Tag Archives: tray bakes

Chocolate Indulgence

Thalia II

There are times when only chocolate hits the spot. Despite the sunny weather we’ve experienced this week, it’s still pretty cold here on the Kent/Sussex border. After a mild start to the year in which some of the early daffodils bloomed in January, my beautiful Thalia daffodils are still flowering away, yet the tulips are still for the most part in bud – apart from down at the allotment, where they’re flowering away in the middle of my asparagus bed, strangely! I can’t think it’s warmer at the allotment site, as it’s on an exposed (but sunny) hillside, but perhaps they’re planted less deeply than the bulbs at home. These are the bulbs emptied from last year’s tubs, so I’m delighted they’ve flowered again – but can’t bring myself to pick them as they look so pretty!

Tulips in asparagus bed

My seedlings, sown before my recent skiing holiday, are doing well in the conservatory, but the soil is far too cold to sow straight into the ground, so I’m going to have to hold fire this weekend and hope for warmer weather by the end of the month. Tomorrow’s tasks will include pricking out and potting on the seedlings – and hoping that the conservatory window ledges are big enough to hold the many resulting individual pots! My second-early potatoes can go into the ground, though, as they’re planted sufficiently deeply to avoid any lingering cold or frost.

The house is pleasantly heated by the warmth of the sun from the conservatory during the day, but I still have the heating set to come on morning and evening to take the chill off. Even so, comfort food is definitely the order of the day and that nip in the air means that only chocolate will do! This is one of my favourite indulgent recipes, from Nigella Lawson, and probably amazingly calorific, but absolutely delicious at the same time. Think Marathon bars (or Snickers, if you insist!), only ten times nicer, and you’ll get the picture. To be made once in a while, when you’re in need of a pick-me-up, salty yet sweet at the same time. Just make sure you have plenty of guests to share it with, as it’s far too tempting to sit in a tin and ration….

Nigella’s Chocolate & Peanut Crunchie Bars

Choc and peanut bars

200g milk chocolate
100g dark chocolate
(or any combination, all dark, all milk, etc – I prefer all dark, personally)
125g butter
3 x 15ml golden syrup
250g salted peanuts (yes, salted!)
4 x 40g Crunchie bars

 1 x 25cm round cake tin or 1 baking tray approx 30 x 20 x 5cm

Line tin with foil.
Break chocolate into pieces and put in a saucepan with the butter and syrup.
Melt gently over a low heat, stirring as you go.
Tip the peanuts into a bowl and crush the Crunchie bars in their packets, then add the pieces to the bowl.
Take the melted chocolate off the heat and stir in the nuts and crushed Crunchie bars.
Mix together and tip into your lined tin, pressing down with a spatula.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, then cut into slices, either 24 skinny wedges if using a round tin, or 20-24 large rectangles if using a baking tray.
Enjoy!

My next indulgent recipe is a variation on a brownie that’s suitable for gluten-free visitors as it’s flourless – but definitely not for anyone looking to cut down on their sugar intake! Every now and again, though, you can surely bend the rules and treat yourself to these insanely good brownies? The recipe came from the Waitrose Kitchen magazine in the first place, along with a number of other scrumptious traybakes that I make again and again (see also Rocky Road Flapjack and Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake).

Chocolate Caramel Brownies

300g dark chocolate
250g butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
350g caster sugar
5 eggs, beaten
200g ground almonds
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 397g can Carnation Caramel

Set oven to 160°C fan/Gas 4 and grease a 30 x 20 x 5 cm baking tin, then line with baking parchment.
Melt the dark chocolate with the butter in a large pan over a low heat.
Stir in the vanilla extract and caster sugar, then mix in the 5 beaten eggs, ground almonds and baking powder.
Tip into the prepared tin, then swirl the contents of the can of Carnation Caramel over the top with a knife.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until set on top, but still moist inside.
Leave to cool in the tin before slicing into portions – at least 16!

Here’s hoping the weather picks up soon, so we can get digging to work off all those chocolatey calories….

Nigella's choc and peanut bars with flowers

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All Change for Autumn

Sheffield Park A's photo - colours

I love autumn, but it’s hard to predict what the weather is going to do from one day to the next! We’ve had a very mild spell recently down here in East Sussex, so the gardens are still full of late bloom and the autumn colours have been spectacular. Last weekend we managed to fit in a trip to nearby Sheffield Park (above), a National Trust property renowned for its fantastic foliage at this time of year and were rewarded with a fine sunny afternoon and plenty of photo opportunities. This weekend, it’s still unseasonably warm, but we’ve had so much rain, so no photo shoots today. Yesterday it poured all day long, just letting up in time for our annual village bonfire and fireworks – we didn’t need gloves or hats to watch the spectacle, but wellingtons were definitely in order to negotiate our way through inches of mud and slurry combined! Pity the poor girl I saw tiptoeing through the quagmire in her Ugg boots…..

Today’s been a typical November day: dank and gloomy, but at least dry enough for me to venture out and finish planting up my winter pots. I started a few weeks ago, but the remainder were full of nasturtiums and fibrous begonias and still flowering merrily away. Tulips, too, don’t mind waiting until November to go in, so I wasn’t unduly worried, but I’m glad to have that job ticked off my list now. This year, I’ve gone for two doubles, Antraciet (dark red) and Chato (a deep magenta-pink paeony-flowered beauty), and singles Jan Reus (deep crimson), Request (a scented deep blood orange) and Atlantis (ivory with purple feathering), all ordered from Sarah Raven as usual. I’d kept my daffodil and crocus bulbs from last year, so just mixed them in too. Next year I really will have to order some new oak barrels, as my faithful bulb planters must be getting on for 20 years old now and are definitely showing signs of wear…. I finished the pots off with violet pansies, still going strong in the mild weather, and primroses divided from the garden. Should be a lovely show in spring!

Autumn walk Nov 2015

There’s very little time for gardening at this end of the year once the clocks have gone back, especially by the time I’ve fitted in two dog walks in the limited daylight hours. Still time, though, to nip down to the allotment and bring back handfuls of fresh rocket, coriander, parsley and dill, a perfect head of calabrese, some giant leeks and yet more windfall apples. The beans have all but finished, after a late start, but we really need a frost before I can make a start on the parsnips!

Time, instead, to head back into the kitchen and make some cake for afternoon tea in the late afternoon – I won’t say in front of the fire, as it’s far too warm! This is one of my sons’ favourite tray bakes, originally from a Delia Smith recipe booklet issued in the early 2000s for Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. Perfect with a cup of tea…

Marbled Energy Bars

Marbled energy bar

150g dark chocolate, chopped

150g white chocolate, chopped

100g pecan nuts (or nuts of your choice)

125g dried apricots, chopped (or dried cranberries are nice)

150g oats

25g Rice Krispies

25g bran flakes, lightly crushed (or use corn flakes for a wheat-free option*)

75g raisins (or sultanas)

1 tsp maple syrup

½ can (approx. 150 ml) condensed milk

Heat the oven to 160°C / Gas 4. Toast the pecans on a baking tray for 7 minutes, leave to cool, then chop roughly. Mix together the oats, chopped apricots, pecans, Rice Krispies, bran flakes and raisins in a large bowl. Warm the condensed milk and the maple syrup in a small pan and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix together well and turn into a baking tin measuring 30 cm x 20 cm x 5 cm, pressing down firmly. Cook in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 mins until golden. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate separately in bowls over simmering water as usual (or use the microwave with great care, heating for minute-long burst each time!). Put spoonfuls of each molten chocolate dotted over the cake, alternating the white and dark chocolate. Make sure there are no gaps, then take a skewer and swirl the two chocolates together using a zigzag motion to create a marbled effect. Chill in the fridge until set, then cut into 16 bars. Scrumptious!

* Note that proprietary corn flakes are not guaranteed wheat-free, so make sure you buy special gluten-free ones (and oats, for that matter) if baking for coeliacs.

Tray bakes – Très bon!

Thirty-minute fruit cakeOn a quiet, wet afternoon at the tail end of summer, conjuring up a quick tray bake often feels like exactly the right thing to do. Quick to make, usually with straightforward, readily available ingredients, they’re the ideal way to restock empty cake tins for afternoon tea and unexpected visitors – and your freezer too, should you so choose.

I often make my straightforward Victoria sponge mix (Delia’s classic all-in-one with 6oz SR flour, butter, caster sugar, 1 tsp baking powder and 3 large eggs – sorry, I’ve been making this for so long that it doesn’t come naturally to specify metric units!) and cook it in a deep tin (measuring approx. 30cm x 20cm x 5cm deep) at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When cool, ice with glacé icing or spread with home-made jam and sprinkle over desiccated coconut to make quick and easy Lamingtons. In season, of course, you can add chopped chocolate to the sponge mixture, ice and decorate with mini eggs for the perfect Easter treat. The possibilities are endless.

Another of my favourite tray bakes at this time of year is a Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake that appeared some years ago in a Waitrose Kitchen magazine summer fête special. I’ve cooked quite a few of these recipes and they’re all good (see Rocky Road Flapjacks), but they do make substantial quantities, so cook for a crowd or be prepared to freeze some!

Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake

225g self-raising flour

75g polenta

250g softened butter

250g caster sugar

4 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Juice and zest of 1 lime

2 tbsp milk

150g blackberries

100ml elderflower cordial

6 tbsp granulated sugar

Juice and zest of ½ lime

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large mixing bowl with a hand whisk until light and fluffy. Transfer to the greased and lined tin (see above), then scatter over the washed blackberries. Leave them on top of the mixture as they will inevitably sink as they cook! Bake for 30 minutes at 160°C fan, Gas 4, or until the sponge bounces back when pressed gently with a finger. Leave in the tin while you mix together the elderflower cordial, granulated sugar and juice and zest of ½ lime. Prick the cake all over with a fine skewer, then pour over the cake while it’s still hot and leave in the tin to cool completely. Slice into at least 16 – 20 squares and serve with afternoon tea and a happy grin.

This cake won’t keep more than 3-4 days because of the fresh fruit content – but it’s so delicious, that’s not normally a problem…

Another favourite tray bake when I have limited time to bake is the so-called Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake. It’s now a much-splattered cutting in my ancient recipe scrapbook, so I can’t remember where it came from originally – probably Good Housekeeping magazine. This really is child’s play to make and consists almost entirely of store cupboard ingredients. Served just warm, it’s delightful, but it keeps well in a tin for a good week if necessary.

Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake

125g softened butter

125g soft light brown sugar

Grated rind of 1 lemon (or lime)

2 large eggs

Few drops vanilla extract

150g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

50g glacé cherries, chopped

50g each currants, sultanas and raisins

25g desiccated coconut

25g demerara sugar

50g flaked almonds

Lemon (or lime) juice to mix as required

Grease and base line a deep 28 x 18 cm baking tin. Beat together the first eight ingredients, adding the lemon juice if necessary to create a soft dropping consistency. Then gently mix in the cherries, dried fruit and coconut.

Transfer to the prepared tin and sprinkle the top with demerara sugar and flaked almonds – I don’t actually bother to weigh these, just add what looks right, but I’m sure I must have started off with the recipe amounts back in the mists of time!

Bake at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Slice into 16-20 bars and enjoy!

Leo and the apples

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter

Wet weather on an Easter weekend – what a surprise! Still, at least my raised beds are being rebuilt down at the allotment today, so I can look forward to getting started with the new season’s planting very soon. And it’s a perfect excuse to prepare some chocolatey treats for Easter and my weekend visitors whilst I’m stuck inside. My very kind neighbour, even more baking-mad than me, if that’s possible, has just brought round some warm home-made hot-cross buns, which I’ll look forward to with my cup of tea later.

Tina's hot-cross buns

I was thinking more along the lines of Malteser Rocky Roads for my creation. I first tasted these at an open day at my son’s university (Bath) and felt compelled to hunt down the recipe online when I got home. If their aim was to sweet-talk prospective students into going to Bath, they certainly succeeded – they are scrumptious! I think the recipe I discovered (now a much-splattered cutting in my long-suffering recipe file!) was originally a Gordon Ramsay invention – but I’ve adapted it slightly as ever by adding some dried fruit and reducing the Malteser content – mainly because I couldn’t find bags with the precise Malteser content he specifies! If you want to give the fruit a miss and use all Maltesers, I can vouch for that too….

MALTESER ROCKY ROADS

250g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

50g butter

8 digestive biscuits, crushed

120g Maltesers

55g dried cranberries (or chopped dried apricots or sultanas – your choice!)

60g mini marshmallows

Icing sugar to dust

Line a rectangular 15 cm x 30 cm baking tin with foil and grease lightly.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes so it isn’t too hot when you add the Maltesers.

Stir the crushed biscuits, marshmallows, dried fruit and Maltesers gently into the melted and cooled chocolate until well mixed.

Transfer to the prepared tin and refrigerate until set.

Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Malteser Rocky Roads

Winter weekends in front of the fire

January and February are invariably the bleakest months of the year, with little doing on the gardening front and little inclination to brave the elements apart from the twice-daily dog walks. Far nicer to stay inside and gather together with family and friends in front of a blazing log fire! Fortunately it’s a busy few weeks for birthdays in my family, so plenty of excuses to get together and enjoy good food and convivial company.

Poppy in front of fire

A few weeks ago it was my elder son’s birthday and 14 of us gathered for a delicious lunch in an Indian restaurant at the foot of the castle (Mango Lounge – well worth a visit!), rounded off by a brisk walk in the wintery sunshine of Windsor Great Park to the raucous sound of parakeets. By the time we returned we’d worked up enough of an appetite for birthday cake and my contribution to the feast (as instructed in case the cake didn’t go round!) – chocolate amaretti bars. My son’s girlfriend is increasingly wheat-intolerant; she’s found that she feels so much better if she omits wheat from her diet and has progressed from just cutting down on bread and cake to abandoning it completely. She made the delicious birthday cake, a gooey and scrumptious chocolate mousse cake based on ground almonds, so my challenge was to produce another wheat-free treat.

Adapted from a Mary Berry recipe, the Chocolate and Amaretti Bars are wheat-free and deliciously rich, yet light at the same time, the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea. I love amaretti crumbled into a mixture of whipped cream, natural yogurt and lemon cheese for an ultra-quick and delicious pudding, or squished in the base of a sundae dish as a speedy base for a trifle, or crushed with melted butter and brown sugar as a substitute for a fruit crumble (plums and blackberries being a particularly yummy combination). Here is Mary’s recipe, adapted ever so slightly to the contents of my store cupboard:

Chocolate and Amaretti Bars

4oz butter

2oz flaked almonds (or whole almonds chopped, if you prefer)

2oz pine nuts

3 tbsp golden syrup

7oz dark chocolate, chopped (I use Waitrose Belgian dark)

2 tsp cocoa powder

4oz dried apricots, chopped

1 bag (8oz) amaretti biscuits (I like Doria)

2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur (optional)

Line a deep rectangular cake tin with foil and grease lightly – my favourite one for tray bakes is 7” x 11” x 1”, but use the nearest you have. Put the almonds and pine nuts on an enamel plate in a hot oven (180°C, Gas 4) for 5 minutes or so until golden – watch like a hawk as they catch extremely quickly!). You could dry-fry them in a frying pan or toast them under the grill, but I find the oven method easiest and most reliable for an even golden colour. Put the butter, syrup and half the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and allow to melt, stirring gently every so often. (Add 2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur if using – see below!) Remove from the heat, stir in the sieved cocoa, apricots and nuts, then coarsely crumble in the amaretti biscuits. Stir to mix evenly, then transfer to the prepared tin and level the surface with a spatula. Chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, melt the remaining chocolate (either over a pan of water as before, or I find it as easy to do this in the microwave, for 1-minute bursts, stirring after each session – it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes in all, but don’t forget to stir otherwise it can burn in the centre!). Spread thinly over the top of the cake and leave until set. Cut into 18 bars with a sharp knife and serve – hopefully to general acclaim!

Next time I made these, I added 2 tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur to the chocolate mix after melting, before adding the rest of the ingredients, to make this even more almondy – even better! You can leave it out if you don’t want the alcohol hit, but it works really well. Good as an after-dinner treat, cut into daintier bars…

Amaretti bars