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

Brownies with a Biscoff Swirl

Brownies are such a popular and useful sweet treat. They work equally well as a cake, snack or a pudding; we particularly like a warmed brownie with ice cream and caramel or magic chocolate sauce – mmmmm pure pudding heaven. Since it was chocolate week on the Bake Off and brownies were one of the challenges I had to post a brownie recipe. In the show the contestants went for decorated brownies which mainly ended up too sweet and sickly. In my opinion a brownie doesn’t feed much adornment – instead it’s all about the chocolate flavour.

However, this version with a subtle Biscoff swirl manages to look gorgeous and also enhance the flavour without overpowering the chocolate. Since these brownies are extra rich and decadent with plenty of melted chocolate stirred in, the sweet Biscoff swirl works a treat, adding a smooth sweetness than plays well against the chocolate. The resulting brownies are luxurious, intensely chocolatey with a super Biscoff swirl, what could be better?

Brownies with a Biscoff Swirl

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

4 tbsp cocoa powder

150g self-raising flour

110g caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

5 tbsp flavourless oil, I use sunflower

250ml dairy-free milk

100g dairy-free chocolate, melted

4 tbsp Biscoff spread

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Line a brownie tin with parchment
  2. In a bowl, mix together the cocoa, self-raising flour, caster sugar and salt.
  3. Pour in the oil, milk and vanilla and mix to form a smooth batter
  4. Stir in the melted chocolate (this will make the batter much stiffer)
  5. Transfer to the lined brownie tin and level off.
  6. warm the Biscoff spread so it becomes runnier, dollop over the brownie batter and using the handle of a wooden spoon swirl it though
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes. It should be a bit gooey looking in the middle. Cool fully in the tin before cutting into portions.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I’m delighted that the Great British Bake Off is back on – not only is it light and frothy viewing (just what we need these days) but it also gives lots of new inspiration for bakes, as well as the pressure to keep up. I’ve got into a phase of having masses of recipes but never getting round to writing them up – well that has to change, and what better time than right now?

Week 1 was cake week and featured Battenberg, pineapple upside down cake or a cake bust. Well, i’m not quite in the mood to fashion a horrifyingly bad bust out of cake and Battenberg isn’t to my taste so pineapple upside down cake it is. In fact, someone asked me ages a go to come up with a pineapple upside down cake recipe but somehow it never got to the top of the ‘to do list’, until now that is! (I do hope you are still reading if it was you?)

Anyway, this cake is a real hit. Delightfully retro and garish with the tinned pineapple rings and glace cherries (I toned it down a little with morello glace cherries rather than the almost neon maraschino versions) and the epitome of comfort food. This is a cake which will take you back in time. In fact I had a leftover pineapple ring which ended up as the chef’s treat and even that was a trip down memory lane – who eats tinned pineapple these days?! This cake is probably best served with a good dose of custard, and not whipped cream like they did on the bake off, what on earth were they thinking?

Pineapple Upside Down Cake works well as a large cake as I’ve made here but would be even better as individual servings, each with a little pineapple ring topping the cake like a golden crown. I didn’t have the right sized moulds so one big cake it is! If you want to make individuals just evenly divide the mixture and reduce the cooking time to about 18-20 minutes (but do keep checking).

 

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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

makes 1 16cm cake or 4-6 individuals

Tinned pineapple rings to top the cakes (i used 3)

2 tbsp demerara sugar

1/2 tbsp dairy-free margarine

200g self-raising flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

50g soft brown sugar

50g golden syrup

Pinch of salt

100ml sunflower oil

150ml dairy-free milk

1/2 tsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade
  2. Grease a spring-form tin or individual mould with the dairy-free margarine. Sprinkle the sugar into the buttered base.
  3. Lay over the pineapple rings and fill the centres with a place cherry. Set aside.
  4. Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, bicarbonate and salt. Stir in the sugar.
  5. Combine the syrup, oil, dairy-free milk and lemon juice. Give it a stir and pour into the dry ingredients. Gently mix to make a smooth and runny batter
  6. Pour into the pineapple lined tin and bake for about 30-35 minutes until risen, golden and a knife comes out clean. I recommend placing the tin onto of a baking sheet as you may get some caramel leakage!
  7. Invert onto a plate and carefully remove the cake tin. If a pineapple ring sticks to the base just gently place back on the top of the cake. Pour over any remaining syrup.

 

 

Dairy-free Summer Berry Fro-Yo

Wow, what a scorcher! It’s sweltering here so we need as much cooling down as possible. In the UK we’re not really set up for true heat, so rather than having the benefit of air conditioning everywhere, we’ve got to get by with cold drinks and doing as little hot cooking as possible.

While there are so many fantastic dairy-free ice creams available these days (how things have changed in the past 10 years or so!), sometimes you need something a bit lighter and fresher. This simple three ingredient summer berry ‘fro-yo’ is light, refreshing, and yet creamy and utterly delicious. It takes only minutes to prepare followed by a couple of hours in the freezer, and there you have the perfect refreshing summer pudding.

Not only does it involve just three ingredients but they are ones that that you are likely to have in,  which means a beautiful frozen dessert is always within reach. By all means use any frozen fruit you have to hand, but the tartness of the berries gives an extra cooling tang which is welcome on a mid-30 degrees kind of day!

Dairy-free Summer Berry Fro-Yo

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

serves 4

250g frozen berries

2-4 tbsps icing sugar

1 tbsp water

250g dairy-free yogurt, ideally Greek style

  1. In a food processor or high speed blender blitz together the frozen berries and icing sugar and 1 tbsp water. You will end up with a granular paste.
  2. Add the Greek-style yogurt and blitz until smooth and uniform. Freeze for an hour. Stir and freeze for another hour. Easy, no? Enjoy 😊

 

 

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

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels – (with a savoury variation too)

I’ve always meant to make pretzels but never got round to it, until now! I’m doing a lockdown cookbook challenge lockdowncookbookchallenge on Instagram whereby one of us picks a random cookbook from the shelves and I have to cook at least two recipes from it. Why don’t you join? it’s really fun, a great way to get inspiration and the nudge you need to dip into some of those less used cookbooks.

One of the recent picks was Scandilicious by Signe Johansen, its a cookbook I really like but one that I haven’t picked up in years. By dipping in I can immediately remember recipes I’ve tried and see the ones I’ve page marked but never got round to trying. It’s a great way to fire up that imagination. Pretzels was just one of those and so here is my adapted recipe, made into a sweet sugar and cinnamon coated creation to bring a smile to everyone’s face. Think the taste of a doughnut but in a healthier, slightly chewier format – delicious!

I’ve added a tip at the end to make savoury pretzels too – I made a batch of 12 and had 4 sweet, 4 salty and 4 coated in poppy seeds – combining a sweet treat with some lovely fresh rolls and freeze brilliantly – win win! 🙂

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

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

makes 12

500g strong bread flour

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp fast action dried yeast

2 tbsp maple syrup or golden syrup

1 tbsp oil

250-300ml water

2 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tbsp dairy-free margarine, melted

3 tbsp caster sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

(for savoury, generous sprinkling of crystal sea salt or a  handful of poppy seeds)

  1. Pour the flour and salt into a bowl, add the yeast.
  2. Pour in the syrup, oil and 250-300ml water, bring together to a soft but not sticky dough and then knead until silky smooth and bouncy. This will take up to 10 minutes. Cover and leave to prove. You want the dough to double in size and this will take 1-2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade fan/220 degrees non fan
  4. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces roll into loose balls, cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Take each ball, roll into a sausage shape and then twist into a pretzel knot. Keep the made knots covered with a tea towel.
  6. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, pour in the bicarb and then add the pretzel knots in threes cooking for 30 seconds on each side. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet. Continue until all the knots have been boiled in the bicarb mix.
  7. For savoury pretzels sprinkle them whilst they are still damp with the salt and/or poppy seeds. For sweet leave ungarnished.
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes until they have risen and have a lovely burnished bronzed appearance.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
  10. To make the sweet pretzels: mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Brush each cooled pretzel with melted margarine and then roll in the cinnamon suagr until they are completely coated. Eat as soon as possible and try not to lick your lips!