A little Christmassy trip to Brussels

When mum suggested a pre Christmas holiday back in November I jumped at the chance. What followed was a few days looking around European Christmas markets (they serve champagne and cocktails on their stalls), sampling Belgian beers, a Christmas parade which started out looking like a series of transit vans covered in LED lights and a Lego art exhibition. I will say this, Belgian food is awesome. If I lived in Brussels I would weigh approximately 20 stone from all of the amazing food, wine and beer available everywhere. The smell of the shops and market stalls just made me hungry and I felt permanently sleepy from the smell of mulled wine and other things in the air.

We did however, burn a good few calories ice skating. My Dad, who spent his teenage years at the local ice rink, put me completely to shame.

 

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Chocolate and salted caramel hazelnut tart

Christmas is well and truly upon us. If, like me, dried fruit based desserts leave you uninspired, try this gem of a dessert. This one is perfect for a special occasion; it looks impressive, packs a real punch in the flavour department and although making it is time consuming, it isn’t a difficult thing to bake. I did get a bit of pastry shrinkage with this recipe, but I mixed mine by hand and I’m sure this won’t happen as much if you made it using a food processor. When making this you need to allow time for your pastry to chill in the fridge and allow time later for the chocolate to set. If you’re going to make the effort with a dessert like this, really take the time to let things rest and set properly. The other benefit is that you will enjoy making this far more if you’re not running around the kitchen in a flap, up to your elbows in melted chocolate.

I made this as an early birthday dessert for my housemate A. Her birthday is boxing day so I wanted to treat her to a special dessert and I knew she would adore this. (I was right, I got a big hug and a kiss when I produced this!)

To make this tart you will need

For the pastry

175g butter

75g caster sugar

2 egg yolks

250g plain flour

20g cocoa powder

35ml water

For the ganache

200g good quality dark chocolate (I used a mixture of 70% and 85%)

200ml double cream

200g caster sugar or light brown sugar if you prefer

5g sea salt

For the hazelnut topping

100g caster sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

100g hazelnuts

 

To make the pastry cream together your butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

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Add the egg yolks and the water and mix well.

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Gradually add the flour and cocoa powder until all the ingredients are bound together. This step is way easier using a food processor but it is possible to do this by hand.

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Wrap in a plastic bag and allow to chill in the fridge for at least and hour, if not longer.

Roll your pastry out onto a floured surface and use it to line a loose bottomed tin that is about 24cm in diameter and at least 2.5cm thick. Allow your pastry to rest for 15 minutes in the fridge before trimming it. Patch any bald patches in your tin with excess pastry. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Before baking prick your pastry with a fork.

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Line your tin with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and bake for another 6 minutes.

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While your pastry is baking make your ganache by melting together your cream, sugar, chocolate and sea salt in a heatproof bowl over a boiling pan. Usually I’m a great advocate of zapping stuff like this in a microwave, but its best to keep an eye on ganache.

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Melt together until thick and glossy.

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Pour into your pastry and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

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To make the topping warm a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add your sugar and melt together until golden brown. Add the salt and mix well before taking off the heat and adding the hazelnuts. Mix thoroughly. Lay over a piece of greaseproof paper to cool. Once cool separate the nuts by smashing them.

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Top the tart with your hazelnuts. Serve.

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Candles and a beautiful rendition of “Happy Birthday” or “Santa Clause is coming to town” entirely optional.

Homemade focaccia

I have recently got into baking bread from scratch in a big way. The thought used to fill me with dread, thinking I would fail horribly leaving me with a loaf that was burned on the edges and raw dough in the centre. Then I discovered that all you need is confidence and time. I like to mix my bread ingredients by hand so I can really get the feel of the dough in order to gage how much liquid I’ll need.

This focaccia is an extremely forgiving bread recipe that I think is excellent for a beginner. It is one you need no special equipment for and the dough is very wet so if your hand slips it doesn’t matter as much as it would with other breads. Plus this recipe is pretty cheap to make compared with other recipes. As an added bonus it ends up looking like that artisan bread you buy in delis which makes it ideal as a Christmassy bake.

To make focaccia you will need:

1 sachet of instant yeast (around 10g)

500g strong white bread flour

10g salt

40ml olive oil (plus approx 100ml extra for kneading, lining your square container and kneading)

360ml cold water

Sea salt

Dried oregano

Line a square or rectangular container that holds at least 2 litres with some of your olive oil. Put your flour in a large mixing bowl with the yeast on one side and the salt on the other. Add 40ml olive oil.

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At this point add about 3/4 of your cold water. Use your fingers to make a claw to mix the dough. Keep adding the rest of the water gradually until your dough picks up the flour from the sides of the bowl and is very soft.

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Cover an appropriate surface with olive oil. At this point knead your dough until it is smooth and elastic. Don’t add more flour as this dough is supposed to be sticky (I ruined a washing up sponge clearing up after myself).

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When the dough is smooth put into the container and leave to rise for around 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

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Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and drizzle with more oil. Divide your dough into 2 and shape into flat even rectangles. Do this carefully so that you don’t lose too much air. The texture of the bread is way more important than having perfect rectangles at this stage.Sprinkle your dough liberally with the salt flakes and dried oregano. Leave your trays in a warm (not hot) place to rise for another hour, until the dough springs back when poked with your finger. About 30 minutes into your proving time preheat your oven to 220°C.

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Using your finger poke holes into the dough that go right the way through.

DSCN1686Bake for 15 minutes until the loaves are golden brown and the they make a hollow sound when tapped. Drizzle with more olive oil and leave to cool.

Baltzersens, Harrogate

Sometimes you find a little place that you adore so much you almost don’t want to tell people about because you love it that much you want to keep it to yourself so that you can still get a seat without waiting too long or your favourite cake running out. Well for me Baltzersens is that place, great atmosphere, fantastic cake and good coffee. I mean, I’m fully aware that I am no expert when it comes to coffee but I know what I like and I like Baltzersens coffee. I am always walk past this coffee shop staring at the cakes like a cat stares at birds in the garden. This place is Scandinavian influenced and uses local produce and I simply love visiting.

Anyway, when Miss B came to visit me I knew as a coffee lover she would appreciate a trip to Baltzersens. We had coffee and cake (well I had waffles and coffee) and it was simply glorious. The staff here are always friendly and helpful and I really like that fact that there is a wide selection of cakes including gluten free options that look as wonderful as everything else.

Here’s what we ate and drank:

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Chocolate and cherry slice

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Waffle with cream and Nutella
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It’s just as well I’ve taken up spinning again, eh?

If you’re in the area Baltersens is well worth a visit. It does tend to get busy but I’ve never seen anybody wait too long to get served.

You can find out more here.

 

Chocolate orange brownies

Christmas is officially coming, my housemate has put up our tree and the air is thick with the smell of mulled wine. I happened upon this recipe when I got an unexpected invitation to my Uncle’s for Sunday dinner (thanks younger cousin for going to work without a key!) and I started to bake brownies without enough plain flour or butter. I find brownies a very forgiving recipe at the best of times; however the addition of hazelnut oil and cornflour resulted in beautiful squidgy brownies. While brownies themselves are not traditionally Christmas fayre, Terry’s Chocolate Orange is a staple Christmas treat for many UK households so I am arguing that this recipe is a Christmassy one.

This is an excellent recipe to whip up before a Christmas party to delight your friends or to make for anyone who isn’t a fan of Christmassy desserts (I for one cannot stand mixed peel!) Either way, nothing says domestic Goddess like producing these wearing a Christmas jumper, even if you were covered in flour only 30 minutes previously.

To make these brownies you will need:

200g dark chocolate

100ml hazelnut oil (or any nut oil, or vegetable oil – no olive oil!)

4 eggs

250g caster sugar

50g plain flour

50g corn flour (you could potentially make this a gluten free recipe by using 100g corn flour and no plain flour)

30g cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1 Terry’s Chocolate Orange or 1 bag of mini segments

 

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Using a hand whisk whisk your eggs and sugar until they are thick enough to leave a trail of mixture when your whisk is lifted up.

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Hey sugar, how you doin’?

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Melt together your chocolate and oil using your preferred method. Leave to cool slightly.

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Fold your chocolate mix into the egg mix.

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To this sift in your flour, baking powder and cocoa powder.

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Line a tin with baking parchment and spoon in your brownie mixture. Spread it out evenly and top with your chocolate orange segments.

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Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top has crusted and a skewer comes out almost clean.

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Serve as they are or with cream or ice cream if you desire. Top with a sprig of holly if you’re already feeling especially festive.

Soupy Thai Green Curry with noodles (slow cooked)

As you are probably aware, soup is probably my ultimate comfort food. When I have had a bad day or I am feeling under the weather I always turn to soup for comfort. As much as I love cake (I discussed getting a tattoo of cake to cement my love of it) it was soup that cured my broken heart last September.

This recipe is another slow cooker recipe and is an adaption of the Malaysian style chicken soup I made in September. This one obviously packs more of a punch in the spice department and the coconut milk adds more of a richness to the mix. They do suggest feeding a cold, right? Anyway, this is a beauty of a recipe for a dark, drizzly evening. You can of course make your own curry paste but I used shop bought.

To make this you will need:

1 medium chicken

1/2 a lemon

Cold water

A thumb sized piece of ginger

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsps Thai green curry paste

An onion

250ml vegetable stock

Butternut squash – 1/2 a smaller squash or the neck of a bigger one

Rice noodles

1 can coconut milk

1 tbsp fish sauce

2 large pak choi or 3 smaller ones

Heat your slow cooker on low. Put your chicken in the slow cooker breast side down. Crush your garlic, peel and slice your ginger and onion, and add to your slow cooker along with your lemon and curry paste. Cover everything with your cold water and heat on low for 6-8 hours.

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Not so pretty at this point, eh?

After your chicken has cooked remove from the liquid and allow to cool slightly. Peel and chop your butternut squash into 1cm cubed pieces. Use a sieve to strain your liquid into a large pan. Add your vegetable stock at this point and heat your butternut squash in the liquid.

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Pick your chicken off the bones and add to the liquid again. Discard any skin and bones. Add your coconut milk and fish sauce to this. If your pan gets too full (like mine did) put some of the soup into another pan.

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Once your butternut squash is tender (after about 10 minutes) add your rice noodles. Once these are cooked slice the bottom off your pak choi to release the leaves. Cook the pak choi in the soup for about 1 minute then serve.

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You should feel your spirits lift and your sinuses clear in no time at all.