Pain Perdu aka French Toast

Pain perdu, French toast, gypsy toast, eggy bread – whatever you call it, this dish is a brilliant one to have in your repertoire. Basically, it’s a batter soaked stale bread made into a sweet or savoury dish, perfect for a quick breakfast, brunch, lunch, pudding or snack. Plus it’s a great way to use up some state bread, you can’t argue with a recipe that does that!

I’ve been attending a plant-based patisserie course to extend my knowledge and I’ve learnt so much, it’s been just brilliant and it’s really going to enhance my recipes 😊 

Last week we made brioche with no butter or eggs – I’ve made a brioche before but the techniques I’ve recently learnt give a much improved rich, but light result and it was the perfect bread to turn into a platter of pain perdu. Like many home baked breads, it went stale fast – making it the perfect vehicle for this new improved recipe.

Dairy-free and egg-free brioche

Don’t worry if you don’t have homemade plant-based brioche on hand (I’m sure not many people will!), any slightly stale sliced bread will do. You’d think you might miss the eggs in an ‘eggy bread’ recipe, but as the principle is soaking the bread in a batter (and pancakes work pretty well being egg-free), this recipe is equally successful. In fact, this recipe just uses some leftovers (stale bread) plus a few store cupboard essentials to combine to make a rather superior dish. If you don’t have any stale bread, just cut some slices an hour or so early and leave out to air dry and you’re good to go.

I’ve flavoured my batter with cinnamon but you don’t have to if you’d rather no spice, or vanilla would be rather lovely too. Serve your pain perdu with berries, a sprinkle of icing sugar and a squeeze of honey or syrup for a delightful quick and easy sweet treat.

Pain Perdu

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

30g flour

20g cornflour

30g caster sugar

½ tsp cinnamon (optional)

Pinch of salt

120g dairy-free milk

6-8 slices of slightly stale bread

  1. Sift the flour and cornflour into a shallow bowl, stir in the sugar, salt and cinnamon (if using).
  2. Pour in 1/3rd of the milk whisking together to make a paste, then add the rest in two further additions. This helps avoid lumps forming in the batter – you can of course add the milk in one go if you’re not so bothered about a few small lumps! Let the batter rest for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Place a frying pan on the heat to warm up.
  4. Place the bread slices in the batter, letting them soak up the batter for a couple of minutes before turning over and making sure both sides are drenched in batter.
  5. Melt a knob of vegan butter or 1 tsp of oil in the pan. Drop in a drip of the batter, if it sizzles then you’re ready to add the batter soaked bread
  6. Fry the slices until golden on each side.
  7. Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar and drizzled with syrup. A garnish of berries is also rather nice.

Sensational Scones

You’ve got to love scones; light, fluffy, just sweet enough and the perfect carrier for a delicious topping. No proper afternoon tea is right without a batch of warm scones, and this recipe always goes down a storm. You can even freeze them, defrost, pop into the oven for a couple of minutes and then you can have an elegant afternoon tea in a flash.

When we had our stressful tea at Pan Pacific we met Cherish Finden and she said that scones were the most difficult thing to recreate free-from. Now these aren’t gluten-free (but I know others who make them gluten-free), but I can assure you that these are just as good as a traditional scone. Go on, give them a go and let me know what you think?


The most crucial part of scone making is a light touch – you must add air whilst rubbing in the margarine and definitely no kneading! Just very lightly bring together the dough and you’ll have some sensational scones. Just add some jam and dairy-free whipped cream and you can have a sensational tea at home.


Sensational Scones

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

  • makes 10-12
    • 450g plain flour
    • 3 tsps baking powder
    • pinch of salt
    • 75g dairy-free margarine
    • 70g soft brown sugar
    • 300ml dairy-free milk
    • 1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)
    • 2 tbsp Demerara or granulated sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas mark 6
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the salt. Stir in the sugar.
  3. With your fingertips, gently rub in the dairy-free margarine until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  4. Make a well in the centre and pour in the dairy-free milk and vanilla essence (if using).
  5. Bring together to a very soft, sticky dough. Turn onto a floured surface and very gently bring together to a soft, smooth dough.
  6. Pat out with your fingers until 3 cm thick.– Cut out with a well-floured 6cm cookie cutter (or whatever size you choose)
  7. Place on an oiled and floured baking sheet. Brush the tops with dairy-free milk and sprinkle with Demerara or granulated sugar.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden on top.– Cool on a wire rack.

Tropical Granola Bars

 There’s something so handy about a cereal or granola bar, the can fit into so many situations – breakfast on the run, a quick pre-lunch snack, a picnic staple, or a post-workout refuel. As people are heading back into offices, these could be the perfect accompaniment to a sandwich in a packed lunch.

 When I used to go into an office regularly I always felt super pleased if I had a homemade packed lunch addition, rather than an additive filled less superior shop bought bar; hopefully these will make you just as pleased too 😊

This recipe is loosely based upon Yotam Ottolenghi’s Granola Bar recipe form the original ‘The Cookbook’, so you know they have good pedigree, and they have to taste delicious.

 

Tropical Granola Bars

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

 Makes 8 large bars

 

22g dried cranberries or sultanas

22g dried mango, chopped

22g dried pineapple, chopped

120g oats

22g sunflower seeds

15g desiccated coconut

50g dairy-free margarine

50g golden syrup or honey

50g demerara sugar

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cinnamon

 

  1. Place the dried fruits into a bowl, cover with hot water and leave to soften for ten minutes. Then drain.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Centigrade
  3. Line a 2lb loaf tin with parchment
  4. In a bowl, mix together the oats, sunflower seeds, drained dried fruit and coconut and set aside.
  5. In a large saucepan melt together the margarine, syrup and sugar until the sugar has totally dissolved.
  6. Fold in the oat and fruit mixture, adding the salt and cinnamon. Make sure the mixture is well combined.
  7. Tip the mixture into the lined loaf tin, press down and level off.
  8. Bake for 22 minutes until starting to turn golden around the edges.
  9. Remove from the tin and cool completely before cutting into bars.
  10. These bars keep well for up to a week if placed in an airtight container.

Iced Buns

IMG_4827
2014 photo!

Here we have another updated recipe. I rarely make Iced Buns but this has been another recipe that has gathered a lot of great comments and likes over the years, so it needed revisiting, updating and embellishing with some shiny new photos! (Although I have kept one of the previous photos just for my own nostalgia – haven’t cameras improved over the past years!)

Iced buns, viewed in the window of any English bakery, are a must for a collection of comfort food. For some reason they make me think of roaring fires and cosy knitwear – odd I know! Apparently some iced buns found in supermarkets are dairy-free, but I’ve never found any that are also nut-free – if you know of any safe brands please let me know?

Anyway, these iced buns are the perfect tea time treat, and this recipe will give you authentic but friendly buns to please your friends and family. They certainly go down a treat in this house 🙂

Iced Buns 

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

makes 6

  • 150ml dairy-free milk
  • 50g dairy-free margarine
  • 260g strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3g or 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 50g caster sugar

for the icing:

  • 175g icing sugar
  • 1 to 2 tbsp water

– Melt the margarine into the milk (don’t make it more than tepid though)
– Place the flour, salt, yeast and caster sugar in a bowl and pour in the warmed milk and margarine mixture.
– Bring to a dough and knead until smooth and bounces back when you press a finger onto the surface.
– Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to double in size in a warm place.
– Divide into 6 even sized pieces and form into balls, then roll out to sausage shapes, trying to make them nice and even.
– Place about 1cm apart on a lined baking sheet, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes
– Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade/180 degrees fan, or gas mark 4
– Bake for 15 minutes until golden, risen and they sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

– Meanwhile, make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and water to form a very thick, smooth icing. Start by adding 1 tbsp of water and gradually add more as required.
– Once the buns are cool top with the thick water icing.

Bounty flapjacks

Well , doesn’t it truly feel like we’ve been in January for about 3 months so far? What is it about the post Christmas/New Year period where everything seems to slow down and weeks drag on forever?

It also means that we’re well back into the routine of packed lunches and working lunches, so I needed some tasty additions to pop in along with the usual sandwiches. Flapjacks are a brilliant packed lunch option – they’re slow release energy oats but also bundles of sugar to keep the spirits and energy levels up. People seem to presume that flapjacks are healthy because they’re made of oats, all I can say is that they surely have never made their own as they’d know how much sugar/syrup they contain!

We particularly like coconut flapjacks, and this recipe is a riff on that, Bounty flapjacks featuring a coconutty flapjack base and then a dark chocolate and coconut topping. These little bites of paradise will certainly help you get through the never ending January days!

Bounty Flapjacks

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

  • 200g dairy free margarine
  • 200g demerara sugar
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 400g oats (preferably not giant oats)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (preferably fleur de sel)
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 85g dark dairy-free chocolate
  •  
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Centigrade
  2. Line a 30×20 cm (approx.) baking tray with parchment
  3. Melt together the dairy free margarine, sugar, syrup and salt
  4. When the sugar has dissolved mix in the oats and coconut (keeping aside 1 tbsp of coconut for the topping)
  5. Spread into the lined baking tray
  6. Bake for 15-20 mins until golden
  7. Cool well before cutting into bars/squares.
  8. Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the bars, sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top

Tomato and Olive Focaccia

Are you getting to that post Christmas stage when you’re running out of bread and all the fresh stuff? We were in desperate need of bread for lunch today and this recipe is just perfect. It’s quick to make so can be rustled up in a morning and you can use either plain or bread flour depending on what you have in the larder.

Since our lovely (if eventful!) meal at La Pala d’Oro in Malaga (see my post on Malaga with allergies), Little S has taken to olive focaccia; and as she’s recovering from a nasty bout of Covid (gosh, it really is an unpleasant virus) and an upsetting isolation over Christmas 😢, I wanted to make her something she’d really love. It’s not surprising that she finds olive focaccia delicious, as the salty olives give a wonderful pop of savoury flavour in the soft oily bread, it’s a match made in heaven. However, Big S is also no fan of olives, in fact nothing will persuade her they’re nice. So here we have a tomato focaccia half studded with olives and half without – then everyone is happy! This loaf is perfect served with a bowl of soup on a wintery lunchtime but also makes a superior snack at anytime, especially when dipped in a good quality oil and balsamic – yummy!

If you can find Belazu tomato and balsamic paste you will notice the difference – like all their products I’ve tried, they really do make exceptional pastes, sauces etc that add depth and interest to any dish.

 Tomato and Olive Focaccia

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

makes 1 loaf

  • 250g plain or bread flour
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste, I used Belazu tomato and balsamic paste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 150-160ml cold water
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp oil and sea salt for the top
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • A handful of olives
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast and salt.
  2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the olive oil, tomato paste and water.
  3. Bring together to form a slightly sticky dough, then knead well to make it smooth and silky. If you have a mixer with dough hooks, it would work perfectly.
  4. Drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the oil and knead well again until the oil is incorporated into the dough.
  5. Place in a bowl and cover. Leave to double in size. This will take an hour or two.
  6. Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment.
  7. Knock back the dough and press into the lined baking tray, making sure it reaches the corners. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  8. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Centigrade/210 fan/Gas mark 7
  9. Drizzle the tomato and oil mix over the dough and then dimple the top of the focaccia with your fingertip and press in the olives and scatter on some sea salt and the oregano.
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden. Brush with a little more oil to give a lovely sheen and cool on a wire rack.
  11. Best eaten fresh, but will keep for a couple of days if well wrapped in parchment. Also freezes brilliantly.

Samosa Santa’s Sacks

I used to make Santa’s sacks for the girls every year in the run up to Christmas. Back when they were much younger with less sophisticated taste buds I made them filled with mashed potato and sweetcorn to represent the gold coins/toys in Santa’s sack. Every year they’d eagerly await the roll out of Christmas cooking with iced gingerbread, yule log and Santa’s sacks all top of the wish list!

 Whilst they still get the same excitement from the introduction of Christmas foods, this year I’ve decided to make Santa’s sacks more flavourful, and worthy of starter position in our Christmas lunch. We love homemade samosas, so I’ve filled the little parcels with a gorgeous curried pea and potato mix and I am going to serve them with a swoosh of mango chutney. If you don’t want to make sacks the filling makes a fabulous traditional samosas which can be baked and then frozen to reheat at a later date.

Another great starter for Christmas day are my cauliflower cocktails (a.k.a. veggie prawn cocktails), especially if you like a slightly retro vibe! What starters are you having on the big day?

Samosa Santa’s Sacks

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

Makes about 15-20

2 baking potatoes

1 tbsp oil

1 onion, finely shopped

1 tsp yellow mustard seeds

3cm ginger, finely chopped or grated

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp garam masala

¼ tsp chilli powder (optional)

½ tsp amchoor (or use 1 tsp lemon juice)

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp water

1 cup cooked peas

2 tbsp dairy-free margarine, melted

1 pack filo pastry

 see the photos below for the processes…

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Centigrade non fan/180 degrees fan. Bake the two potatoes for an hour or so until totally cooked through.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions and mustard seeds until starting to turn golden. Add the ginger and continue to sauté. 
  3. Add all the spices and fry for a couple of minutes, then add the water and stir, turn off the heat.
  4. Scoop the potato out of the jackets and roughly mash. Stir in the onion mix and add the cooked peas. Mix well and taste, adding more salt and/or lemon juice as required
  5. Cut the filo into squares about 15cm squared. Place one sheet on the work surface, brush with the margarine, place another square onto at an angle so it looks vaguely star shaped. Brush with the margarine.
  6. Place 1 tbsp of filling in the centre of the filo star, bring up the edges and pinch together to form a parcel shape. Transfer to a baking sheet and brush with more melted margarine. Repeat until all the filling has been used up.
  7. Either chill at this point and cook later. Or, bake for 15 minutes until golden and crisp. Tie a chive around the neck of the sack if you wish and then serve with condiments of choice.

Homemade Twiglets

You’ve gotta love Twiglets! Those gnarly little marmite flavoured sticks that are the perfect accompaniment to pre-dinner drinks. Probably a very British snack (they are flavoured with divisive marmite after all), I reckon anyone would have a hard time not enjoying these little savoury sticks.

Problem is they’re not safe for us, as they may contain milk, eggs and sesame. We’ve always bemoaned this as Big S loves marmite and they would have been the perfect non crisp snack for her. I just know she would love Twiglets.

So, I started thinking, could I recreate Twiglets just in time for Christmas? I wasn’t sure, but I did some research and came across a few recipes online. Good start, but these didn’t ring true to me – Twiglets are essentially very crunchy so simply baking a dough as these recipes opted for was not going to work, in my opinion. Then my mind turned to the little crunchy tomato taralli biscuits I made last year. They were super crunchy and moreish so maybe the same technique would work? Wow, it really did work! By adding the boiling stage before baking you get wonderfully crunchy little sticks that keep well and have just the right Twiglet crunch! It is essential to use the wholemeal flour as Twiglets have a wheaty taste as well as the marmite flavour. Even D, who is a true Twiglet expert said these little marmite sticks are incredibly authentic and delicious 🙂

It may be a faff to make your own Twiglets, but if you’ve missed them as much as us, it’s well worth the extra effort

Homemade Twiglets

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

makes about 80

125g wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp salt

40ml water

40ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp marmite

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

  1. Stir in the salt into the flour. Add the marmite, olive oil and water 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. Cut into stick lengths and try and make them uneven and gnarly. Place on the lined baking tray while you shape the rest.Bring a pan of water to the boil. Drop in the Twiglets, ten or so at a time and boil until the rise to the surface. This will take a minute or two.
  6. Place back on the lined baking sheet.
  7. Brush with the glaze and sprinkle with the salt. 
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and crispy. 
  9. 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!)

Grissini

My second recipe of Advent 2021 is grissini or crunchy breadsticks, a perfect crunchy snack to enjoy at Christmas, or anytime of year 🙂

Years ago we used to be able to buy breadsticks, I think it was the Tesco own brand and they were such a great snack, but then came in the ‘may contain sesame’ warnings and we found there were no safe ones around. There is one a Italian brand which doesn’t contain sesame but you have to bulk buy from Italy so it’s not always the most convenient option! Or you can opt for the gluten-free Schar ones, but your average breadstick grossing is a no-go area for those strictly avoiding sesame.

But breadsticks or grissini are such a great addition to the festive season, alongside some drinks or just to keep the hunger pangs at bay until the meal arrives, I thought it was time to make our own.

We particularly like these as a snack with a fresh tomato sauce and a side of delicious olives. Yum! They’re super easy and rather satisfying and will keep for a day or two, if you have any leftover that is!

The dough isn’t dissimilar to a pizza dough but with additional oil so it gets nice and crispy. You can also make them your own by either adding dried herbs or spices (try oregano, rosemary or chilli) and baking them to your own specification. It turns out we prefer the slightly softer ones so I bake it for 12 minutes but go for 14 or 16 if you like them crunchier.

Breadsticks or Grissini

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

makes 30+

250g flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

1 tsp yeast

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

150 ml water

herbs to taste,

flakey sea salt

  1. Mix together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast.
  2. Pour in the oil and water and bring to a dough. Knead fir a few minutes until smooth.
  3. Leave to rise, you want it to double in size so maybe an hour or two.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees fan and knock back the dough. Dust the work surface with flour and a handful of polenta (if you have it). Roll out the dough to a large rectangle, dusting both sides with the flour and polenta mix.
  5. Slice into 1/2cm thick strips and roll each one to become stick shaped. (Either keep long or cut down for short breadsticks.)
  6. Place on a lined baking sheet. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 12-16 minutes depending on how crispy you like them!

Blueberry muffins

I do have a fondness for blueberry muffins, they’re a great excuse to eat cake for breakfast, or anytime for that matter! Are blueberry muffins a little out of favour these days? They don’t seem to be on my radar anymore… maybe it’s because you don’t come across them often, or maybe it’s because I don’t get out very often these days 😂

Maybe it’s time to put the humble but rather delicious blueberry muffin centre stage once again? Well you can certainly do just that with these friendly versions. The sponge is light and fluffy just like a muffin should be, and once you’ve added a good handful of blueberries, the fruity tart morsels and delicate sponge make a stunning combination. If like in this house, some people have an aversion to fruit in baked goods, it’s pretty simple to divide the batter and add choc chips to half and blueberries to the other, then everyone is happy 😉

If using choc chips simply replace the lemon zest with 1 tsp vanilla extract and use a big handful of choc chips rather than the blueberries.

These muffins keep well for a few days in a loosely cover container, or freeze well if you’d rather 😀

Blueberry Muffins

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

makes 12

230g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp cornflour

Pinch of salt

170g caster sugar

Zest of 1 lemon (for the blueberry version)

200ml dairy free milk

70g dairy free margarine, melted

1 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar

A big handful of blueberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade and line a muffin tray with paper liners.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together and add the zest if using.
  3. Combine the milk, melted margarine and vinegar and pour into the dry ingredients.
  4. Gently mix so the batter is a bit lumpy but there are no patches of raw flour.
  5. Stir in the blueberries.
  6. 2/3rds fill each muffin liner and bake for 15-20 minutes until we’ll risen and golden. Cool.