Spiced cherry tea loaf

Spiced cherry tea loaf

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Do you ever get the feeling that you really want to bake something, but you don’t really have any time to spare? For me baking is the perfect distraction (some might say procrastination…) from my dissertation, but it does mean I have to have some quick recipes to make during a break from work. Enter this amazing tea loaf.

This cake is literally the easiest cake you’ll ever make. Normally making a tea loaf would require you to be organised the night before, and remember to leave your dried fruits to soak in tea overnight, but with my microwave method you can have this ready for the oven in 10 minutes. You can also swap the dried fruits if you don’t fancy glace cherries, dried sour cherries would also be really good, or even some mixed peel for a citrus twist.

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Spiced cherry tea loaf:

  • 200g raisins
  • 100g glace cherries
  • 225ml boiling water
  • 1 tea bag of your choice – I used Pukka Star anise and cinnamon tea
  • 50g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla powder
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 egg

A large loaf tin, greased and lined with baking paper

  • Heat your oven to 180°C
  1.  Put the raisins into a bowl with the tea bag and the boiling water, then microwave for 3 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and leave to stand for 10 minutes before adding the cherries to the mixture.
  2. Make the cake by creaming the butter, sugar and vanilla together and then adding the egg.
  3. Add half the flour, and beat in well, before adding all the fruit mixture, and any liquid left in the bowl. Stir well, then add the rest of the flour and mix until you have a smooth batter.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared tin, then bake in the oven for about 1 hour, checking with a skewer to see if it’s cooked.
  5. Enjoy with a cup of tea.
Blackberry and almond brownies

Blackberry and almond brownies

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These brownies are literally the best brownies I have ever eaten. They are dense, chocolatey and squidgy, but with a sharp hit from the blackberry layer and a crunch from the almonds. They are a perfect dessert brownie: ideal served warm with a scoop of icecream and some fresh blackberries, but would not survive so well in a lunchbox…! The only slightly annoying thing about these brownies is that you have to wait at least, AT LEAST 30 minutes before cutting them up and diving in, otherwise they really don’t hold their shape. But that is the only annoying thing… apart from that they are absolute heaven!

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Blackberry and almond brownies

For the brownies:

  • 4 eggs
  • 240g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 240g salted butter
  • 320g caster sugar
  • 70g cocoa powder
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 60g plain flour
  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 50g toasted almonds, chopped

For the blackberry layer:

  • 150g blackberries
  • 30g caster sugar

30 x 20cm brownie tin

  • Heat your oven to 180°C
  1. Make the blackberry layer by putting the blackberries and sugar into a heavy bottomed pan and heating until the sugar is dissolved, the cook until the blackberries are soft, but not mushy.
  2. For the brownies, first brown the butter by melting it in a saucepan, and then continuing to heat it until it bubbles and turns a golden brown colour, with a nutty smell.
  3. Put the sugar and chocolate in a large bowl and pour the butter over, then stir until everything has melted.
  4. Beat in the eggs, then sift over the flours and cocoa powder and stir together.
  5. Stir in the almonds and chopped chocolate until they are well dispersed.
  6. Spoon half the mixture into the tin and spread out evenly. Spoon over the blackberry mixture, then top with the rest of the brownie mix and smooth the top.
  7. Bake the brownies for 25 minutes, until they still have a bit of a wobble in the centre, but have a bit of a crust.
  8. Leave to cool in the tin for AT LEAST half an hour, then eat!

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Carrot cake (vegan, sugar free and gluten free)s

Carrot cake (vegan, sugar free and gluten free)s

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I was a bit disappointed by the free-from episode of the Bake Off this week – it rather felt like the bakers were trying to overcome a problem by not using sugar in their cakes, or dairy in their ice-cream, rather than embracing the challenge and a different style of baking to make something interesting! Only Ugne and Nadiya really got into the spirit of the week I thought, although unfortunately Ugne’s sugar (and gluten) free cake didn’t go quite to plan – I felt so sorry for her when it was collapsing in the fridge. Nadiya’s jam made with basil seeds sounded really interesting, rather like a chia jam, and I’m definitely going to have to try it!

This carrot cake is sugar free, gluten free and dairy free, incorporating all three of this week’s tasks! The sweetness comes from maple syrup, as well as from the carrots themselves. Instead of wheat flour I have used a combination of ground almonds and buckwheat flour, and coconut oil instead of butter to make it dairy free. It is still lovely and moist like a non ‘free-from’ cake, and the spices make it a perfect autumnal treat.

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Lemon and blueberry swirl cheesecake

Lemon and blueberry swirl cheesecake

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I thought the recipes on Bake Off this week were a bit odd, the Spanish Windtorte looked pretty complicated (and like it needed a LOT of eggs!), and the 3 tier baked cheesecake was a bit over the top – who would actually ever bake and eat a 3 tier cheesecake?! Nadiya’s cheesecakes did look absolutely amazing though, and I loved her decorations. Tamal’s also looked and sounded really yummy, and it was a shame he didn’t get star baker, especially after his crème brulees, which looked so good. I’m glad Mat managed to redeem himself with the cheesecakes and wasn’t eliminated, even after committing the cardinal sin of Bake Off and serving Mary Berry coconut, not once but twice!

Since nobody in my house likes baked cheesecake – it does have a weird texture, and I think baking cheese is just wrong! – I decided to make a fridge cheesecake with a lemon shortbread base. This means that apart from the base, it doesn’t need any baking, so you don’t have to test that wobble! The lemon in the base and centre means the whole thing isn’t too rich, and the blueberry swirl gives it a fruity tang all the way through.

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Thyme, cheddar and walnut soda bread with fig jam

Thyme, cheddar and walnut soda bread with fig jam

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This week’s bake off was such a good one! Although I do think Paul should have been given Star Baker for his amazing bread lion sculpture, but I do understand why Ian got it instead. It was easy deciding what to bake for this week’s Great Blogger’s Bake Off – I didn’t have the time or patience to attempt a bread sculpture (or enough people to feed it to!), and baguettes looked a bit boring, so soda bread it was! I really liked the idea of soda bread being something you could whip up in the minimum time – indeed my loaf took 45 minutes from start to finish – yet still look like an impressive loaf to serve.

This thyme, cheddar and walnut soda bread is so easy to make, you literally chuck all the ingredients into one bowl and mix them up into a dough. The thyme is supposed to be subtle, but to just set off the flavour of the cheese with a herby edge. The fig jam is, of course, optional, but we have a prolific fig tree in the garden which produces more fruit than we can eat, so this jam is perfect for using them up.

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Cranberry, hazelnut and dark chocolate biscotti

Cranberry, hazelnut and dark chocolate biscotti

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It always seems to be the case that we’re on holiday for biscuit week on the Great British Bake Off. However, I’m not one to let a small matter such as a foreign country, untranslatable ingredients and a lack of recognisable baking equipment stop me from baking along! Last year we were in Jersey (admittedly much easier to find ingredients!) when I made these (https://elliespinkcakes.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/lemon-and-white-chocolate-biscuits/) lemon and white chocolate biscuits, and this year, in Croatia, I attempted biscotti.

I had already baked these and was sitting down to watch when Paul said that his (and Mary’s!) choice of biscotti recipe would involve hazelnuts, cranberries and dark chocolate…. the very combination I had chosen for mine! These biscotti really did have all the odds stacked against them: I was baking in 36 degree heat, with a very temperamental oven, no scales, and something I bought from the supermarket assuming it was plain flour…. in hindsight though, I’m really not sure it was! However, they actually turned out pretty well, they would definitely pass Paul’s ‘snap’ test, although admittedly do have a better texture once dunked in coffee!

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Roasted almond and dark chocolate shortbread

Roasted almond and dark chocolate shortbread

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These shortbread are the ultimate dunking biscuits – tea, coffee or hot chocolate, it doesn’t matter, they are just perfect! The chocolate layer melts so they can soak up just enough of the liquid while still retaining a crunch from the roasted almonds. They would be perfect served with scones as part of an afternoon tea, or simply on pretty, floral china as a spring afternoon treat!

This shortbread uses the classic 3-2-1 recipe, with 3 parts flour (with a little bit of rice flour for crumbliness!), 2 parts good quality salted butter and one part caster sugar, but the nuttiness of the roasted almonds takes them to another level entirely! It’s really important not to roll the dough out too thinly, as you want thick, crumbly shortbread and not thin biscuits.

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Roasted almond and dark chocolate shortbread:

  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 dessert spoons of rice flour or ground rice
  • 200g good quality salted butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 80g whole almonds
  • 200g dark chocolate
  1. Heat the oven to 180C, then spread the almonds out on a baking tray and cook for 10 minutes, then take them out of the oven and allow to cool completely.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then stir in the flours until you have a smooth dough (you may need to use your hands at the end!)
  3. Roughly chop the almonds and then mix them into the shortbread dough.
  4. Form the dough into a ball and then roll out to a thickness of 2cm.
  5. Either cut the shortbread into squares or use a cutter, then place the shapes onto a lined baking tray and bake for 18 minutes until lightly golden.
  6. Transfer the shortbread onto a wire rack to cool.
  7. When they are completely cool, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, then tip each shortbread into the chocolate so a third of it is covered, then leave to set on the rack.