Category Archives: Biscuits

How to make your own salted caramel wagon wheels

What I want to know is, when did this blog become almost exclusively about food? I used to write about coffee machines, and fridges ‘n’ stuff. I think it’s partly to do with laziness, greed and also that as I get more serious in my day job, I want to write about things that comfort and soothe.

This is my excuse for writing about Wagon Wheels a week before Christmas when I have at least twenty-three other things to be doing.

I never liked original Wagon Wheels. So this wasn’t about trying to recreate something I loved, but in more, ahem, nutritious format. This is entirely about being seduced by a picture in a Donna Hay magazine in which she makes them. I hesitated before posting the recipe. These are, by no stretch of the imagination, good for you. They use Fluff – jarred, spreadable marshmallow – which contains corn syrup which is really really bad for you. So you must ASSURE me that you will only make these once a year.

These biscuits are, however, really fun. They are not difficult to make, and can be made in stages. The trickiest bit, I found, was the dipping them in chocolate. There is no easy way to do this and you end up making a great big mess. I made the biscuits differently to how Donna recommended – she uses three tiers and smaller biscuits. In an attempt to recreate a more authentic WW look I went for two tiers and larger.

Big mistake. They end up being quite a biscuit. I’d say probably 500 calories a piece. Which isn’t good. I definitely wouldn’t serve these if Gwyneth were coming round to tea. When I first made them I stored them in the fridge which was a mistake as they go kinda crispy and I didn’t like them so much (so perhaps not a mistake after all). After a few hours out of the fridge and stored in a biscuit jar, they were just perfect. Strangely addictive. People I gave them to started making weird, primal noises. They started telling me they loved me.

Be warned.

Don’t go fooling yourself you will only take one bite of these and not eat the whole thing. So make them small. And make them when you have lots of people coming round so you’re not left alone with them. I made a few changes: I substituted salted caramel for jam as I had a jar of caramel that my friend Helen had made for me and everyone preferred them to the jam version (I made a few with jam to try).

And I used about 2/3rds 34% cocoa chocolate and to 1/3rd 70% cocoa chocolate to coat them instead of doing half of them with white chocolate and half with plain as Donna Hay suggested. I actually think I’d slip into a diabetic coma if I made these with white chocolate.

Anyway, enough chat, here is the recipe as I did them, and the low down.

170g unsalted, softened butter

160g icing sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 teaspoons of honey

1 egg

335g plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

A jar of Fluff – marshmallow spread in a jar

Either a jar of blackberry jam/jelly or salted caramel (I say jelly as that’s all I could fine, not because I’ve gone American)

About 200g high cocoa content milk chocolate (I used Green and Blacks, which is 34%)

100g 70% cocoa chocolate (I always use Waitrose Continental)

Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in an electric mixer (I used the whisk attachment) and beat for 5-7 minutes. Imagine doing this by hand?! Scrape down the sides and then add the honey and egg and beat again for a bit until combined.

Now add the flour, bicarb and baking powder and beat on a low speed until combined – just a minute or so. Flatten the dough into a disc. It will be very soft. Put in cling film and put it in the fridge for about an hour (longer is fine). It should be firm before you start to roll it out.

Now, preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Roll the dough out bit by bit between two pieces of baking parchment until about 5mm thick. This is a very soft dough so after a few rollings out it will be hard to handle so put it back in the fridge if need be.

Cut circles of 5cm. I did larger but as I said, I think that was a mistake as I ended up with a really calorific biscuit!

Place on baking trays – they don’t spread out much so you can go quite close together but not too close. About 1cm is fine.

Bake for just a scant 4-5 minutes, until the edges are just tinged with a golden brownness. Take out of the oven and leave to cool completely. You will need to cook these in batches.

When the biscuits are completely cool it’s just a case of assembling them, then dipping. So, spread one biscuit with the salted caramel, one with fluff and sandwich together. Don’t be too mean with the filling but don’t go mad either. When they are all sandwiched together put in the fridge to firm up for a bit whilst you melt the chocolate in a bowl, atop a saucepan of boiling water.

When melted, dip the biscuits in the chocolate. If there’s an easy, non-messy way to do this, I haven’t discovered it yet. I tried painting the biscuits with chocolate and that worked but left brush marks. After several goes I discovered the best thing to do was coat the edges then dip quickly one side then another. If you end up with bald patches where your fingers were then you can remedy by just spreading a bit over with the back of a spoon. Leave to drip for a few seconds over the chocolate bowl, then leave to set on a rack. Be careful though. If you do like I did one time and put it straight in the fridge, the chocolate will set around the bars of the cooling rack and you will end up with half a wagon wheel when you prise it off.

This is no bad thing in a way, as you immediately lower the calorific value, but it makes a mess. So be aware this can happen.

Do leave them to set in the fridge at some point, then you can store them in a biscuit jar in a cool place, preferably at someone else’s house.

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Hugh’s ten minute cookies

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I don’t know why I haven’t posted this recipe before. Its is the most made biscuit recipe in our house and the most loved. I prefer these biscuits with nuts added, too (macadamia, hazelnuts or almonds, lightly toasted, lend themselves particularly nicely, I think) but although my children go mad for nuts as a separate snack, they prefer these biscuits with just chocolate chunks added.

I do confess, here, to having packets of ready made chocolate chunks in the cupboard, because chopping chocolate is one of my least favourite things. But if you like really big chunks of chocolate, or are really precious about the sort of chocolate you use (as I am for presque everything else) then best to choppahoppa the chocolate yourself. However, I get a rather perverse pleasure from snipping open a packet of chocolate chunks and just chucking them in.

The added bonus these cookies have is that you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften to room temperature – you melt it – before you can start mixing, so these really are super quick to make. They’re still biscuits. Not broccoli, but at least you know they’ve not got hydrogenated fats in them or other crap.

I’ve adapted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s original recipe by upping the chocolate needed (he originally asked for 100g, but I like a chunk or a chip in at least every second bite) and I add at least half wholemeal plain flour. I’ve made these with all wholemeal flour and you really can’t notice, it just lends a certain, lovely, nuttiness. But in order not to get too worthy, the best approach is probably half and half, which is what the recipe asks for here.

So this is what you need:

125g unsalted butter

100g granulated or caster sugar *

75g soft, light, brown sugar *

1 egg

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

150g of plain flour in total. I use 75g white and 75g wholemeal

(I have also made these with 50g white, 50g wholemeal and 50g ground oats and they were delicious)

half a teaspoons of baking powder

A pinch of sea salt

150g chocolate (I use half white, half plain)

[If so wish, 100g toasted macadamia/hazels/almonds]

Preheat the oven to 190C (I use fan on 175 I have to say)

Gently melt the butter. You really do want to be gentle and take it off just as soon as it’s melted. If gets too hot then let it cool slightly before using it. Otherwise the chocolate will melt before you even get the mixture into the oven.

Put the butter into a mixing bowl and to it, add the two types of sugar. Mix together. Now add the egg and teaspoons of vanilla essence. Now mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. When all well blended gently stir through the chocolate chips (and nuts if using).

Onto lined with baking paper biscuit trays, put a tablespoon of mixture per biscuit. I sometimes make these giant, and sometimes make them small. So see how you feel. Leave good space in between. I get about six onto my baking tray when I go large with these. I couldn’t possibly tell you how many these make exactly, since I vary the sizes and often a number of them get eaten before they’re completely cooled, but I’d say about 14-18. As a rough guide.

Bake for 7-9 minutes. If you like them crispy then bake for longer. I like mine chewy so take them out after seven and leave them to cool on the tray for a bit (or slide carefully – baking sheet and all – onto a cooling rack).

That’s it. Now all I need is a really nice cookie jar.

* I like to experiment with cutting down the amount of sugar in things. Sometimes you just can’t though because something magical goes on with certain proportions of sugar/butter/flour. But. I have made these with just 100g of sugar – 50g granulated/caster and 50g of soft brown – and they are delicious and, I think, plenty sweet enough. The consistency changes slightly though. Give it a go and see what you think.

note:  you don’t have to bake these all at once. The mixture will keep for a good few days in the fridge and you can put spoonfuls onto a baking tray and have fresh cookies on the table in minutes. That way you can have freshly baked over more days.

I add a substantial amount of nuts to this mixture for when I make them for grown ups. Roasted, chopped, almonds and hazelnuts work best. I also put the mixture in the fridge as this gives me thicker, squidgier biscuits which I like.

I now have a nice cookie jar.

Rosemary, polenta and olive oil biscuits

IMG_2679These won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I loved them. They’re easy to make, almost impossible to get wrong (unless you chucked them on the floor or something) and unusual. Like rosemary shortbread but with the advantage of no butter at all. I gave these to my father waiting, waiting, for him to say “too rich, too much butter” (this is what he always says about all my baking). So i could pounce and say “aHA, no butter in these NONE NONE and by the way, that New Year’s Even when I said I wasn’t out in a club aged fourteen I WAS and I’ve sustained the lie over thirty years.

Ahem. Exorcising a few ghosts there. I think this would be lovely with some rich vanilla ice cream or maybe a very strong espresso.

The recipe is here, on the Easy Living site. I have to say, I was very much not impressed with Easy Living the magazine in recent times. It had gone all silly and light weight; but they really lost me when they described women who breastfeed (and, I suppose, go on about it?) as breastfeeding Nazis or the Breastapo (I can’t remember which, but you get the idea). This is such an offensive term and belies a real ignorance of history.

I complained, and some flippety gibbet replied, completely not understanding my point. That was it, it was over for me and Easy Living.

The magazine has since folded but exists on line and its recipes are really good, and definitely worth checking out, even if the rest of the content, in my opinion, is as sustaining as a rice cake.

 

How to make your own jaffa cakes

Inside. Luscious. The perspective makes these look giant, they are in fact the same size as regular jaffa cakes. And that’s a three year old holding one.

I bake, not only because I love cakes ‘n’ stuff and I prefer home made, but I bake when I need to feel safe. I find baking immensely therapeutic. The fact that I’m quite skilled at it is helpful because when I’m, say, grappling with a difficult deadline, as if it were a salt water crocodile (and we know how slippy they can be)  I have a need to achieve.  I have an almost pathological need to achieve. Something. Anything.

And when that something happens to result in baking a good biscuit, just baked into a chewy crispness, with hidden little bullets of chocolate. Or a fluffy, jolly cake, heavy with a mascarpone frosting stained red with raspberries, so large that you have to dislocate your jaw to get a slice in…well where’s the fucking harm in that.

When the news makes me feel like the world is too big, baking reminds me that the gentle stirring (or sometimes, vigorous whisking) of a few fine ingredients, can come together to make something good.

This is how I found myself making jaffa cakes.

Jaffa cakes. I don’t even really like jaffa cakes. But they seemed tricky enough to take my mind off all the bad news.

This recipe is from Jamie magazine. They weren’t tricky at all, but they did result in something so excellent and delicious and authentic (similar enough to shop bought ones to not alienate fans, different enough from to entice the not so keen) I had to keep eating them to make sure.

You need:

1 egg
50g caster sugar
65g self raising (I never sift flour but I guess you should)
butter for greasing
250g marmalade
100g 70% cocoa chocolate, chopped
Finely grated zest of half an orange
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
 (the original recipe also asks for a tablespoon of water to use when melting the chocolate) but I didn’t use it and never use water in when melting chocolate).

You need a jam tart tin or shallow ‘bun’ tin with 12 holes. Grease this well, I also dusted it with flour (not from the 65g!)

Oven to 200C.

You do:

Okay so whisk the egg and sugar together, using an electric mixer if you have one (don’t sweat if you haven’t, you think sponge cakes were never made before the advent of the electric mixer?) if not by hand. Get those biceps and triceps working. Beat until the colour has lightened and the mixture has thickened. I’ll admit this is a a hell of a lot easier with an electric mixer.

Now stir in the flour by hand.

This is so easy isn’t it?

Now dollop about a tablespoon of the mixture into each hole, evenly. So if you get it wrong you’ll need to go round and nick a bit from the moulds that have too much.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 mins. Be careful: you want them lightly golden.

When done turn out and let cool. When cool slice in half horizontally. Are you seeing these jaffas taking shape?

Hopefully you’re the sort of person who reads recipes through before embarking on making something. And therefore you’ll know that whilst the cakes are cooling, put the marmalade in a pan, on the stove. I didn’t use the whole 250g but if you have any left over, once cool, you can put it back in the jar.

The sponge cakes fresh out of the oven.

So, heat the marmalade until it’s melted and stirrable and all one big thing and not little clumps of marmalade skulking round the pan, like nervous teenagers circling each other at a party, and then take off the heat and leave to cool. You can leave it for a good 20-30 mins, perhaps more and in fact it’s easier to use when it’s cooler. You could sieve out the peel in the marmalade but come on! Butch up and leave it in. I did and it was delicious.

Note the bit with a slice off? I ate it. Couldn’t wait.

Now. Take a teaspoon of the marmalade and dollop it in the centre of each sponge.

Melt the chocolate, with the orange zest and oil (oil not essential but gives a nice gloss), in a bowl over a pan of water. When melted, spoon over each marmalade covered sponge. What I did was put the cooling rack over a baking tray to catch any drips (ahem, I took it away for the photo below for better contrast), and then pick up each sponge and spoon the chocolate over, spreading it delicatedly with the back of the spoon – you don’t want to compromise the blobs of marmalade – then putting each back on the rack over the tray to catch any drips. And there were hardly any drips. I guess you could be more slap happy and just spoon the chocolate over each sponge whilst they’re sat on the rack and let the chocolate drip gaily.

Just one left to do.

But I think that’s more wasteful.

I ate at least six of these waiting for the chocolate to set. My youngest went potty for them. My eldest doesn’t like jaffa cakes and wasn’t convinced by these.

Make them and tell me what you think.

Home made bourbon biscuits

Although I make almost all the biscuits and cakes we eat, I do think there are some things that are just better shop bought. Shop bought custard creams are just what they are and impossible to replicate at home. (This doesn’t mean I won’t try but I won’t expect to get them to compete with shop bought and compete is the right word here.)

But a few weeks ago, I was out for brunch and gossip a very important business meeting with my friend Fiona Hughes and we went to the Orchard Cafe in London’s Holborn.  On the way out, after we’d devoured extremely good scrambled eggs with home made bread and smoked tomato ketchup, I spotted a giant bourbon biscuit, filled with salted caramel goo.

Now. I don’t eat biscuits and cakes ‘n’ stuff like that, during the week, only at the weekend. And as this was a Tuesday, I couldn’t justify it.

However, because I am a greedy thing at heart, the memory of these biscuits scratched away at me, like a sticky out label on a T-shirt, and eventually I decided to try to make my own.

I finally found a mention of an edition of Jamie Magazine that had a recipe for home made bourbon biscuits and so determined was I, I tracked a back issue down, paid for it and waited for it to arrive.

These biscuits are great. Really, really good. I do of course want to get a specialist rectangular cutter and maybe a Barbieri stamp. [Update: believe it or not, I now have both of these.]  But until then, I just cut a line of these, and then cut the rectangles by hand. It made for a very artisan finish but no less impressive.

You need:

For the biscuits:

50g soft butter, unsalted
50g soft brown sugar (I used dark)
1 tablespoon of golden syrup
110g plain flour
20g good cocoa powder (don’t go using any of that ‘bad’ stuff)
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
a bit of caster sugar for sprinkling

For the filling:

75g icing sugar
50g soft butter
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of cold, strong coffee (use milk if you don’t like coffee, but the coffee really, really adds something)

Put the oven on to gas 150C. You need a baking tray lined with baking parchment.

Either cream the butter and sugar for the biscuits by hand, or use an electric whisk (the recipe calls for latter, I did former). Do this until pale and fluffy. I love the word fluffy.

Then beat in the golden syrup using a wooden spoon (even if you’ve used an electric whisker you’re now instructed to STOP and use a wooden spoon and put your arms to work). Then sift in the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate and beat into an even dough. You may need a few drops of milk. Try not to use it but if you do, literally put the milk in half a teaspoon at a time, you want a fairly dry, low hydration dough not something really sticky.

Turn it out onto a piece of baking parchment and top it with more baking parchment so you roll it out between two sheets of baking parchment. Roll until about 3mm thick. Because you want the biscuit to be crisp, don’t make it too thick, although you can’t make it too thin either. Get the ruler out, this is biscuits for goodness sake. It’s important to get it right.

Cut the dough, however works for you, into about 24 fingers of about 5cm x 3cm. I cut long rectangles and then cut into smaller rectangles. Place on parchment lined baking tray, with about 1cm gap in between (they do rise a bit but not much). I prick with a fork for a birruva pretty pattern.

Sprinkle with caster sugar and cook for 8-10 minutes. Make sure they are cooked, not soft as they won’t harden up much and you really do want these to be crispy not cakey. But of course, don’t overcook (am I being too bossy? I want you to get these right you see).

When done, wipe the sweat from your brown, transfer to a wire rack etc. Cool.

For the filling mix the sugar and butter together, add the cocoa powder. At this point it will look pale and unpromising and you may start to panic. Have faith! When you add the milk (a scant teaspoon, just to bring everything together), it will go dark and glossy and glorious and you will be SO pleased with yourself.

Spread on one biscuit, sandwich with another. Daintily arrange. Eat and be amazed.

Chewy scoop biscuits

 These have just come out of the oven. They are crispy, salty, sugary, chocolately. But not sickly, because that would be wrong.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I keep all my torn out recipes in Muji PP Portfolio books. I have about 12 of them covering different subjects like ‘Everyday’, ‘Pasta’, ‘Fish’ and of course one just for biscuits…

I had cut this recipe out of the Waitrose magazine some time ago and recently refound it. It was the word ‘chewy’ that got me, even though these biscuits aren’t, actually chewy (or I have not found them to be so).

Not that that matters, because they’re delicious, easy to make and – best of all, for me – you can make the dough, shape them and then freeze them so when you fancy home made biscuits you’re only a quarter of an hour away from them. It also means you can cook just a few at a time (important for greedy types such as me).

Anyway, here is the recipe. I didn’t have hazelnuts so I used walnuts. The three types of chocolate is really important, as is the salt (obviously all the ingredients are important. But what I mean is something that seems unimportant, like the salt, is actually crucial in my view).

I didn’t use an ice cream scoop, just shaped them with  my hands into walnut sized balls. My biscuits, as you can see, aren’t flat like those in the magazine.

I found 12 mins was plenty, but my oven is fierce.

If you want to freeze them – and I recommend you do as this dough makes loads, you just shape them and them freeze them spaced out on a tray or plate or something. When frozen, then you can bung them all into a freezer bag (if you bung them all in to begin with they will all freeze stuck together, and you don’t really want that), to pull out and cook – from frozen – whensoever you wish. If cooking from frozen, give them 15 mins.

Cantuccini

Here they are baked and on their sides showing off all their lovely ingredients.

My cousin Mary died recently. For her funeral reception, to celebrate the two very distinct sides of her heritage – Italian and English – I made cantuccini and a Bakewell tart.

If you think you know cantuccini biscuits as some dry little slab of a biscuit, offered as a consolation prize with your cappuccino, think again. These are crisp but moist and delicious. Even though it was a funeral, I got asked for the recipe and even though my father isn’t known for compliments he declared these “first class”. Here, in memory of Mary, who took me out on my first ‘solo’ trip to the newsagent to buy chocolate, and was the first person I remember ever telling me I was pretty, is the recipe. God bless you Mary, I’ll never forget you.

75g butter – it should be very soft
150g icing sugar, no other will do
1 egg, preferably from your own chicken
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of brandy
225g plain flour
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, I implore you not to leave these out
100g almonds and pistachios, roughly chopped *
the zest of half a lemon
the zest of half an orange

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Scrunch it up first and then smooth it out so it lies flat. Cream together the butter and icing sugar. At first this will seem like an impossible task, but believe and it will happen. It’s also a great arm work out. You need to keep going until it’s fluffy and thick and looks like…well, what it is. Icing sugar and butter mixed together. Don’t give up  until you get to that bit, this is the only hard-work part of the recipe.

Then add the egg, mix up a bit, then the vanilla extract, mix up a bit then the brandy, mix up a bit.

Then add the flour and the bicarb, the fennel seeds, nuts and zests. Mix together. You should have a very soft dough. With your hands, man-handle the dough into two log shapes with tapered ends, place on baking paper lined tray and finesse the shape whilst in situ ((I flatten the top a little). These do rise a little so place as far apart as your tray will allow. Don’t worry if it’s only a few cms, but don’t have them touching when they go in as they will fuse together (even that isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not ideal).

Cook for 20-25 mins. The tops should be golden but not super brown.

Just out of the oven. This is the colour they should be.

Slide the whole sheet onto a cooling rack and after about 20mins you can transfer the whole sheet onto a chopping board and slice them into, well, slices. I then transfer them back onto the cooling rack on their sides, so they can cool completely.

I find these so easy to make. They keep well and they’re a lovely biscuit to have in. I hope you enjoy them. They also make great presents wrapped in cellophane bags.

* When I make my own almond milk I use the almond ‘paste’ left over in these biscuits – I use about 80g of the almond paste and then 50g or so of chopped pistachios. Lovely.

Oatmeal biscuits for cheese or a deserving friend

This recipe was, I think, from Sainsbury’s magazine about eleven years ago. I think it was Nigel Slater – apologies if that’s wrong but it’s impossible to remember accurately and who would think I’d be sharing it on a blog a decade plus later? I do however, remember what attracted me to the recipe which is (like so many recipes that attract me, I’m so shallow), the photo accompanying it had a pile of these stacked up.

They just looked so good. And they are. I have been known to make a present of these biscuits with a cheese humidor, and some nice cheeses, to a host(ess) for the weekend.

I don’t think these bics are the same made in a round shapey. They have to be square, and until my dear friend Lucy bought me a square cutter I used to cut round a medium sized Post-it Note…

You need:

50g medium oatmeal

175g wholemeal (plain) flour

2 level teaspoons of baking powder

95g diced (unsalted) butter, but if you use salted, omit the pinch of salt later on

3 level tablespoons caster sugar

3 tablespoons of milk – any fat content

a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Sift the oatmeal, flour, baking powder and salt if using, into a large bowl. Tip any bran that’s left over in the sieve, into the bowl too. Add the butter and the sugar and rub lightly until it resembles breadcrumbs. You can – I do – do this in the food processor using the pulse function but don’t over do it.

Pour in the milk and continue to mix until it’s all moistened. A few more pulses in the processor should do it, but don’t wait for it to come together as if it does you will have overworked it. If you’re unsure, open up the food processor and try to squeeze some of the mixture together – if it holds together fairly easily it’s ready.

Draw it together into a ball/abstract shape and cover. Rest for ten minutes. There is no need to do this in the fridge but if you want to make the pastry in advance, put it in the fridge for a day or two. You will need to take the chill of it (room temperature for a few hours) before you start working with it however.

When you’re ready to make the biscuits, you can flour your table top but I very lightly oil a large chopping board. You do need to roll out the pastry (I hate this bit). When it’s about 5mm thick you can start cutting into whatever shape you want. Mine are approx 3″ square. Don’t make them too thin – they’re more liable to break and burn. You don’t want to overwork the pastry either – don’t make it any work harder than it has to – so I roll these out in two batches. The mixture makes about 16 of them.

Lift them onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment (it’s really worth using baking parchment, trust me). You may need to use a very fine bladed spatula to separate them from the surface you’ve rolled them on. Place on the tray. You can place the fairly close together – but not touching obviously. They do rise, but minutely, so you don’t need to space them really far apart. Get a fork and prick each biscuit three times. I find this unbelievably satisfying.

Cook for 10-12 minutes. My oven is very hot so it only takes 10 minutes. Leave on the tray for five minutes, then gently lift off onto a cooling rack. I’ve left them too long on the baking tray (not using parchment) and they’ve stuck horrendously. So learn from my mistakes!

You can even eat these on their own. They remind me of a really good digestive biscuit. Very nice with cheese and some left over from Christmas cranberry sauce.

Cherry Bakewell Slices for a picnic

The Bakewell slab, before it was liberated into slices. Please note how crumbly my pastry is thanks to my super cold heart and hands.

We went to Southwold at the weekend, and central to this, central to most trips in my life, was a picnic.

We had everything other than something treaty to take with us (like sourdough bread, home made coleslaw and pork pie aren’t treat enough, spoiled bastards that we are). I had some ground almonds I wanted to use up and decided to make individual little clafoutis, until I found out that mostly the recipes I had for clafoutis didn’t really involve ground almonds and anyway I didn’t have enough cherries. But I did have a can of ‘black cherries in syrup’ and lots of ground almonds.

What could I make?

I make a really superb (look, there’s no immodesty in the truth) Bakewell Tart, the recipe for which came from the Waitrose magazine long ago. Believe me when I say you don’t need to search for any other bakewell tart recipe as the Waitrose one cannot be beaten.

But I didn’t want a bakewell tart. I wanted little individual things to pick up. So I thought: bakewell slices.

So I adapted the recipe slightly. First I made the pastry:

200g plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 egg yolks
(you may also need a bit of extra water).

I whizz the flour, sugar and butter in my Magimix, then add the egg yolks and a bit of water if necessary. Don’t overdo it with the water and try to keep the pastry so that it’s just holding together, it shouldn’t be all smooth and one big ball. If you haven’t got gadgets of course you can do this with your fingers and then use a fork to mix the yolks in or something. I don’t know, it’s ages since I didn’t have gadgets.

I never roll out pastry. Life is too damn short. It’s not too short to make your own pastry though cos shop bought really isn’t the same and how long does it take to weigh out a few ingredients and slam them in a blender?

When it’s blended, I just take bits of the pastry and flatten it out into the bottom of whatever tin I’m using, welding it all together with a thumb like a giant pastry jigsaw. In this recipe I used a small Mermaid roasting tin which is about 30cm by 23cm. I lined it first with baking parchment/paper.

Then when you’ve covered the bottom of the tin with pastry in this piece meal but completely acceptable fashion, chill the pastry for about half an hour (perfectly do-able to chill for longer of course).

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 190C. When the pastry has rested, cover with foil, pour on baking beans (sorry, apparently you can use rice too, never tried it, I’ve had baking beans since I was seven, I’ve always been very serious about pastry). Bake blind (this means with nowt in it but the baking beans on the foil) for 15 mins. Then remove the beans (take care they’ll be hot) and bake for a further five minutes.

The filling part 1

Now I have a problem with jam. It’s just too damn sweet. The only shop bought jam I really like is Bonne Maman’s apricot conserve, although I can’t eat the chunky bits of apricot as they scare me. When I make my Bakewell Tart, I use strawberry jam, very thinly spread. But I had that can of black cherries in syrup that I was determined to use up.

So I poured the whole contents of the can into a saucepan and boiled it until it was mush. This takes about 10-15 mins. It makes for a really nice fruity layer which isn’t too worthy (it has got syrup in it after all) but isn’t as teeth-jarring as jam. *See note at bottom. Just use jam or compote if you don’t have cherries in a tin.

Whilst you’re reducing the cherries in syrup, make the filling pt 2:

125g caster sugar
100g very soft unsalted butter
3 eggs
half a teaspoon of almond extract
150g wonderful ground almonds (I LOVE ground almonds)

Mix the butter and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy, this is quite a good work out for your arms and you’ll expend about 12 calories to offset against the calorific value of these slices, then add the eggs, one at a time, mix well, la la la,  then the almond extract and finally fold in the ground almonds.

Spoon the black cherry mush onto the pastry case, then on top spread the topping. It looks like you might not have enough but unless you’re using a giant tin, in which case you haven’t read my instructions, you’ll be fine.

I also like to top it all with flaked almonds, like a handful scattered on top. You can never have enough almonds, rich in protein (so they bring down the GI of anything), calcium and essential fatty acids. How can you go wrong. Unless you’re allergic to nuts of course.

Cook for 25 mins or so, the top should be definitely golden, not pale blonde. When out, tie your hands behind your back and dive in face first. Or alternatively, slice into Mr Kipling type slices, big or small depending on what suits your psyche. You can also drizzle some icing on in that fancy filigree way (50-75g icing sugar with a few teaspoons of water, do it slowly so you have a fairly thick mixture, not too runny but not so thick it blobs on). I do like icing, but remember you’re adding on a whole heap of sugar for that bit of icing, so go easy.

These keep lovely in an tin for a few days and make lovely treats. My boyfriend cries slightly when he eats one.

*update. March 2014. I made these today and I did exactly what it says up there. But. I found that this time, the cherries weren’t enough to cover the base. I’m not sure if the tin was smaller (I don’t think so). I did use a different make so maybe they were just different. Anyway, the point is that I realised that not all tins are equal and I’d hate for you to make this and it not work. So have some jam or compote on stand by just in case, or you know, FORGET THE GODDAMN cherries in a tin altogether and just use jam or compote. It’ll be cheaper, too.