With the news of the Black Friday Brawls at WalMart, it looks like the holidays are well and truly upon us.  And we all know what that means – lots of family and friends getting together … and lots and lots of leftovers.

Let’s be honest, while the meal, itself, is good – it’s the sandwiches that you have in the days following that are truly outstanding.  As for me, my favorite thing is toasted (blank) and cheese sandwiches.  Whether it’s turkey, ham or roast beef, add a little sharp cheese and toast it with some soup on the side and you have a feast fit for a king!

Pop this in a plastic container and it’ll keep in the fridge for three weeks or so.

Fancy-Pants Cheese Spread

  • 9 oz sharp cheese, grated (I like a good cheddar, but Gruyere would also be yummy)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • dash or two of Tobasco (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • milk or cream, if necessary

Pop the lot into a food processor and blend until smooth.  If it forms a ball, dribble in some milk or cream until it smooths out.

Cheese spread 2 Cheese spread 1

As many people know, I’m a HUGE fan of The Great British Bake-off, which is now in it’s fourth season here in the UK.  I understand that one of the judges went to the States to try to replicate the program there (The American Baking Competition – they didn’t really put a lot of time into the name, did they) … no surprise that, with that name, it didn’t really take off.  The whole premise is about home baking and traditional cooking with various themes each week like cakes, pies, bread, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, GBBO did their bread episode and I was positively inspired by their “technical challenge” which was English muffins.  When is the last time you actually even thought about English Muffins?  You pop down to the grocery and mindlessly throw a package of Thomas’s in your basket.  Or you go out for brunch and order eggs Benedict and there it is, the trusty, chewy base.  It adds a little texture, but, let’s be honest, it doesn’t stand up and take center stage.

Consequently, when you think about making bread, English Muffins aren’t really the first thing that come to mind.  In fact, I can honestly say that, until I watched it on that episode, I never even thought about how they were made.  Griddles!  Who knew?  A nice griddle or non-stick pan on medium-low heat is how you get that crispy top and bottom with the nice soft middle.  It was a revelation, I tell ya!

I will tell you this – this is one of those recipes that really benefits from a standing mixer.  Yes, you can mix and knead by hand, but it is an enriched dough, so is a little sticky, making kneading SUCH a hassle when a dough hook does just as well!  If you DO decide to try this by hand, use oil on the work surface rather than flour – you don’t want to toughen the dough.

As with all bread recipes, the dry ingredients are in metric weight rather than volume … if you haven’t bought a digital scale, yet, what are you waiting for!  BUY ONE!!

English Muffins

  • 300 g bread flour
  • 6 g salt
  • 6 g instant yeast
  • 15 g sugar
  • 1 Tbsp butter, soft
  • 2/3 cup whole milk, warmed to body temperature
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • semolina or fine cornmeal for dusting

In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the flour, salt, yeast, sugar and butter and start on low.  Slowly add the milk and egg and mix  thoroughly.  Once fully incorporated, speed up the machine a notch or two to really get the gluten working and let it go for about ten minutes.  As stated above, because this is an enriched dough, it’s going to be a bit stickier than your traditional bread dough, so be patient as the machine does the work.  Stop occasionally to make sure everything is being mixed and kneaded.  By the time ten minutes is up, you’ll feel the difference from how it was at the start – the gluten will give it a good body, but it will still be a soft dough.

Oil a large bowl and put the dough in it to rise for an hour or so until it’s doubled in size.  Once it’s finished, tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface and press or roll out to about 1/2″ thickness.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit and rest for about 10 minutes.  While it’s resting, dust a large tray with the semolina or cornmeal.

Finally, use a 3″ round (not fluted) cutter to cut the dough into nice rounds and place them on the prepared tray by dipping the dough into it on one side and moving around a bit to make sure it’s evenly covered, before flipping over and doing the same on the other side.  When they’ve all been dusted, they need to sit for about 30 minutes for their second proofing.

During their two to three minutes of proving, heat a non-stick skillet or pan over medium-low heat.  No butter.  No oil.  Just dry heat.  Put the muffins in without overcrowding the pan and cook them about five minutes per side.  Then, slice and eat, baby!  Loveliness!

English muffins1 English muffins2 English Muffins3

Cake.  As much as I love cookies … and scones … and pastry … I ask you: is there anything that is just flat-out nicer than a slice of cake?  It’s the thing that we always seem to have for big occasions – weddings, birthdays, christenings and anniversaries.  But, it’s one of the easiest things that you can make to make every day feel special.

One of the things I really love about living in England is that they are all about the “everyday” cake.  Of course, they like their “show-stoppers” that are iced and decorated, just like everyone else.  But, they also like their simple, work-a-day cakes that you make when you have someone coming around for tea, or just for a little mid-week pick-me-up.  Much like an American pound cake, these cakes are simple but substantial and perfect for anything like a school bake sale or just having someone over for lunch.

Perfect for this type of simplicity is the bundt cake – whether they are a plain circular or if they have extra decoration (me, I’m a HUGE fan of NordicWare’s fantastic designs!!), they are a little more fancy-pants than a loaf tin or plain round traditional cake pans.  With the built-in “decoration”, all that’s left for you to do is to dust it with powdered sugar or maybe push the boat out with a flavored drizzle.

This cake is the result of about a month if research – oh, the things I do for you people!  The pain!  The toil!  But, I’ll be honest with you – I couldn’t be more pleased with the final result.  And, I think you’ll like it, too.

Mocha Bundt Cake

Cake

  • 2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup Green & Black’s cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 bar Green & Black’s dark chocolate (70% cocoa), melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk, soured with the juice of one lemon
  • 5 oz butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cup super-fine sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Glaze

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp hot espresso
  • 4 squares dark chocolate
  • 1 Tbsp whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare a bundt pan by buttering it well.  (I’ve never had a good results from the baking spray – I warm butter until it’s mostly melted butter and use a pastry brush to make sure it gets into every nook and cranny – don’t forget the middle!)

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream the butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly, then add vanilla and melted chocolate and mix thoroughly, scraping down the sides.  Reduce the speed to low and alternate the flour mixture and the soured milk, starting and ending with the flour (I do 3 flour additions with 2 milk additions in the middle).  Once you add the last bit of flour, stop the mixer and finish mixing by hand.

Pour into the bundt pan and smooth across the top, tapping once against the counter to make sure it’s settled into all the decorative bits.  Place on the middle rack of the oven and back 50 minutes – 1 hour, until a tester comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, using a knife to loosen a bit before turning out onto a plate.

Once the cake is cooled, make your glace by putting all the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat and mix until the chocolate is melted and everything is thoroughly combined.  Drizzle over the cake and serve!

Mocha Bundt Cake

So, today is Easter Sunday and kids everywhere are waking up to baskets of chocolate eggs, Reese’s chocolate mini cups, and candy-coated chocolate eggs (could easily eat my weight in those things).  Sense a trend?  Much like Christmas, Easter seems to be overwhelmingly about chocolate.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Chocolate is all well and good – particularly if you’ve given it up for Lent.  But sometimes you just want something a little different.

And that’s this cake.

It’s a really nice, light, moist cake that is perfect for a mid-morning treat or dessert after a heavy dinner.  And the cardamom gives it a fabulous scent and such an interesting flavor that you’ll want to keep this in your repertoire!

I’ll tell you now that it might sound like it’s labor-intensive, but I promise you that it isn’t.  Get everything measured out and ready before you start and it all comes together very quickly.

Espresso, Cardamom and Pistachio Cake

  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios, divided – half ground finely, half roughly chopped for the topping
  • Seeds from 24 cardamom pods, ground finely then divided in half
  • Just under 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 4 oz butter, room temperature
  • just under 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp instant espresso powder, divided
  • 8 1/2 oz mascarpone
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk

Okay, let’s start by getting everything prepped:  bash your cardamom pods and remove the seeds, grind them finely, then divide in half (you should have about 1/2 tsp each).  Then, grind 1/3 cup of the pistachios, then set aside with 1/2 tsp cardamom and 1 Tbsp instant espresso.  Finish prepping by preheating the oven to 350 and buttering and lining with parchment paper two 8″ round cake pans.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and scrape down the sides to make sure that the mixture is smooth.  Add the ground pistachio mixture and mix to combine completely before adding the flour, stirring in by hand to make sure you don’t overbeat.

Divide the mixture into the two tins – it’s not going to look like a whole lot, so spread it out across the bottom – it’ll only be about 1/2″ batter in the bottom.  Bake for about 20 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the coffee syrup – in a small bowl, mix 1 Tbsp instant espresso with about 1/4 cup boiling water, 1 Tbsp sugar and the other half-teaspoon of the ground cardamom.  Stir well and let cool.

When the cake is finished baking, poke all over with a toothpick and drizzle in the syrup while still in the pans, then let cool.  (If you have a squeeze bottle, use that for the syrup to make sure that you get a nice, even drizzle.)

Make the frosting by mixing the mascarpone with 1 tsp espresso and 1 Tbsp sugar, thinning slightly with a little milk.  When the cake is cool, spread half the mixture on the bottom layer, then sprinkle half of the roughly chopped pistachios, then top with the other layer, frosting and the remainder of the pistachios.

Espresso cardamom pistachio cake

Oh, how I love bread.  I wish I could say that it was a casual thing – just a fling and it doesn’t really mean anything.  But, no.  My love of bread is a deep, abiding, spiritual thing.  No passing fancy, here.

Which is why I respect a good loaf, roll, or flatbread.  Why I hold in high esteem anyone who can take water, flour and yeast and turn it into something both beautiful to behold and satisfying to chew.  And, why I can’t just foist making bread off onto some machine that will take up valuable counter space and deprive me of actually getting my hands in and feeling the bread develop.

Because, there really is something to the art of kneading bread and feeling it go from being shaggy and sticky to something smooth and elastic.  Then, watching the yeasts in action as the bread goes through its first rise – it’s magical stuff even if you know the science behind every step of the process.

This recipe comes from Paul Hollywood’s cookbook, How to Bake, and is an absolute doddle to make.  Maneesh is somewhere in the hinterland between a flatbread and focaccia and is topped with one of my favorite middle-eastern spice/herb mixtures, za’atar.  Now, if you can’t find za’atar at your local grocery, you can easily order it online or simply make it yourself.  Whatever you choose, make sure you order or make plenty, because this recipe will require about 6-7 tablespoons of it.

As always, because this is a bread recipe, the measurements are in weight not volume – if you haven’t bought yourself a digital scale, this one is very similar to mine and does an excellent job.

Maneesh

  • 500 g bread flour
  • 10 g salt
  • 10 g instant yeast
  • 25 g sugar
  • 320 ml warm water (about 1 1/3 cup water)
  • 6-7 Tbsp za’atar
  • olive oil

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt, yeast and sugar before slowly adding the warm water.  When the dough comes together (it should feel slightly tacky, but not sticky), remove it from the bowl and prepare to knead.  On a clean counter, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and use your hands to smooth on the counter.  Tip the bread onto the oiled counter and knead for 10 minutes by using the heel of one hand to stretch the bread while using the fingers of your other hand to hold the bread steady.  Gently roll the bread back and repeat, occasionally turning the bread by 90 degrees.  You’ll feel the dough slowly get smoother and more springy.  When you’ve hit the 10-minute mark, test the bread by poking it gently and seeing if the dimple springs back – if it does, you’re ready to let the bread rest and rise.  Lightly oil a bowl and turn the dough in the oil to make sure it’s coated on all sides, then cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit for about an hour, or until doubled in size.  In a small bowl, mix the za’atar with just enough olive oil to form a nice paste and let sit while the bread does its thing.

Preheat the oven to 425F and prepare two baking pans by lining with parchment

Once the dough is done rising, tip it out on a clean (not oiled) counter then do something completely insane – knock out as much air as possible by kneading for 2-3 minutes.  When you’re done, divide the bread into 4 and either form into a round (which I never do) or just flatten it into whatever shape it happens to form (my usual MO).  Divide the za’atar paste among the 4 loaves and use the back of a spoon to spread evenly, slightly pressing into the dough.

Maneesh - uncooked

Let the dough sit for about 20-25 minutes then bake for 12-13 minutes.  Let cool about 10 minutes or so before serving with hummus, baba ganouj, barbecue or even a nice tagine … totally yum!!

Maneesh - cooked

 

 

After last week’s labor-intensive cookies, I thought I’d lighten up a bit with one of the easiest, no-cook recipes around … hummus.

In fact, it always feels a little weird to have what is essentially an “assembly” recipe and call it “cooking.”  But, if you’re looking for a nice, easy dip with veggies or pita chips – or something nice to serve along with grilled meat and salad, you really can’t beat hummus.

I’ve tinkered around with this recipe for about 15 years, now – adding a little more lemon here … a little more cumin there … until I’ve finally found something that I’m very happy with.  It’s got just the right amount of olive oil it in to make it gorgeous and smooth.  Okay, I’ll say it – I’m very proud of how it’s evolved and finally turned out.  And I think you’ll like it, too!

My Favorite Hummus

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp tahini
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Pour the lot of it in a food processor and blend until very smooth.  To serve, sprinkle with a pinch of cumin and drizzle with the best olive oil you’ve got.

Hummus

These cookies are awesome.  They are chewy.  They are chocolatey.  They are a little bit nutty.  And they have a nice tinge of saltiness to complement the chocolate.

What they aren’t are cookies that you can make at 9:00 at night when your kid says “Oh, by the way, I need to take something to the bake sale tomorrow.”

No, these are cookies that strategic planning and timing.  Seriously – I’m talking, there are STEPS that have to be taken.  But, when you taste the end result, you’ll realize that they’re just so darned worth it!  And, yes, this is another recipe that, when I say to use a rimless baking sheet lined with parchment paper, you really should – the cookies are so gooey and soft when you pull them out of the oven that they’d fall completely apart if you had to spatula them onto a baking rack.

The way I make them, the recipe makes three dozen yummy, scrummy cookies.  And, even with the time needed to prep, they’ll be gone before you know it.

Not Your Mama’s Bake Sale Cookies

  • 1 jar of Nutella
  • 1/4 lb hazelnuts
  • 8 oz unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 bars Green and Black dark chocolate (70%), chopped
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Okay.  So.  Here we go.  First things first – you’re going to roast the hazelnuts and brown the butter.  So, heat the oven to 450 and pour the hazelnuts into a wide-enough pan that they’re not too crowded (I used a square 8×8″ cake pan and that was fine), and roast the nuts for about 15 minutes until fragrant.  When they’re done, let them cool for about 5 minutes, then tip them out onto half of a dish towel, folding the other half over the top, and rub them firmly against the counter to get rid of the husks.  It’s a bit time consuming, but worth it.  Once they’ve been de-husked and cooled, put them in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer to get chunks.  You might be tempted to use your food processor – don’t.  You’ll wind up with ground hazelnuts, not roughly chopped.

Next up, brown the butter.  Put all the butter into a saucepan over medium-high heat and melt, then let it bubble away.  It’ll start foamy, then the foam will disappear, then, as the milk solids start to brown, it’ll begin bubbling again.  If you whisk gently, you’ll be able to see as it starts to brown – when you see the solids turn light brown and the butter smells nice and nutty, remove from the heat and pour into a bowl.  Let cool a little bit, then put into the fridge to firm up.  It sounds strange, but you’ll want it to firm, then get soft again to beat with the sugar.  So, my recommendation is that you do the butter and the nuts the night before you want to bake the cookies.  And, when you put the butter in the fridge, throw the jar of Nutella in there, too.

Next day – pull out the butter to come up to room temp and pull out the jar of Nutella.  Get a mellon ball scoop (small – about 1/2 tsp) and scoop out 36 Nutella balls, putting them on a plate, then throw them in the freezer.

When the butter is soft and you’re ready to make the dough, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then add the egg and yolk, yogurt and vanilla, beating well to combine.  Add the flour, nuts and chocolate chips, mixing thoroughly, but not over-beating.  Wrap in plastic (or just pop it into a large zippy bag) and pop into the fridge for 2 hours to rest.

See???  Now do you understand why I say that these are NOT bake sale cookies???!!!

NOW … preheat the oven to 350 and line rimless baking sheets with parchment.

Once the dough has rested, we’re finally (finally!) ready to make the cookies.  Use a teaspoon to scoop out a ping-pong-ball sized bit of dough, roll it into a ball, then flatten.  Get your frozen Nutella ball and put it in the middle, then form the cookie around it, making sure the Nutella is completely covered, so it won’t seep out during baking.  When you lay them out on the lined sheet, flatten slightly and sprinkle with a little sea salt.  Bake for 12 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  As mentioned above, don’t try to use a spatula on them when they’re hot, you’ll just moosh them up – pull the entire sheet of paper onto a baking rack to cool, then store in an air-tight container.

Not Your Mamas Bake Sale

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