Posts

Candied Bacon Toffee: a new Christmas tradition

Christmas is within touching distance. You’ve battled the high street. You’ve wrapped everything. You’ve ordered the bird. You’ve breathed out a massive sigh of relief. And then remembered that you’ve forgotten to get Great Uncle Aloysius anything and there’s not even a 24 hour shop handy for an emergency can of anti-freeze and a family pack of Kit Kats. What do you do?

I suggest raiding the fridge for some simple essentials and making a batch of toffee that will both taste delicious and be a festive talking point. Whipped up using butter, sugar and cream and then spiked with crackling shattering shards of crisp candied bacon, this is simple enough to do in under a hour and it doesn’t break the bank…*

In fact this lovely ‘Highland’ style toffee is so easy to do, I made mine by accident. In trying to whip up some toffee sauce to go with the pumpkin ice cream recently and being easily distracted, I overcooked it and it went from runny sauce to firm chewy slabs of toffee and my mum had the inspired idea to add in the remaining candied bacon to perk it up.

I used this Rachel Allen recipe from Bake and didn’t even measure things as accurately as I might, going for dashes and glugs rather than getting out the measuring jug. So basically put all your ingredients in a slightly bigger than needed pan as the sugar will boil and bubble and might spit and cook for about ten minutes at a rolling boil or until it is very thick and gloopy and reduced by about a quarter, take off the heat, stir in the shards of bacon, then pour into a lined tin or tray and allow to set at room temperature. Come back to it when you’ve done the washing up and it’s had a few moments to settle and mark out squares in it with the back of a bread knife and then leave to harden overnight.

Next day, break the squares up into individual pieces and dust lightly with icing sugar to stop the pieces sticking together and then store in an airtight container or cellophane bag in the fridge and then enjoy in front of a roaring fire or an old movie in front of the TV over Christmas if you can’t bear to give it away. You’ll make about 50 pieces of bacon toffee from this recipe so there’s plenty to share even if you love the salty-sweet and crispy crunch chewy texture as much as I did. I imagine this one might become a Christmas tradition every year!

*It may break teeth though. Check for dentures before gifting.

One is fun!

We are very excited to tell you that we are one today! And what better way to celebrate than a cake? A proper birthday cake in layers, filled with cream and fruit, but given the grown up twist you’d expect from such a stylish food blog! It just had to be a no-butter sponge with forced Yorkshire rhubarb and rose petals for us…

Despite my love of baking, I have never actually made a basic sponge layer cake before, so I immediately turned to a recipe for guidance and my eye was caught by Rachel Allen’s recipe for a butter-free sponge on page 42 of Bake. It looked like the perfect chance to test my skills and use the new fancy electric whisk I got for Christmas. Plus I’d forgotten to take the butter out the fridge to soften in advance…

Read more

Posh squash nosh…

The festive period is just the time for some serious indulgence, but you don’t need to do it all on Christmas and Boxing Day. New Year needs something to make it more alluring in my household and the idea of staying in with a bottle of fizz (or two) and some delicious mini munchkin squash fondue makes me want to stay up late…

Mister North and I cooked these to accompany a fantastic foie gras and pheasant feast the other week and they were so good, I’ll be making them again to indulge in as the clock strikes midnight. They are incredibly easy and would make a divine dish for any number of people with their individual feel. You could use any type of cheese for them, but we pushed the boat out and used a truffled brie from Hartley’s Crumbly Cheese stall in Todmorden Market…

Inspired by a recipe in Rachel Allen‘s Bake book and adapted by her from a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall idea, I’ve made this my idea of heaven by using the mini Munchkin squash from my own garden and filling them up before blasting them in the oven and serving with little nibbles of sourdough bread. They are indulgent, moreish and super easy to make (even if you’ve already had quite a lot of fizz)  and make a lovely difference from the various sweet Christmas treats around.

You can use any round squash or pumpkin you happen to have, but I do love the greed factor in the individual ones. Chop the top off to make a good sized lid and then scoop out all the seeds, taking care not to poke any holes in your pumpkin. Brush the inside of it with a slight brushing of oil and add a teaspoon (more if using the larger squash) of cream and then fill up with your cheese of choice. I used the aforementioned truffled brie, but this would be brilliant for leftover Christmas stilton. Make sure it’s well filled, but not so stuffed it will bubble over in the oven and waste good cheese. Season well and place the oiled squash lid on firmly and pop in the oven at about 180 degrees and cook for about 15 minutes or until the squash is soft and golden and the cheese is bubbling.

Try and wait just long enough that you don’t burn your mouth so much you can’t belt out a chorus or two of Auld Lang Syne later and then start dipping into the soft sweetly infused cheese with bread, crackers, leftover roast veg or anything else you can think of. Just leave a tiny bit in the bottom to get the full effect when you scoop out the yielding and delicious squash onto you bread and devour joyously.

These little squash look adorable and would be a lovely thing to serve to lots of people if you have people round and fancy a doing dips and chips but need something warmer than a tortilla chip and some hummus. They’re easy to make and can be done well in advance, just needing popped in the oven when the time comes. In fact, do a selection of them and create your own fondue fabulous cheeseboard in front of the fire and then feel smug as you tuck in thinking of all those poor people in the taxi queue…

Soft Pretzels

I have long since loved soft pretzels; those artfully twisted chewy doughy salt crusted pieces of joy. I always thought they would taste best from a cart on a New York City street, but then I realised that they can be made by hand at home anytime you fancy one…

I used a recipe from Rachel Allen’s Bake (Page 132) which I’ve mentioned here before as I really like everything I’ve baked from it up til now. Would soft pretzels make or break her winning streak? I was slightly worried as I had an idea that soft pretzels would be extremely complicated. Read more

Rosemary Cookies

To reward you all for being such lovely loyal readers I have decided to share my favourite recipe for homemade biscuits. Rich with butter, but as light and crumbly as air you cannot say no to a second (or a third) of these stunning cookies. They impress everyone who tries them, but are so incredibly easy to make that you’ll never use another biscuit recipe again!

I would love to take credit for this recipe, but I can’t. It comes froms the rather underrated Bake by Rachel Allen. I was given this lovely cookbook a few years ago for Christmas and it has become a real go-to for me when I consider turning the oven on for anything. The recipes are easy to follow, rarely require unusual or hard to obtain ingredients and have so far all worked perfectly for me, none more so than the Basic Cookie Recipe on Page 14.

This simple straightfoward recipe contains just 3 main ingredients in the shape of butter, flour and sugar, but can be customised a million ways to suit your tastes so you never tire of it. In fact, it has become such a staple for me I haven’t managed to try any other cookie or biscuit recipes from this book yet!

For this month’s Invisible Food Walk buffet I had intended to make Nigel Slater’s Iced Marmalade Cake to use up a spare jar of Paddington’s favourite, but at the last minute I realised I didn’t have enough self-raising flour left, so with very little time to spare, I decided to whip up some cookies. To make them more foraging appropriate, I decided to steal an idea from a recent tea party and flavour them with rosemary.

I have never used rosemary in baking before, but having made the lemon and ginger versions of these cookies many a time, I have learned that about a tablespoon of flavouring or spice gives the best results rather than the slightly timid suggestion of 1 teaspoon in the original recipe. I picked a nice big sprig of rosemary from the garden and chopped it as finely as I could be bothered at 8.30 in the morning…

I then followed the recipe as usual, creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding the flour and rosemary. I have made these cookies by hand and as long as your butter is nice and soft, it takes very little time, but a bit of elbow grease for this stage. I have recently invested in Sainsbury’s Basic Hand Mixer and this little miracle takes the effort out of baking for a mere £4.99. All in all with the mixer, I had a lovely buttery dough flecked with pungent oily green rosemary in less than 5 minutes. If you are making these by hand, it’s a great recipe to do with the kids.

The cookie dough is easier to handle if you pop it in the fridge for half an hour, but if you are desperate for biscuits as soon as possible, you can skip this. Roll small balls of the dough and flatten them out slightly, but don’t put them too close together on the baking tray as they do spread out a fair bit when cooking. Then pop them in the oven for around 15 minutes until they look slightly golden round the edges. Leave them on the tray for a minute or two to firm up when you take them out, put the kettle on and voila, you have homemade biscuits in around 30 minutes from start to finish.

If you happen to have dough leftover (not as unlikely as it seems! I often make two batches at once) it will keep, well wrapped, in the fridge for about a week or it can be frozen too. If you roll it into a log shape before chilling or freezing, you can simply cut discs of dough and cook them straight from the freezer to make home baking even easier. Considering it would take me 15 minutes to go out and buy a packet of (vastly inferior) biscuits, I usually keep some of this super easy to make dough in the fridge or freezer if I’m expecting visitors…and since I started offering warm freshly baked cookies as routine, I have a lot more visitors!

By the way, I am going on anecdotal evidence that the rosemary worked well. I went to try one at the Invisible Food Walk and they’d all gone, so I’m guessing it works well! I think I might have to try lavender next…