Friday, 30 August 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake/Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you're from the UK, chances are you've heard of, seen, or perhaps even tasted the 'giant cookie cake' from Millie's cookies. In essence they're just huge cookies that are iced with special messages and are completely customisable for any occasion. They're great, but the price of them isn't. Upwards of £15 for a biscuit (albeit a giant one) seems a little much to me when you can make your own for under a fiver. They're fun to make and even more personal than ones you buy in the shop because you made it yourself. You don't even have to be that skilled with a piping bag, just load your cookie up with smarties and icing and you're good to go.

I thought I'd try out a recipe I found online for this giant cookie for a friend's 18th. The recipe is just a base and you can of course load your cookie with any kind of chocolate or sweets that you want, but I used milk and white chocolate chips. I decorated the cookie with royal icing, half a batch of which I flavoured with cocoa powder, and half with butterscotch, the butterscotch being split into two portions and one half being coloured pink.

The first attempt at icing I used a wilton 1M tip to do the writing that turned out to be far too big for the writing to fit on the cookie (even though it was 14'' wide!), so after trying and failing to scrape it off the naked cookie I had to come up with a plan B. I thinned down some of the chocolate icing a little more with some water, so it was more of a spreadable consistency than a piping consistency, then spread a thin layer all over the cookie. I then used the slightly thicker chocolate icing that was still in the 1M piping bag to pipe a border on the cookie, something which they do in the shop, then I decorated the border with smarties. I learned my lesson and switched to a smaller writing tip for the rest. After writing my message on the cookie in white, the decoration was still looking a little flat, so I coloured the remaining icing pink and piped over the white. One box of royal icing sugar was plenty for this project.

I would definitely recommend using royal icing for cookie cake because it dries hard and is a little bit more durable than a buttercream or standard frosting. Royal icing can also be flavoured and coloured a million ways and is great for sticking smarties and other sweets to for decoration.

In the original recipe it was noted that the same cookie dough could also be used to make a large batch of smaller cookies, so when I was asked to make some biscuits for an afternoon tea I knew I had to try them again. They came out prefect, chewy in the middle and crunchy on the outside. I expect that the raw dough would freeze quite well too. Whether you're making a whole batch or one giant cookie for a special (or not so special!) occasion, these cookies really are delicious. They also smell incredible - it's hard to resist having less than three pieces when it's just sat there, wafting under your nose!

border finished...

a double thickness white layer...
...and a single layer of pink on top

Giant Cookie
Makes one 14'' cookie, or approximately 22 standard cookies

170g softened butter
200g soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 egg
vanilla extract
250g plain flour
a pinch of baking powder
200g of dark/milk/white chocolate chips, or 200g of any chocolate/sweets you want to use

1.Line and grease a 14'' cake tin, or several cookie sheets. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4. Beat the butter and sugars until combined and light and fluffy.
2. Gently mix in the egg and vanilla extract.
3. Fold on the flour until mixed through, then stir in the chocolate chips. You may have to do this with your hands to incorporate them evenly.
4. Press all of your mixture evenly (about 1cm thick) into the lined cake tin if using, or shape large tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and slightly flatten. The cookies spread a little when baking so leave space in between them to do so.
5. Bake the giant cookie for about 30 minutes until it is golden brown but still slightly soft in the middle. Bake the normal sized cookies for 20 minutes until they reach this stage. If you like your cookies to remain chewy a few days after baking, try baking them for a slightly shorter time. Because cookie cakes are so large the middle will stay softer for longer than the middles of normal sized cookies. If making a giant cookie, run a knife around the inside of the tin a few times when taken straight from the oven and the cookies is still soft enough to be cut very easily. Leave to cool for at least 20 minutes until firm enough to turn out onto a wire cooling rack. Cool smaller cookies on a wire tack too.

6. If you want to ice the cookies, prepare royal icing according to box instruction, divide and flavour/colour, then decorate as you wish.

Cookie cakes will last well for a few days in an airtight tin, as will normal sized ones.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A Bit Of Admin


It has been pointed out to me (guess who by) that I give the impression that my parents are complete cretins when it comes to the kitchen, and that my brothers and I were raised on ready meals and frozen pizzas. This was definitely NOT the case. I believe the words I used in my bio were 'my parents are somewhat culinarily challenged', 'somewhat' meaning 'maybe a little', not 'completely culinarily challenged' as it had been exaggerated to by the end of a heated discussion this afternoon. My parents can cook, just not as well as me, something to which I hope they will willingly admit. Because it's true. We've all had our kitchen blunders *echem* mum's bean and cornflake casserole *echem*, but I've been there too (well, maybe not quite as bad as that). It happens to the best of us. Whereas I like to experiment with and create dishes from ingredients lying around, my parents, like a lot of other people, like to follow recipes or cook things they know for sure will work. There's nothing wrong with that at all. But it can get a little boring, I find. (Although I will never get bored of my mum's tuna lasagne) So perhaps the correct phrase to describe my parents isn't 'culinarily challenged', it's 'lacking in a sense of culinary adventure'.
There. I'm glad we cleared that up.

Are you happy now, mum?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Banoffee Pie

Banana. Biscuit. Caramel. Cream. Chocolate. As good as it sounds.

I was surprised to learn last year when a German friend was visiting that banoffee pie (a combination of bananas and toffee) is a British thing (although, correct me if I'm wrong, please). I certainly don't think it's American. Which is surprising. It seems like an American thing to do. The German friend had never heard of it, and was baffled by this strange word on the dessert menu at a restaurant we went to. I tried my best to explain what it was and she ordered it, she loved it.

For a family meal today I was asked  jumped at the chance to make dessert. 'What shall I make?', I thought. I've recently combined all my recipes into one neat binder (take that, summer boredom!), and so I headed straight to the 'desserts' section, knowing I would come across something delicious and exciting. I was not wrong. The original recipe came from a 'Good Food' article, a recipe from the Hairy Bikers. Since I was making this pudding for a large family, I decided to double the quantities of everything and make it in a larger tin. Good call. A few hours later the pie was unveiled, sliced, then destroyed by my family. I think we all died and went to heaven. The word 'stunning' was thrown around. Fun to make and a dream to eat, I'd recommend this to anyone who loves bananas. Or Caramel. Or eating. But be warned, as pointed out by my cousin, it will 'shorten my life by a few days', and is definitely not for those on a diet. But it's so delicious it's (almost) totally worth it.

Banoffe Pie
Makes a large 12'' pie, but can easily be halved to fit a smaller pan. Serves 15.

600g chocolate hobnobs, or chocolate coated oaty biscuits
150g butter, melted

230g butter
230g dark brown sugar
2 x 397g can sweetened condensed milk

6-8 ripe bananas
700ml double cream
vanilla extract

1. Grease and line a loose bottomed cake tin. Blitz biscuits in a food processor or bash in a strong plastic bag with a rolling pin until you have fine crumbs.
2. Pour in the melted butter while the processor is going to incorporate all the butter evenly. Tip out the mixture into the prepared tin, and press firmly to compact. Take care to give an even coating, and make sure the crust is thick enough where the sides of the tin meet the base, and all the way up the sides themselves. Place the tin in the fridge to set for at least half an hour.
3. Melt the butter for the filling in a non stick saucepan. Once melted, add the sugar and heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved, and no oil floats to the top of the pan (see picture above). Add the condensed milk, stir, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 3 minutes until the mixture turns a deep caramel colour.
4. If using the whole recipe, pour 3/4 of the caramel into the set biscuit base. The remainder can be used to drizzle on top of the finished pie, or can be used in other desserts (recipes coming soon!) and kept in the fridge until you need it. If using the smaller half recipe, use all the caramel at once. If you really love toffee and want a really thick layer of in in your pie, go ahead and use it all, even if you're making the double quantity recipe. Return to the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.
5. Slice bananas into coins and pile them on top of the set toffee layer. Whip the cream and vanilla extract to soft peaks and spread over the bananas. Decorate with some grated white or milk chocolate. Leave in the tin until you are almost ready to serve, to decrease the chances of the dessert breaking. When you want to remove from the tin, run a knife around the inside edge of the tin a few times, making sure that the biscuit sides are free all the way round the tin. Place the tin on a can or jar of sauce, and gently push the sides of the tin down to remove it from the pie. Return to the fridge until you are ready to serve.

Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days.

I mean, come on.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Celebration Cakes

My mum is wonderful and I love her very much. Just putting it out there. She got a little offended that I didn't credit her for teaching me how to cook. Well, she didn't. She's taught me to do a lot of other things, but I can't lie and say I owe my love of cookery to her. This grief is from the woman who gave the world baked bean and cornflake casserole (as bad as it sounds). She does make a mean tuna lasagna, though. Scoff all you want, but it's a thousand times better than beef, or any other meat for that matter.

Anyway, it was my parents' 30th wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, and after coming back from holidaying with my brother, I thought it would be nice if one of their three children did something nice for them. So I knocked together these dinky little cakes - marbled sponges sandwiched with some butterscotch buttercream (butterscotch essence courtesy of my Nan bought from the baking department of Webbs of Wychbold), and some berry jam.

This is more of an ideas post, rather than a full recipe, mainly because I used the same cake recipe I always used (found in the wedding cake post and the courgette chocolate truffle cake post, just omit the courgette here, obviously!), divided the batter in half and flavoured one half with cocoa powder and the other with vanilla. I then swirled the batters together in the baking tin, and once they were baked cut out circles of the finished cake with a circle cookie cutter. For those interested, I used a 2 egg quantity batter. They cakes were finished with some white chocolate hearts that I piped with some chocolate that had been coloured pink with some red food colouring. These cakes were great because they were single serve and easy to present nicely. Happy anniversary mum and dad!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Courgette Chocolate Truffle Cake

There's something very satisfying about incorporating vegetables into something sweet and actually having it taste good. In this recipe, courgette was my vegetable of choice because my brother's garden has been inundated with them, so I thought I'd do them a favour and get rid of some of them. What a chore.

If you haven't heard of using vegetables in cakes before, this recipe might seem quite strange. I was a skeptic at first, but now I'm a complete convert. The courgettes are blitzed before being added to a standard cake batter, and, when cooked, melt away to intensify the chocolatey goodness. You can't taste them in the final product, but you can see some gorgeous (or, slightly scary, to those who don't know what they are) green flecks of skin in every slice. Normally, vegetables are used to replace one or two elements of a recipe, or to substitute a bit of something not very healthy for something that's a bit better for you. Truth be told, I forgot this was what you were supposed to do. I just made a normal cake batter and added a whole blitzed courgette. Whoops. But the extra oils/moisture in the courgette made for a deliciously rich, fudgey, chocolate cake so NO REGRETS.

The layers don't rise as much as a normal cake would, but you're left with a lovely, almost brownie like cake that is super moist that could easily be worked into some sort of dinner party dessert if you wanted.

I sandwiched the two thin layers with some mocha buttercream - a mixture of butter, icing sugar, cocoa powder and ground instant coffee. This paired wonderfully with the dark, rich, moist chocolate cake and made it taste like a proper dessert, rather than a cake. This truffle cake may not be the most impressive thing to look at, but it really does taste wonderful.

Note: my recipe uses small quantities, but that's because I was using small tins (the only ones I could find in the house.) If you want to increase the recipe, increase the ingredients by the weight of any additional eggs you use. An egg weighs roughly 70g, so if you use 3 eggs instead of 2 you need to increase the weight of flour, sugar and butter by 70g, and so on.

Truffle Cake
Makes 2 6 or 8'' layers

2 eggs
140g self raising flour
140g light brown sugar
140g softened butter
40g cocoa powder
1tsp of baking powder
1 courgette, finely grated or chopped in a blender

1. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4. Grease and line 2 sandwich tins. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until just incorporated after each addition.
2. Gradually add the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder, alternating with a tablespoon or so of milk, until you get a thick batter. Add the grated courgette and stir.
3. Spread into the lined tins and level out the batter. Bake until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, this will depend on the temperature of your oven, but for me this was around 35 minutes.
4. Remove the cakes from the tins and leave to cool on a cooling rack. Sandwich the cakes with your desired filling when completely cold.

Keeping your finished cake in the fridge will help it develop a wonderfully truffle-like texture, which is very fudgey and brownie-like, but the cake can also be kept at room temperature for a few days.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Cinnamon Scones

How do you pronounce 'scones'? Scone as in 'cone' or scone as in 'gone'? Whether you're a posho or not, there are few things that beat a homemade scone with some jam and cream in the sunshine. Well, maybe if you added some strawberries...and Pimms. 'Parfait!' as the French would say! I'm back from my brother's now, where I made the delicious pizzas, but on my last afternoon there we enjoyed some tea time treats that I made in their fabulous new kitchen - I mean, it had soft close draws and everything, not that I'm jealous...
when all the butter is incorporated, the mix looks like breadcrumbs
The scones were one of the things we had, along with some rhubarb (homegrown) and strawberry jam, courgette (homegrown) chocolate truffle cake, and a plate of Welsh cakes that I enjoyed watching my brother attempting to make from the recipe on the blog (he's about as talented at baking as my parents), but they came out pretty good!

try to handle your dough as little as possible
The super secret to yielding light, fluffy scones is a very light hand. You might be working with a dough but you really do want to handle it as little as possible. Overwork it and you'll end up with a tough dough and brick-like scones that don't rise in the oven. I've been there... Other than that scones are incredibly easy to make and take almost no time at all, about 10 minutes to prepare and just a little bit longer again to cook. They're wonderful warm from the oven, so you don't have to wait for them to cool before serving, meaning you can whip up a plate from a few cupboard ingredients anytime! They're versatile and will go with pretty much anything you want, sweet or savoury! (cheese and jam is a personal favourite). I used cinnamon to flavour my scones, but you could use vanilla, nutmeg, or something even crazier if you wish, (like cheese - who said they had to be sweet?! If you do this though be sure to leave out the sugar from the recipe below.) or nothing at all. Think of these as a slightly sweet roll or bread, they're very adaptable and taste wonderful even if you leave them plain!

Feel free to double this recipe and make GIGANTIC scones with extra room for butter, cream and or strawberries. There's something very satisfying about being presented with a sconce that's the size of your palm. The scones can be cut out with circle cookie cutters, crimped cookie cutters, or hand formed for a very rustic look. They'll lose some of their shape in the oven so it's unlikely that they'll come out in a perfect circle anyway. You could also use small cookie cutters and make a huge batch of mini scones.

Cinnamon Scones
Makes 6 Large

225g self raising flour
55g butter
25g caster sugar
1/2tsp cinnamon
150ml of milk, plus extra for glazing

1. Preheat your oven to gas mark 7. Line and grease a baking tray.
2. Rub together the flour and butter with your fingertips, lifting the mixture above the bowl and letting it fall back in. Do this until all the butter is mixed in and the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
3. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon, then the milk, mixing lightly until you get a soft dough.
4. Turn the mix out onto a floured work surface and bring it all together very gently. Push the dough together a few times to make sure it's bound properly, but avoid overworking at all costs! Pat the dough to about 2cm thick, then cut out your scones, I used a cutter that was about 8 or 9cm in diameter, but you can make your scones whatever size you want.
5. Gather together any scraps of the dough and reform into more scones. Place the scones on the baking tray, brush lightly with milk and bake for 12-15 minutes until risen and golden.
6. Leave to cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.

Scones will keep fresh for a few days in an airtight container.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Easy Pizza Dough

Finally! A pizza dough recipe that has actually been successful! Words cannot describe how thrilled I was to find a recipe that gave me a thick, slightly spongy pizza crust upon which I could pile tomatoes and cheese to my heart's content. There were practically tears of joy streaming down my face.

I've said before that doughs have never been my strong suit. On the long, loonng journey to this perfect pizza base I encountered many that were sub par to say the least. All too often my hopes of a springy dough would be crushed by an unrisen lump that baked to a tomato topped rock in the oven. You know what I'm talking about. But my family still ate the results. Troopers.

I've made this recipe twice now. I'm staying with my brother and his girlfriend at the moment, and thought a rewarding pizza at the end of a hard day's toil in the garden would be just the thing we needed. I'd noticed that they had 'dried yeast' as well as 'easy blend yeast', I've only ever come across the easy blend kind before, and now I suspect that's why my doughs have rarely ever been successful - I've been using the wrong kind. Dried yeast is the kind that you have to 'reactivate' in warm water before mixing in with flour and any other ingredients. I was doubtful, but I thought I'd give it ago. I'm so glad I did. This recipe gives a thick, chewy, delicious crust that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It's not too thick, but it's substantial enough to rival chain pizza bases and to triumph over shop bought any day. this recipe is easy, quick, and dare I say it - fool proof.

The pizzas we had for tea were so good that my brother suggested I make them again the next day for lunch when my Aunt came to visit (hi, Aunty Chris!). I call them fool proof because, even though I ran out of time (woke up late) and didn't give the dough enough time to rise properly, amazingly, the pizzas came out fine. Wonderful, in fact. I actually think I preferred the dough this way; the first time I made this recipe I allowed the dough time to rise properly, the end results were really really good, but the second 'semi' rise yielded a slightly thinner, less airy crust, that better matched the proportion of toppings. You can decide how you make yours, both were great.

I urge you to try home made pizzas at least once. The satisfaction of knowing exactly what went into them is enormous, and they are totally customisable, round, rectangular, or completely skew-whiff, they are your own and carry that rustic charm that restaurants aim for, but can never truly create en mass. These bases are versatile, and will carry any toppings you want; I made one of ours margarita with a homemade tomato sauce, and one was topped with courgettes, potatoes, goat's cheese, rocket and caramelised onions (highly recommended!) Once you make your own you'll never look back!

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 medium bases

600g strong white bread flour
2 tsp active dried yeast
375ml warm water
pinch of sugar
1tsp salt
3tbsp olive oil

1. Whisk the yeast and sugar into the warm water, set aside for 5-10 minutes, until frothy.
2. Add the salt to the flour, then make a well in the center and pour in the olive oil and frothy yeast/water mixture. Mix with your hand or a wooden spoon until combined in a sticky dough and turn out onto a floured work surface.
3. Knead the dough, adding more flour if you need it to stop the dough sticking to your bench or your hands. Knead until smooth and very elastic, about 6-10 minutes. A piece of dough pulled gently should spring back when you let it go.
4. Place in an oiled bowl and give the dough a few turns to cover the dough in oil, this prevents a skin forming while the dough is rising. Cover the bowl in clingfilm or a tea towel and leave to rest in a sunny spot for at least half an hour, or until risen slightly. Here is where you determine the thickness and sponginess of your end result. A longer rising time will mean more air bubbles and a thicker, but more airy dough. On my second making after half an hour the dough had barely risen at all, but I decided to stick with it, top it and stick it in the oven and the end result was probably the best pizza base I've ever made.
5. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees or gas mark 8. Once risen (or semi-risen) turn the dough out onto a floured surface and give it a few punches down to remove any large air bubble. Stretch the dough to fit your baking tray/pizza pan with your fingers. If you don't have a baking sheet specifically designed for pizzas (they have little holes in the bottom to ensure even cooking and a slightly crispy base) just put your pizza bases onto a metal cooling rack that is on top of a baking tray. This allows the air to circulate underneath, while the baking tray will catch and spills.
6. Top your pizza bases with whatever you want, then bake for 5 minutes at gas mark 8, then reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees, or gas mark 6, and bake for a further 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden and your toppings and crust are cooked through.