Homemade Fruit and Nut

homemade fruit and nut

Recently we made the decision to get rid of our microwave.  Mainly because it has been sending out sparks regularly, and also because, apart from warming things up like milk, we no longer really have any use for it.  What I mean by that is, everything that we use it for can be done on the hob.  Like melting chocolate, for example.

However, it turns out you really do have to pay attention to detail when transferring these skills to the hob.

I have been trying to make another batch of chocolate slices for the wee boy to take to two of our most treasured girls as a little treat and thank-you for looking after him.   This involves melting some milk chocolate which I used to do in the microwave. Give or take the odd mishap where I forgot that it needs turning in order that the pieces in the centre don’t burn, all went well.

When melting chocolate on the hob, you need to place it in a bowl which sits over a pan of simmering water.  Two elements which in themselves are simple.  For some reason putting them together complicates the issue.  So today, whilst dashing to get everything done in the shortest amount of time, I prepared both pans for the base and chocolate melting, congratulating myself on the way at my efficiency, and set to with the base whilst allowing the chocolate to melt.

Very gradually a strange smell emerged which was familiar, and yet, new.  I looked outside to see if anyone was burning wood but could see nothing.  I then decided to just give the chocolate a stir whilst it was melting which is when I noticed that it was slightly burning on the bottom, rather like it used to in the microwave when I forgot about it.

However, thinking I had rescued the chocolate in time, I turned the heat down and continued with other things.  But the smell intensified, until I had no option but to lift the bowl with the melting chocolate up, as it smelt as though the pan was burning.

It tuns out that I hadn’t even put any water in the pan.

Undeterred by this slight flaw of domestic goddess-ness, I whizzed up some almonds, mixed them with sultanas and put them into the melted, burnished chocolate, spread out on a bit of foil and popped into the fridge.

You know it actually tastes rather delicious.

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Car Biscuits

car biscuits #2

As those of you who read regularly will know, once a week the wee boy and I have our ‘me and you’ day.  Sometimes these days are filled with places to go and people to meet.  Other times they are less busy which affords us the pleasure of doing something we both enjoy.  Baking.  So, by popular request, today we made car biscuits.

There is nothing special about these biscuits other than they are made together, over time and with love.

For those of you who may have the slightest interest, they are in fact, shortbread biscuits.  250g butter, 88g castor sugar, 275g plain flour and 25g semolina.  The semolina is not a necessity needed to make shortbread, but in my experience it gives that extra ‘shortness’ to the biscuit which I find irresistible.  You may, on the other hand, not enjoy such a ‘short’ biscuit in which case just replace the semolina with plain flour.

Mix butter and sugar together but don’t over cream.  Add the flour and semolina until the whole thing starts to chase itself around the bowl and become one.  Roll out on a floured surface until the mixture is half a centimetre or so thick.  Cut out and place on a butter and floured baking tray.  Prick the biscuits to stop them from rising.  Bake in a warmed oven, gas mark 3 until they look ready.

Take off the baking tray and place on a cooling rack.  Dip into melted chocolate.  Leave to cool.

The wee one has not, until recently, been that interested in using shapes to cut out but was quite insistent that we made cars from a cutter he had found in one of those ‘chuck everything in and put the lid on’ boxes.  And then there was the chocolate. We had actually bought some chocolate buttons from a stall in the market, but sadly they disappeared, slowly but surely, until we weren’t left with enough to dip a cornflake in, so ended up buying a cheap bar from somewhere else and just melting it.

Obviously with the amount of ‘quality control’ that was needed throughout the process, we were not able to dip all the cars into the chocolate, however, it’s quite nice to have a mixture.

Meanwhile the delights of stirring, adding, scooping and cutting have been glorious.

And the biscuits?

Delicious, though I say so myself.

Pinata Cake

pinata cake

At last our self imposed ban on sugar is over.  In the days leading up to it we have discussed the various options of where to go from here, and came to the conclusion that we would do natural sugars only.  Fruit, maple syrup, honey etc.

Meanwhile, I was recently very kindly bought a pinata cake tin, and thought it would be a fabulous idea to make one for the Easter weekend, filled with mini eggs.  A pinata, as I’m sure you know, is a container often made of papier-mâché, pottery, cloth or, more recently, cake.  It is decorated and filled with small toys, sweets, or both, and then broken as part of a ceremony or celebration.

This cake tin is round with a semi circular mould placed inside the tin whilst it cooks to create a space (once you make two cakes and stick them together) which can be filled with whatever you fancy.  I made two Victoria sponges and filled half with mini eggs.  So far so good.

A little jam and buttercream later, the top half was carefully attached to the bottom half.

And then, very slowly, almost elegantly, the whole cake began to work with gravity and, as if being filmed in slow motion, fell apart.  Not completely, but it is safe to say the the structure fundamentally changed.

Not one to be defeated, I called on the troops to hold it all together whilst I whipped up some more buttercream and began voraciously, to patch together the ever increasing pieces of a ball-shaped cake.

However, there comes a point in every optimists life, where eventually you have to admit that what you started out making has turned into something else.  Thanks to my inspired big sister, it turns out I had, in fact, made an Easter Mess Cake – catchy, I know.

Of course the other thing about Easter is the ginormous amount of chocolate that fills your life.  Normally for 24 hours only, but still, for that short amount of time it feels as though it may never end.  Although you know the point of chocolate saturation is close when the wee ones begin to offer you their stash.  Which is also the point where all your resolve for ‘natural sugars only’ gets chucked out the window and you gorge with the rest of them.

And then of course, there’s the Easter egg hunt.  This year, thanks to son #1 and my fabulous eldest niece, we had TWO Easter egg hunts, both of which were absolutely wonderful, both of which produced yet more chocolate.

Just between you and me, what with the cake and the chocolate mountain, we’ve probably eaten about six weeks worth of sugar in around six hours…

Love Buns

love buns

Today the wee boy declared he would like to bake.  Very specifically, he would like to bake a chocolate cake.  That is, until I produced from the cupboard that houses all cooking and baking vessels, a silicone mold for baking love buns.

At this point, the wee one whelped with delight and, although having been adamant he wished to bake a cake, changed his allegiance with great haste and plumped for the love bun option.

An excellent choice, I might add.

So we measured and tasted, tasted and measured, then tasted a little more whilst scooping varying amounts into each allotted compartment, tasting for one last time before eventually managing to get a tray of them into the oven.  Remembering to slip a baking tray underneath the love bun mold, as I have made that mistake before.

*awards self ‘good memory’ medal*

Twenty minutes later, the little wonders came out of the oven and the wee one sat and watched with pride, as they cooled.

Well, to be fair, he probably watched them for a good minute before flying off to defeat something or other, regularly coming back to check whether they had, indeed, cooled enough.  To quality control one final time, before allowing me the honour of icing them.

There’s nothing like the taste of a home made bun.  Especially one made with so much love.

Eating Chocolate

chocolate

Well, that’s it for another year.  We have, over the last three days, over indulged in almost everything, and rolled ourselves in and out of bed with an enthusiasm only reserved for Christmas.  At last we are safely snuggled up in front of the fire at home with only one minor crisis now behind us.  That of losing Boba Fett, the wee boy’s Santa present.

The thing about going away for Christmas is that everything needs to be packed up, which we duly did this morning.  The whole floor space was checked over to make sure that not one iota of paper, small piece of lego, or sparkly thing was left behind. So imagine our surprise when, on returning home, we couldn’t find Boba.

All the bags were emptied with an increased fervour, some may call it panic, as it gradually dawned on us that we may have thrown him away, inadvertently, with the copious amounts of recycling that we conscientiously disposed of.

However, we live in an age where telephone calls can be made, and actions put into place.  Situations such as this also serve to remind us that actually, most gifts are replaceable.

Thankfully Boba has been found, hiding behind cushions in the cottage.  Easy to lose, you might think.  Therefore, it is only right I point out that he is a three dimensional figure, who is approximately 40cm tall.

I know, incredible.

Anyway, all is now as it should be and we have absolutely nothing to do except lounge around, eating chocolate.

Chocolate & Nut Cookies

Chocolate & Nut cookies

Now this is the thing.  I know that we are a small global community, which, with the help of NASA and other crazy groups of people, is getting smaller every day.  So it really shouldn’t concern me in the slightest whether something is called a cookie or a biscuit.

But my confession of the day is this.  It is something, like the misspelling of you’re, that I am finding very difficult to get past.  Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. Therefore, I must apologise to all those living in the little village of America, reading this blog, who have taken the word cookie to their hearts.  I’m afraid as hard as I try, I am still not at ease with it’s presence in my vocabulary.

All that said, if I read a recipe that calls itself a cookie, that is what I call it.  I have no intention of cutting my nose off to spite my face.

And so it is, that I have found myself quickly whipping up a batch of someone else’s recipe for cookies.  Well, Jamie Oliver’s to be honest.

The reason for this wee foray into the land of cookies, is that I am taking a couple of things to a parents evening tonight, and thought it may be appropriate to take something dairy free, which this recipe is.  Not only that, but it is also made up of icing sugar, cocoa, vanilla, pecan nuts, hazelnuts and a pinch of salt. That’s it.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Except that the recipe states that I should have vanilla paste, which I don’t, so I have just added vanilla extract.  In my book, if my ingredient has a hint of similarity to the one requested, that’s good enough for me.  I mean, I’m a little busy today and just don’t have the time to even contemplate what a vanilla paste should be.

Onwards and upwards.  Surprisingly, all has gone extremely well, and I have found myself with a perfectly formed batch of dairy free chocolate and nut cookies.

My only concern now is, can I really bring myself to share?

Chocolate Slices

photo (80)

Now these, for any of you who have not had the pleasure, are probably the most delicious tasting pieces of chocolate perfection you will eat in a long while.  More-ish doesn’t even come close, although I must point out that although they do leave you wanting more, if you have more you do begin to feel slightly queasy as the palette can only deal with so much sugar in one sitting.

The recipe, passed down from my mother, has absolutely everything in it you would desire if you have a sweet tooth, or any propensity to be satisfied by the delights of sugary delicacies.   A sweet, chocolate, chewy something, it is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, or as someone said to me this weekend, Guinness. No, I don’t see it either, but I like to believe that I will always respect a persons point of view, and them being able to express it.

As a sideline, a gentleman came up to us this weekend and asked if he could have his face painted as a lion.  He then shared his secret with us.  He was actually a wolf. Now I have to admit that on the outside he didn’t look anything like a wolf, but he obviously felt it on the inside, and who am I to argue?

Back to the slices.  It has come to my attention over the last few years that this type of food has become more popularly referred to as Tiffin.  And indeed, according to some sources, it has all the properties of a ‘Fridge Cake’ barring the raisins.  Biscuits, sugar, syrup etc covered in chocolate.  This usage of the word Tiffin originated in Troon, Scotland during the 1900’s, as did my mother give or take a bit of geography.

However, I know Tiffin as an Indian English word meaning light lunch or afternoon tea.  It is served in the most beautifully designed tiered round metal boxes, which interlink and lock together allowing both the main course and dessert to be sold in one object.  Perfect for train journeys or picnics.  The sweet slabs I make, although great for a picnic, do not have this diversity, and therefore are known as chocolate slices.  That is what they are called in the recipe book and that is what I’m most comfortable with.

And this brings me to the recipe itself.

Melt sugar, syrup, butter, and cocoa powder in a pan on a low heat until everything has combined and is silky smooth.  Take off the heat.  Add the crushed digestive biscuits, mix until they have all been coated in the chocolate sauce and spread out evenly into a dish.  Pour the melted chocolate over the biscuit base and leave to set.

Whilst these are setting phone, text, facebook, tweet or send a letter to friends or family and arrange a rendezvous.  Why?  Well, I am a total advocate of the best foods should be shared philosophy.  Therefore, once set, cut the large slab of chocolate perfection into moderately sized slices, pop in a tin and take round to friends or family.  Put the kettle on, drink a cuppa and indulge yourselves in a little slice of heaven.

I took my chocolate slices to Leeds West Indian Carnival this weekend to sell on a little stall my friends and I have.  Despite the deeply inclement weather, everyone who tasted the chocolate slice went away with a smile on their face.  And that’s ratification enough for me.

Oh, and just to let you know, there is one ingredient I have left out, but then all family recipes have a secret something don’t they?