Sunday, 22 February 2015

Big Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

I’ve never had much success baking muffins. Everyone has that one recipe they just can’t quite master, their Achilles heel if you will. Muffins are mine. Most of my previous muffin attempts either turn out like cupcakes – tasty but not what’s called for, or else dense and dry. After much research and a few not-so-good recipes, I believe I may have finally mastered muffins. Behold the blueberry muffins of delight!

These muffins are light, soft, airy, tender, sweet, blueberry-packed and streusel topped. They have the classic ‘muffin top’ of crisp outer edge that has spilled over the rim of the paper case and a gently doming top. They are not cakey or bready, they are muffins!

I must give thanks to this recipe, which set me on the path to muffin mastery. I used this as my base, adapting it to be gluten free, experimenting with different flours and percentages and types of milk. I incorporated buttermilk for its moist and tender crumb giving properties, replaced lemon juice with fresh vanilla and cut half the blueberries in half for a more even distribution and enhanced juicy purple pockets.

For the streusel topping I added oats and just a hint of cinnamon for a wholesome, slightly nutty crust.

These muffins were amazing. Perfectly soft and tender and I loved the perfumed floral flavour and fragrance that came from using the fresh vanilla. It worked so well with the sweet and jammy blueberries and slight tang from the buttermilk. Inside they had that classic muffin-esque soft open crumb texture.

The streusel topping was slightly fragile and crumbly, but this just means you have little nuggets of oaty crumbs to mop up with your finger after finishing the muffin, as an extra little treat.

I can’t wait to try this recipe out with other flavours, chocolate chip or banana walnut. Hopefully I’ve reached the end of my muffin misfortunes.

Big Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

150g fresh blueberries, half chopped
150g rice flour
25g cornflour
15g tapioca starch
½ tsp xanthan gum
150g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
75ml sunflower oil
1 fresh vanilla bean (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
100ml buttermilk
25ml milk
1 egg

Streusel topping
50g light soft brown sugar
40g rice flour
50g cold butter, cubed
¼ tsp cinnamon
20g gluten free oats

Start by making the streusel topping by combining all streusel ingredients in a bowl and rubbing the mixture together using the tips of your fingers until the butter is broken down into tiny pieces and everything is well mixed. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tin with 9 paper liners.
Cut half the blueberries in half and leave the rest whole, set aside.
In a large bowl add the rice flour, cornflour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, sugar and baking powder together and mix until well combined. Gently stir through the whole and chopped blueberries.
In a large jug, measure out the oil, buttermilk and milk. Slice open the vanilla bean and remove the seeds. Add to the milk mix along with the egg and beat to lightly combine.
Pour half of the milk mix over the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a spatula. Once mostly incorporated, add the rest of the milk mix and fold together until only just incorporated. Do not over mix, a few lumps are fine.
Spoon the muffin mix into the paper cases, filling almost to the rim. Sprinkle a generous amount of the streusel topping over each muffin.
Bake for 25 minutes until risen and lightly golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and leave the muffins to cool in the tin for at least 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Eat within 2 days
Makes 9 large muffins

Monday, 16 February 2015

Celebrating 8 Years of Apple & Spice with Apple & Cinnamon Oat Pancakes with Caramel Sauce

Wow it’s hard to believe my little blog has been going 8 years! As is my tradition on my blogs anniversary, I was in need of an apple inspired recipe to celebrate. I always like to try and do something a little different and as Pancakes Day (Shrove Tuesday) is tomorrow, pancakes seemed the ideal treat.

I thought about doing traditional pancakes, but also wanted something a bit more healthy and substantial to eat for brunch and decided instead to create pancakes using ground up gluten free oats in place of any flour. They are also sugar free, being naturally sweetened with freshly grated apple (skin on) and a dash of cinnamon for a flavour boost. I’d consider them fairly healthy – just don’t look too closely at the caramel sauce I then drizzled over them!

Using the oats as the only ‘flour’ base worked well, and together with the grated apple, gave the pancakes a nubbly soft texture and a delicious slightly nutty flavour where the outer edges had toasted in the pan. The inside texture wasn’t quite as fluffy as regular pancakes, but softer and moister with a definite porridge flavour. However, as a porridge and breakfast lover I was delighted with this. I think these would make fantastic breakfast fodder with a little yoghurt and fresh fruit.

The batter won’t win any awards in the looks department, it is a little lumpy and brown in colour, but the taste and toppings soon perk them up.

I decided to use almond milk in the pancakes as I like its subtle nutty flavour and creaminess, but you can use regular milk too. As they stand the pancakes themselves are also dairy free, but you’d have to use a different sauce if you wanted to make the whole dish dairy free. Maple syrup would be a delicious alternative! Oaty, apple packed and lightly cinnamon spiced these pancakes were a tasty way to celebrate 8 years of Apple & Spice.

This year I’ve managed to combine 3 of my food loves – apple, spice and breakfast all in one – hurrah! See below for my previous years apple inspired treats.

1st yearSpiced Apple Cake

4th yearFruity Tea Loaf

This Years Apple & Cinnamon Oat Pancakes with Caramel Sauce

50g gluten free oats
1 large red eating apple
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
100ml almond milk
1 egg
1 tbsp sunflower oil

½ tin carnation caramel
3-4 tbsp almond milk
Handful of pecans, to serve

Heat the oven to 100C. Lay a piece of kitchen roll over a large plate and place into the oven to warm. Also add a couple of serving plates.
Start by making the sauce. Heat the caramel and milk together in a small pan until a nice warm drizzling consistency. Transfer to a small serving jug and set aside.

To make the pancakes, blitz the gluten free oats in a processor until they are broken down. They should resemble coarse flour, you don’t want it completely powdery. Add to a mixing bowl.
Quarter the apple, remove the core and grate it into the bowl, keeping the skin on.
Add the cinnamon and baking powder and stir together.
Measure the milk, add the egg and lightly whisk together. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mix and beat together to incorporate. You should have a fairly thick dropping consistency batter. Add a little more milk if too stiff.
Heat a large frying pan and brush the base with a little oil. Add heaped tablespoons of the pancake mix and form into round shapes with the back of the spoon.
Allow to cook over a low heat for 1 minute before flipping over with a pallet knife and cooking for a further 30 seconds, or until slightly puffed and browned.
Remove from the pan and transfer to the large plate covered with kitchen roll in the oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining batter.
When ready to serve divide the pancakes between the plates, top with a handful of pecans and drizzle with the caramel sauce.
Makes 8 small pancakes

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Swirled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

These brownies are dangerously addictive. Brownie and cheesecake on their own are delicious, but combine them together and they are amazing! So rich fudgy, chocolaty, creamy indulgence. These were so good my family nearly came to fisticuffs over the size of the slices people were devouring in one sitting.

I’ve never made cheesecake brownies before. It decided to make them on a sudden whim and after adapting my favourite brownie recipe to be topped with a creamy dreamy cheesecake layer these brownies were born. It was one of those light bulb moments where I suddenly realised I’ve been missing out on something so delicious, all these years, followed by the realisation that regular brownies just aren’t going to cut it any more.

I know you must be thinking ‘come off it, it’s only a brownie’ but trust me, these are good! Just look at those soft swirls of creamy cheesecake mingling with the deep fudgy chocolate brownie. A perfect pairing, a marriage made in heaven, the ying to the yang – however you want to say it this is one tasty combo.

These are best eaten straight out the fridge, when the brownie has become almost fudge-like. Dense, rich and intense. If you like cakey brownies then these are not for you.

If you leave the brownies to come to room temperature they are a little softer and lighter. I have also discovered that if you give them a 10 second blast in the microwave they are transformed into a soft, melting, gooey molten chocolate pudding which is also amazing.

If you want to really tip them over the edge, eat a piece cold from the fridge but drizzle it in warm salted caramel sauce…. mmmmmmmmmm…there are no words…

These would make the perfect treat for Valentines day next weekend. Feed your special someone these and you’ll have their heart forever*
*(scientifically unproved)

Swirled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

140g butter
170g dark chocolate, around 60-70%
180g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
65g rice flour
5g tapioca starch
10g cocoa powder
½ tsp gluten free baking powder

150g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g caster sugar
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line the base and sides of a deep 8inch/20cm square tin and set to one side.
To make the cheesecake layer, place the cream cheese into a small bowl and beat with a spatula until soft and smooth. Add the vanilla and sugar and mix to incorporate. Beat in the egg until well combined and set to one side. It will be quite runny, this is fine.

To make the brownies, break the dark chocolate into pieces and place into a large bowl along with the butter. Melt gently over a pan of simmering water until smooth. (The water should not touch the base of the bowl)
Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla and the sugar. Beat the eggs in one at a time until glossy.
Sift over the flour, tapioca starch, cocoa powder and baking powder and beat with a spatula until no flour streaks remain.
Pour three-quarters of the batter into the tin and smooth into an even layer.
Pour all of the cheesecake mixture over the top. Use a spoon to place dollops of the remaining brownie batter in random blobs over the top of the cheesecake layer. Use a skewer or tip of a sharp knife to drag it into swirls. You want the cheesecake layer to still show through.
Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the top looks set but the cheesecake still has a slight wobble to it.
Allow to cool almost completely in the tin before removing. Transfer the brownie to the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares. It can be made the day before.
Store in the fridge and eat within 5 days. Serve with warm salted caramel sauce for extra indulgence.
Makes 1 x 8ich/20cm brownie

Note: Eat straight from the fridge for a dense ultra fudgy brownie or allow it to come to room temperature for a softer eat. Slices can also be gently heated in the microwave which transforms it into a soft gooey molten chocolate dessert.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Choc Chip, Fig, Pistachio & Almond Brown Butter Financiers

Just saying all those ingredients you know these are going to taste good. This was a bake of firsts for me. I’ve never made my own financiers before and I’ve never made a cake using brown butter (beurre noisette) before either. After baking these tempting little cakes I can safely say I’ll definitely be making both again.

I decided to bake financiers as I had two egg whites leftover after making a lemon tart and wanted to use them up. I’m not much or a meringue fan and all my other egg white cakes I’ve made in the past required more than two egg whites, so I went blog browsing and stumbled upon financiers.

These cute mini cakes are often served as part of an afternoon tea or after dinner treat due to their size and pretty presentation. You can buy oval shaped financier tins, but I decided to use some petit fours tins I had recently rediscovered in a dusty corner of my cupboard. I think their little fluted edges make them look very dainty.

They are quite dense little cakes, but this doesn’t mean they are heavy. They are simply moist, soft almond packed little cakes that reminded me almost of marzipan. The use of egg whites keeps them moist and light with an elegant pale coloured crumb.

The browned butter enhanced their natural nuttiness and gave them a greater depth of flavour. It was subtle, but definitely made a difference. I’m going to have to try it again in some other bakes.

A slice of fresh fig and a scatter of chopped pistachios made for an elegant finish. There is something about figs that just scream luxury. The other half were topped with slivered almonds and dark choc chips which stayed wonderful soft and melty after baking. When presented together I was really pleased how they turned out, and I loved the flavours of both.

Next time you have some leftover egg whites, bake financiers!

Choc Chip, Fig, Pistachio & Almond Brown Butter Financiers

60g butter, plus extra for greasing
60g icing sugar
75g ground almonds
25g rice flour
2 egg whites
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 fresh fig
10 pistachio nuts
20 dark chocolate chips
2 tsp flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt some butter and brush the insides of 8 petit four tins or financier tins.
Put the butter in a small pan and heat gently, allowing it to melt and then come to a gentle simmer. Keep watch while it turns from pale yellow to a pale golden amber colour. Do not let it burn. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Put the pistachio nuts and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. 
Mix together the ground almonds, flour and icing sugar in a bowl. 
Lightly beat the egg whites until they foam, but not hold their shape. Add to the flour mix along with the vanilla and beat together whisk a whisk.
Mix in the warmed brown butter a little at a time, until combined.
Divide the financier batter evenly between the tins, filling three-quarters full.
Cut the fig into quarters or sixths (depending on size) and add a slice to the top of half of the financiers. Roughly chop the pistachios and scatter around the fig.
Top the other half of the financiers with dark chocolate chips and flaked almonds.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the tops look ‘set’ and very pale brown around the edges. They do not brown much. (I found the choc chip ones took 12 mins and the fig took 15 mins).
Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before carefully tipping out of the tins and leaving to cool completely.
Lightly dust with icing sugar before serving. Best eaten within 24 hours.
Makes 8 financiers

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Selfridges, Beyond Bread Bakery and Cookies & Scream: A Gluten Free Day in London

I’ve had a list of gluten free places to visit in London for a while, and last weekend I persuaded my mum to come with me on a gluten free day trip to London to investigate. We set off bright and early and arrived in London just after 9am accompanied by a flurry of snow. Our first stop was Selfridges, the posh department store known for their gourmet food section. I’d heard tell that they now offered a range of gluten free cakes and pastries so it was with eager anticipation that we set off.

On arrival at Selfridges we spent a happy half an hour taking in their glorious chocolate and confectionary displays. Everything was so nicely presented and ranged from French macarons in beautiful pastel shades to individually wrapped bars and brightly coloured bonbons.

Next up was the cakes and pastry section. The smell as you entered the room was wonderful. Freshly baked bread and stunning displays of delicate French pastries and glossy fruit topped cakes. I could only look on enviously as my mum purchased some delicious looking bread to take home. I was eager to see what the gluten free offerings would be and asked an assistant to point me in their direction. I had high hopes after seeing the ‘normal’ displays.

So imagine my disappointment when I was shown the gluten free selection…

Well that about sums it up. Not much of a display at all! A few chocolate sandwich cakes, that looked a little haphazardly put together with no decoration or attention to detail given to them at all. There wasn’t even any icing on top! Underwhelmed (and undervalued) is an understatement!

The assistant could see I was disappointed and said they were going to get some more in later in the day, but that’s no good to me. It was mid morning on a Saturday – I expected more than this. I left cakeless.

They did have a small display of fresh gluten free pasta – which I was tempted by as I’ve never seen gluten free ravioli in my life, but as it was the first stop on our journey and they needed to be kept chilled, I decided not to buy any on this occasion.

I love this display of Heinz tomato soup though. What a genius idea. A perfect little cheer up gift for a loved one who’s feeling under the weather.

Next stop was Beyond Bread. A brand new, entirely gluten free bakery and café that only opened this month. The minute I heard about it and saw their baked treats I knew I had to visit.

It’s a lovely little bakery hidden down a side street not too far from Goodge tube stop. On entering you are greeted by the delicious aroma of freshly baked breads and cakes. The shop has a collection of little tables and chairs as well as a long counter displaying the freshly baked tarts, cookies, cakes and breads on offer.

We decided to stay for cake and coffee. We couldn’t decided what to get so decided to share half each of two cakes. I selected the chocolate muffin and my mum went for the orange & almond cake.

The chocolate muffin had a slightly misshapen appearance which hides an almost gooey chocolaty middle. It was still warm from the oven – yes that’s right, a chocolate muffin so freshly baked it was still warm, soft and melty inside. Wow.

The texture was part muffin, part brownie, part soft centered chocolate cake. It had a soft, slightly chewy outer edge with a moist rich middle that was ever so slightly squishy, not uncooked, more like a softly set chocolate brownie. We both agreed it was delicious and you’d never know it was gluten free.

The orange and almond cake was quite dense but had a delicious zingy orange flavour. It was studded with chunks or almonds which gave it a nice bite rather than being made with solely ground almonds. There was a zingy orange icing sugar glaze on top which finished it nicely. It was slightly crumbly, but not dry, more like a cross between cake and shortbread.

While we finished out tea I had a look at the other things on offer and was very impressed to see gluten free baguettes on offer. I’ve never seen a freshly baked gluten free baguette in my life. It had the proper slashes on it and even the little dimpled bottom markings where it had sat on its tray – just like regular baguettes. I was so impressed. I bought one to take home and it was delicious.

It had a proper chewy springy outer crust while the middle was light and airy. I had some for tea and then toasted the rest the next day and it was fabulous. I’d love to know how they made it. It even smelt like real bread. Gluten free breads can often smell strongly of vinegar or molasses, but this smelt wonderfully yeasty and bready. I can’t wait to go back to try some more of their offerings. I’ve even seen photos of gluten free Danish pastries – DANISH PASTRIES!!! I can safely say I’ll be returning as much as possible.

Next on our whirlwind tour of London was Camden Lock Market. I’d never been before and it is an amazing display of just how multicultural and exciting London can be. Walking through a brick built entrance from the main street you are suddenly immersed in a whole different world of little shops, street food traders, interlocking underground passageways and great swarms of people. (If you’re one of those people who don’t like crowds, this isn’t the place for you).

We spent a happy hour wandering around taking in the sights, sounds and smells. We even got a little lost down some of the alleyways and couldn’t find our way out again. It was so exciting. Some of the little shops displayed carved wooden antiques while others had swaths of brightly coloured shawls and shoes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the souks or Morocco.

When we found our way out again and came across the street food market we decided to have lunch. There were at least 4 places offering gluten free options and if you have no dietary restrictions you would be spoilt for choice – everything from dim sum, stir fired noodles, gourmet toasted sandwiches, burgers, burritos, mediterranean salads, Turkish falafel, cupcakes and even a dedicated mac n cheese stall. The assortment of smells, and wafts of smoke was so exciting.

After wandering round each stall at least 3 times I finally decided on a hot salad box from a stall called Feed Me Primal. It was all Paleo and Gluten Free. I chose the vegetarian box which included a warm stir fry of cauliflower, beetroot and carrot with lemon and herbs that was topped with fresh spinach, cheese, spicy salsa, picked chilies and a little almond and coconut pancake wrap. It was all very tasty and lovely and fresh.

My mum went for a gourmet toasted sandwich from Toastits. This had sun dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, spinach, avocado and basil sandwiched between 2 slices of toasted sourdough bread. She loved it and said the bread was particularly delicious. It was so big she couldn’t quite finish it. Despite the cold we sat outside on communal picnic benches, watching the hustle and bustle around us which made for a great atmosphere.

After lunch it was treat time again and we managed to find Cookies & Scream, a gluten and dairy free vegan bake shop. It was a tiny little shop front hidden in the market. There was a selection of 2 pies and 3 cookies when we visited.

We decided to share a chocolate chip cookie and a slice of Chico Pie which was a fat slice of peanut butter cookie dough, studded with chocolate chips and shaped into a pie.

The chocolate chip cookie was ok. It had a lovely strong vanilla aroma, but I found the texture to be a bit lacking. It was quite firm, neither chewy nor crispy. Perfectly nice, but nothing special.

The Chico Pie was much better. It really was a thick slab of peanut butter cookie dough, and was just as delicious as it sounds. Very rich, but not too sweet with a great natural peanut flavour. I loved the chunks of chocolate in it too. We were quite full after our lunch and so bought this home with us and enjoyed it the next day.

So all in all a wonderfully food filled gluten free day. The gold star goes to Beyond Bread for creating gluten free heaven with real innovation of the treats and breads they offer. I can’t wait to try some more of their baking.