Tomato Soup

Tomato soup is a classic comfort food. At university, if I was ever ill, Heinz tomato soup with bread dipped in it was my go to dish as it was a fast, satisfying dinner. What I didn’t realise at the time was quite how simple it is to make this for yourself! Whilst I always had a tub of some sort of homemade soup in the freezer, it was never tomato because I thought that I would never be able to create something that could rival the classic red can. I was wrong.

The variety of tomato you use will dramatically affect the final result of the soup. For most tomatoes, it will come out a bright orange colour which is usually darkened by adding tomato puree. For a much naturally darker soup, you can use passata instead of fresh tomatoes; passata is basically a less thick version of the tomato puree that you can buy in a tube. The tomatoes in passata and puree are already cooked and strained so the colour you get from them is far closer to the colour of the final soup. Using passata will also result in a much more intense flavour. If you are trying to make an econo-soup, you can use tinned tomatoes which don’t require the peeling or coring, just make sure to drain them first so you don’t water down the soup. Tinned tomatoes usually offer a truer flavour than using passata; however for most people, myself included, this is not really an issue.

It is a well known fact that tomatoes are a fruit. What is less commonly known is that they are actually a berry along with cucumbers, bananas, kiwis and aubergines (and not strawberries or raspberries). They are, unfortunately, not quite as healthy as people think. Before you get worried, tomatoes are not bad for you (unless you have an allergy etc.) however, other than being an ok source of vitamin C, they do not offer very much other nutritional benefit. There have been many claims that they can help offset heart disease and the effect of UV radiation on the skin however all testing in these areas has been inconclusive.

Fresh tomato soup is obviously not the same as what you can buy at the supermarket but it is still wonderful. It is true that if I was ill, I would want the childhood favourite as a pick me up (after the classic chicken soup of course #jewishpenicillin) but for normal consumption, a more sophisticated soup is preferable. Let me know what you think.

 

 

Tomato Soup

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per portion: from 50p (with tinned tomatoes)

 

Ingredients

10 ripe tomatoes (about 1kg after peeling and coring)

2 medium onions

1 large carrot

3 large sticks of celery

3 large cloves garlic

2 tbsp tomato paste

300ml vegetable stock

3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Chop the onions, celery and carrots into smallish pieces.

Place in a large saucepan and lightly cook (with the lid on) for about 10 minutes – or until the onions have gone translucent and the other vegetables have begun to soften.

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While the onions and carrots are cooking, peel and core the tomatoes.

To peel them, make an x shaped incision in the base of each tomato, pour over boiling water and leave for 30 seconds. The skin should now easily peel off from where the incision was made.

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To core, cut into quarters and remove the stalky bit from the centre.

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Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the tomatoes and stir through. Leave to simmer for about ten minutes. The tomato should go very mushy and release a lot of liquid.

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Add the stock and tomato paste and leave to simmer for another ten minutes.

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Blend the soup until it is homogenous and silky. I like to give it an extra minute once it already seems fully liquidized as this is what makes the texture so wonderful.

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Serve with bread for dipping and a swirl of cream.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe, if you love standard tomato soup, why not try out the red pepper version too? It’s just as orange and has an extra exciting flavour in the peppers.

Have a good one. I will be back next week with a delicious, ballet related dessert.

H

 

Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake is probably the most complicated of the classic sponge cakes. It is like a combination of a genoise and a Victoria sponge. Like the genoise it is a whisked sponge but, unlike the genoise, there is a lot of fat in the recipe, much more similar to a Victoria sponge. The finished product is a flavourful, light cake with a texture far more spongey than any other cake I have had the pleasure to try.

A classic chiffon cake is baked in a tube pan. These are like bundt tins but have flat sides and a flat base – something I will discuss later. The pan provides several elements which are essential for a successful chiffon cake. The most important thing is to not line the tin, either with butter or parchment paper. This is because the cake will cling to the sides of the tin allowing it to rise magnificently in the oven. If the sides are greased, the cake cannot stick to them so will collapse around the edges dragging the rest down with it. The addition of the tube in the centre of the tin provides another wall for the batter to rise up, giving a more even shape and bake. Because the cake must adhere to the tin to rise properly, it must be cut off the tin when it is fully cooked otherwise you won’t be able to remove it. This is why the tin must have flat sides and a flat base. You need to be able to run a knife around the edge to release the cake which is not possible if you use a standard bundt cake tin.

One of the trademarks of the chiffon cake is its texture. It is absolutely jam packed with air. This gives it a light, fluffy feel in the mouth but like everything else to do with the chiffon cake, it introduces another requirement to prevent cake disaster – in this case, collapse under its own weight. We all know how aggravating it is when a cake you have spent time on collapses after baking leaving a huge dent in the top and a dense texture beneath but at least, with most cakes, there is an easy way to avoid this: cook the cake fully and do not open the oven during baking. With a chiffon cake, there is an extra step: you must cool the cake upside down (a technique also used when making angel food cakes). Cakes firm up as they cool but when they come out of the oven, they are still very soft and delicate. For a chiffon sponge, the structure inside is so fragile that its own weight can crush the cake. It will not spark joy. To avoid this, many chiffon pans have legs which will hold the tin upside down while the cake cools. Because the cake adheres to the tin, this will not crush it –  in fact, the cake must now fight gravity if it wishes to sink!

There are four main flavours used for chiffon cakes: vanilla, lemon, coconut and pandan. This is because a light sponge requires a light flavouring. All of these can be paired very well with some sort of flavoured or unflavoured cream or even a curd. Cream and fresh fruit are the optimal items for decorating a chiffon because buttercreams are too dense so their texture would not match that of the cake. Pandan is a Chinese leaf which is normally blended with milk or water before the liquid extracted from the pulp is used to flavour the cake. If you want to try one of these, the pandan extract is used to replace the coconut milk in this recipe. You could even swap the coconut milk for normal milk for a vanilla or lemon sponge, or any flavoured milk if you want to experiment with flavours.

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Pandan turns the cake a remarkable shade of green

The cake in this recipe is a lightly coconut flavoured sponge which is split and filled with cream, fresh mango and passionfruit. I would definitely describe it as ‘tropical’ flavoured. Like most chiffon sponges, it is huge – despite having fewer ingredients than a normal cake – so you can feed a lot of people with it. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

 

 

Chiffon Cake

5 eggs

80ml vegetable oil

80ml coconut milk

150g caster sugar

150g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

¼ tsp cream of tartar (or unflavoured vinegar)

½ tsp salt

Flavourings of your choice (eg. Vanilla extract, coconut essence, lemon rind, pandan)

 

To fill:

300ml double cream

Fresh fruit of your choice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3

Separate the eggs.

Add 75g of sugar to the yolks and beat until light and fluffy. This is easiest using a hand-held electric whisk.

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Beat in the oil and then the coconut milk. If you have extra flavouring add it now.

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Sift the baking powder and flour together.

Beat this into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.

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In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the cream of tartar/vinegar.

Beat in the remaining caster sugar a little at a time until it is all added.

Continue to beat until the meringue reaches stiff peaks. It should be bright white, glossy and smooth.

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Take one third of the egg white mixture and gently stir it into the egg yolks and flour. This is to loosen the texture of the yolk mixture so you can mix everything evenly later. If you try to fold the egg whites without doing this, you will end up with unmixed batter. I find a balloon whisk is best for this step.

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Fold the rest of the meringue mixture through the batter in two additions and fold until you are certain that there is no unmixed batter or meringue left. The batter should be thick and smooth.

Slowly pour the batter into an unlined, ungreased tube pan from at least a foot above the pan. The slow pour stretches out large air bubbles and causes them to pop giving a nicer final structure to the cake.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly around the pan. Insert a skewer and swirl it through the batter to help release any air pockets that survived the trip into the cake tin.

Bang the base of the tin onto the counter a few times to pop the larger bubbles which have risen to the surface.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, until the top crust is a deep golden colour (but not burnt).

52293379_321461278555344_1511697165271957504_nRemove the cake from the oven, invert the pan and leave to cool completely

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To release the cake, run a knife around the outside edge and remove the cake and base of the tin.

Run the knife around the inside edge and also the base of the cake.

Invert onto a plate and remove the rest of the tin.

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The cake can be served straight up or spit down the middle and filled with cream and even fresh fruit.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This cake is super light and airy with an amazing texture – it’s just so spongy! If you are a fan of cakes with less icing, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for…

H

Buckwheat Pancakes

Although they have similar names, buckwheat and (regular) wheat are not related – in fact it is closer to rhubarb and sorrel than it is to standard wheat. It has been called a superfood owing to its incredibly high concentration of protein, fibre and selected vitamins and minerals. (Make of that what you will, I’m not particularly taken by so called superfoods, but you cannot argue that buckwheat is healthy.) It is also perfect if you are celiac or gluten free as buckwheat contains no gluten!

Buckwheat is eaten all around the world owing to its ability to thrive in “low fertility” soils. It is perfectly happy to grow in acidic conditions if the soil is properly drained. The plants left after the seeds have been harvested can be dug back into the ground and used as green manure. Its high nutrition levels make it particularly popular when there is little else to eat as it can help reduce malnutrition.

Recently the use of buckwheat in foods has dramatically increased in an explosion of gluten free baking however in Japan and India, unlike in western countries, buckwheat has been eaten for centuries and holds deep cultural significance. Soba noodles, from Japan, are made from buckwheat flour and the lack of gluten meant that an entirely new production system to stretch out the noodles had to be invented. In India, some Hindus will eat buckwheat-based foods on days where they fast as they will only abstain from cereals and buckwheat does not fall under that category so need not be avoided.

The pancakes in this recipe use a mixture of buckwheat flour and wholemeal (or brown) flour. They look healthier than standard crepes… Wholemeal flour comes from regular wheat but unlike the standard white flour we use, it is not bleached (leading to its darker colour). Another difference between the whole wheat and standard white flour is the flavour. There is a distinctive taste with brown flour that you do not get with white.

These pancakes are most definitely savoury. They are delicious for dinner when filled with mushrooms or creamed leeks. You could even treat yourself and have them with smoked salmon and cream cheese! I hope you enjoy them because they are super simple and make a great last-minute dinner when there is nothing else in the house.

 

 

Buckwheat pancakes

2 oz. (50g) buckwheat flour

2 oz. (50g) wholemeal flour

Pinch of salt

1 egg

Half pint milk

Oil for frying

 

In a bowl, stir together the flours and salt.

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Make a well in the centre and add the egg and half the milk.

Whisk to a smooth, relatively thick paste.

Slowly whisk in the rest of milk to create the pancake batter (for thicker pancakes, only add half of the remaining milk)

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Heat a frying pan and add a little oil. If you aren’t using a non-stick pan, don’t go to the next step until the oil starts to shimmer otherwise the pancakes will stick.

Pour 60ml (a quarter cup) of batter into the centre of the pan and tilt the pan to spread it out.

Once the top stops being shiny, flip the pancake. It should be golden brown underneath.

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Add fillings of your choice to the pancake while the underneath is cooking and then fold it in half.

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You can keep these warm in the oven on a low setting while you cook the rest or serve them straight out of the pan.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For other simple recipes, check out my parsnip and my sweet potato soups.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a deliciously light cake.

H

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe

Crème Caramel

Crème caramel looks classy. A perfectly baked custard with a smooth velvety texture and a dark layer on top where it has absorbed the caramel, covered in a shiny, golden brown sauce gives a level of elegance to this dessert that many others lack. It helps that crème caramel is often served in individual portions which makes it seem more personal rather than getting a slice of a huge multi-serving dessert. Crème caramel should not be confused with crème brulee which is also a baked custard; but as the latter is served in its ramekin, the custard is usually less set as it does not need to hold its shape (and of course, crème caramel has a liquid sauce whereas crème brulee has a hard layer of caramel on top).

What makes the custard for crème caramel unique is that is uses whole eggs. Most classic custards used in baking (crème anglaise and crème patisserie) use only egg yolks. This is because a crème caramel needs to be sturdy enough to stand up with no walls to hold it in but also should have a melt-in-the-mouth, velvety texture. Crème patisserie would make a good candidate for this as it is a strong custard which is thick enough to be piped however this comes from a starchy thickening agent (either cornflour or normal flour). This starch gives the custard a far claggier consistency which is very nice in eclairs or holding together a fraisier cake but does not lend itself well to a light dessert – it is far to rich. To get a softer texture, the egg whites are added to the crème caramel as these set when they cook. Egg white coagulates at a slightly lower temperature to the yolks (that’s how you get a runny yolk on your poached eggs) and as such, once the yolks are cooked, you can guarantee that the whites are too and that the dessert is ready to be taken from the oven.

Like most desserts which involve baking some sort of custard, crème caramel is taken out of the oven slightly before the middle is set. This is because milk and eggs have a moderately high specific heat capacity – it takes a lot of energy to raise the temperature by a small amount. As a result, the desserts can lose a lot of energy without cooling too much so they take a long time to cool and the residual heat in the custard will finish cooking the centre without overcooking it (as the overall temperature of the dessert will not rise once it removed from the oven). In the cases of some desserts (like pumpkin pie), the sugars in the custard will compound this effect – white sugar takes 50 times more energy to heat up and cool down than an equivalent quantity of water – and the pie can still be warm up to four hours after removal from the oven.

Crème caramel is best made the day before you wish to eat it. This is so the water in the custard has time to dissolve the caramel. Even if it doesn’t look like there is water available, caramel is hydroscopic and deliquescent. You can guarantee that it will pull moisture out of the custard and then proceed to dissolve in it to make the golden sauce you find covering all crème caramels. If you try to serve the crème caramel too soon, you will see a layer of undissolved caramel in the base of the ramekin after plating up. This is flavour which has been lost! I am not patient when it comes to eating things I have made. I want to eat them as soon as possible but, as I have learnt, sometimes it really is better to wait.

Like anything involving melted sugar, please be careful as caramel will badly burn you if it gets on your skin. Make sure that you don’t mess around with it and that you have access to a very cold tap should you manage to splash yourself. Do not let children near the caramel until it has cooled.

As you will realise, these are incredibly easy to make and taste fantastic. You should definitely try them out. They also make a brilliant dinner party food as they are prepared in advance, low effort and high impact.

 

 

Crème Caramel

 

For the caramel:

200g sugar

80ml water

Butter (for lining the ramekins)

 

For the custard:

1 pint whole milk

4 eggs

25g sugar

1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

 

You will need 6 ramekins and a large tall sided baking dish which the ramekins will fit into.

 

Place the ramekins in the oven and heat to gas mark 2. This will prevent the ramekins from shattering when you pour the boiling caramel into them.

In a heavy-based steel pan (don’t use non-stick as it will cause the caramel to crystalize) mix the sugar and water.

Gently heat on the hob and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Once the sugar has all dissolved, turn the heat to maximum and boil the sugar and water mix until reaches a deep caramel colour. If you are unsure about how far to go, it is better to err on the side of caution and have slightly pale crème caramels the first time. You don’t want to burn the sugar.

While the sugar is boiling, run a basin about an inch full of cold water. The moment the caramel reaches the desired colour, plunge the base of the pan into the water to cool it. If you don’t do this, the latent heat in the saucepan can continue to cook the caramel causing it to burn.

The moment you have cooled the pan, pour the caramel into the ramekins and tilt them to make sure it runs right to the edges. Try not to let the caramel set too much as you may have to spread it with a spoon and it is very, very sticky (and hot).

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Allow the caramel to cool to room temperature. Do not place it in the fridge as the environment in it will cause the caramel to go soggy. This usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.  Don’t be worried if you hear cracking noises. That is the caramel contracting as it cools and it can crack a little but this will not affect the dessert. Just rest assured that it is not the ramekin that is breaking!

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If you are using a vanilla pod, split it down the middle and scrape out the seeds. If you are using extract, skip this and the next step.

Place it in a saucepan with the milk and gently heat until the milk is body temperature or feels slightly warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain this before the next step so there are no little bits of vanilla pod in the final desert.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the milk (and vanilla) to get a homogeneous mixture.

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Use butter to lightly grease the ramekins (but don’t grease the caramel). This will help later when you want to remove the crème caramels for serving.

Pour the milk mix into the ramekins splitting it evenly between them.

Place the ramekins in a large baking dish and fill it with boiling water until it comes half way up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 30-45 minutes at gas mark 2. You will know when they are done as the crème caramels will have a slight wobble in the centre when jiggled and will clearly not be liquid anymore. It should appear a little bit rubbery when you wobble them (but I promise the texture is incredibly soft.)

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Remove the desserts from the oven and the tray and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover them and leave in the fridge until serving. They can be eaten the day they are made but I would advise leaving them for 24 hours as in this time, the caramel will absorb into the dessert giving you the classic, golden sauce that pours out all over the crème caramel when you serve them.

To plate up, run a blunt knife around the outside of the crème caramel, invert onto a dish and jiggle until the dessert comes free. I often find that it can help to detach one area from the side of the ramekin to release the seal.

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If you enjoy baked custard desserts, you should check out my recipes for both pumpkin pie and a delicious chocolate tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a simple weeknight meal which packs a punch of flavour.

H

Beef Stroganoff

It has been a considerable amount of time since I last talked about a dish that has a defined and traceable heritage, so this is a little bit exciting. We often find that foods have changed tremendously between when they were created and today and this is true in the case of stroganoff. What makes this dish different is that the name has not changed at all. While there is a little bit of contention about whether the dish was named after the Stroganov family (the most accepted root) or as a derivative of the Russian verb “strogat” meaning to chip or shave off, what we do know is that the first written recipe for beef stroganoff appeared in 1871 in a Russian cookery book by Elena Molokhovet: A Gift To Young Housewives.

The original stroganoff did not have mushrooms. Nor did it have onions. It consisted of lightly floured beef cubes which were sautéed and served in a sauce made of mustard and bouillon with a dollop of sour cream on top. Even to this day, it is still common to find stroganoff not in a creamy sauce but in one that is deep red/brown, full of flavour and accompanied with sour cream added after plating up. Some versions also include tomatoes and other vegetables but I like to stick with what I know, mushroom and onion. By removing the beef and substituting the stock for mushroom stock, you can make a delicious mushroom stroganoff which works wonderfully as a pasta sauce.

One thing to note is that beef stroganoff is only as good as the beef that you use to make it. Now I’m not advocating that you go out any buy a tenderloin or fillet steak, that would be ridiculous and frankly, if you want to spend that much money on a slab of meat, you should enjoy the steak by itself. For a standard, fast cooked beef stroganoff like the one in the recipe below, rump steak is the best cut. You can use tougher cuts like chuck or stewing steak if you wish to slow cook the stroganoff but these will not work in a standard recipe. As a result, this isn’t the cheapest dish I have ever given a recipe for but if you fancy treating yourself, why not do it in style? I like to serve stroganoff with long, thick egg pasta noodles as the high surface area can carry a lot of sauce. It isn’t uncommon to see it served with shorter pasta or even rice to soak up the sauce but pasta is the more traditional (and, for me, preferable) option.

 

Beef Stroganoff

Time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per portion: about £4

 

500g beef steak (rump or round steak is traditional)

2 medium onions – thinly sliced into half moons

500g mushrooms – thickly sliced

2 cloves garlic – minced

2 tbsp vegetable oil

30g flour

60ml white wine/dry vermouth (optional)

500ml beef stock

150ml sour cream

1 tbsp mustard (optional)

Chives to garnish

 

Slice the beef into 1cm strips.

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Heat the oil in a large pan until it is starting to shimmer.

Add the beef in a single layer and sear for 30 seconds.

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Turn and sear for another 30 seconds. Don’t worry about any caramelisation stuck on the base of the pan as this will just add to the flavour later.

Remove the beef from the pan and set aside for later. It will not be cooked all the way through at this point.

Add the onions and fry for a minute.

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Add the mushrooms, stir and then pour over the wine. This will deglaze the pan and prevent the mushrooms from sticking until they begin to release their juices.

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Continue to fry the mushrooms for another five minutes stirring regularly.

Sprinkle over the flour and stir through.

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Add half the stock and stir again until all of the flour has mixed in. Then add the rest of the stock.

Bring to a simmer.

Simmer for three minutes until the sauce has begun to thicken.

Mix in the sour cream (and the mustard). Do not allow the sauce to boil once the sour cream has been added or it will split.

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Add the beef back in, including any juice that has come out, and allow to sit in the simmering gravy for two minutes before serving.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

This can be served with any sort of carb but I would recommend long, thick linguini style pasta. It’s even better when the pasta is fresh!

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The stroganoff can also be frozen for up to three months.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for a classic, classy steak dish but this doesn’t do it for you, why not check out my recipe for beef wellington? It’s divine. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, why not treat yourself to some delicious German pfeffernusse?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a classic pudding.

H

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse and gingerbread are very similar biscuits. Both are sweetened with a mixture of sugar and honey/syrup, flavoured with warm spices and often use the same technique to make the dough. The difference, as you may have guessed from the name, is the primary flavour. Whilst pure gingerbread uses only ground ginger, pfeffernüsse use a full quintet of spices. This selection of warming spices gives the pfeffernüsse a most incredible depth of flavour that is hard to find anywhere else in baking.

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Cloves, allspice, peppercorns, nutmeg and cinnamon in their unground state.

As you may have guessed from the name, the predominant flavour of pfeffernüsse is black pepper. Unlike chilli peppers, the spicy flavour that comes from peppercorns is caused by piperine (not capsaicin). This is why the ‘burn’ caused by eating peppery food feels different. Where capsaicin is aggressive, painful and can be felt through the entire digestive tract, piperine is far milder. A measure of piperine has only 1% of the ‘burn’ that would be experienced with an equal weight of capsaicin and causes a less aggressive, more warming, reaction. Black pepper is the spiciest of all the peppers and comes from the unripe fruit of the plant; green pepper is also unripe but picked at a different stage in the growing process; white pepper is created from the ripened berries of the plant; and pink peppercorns are from an entirely different plant altogether. Pink peppercorns are actually from the same family as cashews and can cause allergic reactions in people with a nut allergy!

The lack of much leavening agent in pfeffernüsse results in a harder texture than standard biscuits (although not nearly as hard as amaretti or biscotti). The butter and syrup soften in the oven and the small amount of bicarbonate of soda expands causing the pfeffernüsse to spread a little, resulting in their domed hemispherical appearance. Before they can spread too much the flour cooks, setting the biscuits in their final shape. The cracks on the surface occur as the outside sets but the inside is still flowing, causing the cooked outside of the biscuit to split open. These cracks are never anything to be worried about. With a sprinkle of icing sugar, they can look artistic or with a thick glaze, they are completely covered up. I often find that if I make my glaze too thin, it can sink into the crevasses of the biscuit so do not be afraid if a second coat is required to get a fully smooth, shiny appearance.

I first came across these in Germany but you don’t need to wait to visit to enjoy these delicious treats. They are easy to make and addictive to eat so have a go and let me know what you think.

 

 

Pfeffernüsse

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Glaze time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients:

125g butter

270g plain flour

60ml golden syrup

1 egg

150g light brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp ground pepper (the fresher, the better – I use a mortar and pestle to pulverize a mixture or black and pink peppercorns for this but fresh black pepper works fine by itself)

½ tsp ground allspice

¼ tsp grated nutmeg (like the pepper, fresher nutmeg works better)

 

To glaze:

450g icing sugar

60-80ml milk

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.5 (175°C).

Line two or three baking trays with baking parchment.

Gently stir together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and spices.

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Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Beat in the golden syrup.

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Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again until fully combined.

With the mixer beating slowly, add the flour and spices and mix until just combined.

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Once the mixture has come together, take a heaped teaspoon and roll it into a tight ball between your palms.

Place the balls about 3cm apart on the baking trays.

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Bake for around 15 minutes until the pfeffernüsse are golden, firm(ish) to the touch and have begun to crack on top.

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Leave to cool.

 

To glaze the biscuits, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and make a well in the middle.

Add 60ml of milk and slowly mix together to create a smooth, thick icing. If not all of the icing sugar will mix in, slowly add extra milk until everything has combined.

Dunk the top of each biscuit into the icing leaving the base clean. Place the biscuits onto a wire rack to allow the excess icing to drip off.

If you want, you can sprinkle some coarsely ground pink peppercorns over the top to give the biscuits some colour but they look just as beautiful without.

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These keep for a good week or so and actually taste better the day after they are made once the flavours have been allowed to mature!

If you like spiced biscuits, you should definitely check out my gingerbread recipe or if you are looking for a dessert that will suit your Veganuary needs, why not check out my vegan apple pie?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a hearty winter dinner.

H

Beef Dumplings

I was introduced to dumplings a few years ago by one of my best friends and housemate, Yan. I would recommend checking out her blog as she is a phenomenal cook. One time after visiting home for the weekend, she returned with a huge bag of homemade, frozen dumplings. Being the naïve person I am I assumed they were just like a Chinese version of ravioli – most cultures have some sort of meat wrapped in dough in their cuisines. My gosh was I wrong. Her mum’s dumplings were an experience that I have never forgotten.

It didn’t take long for Yan to suggest that we had a dumpling dinner day when we came together as a house and she taught us how to fold dumplings. I feel like I did very well out of this as the standard filling (and the one which Yan made) is pork based. As a result, I ended up making my own filling which was turkey based and there was a lot. Since then, I have experimented with different meat fillings and one tofu one – I primarily use beef and turkey. Coming up with an actual recipe for this post presented something of a problem as I usually eyeball the ingredients depending on how much ginger, garlic or chilli I am feeling like at the time.

The history of Chinese dumplings doesn’t specify the year when they first appeared but they seem to crop up sometime around 2000 years ago. They are traditionally boiled or steamed, however pan-fried ones have become very popular recently. These fried potstickers are crispy on the base and tender at the top. My favourite story of their origin is about a chef who was boiling his dumplings and took his eye off the pot. It boiled dry. Instead of starting again, he served up the dumplings and pretended that they were meant to be crispy on the base. The charade was so good that the eaters believed him and they enjoyed the contrasting textures so much that they requested the meal again. Since then potstickers have spread and nowadays are enjoyed all over the world.

Dumplings are great fun to make and are fantastic to do with friends – it not only speeds up the crimping process but gives you a chance to relax and have a nice chat or a catch up. I do not make them very often as I normally fold all the dumplings alone and I rarely have time for that, however when I can I love to make a batch and freeze them for a later date. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I first tried these dumplings.

 

 

Dumplings

Makes around 40 dumplings

Serves 3

Cost per portion: about £2.00

Time: 1.5 hours (wrapping 40 dumplings alone takes time but can be fun with a friend or even if you just put a film on in the background)

 

2-inch piece of ginger

3 garlic cloves

1 medium heat chilli (optional)

500g minced beef

One bunch spring onions/salad onions

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

Salt and pepper to taste

One pack dumpling skins

 

Optional

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp chilli oil

 

Peel the ginger and garlic. Finely chop both and place them into a large bowl.

Finely chop the spring onions, including the green part, and add them to the ginger and garlic.

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If you want to add some spice, chop the chilli and add it to the bowl.

For curry dumplings or extra spicy dumplings, add the curry powder/chilli oil at this point.

Add the beef, soy, sesame oil, salt and pepper before mixing everything until it is fully combined. I tend to do this using my hands as I can feel when everything is mixed together.

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To make the dumplings, place a circle of pastry on a board.

Add a heaped teaspoon of filling to the centre.

Wet the edge of the wrapper and pinch to seal – this will make a very basic, uncrimped dumpling.

 

To crimp – I would recommend finding video tutorials as words and pictures will probably not do this justice but here goes (there are pictures of the steps below:

If you are right handed:

Make the filling paste into an oval

Pinch the wrapper at the edge of the oval using your left hand

Use your right thumb inside the dumpling to stabilise it and use your right and left index fingers to pinch together a second fold next to the first.

Fold this down and pinch it onto the uncrimped edge of the skin.

Repeat the crimping steps along the edge of the wrapper until you get all the way along.

As you crimp, the dumpling will start to curve around giving a crescent or half moon shape at the end.

Once you have finished crimping, go back over the edge and pinch together again to fully seal.

If you are left handed, just reverse the instructions above.

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After you have mastered the basic crimping technique, you can start to play around with it and make different shapes for different flavours.

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To cook, you can either steam, boil or pan fry the dumplings for around five minutes. I would not recommend trying to make these into potstickers as ultra-thin, shop bought skins do not stand up well to the different cooking techniques required to make good potstickers.

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These are best served with a dipping sauce made from soy, sesame oil and rice vinegar. I also like to add sriracha for some extra heat. I would give a recipe for the dipping sauce but it is very personal so I would recommend experimenting until you reach a satisfactory taste. Another thing I would recommend is making lots of dumplings. You can eat far more than you think!

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Steamed crystal dumplings with tofu

If you love dumplings, why not try my turkey filling? Any leftovers can be made into burgers for a separate meal. If you love Asian flavours but would prefer something a little less labour intensive, why not try my sticky salmon or my ginger tofu?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a layered biscuit recipe.

H