Thursday 31 January 2008

Success! Gluten Free Mint Choc Chip Brownies

Some of you may know that I recently tried to bake some gluten free cookies for a work colleague without much success. They were dry, thin, brittle and quite bland in taste. Not really on the yummy scale. But, as the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I was determined to find a way to produce a gluten, or at least wheat free, treat that he could enjoy.

I decided to steer away from cookies and try something softer and more cake like. I know there are quite a few flourless cake recipes around, but I wanted to make something that he wouldn’t normally be able to eat. It was while I was flicking through a cookery book that I happened upon a recipe for lemon polenta cake and a little light bulb in my head lit up – ohh I could use cornmeal in place of the flour, that might work. I decided to make some brownies to find out.

The batter came together well and looked just like a standard brownie mix. I made them extra dark by adding a couple of tablespoons of Dutch process cocoa powder along with the melted chocolate into the mix. I also threw in some mint chocolate baking chips that were given to me by a good friend. I loved how dark and glossy the batter looked, and from licking the bowl I could tell it was good.

During baking the brownies rose up, but then deflated on cooling. They gave off the most wonderful chocolate smell with a hint of mint. They had a shiny crackled surface and once sliced revealed a soft, fudgey interior, almost inky black in colour thanks to the cocoa powder. I had a little nibble and they tasted yummy and really packed a punch with the mint flavour. I was amazed at how much flavour the little minty chips added. So with crossed fingers I packed them up and took them to work for the Monday Munchers.

They were received extremely well at work, with people loving their intense dark colour and strong minty flavour. I didn’t tell them they were gluten free until after people had began munching. When I told them, the look on their faces was one of utter amazement and one girl even admitted she wouldn’t have tried them if she had known (I think I put her off with the bad batch of cookies). More importantly I was then able to offer them to the guy on the wheat free diet and he described them as ‘ace’ which really made me smile. So at last a success – hurrah!

Gluten Free Minty Choc Chip Brownies

140g butter
100g dark chocolate
180g caster sugar
2 eggs
15g Dutch process cocoa powder
85g fine cornmeal (polenta)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
70g mint chocolate baking chips

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line the base and sides of a square 8inch baking tin.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar followed by the cocoa powder.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, until the mixture is airy and glossy.
Sprinkle over the cornmeal and the bicarb and mix in well.
Finally fold in the mint chips and pour into the baking tin.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted comes out sticky but not wet from raw batter.
Allow to cool in the tin (it will sink slightly but that’s ok).
Remove from the tin and slice into 9 squares.
Store in an airtight container until required.

Note: Replacing the cornmeal with plain flour works just as well and using standard cocoa powder and a bar of mint chocolate would be fine.

Monday 28 January 2008

Daring Bakers January Challenge – Lemon Meringue Pie(s)

This month’s culinary challenge was chosen by Jen from The Canadian Baker and I was thrilled when she announced it was to be lemon meringue pie. I love lemon meringue pie and but haven’t eaten one for a number of years. Just thinking of the tangy lemon filling topped with clouds of sweet fluffy meringue takes me right back to my childhood. After dinner on Sundays, my mother would always produce a special homemade dessert and lemon meringue pie was one of my favourites. Unfortunately we didn’t have it all that often as my siblings refused to eat any form of dessert that didn’t include the word ‘chocolate.’ So I was delighted at this months challenge yet also slightly daunted, would I be able to recreate a dish that lived up to my childhood memories?

The lemon pie involves three separate components that are all prepared and then assembled together and baked. A pastry crust, a lemon filling and a meringue topping. We were free to choose the size of the pies we made and I decided to make miniature ones using a muffin tin, rather than a traditional large pie.

The crust came together well and I was able to stamp out my 12 pastry rounds from the first rolling, which was good as it meant I didn’t overwork the dough by having to re-roll it. However, I only used about two-thirds of the pastry and so I rolled the excess into a ball and froze it for future use.

The lemon curd filling involved a little more work, but this was down to the work involved rather than it being difficult. The recipe called for 180ml of lemon juice but I ended up with just under 150ml after juicing my bag of 4 lemons and so had to go with that. It didn’t seem to affect the lemon flavour too much, which was still very prominent. A word of advice when it comes to grating/juicing lemons. If you wash them or have wet hands then remember to dry them before attempting to slice them, or you may suffer the consequences. I attempted to cut a wet lemon in half using a big sharp knife and…well lets just say I ended up cutting something else – ouch! As I made miniature pies I also ended up with too much lemon curd (can you see a pattern emerging?) but I was more than happy about this, as the curd was so wonderfully tangy and bursting with citrus twang that I could quite happily have stood there and eaten the lot on its own, but instead I chose to bottle it and I now have now have a lovely jar of homemade lemon curd in the fridge – yum!

The topping was quick and easy to prepare and I ended up with an absolute mountain of meringue. If you want to make little pies I suggest you halve the meringue recipe below.

I was delighted with how the pies turned out. They stuck slightly to the sides of the tin but I found running a greased knife around the edge before attempting to remove them from the tin helped. I think they look very cute and just the right size for sharing around easily. My pastry could probably have done with a little extra cooking as it wasn’t that crisp, but the meringue topping was lovely and fluffy, their airy bubbles dissolve on your tongue in a matter of moments. My favourite part of the pie, by far, was the lemon curd filling – oh it’s just dreamy! Silky smooth, yet thick so that it coats your tongue and tingles your taste buds with a burst of tangy lemoniness that made me swoon. I think next time I may forgo the meringue and just add extra filling, I can’t praise it enough, I’m salivating just thinking about it. All in all the pies lived up to my childhood memories, although my mum still holds the edge when it comes to pastry. Thanks Jen for choosing such a divine pie.

Check out the Daring Bakers Blog Roll to read about fellow Bakers pies.

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10inch pie or lots of mini ones
For the pastry crust
165g cold butter
275g plain flour
50g caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
80ml cold water

For the lemon curd filling
475ml water
150g caster sugar
40g cornflour
5 egg yolks
55g butter
180ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest (around 1 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the meringue topping
5 egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
120g caster sugar

For the pastry
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.
Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

For the lemon curd
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.
Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.
For the meringuePreheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack.
Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust, although it’s still delicious eaten the following day too.

Saturday 26 January 2008

Spiced Cauliflower Soup

It’s turned extremely windy here in the last 24 hours, so much so that yesterday they closed the motorway to high sided vehicles after 11, yes 11 were blown over due to the strong winds. Leaves and little bits of grit are being blown into whirlwinds and it’s hard to even walk in a straight line so I decided to stay indoors and make some soup for lunch.

I had a big head of cauliflower in the fridge, not a vegetable I use all that often but it was an impulse buy. They are an amazing vegetable, held together in florets, similar to broccoli, but their heads are a series of tightly wound spirals, all clumped together in little clusters. I always used to think they looked like trees. The cauliflower was to be the star of the soup and I chose to add a small mix of spices into the equation to give it extra warmth and flavour. I was careful not to add too much as I wanted the delicate flavour of the cauliflower to be the main component. However, if you want more of a spicy kick then feel free to add more.

When pureed, the cauliflower made the soup wonderfully smooth and creamy. It was quite thick and had a rich and comforting feel. The light cauliflower flavour shone through, followed by subtle warmth on the back of your tongue from the spices. Just what you need on a dull day.

Spiced Cauliflower Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
1 large or 2 small potatoes
1 large head cauliflower (around 550g)
2 pints vegetable stock
1 tsp sweet paprika (not the strong smoky kind)
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp cumin

Peel and dice the onion while you gently heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and put the lid on to allow it to sweat.
Peel and dice the potatoes and mince the garlic. Stir into the pan of sweated onions and replace the lid again.
Cook for 5 minutes then break the cauliflower into florets and add to the other veg.
Sprinkle over the spices and add the stock.
Bring the pan to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook for 20minutes.
Then remove from the heat allow to sit for 10 minutes to cool slightly before liquidizing.
Sprinkle with a few extra spices and serve in warmed bowls with bread or crackers for dipping.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Giganti-Hugeous Crisp Cookie Thins

I wanted to try and make some wheat free cookies for one of my work mates who is on a wheat free diet. Rather than using an existing wheat free cookie recipe I decided to try and replace the wheat flour in a standard cookie recipe with a wheat and gluten free flour I had picked up at the supermarket.

The cookie dough came together well and seemed to be of a good texture and consistency and I was feeling relatively confidant they would turn out ok. I added some chopped chocolate orange chunks for flavour and spooned small teaspoonfuls out onto a baking sheet. The recipe said the cookies would spread so I left quite a bit of room in between each one. When the baking time was up I opened the oven door to find the cookies hadn’t spread a little, but had melted into huge thin flat cookies that were merging together. Eppp!

I tried again, placing fewer spoonfuls on each sheet and leaving plenty of room. The second batch turned out better, they were still huge but at least they did look vaguely cookie shaped. The texture of the cookies was very crisp and crumbly. They were also quite brittle and had a slightly gritty texture from the rice flour that was part of the mix. I was quite disappointed in their flavour, they were sweet yet had quite a savoury note to them.

I took them to work anyway where they received mixed responses. Some people hated them while others quite liked their unusual texture. It was decided that they resembled more of a French langue de chat biscuits than a soft chocolate chip cookie but they would make quite good cookies to serve with deserts. So they were a successful (sort of) but not really as a soft and chewy cookie. I’ll have to try again another time.

Crisp Cookie Thins
(Recipe adapted from
100g butter
50g soft light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
125g wheat and gluten free flour (or ordinary plain flour)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g chocolate orange, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Place the butter and sugars into a bowl and beat together until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and egg and then sift over the flour and bicarbonate of soda.
Fold in the flour followed by the chocolate.
Drop teaspoons of cookie mixture onto the baking tray leaving A LOT of space between each one.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden around the edges.
Transfer to a cooling wrack straight away and leave to cool.
Make 16 cookies.

Monday 14 January 2008

BBD#06 - Coffee, Almond & Choc Chip Braided Bread

When Eva of Sweet Sins announced she was this month’s host of Bread Baking Day and her chosen theme was shaped breads, I knew I had to participate. I love playing with dough, the smells, textures and flavours they produce are simply wonderful and this event sounded like one I could have a lot of fun with.

I decided to use my favourite sweet bread dough recipe, which produces a wonderfully soft and fluffy bread thanks to the use of milk and an egg which keeps the dough supple and moist. My first thought was to flavour it somehow and bake it in a ring mould, but I wanted to have more fun with it than this and so I hit upon the idea of plating/braiding it instead. As I began divide the dough into thirds for braiding, I suddenly had the idea to flavour each of the three strands of dough with a different flavour. I chose to flavour my dough with coffee, dark chocolate chips and chopped almonds along with almond essence for extra flavour.

I really liked how the braid turned out, the different appearance and flavours of dough intertwining and made the bread look speckled and intriguing. Once baked, the braid had turned lovely and golden brown and looked quite ordinary on top, but revealed its mix of flavours upon slicing. This also made it incredibly fun to eat as each bite contained a new flavour, or combination of two flavours that switched order with every slice cut. However, be warned this also makes it hard to stop eating it.

This dough is so easy to work with that I think even people who have a fear of yeast would be able to handle it. It requires very little work and looks after itself and always seems to produce excellent results. It’s also very versatile and will take to any flavours or add-ins you wish to throw at it.

Coffee, Almond & Choc Chip Braided Bread
For the bread dough
350g strong plain bread flour
50g caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
25g fresh yeast
50g butter
200ml milk
1 egg

For the added flavours
1 tbsp dark chocolate chips
2tsp instant coffee granules
1 tbsp water
2 tsp flour
20g whole almonds
½ tsp almond extract
Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.Measure out the milk into a jug and cut the butter over the top of it and heat gently until warm but not to hot. (It shouldn’t get hotter than body temperature).Break up the yeast and stir into the milk mixture before whisking in the egg.
Pour this milky mixture over the flour and use your fingers to bring everything together and then kneed on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes until soft and stretchy, adding more flour if necessary. Transfer to a greased bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove for 25 minutes by which time it should have double in size.Knock back the risen dough on a lightly floured surface and divide into three equal pieces.
Knead the chocolate chips into one third of the dough and set to one side.
Mix the water into the instant coffee and add the flour to make a paste. Add this paste into another third of the dough and knead until mostly incorporated but a few streaks remain.
Chop the almonds into small chunks and knead into the final piece of dough along with the almond essence.
Using your hands, roll out the three balls of dough into long stands.
Place the strands side by side and plate them together into one loaf.
Place the loaf on a floured baking tray and brush the top with a little milk or sugared water. Preheat the oven to 210C and allow the bread to prove while the oven heats up.
When the oven is up to temperature, place the bread into the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and springy when pressed. (You may need to turn the baking tray round half way through baking if one end is browning more quickly than the other).Allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool.
Update: The round-up is now up! Click for Part 1 & Part 2

Saturday 12 January 2008

#17 HHDD - Carrot, Mushroom & Pumpkin Seed Pizza

Yes that’s right, your eyes are not deceiving you – carrot and pumpkin seeds on a pizza!! And, it’s delicious!

Before you think I’ve lost my mind, just stop and think about it for a second. The carrot is grated and so when it’s in the oven, it bakes and intensifies in flavour and adds a nice subtle sweetness. Think of how good roasted carrots taste, well it’s just like that. The pumpkin seeds toast and produce a wonderfully nutty flavour. Their thick skins prevent them from burning and tasting bitter. I added the mushrooms as one, I love mushrooms and two, there’re earthiness really complements the other flavours. I like my pizza's to have a thick fluffy edge and a thinner crisp base. I achieved this by stretching the dough from the middle outwards.

I first came up with this pizza topping when I was in my first year of university. I came home in a bad mood and really needed pizza. I didn’t have many ingredients to hand so I just used what I had and thus the carrot pizza was born. Its true students will eat anything, I ate my fair share of weird meals, the worst being passata, cottage cheese and lettuce in a stew – but that’s another story, thankfully this pizza was one of the more successful creations.

Although I often use this pizza topping, I have rarely been happy with the recipe for pizza dough. Most seem to either turn out with soggy bases, crisp so much that I fear loosing a tooth or simply weld themselves onto the tray. However, all that changed today – I have now found my perfect pizza dough. It’s using a method from the King Arthur Flour Company and involves baking the dough for 4 minutes in a very hot oven before adding the toppings. The result – no more soggy bases and it allows the dough to puff up, free from the heavy weights of toppings meaning it produces a wonderfully light and springy crust with a crisp base, ingenious. Hooray!

This is my entry to #17 ‘Hay Hay Its Donna Day’ run by ChichaJo of 80 Breakfasts. Surprise, surprise the theme is Pizza. You have until the 26th January to get your entries in, so get creating.

Carrot, Mushroom & Pumpkin Seed Pizza
For the pizza dough

(Adapted from Modern Claasic 1 by Donna Hay)
225g strong plain bread flour
¾ tsp fast action yeast
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
125 – 150ml warm water

Place all the ingredients, expect the water, into a large bowl. Add half of the water and mix with your fingers to incorporate the water.
Add more water in small amounts until a dough has formed.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead with the base of your hand, adding dustings of extra flour when needed. The dough should be soft and tacky but not sticky.
Form the dough into a ball, it should still look a little rough on the surface, and place into a large greased bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place for an hour.
While waiting for the dough to rise, make the tomato sauce (see below).
Preheat the oven to 250C and place a baking tray into the oven to heat up. Have a sheet of greaseproof paper the same size as your baking tray to hand.
After proving, you can either place the dough in the fridge for up to 5 days or continue to make the pizza.
To continue, knead the dough lightly, only 1-2 times, to knock the dough back and then gently stretch to the shape of your greaseproof paper and lay the dough upon it.
When the oven is up to temperature, transfer your greaseproof paper with the pizza dough on it onto the hot baking tray and bake for 4 minutes until the dough puffs up and a light brown surface crust is formed.
Remove from the oven, top with sauce and your choice of toppings and then return to the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes more.
The crust should be golden brown and crisp and the toppings cooked and bubbling.
Eat and enjoy.
Makes 1 large pizza

For the tomato sauce
1 small can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 spring of fresh thyme
½ tsp sugar (if tomatoes are very sharp)
Black pepper

Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a simmer and cook until thickened and most of the water has evaporated. Place to one side and use when needed.

Additional toppings
1 large carrot
3 button mushrooms
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
Fresh mozzarella

Cover the surface of the baked pizza crust with the tomato sauce, leaving an inch edge.
Grate the carrot and sprinkle over the tomato surface. Cut each mushroom into 6 and arrange over the carrot layer and sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds. Dot with thin slices of fresh mozzarella and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Update: The complete roundup can be found here!

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Pineapple & Coconut Cupcakes

Coconut and Pineapple is a flavour combination I have been meaning to try out ever since I saw it used in cupcakes on Gigi’s blog. It sounded so tropical and exciting.

Last week when I sat munching on some pineapple I suddenly remembered the cupcakes and the fact I still hadn’t tried them out. I decided there and then that I was going to bake them that weekend for the first work Monday Munchers of the year. What better way to banish the January blues?

I made a very slight alternation to Gigi’s recipe in that as I had the fresh pineapple on hand, I decided to add some to the cake batter to enhance the flavour. I was worried that it might make the cakes too wet and stodgy but it actually helped make them incredibly soft and moist.

I chose to add some toasted coconut on top of my cupcakes, which really took the flavour to another level. I have never used coconut milk in a cake before and it gave the most wonderfully creamy taste and fluffiness to the cake and the little chunks of pineapple added a lovely tropical note.

Over Christmas my grandmother gave me some daisy cutters for my sugar craft work and, being eager to try them out, I decided to decorate the tops of some of the cupcakes with sugar daisies. I used the end a cocktail stick to make the thin leaf veins and left them to dry on a plate before using. They were very simple to make but added a lovely sunny finish.

Thanks for the recipe Gigi, the cakes are yummy, I highly recommend them. I converted Gigi’s recipe, which was in cups, into grams as I went along, so now no one has an excuse not to try them.

Pineapple & Coconut Cupcakes

1¼ cups plain flour (180g)
1 tsp baking powder
7 tbsp butter (85g)
¾ cup caster sugar (150g)
2 eggs
2/3 cup coconut milk (130ml)
½ tsp vanilla
110g fresh pineapple

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line a muffin tin with 10 - 12 paper cases.
Chop the fresh pineapple into very small cubes, about 5mm square and set to one side.
In a large bowl beat together the butter and sugar until pale, light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each one. Stir in the vanilla.
Add half the coconut milk and beat well. Then add the baking powder and half the flour, repeat with the remaining coconut milk and then the second half of the flour.
Gently fold in the pineapple.
Divide the mixture between the muffin cases, filling about ¾ of the way.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown, springy to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Leave to cool on a wire wrack before icing and decorating.

For the topping
150g icing sugar
Coconut milk
100g desiccated coconut
First, scatter the desiccated coconut into a dry frying pan and set over a low heat. Stir gently with a spatula at 10second intervals until the coconut has turned a very light brown. Don’t let it get too dark or it will taste burnt.
Spread the coconut over a cool plate to cool down quickly.
When you are ready to decorate your cakes, simply sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl and gradually add coconut milk until you have a thick, spreadable icing.
Spoon/spread a layer of the coconut icing over the cupcakes and then immediately scatter over a shower of toasted coconut so that it sticks to the icing.
Allow the icing to dry slightly before serving.
Makes 10-12 cupcakes.

Friday 4 January 2008

Date & Banana Biscotti

I was in the mood for a crisp, crunchy biscuit to munch on and I soon realised that the obvious choice was biscotti. I hunted in my cupboards searching for flavour inspiration and found a bag of dried banana chips that I bought a few weeks back. I decided they would be perfect, as not only would they add a nice banana flavour but were also already dried meaning they would keep indefinitely. Hmmm what goes well with banana?.... ah yes of course, dates! And so my biscotti was made.

The shards of banana chips added a great crunch to the biscotti and a nice subtle banana flavour, while the dates resulted in little pockets of chewy treacleyness which I loved. The dough is quite soft and sticky to work with but results in a light and crunchy biscotti yet are still soft enough to eat on their own without fear of breaking your teeth. I found they were also delicious dipped into hot custard, what can I say, I wanted something to eat with my custard.

The nature of biscotti means they keep very well, making them ideal treats to send through the post to friends and relatives. I also love how adaptable they are, meaning you can make them to what you have on hand or to what suits the recipients taste. Be warned through, they can be quite addictive…munch munch.

Date & Banana Biscotti

50g butter
120g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g dates
50g dried banana chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain flour
1½ baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper and set to one side.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.
Chop the dates into small pieces and roughly brake up the banana chips using your fingers. Mix into the butter mixture along with the vanilla.
Sift over the flour and baking powder and work together until well incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface (it will be quite soft and sticky). Dust your hands with flour and divide the dough in half and shape each half into a log shape.
Place onto the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes, until lightly golden brown and slightly puffed.
Remove the logs from the oven and reduce the temperature to 150C.
Spray the tops of the logs with a thin shower of water and allow them to cool for 10 minutes. (Spraying them with water helps keep the tops soft and gives a cleaner cut).
Cut the logs into 1cm slices, on a slight diagonal. Lay the slices onto the baking tray and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
Then flip the slices over and bake for a further 10 minutes.
Once lightly golden and crisp, transfer the biscotti to a wire wrack to cool. Repeat the process with any left over biscotti slices.
They will keep for several weeks if stored in an airtight container.
Makes around 40 biscotti.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Hazelnut Shortbread Stars

Every Christmas I like to make an assortment of cookies, truffles, preserves and cakes to give away as gifts. Among the usual suspects of biscotti, oat cookies, coffee truffles and peanut butter balls I decided I wanted to include a nutty cookie. I found a recipe for walnut shortbread that I though sounded perfect, but as always, I tweaked it to fit my own preferences. I chose to use hazelnuts in place of the walnuts, a nut I am getting more and more fond of. I also decided to toast the ground hazelnut to enhance their nuttiness. A small dash of cinnamon added a warming note and as it was Christmas, I cut the shortbreads into stars instead of circles.

The dough for these shortbreads was a little tricky to work with, as it was very crumbly. I ended up adding a few teaspoons of water to help it stick together, to no ill effect. I was a little surprised at the suggested baking time, but they do need this long as the oven temperature is quite cool meaning they bake and turn crisp without turned too brown.

I was really pleased how the cookies turned out. They were just as shortbread should be, buttery without being greasy; crumbly in texture and just firm enough so they didn’t disintegrate when you take a bite and yet still melt in your mouth. The toasted hazelnut flavour really came through and added a nutty crunch and speckled appearance which I loved. These shortbreads ended up being my favourite cookie this Christmas, I will definitely be making these again.

Hazelnut & Cinnamon Shortbread Stars
Recipe adapted from Delia Smith
50g hazelnuts (whole or pre-ground)
110g butter
50g caster sugar
175g plain flour
50g rice flour or cornflour
½ tsp cinnamon
4 tsp water (only use if mix too dry)

Preheat the oven to 150C and grease a large baking sheet.
Pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor until finely ground (or use pre-ground)
Scatter the ground hazelnuts over a tray (not the greased one) and place into the oven to turn lightly golden, only 2-3 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Cream and butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add all the other ingredients and work the mixture together until it forms a smooth, yet still crumbly dough. Add the water, a teaspoon at a time, if the dough is so crumbly that it won’t stick together.
Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
After chilling, cut the dough in half and roll out on a lightly floured surface until 4mm thick. It will still be crumbly, but after rolling the dough just smooth any cracks with your hands.
Cut out stars, or other shapes, using a cutter and place onto the greased baking tray.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until lightly golden brown and crisp.
Transfer the shortbreads to a wire wrack to cool.
Makes around 35 stars.