Peanut butter and chocolate cookies

I’m sorry, but this is one of those annoying posts where I tell you about something delicious I made and then don’t share the recipe. You can take the librarian out of the library, but you can’t convince her to be less anxious about copyright! I’ll share a link to the cookbook on WorldCat, though, so you can quickly find it at your local library.

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These cookies are AMAZING. I use caps lock very sparingly, so you know I really mean it! It had been a while since I’ve been inspired to bake, but when R gave me the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for our anniversary, I couldn’t wait to make something from it. As with the website, there was a lot to choose from. But a friend had recently given me a jar of peanut butter (which is less random when you know that I love peanut butter) and the idea of peanut butter cookies was already in my head, so these won. They were just the right texture, a nice mixture of crunchy on the outside & soft/light on the inside.

P1080787I was nervous about the idea of making sandwich cookies, to be honest. Chocolate ganache can also be a little tricky to get right. But the recipe was very straightforward and easy to follow, so they turned out just fine. I think what made it work was the fact that I was cutting the cookies from a frozen log of cookie dough – genius. I don’t know why I’ve never done it before. I suppose uniformity in baking/cooking has never been that important to me, but this definitely helped with that aspect (though I stupidly made the two logs different sizes, so they weren’t all identical).P1080786

I brought these cookies to both workplaces, and they went down an absolute storm at both. The one thing I would say about these cookies, though, is that while everyone loved them, I found them a tiny bit salty and also didn’t think they tasted like peanut butter. I think this is down to me thinking of peanut butter as a sweet thing, though, whereas British peanut butter isn’t particularly sweet. If you use British or natural peanut butter, I would suggest you might want to leave the pinch of salt out of this recipe. I’m going to try that next time & see if it makes a difference.

Find out if your local library has the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook here.

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Happy baking! 🙂

A first meal: macaroni & cheese with leeks

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Our beautiful new stove finally arrived at the end of January, after quite a bit of hassle. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say I was very relieved and grateful to have a stove again by the time it finally arrived! We’d gone for quite a posh one as there was an exceptionally good offer on. The delivery coincided with visits from friends and it was lovely to know I’d have a fully functional kitchen when they next stop by, even if I couldn’t offer them the usual homebaked goods the first time around. I hope the slight chaos was a prelude of things to come – it was nice to have a busy house for a couple of hours.

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Leeks are the last thing left in our allotment, and as the allotment is now a 4-minute walk from my house, I was determined they would be used in whatever I cooked first with the new stove. I also wanted to use both the stove and the oven, so macaroni & cheese with leeks was the only choice, really. It was pretty delicious.

As you may know, I haven’t yet mastered the art of creating recipes. If you want to make your own, just saute some leeks (I used 3, but use more or less depending on how much you love leeks), make some cheese sauce (I recommend from scratch, of course, but really a packet would probably be fine), and boil some macaroni. Mix it all together in a baking dish. Bake at 180 for about 20 minutes, then crank up the heat to 200 for about 10 minutes to get the top nice & crispy.

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Thanksgiving: the food

P1030757.JPGFor me, there are only two things needed to make a successful Thanksgiving: good company, and good food. Really, good is negotiable when it comes to the food. There just needs to be food, preferably lots of it! At the end of the day it is the company that makes Thanksgiving good or not. This year was a lovely one; there were five of us in the end, and for the first time we were able to sit around our (quite small) dining table & eat properly.

I’ve shared the menu previously & alluded to the challenges. The big one for me is always timing; I start cooking the day before so I don’t feel rushed on Thanksgiving. Some foods, like the red cabbage, are actually better the next day anyway. But making sure they’re all hot at the same time is so hard, and I still haven’t mastered that! Nonetheless it all went down very well. A couple of things were particularly tasty, so I thought I’d share links to those recipes.

For my vegetarian friends, I made Smitten Kitchen’s roasted leek & white bean galettes. The leeks came from the allotment, hooray! I made a couple of tweaks. I didn’t use Deb’s pastry recipe, substituted goat’s cheese for the Gruyere, and used lemon juice instead of lemon zest. They loved it. I didn’t get to have any of the final product, unfortunately, but I tried a bit of the filling to check the seasoning and it was absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself. They were also surprisingly easy, so I definitely recommend them.P1030749.JPG

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Dessert also went down very well, with two of our guests taking some home with them. I made a cranberry, pecan, almond and cardamom cake based on a recipe in Scandilicious. The original cake used blackberries, but of course I had to use cranberries. This is the first time I’ve made a gluten-free cake and I think it was okay. I liked the texture a lot, and I absolutely loved the cardamom running throughout. However, I’m still not sure if it turned out like it was supposed to; it feels quite heavy, so I think maybe something went a bit wrong with the butter. Definitely one I’ll be trying again soon, perhaps even as a Christmas cake to bring into work. P1030756.JPG

Speaking of which, are you baking anything for work? Or is it just me who does that?

PS Thanksgiving was also great because it was an excuse to open my homemade damson gin. Yum. I should point out that in this picture it was mixed with lemonade – I can’t drink that much gin!

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Finnish butter eye buns

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Voisilmäpulla were one of my favourite discoveries in Helsinki. I decided during my second voisilmäpulla that I would be trying to find a recipe for it.

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I found a recipe online and it seemed quite straightforward, so I decided to try it out this weekend. For copyright reasons I only post links to recipes (sorry, being a librarian has made me a little paranoid!), but do go check it out.

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Voisilmäpulla are enriched dough, and as the name implies, there is lots of butter involved. At one point in the recipe you literally knead melted butter in. It doesn’t have very much sugar, though, so it is like a cross between bread and cake. The majority of the sweetness in them comes from the well of butter and sugar that goes in the middle of the pulla. This is quite nice, really, because it means I don’t feel too guilty for eating lots of them!

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Given that this is the first time I’ve attempted these, I’m pretty happy with them. I will certainly be attempting them again. Next time I will do a few things differently, though:

  • Add more cardamom – it came through, but not as strongly as I think it should have
  • Add more sugar into the well in the centre, or sprinkle more sugar on the top of the dough before baking
  • Deeper butter wells
  • Figure out why these rolls were dry. They were slightly dry, and I’m not sure why. I may have overbaked them, or added too much flour, or overkneaded them. One thing I really need to work on is identifying what goes wrong with my bakes. Any recommendations for books or websites that might be useful?

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Rhubarb shortcake – a recipe of sorts

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Today I made what I’m calling rhubarb shortcake, after strawberry shortcake. But at the end of the day it’s basically just shortbread with rhubarb crumble on top! It still went down very well at work, though. In fact, I was asked for the recipe, hence this post.

I must admit I found this a little bit too sweet for my own taste. I make it again I may use slightly less sugar. However, I think part of what makes this traybake so nice is that it still has a tart aftertaste. You’re left with a quite refreshing memory of what you’ve eaten, not a cloying sweetness.

Anyway, on to the recipe:

Shortbread, based on Mary Berry’s recipe

6 ounces plain flour

4 ounces butter

2 ounces caster sugar

Preheat oven to 160 C.

In food processor, mix all ingredients to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs, then continue until a smooth dough is formed. If making by hand, rub butter into flour and sugar to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs then continue to create a smooth dough.

Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden brown. If necessary, I would recommend erring on the side of overbaked, as you will be putting a very wet mixture on top. Let it cool.

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Rhubarb crumble

Approximately 2 cups rhubarb pieces, cut into 1 inch pieces (n.b. not measured – 1 heaped cereal bowl!)

Approximately 1/2 cup sugar (n.b. not measured – add sugar to taste)

2 tablespoons water

Put all ingredients into a sauce pot. Simmer over medium heat until the rhubarb is soft to the touch of a wooden spoon. It should be starting to fall apart, but not completely disintegrating. Spread on top of cooled shortbread.P1020082

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Topping

Approximately 2 cups porridge oats

Approximately 50 grams butter

Approximately 1/2 cup brown sugar

Layer over rhubarb filling. There should be a thick layer that even covers the tray; make more topping if necessary.

Increase heat to 180 C.

Once all components have been assembled, put the rhubarb shortcake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the topping is firm.

Happy eating!

Comic Relief bake-off: rose & raspberry meringues and chocolate hazelnut tart

Last Friday was Red Nose Day here in the UK, and to celebrate there was a bakeoff at work. Hooray! (If you don’t live in the UK, Red Nose Day is an even sponsored by a charity called Comic Relief. It happens across the country and has lots of impact – it even has a telethon. Find out more about Comic Relief on their website.) As I often bake for work anyway, I couldn’t resist entering. I baked two items — rose & raspberry meringues and chocolate hazelnut tart.

I didn’t enter with the intention to win, but I have to admit I was a bit gutted when I didn’t even place. First place was an admittedly delicious lemon cake; second was bakewell cupcakes; third was peanut butter and chocolate squares. All pretty traditional, I think, so I’m comforting myself by assuming I was just too adventurous. For a student palate (I work at a university and the event was run by the student union) I suppose rose & raspberry is unusual. Plus, my pastry definitely wasn’t at its best.

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The chocolate hazelnut tart is, yes, another one from The Art of the Tart. It’s Simon Hopkinson’s chocolate tart and is frankly the best thing I can bake. I guess it’s not foolproof, but I make it often because it is impressive (and not very difficult). It’s unbelievably rich, too, which keeps people from eating too much of it. This is the one that used all the egg yolks – it has only eggs, butter, chocolate and sugar in it. I made the same hazelnut pastry I used for the failed apple hazelnut tart months ago. It didn’t turn out as well as I’d like and crumbled all over the place when people were eating it.

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The tart left a few egg whites, so I thought I’d make meringues. I bought rose water for the first time last year, but haven’t had any opportunity to use it so far. I didn’t want to use it on its own, so I had a bit of fun Googling flavours that could work with rose. We have raspberry jam in our fridge, so that was ultimately the winner. I followed a basic meringue recipe and added a few drops of rose water during the initial beating of the egg whites (before I added the sugar). Towards the end, I swirled in some red food colouring and melted raspberry jam. I thought I overbaked them. Nonetheless, I was reasonably happy with them and thought they were quite pretty.

 

 

 

 

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What would you enter in a bakeoff? Do you have a signature item?

Nutella flapjacks on a cozy weekend

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Isn’t the light in this picture beautiful? It was like this for most of the weekend. The weather was glorious winter weather – sunny and crisp, with ice and a very light dusting of snow. I had a very good view of the snow as I visited a friend who lives in the valleys near Stroud; there were lots of little patches in the peaks. It is my favourite area bus ride, though I don’t make the trip very often. We had a very relaxed day looking around the local shops.

The laid back Saturday set me up very nicely for a Sunday which was full of domestic activity. Pork loins were on offer at our local supermarket so I did an unexpected roast; I finished the dress (more on that soon!); did a bit of knitting; and made these flapjacks:

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Nom! These were also inspired by a supermarket offer – £3.50 for a giant jar of Nutella. I’ve never tried making flapjacks and was looking for something to use some of the Nutella so I could assuage my guilt for buying such a gigantic jar of the stuff. I was inspired by this PiggyBakes recipe after doing a bit of an Internet browse for recipes. I didn’t have all the ingredients, though, so I used a little bit of maple syrup instead of golden syrup and brown sugar instead of caster. I also added sultanas and toasted almonds.

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The hardest part was figuring out what consistency the oats were meant to be after the sugar, syrup, etc had been added. Overall, though, it was really easy. I put one layer of oats, then a layer of Nutella, then another layer of oats. Then it went in the oven for 25 minutes and voila.

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The Nutella isn’t that strong, but I don’t mind too much. The syrup gave it a nice crispiness, too. I think I was getting rusty with my baking, so it was nice to be back in the kitchen. Hopefully there will be more over the next couple of weeks.