Caramel muffins

Caramel Muffins

When I last visited the supermarket (how is it that a simple trip to the supermarket is now the most exciting part of the week), I spied a sign for a delicious looking caramel muffin in the coffee shop window. Now a caramel muffin sounds like a great idea, why haven’t i thought of that before? It’s funny how I usually get inspiration from so many different places, now it’s either from a screen or a brief trip out of the house. I do hope that when this is all over we don’t take simple luxuries, like eating out, browsing the shops or just the signs of bustling life for granted.

Since we as family have become rather fond of the new caramel filled Nomo bars (simply the best free-from alternative to a Cadbury’s Caramel that you are likely to find), I had the idea of stuffing the muffins with a square to give a gooey caramel chocolatey centre. This results in a filling that remains gooey even once the muffins have cooled, and an oozy chocolatey caramel simply has to be a good idea. These muffins don’t need the icing, but it does add a bit of extravagance that is very welcome in the rather dismal winter of 2021.

Caramel Muffins

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

makes 6 large muffins

20g caster sugar

25g soft brown sugar

1/2 tbsp baking powder

125g plain flour

pinch of salt

55g dairy-free margarine, melted

75ml dairy-free milk

75ml dairy-free yogurt

30ml golden or maple syrup

1/2 tsp caramel essence (optional)

6 squares of Nomo caramel filled chocolate 

for the icing:

40g dairy-free margarine

80g icing sugar

splash of dairy-free milk

  1. Heat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade. Fill a muffin tray with liners.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Pour in the wet ingredients and combine. You do not want any clumps of raw flour but do not over-mix, a little lumpy is good.
  3. 1/4 fill the liners and then place a square of the chocolate in the middle. Cover with the remaining muffin mix.
  4. I topped mine with some Demerara sugar, but it’s not necessary
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden and a knife comes out clean.
  6. Cool on a wire rack.
  7. If icing, whisk together the icing ingredients and pipe rosettes on the top of each muffin, topped with another square of caramel chocolate if you wish.

Spicy Tomato and Rice Soup

I don’t know about you but I find lunches the most difficult meal to cater for, especially right now where we’re all at home all the time, we have differing timetables and differing ideas over what makes a perfect lunch!

D and I generally have lunch and take the dog for a walk before the girls have even finished their morning lessons, so lunches have to be ready to be reheated or eaten cold. Right now, in mid-Winter slides and sandwiches seem rather less appealing and a hot option is preferred, but then there is the issue of keeping things warm for the lunches in stages. It has transpired that soup ticks all the boxes; it’s warm and nourishing, can easily keep warm and mostly all the family members like it. Also, there is something wonderfully homely about having a pot of soup on the hob and it makes me feel like I’m winning on the lunch front!

This soup is not only very easy to make from mainly store cupboard ingredients but also pleases the ‘bit-a-phobes’ (both children!) who only like smooth soups, but adds extra substance with the addition of rice to keep tummies full until supper time. I add chilli paste to mine as we all like slightly spicy food, but so feel free to leave it out if you’d rather have a more mellow soup for lunch.

Spicy Tomato and Rice Soup

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

serves 4

1 tbsp oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 tsp chilli paste

2 tsps balsamic vinegar

1 tsp sugar

400ml passata

400ml vegetarian stock

1/3 cup rice

1/2 tin sweetcorn (optional)

  1. Heat the oil in a sauce pan and sweat the onion  until soft and translucent – try not to get too much colour. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant.
  2. Stir in the tomato puree and chilli paste (if using) and cook for a further couple of minutes. 
  3. Pour in the tomato passata and vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Taste and season. 
  5. Blitz if you want a very smooth soup and return to the pan and bring back to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
  6. Add the rice to the simmering soup and cook for about 10 minutes, until the rice is cooked through. If using sweetcorn, add a couple of minutes before the end of the cooking.
  7. Serve with a hunk of bread or a sandwich for a hearty and warming lunch.

Sticky Marmalade Cake

Have you been making marmalade? It seems like the thing to do in January. The Seville oranges hit the shelves after Christmas and then suddenly everyone is making marmalade. 
I jumped onto the marmalade bandwagon and made some rather tart but tasty grapefruit marmalade this year and have ended up with so many jars that I’m not quite sure what to do with it all. But it is a very rewarding and thrifty thing to make, with just a few citrus fruits, a ton of sugar and some water and you end up copious amounts of the sticky orange stuff. I used 3 grapefruits and 2 lemons and have ended up with 7 jars of Paddington’s favourite!
In usual times I’d give the jars to friends and family, but as you can’t really see anyone right now and everyone is simply stuck at home, the pantry shelves are groaning with jars of freshly made marmalade! So it is officially operation use up the marmalade. Obviously it’s great on toast, works well in marinades and sauces or for when you want a sweet dish to not be too sweet, such as in a cake or biscuits. 

This marmalade cake is a fantastic combination of sweet sponge with the bitter hints of marmalade running through it, topped with a sweet icing which also has a bitter marmalade edge. You might say it’s a more grown up kind of cake, one that is more akin to accompanying a cup of tea than to a children’s tea party.

Sticky Marmalade Cake

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

makes 1 loaf cake

200g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

1 tbsp cornflour

100g caster sugar

1 tbsp orange or lemon juice

100ml flavourless oil

100ml dairy-free yogurt

125ml dairy-free milk

4 tbsp marmalade

for the icing:

100g icing sugar

1 tbsp warm water

1 tbsp marmalade

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade and line a loaf tin (I used a 2lb tin)
  2. Sift together the flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt and cornflour. Stir in the sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl mix together the oil, yogurt, lemon juice, milk and marmalade. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix to form a smooth batter (there will obviously be some lumps from the peel in the marmalade)
  4. Pour into the lined loaf tin, level off and bake for 45-55 minutes until a knife comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
  6. Mix together the icing ingredients and drizzle over the cake adding a few extra pieces of marmalade peel

Homemade chocolate cookie selection box

Those pretty selection boxes of chocolates or cookies always look so tempting. I think they’re often a little disappointing but they always look like you want to dive in and choose some sweet delight.

Since my mission is always to recreate those delicacies that are not available if you’re avoiding certain foods and so a selection box had to be there! While you can get some free from chocolate boxes these days, I have never seen a friendly biscuit selection box. In fact biscuits are one of the hardest products to buy if you’re dairy, egg and nut free. Most free-from varieties are gluten-free and dairy free but then contain egg. Then the standard biscuits contain milk or traces, and nuts seem to pop up everywhere.

In an ideal world this box would have more variety, but since you can make all of these 4 varieties in just a few more minutes than making a single type, you can have a selection in no time at all! By all means add other fillings, but I find the marshmallow filled cookies are always some of the most requested, plus biscoff and chocolate is such a fantastic combination I just had to add that.

Chocolate Cookie Selection Box

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

makes 16 cookies

30g soft brown sugar (1/4 cup)
150g caster sugar (2/3 cup)
150ml cup sunflower oil, or other flavourless oil (2/3 cup)
60ml dairy-free milk (1/4 cup)
1 tbsp cornflour
190g cups plain flour (1 and 1/2 cups)
25g cup cocoa powder (1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt

for the centres/flavours:
25g cup dairy-free choc chips, 2 marshmallows, halved, 2 tsp biscoff spread,12g white choc chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 Degrees Centigrade/Gas mark 3. 
  2. Whisk together the oil, milk, sugars, and cornflour. It will combine to form a smooth caramel.
  3. Sift in the flour, cocoa, bicarb and salt. Mix well.
  4. Fold in the chocolate chips
  5. Divide the mix into 4. Add white chocolate chips to one quarter.
  6. Roll each mix into tbsp sized balls.
  7. For the filled versions, flatten each ball and place the filling in the centre, then ring up the edges so the filling is completely surrounded by the dough.
  8. Place all the balls slightly apart on the lined baking sheets and flatten a little.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes
  10. Let cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack.

Pear Tart Tatin

You will notice a theme in the coming weeks of comfort and joyful foods that will hopefully brighten your day (as well as mine when I develop and make them) and help us through this darkest of Januarys.
I still find it mind boggling that only a year ago we had no idea what the last year would bring and our lives would turn out so differently. We’ve been lucky with work carrying on from home and schools doing a fantastic job of offering great education from home, but I know it hasn’t been so easy for many many others. People getting seriously ill, losing jobs, struggling with their mental health and opportunities disappearing out the window. It’s just all so sad; i don’t notice on a normal day but then you go into town and see everything shut and it dawns on you that the world is a different place to a few short months ago. Like everyone, I do so hope things get better and we can return to some kind of normality soon.

But in the meantime, what we need is serious comfort food; a great big hug on a plate! Surely a Tart Tatin, with it’s crisp and flaky base topped with delicious caramel and juicy fruit must be the epitome of feel good food.

I think people presume a Tart Tatin is difficult to make but it’s so easy and you only need a few ingredients to make a delicious drool-worthy tart. Apparently created by a happy mistake, the beauty of a good tart Tatin is that a little bit of scruffiness only adds to the appeal. A normal Tart Tatin is laden with butter but you really wouldn’t notice the difference with my friendly version.

Pear Tart Tatin

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

serves 4-6

100g caster sugar

30g dairy-free margarine

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 pears, peeled , cored and cut into 12 wedges each

1/2 pack dairy-free puff pastry (about 250g)

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade
  2. Roll out the pastry and cut out a circle a little bigger than the top of the pan you’re going to use.
  3. Place an oven-proof pan (if you have one) on a medium heat. Add the sugar and let is dissolve until it forms a light golden caramel. Carefully add the margarine and cinnamon (it will splatter a bit) and swirl to combine. Add the pear slices and turn over in the caramel so they are nicely coated.
  4. Either pour into an oven proof dish or use the one you made the caramel in. Neatly arrange the pear slices and let cool for a few minutes
  5. Place the pastry circle on top and tuck the edges in
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry has puffed up and is golden all over
  7. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then place a plate on top of the pan and quickly invert the dish.
  8. Serve wedges with ice cream or dairy-free pouring cream

White Chocolate Cheesecake

Cheesecake of the diary-free variety is the most popular pudding in this household. It has even been requested instead of a birthday cake, which is quite some praise! We’ve always preferred Tofutti as the cream cheese substitute due to the smooth creamy texture and mild flavour. So many dairy-free cream cheeses seem to want to make their product ‘cheesy’ tasting which is (in my opinion) neither authentic nor nice. A conventional cream cheese has a mild, creamy and smooth nature which is not happily replaced by an overly cheesy tasting grainy affair! As you can tell, we’re quite particular about cream cheese substitutes, but that is only because so many of them are frankly awful. Sadly Tofutti is no longer available in the UK – when I last contacted them they were looking for a new distributor but it seems that it is another thing that’s Covid has got in the way of. I still do Tofutti google searches almost weekly but to no avail 😦

So needs must and we have had to make do with Violife which is probably the next best choice after Tofutti (although using it in a bagel like we did with Tofutti is maybe best avoided!).

I have made a delicious Ottolenghi white chocolate and honey cheesecake a few times and have really wanted to make the recipe ‘friendly’. In fact, the addition of white chocolate not only tempers any cheesiness but also gives a fantastic set cheesecake texture. All in all the combination of white chocolate and tart yogurt with the dairy-free cream cheese gives a wonderful finish and I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a go.

It may be January and the time for resolutions and health, but everything is so grim and bleak right now that a celebratory decadent white chocolate cheesecake is just the ticket! I’ve served mine with homemade blueberry compote but a drizzle of honey, or any fruity sauce would make a wonderful finishing touch.

White Chocolate Cheesecake

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

serves 6-8

125g ginger or biscoff biscuits, crushed

40g dairy-free margarine, melted

170g dairy-free cream cheese

50g dairy-free greek style yogurt

20g icing sugar, sifted

zest of 1/2 a lemon

100g dairy-free white chocolate, melted

  1. Mix the melted margarine with the crushed biscuits and press into the base of a spring-form tin. Place in the fridge to firm up
  2. Whisk together the cream cheese, yogurt, icing sugar and zest until totally smooth
  3. Stir in the melted white chocolate until fully combined
  4. Pour over the biscuit base and level off. Place in the fridge for a least an hour to set
  5. Remove the tin and serve in slices drizzled with fruit compote, sauce or a honey