Stained Glass Gingerbread

 

I’ve always thought that ‘stained glass’ window biscuits with their jewelled sugary centres are the most beautiful cookie around, and without doubt perfect for Christmas. Traditionally made to adorn Christmas trees, where the fairy lights can glitter through the colourful centres, they’re also delightful as an extra special Christmas treat to eat. I don’t think they’d work nearly as well at other times of year and so this recipe is another that has been on the back burner ever since I didn’t get to write it up last Christmas!

No cookie can be more festive than gingerbread, it’s certainly what Father Christmas expects when he comes to our house, so that’s what I’ve chosen to surround the bejewelled centres. It may look tricky, but the stained glass effect is simply made from popping a boiled sweet into the hole in this biscuit before baking which melts to fill the gap and then hardens once the cookies are cooling. Do be very careful to either bake them directly onto a greased baking sheet or use non-stick paper. With one batch I made the mistake of using regular baking paper and the results weren’t pretty or easy to prise off at the end!

I’ve made a batch of jewel filled Christmas trees and also these super cute reindeers. Maybe you’ve seen this hack on Pinterest too? The idea is to use a gingerbread man cookie cutter, then turn it upside down to provide a shape that can be piped to look like a reindeer. The most perfect cute Christmas cookie.

Stained Glass Gingerbread Cookies

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, can be soya-free, sesame free, vegetarian and vegan)

Makes 12-15 small cookies, 6-8 large

50g/ 1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

20g/ 2 tbsps cream cheese (I used Tofutti)

75g/ 1/2 cup soft brown sugar

2 tbsps golden syrup

20ml/ 1.5 tbsps dairy-free milk

170g/ 1 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp ground ginger

1 boiled sweet for each cookie

icing sugar

chocolate chips for the eyes

  1. Cream together the dairy-free margarine, dairy-free cream cheese, sugar, syrup and dairy-free milk
  2. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger
  3. Knead into a soft dough
  4. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/2 cm thickness. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Stamp out a hole from each cookie.
  5. Place on a greased or lined (with non-stick baking paper) baking sheet and place a boiled sweet into each hole.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes at 190 degrees centigrade/Gas Mark 5 (10 minutes for soft, 12 for crisp)
  7. Cool on the sheet a little before transferring to a wire rack
  8. To make the reindeers, turn the gingerbread men on their heads and pipe on antlers and ears with icing, add chocolate chips for eyes.

Quick Savoury Straws

Now it’s December we can officially get all Christmassy, which is really exciting as I have an ever expanding list of Christmas themed ideas which I need to get on with. Some of these have been on the back burner for some time, because if they don’t get posted before Christmas then they have to be kept til the following year. This is very frustrating when they’re fantastic recipes that need sharing! As you may have guessed, I have some knock-out sweet recipes lined up for the next few weeks, but here’s an easy savoury snack for the party season.

With so much festive time spent at home or visiting friends and family, the savoury snack has a crucial place for filling gaps between meals or to nibble on with drinks. In my view there’s nothing quite like something with a crispy crunch when you feel like a savoury snack. Having to avoid certain food stuffs really restricts the choices of savoury snacks available – of course no Christmas nuts in this house, no cheese based treats, indeed no Twiglets either – sad times!

Ok there is a choice of certain flavours and brands of crisps which we rely upon (we’re all big crisp fans in this household) and some popcorn brands are a good option but after that the choices get a little dull or difficult. So, the brief is a savoury snack which is easy to make, savoury and tempting too. Something that’s a little reminiscent of a cheese straw – light, crispy and oh so tangy? Welcome then  savoury stars which are irresistible savoury nibbles that are made in a flash. You may say, ‘oh I don’t like marmite so I’ll hate these’. Fair enough, but in my experience even marmite haters tend to enjoy these savoury crispy batons – it’s just a way of giving them a salty tang. I don’t tend to use ‘dairy-free’ cheese often, but on this occasion it does lift the taste to a new level. Make them any length/width you like – the photos show some that are long and elegant, some short and kind of chubby; all equally delicious.

 

Quick Savoury Straws

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 20+

1/2 pack ready made puff pastry

1 tbsp marmite

a few drops of water

a sprinkle of dairy-free grated cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 220 degreesC/gas mark 7
  2. Roll out the pastry, trying to make a nice even rectangle
  3. Thin the marmite with a few drops of water and spread over the pastry. Sprinkle with the dairy-free cheese. A couple of tbsp should be plenty.
  4. Fold the pastry in half and roll it out a little more.
  5. Cut 1cm thick strips and then twist a few times. Place on a lined baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden and puffed up.
  7. They will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.

Chocolate Caramel Bars

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Next up in my series of homemade chocolate bars are a friendly version of my very, very favourite creamy dreamy Caramel. I’ve always loved the combination of sweet sticky runny caramel and smooth chocolate, it’s a match made in heaven. As a child I would always opt for a Cadburys Caramel if given a choice of chocolate, which gives you some insight into my fondness for chocolate and caramel! And I quite liked the bunny in the advert.

Free-from chocolate is ever improving in variety as well as taste, but I’ve never found anything like a caramel bar. Maybe there are some vegan versions but vegan chocolates are rarely suitable for dairy and nut allergies, so we’re left with only the more serious-looking slabs of free-from chocolate to (not) get excited about.

I know one of the things that my girls would most like to experience is a wider choice of chocolates, hence these experiments to make homemade versions. And they always prove popular. And of course, it’s a fun challenge to take on.

The inspiration for this recipe came from making a caramel sauce to serve with brownies. I made it earlier in the day and let it cool. That’s when I noticed that it had thickened nicely on cooling, to a very similar consistency to the filling of a famous brand’s Caramel bar. Bingo, lightbulb moment! Within minutes I was making the chocolate cases for the caramel, and they were ready for an after lunch treat. Honestly, homemade chocolates sound like a total faff, but they can be easy and the results are always thoroughly rewarding. The bars are top notch chocolate bars, with oozy sweet sticky caramel. My dream chocolate made friendly at last.

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Caramel Chocolate Bars

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, can be gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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1/2 cup dairy-free milk

1/2 cup dairy-free margarine

1 cup sugar

2 tbsps syrup (golden or maple)

2 tbsps cornflour

a pinch of flaky salt (optional)

150g dark dairy-free chocolate

  1. First make the caramel filling. Pour the dairy-free milk into a sauce pan. Add the cornflour and gently dissolve over a low heat.
  2. Add the other ingredients (except the chocolate). Add salt if using.
  3. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened enough to easily coat the back of a spoon. Cool and set aside.IMG_3184

To make the bars:

  1. Start by tempering the chocolate. In a microwave or over a Bain Marie, only just melt the chocolate, then stir until all the pieces are melted. You need to bring it down to 31 degrees either by stirring in the bowl until the temp has reduced, adding a little unmelted chocolate or by pouring out onto a cold work top ( I have a marble board which is perfect for the job) and move it around with a palette knife until it has cooled and has turned beautifully shiny.
  2. Pour a blob into each mould and evenly coat all the sides, a small brand new paint brush may help. Leave to set for a few minutes and then paint on another layer (or preferably two more). Place in a cool spot to firm up.IMG_3191
  3. Spoon the cooled caramel into the coated moulds (there will be plenty leftover to use as a warm caramel sauce). Cover with a layer of chocolate, making sure all the gaps are sealed or the caramel will ooze out.IMG_3192
  4. Leave to set and then unmould and consume!IMG_3197

Homemade Mediterranean Veggie Sausages

It’s definitely comfort food time of year; it seems dark most of the time and a bit of warming traditional food is the perfect way to keep the spirits up. Vegetarian sausages can be a great way to have a traditional meal but with a veggie twist – there are a few good varieties but some of the ones you buy can be either unpleasant tasting and trying to be like fake meat (as a veggie, I HATE fake meat) or bland spongy things which are best avoided. Time to create a homemade version!

The Food for Friends (a veggie restaurant based in Brighton) cookbook has a couple of interesting veggie sausage recipes which are definitely worth trying, they are good, but maybe not quite to my taste. So, these are my version;  flavoured with the Mediterranean in mind, using the delicious combo of rocket, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar  – and my, they are lovely! Be warned, the mixture is quite crumbly so it’s definitely worth chilling them in the fridge for a good while before frying. But the resulting mixture is so punchy with umami flavours that we find we can forgive a bit of crumble!

Homemade Mediterranean Veggie Sausages 

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, vegetarian, and vegan)

For 2 sausages, perfect for one person – multiple the amounts for more people

  • 1 slice of wholemeal bread, made into breadcrumbs
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 1-2 tbp of the oil the sun-dried tomatoes came in
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large handful rocket or spinach
  • small bunch of basil
  • seasoning
  1. Best to use a food processor, blend the bread to make fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the tomatoes, balsamic, rocket, basil and garlic and blend to combine. It should look like the texture of green sand
  3. Taste and adjust the seasoning
  4. Tip out onto a sheet of cling film, shape into a large sausage shape and roll tightly. Chill well.
  5. Unwrap and cut into two. Fry in sunflower oil until golden on all sides

Chocolate Twists – The Ultimate Easy Breakfast Pastry

As a family we struggle to find exciting breakfasts, and generally revert to good old toast or cereal. However, sometimes it’s nice to have an exciting, fancy breakfast; one that feels a little more luxurious than the usual. Sadly, it seems to me that most exciting breakfasts involve some combination of dairy, eggs or nuts, which is certainly not ideal in our household, and makes most exciting options out of bounds.

I always feel particularly bad when we go to France and the girls can’t tuck into a crisp flaky croissant or Pain au Chocolat like (it seems) everyone else. I have made my own rather successful Pain au Chocolat which are dairy-free but they do take a good few hours to laminate the layers, and I’m sure not many people have the time to make homemade viennoiserie too often. Personally, I think it’s a great way to spend a day, but then I’m a bit of a baking fanatic 😉

This recipe is essentially a quick an easy version of a chocolate filled breakfast pastry and is based on those chocolate twists you see in coffee shops or bakery counters. I think a twist is a very appealing pastry, with the filling peeping out of the turns between the layers of golden pastry. Served warm with a little dusting of icing sugar these chocolate twists are the perfect, easy breakfast pastry. They also freeze brilliantly, so I bake a batch to freeze then in the morning i place it frozen into the microwave for 20 seconds to thaw, then into the oven for 5 minutes to warm. Ta Da, the perfect fresh warm pastry for breakfast heaven!

Chocolate Twists

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, vegetarian and vegan)

300ml dairy-free milk, I used Oatly

3 tbsp dairy-free margarine, such as Pure

450-500g plain flour

2 tsp dried yeast

50g or 1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp chocolate extract [optional] or vanilla essence

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp cornflour

For the filling:

1/3 cup caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

3 tbsp dairy-free spread

50g dairy-free chocolate, finely chopped [optional]

  1. Melt the margarine and milk together – you want it to be warm and melted but not hot
  2.  In a bowl mix together the flour, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, cornflour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the warm milk.
  3. Bring together to a soft dough and knead until its smooth and bounces back when prodded. Cover and let double in size
  4. Mix together the filling ingredients (except the chopped chocolate) to form a soft paste. Set aside.
  5. Knock back the risen dough and roll out to a large long rectangle
  6. Smear on the chocolate paste. Sprinkle over the chocolate pieces, then fold in half
  7. Cut into even slices and twist each one to form a lovely swirly pastry
  8. Place on lined and greased baking pans and cover and leave to rise again for another half an hour
  9. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 4/375 degrees F
  10. Bake for 17-20 minutes until risen, golden and cooked through
  11. Dust with icing sugar before serving

Super Simple Mini Cupcakes – maybe the easiest recipe in the world!

 

It’s the start of birthday season in this household – we all have Autumn birthdays and so it’s a frantic run up to Christmas filled with various celebrations. Obviously, birthdays need cake and as you can imagine all my cakes are homemade.

These teeny tiny cupcakes were probably the first ever dairy and egg-free sweet recipe I devised, but never the less I get requests for them at every birthday! Maybe it’s their size but these miniature cupcakes always go down a treat; they also freeze brilliantly which is fantastic for being prepared for any situation. They can be defrosted and iced ready to take to a birthday party in a flash, making it easy for my daughters not to feel left out when it comes to the all important cake time!

They are light but tasty and can be made any size, and are very easy to flavour with choc chips, essences or dried fruit. Probably the simplest cupcake recipe you’ll ever come across, this is great one to pass to people who want to cater for an egg-free and dairy-free guest without any unusual ingredients, visits to the supermarket or complicated instructions! I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like them, which really must be the best review going.

Super Simple Mini Cupcakes

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

 

(makes about 12 standard size or around 24 mini cupcakes)

110g plain flour

1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch salt

50g caster sugar

150ml water

40ml sunflower oil

1/2 tsp vanilla extract or other essence of choice

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees and line a muffin/cupcake tin
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Then stir in the sugar
  3. Add flavourings as desired. 40g choc chips or 50g dried fruit plus a splash of extra water
  4. Pour in water and oil and stir until well combined, but don’t over-mix. Some tiny lumps are fine, as with a muffin batter.
  5. 2/3rds fill the cupcake/muffin cases
  6. Bake standard size for 20-25 mins until golden, mini size for 10-15 mins.
  7. Cool and ice if desired.