Category Archives: Picnics

Chocolate rye cookies

The desire for these was fuelled after visiting the excellent Wooster’s Bakery in Bury St Edmunds. There is, to my mind, only one bakery which tops Wooster’s for excellence and that’s Pump Street Bakery in Orford (there used to also be an outpost at Snape Maltings which has gone much to my chagrin). If you ever go to Wooster’s be sure to buy the morning buns. If you ever go to Pump Street the gibassiers are what I aim for.

We went to Wooster’s the other day and I saw giant chocolate rye cookies. But as I was busy ordering a morning bun I didn’t feel I could also have a giant chocolate rye cookie.

But I thought of the rye cookies all week and finally gave in and made my own after looking up a ton of recipes on line. It also helped use some some of the staggering amount of chocolate I’d accumulated in the house.

This is an alteration to a Donna Hay recipe, I adapted it have it contain rye flour: you can up the quantities of rye to normal flour if you want to but I do half and half. Try not to look at the terrifying amount of chocolate there-in and the butter. When I melted the chocolate and butter together one of my daughters said: “there’s a heart attack in a bowl”…this made about twenty cookies. I like to think it spreads the risk. You can of course make them even smaller. I’m afraid I ate nearly three on the day I made them for testing purposes. This I don’t recommend.

I also used a mish-mash of chocolate I had in the house, even including some with pretzel pieces in it. I think as long as you don’t veer too far from half of the chocolate being around the 70% mark you can’t go too wrong. You could also bung in some nuts if you wanted to. (I think macadamias would work really well or pecans or…) But these are perfect, and very popular, just as they are. Don’t be temped to overcook them. They come out of the oven looking very soft in the middle but they harden up.

250g unsalted butter cut into a few pieces

400g of chocolate varying from 40-70% (but you know, if you have a bit of 30% don’t sweat it but you don’t want to go too milky for too much of it). Don’t go too high either and definitely no 100%, this isn’t a masochistic biscuit.

4 eggs

220g granulated (note granulated) sugar

175g soft brown sugar

(this is a lot of sugar, I know. In time I may experiment with lowering it slightly but these are biscuits and if you muck about with the sugar quota too much the biscuits won’t have the proper structure)

Two teaspoons of vanilla extract

150g of plain flour (you could also put a bit of wholemeal in there if you fancy a ‘meatier’ biscuit)

150g dark rye flour

sea salt

Oven to 180C – I used fan so I could bake two trays at once.

Melt the butter and all the chocolate in a large bowl in a bain marie or in a bowl atop a saucepan of simmering water.  Take off when nearly all melted and continue to stir until smooth.

Whisk together the eggs, all of them, the sugars, both of them, and the vanilla. I confess I did this in a freestanding mixer whilst the chocolate was melting because I’m lazy and like leaving a trail of melted chocolate everywhere. I whisked it for quite a long time, very absent mindedly, on low. When the chocolate has melted set aside for five minutes whilst you get the flours together.

Then, add the chocolate to the eggs/sugar mixture – mixing all the while, gently. Now add the flours a tablespoon at a time.

Now put this in the fridge for ten minutes and line your baking sheets with parchment and find an ice cream scoop or a two -ablespoon-measure or similar.

After ten minutes in the fridge, take out the mixture and, using your scoop or spoon, dollop your cookies one at a time on the baking tray which has been lined with parchment. I did six on one tray, five on another. Don’t over cram them. Sprinkle with sea salt before they go into the oven, don’t panic if you forget – you can do it when they are just out or omit it all together.

Put the mixture back in the fridge whilst you bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes (know your oven but do not overbake). They come out and seem quite molten in the middle. Don’t panic.

I use reusable baking liners so I need them asap after the first batched has baked so I very, very carefully fish-sliced the biscuits off the tray onto the cooling rack, placed the baking liner back on the tray and loaded up again from the cookie mixture just out of the fridge. If you are not so confident, then either give the cookies ten minutes on the tray to firm up before transferring to a cooling rack. Or if you are using re-usable baking parchment slide the whole thing onto a cooling rack with great adeptness, tear off some more parchment and start loading on more cookies to bake.

My eldest, who accompanied me to Amsterdam last year, said these were on a parr with the Van Stepele cookies.

Don’t have a heart attack.

 

Nigella’s rather good banana and chocolate bread (which can be gluten free).

I always associate banana bread with Nigella. I think it’s because, it was in one of the first recipes of hers that I read, I’m sure, that she said baking a banana bread filled the house with a fug of domesticity.

Or some such. Since then I’ve made dozens of banana breads and it usually
disappoints, probably because I keep changing recipes. Faced, however, with a huge batch of frozen, overripe bananas in the freezer (I always freeze overripe bananas) and more chocolate than any sane person needs (this is what happens when you get made Chocolate Correspondent of a national newspaper) I decided to have another go at making banana bread.

Also, for complicated reasons that I don’t fully understand myself, I hadn’t cooked or baked anything in weeks when I first made this last year. Which is really not like me, but this glorious little cake gave me my baking mojo back.

For a writer, I am remarkably picture led where recipes are concerned and thus it was that I found this recipe for Nigella’s Gluten-Free Banana Bread and it was, I confess the picture of the large slabs of chocolate which lured me in.  I planned to make it gluten free (why not) but in the end found no rice flour in my flour cupboard so made it with normal plain flour. I also lowered the sugar and used pecans instead. I think this would also be great made in muffin size. I’ve put the recipe below as I made it – do refer to the original if you wish and if you want to make it gluten-free which this ain’t.

 

175g plain flour

100g ground almonds

two teaspoons of baking power

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

a quarter teaspoon of sea salt

500g of very ripe bananas (weighed with skin on)

two teaspoons of vanilla extract

100g Greek yoghurt – full fat

Two eggs

125g light olive oil

100g light brown sugar

100g roughly chopped pecans (or any other nut you like)

150g chopped chocolate – I used a mixture of milk and plain in chocolate chip size and quite large chunks

 

You need a 2lb loaf tin for this (Nigella gives the sizes as 24cm x 12cm and mine was roughly that, why don’t cake tin manufacturers put the volume/measurements on the bottom of their tins?). Line this tin. Preheat the oven to 170C.

Mix together the dry ingredients, thus the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In a larger bowl (for this will be the one everything else ends up in) place the bananas and mash them up, then mix in the vanilla extract, Greek yoghurt and the eggs one at a time. Then the oil and sugar. When all is better unified than a post-Brexit UK, add the dry ingredients bit by bit until combined. Then finally gently fold in the nuts and chocolate.

Dollop all this in the cake tin and bake for about forty minutes. Nigella says 45-55, my oven seems quite fierce so I started checking it after 35 mins. Also it does depend on how much moisture your bananas hold.

You know it’s done when the top is dry, it springs back, it’s shrunk away a little from the sides and a skewer comes out relatively clean (obviously not if you hit a shard of chocolate).

This is a beautiful cake. Unfortunately I can’t find a picture I took of it so this post will be picture-less until I make it again.

 

Olive oil flatbreads

These are so useful to make in a batch and then freeze. To defrost simply leave at room temperature for a bit or microwave for 10 seconds and eat immediately.

I love the meditative nature of making these. I make them on a large, flat skillet pan, prepping the ones still to cook by first rolling them into balls, then squashing into discs and finally rolling them out. I do this in stages – a mini production line – so the gluten has time to relax in between. I can’t get these super thin, but then I don’t really want to. They are really soft and tasty.

I keep them warm in my warming drawer whilst making the whole batch, but a very low oven serves exactly the same purpose.

I make eight out of this recipe, you could make more if you made them smaller as individual (as opposed to ‘tearing’) dipping breads.

 

7g of dried (fast action) yeast

600g strong white bread flour

100ml of extra virgin olive oil (doesn’t have to be super expensive)

350ml of water

half a teaspoon to half a tablespoon of sea salt

(depending on taste. If you’re going to serve these with super-salted food then you don’t have to put too much salt in. The first time make them with the lower amount and see how you go.)

These couldn’t be easier. You mix the 7g of yeast with the 600g strong white bread flour, and mix in the 100ml of olive oil and 350ml of water and, finally, the salt.  Mix to a rough dough just using a fork, and then rest in the bowl for ten minutes whilst you wash your hands and put everything away.

When the ten minutes is up, turn the dough out onto an oiled surface and give it gentle knead for ten seconds, then cover it with a bowl and rest again for ten minutes. Repeat twice more. By this stage you should have a smooth dough, with no bits.

If you plan to make these the same day, oil a bowl, place the dough in it, cover and leave until doubled in size. How long this will take depends on your kitchen. I tend to use a bowl that the original, unproved, dough comes up half way on, that way, I know that when it’s at the surface it’s doubled in size. If you plan to make these later put in a cold place in the fridge (by that I mean, as close to the bottom as possible) for the final prove, you could leave it overnight but I wouldn’t leave it for more than about 12 hours.

When ready to go, take the dough out, lightly knead and divide into eight/how ever many pieces you want to make. Roll into a ball by placing the dough on the flat palm of one hand and cupping the other hand over the top and making circular movements, or whatever works for you.

Then flatten each ball into a disc. Put a dry, large frying pan on a high heat and when you are ready to go roll out as best you can to about 18-20cm – if you’ve divided the dough into eight, obviously smaller if you’re making more than that.

As I said in the intro, you can get into a production line with them, prepping each before it goes on. I get it so that as I put one on to cook, I roll the other one out in preparation so it has time to relax a bit. If you can get them perfectly circular great – I never can.

When ready to cook you slap them into the pan and cook for about 5 mins – if you’re like me you’ll turn them often as I’m a bit of a flipper. You can see they’re done as they brown and go ‘dry’ – no more moist bits. If you need to turn the heat down for the second side do so, but turn up again for the new flat bread going on as it’s the dough hitting the hot skillet heat which causes the bubbles to form, which then blister and blacken.

 

Home made hobnobs

In an attempt to get my mum (who taught me so much about home cooking) to eat more home made biscuits, I made her these. But it was literally just 24hrs before she was back to having her regulation “two biscuits witha mya coffee” (two Rich Tea Biscuits. I had looked up how to make Rich Tea but the general consensus seems to be it’s impossible).

Unlike so many, I don’t particularly like Hobnobs. But these are a good little recipe to have in. People love home made biscuits, it shows love and these aren’t difficult to make. They keep well and you may well have all the ingredients.

You will need:

140g softened unsalted butter

140g granulated sugar

1 tablespoon of milk

1 teaspoon of golden syrup

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

140g self raising flour

110g rolled oats

 

What you do:

Preheat the oven to 150C. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. You will need to do these in batches.

Cream the 140g of butter and 140g granulated sugar together, then beat in the one tablespoon of milk and one teaspoon of golden syrup. Then mix in the 140g of self raising flour, one teaspoon of bicarb and finally the 110g of rolled oats. You can form the ‘dough’ together for the final bit with your hands.

Then take off walnuts sized pieces, roll between your palms to make a ball and place on the tray. On my tray, I can fit six in as these do spread. Flatten gently with your hand and place in oven for about 15 mins. But check after 10 and you may need to go up to 20mins if you make them bigger/smaller or your oven is different to mine. They are done when they are golden.

Leave on the baking parchment for a few moments before sliding the biscuits/parchment onto a cooling rack. I have another piece of baking parchment ready for the next batch to allow them to cool as, for the first few minutes, these biscuits, fresh out of the oven, are quite frangible.

When totally cool put in a nice tin ready for teatime.

Cacao, banana and walnut bars: good for breakfast or post work out.

To my mind, no-one does ‘healthy but delicious snacks’ better than Donna Hay. I’m really not interested in mixing together linseeds and dates and other such stuff if the result is something you might have found in a health food shop circa 1974.

What I love about Hay and her recipes, is that there are no really contrived ingredients, no-one is pretending they are a substitute for broccoli, but if you want something a bit better than a sugar-laden cereal bar, she comes up with the goods.

I adapted these because I just didn’t agree with the number of dates she originally put in (200g) and although I think I have a sweet tooth, it’s evidently not that sweet.

Anyway. I cut these into squares. They freeze brilliantly. They are tasty and nutritious and the sugar hit from the dates and bananas is balanced by the cashews.  I eat them when I want something a bit chocolatey and quick and they have also served as an emergency lunch – with a green smoothie – when I’ve had no time and had to go straight to an interview. I know this makes me sound really virtuous and you know what? I am during the week. At the weekend I can eat whatever I damn well please.

You need

225g cashews, raw (although might try them anon roasted)

120g dessicated coconut

300g ripe bananas (about three)

150g fresh dates, pitted

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

35g raw cacao powder

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

2 tablespoons of cacao nibs

50g chopped walnuts

Method

Oven to 180C. Line a square 20cm tin with baking parchment.

Place everything, save for the walnuts and the cacao nibs, into a food processor and blitz the buggery out of it – Hay recommends 5 minutes I can’t remember how long I did it for. At the end, add half the cacao nibs and pulse a few times.

Shove the mixture into the tin, pressing down with your hands or the back of a spoon and sprinkle on top the remaining cacao nibs and chopped walnuts.

Cook for 25 minutes or thereabouts. Cool, the refrigerate and cut into required shape. Keeps for about a week in the fridge but as I said, I keep half, freeze half and they froze beautifully.

Chestnut marmalade muffins (gluten, wheat, dairy free but don’t let any of that put you off)

These are adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (from his book Light & Easy). The original calls for 75g coconut oil, which I just find too much, and 75g runny honey, which I’ve eased back on just ever so slightly. His recipe also says cook for 25 mins, but mine are done at 17.

It calls for chestnut flour – which isn’t cheap, nor madly readily available. But is delicious and so filling. Don’t be tempted to buy it in bulk, it doesn’t keep for very long.

And you really need an electric whisker unless your arms are super strong. If they are, all respect to you.

These are just so delicious though, and gluten-free if that’s important to you. I love anything to do with chestnuts as it reminds me of my Pa.

Note these make ten. I’ve been making these for a few years now and every time, with my 12-bun tray, it catches me out.

125g chestnut flour

A pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of baking powder

125g marmalade

2 large eggs

70g runny honey

half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

50g coconut oil, melted and cooled.

Pumpkin seeds to sprinkle.

 

Preheat the oven to 170. Line a muffin tin with…muffin cases

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In a food mixer with whisk attachment, put the eggs, honey and vanilla and whisk for, frankly, ages. But about eight minutes. Until the mixture is like a thick mousse and the beaters leave trails when you lift them out.

Now gently and slowly, with the mixer running, spoon in the flour mixture and when all is incorporated whisk again for a few minutes. The mixture will go down to a batter-type one. When done, trickle in the melted coconut oil with a tablespoon of water and whisk for half a minute more. Take off from the mixer and just with a spoon fold in the marmalade.

Spoon the batter into the TEN muffin cases. They won’t come up all the way, that’s how it should be, about 2/3 full. Sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds and bake for  about 20 mins – check after 15. They should be golden and bounce back when you touch them. Depends on your oven of course.

Gingernuts

Gingernuts are not anything I’d really buy in the supermarket but, home made, they are not only delicious, but also super-easy.

This year I decided that, each and every month I would make a positive, healthy change.

This is because I have slid into rather bad habits since late 2016, which was a traumatic year for me. So January was all about giving up NOTHING but instilling an exercise routine – which I have done. And February we are giving up all shop bought cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate etc. (aside from high days and holidays, because my children adore the loathsome Fox’s Party Rings for a birthday..).

But home made we can still have. I’m not ready for any sort of deprivation just yet.

I made these a few weeks ago, for a friend who loves ginger. The original recipe is Delia and I’ve adapted it slightly.  The original is from Delia’s Complete Cookery Course which is from 40 years ago and the original recipe calls for margarine. Delia’s more recent incarnations changed it to butter.

You need

110g self raising flour

Two level teaspoons of ground ginger

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

40g granulated sugar

50g butter, from the fridge, sliced into little pieces

50g golden syrup

1 piece of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped (you could also use the syrup in part exchange for the golden syrup)

This is what you do

Heat the oven to 190C.

Put the flour, ginger, bicarb and sugar into a bowl and mix around. Add the butter and rub between fingers to make like fine breadcrumbs. Now add the chopped stem ginger and the golden syrup. Mix together lightly to form a dough.

Break off little pieces (my mixture made about 12), roll gently between your palms, put on a baking parchment lined tray, flatten with a fork or your hand.

Bake for a scant seven minutes. Delia says 10-15 mins and I’m not sure what would have been going on in her oven back in the day, mine are over cooked at eight minutes so watch them carefully. In 15 minutes these would be incinerated.

Take out, cool, eat, yum.