Strawberry Scones

The sun’s out and I feel inspired and buzzing with fresh ideas. There really isn’t anything like the end of Winter to make me feel ready to attack the spring and summer with gusto – it’s amazing what a bit of warmth and sunlight can do!

We had a lovely trip to see the sea of bluebells last weekend, which is a bit of a yearly tradition in my part of the country, which culminated with cool drinks in a National Trust cafe. All the other customers seemed to be tucking into cream teas (obviously it was drinks or nothing for us!), which got me thinking about making a batch of scones. Scones, with their association with cream teas and strawberry jam always seem rather summery to me, so perfect for my current vibe. So here is a cracking combination of scones and strawberries  so we can tuck into a cream tea at home.

I’d really recommend using freeze-dried berries in sweet recipes, as you get all the flavour and none of the ‘sog factor’, so there’s no need to adjust the indigents to factor in extra moisture.

 

Strawberry Scones

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

Makes about 20

450g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

75g dairy-free margarine

75g caster sugar

300 ml dairy-free milk, I used Oatly

1 tsp berry essence, if you have it

1/2 cup freeze dried strawberries , roughly chopped

To top: 2 tbsp oat milk 2 tbsp granulated sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade/gas mark 6. Grease and flour 2 baking sheets.
  2. Rub the margarine into the flour, sugar and baking powder until it resembles breadcrumbs. 
  3. Pour in the essence and dairy-free milk and very gently bring together to a soft dough. It’s very important not to work scone dough. Add the freeze dried berries.
  4. Gently pat out the dough until its about 1 inch thick. Using a 2inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds and place on the baking sheets Continue, gently bringing the dough back into a ball and cutting out, until all the dough has been used up.
  5. Brush the top of each with dairy-free milk and sprinkle with sugar Bake for about 20-25 minutes until starting to turn golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Maple Syrup Flapjacks and the stress of being an ‘allergy family’

Flapjacks must be the ultimate energy giving treat, packed full of oats and sugar and easily transported, they’re definitely the bar to take when snacks will be hard to find, or pure energy is needed due to strenuous activity. I’ve tried many flapjacks recipes and believe me, there are a lot of bad ones out there which resemble sweet sawdust more than an indulgent treat. This recipe on the other hand, is knockout, resulting in such wonderful sweet gooey bars, you’ll definitely be reaching for another one!

If you follow me on FaceBook you may be aware of my recent additional stress from being an ‘allergy mum’. At age 14 we have finally agreed for Big S to go on her first foreign school trip. It has always felt like too much of a responsibility to hand to the staff before, but she’s growing up fast and we had to say yes sometime. Obviously when the trip was first advertised I had a long conversation with the lead teacher about Big S’s requirements. She’s only allergic to milk but they’re going to Northern France where dairy is used in lots of cooking. I was reassured that the hotel had been spoken to, she would safely be catered for, and arrangements could be made for her not to go into an environment where lots of milk could be present in the goats cheese making farm visit. We knew that nonetheless food would still be an challenge, but so far so good.

Then, it all went pear-shaped 😦

Last week we had the presentation about the trip. There was mention that on the final day the children will have to buy their own supper at the shopping centre, or on the ferry on the way home.  I started to feel a bit stressed, her command of French isn’t huge and while we can pack her off with ‘allergy cards’ to show, would she even understand the reply to be confident enough to eat the food? So many worries….

Then it got worse….. I spoke to the lead teacher and she said there was a problem. GULP! The hotel has refused to provide any food at all for Big S. To compensate, the school, has arranged for them to eat supper in a local restaurant which knows of the milk allergy and is happy to cater for her. BUT, she will not be provided with any breakfast or lunch for the entire trip, that’s 4 days! We’ve been given a slight refund and she can take her own snacks, or buy her own food in France. That’s all very well, but how can you take enough food for 4 days? We also know from experience that ready to eat food that is dairy-free is hard to find in France. She’s also a teenager who desperately doesn’t want to stand out as different. So much stress and worry on so many levels! We’re going to have to make plans, research and be extremely organised! I know she will survive (she’ll be very hungry) and still have a wonderful time, but it’s awful to think of sending my daughter to another country with little food provided and little ability to buy much there.

I’ve spoken to many people in the past few days as I’ve been so very stressed and rather tearful about the whole thing, and it’s made me realise that non-allergy families have no idea of the stress we live under all the time. My FaceBook community who ‘get it’ have been extremely supportive, understanding and helpful. Others, who don’t see the issues, much less so. It’s been suggested that i just send her with a few cereal bars and she’ll be fine. Yes, she’ll be fine, but how would they feel about sending their daughter to another country with only a few cereal bars? She can’t go and buy a bar of chocolate to keep herself going. She can’t join her friends in eating a McDonald’s hamburger or buying a crepe in the market when they get hungry. She’ll survive, but a cereal bar doesn’t quite cut it! I guess, as an allergy-mum and in writing this blog, creating safe-recipes etc. I’ve made it my priority to ensure my children are well catered for; it goes against everything I stand for to send her away to such unknown!

Anyway, I will send her with cereal bars (and much much more!), and some of these devilishly good flapjacks. Hopefully she’ll share them with her friends and they’ll provide a good hit of home-made energy and goodness!

Maple Syrup Flapjacks

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

makes about 24

200g dairy free margarine

200g demerara sugar

100g golden syrup

100g maple syrup

400g oats (preferably not giant oats)

1/2 tsp salt (preferably fleur de sel)

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Centigrade. Line a 30×20 cm (approx.) baking tray with foil
  2. Melt together the dairy free margarine, sugar, syrups and salt
  3. When the sugar has dissolved mix into the oats and spread into the lined baking tray
  4. Bake for 15-20 mins until golden
  5. Cool well before cutting into bars/squares. Or freeze whole and cut when defrosted.
  6. Try not to eat too many!!

Dotty Cookies

Delicious syrup flavoured soft (or crunchy) cookies studded with colourful chocolate beans (a.k.a Smarties), these must surely be the most cheerful cookies around, and just perfect to celebrate the first signs of spring.

Is it just me, or has this winter been endless? I can’t even imagine not wearing a coat and sunshine seems to have been a rare occurrence for such a long time. Whilst I love the cosiness of Winter, I’m seriously craving a bit of light and heat, and seeing the leaves and blossom appear on the trees. Spring, we’re ready for you!

I’ve spent years trying to source ‘safe’ Smarties. Ages ago we could buy ‘Whizzers’ which were a variety of safe colourful chocolate beans and definitely filled the cheerful chocolate hole. Sadly they were discontinued and we’ve had no readily available alternative for a long long time. Sad days 😦

To my delight, I’ve recently come across two new varieties which are occasionally available in the UK. Chocolate No-No’s, made by No Whey Chocolates based in the US and Colourful Chocolate Beans made by Clarana in Germany. Chocolate No-No’s are my preference as they are top 8 free, whereas the Clarana beans are made in a factory which uses peanuts, milk, almonds and nuts and so poses a risk we’re not willing to take. They are the more authentic in taste and look so if you’re happy with a ‘may contain’ then they are probably the ones to opt for.

You may think it rather foolhardy to use two packs of these expensive and hard to source chocolate beans in a cookie recipe? Maybe, but i’ve wanted to make my own version of these colourful and full of fun cookies for such a long time, it seemed like a good use of this scare resourse. They remind me of the Spotty Cookies which always used to be sold in cafes and soft-play centres when my girls were tiny. I’d always see them admiring the pretty dotty cookies and feel sad that i had to hand over a boring box of raisins or some rice cakes instead. It may have been a wait but here is my Dotty Cookie recipe. The chocolate beans seem to remain slightly melted inside for a fair few hours which is a wonderful contrast to the crunchy sugar shell. These were gone in no time, so whilst it may have been a long wait, it was most definitely worth it!

If you don’t want to waste your smarties, these cookies work equally well with chocolate chips instead.

Dotty Cookies

(free-from milk, eggs, nuts, soya, sesame, vegetarian and vegan)

makes about 12

125g dairy-free margarine

80g caster sugar

3 tbsp golden syrup or maple syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

180g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

approx. 100g chocolate beans [you’ll want 6 per cookie]

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/180 degrees Centigrade Fan Oven. Grease two cookie sheets and set aside
  2. Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the syrup and vanilla.
  3. Sift in the flour , bicarbonate, baking powder and salt. Mix to form a soft dough.
  4. Roll into balls the size of ping pongs and gently flatten onto the baking tray
  5. Bake for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and press the smarties into the top of the cookies, 6 per cookie is ideal.
  7. Return to the oven for minutes. Cool briefly on the trays before transferring to a wire rack.
  8. For a crunchier cookie, change the cooking times to 12 minutes plus another 2 with the beans on.

 

 

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)

IMG_3204

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

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