Christmas peppermint brownie

I wanted to try baking something a little festive today, and had seen some really lovely pictures on Pinterest of Peppermint Brownie. So after a bit of searching, I came across this lovely recipe from The Galley Gourmet that had three layers: the brownie (flavoured with peppermint), as well as the white peppermint icing, AND the chocolate peppermint topping decorated with crushed candy canes. Some recipes I saw left out the white peppermint icing – but what’s the point?! You might as well go all out if you’re going to bother.

Peppermint brownie
It turned out pretty well. It’s nice and easy to slice, and the soft fudgy texture of the brownie combined with the crunchy chocolate topping is totally delicious. It would be great for children’s Christmas parties, or any one’s party for that matter!

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My dream Coffee Walnut Slice perfection

I went to a very cute little cafe/delicatessen the other day and had a big piece of Coffee Walnut slice. It was really good… but, as is often the case when I eat out, I get to thinking…

‘I’d like mine with more [insert ingredient]’… or

‘If they hadn’t baked it so long it would be better’… or

‘If it had more base and less icing it would be SO much better!’

Anyway, you get what I mean right? Sometimes, as nice as something is, you just know it would be even nicer if you could make it to your exact taste.

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So today, that’s what I did.

I don’t like a ‘dry’ base – I like it slightly sticky, gooey even. And I like a good thick base, with a little bit of icing – but the icing has to pack a real coffee punch. And I like lots of walnuts… preferable fresh walnuts, not the rancid moldy old things you buy in a pack (thankfully I bought some fresh walnuts at the market last weekend, so I was able to be picky!).

My dream Coffee Walnut Slice

For the base:

400gm plain sweet biscuits (crushed so you have a mix of crumbs and chunks)
180gm butter
1 tin sweetened condensed milk (around 375ml)
100ml boiling water
3 heaped tsp coffee powder (or as much or as little as you like)

Gently melt the butter and condensed milk. Dissolve the coffee in the boiling water then add to the butter mixture, and combine. In a large bowl add the crushed biscuits, then pour in the coffee mixture. Gently fold through till all the biscuit is coated, then press into a tin lined with baking paper (my tin was 20cm by 25cm but anything around that size will do). Put in the fridge to chill completely.

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For the icing:

50gm softened butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp boiling water
2 tsp coffee powder (or as much or as little as you like)

Dissolve the coffee in the hot water. Beat the softened butter and icing sugar together. Add a little of the coffee at a time until you get a nice smooth spreading consistency, and a light brown colour.

Spread the top of the cold slice with icing, and sprinkle with chopped walnuts then refrigerate again to set the icing. Once it’s all cool, take the slice out and cut it into generous pieces.

Enjoy with a cup of tea (is that weird…? – or coffee!).

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A Sour Cream Coffee Cake (or the cake with two tops)

My first outing with my brand new cookbook Homemade Decadence by Joy the Baker was her delicious sounding Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Brown Butter Glaze. It was a total success flavour-wise – so delicious (you should have seen the size of the slices I was cutting!)… but technically, I totally stuffed up.

Reading recipes all the way through BEFORE beginning to bake has never been a strength of mine. No, far from it. I would say it is a kitchen skill there is some serious room for improvement on!

Normally I am so keen to get on with the fun part – eating the creamed butter, eating the creamed butter with raw egg in it, eating the batter, eating the frosting, eating the finished product – that I tend to hurry the boring stuff, like reading the recipe, ensuring I have the correct ingredients, and ensuring I have the right tin and have properly lined/greased it.

So this time, instead of reading the part where the recipe says ‘sprinkle the streusel on top and loosely swirl it into the batter’ before baking it, I just sprinkled it on top… that’s right, absolutely NO swirling occurred!

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The first time I realised something had gone terribly, horribly wrong, was when I went to turn the cake out of the tin after baking it. See the right hand photo above – the lovely looking cake in the tin, covered in delicious, crunchy, nutty, cinnamon-y streusel? Well, now imagine trying to get that baby out without all that delicious streusel falling right off… yes, MAJOR issue!

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But – there is a happy ending to this tale of woe. I managed to prise the cake out eventually, not too much of the streusel was lost, AND miracle of miracles, once I had topped the bottom of the cake with glaze (added glaze to the bottom of the cake which was now on the top), I had a cake with TWO tops! I know – how amazing is that… because, as we all know, the top of the cake is far superior in taste, texture and all round cake-y amazingness, so to have not one top but two…?

That’s a win!

Mini banana cinnamon bread

I’m always on the look out for delicious ways to use up the bananas that turn brown and manky in my fruit bowl. They sit on the bench in my kitchen just begging to be made into something, rather than being given to our chickens (or stuck in the freezer to be given to our chickens much, much later on!).

I came across a rather nice looking banana bread recipe in Donna Hay’s ‘Modern Classics 2′ book, which I’ve had for a very long time. It’s full of pretty reliable and easy recipes, so I thought I’d give it a go – but since I’m also always thinking about ways to fill up my girls’ lunchboxes, I decided to go mini.

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Mini banana breads ready for baking

Donna Hay’s Banana Cinnamon Bread (minified)

140g softened butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cup plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup ground nut meal (I used almond, Donna uses hazelnut)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp cinnamon (I love lots, so I doubled her rather measly amount)
1 large banana or 2 small, sliced
Sugar for sprinkling (I used muscavado, Donna uses demerara)

Preheat oven to 180c. Beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add egg and beat well. Add the flour, baking powder, nut meal, buttermilk and cinnamon, and fold through until smooth. (Here I added mashed banana – Donna doesn’t, but I wanted my bread to be extra banana-y – and I had multiple bananas to use up!)

Grease a loaf tin, or use a 12-cup muffin tray if you want the mini versions. Brush the top with butter, arrange your sliced banana so it looks aesthetically pleasing to you, and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 35 mins (for the big version) or 15 mins (for the mini versions) and remove from the oven when golden and lightly springy. When I took mine out they weren’t quite as golden as I wanted (although the cake was cooked) so I stuck them under the grill for a couple of minutes… just to get that slightly burnt, caramelised sugar look!

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A golden brown, caramelised top – thanks to a minute or two under the grill!

I’m happy to say they turned out nicely. The sugary banana on top was particularly good, but the nuts and banana in the ‘bread’ were good too… I would just mention however, that calling them ‘bread’ is a little misleading – to me they were more cake-like than bready. I put a few remaining ones in the freezer, and they did go a bit soggy and weird on defrosting, so maybe this is an ‘eat when fresh’ kind of recipe.

A wonderfully moist, fresh plum cake courtesy of Nigel Slater

I adapted a recipe from Nigel Slater’s wonderful book ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ today. Not that the recipe really needed adapting – I’m sure the original recipe, with little or no tampering, would have been great… but due to personal tastes, and seasonal discrepancies between the northern and southern hemisphere, tampering was required!

Coconut is one of my favourite additions to cakes. I love the beautiful smell it has when it’s baked, and the slightly nutty crunchy texture it brings to a light-as-air cake crumb. Vanilla is also another thing I happily add to pretty much any sweet baking, sure in the knowledge that the end product will be further enhanced by the addition. And the taste of tart, summery plums… You get where I’m coming from, right?

Straight from the oven

And so to MY recipe, adapted from Nigel’s:

150gm butter
100gm caster sugar
50gm dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
130gm flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
30gm ground almond
50gm shredded coconut
1 tin plums (I used Black Doris)

More dark brown sugar, and cinnamon for sprinkling.

Set oven to 180c (Gas Mark 4). Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add vanilla. In another bowl, sift flour and baking powder, add ground almonds and coconut – mix together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently fold together with a large spoon. Scrape the batter into a greased cake tin and carefully place the plums on top, pushing in slightly. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture over the top, then bake for about 35 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown a little.

I call it 'simple' - some may say my food styling and photography skills need some work!

Mmmm, that beautiful sweet coconutty scent will be filling your kitchen in no time as it did with mine! I highly recommend consuming a large piece with a nice cup of tea, accompanied by a good book (though my current ‘good book’ – The Girl Who Played With Fire – is the reason I have been totally neglecting my blog over the past week, so on second thoughts, don’t listen to my recommendation at all).

Nigella’s Gingerbread recipe

This is a very dense cake, rather than a gingerbread biscuit (or “cookie”). If you like sweet, rich gingery flavours, you’ll love this!

Nigella’s Gingerbread (from ‘How To Be A Domestic Goddess)

Nigella's gingerbread is moist and tasty!

150g butter
125gm dark sugar
200gm golden syrup
200gm black treacle (or molasses for a really dark cake)
2 tsp fresh ginger (finely grated)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250ml milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp warm water
300gm plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170c/gas mark 3. In a saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, golden syrup, treacle (or molasses), ginger and cinnamon. Once the butter has melted take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool slightly, while you dissolve the soda in the water, and add that the the beaten eggs and milk. Combine the milk mixture with the sugar mixture. Sift the flour into the wet ingredients and mix well until smooth – it is a very liquid batter. Pour into a greased tin (roughly 30cm x 20cm) and bake for around 45 minutes, until the cake has risen and is firm. Be careful not to overcook it, as it really is best when it’s still sticky, and it will continue to cook slightly once it’s out of the oven.

Nigella suggests icing it with lemon icing, but I like it just the way it is – unadulterated gingeryness at its best!

Sticky gooey Ginger Cake

Ginger cake - the lines on the cake are from the cooling rack

It’s been ages since I last made Ginger Cake. I use a tried and tested Nigella Lawson recipe which includes molasses, dark brown sugar, golden syrup and fresh ginger. If you like ginger, and I do, you will love this! My five year old eats huge hunks of it, and I figure it can’t be as bad for her as some sweets and cakes would be. (It’s high in Iron because of the molasses, and my mother MADE me eat when I was anaemic during my pregnancies – imagine being made to eat cake!!) It is sticky and gooey as anything, and keeps really well because of it – not that it ever seems to last more than a day or so in our house… It would make a wonderful winter pudding served warm with custard or ice cream, but I’m just happy with a great big hunk of it to have with a cup of tea – bliss!