana bread this week, and thought I’d share the recipe here. Not strictly one-handed, although some bits could be done with a baby perched on your hip, it can be whipped up in no time at all. It is really delicious, and what with snow allegedly coming, I can’t think of anything nicer than sitting inside, all cosy, eating a slice of this warm from the oven with a dab of butter, while the snow falls outside. Yum.
Nutty Banana Bread
Mashing bananas to make this always reminds of mashing bananas for the babies when I was weaning them: plate, fork, ripe bananas, tiny spoons, puckered lips, flat refusal, banana on the floor, banana in their hair, banana in my hair, banana absolutely everywhere – ah, happy days.
This is dead simple, so it’s perfect if you have a few overripe bananas lying around that you can’t bear to see going to waste and someone is coming for tea. If you don’t have walnuts, macadamia nuts are good too. Chopped medjool dates are nice stirred in, although they are very sweet so you could reduce the sugar a little if adding those. You could also try sprinkling poppyseeds on top.
3 ripe bananas, mashed up
75g soft butter (get it out the fridge in advance or soften in microwave)
160g soft brown sugar (100g soft brown + 60g dark brown sugar also works well)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
170g wholemeal flour (50:50 wholemeal & plain flour works well, too)
small pinch ground cloves
50g walnut halves, chopped, and save a few halves to go on top
What to do
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/160˚C Fan/Gas mark 4 and grease a small loaf tin (7½” x 3½”), or use some Lakeland quick release spray.
- To a mixing bowl add: the mashed bananas, butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract and mix.
- Mix in the baking powder, the salt, the ground cloves and finally the flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and decorate with a couple of walnut halves.
- Bake for 45 mins and check. Insert a skewer; if it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
- Allow to cool in the tin a little, and then… dig in!
On Monday night I was invited to an event by foodie campaigners Slow Food UK. They are on a mission to preserve our food heritage, and one of their aims is to encourage people to cook so-called ‘forgotten foods’. They invited chef Anna Hansen from London restaurant The Modern Pantry to come and cook with some of these foods, including quince and einkorn flour, to show us how it’s done.
I have eaten at Anna’s restaurant and have her rather wonderful cookbook, too. But seeing her cook in real life, and talk about how she approaches flavours and ingredients was inspirational. Her trademark style is to combine flavours from the ‘global larder’, so – rather than saying that wasabi is Japanese, and can therefore only go with Japanese food, for example, she thinks carefully about how individual flavours combine, and might add wasabi to a dish that we think of as being typically French, with surprising and delicious results – and trust me, I have tasted her food, it’s amazing.
At the demo she cooked a wonderful-smelling and delicious lamb dish, and used the most incredible array of herbs and spices, and I came home to my kitchen keen to try using spices with a renewed vigour. So, I was going to make lemon shortbread for you this week, but inspired by Anna Hansen, I bring you Orange Cardamom Shortbread, which is completely lovely (and actually quite addictive!), and the children and I have already devoured much of the shortbread Jenga you see before you. Good food is not a game!
Orange Cardamom Shortbread
Makes about 12 pieces (each one slightly bigger than a Jenga piece)
I’d like to start by saying that shortbread is Very Easy To Make, so perfect for the one-handed cook, who may be trying to do several other things at the same time while also trying to make shortbread (ring any bells?). Or if you have a window of time while the little one is happily watching Peppa Pig, say, this is very quick to whip up. Perfect for a bake sale, a coffee morning, for you, for your granny, hell, you could even wrap some in greaseproof paper then wrap in some pretty fabric with a bit of ribbon and give it as a Christmas present.
You need a hand mixer and a baking tin measuring approx. 8” x 8” x 1½” – assuming you have these, you can get this made and in the oven in about 10 minutes – I kid you not.
150g soft butter
60g caster sugar
250g plain flour
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods (split open, remove seeds and pound in pestle & mortar)
Zest of an orange, finely chopped
What to do
- Heat the oven to 170°C/150°C Fan/325°F. Grease and line your baking tin (or use Cake Release by Lakeland if you can’t be bothered with the faff).
- Cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
- Gradually stir in the flour and the ground cardamom seeds until your mixture is light and crumbly. Tip mixture into baking tin.
- Use your fingers to press the mixture into the tin and then the palms of your hands to smooth the top. Mark out fingers with a sharp knife, but don’t cut right through. Prick each finger a couple of times with a fork.
- If you have the time and the inclination, you can brush each finger with a little beaten egg and sprinkle more caster sugar on top before baking in the oven for 25–30 mins. Cool in the tin on a rack.
Leave Peppa Pig DVD playing, sit down and enjoy with a nice cup of tea.