Thursday 28 June 2007

Jammy Thumbprint Cookies

Last weekend, I had a few of the oaty orange and cranberry cookies I made for fathers’ day left over and so I took them into work on Monday. They were pounced on and much enjoyed by everyone and I was asked (rather jokingly) if I could bring cookies into work every Monday. Never being one to miss the opportunity to do some baking, I happily agreed. These thumbprint cookies were this weeks offering for the Monday Munchies.

This recipe is originally meant to be turned into small sandwich cookies but I decided to adapt it into thumbprint cookies instead. They are a kind of cookie/cake cross as they remain very soft and tender with quite a crumbly texture and a flavour that reminded me of shortbread. They are incredibly light and remain very pale after baking. The jam adds a boost of flavour and sweetness and adds a nice sticky texture with complements the crumbly/cakey base. I used two jams, an apple and blueberry jam I made last summer and the strawberry jam I made in the previous post.

They are not the most attractive cookies to look, with their slightly cracked surface and jammey splodges and I nearly didn’t take them into work at all, slightly ashamed at their messiness. However, there was no way I could eat the lot myself and so I decided to take them in anyway. I needn’t have worried, they were greeted with great approval and people even came back for seconds (always a good sign). Throughout the morning we kept getting people visiting our office with the words “I hear someone’s been baking.” They also brought back fond memories for one person who exclaimed “these are just like what my grandmother used to bake when I was a girl.” They soon disappeared and to me this only goes to show that despite the huge variety of biscuits and cookies available in the shops these days, nothing beats a bit of home baking. I think I’m going to have to make a bigger batch for next Monday.

Jammy Thumbprint Cookies
Recipe adapted from ‘Rachel’s favourite food’ at home by Rachel Allen
155g self raising flour
125g corn flour
50g icing sugar
225g butter or margarine
½ tsp vanilla
Jam of your choice

Heat an oven to 160C.
Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl and add the butter and vanilla.
Cream everything together until combined. At first it may seem too dry but work with it and it will suddenly start to come together. Use your hands to incorporate the last few scraps of flour.
Brake off walnut sized chunks of dough and roll into balls.
Place on an un-greased baking tray and press your thumb into the top of the dough ball to create a hollow.
Add ½ tsp of jam into each of the hollows, but don’t overfill.
Place in the oven and bake for 12-14 minutes, until slightly puffed up. They should remain very pale in colour.
Leave them to cool for only a minute or two before transferring them to a cooling wrack with the help of a palette knife.
They will firm up slightly on cooling but will remain very soft.
Makes 16 cookies.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Two Summer Strawberry Recipes

Last week we needed around 8 punnets of strawberries for a kitchen trial but due to a bit of a communication mix up we ended up with two lots of 8 punnets, meaning we had plenty left over and I got to bring 4 x 400g punnets home with me on Friday. What a hardship working can be.

I happily munched my way through a few of them but knew I definitely had to make something with them too. I decided upon strawberry jam and strawberry ice cream. I delegated 1 punnet plus 100g to the ice cream and the rest to the jam.

Sunny Strawberry Jam
This produced a really flavoursome, summery and vibrantly red strawberry jam. In order for jam to ‘set’ it requires pectin which occurs naturally in fruits with certain fruits containing more than others. Strawberries contain very little pectin and so the addition of the lemon juice is essential to help the jam ‘set’ as it is an excellent source of pectin. It also helps to lift the flavour of jam but without imparting any obvious lemony flavour. Special preserving sugar containing pectin or pectin substitutes can also be used.

The jam also contains some lovely great chunks of strawberry that really gave an extra texture and flavour boost upon eating. It’s also not too sweet, containing less sugar than some other recipes, which I like, but feel free to add more to your taste. I tried this spread onto a freshly baked crusty white bread roll and it was heavenly, a real taste of summer. It would also be wonderful spread on freshly baked scones with cream for afternoon tea, spread on your morning toast, used as a filling for cakes and biscuits or baked into jam tarts. The choice is yours. Either way, the end result I feel is far superior to anything you can buy from the supermarket and you have the added option of adding your own flavour additions to the jam during production. E.g. vanilla, mint, black pepper, chocolate or anything else that takes your fancy.

1.1kg strawberries
4 tbsp water
400g golden granulated sugar
1 lemon

Place three 425ml jam jars and their lids into the oven the turn on to 100C to sterilise the jars.
Twist the leafy tops off the strawberries and make sure any remaining green stalk is removed.
Place the strawberries into a large sauce pan along with the juice from the lemon and 4 tbsp water, or enough to just over the base of the pan to prevent the strawberries from initially burning.
Turn onto quite a high heat and allow to simmer and boil until the strawberries have begun to release a lot of their juice and turn mushy.
Using a potato masher, gently squash and brake up the particularly large strawberries. Don’t turn it into a puree though, you still want some nice chunks left.
Then add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
Place a clean saucer into the fridge to go cold.
Bring the mixture to the boil and allow to reduce and thicken slightly, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the base of the pan.
Remove the cold saucer from the fridge and drizzle on a small pool of the jam mixture and return to the fridge for 1-2 minutes.
Remove the saucer from the fridge again and using your index finger push the little puddle of jam away from you. If the surface ripples then the jam is ready. If not, then continue to boil for a little longer before repeating the test. The more obvious the ripple effect, the firmer or more ‘set’ your jam will be. I like my jar still fairly soft and so I removed it from the heat after the first few ripples appeared.
Remove the jars from the oven and carefully divide the jam mixture between them (It will be extremely hot). I find a small ladle works best for this. Make sure they are well filled.
Then using oven or rubber gloves, tightly screw on the lids and leave the jars to cool before storing in a cool place until opened. Once opened they should then be stored in the fridge.
Makes 3 large jars.

Strawberry Ice cream
This ice cream is very light and summery. The large quantity of pureed strawberries not only add a strong strawberry flavour but also turn the ice cream a wonderful shade of deep pink. It also contains some chopped strawberries that are added at the last minutes producing little jewels of fresh strawberry flecked throughout the ice cream. If using bought fresh custard then the whole ice cream can be prepared and ready to eat in under an hour. The honey adds a nice subtle sweetness and helps keep the ice cream slightly softer upon freezing.

400g strawberries
100g extra strawberries
1 tbsp runny honey
500ml fresh custard – bought or home made.

Either make or buy 500ml of fresh custard and chill until thoroughly cold in the fridge.
Remove the green leafy tops from all the strawberries and puree 400g’s worth using a hand blender or food processor.
Stir the strawberry puree and honey into the custard, it will turn a wonderful shade of pink, and chill again until ready to use.
Prepare your ice cream machine as per manufacturer’s instructions, pour in the ice cream mix and churn until starting to go thick and creamy.
Meanwhile finely chop the remaining 100g of strawberries.
When the ice cream is thickened add the chopped strawberries and along to mix in thoroughly.
Transfer the ice cream to a freezer proof container and freeze until required.
If the ice cream if left in the freezer for more than a few hours, remember to remove from the freezer and allowing to soften for around 20-30minutes before serving.
Makes 1 litre ice cream.

Saturday 23 June 2007

Chinese Red Bean Cakes

I had heard tell of a Chinese supermarket in the city centre and so today I went in search of it. I found it quite easily and was amazed at the variety and quantity of exotic looking vegetables, dried fish, noodles, sauces and rice there was available. It was set out like a proper little supermarket, with isles and mini shopping trolleys and was run by a group of very friendly Chinese people. There was even a section dedicated to bowls, soup spoons, chopsticks, bamboo mats and rice steamers to complete the selection.

I should think the noodle section was the biggest. It had rice noodles, egg noodles, wheat noodles, seaweed and buckwheat of all different thicknesses and lengths. There was even some rice macaroni which I have never come across before. There was also an interesting flat green rice noodle, which on closer inspection turned out to be flavoured with green tea. I was sorely temped to buy some but having already got half a cupboard full of noodles I decided I could always come back another time when I have eaten through some of my supply.

One thing I was particularly looking out for was Moon Cakes. I have heard a great deal about these special little decorative pastry cakes that are commonly filled with red bean paste or other sweet treats and have never yet tried any. I had previously been on the shops website (to get directions) and on it they had a list of products which included quite an assortment of Moon Cakes. I found the isle dedicated to sweet treats but couldn’t see anything that resembled a Moon Cake. I asked a very friendly counter assistant if they had any and was told that they are only around at the end of July to the beginning of October as they are made to celebrate a mid autumn festival, rather like how Easter eggs are only around at Easter. I felt very foolish but he didn’t seem to mind and pointed out another pastry cake that he said was made using exactly the same pastry and filling but in slab form rather than cake. I thanked him and eagerly bought the pastry.
They are made with a soft, light, doughy pastry that surrounds a deep dark red filling, making them look rather like a giant fig roll. I broke off a piece when waiting for the bus, unable to wait until I got home in my eagerness to find out what they tasted like. It was like nothing I have ever had before. At first it’s just sweet but then a strong, yet not overpowering, spicy flavour develops. It began to remind me of something and I decided its ginger, as it was spicy and warming at the same time. However, I think there if definitely more to it than just that. The filling was wonderful, thick and slightly sticky. It had a slightly mealy texture whilst still being smooth which I suppose is due to the ground red beans, similar to the texture of houmous or a cake made using ground almonds. The whole pastry had been given a lovely shiny glaze which made it even more appealing. It smelt strongly of molasses or black treacle and yet didn't taste like there was any in the actual cake. I'm so intrigued as to how it was made. Overall I absolutely loved it, so different to anything I have had before. I’m definitely going to go back later on to try and get my hands on some genuine Moon cakes.

Click here to read more on Moon Cakes.

Friday 22 June 2007

Fruit, Fruit and More Fruit

One of the bonuses of working in factory that means you have to experiment with different ingredients and recipes is that we often have a lot of excess fruit left over from the weekly trials when it comes to Friday. We clear out the ridges and divide any produce that won’t last the weekend between us. Last weekend I came home with two punnets of strawberries, a whole peeled pineapple, two mangoes and four fruit salads. Yummy yummy.

Another advantage is that we sometimes get companies sending us free samples of their produce or products in the hope of getting business with us. Last week we had a huge box of assorted dried fruit delivered to us. We don’t use dried fruit in our products all that often and so we didn’t have a need to keep the fruit. Instead we all had a little taster of it and then divided it up between us.
My haul included dried mango, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and banana slices. I also ended up with the dried figs and prunes as my two other colleagues said they didn’t like these. I think they’re mad – but all the better for me. I have never seen dried strawberries before. They are still quite squishy and I don’t really know what to do with them. I’m sure they would be nice just to eat as they are, but I was wandering if there was anything I could cook/bake with them. If anyone has any ideas I’m open to suggestions. I plan use the blueberries in cookies and add the some of the others to my cereal. The pineapple is lovely the chewy with a great flavour and I think the banana slices would be great in muffins.

I bet there will come a day when I will be sick to death of fruit but, but I’m not there yet. Hope there is some nice fruit for the taking this weekend.

Monday 18 June 2007

Orange, Cranberry & Ginger Oaties

This is the recipe I made a few weeks back, with just a few alterations to give a different twist. I baked these to post off to my dad for Fathers Day. I wanted a biscuit that would travel well and not turn up as crumbs. I thought these thick, soft cookies would fit the bill perfectly, plus they are more ‘manly’ looking than some other types of biscuit.

Orange and cranberry is a classic combination and I decided to add some ground ginger to give an extra depth of flavour. When they were baking they gave off the most wonderful spiced fruity aroma that reminded me very strongly of Christmas. Not really appropriate for this time of year but lovely nonetheless. The smell permeated through the whole house and greeted me hours later, when I opened the front door, after going into town.

They turn a lovely golden colour and are light and fairy soft in texture, with a slight chew similar to flapjacks. Crisp and slightly crumbly on the outside with little pockets of sweet cranberries. The orange complements them and the ginger adds an extra warming flavour and ties everything together.

They are so quick and easy to make and I’m sure there are endless variations that would produce yummy cookies. The others that come to mind are dark chocolate and hazelnut, apricot and almond or lemon and blueberry. Basically whatever combination takes your fancy.

Orange, Cranberry & Ginger Oaties
150g butter
100g light soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
170g porridge oats
160g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g dried cranberries
Grated rind of 1 orange
1 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 190C and get two baking trays ready but leave them un-greased.
Cream the butter together with both the sugars until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.
Add the oats, flour, baking powder, ground ginger and grated rind of the orange into the bowl and beat together until all incorporated.
Fold in the cranberries.
Using an old fashioned ice cream scoop, or just a tablespoon, dollop level spoonfuls onto the baking trays, leaving around 4cm / 1.5inch gap between each one.
Gently press the tops down to form thick level discs.
Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
Transfer to a rack immediately with the help of a palette knife.
Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.
Makes 16 cookies

Saturday 16 June 2007

Avocado Open Sandwich

This is a really quick, simple yet tasty sandwich. For years I avoided eating avocados, not liking their soft soapy taste, however, recently in an effort to make them more palatable, I added some sweet chili sauce and coriander to some mashed avocado and spread it on some bread. I was amazed at what a difference it made to the taste. No longer was it bland and soapy, it had been transformed into a creamy, rich flavoursome paste with a nice subtle heat from the chili sauce. Still, finding the avocado on its own a little soft, I added some thick slices of cucumber and a few salad leaves to add some much needed crunch.

I am now converted to the delights of avocado. I think using sourdough or rye bread as base also helps bring the dish together. I feel you need something a little denser and heartier to offset the softness of the topping, rather than a soft fluffy white. It also means you can hold a single slice without it falling to pieces. This is now one of my favourite sandwiches. Even if you don’t like avocado, I urge you to try this, you may be pleasantly surprised at what a difference a few little additions can make. I know I was.

Avocado Open Sandwich
1 slice sourdough bread
½ small avocado
2 tsp sweet chili sauce
Thick slices of cucumber
Baby spinach leaves
Baby beetroot leaves

Cut the avocado in half lengthways, twist apart and remove the stone.
Scoop the flesh away from the skin and place into a bowl. Mash with a fork until fairly smooth and then mix in the chili sauce.
Take a slice of sourdough or rye bread and top with slices of cucumber.
Dollop over the mashed avocado and spread out evenly.
Top with some roughly chopped coriander and serve with some baby salad leaves, ready to pile on top before eating. (Mine were home grown).

Monday 11 June 2007

I’m Back – Hooray!

It took a little longer than anticipated to get the internet up and running in my flat as BT were insisting they had to come and inspect the line before connecting me. Then the times they kept proposing to come and visit were in the middle of the day, during the week, when I was at work! Still all sorted now.

I absolutely love my job, it’s perfect for me being a fruit loving vegetarian. I have never eaten such a wide range and quantity of fresh fruit on a daily basis. The day feels quite long and my bus has broken down on me three times already but the work is so interesting, varied and ‘hands on’ that it more than makes up for it. Thank you to everyone who has sent me good luck wishes.

Anyway, I have a small backlog of recipes which I need to post about and seeing as today has been a lovely hot sunny day I thought I would start with a very summery recipe for individual baked strawberry sundaes. I made these to use up some madelines that had gone rather stale, but I have also made them in the past with thinly sliced scones, which are lovely.

I cheated slightly by using bought fresh custard, but in my defense you can buy some very good quality fresh custards these days. I decided to bake the strawberries rather than stewing them as I though this would give them more of an intense flavour and help to retain some of their shape. The baked strawberries looked and smelt good enough to eat just as they were; I bet they would be great spooned over some yoghurt or porridge.

The overall dessert was very tasty, with the sweet, summery strawberries and the thick, creamy custard with little layers of softened sponge in-between. They look quite impressive and take only minutes to assemble. They also happily sit in the fridge for two days without any ill effects. For extra indulgence add layers of lightly whipped cream on top of the custard.

Individual Baked Strawberry Sundaes

500g strawberries
300ml fresh custard
6 madelines or 3 plain scones

Heat the oven to 190C.
Remove the stalk from the strawberries and place into a baking dish in a single layer. Reserve a few smaller strawberries for decoration.
Cut any particularly large strawberries in half but leave the rest whole.
Bake for 15 minutes, give them a stir and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes until softened and the juices given off have turned thick and syrupy.
Leave to cool.
When ready to assemble, slice the madelines or scones into 5mm thick pieces.
Using a pastry cutter, cut out discs the same diameter as your chosen glasses.
Place a scone/cake disc in the base of each glass and top with 2 tbsp of cooled strawberries, making sure to add plenty of the syrup to soak into the cake.
Top the strawberries with 2 tbsp of custard before adding another cake disc and repeating until all the strawberries have been used up.
End with a layer of custard and top with a whole reserved strawberry.
Cover and leave in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, to allow the cake to absorb all the strawberry juices and go soft.
Eat and enjoy.

Makes 3