Apricot and Pistachio Bars

Another bake from ‘Baked in America’ book and another success. To be honest it even exceeded my expectations.

One of the downside of this book is a lack of photographs. I’m not into step-by-step ones, however, I appreciate at least one photo to go with any recipe. Especially if it’s a completely unknown to you recipe, at least to know what this dish should look like. In this case, there was a photo with the recipe, but it was so dark that I presumed the bake included some chocolate or cacao powder. I read the recipe again and again and still couldn’t understand what was added to make the bake so dark. Then I realised, that if you put the required amount of sugar ( a whopping 450g for the filling and another 100g for the base!!!) that anything will turn black, as well as all your taste buds will be numb forever.

Actually, this time I baked with my friend and we decided to follow the recipe precisely, apart from adding only 1/3 of the asking sugar amount. Other than the sugar issue, it is a good bake with a rather short but firm buttery base and wonderful topping, slightly gooey, but full of texture with lovely cardamon aroma.

APRICOT AND PISTACHIO BARS

Ingredients:

For the pastry base:

90g icing sugar

300g plain flour

225g butter, softened

For the filling:

225g dried apricots

115g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 salt

1/2 ground cardamon

4 eggs

190g light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the tin (30x23x5cm), and line with parchment.
  2. Place the dried apricots in a pan, cover with water and simmer for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them. Drain, cool, chop the apricots, then leave them aside.
  3. For the crust base, using mixer or processor, on a low speed combine the sugar, flour and butter until the mixture is crumbly. Dump the whole lot into the prepared tin, press it on to the bottom and slightly aside (I found the back of the metal spoon is good for that). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just barely browned. Remove from the oven, put aside, let it cool.
  4. For the filling, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamon and set aside. Using the same bowl from the crust mixture, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla until evenly mixed. Then add the flour mixture, until it well incorporated. At the end, fold in the cooled apricots and the pistachios. Pour the batter over the cooled crust and smooth it.
  5. Bake it for another 25-30 minutes, until it evenly browned. Let the bake cool in the tin completely , then cut into squares or triangles, sprinkle icing sugar on top, if you wish.

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Orange and Date Cake

This is another recipe came from ‘Baked in America‘ book. I liked the flavour combination of candied orange peel and dates, and I thought it is a good alternative to fruit cake or Panettone type of cake. I’ve reduced the amount of flour (used 2 cups instead of 3) and used less than half the asking amount of sugar (in both batter and icing).

ORANGE AND DATE CAKE

Ingredients:

(Adapted from ‘Baked in America’ book)

225g butter, softened

180g caster sugar

4 eggs

110ml buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

240g plain flour

250g dates, pitted and finely chopped

150g orange peel, chopped

150g pecans or walnuts, chopped

80g desiccated coconut

150ml orange juice

150g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160C. Lightly grease and flour cake tin.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Mix flour and baking powder in a large bowl, then add dates, orange peel, nuts and desiccated coconut. Stir to coat each piece. Add dry mixture to creamed mixture. This makes a rather stiff dough, so it will be necessary to stir with a wooden spoon.
  4. Transfer mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the wooden stick comes out clean when inserted. As soon as cake comes from oven, combine the orange juice and icing sugar and pour over hot cake. Let stand in tin overnight.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch Cake

This tray bake is for anyone who really likes peanut butter, just like my boyfriend, who can eat it with a spoon from the jar, instead of lunch, occasionally. The bake has both peanut butter in the cake mixture and also in the contrasting chocolate layering, which will swirl by itself when in the oven. For extra texture, you can scatter some chopped peanuts on the chocolate layer. I used crunchy peanut butter for the filling and smooth for the base mixture. The cake is dense, so better serve with cream or even  ice cream, to take it to the next level.

This recipe is taken from ‘Baked in America’ book, which I found rather good. It is full of exiting recipes that I never heard of, like Pennsylvania Dutch spice loaf or Nutmeg coffee cake. I’m not a massive fan of cheesecakes but the Almond Cherry one caught my attention. And I am intrigued to try the author’s version of Apple Cake which he suggests to serve with lemon curd.

The one thing that slightly concerns me however is that the majority of their recipes have a shocking amount of sugar. For instance, this one required 450g of sugar. I’m afraid I had to cut down more then half and it was just fine.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch cake

PEANUT BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE CRUNCH CAKE

Ingredients:

For the chocolate/peanut swirl:

150g semi-sweet chocolate

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter

For the crumbs & batter:

3 cups plain flour

3/4 cup light brown sugar

200g butter, softened

1 cup smooth peanut butter

3 eggs

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

cream/ice-cream for serving (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter a 30 x 23 x 5 cm baking tin and line with the parchment paper.
  2. To make the swirl, in a small pan melt the chocolate and peanut butter over a gentle heat, stirring often until all melted and smooth. Set aside.
  3. Then, in a big bowl, combine together flour, sugar, butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer until coarse crumbs form. Take away about 3 cups of the mixture and set aside for the crumb topping later.
  4. Then add the eggs to the base batter, one at a time, followed by milk, vanilla, baking powder, soda and salt. Mix well until the batter is smooth.
  5. To assemble the bake, spread half the batter in the prepared tin. Drizzle with the half of the chocolate mixture, then cover it with the remaining batter, followed by the remaining chocolate.  Finish it with the reserved crumb mixture over the top and gently press the crumbs onto the chocolate/peanut butter swirl.
  6. Bake it for 50-60 minutes or until the wooden stick comes out clean from the centre. Let the cake cool in the pan before cutting into squares. Serve it with cream or ice-cream.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch cake

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Crunch cake

 

Banana Bread with Chocolate & Walnuts

Banana bread is like a trusted family member you can always rely on. It is a delicious no fuss cake. Basically, if in doubt, bake a banana bread. And if it’s good just on its own, it’s even better with the addition of chocolate and nuts.

Banana and Chocolate chips bread

 

BANANA BREAD WITH CHOCOLATE AND WALNUTS

Ingredients:

2-3 (depends on the size) ripe bananas, mashed

180g caster sugar

2 eggs

140g softened butter

250g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

100g walnuts, chopped in pieces, plus reserving a few for decoration (optional)

100g plain chocolate, chopped

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 170C. Line the loaf tin with baking parchment.
  2. Mash the peeled banana in a mixing bowl first. Then add the remaining cake ingredients (except the nuts and chopped chocolate) and beat with an electric mixer until combined and smooth. Once combined add and fold in with a spatula the walnuts and chocolate.
  3. Pour into the prepared tin, decorate top with some walnut halves if you want, and bake it for about 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave it to cool slightly in the tin before transferring it onto a serving dish.

 

Cranberry and Chocolate Squares

It’s that time of year again, when you start seeing bags of fresh cranberries popping up in the stores. Most of us probably walk by these bags filled with bright red jewels without even pausing unless we are shopping for our Thanksgiving or Christmas meals. But there is no need to wait for the traditional meal to enjoy the benefits of these tangy berries. They are packed with Vitamin C, fiber, carbohydrates and antioxidants, supporting your immune system. I just like to snack on them raw. However, if you are not very keen on too tangy taste, try this bake and you’ll love them – sharp cranberries and sweet chocolate were made for each other.

Cranberry & Chocolate Squares

CRANBERRY AND CHOCOLATE SQUARES

115g butter

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

180g muscovado sugar (or caster sugar just fine)

150g self-raising flour

2 eggs

150g fresh or thawed cranberries

For the topping:

300ml sour cream

120g sugar

2 tablespoons self-raising flour

50g butter

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

about 75g plain chocolate, grated for topping

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 20x20cm cake tin with butter and dust with flour.
  2. Combine the butter, cocoa powder and sugar in a pan and stir over a low heat until melted and smooth.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the eggs and the flour. Then add the cranberries and spread the mixture evenly in the prepared tin.
  4. To make the topping, mix all the ingredients, but the chocolate in a bowl, mix until smooth, then spread on top of the chocolate mixture.
  5. To finish, sprinkle evenly the grated chocolate on top and bake for about 40 minutes, or until risen and the wooden stick inserted comes out dry. Leave it to cool completely in the tin, then cut into 12 squares. Store in an airtight container.

cranberry-chocolate-layers

Cranberry and chocolate quares

Dutch Cookies – Speculaas

I did mentioned my all-time-favourite biscuits before, but this time I’d like to praise my NEW favourites – Speculaas, Dutch spiced biscuits. Traditionally served on the eve of the Feast of St Nicholas, in early December. However, we started to nibble on them late in October, on our trip to Holland. I grew up eating  Piparkūkas (Latvian ginger biscuits). I like them a lot, but I find Speculaas to be much lighter, wonderfully spiced and moreish.

These took just a litre bit longer to prepare, compared to my Clove & Hazelnuts Cookies, mainly due to arranging the almond flakes on them. But as a reward for your efforts, you’ll get a good amount of these beauties, depending on the size of your cookie cutters, of course!

Speculaas

SPECULAAS

Ingredients:

100g butter, softened

1 egg

250g plain flour

1 tablespoon cornflour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

flaked almond for decoration (optional)

Method:

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy, beat in the egg.

Sift together the flour, cornflour, baking powder, cinnamon, gender, nutmeg, cloves and allspice, plus a pinch of salt. Add it to the butter mixture and stir to form a firm dough. Shape it to the large, flat cake shape and place it to the fridge to chill for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment.

Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of cling film to approx 2-3 mm thick. Cut into any Christmas shape you like, transfer to the baking sheets, making sure you leave a gap between each shape. Decorate the tops with almonds, if using.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on the trays for another 10 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Speculaas

Clove and Hazelnut Cookies

Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are! I hope your Christmas is wonderful and you are spending a nice time with your family and friends!

Here is one my absolute favourite Christmas biscuits for many years now. What makes it Christmasy is the rather prominent, but not overpowering flavour of clove. You have to love clove to love these cookies. These are wonderful with an after-dinner coffee, or wrapped up and given as a gift.

Clove & Hazelnut cookies

Clove & Hazelnut cookies
CLOVE AND HAZELNUT COOKIES

(Originally from BBC Good Food Magazine)

Ingredients:

250g butter, softened

100g hazelnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

150g icing sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

350g plain flour

Method:

  1. Put the butter, hazelnuts, vanilla extract and 100g of the icing sugar in a food processor, and whizz to a paste. Add 1 teaspoon of ground cloves and the flour, then pulse together until a dough forms.
  2. Heat oven to 180C. Line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and arrange on the baking sheets. Use the folk lightly squeeze each ball. Bake for 15 minutes or until they turn a pale biscuit colour (if they get too brown, they will become dry).
  3. Mix the remaining icing sugar and ground cloves, then sieve a thick layer over the hot biscuits. Leave to cool slightly before eating just warm, or cool.