Sunday 30 September 2007

Daring Bakers September Challenge - Cinnamon Swirls and Sticky Buns

When Marce of Pip in the City announced this months challenge of sweet sticky buns I was a very happy baker. I love the whole process of baking bread and working with yeast, I love how it grows and evolves before your eyes, and yet for some reason I don’t actually get round to making it that often. I suppose it due to lack of planning as you do need to have a few hours free in which to prepare the dough and leave it to prove. However, this month’s challenge was not only involving making a bread dough but a sweet sticky dough that contained one of favourite spices – cinnamon and lots of it!

We were given the option of making cinnamon swirls or sticky buns or both. I love cinnamon swirls so I knew straight away I was going to make those, and as I had never made sticky buns before I decided to take up the challenge and give them a whirl too.

The dough was very easy to prepare and work with, neither too sticky nor too dry. I prepared mine early one morning, placed it in a warm place and went out shopping while it sat happily proving. I returned home to a risen puffy dough and set about making the buns.

The buns were also easy to prepare, as both buns start off with the same steps. The thing that sets them apart is how you finish them/arrange them before baking. After forming the dough into logs and cutting the cinnamony swirls of dough into sections, half are placed cut side down on a baking tray and baked before drizzling with icing, which produce the cinnamon swirls. The remaining half of the dough is placed closely together into a tin which has first been coated with caramel and chopped nuts. These are then inverted after cooking and the delicious nutty caramel becomes the sticky glaze over the top of the buns.

For my sticky buns I baked them individually in a muffin tin as I didn’t have the right sized tin to bake them all together. I added a couple of teaspoons of caramel into the base of the muffin holes and then topped each with a mixture of chopped walnuts and hazelnuts before adding the doughy buns. This worked very well, although they had a slight caramel eruption in the oven and coated the entire muffin tray (and the bottom of my oven!!) with caramel, but they produced perfectly shaped buns.

I was very happy with how both variations turned out. They were quite dense in texture and yet not heavy to eat. The dough was soft and full of sweet cinnamony goodness. The sticky buns were very sweet but the combination of the caramel and the nuts was gorgeous. The only thing which I found slightly odd was the addition of lemon zest in the dough. The lemon flavour was quite pronounced and although I quite liked this in the cinnamon swirls I wasn’t so keen on the lemon flavour in the sticky buns, it just didn’t work with the caramel and nuts for me. If I made the buns again I think I would add vanilla instead of lemon. Apart from this, I wouldn’t change the buns at all. They looked so glossy and appetizing and the fragrant cinnamon aroma lingered in my house for a few days. I really enjoyed unraveling the dough and eating it in pieces while licking the icing from my fingers. These buns are simple and satisfying to make and are sure to impress your family and friends, the perfect sweet treat for afternoon tea.

Cinnamon Swirls and Sticky Buns
(From Peter Reinhart´s The Break Baker´s Apprentice)

Makes 8 to 12 large or 12 to 16 smaller cinnamon or sticky buns

6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)
White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)
Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)
Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)

Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand); if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast. Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.
Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump.
Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.)

For cinnamon buns, line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.

For sticky buns, coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.

Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving.
White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns
Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.
Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.
When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns.

For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving. Caramel glaze for sticky buns
Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature.
Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Peanut Butter & Cranberry Cookies

Now you may read that title and think “Urgh, what a weird combination is that?” but please bear with me. I was reading through one of my new favourite cookbooks (The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg) when I came to a recipe for peanut butter, raisin and dark chocolate cookies. I pondered the recipe for a while and decided to remove the dark chocolate as I wanted a pure peanutty taste. However I then didn’t fancy the idea of the raisins with the peanut butter and so I decided to replace them with dried cranberries instead. My thoughts behind this was that the cranberries would be sweet, jammy and slightly sharp and so would add a fun twist of the famous American combination of peanut butter and jelly.

The cookies themselves have a wonderful light buttery texture and the peanut flavour really comes through. I used crunchy peanut butter for extra crunch and depth of flavour. The cranberries nestle among the dough and work wonderfully with the peanut flavour, adding little bursts of fruitiness with every bite. People at work were a little skeptical of the combination at first but they were loved after the first bite.

The cookies have a crisp outer edge immediately after baking but this softens within a couple of hours to give a moist, soft and slightly chewy cookie.

I made the cookies quite small by using a teaspoon to measure out the dough but I expect they would be just as good made into normal sized cookies or even mega cookies.

Peanut Butter & Cranberry Cookies
(Recipe adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg)
115g butter
115g caster sugar
70g soft light brown sugar
115g crunchy peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
180g strong plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 185C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Cream together the butter, both sugars and peanut butter in a bowl until smooth.
Add the egg and the vanilla and beat until well incorporated.
Sift over the flour and baking powder and add the dried cranberries.
Beat together for as short a time as possible, until the flour has been incorporated.
Using a teaspoon, place little mounds of the dough onto the baking tray, leaving an inch gap between them. (I got 15 on one tray). Flatten the dough slightly using your fingertips.
Bake in the oven for 9-12 minutes until lightly golden brown.
Allow to cool and firm up on the tray for 3 minutes, before transferring to a wire wrack.
Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
Makes 40 cookies.

Saturday 22 September 2007

New Header

If you cast your eyes to the top of the page you will see that Apple & Spice now has a brand new header. Mainly due to lots of help from my technical wizz of a sister, thanks Caz!

Friday 21 September 2007

Pronto Pizza

This is something I threw together for dinner when I got in from work, tired, hungry and with limited supplies in the fridge. It only takes between 30-40 minutes from dry ingredients to munching, quicker than ordering a takeaway. It involves using a pizza dough base that can be rolled out straight away without having to be left to prove, speeding up the process no end.

What I love about pizza is that they hold the same kind of concept as a sandwich, meaning there are almost unlimited variations on what you can use for toppings. For my pizza I used what I had to hand which involved, sun dried tomatoes, half an onion, sweetcorn, chili, a couple of fresh tomatoes from my garden and some lovely Smoked Applewood cheese. I also added lots of oregano to the pizza base itself as I have found this to be a great way of adding flavour to a pizza without worrying that the herbs will burn to a crisp on the surface.

I keep fresh yeast frozen in little pieces in my freezer, ready to use when the urge takes me but instant yeast would work just as well. I find that heating a baking tray in the oven while I make the dough and then transferring it straight to the hot tray helps to make a nice crispy base and prevents it from sticking to the tray.

I threw the pizza together, had a quick shower while it was in the oven and then settled down to munch it in my pajamas in front of the TV. Ahh bliss.

No Prove Pizza
For the dough
15g yeast
½ tsp caster sugar
125g strong plain flour
1 tbsp olive oil50ml warm water
30ml milk
1 tsp dried oregano

For the toppings
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 sun dried tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes
½ small tin sweetcorn
½ onion
½ red chili
Cheese of choice (I used Smoked Applewood)
2 tbsp polenta or cornmeal for base

Preheat the oven to 190C and place a baking tray into the oven to heat up.
Put the milk, warm water, sugar and yeast into a bowl and mix until combined.
Weight out the flour and add the rest of the dough ingredients and mix together until a firm dough has formed (add more liquid if necessary).
Dust a work surface with flour and kneed the dough for a couple of minutes until smooth.
Roll out the dough until only 3-4mm thick. Then lift up the dough using a rolling pin and scatter the work surface with a generous layer of polenta.
Place the dough over the polenta and gently press down and move the dough around so the polenta sticks to the dough base and moves around freely.
Spread the tomato paste over the dough, leaving a small border around the edge.
Scatter over the rest of your chosen toppings and then cover in a layer of grated cheese.
Remove the tray from the oven and side the pizza onto it. Return quickly to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
Eat and enjoy.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Fig Filled Oaty Squares

Apologies for not updating for so long, things had been a little hectic and stressful recently but I think things are all sorted out now.

These oaty squares are very quick and simple to make. They are not much to look at but the texture and flavour make up for their less than photogenic properties. They basically involve a sticky, chunky fig puree sandwiched between two oaty layers.

The oaty layers are firm and crumbly, slightly reminiscent of shortbread and they are the perfect carrier for the sticky fig centre. The figs themselves are dried figs which mean they add a lovely sticky sweetness and a great texture and crunch from the tiny seeds contained within them.

They have a healthy yet satisfying feel to them. The perfect snack for beating the morning munchies, full of fibre and slow release energy while still being sweet enough to feel like a treat. They were the treat of choice for the Monday Munchers this week and were indeed munched on happily.

Other dried fruit fillings work well, as long as they are sticky. Dried peaches, apricots or prunes would be perfect. They are traditionally made with dates and are then known as Memorial Bars (although I’m not sure why).

Fig Filled Oaty Squares
250g ready to eat dried figs
200ml water
1 tsp vanilla extract
160g rolled oats
120g plain flour
115g soft brown sugar
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
120g butter

Grease and base and sides of an 8inch/20cm square cake tin (loose bottom preferably) and line completely with greaseproof paper.
Preheat the oven to 170C.
Chop the figs into small pieces using a pair of scissors. Place into a saucepan along with the water and vanilla and bring to the boil.
Allow to bubble for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has evaporated and the mixture has become sticky, thick and pureed.
Remove from the heat and set to one side.
Place the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl.
Chop the butter into squares and rub through the dry mixture, using your fingers, until well incorporated. The mixture should be starting to stick together in small clumps.
Press half of this oaty mixture into the base of the tin and press down firmly.
Spread the cooled fig mixture over the surface and of the oaty layer before scattering over the remainder of the oat mixture and gently pressing down until firm.
Place into the oven for 30-35 minutes until firm and turning lightly golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for half an hour before un moulding. Then allow to cool completely for a couple of hours before slicing, as this will help prevent the bars from crumbling.
Cut into 16 squares and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

So this is what Brownies are supposed to taste like!

I have never been that fussed with brownies, having rarely eaten one that I didn’t find either too soft and gooey or too cake like, even when I baked them myself. I knew they were adored by many people but I never fully understood the attraction… that was until I baked these brownies. After biting into one of these soft, moist, sticky, sweet, chocolately squares I was in heaven, not to mention amazed. So this is what a good brownie is supposed to taste like! I can’t believe what I’ve been missing! They were not oozing undercooked batter or tasting like fluffy sponge, instead, they were slightly dense with a sticky moist crumb that disintegrated and coated your entire mouth as you ate them.

These brownies were this weeks offering to works Monday Munchers. What, you may wonder, made me decide to bake brownies when I have never been that impressed with them? Well, I had originally planned to bake cookies this week but then I remembered that we had a new colleague joining our small NPD team at work and I wasn’t sure what they would like. As I was browsing my bookshelf, Leith’s Baking Bible caught my eye I decided to select a recipe from there. I came across a whole section dedicated to brownies and decided these would be perfect as not only do most people love brownies but they are also full of chocolate, something which never fails to please. I added in white chocolate chunks to make them even more chocolately and because I think it makes them look pretty. They were a huge success at work and people were fighting over the last piece. I must confess that three pieces didn’t make it into work, but in my defense they were the corner pieces.

So now thanks to Prue Leith, I am a brownie convert. Want to cheer someone up? Give someone a present? Need to ask someone for forgiveness and want to sweeten the deal? Then these brownies are the answer. I urge you, drop what you are doing and go and bake some.

Ultimate Brownies
Recipe adapted from Leith’s Baking Bible.
140g butter
200g dark chocolate – around 55-60%
180g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
85g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
80 white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line the base and sides of a deep 8inch/20cm square tin and set to one side.
Break the dark chocolate into pieces and place into a large bowl along with the butter. Melt gently over a pan of simmering water until smooth. (The water should not touch the base of the bowl)
Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla and the sugar. The mixture will be slightly grainy at this stage.
Beat the eggs in one at a time until thick and glossy.
Sift over the flour and baking powder and beat until no flour streaks remain.
Chop the white chocolate into small chunks and fold in the brownie batter.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes until slightly risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with crumbs, rather than wet batter, sticking to it.
Allow to cool almost completely in the tin. The brownie will loose its puffed up look and become level.
Remove from the tin and cut into 12 squares.
Store in an airtight container lined with greaseproof for up to three days.

Friday 7 September 2007

The Beautiful Fig

I was extremely lucky in that on my recent visit to the shops I happened upon some fresh figs, in packs of four, that they were reducing to the ridiculous price of only 30p despite still having 2 days until their best before date. I had tasted fresh figs for the first time this summer and not wanting to miss such a bargain I grabbed a couple of packets and returned home happy. They really are a thing of beauty, with moody purple skins and ruby red centres. They were soft and succulent with a softly sweet taste and texture with a most individual smell. It was only after enjoying one with my lunch that I realised I still had 7 figs left and there was no way I would be able to eat them all in time. Later on as I was browsing through my favourite blogs I came across Ivonne’s blog - Cream Puffs in Venice, where she had just announced that she is this month’s host of the popular event, Sugar High Friday. Not only that, but her theme of choice was figs!! It was obviously meant to be and I decided there and then to enter with my own figgy concoction.

I had some pastry in the freezer so making a tart was by first choice. I decided to quarter the figs to show off their spectacular centres and to make up an almondy frangipane mixture in which to bake them. I made a last minute decision and spread a layer of my plum and vanilla jam over the base of the pastry case before adding the filling, turning the tart into a stylized version of a Bakewell tart.

I am really pleased with how it turned out. The figs looked amazing with their rich red centers and speckles of tiny seeds and the baking really brought out their sweet, yet slightly earthy flavour. The frangipane was soft, moist and full of almondy goodness. The layer of jam in the base helped to prevent the pastry from going soggy and added a sweet fruity flavour boost with a subtle hint of vanilla. All the flavours mingled together producing one very tasty and pretty tart. It was so quick and easy to put together and yet looks special enough to serve at a fancy lunch or dinner party. Its lovely served warm but I think it tasted even better when allowed to cool to room temperature.

You have until the 24th of September to create your sweet fig inspired recipes. The full details can be found here.

Fresh Fig Frangipane Tart
250g shortcrust pastry (homemade or shop bought)
6 fresh figs
80g butter
75g caster sugar
2 eggs
75g ground almonds
½ tsp almond essence
3 tbsp jam of your choice

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Roll out the pastry until around 4 mm thick. Line a 23cm round tart tin with the pastry and set to one side.
Cut the figs into quarters and set to one side.
Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Then add the eggs, beating well until incorporated.
Stir in the ground almonds and the almond essence. The batter should be fairly thin.
Spread your jam of choice over the base of the pastry case before pouring in the frangipane mixture.
Arrange the sliced figs decoratively on the tart before placing into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes before reducing the oven temperature to 160C and continuing to bake for a further 20 minutes until slightly risen and golden brown.
Allow to cool before removing from the tin and serving in big slices.
Serves 8

Update: The round-up can be viewed here.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Chubby Rascals

These are actually Fat Rascals, which are a traditional Yorkshire treat. They are a cross between a scone and a teacake, quite dense, crumbly and stuffed full of currants and candied peel. The origin of their name is unkown but I believe it has something to do with the glace cherries and sliced almonds which are arranged into a sort of mischevious (and slightly scary) face on the top of each rascal. I also like to believe that it could also be because these fat, thick, scones were a favourite with children who were affectionately called ‘rascals’ our equivalent of called someone a ‘cheeky monkey’ these days. However, this is just my own speculation. Anyone else have any ideas on the origin of the name?

I made these for Monday Munchers at work. I got the inspiration to make them after sampling one on a recent visit to Betty’s Tea Shop in Harrogate which is famous for these afternoon treats. Mine turned out slightly thinner than they should have done, not quite as fat as the originals and so I have called mine Chubby Rascals.

They have a light buttery crumb thanks to the sour cream included in the batter. This also makes them quite rich and filling. The candied peel added a lovely sweet and zesty flavour. They were very much enjoyed but I think next time I will try not to roll them out so thinly in the hope they turn out a little fatter. They are lovely to munch on as they are but spread with butter and jam they become a really special afternoon treat.

Chubby (Fat) Rascals
100g butter (or half butter and half lard)
350g plain flour
75g currants
25g candied mixed peel
1 heaped tsp baking powder
75g caster sugar
150ml sour cream
Glace cherries
Sliced or whole blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 220C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and set to one side.
Rub the butter into the flour using you fingertips until no big lumps remain.
Mix through the sugar, baking powder, currants and peel.
Add the cream, reserving a little as you may not need it all, and mix to a stiff dough.
Flour a work surface and gently roll out the dough until it is 2cm thick.
Stamp out rounds using a pastry cutter and place on the baking tray.
Cut a glace cherry in half and place on the top of each rascal along with 3-4 almonds in the design of a face.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly risen and golden brown.
Cool slightly before munching.
Makes 8 – 10 Rascals

Sunday 2 September 2007

Banoffee Muffins

These are muffins are what I made for the Monday Munchers at work last week. I’m afraid the post is quite overdue but things have been a bit hectic recently.
They are banana muffins with a Dulce De Leche Caramel Toffee filling, turning them into banoffee muffins.

I had three extremely ripe bananas sitting on my kitchen counter and I just knew I had to do something with them. They were so ripe in fact that I barely had to mush them, they were practically self mushed when I peeled them. I have often made banana cakes or muffins with the addition of chocolate or nuts but this time I wanted something different and decided upon a toffee filling. I was initially going to buy a can of condensed milk and make the caramel toffee myself but when I went to buy some there was some Merchant Gourmet Dulce De Leche Caramel Toffee in a bottle on the shelf next to it. It was only 9p more expensive than the can of milk and I decided that for the time and effort it would save the extra 9p was worth it.

I also replaced the butter in the recipe with natural yoghurt as I had a tub in my fridge that needed using up. The result was a slightly closer textured and moister muffin which I was pleased with. The muffins were extremely bananary and tasted wonderful alongside the toffee sauce. People enjoyed taking bites of their muffins and watching the toffee centre ooze out.

Overall these muffins tasted nice and the flavours worked well but I felt they still seemed to be lacking something. I think next time I might try adding a cream cheese icing to help cut through the sticky sweetness.

While at work I realised that if you made banana and coffee muffins you could still call them banoffee muffins. I think this would actually be quite fun to try, you could give them to people saying they were banoffee muffins and then they would get a surprise when a coffee filling instead of a toffee one came out. I mentioned this to people at work and they were quite for a few moments before saying they thought I had been working too hard and that was I feeling ok. What?! What wrong with that – it’s true! Sigh, my mind wanders in mysterious ways.

Banoffee Muffins
3 large overripe bananas
150g plain natural yoghurt
125g soft brown sugar
300g self raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
2 eggs
50ml vegetable oil
Dulce De Leche Caramel Toffee (I used Merchant Gourmet)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a muffin tin with muffin cases and set to one side.
Peel the bananas, place them into a bowl and mash with a fork until very soft and mushy.
Put the yoghurt and sugar into a mixing bowl and mix together until all the sugar dissolves and you have a caramel coloured yoghurt.
Fold in the banana mush followed by the eggs and then lightly beat the mixture until no strands of egg are left.
Sift in the flour, mixed spice and baking powder. Beat the mixture using a wooden spoon and then finally stir in the oil until well incorporated.
Divide the cake mixture into the muffin cases and bake for 25 minutes until well-risen and golden brown. A skewer should come out clean when inserted into the thickest part of the cake.
Transfer the muffins to a cooling wrack. Once cold, hollow out a small circle from the top part of the muffin using a small sharp knife.
Cut the excess sponge away from the hollowed out section until you have a sort of flat ‘lid’ left.
Fill the hollow with the toffee caramel sauce and replace the muffins ‘lid.’
Serve as they are or slightly warmed with custard for a quick dessert.
Makes 14 muffins

Saturday 1 September 2007

Famous Four MeMe

Margaret from Kitchen Delights has tagged me for MeMe appropriately called Famous Four.

Four Jobs I’ve Had:
1) Volunteering on Friday afternoons in my local charity shop. I used to get Friday afternoons off when studying my A Levels and decided to do something useful with the time. I did pricing, sorting and till work with a very friendly bunch of ladies.
2) Working Saturdays in the restaurant of my local garden centre during my 2nd year of A Levels. I had to cut and arrange the food for the chiller cabinates, learn how to make all the coffees, serve customers and was often in charge of a separate coffee only drinks bar. It was very hard work and I was on my feet for the entire day and they only used to give us 15 minutes for our lunch break and sometimes this wasn’t until 2:30pm. They were made to change this to 30minutes just before I left but they weren’t too happy about it.
3) I did some temping work during the uni summer holidays. I worked as a receptionist for a media company and it was very dull and boring.
4) I am now on my placement year as part of my course for uni and am working as a New Product Development Technologist for a fruit company. We come up with new fruit ideas, test them out in the test kitchens, run trials through the factory and then launch them into stores. It’s great as I get to be creative and also get to eat a lot of fruit.

Four Places I’ve Lived
1) Until I was six I used to live in a little cottage in a tiny village in Bedfordshire. It had a park and a wood right next to the house and I remember trying to ride my bike through the wood and getting my stabilizers jammed into the roots of trees.
2) We then moved to a larger but still small village set more in the countryside. This is where my family are still living now. Its surrounded on two sides by fields and we have a section of the garden that’s full of trees and apple trees which I love.
3) Two years ago I left home to go to university in Sheffield where I lived in halls with a bunch of people I had never met before. I didn’t particularly enjoy it (the accommodation) as we got burgled 4 times, had mice in the kitchen, water came through the ceiling from the floors above, the toilet fell off the wall and we even once had drug addicts lurking behind the building. (I moved to a much nicer place with some friends for my second year)
4) I’m now living in Leeds where I had to move for my placement job. I have rented my own flat on a lovely residential street that is just far enough away from the city centre not to get all the hassle and noise and yet still close enough to go shopping. I really love it here.

Four Places I’ve Holidayed
1) During my childhood we used to go to Lanzarote which is part of the Canary Islands. It’s got great weather and I remember being amazed at seeing real palm trees and huge cactus’s.
2) We also had a few family trips to Newquay (which is by the sea) accompanied by my grandparents. My granddad adores the coast, especially the sea and taught us all how to body board. We used to rent a beach hut for the day to store our things in and we always managed to get the same one. Number 54 which had a blue front door.
3) When I was 16 I went on holiday with my grandparents alone to Tuscany in Italy. The food, the weather and the views were all wonderful. It’s true what they say about the ice cream in Italy, it was certainly the best I have ever tasted.
4) Just this year my family and grandparents all went to France to celebrate my grandparents golden wedding anniversary. It was a fantastic holiday, we stayed in a really tiny traditional village and got to explore lots of local markets, eating fresh apricots, figs and tomatoes and stuffing ourselves with bread, cheese, olives and pastries.

Four Favourite Foods
1) Some people may find this strange but I really could not live without apples. I have to eat one practically every day or I deprived. They are so crisp and fresh and make that lovely ‘crrrrrisp’ sound when you bite into them. There are also so many varieties to choose from. Tart acidic Bramley apples for cooking or sweet juicy apples for everyday eating (although I do like eating the odd bit of cooking apple too). My favourite is probably Royal Gala for their sweet crisp flavour although Braeburns and the much underrated Jonagold are also good when in season.
2) Freshly baked bread. I love everything about bread, its smell, taste, texture and versatility. You can add fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices or different grains to end up with a whole variety of different breads. My preference is for granary, sourdough or rye bread as I like quite dense loafs that have deep flavours. I also love a really chewy crust. I can’t stand pre-sliced fake white ‘bread.’ Anything you can pummel with your hands that then springs back to its original shape or turns to goo when you mush it is not bread in my opinion.
3) Oats in the form of muesli or porridge. There is something so comforting and satisfying about chewing on milky oats when scattered with soft raisins, dates and chunks of nut. All the textures and flavours go together so well, whoever came up with muesli is a genius. Similarly I love a big steaming bowl of porridge when feeling down or cold. It’s like being given a hug from the inside. At the moment I love flavouring my porridge with chopped dates and cinnamon.
4) My forth choice has to be cake. I adore cake in all forms. Give me a big wedge of cake over chocolate any day. Again, it’s so versatile, from light sponges to dense fruit cake, there is something to suit everyone. My favourite type of cake changes according to mood but I would never say no to a slice of carrot cake. I love its moist spicy crumb dotted with chewy raisins, chunks of nut and topped with a creamy lemony icing – yum!

Four Places I’d Rather Be
1) In London having a foodie day exploring the likes of Harrods, Fortnum & Masons, Selfridges and the newly opened Whole Foods store which I am longing to visit.
2) Back in France sampling more bread, cheese, pastries and maybe a few chocolates.
3) Mexico. I have never been but I have heard that there are places where you can watch someone make up your own specially chosen chocolate from scratch. They pound the cocoa beans and mix it with your choice of flavours of spices and present it to you in a molten mass. This sounds amazing to me and something I long to witness. Plus I would really like to try some authentic Mexican food.
4) Back home with my family, baking treats for afternoon tea.

Four people I tag are:
Gigi from Gigi Cakes
Andrew from Spittoon Extra
Barbara from Winos and Foodies
Myriam from Once Upon A Tart