Tag Archive | baking

Cherry Bakewell Traybake

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The last few weeks have flowed like syrup. Dark, sticky and heavy with the promise of thunder. Thoughts move slowly, my body even more so as I do my best “Edwardian lady” impression – floating around the house in diaphanous gowns and drinking endless cups of tea.

edwardian lady

Any proper afternoon tea should come with a cake of some sort. No delicate little fancies for me however, what I require is a cake that matches the weather: dense, moist and almost (but not quite) a little too sweet.

In my head, Cherry Bakewells mean Mr Kipling. I experienced no other as a child and I can’t say I cared for them all that much. I found them too dry, too small and not nearly almond-y enough for my palette. This is a shame really as I consider cherry and almond to be a flavour combination made in heaven, and one that is perfect for summer. This recipe is not like Mr Kipling’s Cherry Bakewells. Nor is it like an authentic Bakewell tart, which is an entirely different entity. It is a sort of hybrid: a were-bake: a Franken-well… but one that tastes very nice.

Recipe Notes

  • This is not necessary a quick recipe. The various stages are simple enough but it does take time. For people with limited “spoons” like me this can be problematic. I’ve found I can reduce the time by completing each stage in the order given below and/or actually making the pastry in advance and freezing it. (It freezes perfectly well for several months) I also love my food processor. It saves me so much time and effort, and I can even put it in the dishwasher. I know they’re expensive (mine was a gift from my Dad) but if you cook a lot it might be worth the investment. The good news is, simple ones work just as well for day-to-day cooking as fancy ones with all the attachments. It’s also possible to find old 70s/80s food processors at flea markets and car boot sales being sold for next to nothing. My Mum has had her food processor for around 30 years and it’s still going strong.
food-processor

My Mum’s is not this exact brand but it looks like this.

  • So far, I have made this recipe using eggs and have also made it completely vegan, using chia seed goo instead. Personally, I prefer the fully vegan version as it is much denser and stickier. But, if you are not vegan and prefer a lighter, more risen sponge layer then the eggs are for you. See my recipe here for how to make the chia seed egg replacement. It’s really easy and only takes a few minutes.

 

  • Similarly, if you are using gluten free flour for the pastry then I’ve found that an egg or chia seed substitute helps to bind it all together a little better. But if you are not using gluten free flour then this is not necessary at all.

 

  • If you don’t use polenta or ground almonds very much and don’t want a situation where you have half a packet lurking in the back of the cupboard forever more, you can replace them in the pastry with the equivalent amount of flour. They’re not vital ingredients at all, they just make the pastry taste that bit nicer.

 

  • I nearly always use golden caster sugar in my baking because I like the slight caramel taste but you don’t have to – normal caster sugar works just fine.

 

  • The amount of water used in the icing seems tiny but go with it. For years I made icing too runny by adding more water than I should because it seemed right at the time. It wasn’t until I discovered this ratio that I finally achieved the perfect consistency of “firm enough not to run all down the sides but runny enough to not be fondant”. I promise you, it works.

 

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 6oz gf plain flour
  • 1.5oz polenta
  • ½ oz ground almonds
  • 1 heaped tsp xanthan gum
  • 5oz (vegan) butter
  • 2oz golden caster sugar
  • EITHER 1 egg OR equivalent vegan egg replacer (1/4 tablespoon chia seeds + 1 tbs water)
  • A little water

Filling

  • 4oz gf self raising flour
  • 4oz ground almonds
  • 8oz (vegan) butter
  • 8oz golden caster sugar
  • 1tsp almond essence
  • EITHER 4 medium eggs, beaten OR equivalent vegan egg replacer (4 tbs chia seeds + 16 tbs water)
  • About half a jar of jam – strawberry, raspberry or cherry works nicely

Icing

  • 300g icing sugar
  • 3tbs water
  • 25g flaked almonds (toasted)
  • 20 glace cherries

Method

Pastry

First make the pastry (this can always be done in advance to save time).

The method is pretty much the same as with any pastry, and if you have a food processor you can skip the faff, pop all of the ingredients in together and watch the magic happen. If not, do the following…

1.  Mix the flour, polenta, ground almonds and xanthan gum together in a large bowl.

2.  Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the dry mix. “Rub it in” using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3.  Mix in the sugar.

4.  Add the chia seed egg replacer/egg yolk and mix in well.

5.  Add a tiny bit of water at a time, mixing with a spoon and then your hands until the mixture comes together to form a solid ball. The amount of water you will need depends on the individual mix so go slowly. If you are using a particularly large egg you may not need any water at all.

6.  Ideally, wrap the pastry in clingfim and chill in the fridge for half an hour (if you are pushed for time you can skip this step).

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7.  Grease the inside of a large roasting tin with oil and dust with flour to coat the surface.

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8.  Roll out your pastry to fit the tin. Rather than attempt a complicated transfer process with fragile, crumbly gluten free pastry, I find it easier to simply roll it out part way, and then squish it out the rest of the way into the corners of the tin with my fingers.

9.  Prick the pastry all over with a fork. (This helps the pastry to stay flat and crisp)

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10.  Spread a generous layer of jam all over.

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Filling

While the pastry is chilling, make the filling… (That rhymes!)

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6.

2.  In a large bowl, cream (mix really hard) the butter and sugar until pale in colour.

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3.  Add the “eggs” a little at a time, stirring after each addition.

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4.  Add the almond essence and ground almonds.

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5.  Sieve in the flour and fold it in, in a “figure of 8” pattern.

6.  Spoon the mixture over the jam-covered pastry and bake for 40 minutes until golden-brown.

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Icing

While the filling is cooking, make the icing… (That doesn’t rhyme. How disappointing)

  1. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl to remove any lumps.
  2. Stir in the water.

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Put it all together!

  1. Once the filling is reasonably cool, spread the icing over it (leave it in the tin at this stage) and sprinkle with the flaked almonds.

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2. Place 20 glace cherries evenly over the surface.

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3. Cut into 20 squares with a sharp knife.

4. Leave in a cool place for the icing to set a little more and lift the squares out of the tin.

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Vegan Egg Substitutes Part One – Science!

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In the next two posts, I will be talking about kittens and sunshine and chocolate and sparkles and fireworks and, um… vegan egg substitutes.

Ok, so it’s not the most exciting topic in the world but one that is helpful to know about if you want to cook exciting things. Like cake. And more cake.

In this first post I will give a little background on vegan egg substitutes and briefly discuss vegan, gluten-free baking. In part two I will share a recipe for chia seed egg substitute – the one I use most often.

As I have mentioned, I am not vegan myself; I just melt in a puff of smoke leaving nothing but my shoes and pointy hat when I’m exposed to lactose. When I am cooking for myself I can therefore use eggs and Lactofree products (which behave just like normal dairy products, minus my personal kryptonite). I do love cooking for other people though and I have a lot of vegan friends. As a relative beginner to fully-vegan cooking, eggs have been the thing I have struggled with the most. I have experimented a fair bit now, with varying degrees of success, and would like to share what I have learnt so far. As I learn more and as I try new substitutes for eggs I will let you know the results.

What on earth is a vegan egg replacer and why should I bother?

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In baking, eggs have various functions. These include:

  1. Acting as a binder to give structure to a mixture
  2. Helping a mixture to rise (leavening)
  3. Thickening a mixture
  4. Adding moisture
  5. Adding flavour

There are also many other functions of eggs in cooking, depending on what you are making. The science behind the role of eggs in cooking is explained here, far more efficiently that I would be able to.

If you cannot use eggs in your recipe and want it to turn out the same, then you will need to find an ingredient that mimics what the eggs do. (With some recipes, you can simply omit the eggs but with most it will significantly change the result. With something like a cake, it would be a disaster)

The good news is, there are lots of things that you can use, including, apple puree, tofu, oil, banana, flax seeds and chia seeds. There are many more. There are also lots of pre-made vegan egg replacers on the market. I haven’t tried any of these yet and have heard mixed reviews. All of these substitutes have different properties and the best one to choose will depend on what you are cooking. For example, apple puree may add lovely flavour to a cake but it won’t bind pastry together effectively as chia seeds. It’s a matter of looking at your original recipe and deciding what property you most require from your egg substitute.

If you want to know more about the properties of various vegan egg substitutes the easiest way is actually just to google it – there are hundreds of cheat sheets and guides out there comparing them all. Once I have tried enough to speak with authority on it, I will make one for this blog.

Double Trouble

“Well, this is all excellent”, you might think. “It seems a little confusing at first but once you get your head around the idea, it really is ok. Er, will it matter that the recipe needs to be gluten-free as well?”

The short answer is… yes. And no.

…(Sorry)

The thing I am slowly learning is that with free-from cooking there is rarely a short answer. Or a simple one. Or one that works every time and in all circumstances. Free-from cooking is kind of a nice analogy for the rest of life really. Despite a loud background chorus of people all claiming to have the “one perfect answer”, the whole thing is completely subjective and experiential. It is a journey across a vast grey area, interspersed with serendipity, personal bias, utter chaos and a lot of time spent on Wikipedia. In the words of Monty Python, “You’ve got to work it out for yourselves.”

So, what should you do about gluten-free vegan cooking? Well, it is mostly ok. It’s only really in baking that things get tricky and that is down to the properties of eggs and gluten that provide binding and leavening.

In baking, gluten and eggs are a dream team. They interact in just such a way as is perfect for things like holding pastry together and getting a sponge cake to rise. You can often get away without one, but if you try to omit both things start to fall apart, literally.

If you don’t need something to rise, a vegan egg substitute with a lot of binding power like chia will do the job well. Chia is great for things like pastry and I have had a lot of success with it in gluten-free recipes. When it comes to leavening however, it is surprisingly useless.

Gluten-free Vegan Cake

cake cat by nomomomo_bucket at photobucket

“Birthday Cake Cat” by nomomomo_bucket at Photobucket

A lot of vegan cake recipes rely on the assumption that you will be using wheat flour to do the hard work of leavening. Xanthan Gum can be used with gluten-free flour to do the job of gluten but it does not do it perfectly. When you bake a cake with gluten free flour and xanthan gum, you will still lose a significant portion of the rise and structure. A lot of gluten-free cake recipes therefore use the leavening power of eggs to fill the gap.

I am yet to find a vegan egg replacer that leavens sufficiently to get a gluten-free sponge cake to rise. I read that the chemical ones may be able to do this and I have heard whispers about arrowroot powder but so far, I have not tried these. I know that it must be possible because a wonderful local vegan café has managed it but they won’t divulge their hard-earned secrets. (And who can blame them?) I would love to hear from anyone who has had success making a vegan, gluten-free sponge. Comments section anyone?

Currently, the only tips I can give from my direct experience are the following:

  • If you don’t have to, don’t torture yourself. I have given up trying to make light gf/vegan sponge cakes and instead go for brownies, tiffin or other dense, traybake type things when I want to treat people.
  • On that note, dark chocolate is your friend.
  • If it’s just regular wheat and not gluten that’s the problem, try white spelt flour instead. Check that whoever you’re cooking for can eat spelt first.
  • Using a little extra baking powder can help but doesn’t solve the problem completely. Take care not to use so much you get a nasty, chemical taste however.

In Part Two I will share the recipe for chia seed egg substitute.

Cranberry and Cinnamon Granola Bars

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Wheat free/lactose free/can be made vegan & gluten free

I never want to see another flapjack again.

Allow me to elaborate…

The gods of medicine have seen fit to impose upon me a fun list of strange dietary requirements. While I can get around this easily enough at meal times, finding vaguely healthy and edible snack foods can be a real headache. Added to the fact that I cannot digest many things, my place of work has a strict no-nuts policy. A little while ago I settled on homemade fruit flapjacks as a suitable solution. Trouble is, after a year of eating them nearly every weekday I need a break.

Dietary requirements aside, I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to find recipes for simple, healthy(ish) snack bars. All a general googling turns up are flapjacks and granola bars. Everything else out there seems to involve vast amounts of either chocolate, sugar, biscuit or nuts. While I have nothing against vast amounts of the above (preferably all together, with some butter and marshmallows…mmm…) it’s not exactly something I should be eating every day.

I have held out against making granola bars for a long time. Mainly because of the haunting spectre of this trope looking over my shoulder. After seriously having had my fill of flapjacks though, I gave in and tried granola bars.

I tried literally the first recipe I found, which was this one from the BBC’s Good Food site. I didn’t have any suitable oats in the house at the time so used up some old spelt flakes I had hanging around at the back of the cupboard instead. It turns out the result is pretty much the same. While this recipe does contain an awful lot more sugar than my usual flapjack recipe, I have to admit it is pretty delicious and provides a welcome respite.

Recipe notes

All of the recipes for granola bars that I’ve found start with the step of toasting your grains and seeds first. I’ve tried this and have been very confused because even after toasting for double than the amount of recommended time, my grains and seeds look almost exactly the same. I’ve still been doing it because it’s in all the recipes and I figure, what do I know? It must be doing something.

 

 

The original recipe on the Good Food website includes walnuts. I have tried cooking this both with and without the walnuts now and frankly, I can’t taste the difference. I have change the types of seed though so maybe that’s why.

As I mentioned, I have used spelt flakes instead of oats in this recipe, purely because that was what I had lurking in the cupboard. They taste lovely but aren’t gluten free.

Ingredients

  • 100g butter (or vegan substitute)
  • 200g whole rolled spelt flakes
  • 200g mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower & linseed)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g dried cranberries

Method

  1. Grease a roasting tin with butter or line it with greaseproof paper (my preferred solution as it make it easier to get things out). Mix the spelt flakes and seeds in the tin, then toast in the oven for 5-10 mins at 150°C.
  2. While that does whatever invisible thing it’s supposed to be doing, warm the butter, honey and sugar in a pan and stir until melted.granola bars 3.jpggranola bars 4.jpg
  3. Add the spelt/seed mix, cinnamon and dried fruit, then mix it all up until everything is coated in sugary, sugary goodness.granola bars 6.jpg
  4. Tip into the tin, press down lightly, then bake at 150°C for 30 mins.granola bars 7.jpg
  5. After it’s cooked, some molten sugar may seep out of the sides if it doesn’t quite fill the tin (my roasting tin is pretty big). Just smoosh it back in with a spoon. Do not try to eat the molten sugar while hot. I speak from experience. granola bars 8.jpg
  6. Cool in tin, then cut into 12 bars. Do not try to cut it while warm as it just falls apart and sticks to the knife and your hand. And then you have to eat loads of it off your hand. And then you notice that it has fallen all over the floor. And then the cat tries to eat the floor because it’s now apparently made of warm butter. And then you try to pick up the cat. And then you realise that you are all sticky and you have now just stuck to the cat. And then the cat tries to eat you. Be warned.

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Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

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If you ask me, there is something comical about rhubarb. I don’t know why. I think it’s got something to do with this.

My Uncle has a new allotment and has given much care to his rhubarb plants. I haven’t seen them but apparently, they are luscious, thriving and have stems as thick as your arm. He’s thinking of showing them. I was given some of this rhubarb when I visited my Nan a week or so ago and as far as I’m concerned, there is only one thing to do with rhubarb…

…Crumble!*

*I know crumble is technically more of an autumn dish, but never mind.

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Recipe Notes

  • There are recipes out there for all sorts of fancy and wonderful things you can do with rhubarb, crumble and both. But seeing as the focus of this blog is on simple, tasty, home cooking, it would be remiss of me not to start with the real basics. I grew up eating a lot of crumble but it does contain our old friends, wheat and dairy. Luckily, these are so easy to substitute in a crumble recipe you barely notice the difference.
  • Sometimes, I like to substitute some of the flour for a handful of porridge oats and/or chopped nuts to give it an interesting texture. It depends what mood I’m in.
  • If you prefer your fruit crunchy you can skip the pre-cooking step and just bake it from raw. I don’t as I like my fruit more cooked but I still take care not to simmer it for too long.

Ingredients

  • 8oz of cooking apples
  • 8oz fresh rhubarb
  • 6oz plain flour (or gf substitute flour of choice)
  • 3oz butter, chilled (or vegan/lactofree substitute)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • An orange
  • 3oz caster sugar (I like golden caster sugar but white works fine)

Method

  1. Wash the apples and rhubarb. Cut both into small-ish chunks.Crumble5
  2. Finely grate the orange rind and squeeze the juice.
  3. Place the fruit in a pan with, the cinnamon, orange rind and a tablespoon of orange juice.
  4. Place a lid on the pan with a little gap to let the air out and simmer for roughly 5mins, or until the fruit begins to soften, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking to the bottom.Crumble4
  5. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. “Rub it in” to the flour using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make sure the butter is as cold as possible for this to work best. (Alternatively, stick it all in the food processor and let that do the work for you!)
  6. Add the sugar.
  7. Place the fruit mixture in the bottom of a large oven-proof dish. (1.5 pint should do)
  8. Spread the crumble mixture on top and dot with little chunks of butter.Crumble3
  9. Bake at 210°C for 20mins and reduce to 180°C for 45mins.
  10. Eat before you can take a decent photo of it for your food blog.

 

  1. Crumble2

    Observe my truly excellent photography skills. I particularly like the shadow of the camera I have managed to capture in the corner…

Autumn Leaves pie

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vegetarian/gluten free/lactose free/can be made vegan

No, we have not taken vegetarianism this far, don’t worry. I have not (yet) resorted to eating fallen leaves from my garden. I just named this pie “Autumn leaves” because the colours remind me of autumn and I wanted to sound really clever.

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Look at the vegetables before they’re added to the sauce – aren’t they pretty?

This is a lovely, warming pie for a cold evening. It’s relatively easy to make but rather time consuming to prepare so maybe one for a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining and you want an excuse not to leave your nice cosy kitchen.

A warning: When I was shopping for ingredients to make this a few weeks ago I got very excited because next to the usual butternut squashes in the supermarket they had something called coquina squash. It looked the exactly same but was far more expensive, labelled as part of the supermarket’s premium range. Naturally, assuming it must be a far superior exotic squash variety, I bought it, only to find out when I got home that coquina is just another name for butternut squash. Probably you’re all now rolling in the aisles at my silly squashy ignorance but I thought it fair to mention.

Recipe Tips

  • In the pictures, the purple that you can see is purple carrot. I used these as I had some left over from Halloween and I’m a bit obsessed with purple vegetables. I might hesitate to do so if serving this to guests however as they turned the cooked pie filling a rather strange shade of pink. This pie works with any root vegetables really as long as you make sure they’re roasted first to soften them and eliminate excess moisture. Roast peppers or sundried tomatoes also work very well.
  • The best tip for making gluten-free pastry that I’ve ever come across was from a book about pies that friend owned. I wish I could remember the name of it. Next time I see her I’ll find out so I can link to it here because it was a very good book. The tip was to add polenta to the mix of flour. It gives the pastry a fantastic flavour, helps to hold it together and creates a warm yellow colour that makes a welcome change from the usual paleness of gluten-free pastry. Polenta is sometimes called cornmeal and it’s the fine ground, uncooked kind that you want. Most supermarkets these days stock it but you might have to hunt for a bit – try the “word foods” section.
  • If you want to make the pastry completely vegan it is totally ok to leave out the egg – just add a little more water instead. The pastry will be slightly crumblier if you do this as the egg acts as a binder. If you want to avoid this, you can use vegan egg replacer (just follow the instructions on the packet) or chia seeds. See this excellent tutorial for how to do this http://www.foodrenegade.com/how-make-egg-substitute-chia-seeds/
  • Adding the xanthan gum is absolutely vital if you want it to stick together. I’ve also found that adding Lactofree cheese to the pastry, apart from making it taste great, helps to hold it together as well.
  • Unfortunately, even with all the xanthan gum and will in the world, gluten free pastry is never going to look pretty. The best you can hope for is “charmingly rustic”. It will still try to fall apart when you lift it onto the pie and you will never get it rolled thinly. One easy way to get the pastry onto the pie in one piece is to roll it out on a plastic mat or chopping board, then quickly turn it upside down onto the pie.
  • So, you could just leave it OR if you’ve got guests coming over, you’ve had enough wine to pretend you’re a contestant on the Great British Bake Off or you’re photographing it for a food blog and want to look like you know what you’re doing, you could jazz it up a bit. Here are some ideas to impress those Bake Off judges with:

– Use the inevitable little bits of pastry left over and some cookie cutters to cover over the unsightly areas with pretty shapes. (Leaves in this case)

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– Use a knife to gently score patterns into the pastry.

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– Make the rough edges look deliberately quaint and homespun by squishing them all along with a fork. Put it on a gingham tablecloth for added effect.

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  • Note: The method for making the pastry that I’ll give is the old-fashioned version. I don’t actually do this because if you have a food processor you can just chuck all of the pastry ingredients in there at once and press the “on” switch. The future is here.

 

Ingredients

(To make one pie that serves roughly 4 people)

 

Pastry

  • 6oz gluten-free plain flour mix
  • 3oz fine cornmeal (polenta)
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 5oz vegan margarine
  • 1 egg (or substitute)
  • 2tbs cold water
  • A handful of Lactofree cheese (optional)

 

Sauce

  • ½ pint milk or milk substitute (Soya milk works well, as does Lactofree)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of cornflour
  • 4oz cheddar cheese (melty vegan or Lactofree extra mature work fine)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of Herbes de Provence
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard

 

Filling

  • Half a butternut squash
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 1 medium courgette
  • A handful of sundried tomatoes
  • I small packet of Quorn chunks

 

Method

 

  1. Prepare the vegetables.

    pie-2

    More pretty colours…

 

Peel the carrots and squash (or any other root veg/peppers) and cut into bite sized cubes. Place on a roasting tray (I cover it in tin foil to save washing up if I’m short for time) and roast on 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for about half an hour or until the edges start to brown. Chop the courgette into very small cubes and put straight into the pie dish with any extras like the sundried tomatoes.

 

  1. Meanwhile, make the pastry…

 

  • Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Add the fat straight out of the fridge so that it is as cold as possible and cut it up into small chunks before adding it the bowl. Using the tips of your fingers, rub the fat into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  • Add the egg (or substitute) and work it into the mixture with a spoon. Gradually add some water, just a little bit at a time, gently kneading the dough with your hands until it forms one solid ball.

    pie-4

    If you’re using a food processor the dough should look roughly like this when it’s done.

 

Remind you of anything? That’s right – it’s the same method as the one we used for the pizza, just slightly different ingredients. Turns out the component parts of many different recipes are pretty much the same – once you learn the basic skills they’re easy to remember and adapt.

 

  1. And the sauce? This is exactly the same as the one for macaroni cheese. It’s a Mornay (cheese) sauce.

 

To save you reading that recipe twice, (although if you haven’t yet, please do) here it is again. Thank you, copy and paste function:

 

  • Mix the cornflour with a little of the milk in a glass until it dissolves.
  • Add the milk to the carrot water (if a lot has boiled off you might need to top it up – you should have roughly 1 pint of liquid in total)
  • Add the salt, pepper and herbs.
  • Heat until it starts to simmer then remove from the heat.
  • Tip in the cornflour and stir. (A balloon whisk can help here) pie-1
  • Return the pan to the heat and keep stirring until the sauce thickens.
  • Grate and add the cheese. Stir until it melts.
  • Add the mustard and a generous pinch of yeast flakes.

 

  1. Now put it all together…

 

  • Put the vegetables and sauce in a large pie dish with thin slices or tiny cubes of the courgette – as small as you can get them.

 

  • If you have one, pop a pie funnel in the middle of the pie.

 

  • Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and transfer to the top of the pie. Trim the edges with a knife and cut an X shape in the centre and use it to make a little hole – either for the pie funnel to poke out of or just as it is to release some of the steam.

 

  • Decorate as you prefer. If you have any holes or bits that don’t quite look nice you cn cover them up with the extra bits of pastry like I have in the corner here.
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    Fixing the broken bit on the corner to make it look deliberate…

 

  • Bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for half an hour or until the top has browned slightly and the vegetables are cooked through.
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All done!

Fun with Flapjacks

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(Yes, my life really is this exciting)

wheat free/gluten free/vegan

So, Monday sees me going back to work after a little holiday and I am standing in the kitchen again staring at my empty lunchbox wondering what on earth I’m going to do about it this time.

I hate lunch. It is my bête noir. I have never really enjoyed standard Western lunch foods and it’s even tricker now wheat and dairy are out of the picture. Lunch time at home usually sees my moodily crunching on some toast and fantasising about expensive sushi banquets. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to work at a place that has jacket potatoes in the cafeteria every day so at least I can bring in my own vegan cheese and have someting nutritious and filling for lunch at work.

But that still leaves me with the rest of the day…

I work fairly long hours so snacks are a necessity if I am not to swoon like some Victorian maiden in a Gothic novel. There are only so many bananas a girl can eat so I have been experimenting recently with alternatives to the expensive (and often sugar-loaded) gluten free vegan cereal bars that I had been relying on for my afternoon snack. What I didn’t want to do however was spend hours of my free time cooking food for work so I settled on flapjacks as a good start. I’m hoping that despite still being in the “naughty” category of food in my mind due to their calorie content, flapjacks will at least be partially healthy and a lot more filling. They are quick, cheap, easy and require very little washing up or prep time so they have at least delivered on that score. Having never made flapjacks before I looked for the most basic recipe I could find so that it could be easily modified. I found a good one on AllRecipes.co.uk (http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/34253/simple-honey-flapjacks.aspx) and so far I have made 4 batches, changing it slightly each time.

Recipe Notes

  • To make this 100% gluten free make sure that you use specific gluten free oats – normal oats are not guaranteed to be gluten free unless it says so on the packet.
  • When adding the extra ingredients, I found it easiest to mix any spices/essences with the melted honey and oil before adding the rest as it coated it all more evenly.
  • In terms of quantities, I just threw in handfuls until it looked about right – there wasn’t much method to it. If adding extra dry ingredients such as the desiccated coconut however, it’s best to add a little extra oil or remove some of the oats so that the mixture isn’t too dry.
  • I used a roasting tin (the kind you do roast potatoes in) lined with baking parchment to make my flapjacks in but you can use any kind of baking tray or tin really. The paper makes them a lot easier to lift out though.

Basic Ingredients

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Molten honey and “butter” – could there be a better smell?

  • 200g coconut oil
  • 300g oats
  • 7-8 tablespoons honey

Method

1. Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan.

2. Turn off the heat and stir in the honey and oats.

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Stage 2

3. Line a roasting pan with greaseproof paper and tip the mixture into it, flattening it down with the back of a spoon until it is as thick as you think a flapjack should be. Use a knife or a pizza cutter to cut it into squares.

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I like my flapjacks thin – here is a teaspoon for refernce.

 

 

4. Bake for approximately 20mins at 180C or until the top is toasted a nice golden colour.

1st attempt  

Basic recipe plus: raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds, sesame seeds (my local health food shop does a great 4 seed pre-mix) and extra chia seeds.

These tasted great and sort of, well, mostly held together but it was a lot of seeds. Anyone with a delicate digestive system (like me) might want to reduce the amount slightly.

2nd attempt

Basic recipe plus: raisins, desiccated coconut, rum flavouring, lime juice, 4 seed mix

These were my least favourite and didn’t hold together so well. Bizarrely, they tasted better after 24hrs in the biscuit tin however.

3rd attempt

Basic recipe plus: half of the coconut oil substituted for vegan sunflower spread, raisins, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla essence, much less seed mix than before.

These taste quite bland but pleasant and hold together nicely.

4th attempt

Sunflower spread instead of coconut oil, 4 tbs honey, 250g oats, 50g desiccated coconut, a handful each of raisins, crystallised pineapple and papaya pieces, 1/3 tsp powdered ginger.

My favourite so far. The sugar in the crystalized fruit means that less honey is needed but the mixture still holds together very well. The ginger adds a warming note – next time I might even add a little more and the flavours work beautifully together. The vegan spread works much better than the coconut oil I think and gives it a more “buttery” flavour which is what I want in a flapjack.

I will be trying more of these variations as time goes on so will let you know of any good ones I come across. Or, if anyone has any good suggestions I will bake them and see.