Category Archives: Sweets

Apple and Walnut Cake

Apple-Cake-(6431)

I am not a big fan of apples. I buy sacks of them but it takes an effort to eat them all. The fact that J doesn’t like them much either doesn’t help. However they will always be forever present in this house, just because they are good and healthy. Any extras will undoubtedly end up in pies or cakes.

I am aware that I should make the most of the wonderful juicy apples here. They grow almost everywhere in England. Although all is not as rosy as it seems. A long time ago there were approximately 1,500 varieties of apples in this country. Now there are only around 500, and we are eating a lot less than that. It seems that we are only buying what looks good on supermarket shelves, many of which are imported from other countries. Pity.

There are many recipes out there for apple cake, but I chose to try one from Nigella’s Domestic Goddess book, or a variation of it anyway. (Turns out that Nigella’s recipe is a twist on one by Anna del Conte.) The original recipe calls for walnuts, listed as an optional ingredient. The thing is though, I did have the walnuts, way above the amount stated. I took the package out of my pantry and placed it right in front of me. However, as is typical when in a rush, or when there’s no peace of mind, I totally forgot about them and ended up with a plain apple cake. Typical. It was delicious anyway but I think it did lack something and I missed them. It would have been better to have them in the cake. There’s always a next time though…

I made this apple cake during the Christmas holidays, since I wanted an easy alternative to the traditional fruity one which can be a little bit too much for two people. This one struck the right balance. (Next time I will try to use baking powder instead of the bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartare.) You will need:

  • 100g sultanas
  • 75ml rum
  • 150ml vegetable oil
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 450g apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon lemon oil (the original recipe doesn’t have this so don’t worry if you don’t have it.)
  • (100g chopped walnuts, optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 175ºC, and grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin. In a small pan with a heavy base, place the sultanas and rum on the hob. When they start bubbling away, take them off the heat and set aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl add the flavourless oil and sugar and start beating, while adding the eggs one by one. Add the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and mix with a large metal spoon. The mixture will be quite stiff here so you do need some elbow grease I’m afraid! Fold in the apples, lemon juice, lemon oil and walnuts if you are including them (you really should I think).
  3. Tip the cake batter into your prepared tin and bake for around 1 hour. Always check if it’s cooked through with a knife or skewer. Eat it warm and make sure to wrap it in foil to keep it moist.

Good with a cup of coffee. Enjoy!

Rob x

Easy Almond Biscotti

Kwarezimal-(5471)

Kwareżimal is a Maltese traditional biscuit made and eaten during Lent. Even though many have abandoned the idea of fasting during the forty days (quaresima) leading up to Easter, these simple bakes are still widely found throughout the island on shops and in homes. My friend M makes wonderful kwareżimal which I cannot get enough of. However what I will give you now is something a little different…

What I have for you here is less of a kwareżimal, and more of a biscotti. It wouldn’t be fair to call them otherwise, mostly because these babies contain eggs and butter; it is more a matter of convenience than anything else. I have taken the liberty of naming them “Cheat’s Kwareżimal” though, hoping not to offend anyone here! I have no idea why I tend to eat almonds (and/or bake with almonds) after the Christmas period. They may be rich but in my mind they are still healthy and good for you.

J came up with this recipe while we were still in MI, and since it always works well for us I decided to leave the measurements in cups rather than grams, as they are in my notebook. To be honest I prefer this way of measuring. For me, it’s quicker and more convenient (and I have an affinity for it because that’s the way I learnt) especially when you use large glass containers for storing baking ingredients. I cannot do this anymore due to the lack of storage space in my kitchen, but I know that one day I will find a way to do this again…eventually that is.

OK, enough talk and let’s get down to the really fun stuff…For 4 large rectangular-shaped portions you will need:

  • 2 cups soft light brown sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups flaked almonds
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten as egg wash
  1. Preheat the oven to 175 ºC/350 ºF and line two large baking trays with parchment or baking paper.
  2. Place the sugar into a large mixing bowl together with the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and almonds and lightly mix these before adding the softened butter. I would recommend using your hands for this (clean, of course!). You risk breaking the flaked almonds if you use a mixer on high speed and I like to see the almonds clearly when cutting into the biscuits.
  3. This mixture will turn into a dough, and when it does place it on a floured surface. Cut this in four approximately equal pieces and roll each one into a log shape.
  4. Place the dough onto the lined baking trays and flatten them into around 1cm thick rectangles. Brush the tops with the egg wash and bake for around 25 to 30 minutes, till they turn golden brown.

Store them in an airtight container and cut as many pieces as you like, as you go. Do not attempt to cut them up before serving since they will almost certainly dry out.To make this even more traditional, you can add lemon peel and a few drops of orange flower water, something found in the Maltese version.

Happy Baking!

Rob x

Chocolate and Banana Muffins

Chocolate-and-Banana-Muffins-(6355)

Making muffins (when I get the hang of it) is one of the most enjoyable things. You see, I find that they give me more excuses to bake…well, not that I *need* many of those. When they’re done well (and I’m not necessarily referring to myself here) they are little parcels of joy, perfect for an afternoon treat for you and for friends. I also have a thing for muffin cases. (Ask J about it – he’ll go on forever!)

Some time ago I received a lovely message from one of my readers asking me for this recipe when I posted a picture of these baked goodies on my Facebook page. I made these chocolate and banana muffins, (adapted from Nigella’s Kitchen) a bunch of times and they always turn out great…and the more I make them, the more I love them. Perhaps it’s because they are so simple and take minutes to prepare, with no fancy gadgetry; bowl, fork, whisk, spoon and muffin tin and you’re set. You can prepare the batter while chatting to your friends or listening to music – that’s how I do it anyway, and it’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon. You will need:

  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • one 12 muffin tin, lined with muffin cases or parchment paper cut in squares
  1. Preheat the oven to 175ºC and prep the muffin tin.
  2. Mash the bananas in a medium-sized bowl with a fork or even with your clean hands. Take a whisk and beat the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla extract and sugar with the bananas. Now take a wooden spoon (to avoid over-beating) and slowly add and mix the flour, sifted cocoa powder and baking powder. Your mixture should be lumpy.
  3. Tip each muffin case with some of the batter, dividing it into 12, and bake for around 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them to avoid burning. (I always take extra care when making muffins, I use to burn muffins a little bit more than I liked! But I’m getting there!) They should be done when their surface bounces back to the touch but insert a skewer in one of them to be sure.
  4. When the muffins have cooled for a little while in the tin, just take them out onto a rack, ready to cover in buttercream if you like.

Enjoy and as always Happy Baking!

Rob x

Easy Brownies

Everyday-Brownies-(6359)

I have to say that the following recipe has nothing to do with Christmas. This year, unfortunately or not, I didn’t really bother much with the preparations, especially when it comes to food. I left everything to the last minute, because I can afford it since I won’t have lots of guests. But I’ll be making some mince pies and a traditional Maltese Christmas log during the weekend (which is simpler than the one they make here. I plan to post something about these in the coming days, with photos of course).

However there’s nothing to stop you from making these beautiful babies for the kids or indeed for a cocktail party, when you want something sweet and dare I say it, easy to eat when your guests are standing up. I promise you that whoever has a taste of these brownies will never guess you made them with ordinary newsagent chocolate. They are really good and not expensive to make, which is indeed useful during the festive season. You need:

  • 150g unsalted butter,
  • 300g light brown sugar
  • 75g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 150g plain or all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 150 milk chocolate, chopped into chunks
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  1. Grease and line a square tin (23 to 25cm; which ever you have) with baking parchment and preheat the oven to 190ºC.
  2. Melt the butter very gently in a medium pan to avoid burning and stir in the sugar. Allow the sugar to melt into the butter.
  3. In a bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add these in the pan with the butter mixture and stir. You will have a very dry mixture here but do not worry. Now remove the pan from the heat.
  4. In a jug (or indeed in the now empty bowl you used for sifting the dry ingredients) whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together, and add these to the pan with the other ingredients.
  5. Stir in the chopped chunks of chocolate and use a spatula to scrape and spread the brownie mixture into your prepared square tin. Bake for around 25 minutes, till the brownies are dry on top but still squidgy in the middle. They will continue to cook for a little while outside of the oven anyway so don’t leave them in too long, even though you will be tempted to. A skewer or knife should *not* come out clean here.
  6. Let them cool and then cut them into 12 to 16 large pieces, but that’s totally up to you. Sprinkle some icing sugar on the top, imagining it was snow if you like. I left mine bare, but I shouldn’t have really!

Enjoy and Happy Holidays! I wish you all the best!

Rob x

(Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, Chatto & Windus, 2010.)

Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Banana Bread

Paul-Hollywood's-Banana-Bread-(6379)

I bake banana bread on a regular basis for a number of reasons; one, because it’s so easy, two, because it’s tasty, and three, because there’s nothing better than a mug of thick hot chocolate to go with it. I have made other recipes for banana bread (or loaf, you can call it what you want) in the past. You will find at least another two in this blog. And most probably I have told you that those were two of my favourites. Well, I have to include this one in that list.

You will find a really good one in Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake (Bloomsbury, 2012). You will find a chocolate and walnut version of this right here, which is almost identical to the version found in the book. Please note that the book version omits the chocolate. It’s a pity I didn’t bother to look for the online version before: it would have made for a much prettier photo. But not to worry…fortunately I *always* have a small stash of chocolate in the pantry, for which I now have use!

The recipe in the book calls for the following:

  • 3-4 large bananas, ripe and mashed
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 125g soft unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 120g walnut pieces

Just follow the link I have given you above for the method. What I did was a little bit different, because I wanted to use up some chopped hazelnuts which as usual were bought for another recipe. (No surprise there!) I had 3 very ripe bananas, 80g walnut pieces, topped the rest with the hazelnuts, and added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, not sure why. Perhaps because I usually do…Enjoy!

Rob x