Tag Archives: Biscuits

Quick bakes

Pett Beach April 2017

A busy bank holiday weekend with family home and my elder son moving house to just up the road (comparatively speaking!) meant I didn’t have much time for baking, but I didn’t want to let the side down with empty cake tins! Cue my very quick and easy rocky road flapjack: dead simple to throw together one evening after cleaning the house and makes enough to take half as a welcome offering. Also gluten-free, which is always a good thing as my son’s fiancée and her mum are both gluten-intolerant.

Saturday was forecast to be the nicest day of the weekend weatherwise, so we headed down to the coast to Pett Level, a fabulous stretch of pebbly beach backed by cliffs, and completely sheltered from the wind on this particular day. Followed up by tea with friends, it was the most perfect afternoon, but left very little time for baking/cooking when we finally got back home, so dinner was quickly assembled freshest Rye scallops on a spinach purée with crispy bacon, salmon fillets with homemade hollandaise sauce, roast asparagus and new potatoes, and a traditional rhubarb pie to finish. It may have been quick, and a joint effort between my younger son and me, but it was also absolutely delicious – and the perfect showcase for seasonal produce.

I barely need to offer a recipe for the pie: just (homemade) buttery shortcrust pastry, rolled out to fit an old-fashioned enamel pie plate, filled with chopped (uncooked) rhubarb – at least 500g, depending how high you want to mound it. It always loses volume when cooked. Don’t forget to sprinkle with 4-5 tbsp sugar, then top with the remaining pastry, seal and trim the edges, glaze with milk (or egg) and a sprinkling of granulated sugar and cook at 200°C (fan) / Gas 6 for 20-25 minutes. It’s certainly not elegant, but it remains one of my favourite desserts for all that; especially the soggy bottom (sorry, Mary) – rhubarb pie wouldn’t be the same without all that delicious syrupy juice at the bottom.

Rhubarb pie
Next day we were all off to my elder son’s to see the new house, and I knew there would be a house full of family and a need for cake as well as a picnic lunch for the workforce! With little time to prepare, lunch was going to be lovely cheese from my local deli, olive sourdough bread and sourdough crackers, and salad with fresh leaves and pea shoots from the allotment. Cake had to be quick, gluten-free and transportable, so with a couple of egg whites in the fridge, left over from last night’s hollandaise sauce, I hit upon these coconut macaroons, a taste from my youth – and ready to go in next to no time.

Coconut & Almond Macaroons – makes 20 or so

Coconut macaroons

2 egg whites
200g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g dessicated coconut
75 – 100g good dark chocolate to drizzle

Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment (I used to use edible rice paper for these when I first made them in the 70s – but they’re much nicer without their papery backing). Set the oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar, followed by the ground almonds and coconut. Place heaped teaspoonfuls onto baking trays, spaced well apart to allow for spreading and bake for 15-20 minutes until a light golden colour. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate (I use a microwave in short bursts), then drizzle over the macaroons when cooled sufficiently.

Mission accomplished – quick and delicious!

The bank holiday itself was a gloomy day weatherwise, as they so often are, but an excellent opportunity to catch up on potting up and sowing seeds, chilling with the weekend newspapers and generally chatting. We all need days like that. It also gave me a chance to experiment with a recipe I’d been keen to try for a while, since buying  some bone and paw-shaped biscuit cutters in Jeremy’s, Tunbridge Wells’ Aladdin’s cave of a kitchen shop. And yes, I know, who bakes their own dog biscuits?! In my defence, I had some gram flour that was past its sell-by date and needed using, son’s dog, the adorable Ollie, has a sensitive constitution and also does better without gluten, so why not see what I could produce?

Cheddar & Rosemary Dog Treats

Dog bones

225g gram flour
50g grated Cheddar cheese
120ml milk
few sprigs rosemary, chopped leaves

Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl until they form a soft dough. Adjust liquid or flour until it can be rolled out on a floured surface. Roll out to 1/2cm thick and cut out with your choice of cutter – I’m sure the dogs won’t mind if you haven’t gone a bone cutter!

Bake in the oven at 160°C (fan) / Gas 4, cool, then store in an airtight tin. My dogs seemed impressed – but then anything with cheese in was always going to go down well….

Poppy at Pett

My final baking of the weekend was a snap decision to bake some almond tuiles to accompany our Monday dessert of luscious rhubarb fool (obviously been watching too much Masterchef!). I used plain flour rather than the rice flour I used last time I wrote about this recipe, but both work well.

Rhubarb fool and tuiles_cropped

Foolish pleasures

Flower teapot We might well regard gardening as a foolish pleasure given the awful weather we’ve had today: heavy rain, verging on sleet at times, wicked winds and a general wintry feel to the day. Hardly what you’d expect from the end of May. I’ve been playing yo-yo with my tomato and courgette plants all week, in and out of the conservatory to harden off in the day and then back in for protection from the chilly nights. Today was so dreadful, I brought the tomatoes back in after an hour when they were all knocked over by the wind like so many spindly skittles…. I had hoped to plant them up in their pots outside this weekend, but I think I may have to delay by another week as my mother, the weather oracle, says it’s finally due to warm up NEXT weekend. Instead, I think I’ll be forced to pot them on into their final pots, but squeeze those into the conservatory overnight without their cane frame and keep my fingers crossed that the weather warms up soon! Courgettes, cucumbers and squashes/pumpkins can definitely wait another week before braving the elements down at the allotment, even though my little grow frame is rapidly running out of room.

I don’t think I can recall such a late start to the season for quite some time: last week I had a lovely day up at the Chelsea Flower Show – clad in winter coat, boots, a cardigan over my dress and a pashmina for good measure! And whilst the sun did come out at some points during the day, I really didn’t feel tempted to divest myself of any surplus layers! Fabulous show though: I loved Jo Thompson’s M&G Retreat garden with its natural swimming pond and romantic pastel planting, and Chris’ Beardshaw’s Healthy Cities garden had a glorious colour palette, as did Adam Frost’s immaculate Homebase garden. The slate-filled Brewin Dolphin garden was also breathtaking close-up, much more so than it appeared on television, with a clever juxtaposition of that beautiful slate, water and delicate naturalistic planting. And whilst I admired Dan Pearson’s artistry in recreating a patch of Chatsworth, for me, it wasn’t a garden, more of a landscape – so definitely wouldn’t have been my choice for Best in Show! Each to their own…

Chris Beardshaw's garden M&G garden retreatThis week I was tempted into my sandals on a sunny visit to the Savill Garden near Windsor, where the azaleas and rhododendrons are in full, heavenly-scented bloom. Unfortunately, it’s back to winter today, though – roll on summer!

Rhubarb and asparagus are still going great guns down on the plot, and I managed to plant my runner and French bean seeds and net all my soft fruit against the birds last weekend, so I feel relatively up-to-date. I even sneaked up after work on Wednesday and weeded my root vegetable bed; the protective fleece covering seems to encourage both the vegetable seeds and the weeds, but hopefully weeding at this stage will allow the baby seedlings to get ahead of the game. Flea beetle have targeted both the radish and swede, but with any luck they won’t destroy the plants. Parsnips, carrots and beetroot are looking very promising, though, despite the odd gap in the rows where the slugs have obviously had a munch – soon topped up with fresh seed.

The constant flow of rhubarb calls for more recipes, both old and new favourites. One old faithful is silky-smooth rhubarb fool, served this time round with gluten-free almond tuiles for added crunch.

Rhubarb Fool

¼ pint custard

1lb rhubarb, chopped into 1 cm pieces

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

4-6 tbsp demerara sugar

¼ pt double cream, softly whipped

Make the custard using 1/2 tbsp custard powder, 1 dsp granulated sugar and ¼ pt milk (or make fresh custard with eggs and sugar if you prefer, although I think the thicker consistency of cornflour-based custard powder works better and stops the fool becoming too runny). Cool slightly whilst cooking the rhubarb.

Cook the chopped rhubarb (no need to peel unless really stringy) in a covered dish in the microwave for 4-5 mins with the grated rind and juice of the orange and the sugar (to taste), until tender. Leave to cool.

Purée the custard and the rhubarb in a food processor until well blended – you may not need all the juice from the rhubarb. Turn into a bowl and fold in the whipped cream. Use a balloon whisk to mix gently together if you can still see bits of cream. Pour into 4-5 sundae dishes and chill.

You could use yogurt instead of custard (or cream), or crème fraîche for that matter, but I love the unctuous mixture of custard and cream. Gooseberries work well too as the rhubarb season comes to an end.

Serve with almond tuiles (or shortbread or amaretti biscuits if you prefer!).

Almond Tuiles

makes about 16

3oz butter

3oz caster sugar

2oz flaked almonds

2oz plain flour (or rice flour for gluten-free)

Pinch salt

Beat together the butter and sugar. Crush the almonds in your hand as you add them to the mixture with the sieved flour and salt. Mix well. Place heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture, spaced well-apart, on baking trays lined with baking parchment – probably only 4-5 on each tray as they will spread while cooking! Cook at 200°C / Gas 6 for about 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the trays and repeat with the rest of the mixture. They will be very soft when you take them out of the oven, but set to a lovely, crisp finish when cold.

The original recipe is with plain flour, but I experimented with rice flour for my gluten-free guest this time and it worked beautifully!