The Very Best of Mary Berry’s Shortbread

I’ve been on a bit of a baking slump at the moment, like a huge one. I have no idea why – I just haven’t felt like baking very much. But the Great British Bake Off started again and, in true GBBO style, it inspired me to start baking again.Read More »

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Black and White Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Birthdays, a time of year that I love… especially when it’s not mine. I think I may actually be the only person on Earth to prefer other people’s birthdays to my own, but that’s just how it is. There is one specific problem when it comes to my birthdays: I’m the baker, thus I make my own cakes – not the most enjoyable experience (especially when putting the candles on!).Read More »

Yorkshire Gingernuts

This year we had a team advent calendar: each person had three days to fill with lovely treats for the person who opened it. Being the office baker, everyone could guess what would be waiting for them – some form of Christmassy baked goodness.

I managed to pick three people who had completely different tastes in baked goods (yes guys – not everyone is like me and loves everything!).  I planned each ‘gift’ and attempted to make the type of thing they liked the most – so my first colleague got some Yorkshire Gingernut biscuits baked using Mary Berry’s recipe.

This was pretty quick and simple to follow – the butter and golden syrup go into a pan and are heated whilst the dry ingredients are mixed together. The melted butter is then added along with the egg.

The most difficult part of the recipe was getting 50 biscuits out of the batter – I went a bit OCD and weighed the total amount of batter, divided it by 50 and started measuring out each amount before baking them in sets of 10.  You’d think it was a pretty clever way to do it and it’s good if you’re a perfectionist like me who likes everything the same size – but it takes forever!

Yorkshire Gingernuts

Finally all the biscuits came out the oven and I had a quick taste test with my cup of ‘well-done-you-finished-baking’ tea. I have to admit, I wasn’t ‘in love’ with them; the ginger taste is a bit too subtle for my taste and it’s not the sweetest of biscuits.  Not really my kind of thing – but the advent recipient loved them (phew!).

 Yorkshire Gingernuts

These are (apparently) really nice with some Yorkshire tea and perfect for someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth.  Not my personal favourite, I have to admit, but they did look great.

A Gingerbread Mansion

Last year I had planned to make a gingerbread house but never actually got round to it; a serious lack of time lead to a lot of gingerbread men and women being made instead.  This year I was determined to make a seriously cool gingerbread abode – I designed and made the blueprints for a gingerbread mansion.

You may ask why I had such big plans? Well, if you’ve ever read my posts before you’ll have gotten used to my insane ideas where I’m normally in over my head. My motto: ‘go big or go home’. OK so that’s not actually my motto but it works here.

First thing you need to do when making a gingerbread house is to make the blueprints for it – my building design was essentially four basic-shaped houses stuck together to make a mansion.  This in itself took around 2 hours; apparently geometry isn’t my best subject – I was more of an algebra type girl anyway.

 Then came the preparation of the batter – this year I went for Mary Berry’s recipe to see how it would differ from last years.  I made three times the amount of batter as I had a LOT of building parts to make. I started by mixing the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ginger and rubbing in the butter – this was, actually, quite a calming exercise and I was quite happy rubbing everything in while watching a Christmas movie on TV.  The golden syrup, sugar and egg is mixed in and kneaded until a smooth dough is made.

Gingerbread

By this point my hands were getting quite tired but I figured I was practically halfway there.  I started rolling out the batter and cutting out the shapes; there was a pretty good one-woman production line going but it still took around 2 hours to get all the pieces cut and baked.  I had planned to have a gingerbread Christmas tree but I simply didn’t have enough batter left.

 Gingerbread

The house was now seriously smelling like Christmas and the family were very excited about what I had come up with – the entire dinner table was covered with bits and pieces of my mansion.  Personally, at that point I was happy if I never smelt gingerbread again but I had to power through.

After a quick break for the gingerbread to cool (and a cup of tea, of course!), I started putting together the mansion.  I whisked together some icing sugar and egg whites to make a stiff icing to use as the ‘glue’.

Gingerbread

My dad and I spent the next 2 hours painstakingly putting each piece together; I never realised how dramatic and tense making a gingerbread house can be! We finally got the walls up and got started on the roof.  As each section dried I piped a decorative pattern on each of the joints for extra strength – and to hide all the ugly glued bits.  The last touch was to pipe chocolate icing onto the roofs and sprinkle some coconut to make it look like it had snowed. Add a snow covered floor and some snowmen and hey presto. My very own gingerbread mansion!

Gingerbread Mansion

On Christmas day the gingerbread house/mansion took pride of place at the centre of the table, everyone was pretty amazed, not only at my sheer luck but also at how long it took to make – 9 hours! They were so amazed that no one wanted to break into it – it was a completely different matter for me, I couldn’t wait to tear it apart!

 Gingerbread mansion

We only managed to get through the side extensions on Christmas day, but continued to work our way through until it was all gone!

The gingerbread itself was moreish – and a lot softer than you’d expect from a gingerbread biscuit.  I much prefer this recipe and will definitely use it again – just not for a very long time, I need to get over my ordeal first!

Dark and Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies

Normally when I bake brownies, I think of it as a bit of a ‘childish’ treat – I have no idea why I have this connection as I never had brownies as a kid.  The inner workings of my mind is a pretty terrifying place to spend any time in so I didn’t bother to figure out why I have the connection, and started getting down to this ‘grown-up’ version of a timeless classic.

The first difference this recipe has to other brownie recipes is that it doesn’t use cocoa powder; instead Mary Berry decided to thrown in another bar of plain chocolate. And let’s be honest, what person is going to say no to another bar of chocolate, huh?

I broke up the pieces of chocolate, added the butter and put my bowl over a simmering pot of water for it all to melt.  This is when I realised I was using a plastic bowl that would start to melt itself at any second … aargggghh! I dashed back into the kitchen, to look for another bowl whilst holding the first one above the pot (so it could still get heat without burning a hole in the plastic).

After 5 minutes of looking for a glass bowl I remembered that, naturally, we don’t have any. Cue a very long, exaggerated ‘ugh’ sound before accepting defeat and holding the plastic bowl over the pan for the time it took to melt the chocolate and butter which, if you didn’t know, takes quite a while!

The chocolate finally melted and I was able to get on with the rest of the baking.  I chopped up an endless amount of walnuts, and put them to the side, ready to throw in at the last stage.  The whisk then came out and whipped up the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and coffee … Wait … coffee?! Yes folks, if an extra bar of chocolate isn’t enough of a sugar rush; Mary Berry decided to throw in an extra shot of caffeine. I guess this is another reason why it should be considered a ‘grown-up’ brownie recipe.

Once this was all whisked, I stirred in the chocolate and butter mixture and folded in the flour, walnuts, and a heck of a lot of chocolate chips.  Now I understand the use of ‘indulgent’ in the title of the recipe. The batter was poured into the tray tin and baked for the recommended time.

Now, you’re normally meant to let the brownies cool a bit before cutting them up, as the gooey middle sets better once it’s cool – but I was tired, and very hungry after watching all that chocolate melt and decided enough time had been spent on brownies for one day.  I attempted to chop the brownies up into equal pieces, nibbled on the bits that came off in the process and packed up the whole lot to take to work the following day.

Dark and Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies

There is one thing I do know about brownies, no matter what you put in them, or what they taste like – they are generally devoured in the work place.  Normally, I’m good with ‘taste-testing’ and only have a small piece/slice of whatever I bake but with these brownies, I couldn’t help but have an extra slice (or two…OK four in total!) The were definitely rich, but not sickeningly so – the coffee added a nice kick to balance out the sweetness of the chocolate.

These brownies should come with a warning however –no matter how old you are, you will get an insane sugar/caffeine rush from eating these.  OK so maybe don’t do what I did and eat 4 in one go, but I can say that attempting to eat only one of these moreish little delights is almost impossible, they’re just that good!

 Dark and Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies

Limes … in Cookies … Hmm …

I was looking for something really quick and easy to bake this weekend and came across this recipe for Lime Lattice Cookies in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  To be honest I was quite sceptical about it all; now I’ve had a really good run so far with Mary Berry’s recipe’s but lime and cookies? … Really?

There were so few ingredients involved and the recipe seemed really easy so I couldn’t help myself; I decided to give it a go. All I had to do was cream some butter and sugar (easy enough) and mix in self-raising flour (can’t mess that up right?!) and lime zest (dammit!).

I hate grating – well, pretty much anything – but limes are by far the worst! They just don’t want to be grated! After much huffing and puffing – and the odd five injuries – I managed to get two limes grated and ready to put in the mix.

Here is where I have to make a confession – the recipe is enough to make 16 cookies; so … I measured the dough exactly and separated it into 16 exacts parts (that’s 17grams each). I realise the sheer geekiness and perfectionist nature of this and all I have to say is – I’m a geek, and I like to have cookies that are all the same shape. And What?!

Now this is where the recipe stumped me a bit; Mary Berry says to create a lattice pattern using a skewer – great, I have the skewer … now what in the heck is a lattice pattern?! (I do admit that this is another confession that I probably really shouldn’t reveal to the world via a food blog!) But Google, as always, provided me with an answer and I set to work.

 

The now lattice-patterned cookies went into the oven for about 15minutes, and came out just as they were turning golden.  This is the worst part about baking cookies.  You’d think it would be simple to know when the cookies are ‘almost golden’ but I’ll have you know that there are many different shades that fall under that category.

Once the cookies were out, I managed to wait twenty minutes before I had to give one a taste test; I was just too intrigued to wait!

And the verdict is … yum! The cookies have quite a crumbly texture and the lime adds a really nice sharpness to it, which isn’t overwhelming at all.  Altogether, they’re a great, quick and easy recipe for pretty much any occasion – did I mention that they look really good too?

Little Bites of Yumminess

I finally got my Baking Bible in the post (mini yay required) and was so excited about baking from it that I made biscuits the same day for friends who were coming round for dinner.

I decided on the Lavender biscuits purely because it was the first recipe I saw in the book.  I also have fresh lavender growing in the garden and really wanted an excuse to use it.

So we were already off to a good start … Till I realised that bees really like lavender! I’m slightly scared of them and it was a terrifying experience trying to get enough lavender without them coming near me.  There was a lot of shrieking and running involved – definitely not a pretty sight.

I did manage it however and got enough to start on the biscuits. I whisked together the lavender and the butter and added the sugar.  The flour was stirred in and kneaded together with my hands.

I then split the mixture in half and rolled out a sausage type shape that was roughly 15cm long (I know because I actually used a ruler!). Each of these were rolled around in the Demerara sugar and wrapped in foil and put in the fridge to harden.

After about an hour, and two cups of tea later, I turned on the oven and brought out the biscuits.  As I unwrapped the foil I could already get a hint of lavender smell, which for some reason got me extremely excited, easily pleased person that I am!

I had to cut the sausage-shaped mixture into small slices and placed them on the baking tray and wacked them into the oven for 15 minutes.

 

45 minutes later the biscuits were cooked.  Now I don’t blame Mary Berry for this, but actually I think my oven door wasn’t working very well and was letting out a lot of heat.

It was definitely worth the wait though.  I couldn’t wait much longer so sneakily ‘taste tested’ a biscuit while it was still hot, as in literally straight from the oven. So I had a burnt mouth too, but it was so worth it.  The biscuit is beautiful; there is no other word.  The hint of lavender works really well against the crispness and sweetness of the sugar.

 

This will definitely be a staple part of my diet in the future. I don’t think I can live long without these in my life. A great start to the book.  Well done Mary Berry!

Nuts Anyone?

I’ve been on holiday to Iran and have developed a taste for everything nutty.  Iran has a plethora of beautifully tasty treats, many of which incorporate nuts. So what did I spend my time doing? Eating them all, naturally.

I came back and the first question everyone asked me is “What did you learn to bake?” Erm … I didn’t learn to bake anything, I was too busy eating it all!

So, to make up for my lack of Iranian baking knowledge, I made the Mixed Nut Slices, as it’s a dessert that could definitely be Iranian if it wanted to.

I started off by preparing the dough for the base – my first ever dough! The experience wasn’t as terrifying as I imagined.  Although I did realise that my baking tray is quite a bit bigger than the recipe’s and had to add another half portion of everything to make it work.

The dough was pressed into the pre-greased baking tray and put in the oven for 20minutes. Now I know all about baking beads and still haven’t purchased any. The recipe didn’t indicate the need for any baking beads so I put my trust in the recipe.

The dough came out quite puffy (damn it, should have used baking beads!) but went back down again to its original shape after I squished it down a bit.  I also was a bit stingy on the making a ‘lip’ on the sides but figured it would be fine.

While the base was cooling I set about chopping up and preparing all the nuts.  The pistachios and almonds were roasted (and very slightly burnt) in a non-stick saucepan by tossing them over a medium heat.  The nuts were then placed on top of the pastry, ready for the topping.

The topping was made by melting the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan and adding the eggs once it had cooled slightly.  This was poured over the nuts and put in the oven for 20 minutes.

Because I didn’t make a proper lip around the sides of the tin, some of the topping spilled over and made the pastry look a bit burnt, when in fact, it was just cooked well – I promise! Otherwise it turned out really well.  I left the pastry to cool before cutting into slices and shipping it off with my parents to take to a dinner party with the promise that they’d take photos and save me a slice.

They didn’t. Grrrr. But they did bring back lots of thanks and requests for more so I can imagine that it tasted good?!  I was later told that it was really crunchy and rich and something that goes amazingly with tea after dinner.

So, although I can’t give you a better description of taste, I can say that it was an easy recipe to make, will very likely last a while if stored correctly and is a great side to have with tea.