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

Tomato and Balsamic Taralli Biscuits

I’m always looking for new savoury snack ideas as they can be sadly hard to find if you’re on a restricted diet. Breadsticks are mainly out of bounds due to traces of sesame, few crackers are suitable and cheese straws are a obvious no-no! Some crisps and popcorn are good but you can’t always eat crisps, well maybe you can buy you probably shouldn’t!

These little crunchy Italian bites are a great addition to the snacking scene. They savoury, crunchy and moreish – just perfect with an aperitif or to snack on whilst watching a film.

They seem to have been quite a hit as the first batch disappeared in a couple of hours – always a good sign. I think I’ll have to make a couple of extra batches to keep us going through Christmas and to add little bags to my homemade hampers!

Taralli biscuits are often flavoured with fennel but I’ve use balsamic vinegar, sun dried tomato paste and oregano. I think it results in a subtle but delicious savoury taste. If you want to ramp up the flavour use double concentrated tomato purée instead.

Sundreid Tomato and Balsamic Taralli Biscuits

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

makes about 40

250g plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp dried oregano

3 tsp sun-dried tomato paste

20ml cheap balsamic vinegar (don’t waste the good stuff here!)

80ml white one or grape juice

60-80ml extra virgin olive oil

to glaze: 1 tsp tomato paste mixed with 1 tsp dairy-free milk, flaky salt crystals

  1. Stir in the salt and oregano into the flour. Add the tomato paste, olive oil and white wine and bring together to a soft dough.
  2. Knead until silky and smooth.
  3. Wrap and rest in the fridge for at least an hour
  4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade Fan, 190 degrees non-fan
  5. grab small grape sized pieces of the dough and then roll into half cm wide sausages. Cross over the ends to make a loop and place on the lined baking tray while you shape the rest.
  6. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Drop in the Taralli, ten or so at a time and boil until the rise to the surface. This will take a minute or two.
  7. Place back on the lined baking sheet.
  8. Brush with the glaze and sprinkle with the salt. 
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crispy. 
  10. Cool on wire rack. These will get more crunchy as they cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week (if they last that long!)

Berry crumble bars

img_1483It’s suddenly got to that time of year -Winter is most certainly here but it’s not quite Christmas! It may be the craziest year ever with days of lockdown merging into months, ever more depressing news and stress everywhere, but there is still something joyful and comforting in the seasons. I’ve always felt so lucky to live somewhere where years are marked by definite seasons, I think I’d really miss them if I lived somewhere with wet and dry instead.

Winter has its downsides (I’m mainly talking about the dark and the annoying habit of house spiders to scuttle about) but the beauty of the colourful leaves, the bounty of the harvest and the delight of a beautiful chilly morning easily out way them.

It’s time to get cosy, to eat comfort food and delight in the low sun and long shadows. These berry crumble bars are the perfect early Winter treat; comforting but with the remains of summer in the form of the berry jam filling. By all means use a different jam, but I find a berry jam adds a beautiful red band as well as a fresh tartness that brings the shortbread and crumble alive. Although it would be a travesty to only eat them in the Winter – big S has pronounced these her favourite sweet thing I’ve ever baked! That must be saying something as I bake new things all the time!

I’ve made these with both a simple crumble topping, or a fancier crumble and candied seed topping. Both are delicious, just pick the variety you’d prefer.

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Berry Crmble Bars with Candied Seeds
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Berry crumble bars with just the crumble topping

This recipe is inspired and adapted from one in the original Ottolenghi cookbook. I don’t mind admitting that I’m a bit obsessed with Ottolenghi and his amazing flavour filled food, so I was dleighted to be able to adapt one of his delicious recipes to cater for us as a family. I have a few others up my sleeve, so keep watching 🙂

I like to serve these in packed lunches wrapped in paper, for a teatime treat or even warmed slightly and served with custard for an autumnal pudding. They’d even work for a breakfast if you were inclined!

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Berry Crumble Bars (with optional candied seed topping)

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

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makes 12 good sized bars

120g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

60g caster sugar

pinch of salt

75g oats

100g dairy-free margarine

5 or 6 tbsp jam (about half a jar)

for a crumble top:

60g plain flour

40g oats

10g pumpkin seeds (optional)

30g dairy-free margarine

25g demarara sugar

for the candied seeds:

30g 0ats

30g pumpkin seeds

30g sunflower seeds

30g caster sugar

30g dairy-free margarine

20ml dairy free milk

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees Centigrade. Line a square baking tin with non-stick baking paper
  2. Pour the flour, baking owder, salt, caster sugar and oats into a bowl. Cut the margarine into small cubes and add to the bowl. Rub in the margarine with your fingertips until it ressembles fine breadcrumbs
  3. Lightly press the mix into the base of the lined tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  4. Whilst the base is cooking make the crumble top: place the flour, oats, seeds (if using) and demarara sugar into a bowl. Again rub in the margarine until you have a craggy crumble. Set aside.
  5. To make the candied seeds (if using): melt together the margarine, milk and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the oats and seeds.
  6. Once the base has cooled a little, spread over the jam in an even layer.
  7. (if using candied seeds) Spead the seeds over the jam.
  8. Sprinkle over the crumble topping.
  9. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. 
  10. Let cool fully befre cutting into square.
  11. These bars keep for a good week in an airtight container.img_1481

Quick fix biscoff twix

I came across this idea of making a Twix style bar and topping it with Lotus Biscoff spread rather than caramel and immediately had to make a friendly version. Twix bars are sadly missing from our free-from lives and since crunch, Biscoff and chocolate are a match made in heaven, we needed them in our lives as soon as possible. I’ve used dark chocolate as I think it contrasts better with the sweet Biscoff spread, but feel free to use your favourite kind of chocolate.

You basically make some shortbread fingers, top with a good helping of Biscoff spread and then liberally coat in chocolate – what could be simpler? You could make these in moulds for added beauty, but these bars were all about speed and there’s something cosy and comforting about the free form homemade style!

Quick Fix Biscoff Twix Bars

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

makes approx 20 shortbread fingers, half of which will get a Biscoff and chocolate top

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 150g dairy-free margarine (I used Pure sunflower)
  • 1 vanilla pod (I left it out as didn’t have one, but it’s much nicer with)
  • half a jar of biscoff spread
  • 120g dairy-free chocolate
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade
  2. Line a baking sheet with non-stick parchment
  3. Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the sugar and vanilla
  4. Add the dairy-free spread and rub in with fingers. Once it starts to combine, bring together to form a soft dough.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1cm thickness.
  6. Cut into even sized finger shapes
  7. Place on the lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Then turn the baking sheet round and bake for another 10 minutes.
  8. Once the shortbread is golden brown remove from oven. Cool on the baking sheet.
  9. Place the Biscoff spread into a piping bag and pipe a stripe onto of each finger
  10. Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie or a microwave and coat each biscoff finger with an even coating of chocolate and then leave to set

Perfect Vanilla and Chocolate Cake

I have a particular nostalgic fondness for vanilla sponge with chocolate buttercream. It may be an unusual combination but it’s one my mum used to make for birthday cakes; I particularly remember a wonderful hedgehog cake decorated with mini chocolate flakes! I do urge you to give it a go, it may be unconventional but vanilla sponge with chocolate buttercream totally works. The dark bitterness of the chocolate tempers the sweet sponge and the colour contrast adds to the delight.

There are a lot of so-so egg and dairy-free cake recipes out there, particularly vanilla flavoured ones. So often they can be a bit crumbly and dry, or worse flat and rubbery. I’m obviously not counting my own recipes in that assessment (ha ha!) but I have come across some depressingly bad specimens over the years. There is a tendency for vegan cakes to be ‘ok’ rather than delicious, particularly shop bought versions. This vanilla sponge on the other hand is utterly perfect – it’s light and fluffy, but in no way dry and crumbly. It’s so good you’d be forgiven for questioning whether it is vegan! The custard powder is crucial for giving a wonderful crumb and vanilla flavour but if you can’t find it (not all is dairy-free so make sure you check) you can sub cornflour and an extra tsp of vanilla.

Perfect Chocolate and Vanilla Cake

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

makes one sandwich cake

370g self-raising flour

2 tbsps Birds custard powder

220g caster sugar

1 1/2 tsps bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

290ml dairy-free milk

2 tbsps dairy-free yogurt

100g dairy-free margarine, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 5. Grease and line 2 20cm sandwich tins
  2. Sift together the flour, custard powder, bicarb and salt
  3. Stir in the sugar
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the dairy-free milk, melted dairy-free margarine, yogurt and vanilla.
  5. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix gently until well combined.
  6. Pour into the cake tins and bake for 30 minutes, until a knife comes out clean
  7. Cool in the cake tins for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack

for the chocolate buttercream:

40g dairy-free margarine

15g vegetable fat such as Trex

300g icing sugar

30g cocoa powder

2 and 1/2 tbsp dairy-free milk

  1. Whisk together all the ingredients to make a smooth and fluffy icing
  2. Sandwich the cakes together with the icing and then cover the entire cake with the remaining icing.
  3. Cover with a generous amount of sprinkles

Chocolate Cornflake Cookies aka Afghan Cookies

Since I seem to be on a cereal tip at the moment, here’s another cookie recipe featuring cornflakes.An update of a recipe first posted way back in 2016 these cookies definitely worthy of making, not just sitting way back in my old blog posts.

First created after a bit of research into International cookies and to help ‘ Spring cleaning’ my larder, using up bits and bobs that had been lurking at the back of the shelves. As you can imagine, my larder is pretty stuffed with ingredients, so any additional space is always most welcome. So, that large half-used pack of cornflakes was definitely in my sights. It was using up far too much space! And that cookie jar needed filling.

Apparently chocolate cornflake cookies, also known as Afghan cookies are extremely popular in New Zealand. Worth investigating, I thought. The traditional Afghan cookie is a chocolate cookie, studded with crunchy cornflakes, topped with a rich ganache and with a walnut sitting on top. I’m obviously going to skip the walnuts, but the rest is pretty much fitting the brief. There are many theories as to the origins of the name because these cookies are all Kiwi rather than Afghan. One is that they might have been sent to soldiers fighting in the second Afghan war in the 19th Century by their wives back in New Zealand. Like a predecessor to the more universally known Anzac cookies. Or another theory is that they could just look like the mountainous landscape of Afghanistan.

I hope you like these crunchy chocolatey biscuits – they went down a treat here

Chocolate Cornflake Cookies aka Afghan Cookies

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

 

200g dairy-free margarine

50g soft brown sugar

50g caster sugar

175g plain flour

25g cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking powder

1tbsp dairy-free milk

50g cornflakes

  1. Cream together the margarine and sugars.
  2. Stir in the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Adding the dairy-free milk to slacken the mixture and making it easier to combine.
  3. Gently stir in the cornflakes, trying to keep them as whole as possible
  4. Place tablespoons of the mixture into a lined baking sheet, with enough room to spread. Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade
  6. Cool on a wire rack

For the icing:

1tbsp water

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsps dairy-free margarine

1/2 cup icing sugar

1 tbsp cocoa powder

  1. Melt together the water, caster sugar, vanilla and  margarine. Bring to a bubbling syrup and then pour in the cocoa powder and icing sugar. Stir to form glossy icing.
  2. Spread over the cookies and leave to set.