Apple sponge tart

Apricot jam and apple tart

Sometimes it’s hard to let go.

It used to happen to me with my essays at school. I would research and research and want to cram in all those details I found just to prove how much I’d … well … researched. But the essays inevitably ended up being too long and I’d have to edit them – a task almost as painful as the initial writing because I’d grown attached to each detail, I’d look upon it as my own Coward-esque masterpiece and felt that each sentence was the make-or-break element, the one thing that would determine whether I would get an A or a B.

I find the same thing with photography. In this age of digital cameras the classic adage “a picture can say a thousand words” is flipped right over: a scene can take a thousand photos. Then when it comes to whittling the photos down there’s a battle because, to me, so many of them have value. But I know that the onlooker won’t want to see 30 almost identical images of a sliced apple, and  I know my hard-drive won’t thank me when those 30 images become 3000 equally indistinguishable others.

Apple pie recipe

And clothes! Why do I get so attached to clothes?! I ascribe human feelings to inanimate pieces of material: “I’m so sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. I just think it’s time for a change. And, well, you don’t go with ANY of my jumpers.”

Some of you might recognise this recipe. It was in fact one of the first I posted on this blog. But it had errors. The photos were limited and poor quality, taken in the days before I realised night-time photography was something only the professionals could pull off. The method was wrong and saw me carefully arranging the apples in the tart case only to splurge sponge over them, smothering their beautiful pattern forever more. The quantities meant you had to make three pastry cases for just the one tart. I mean, where was I going with that??

But the introduction was a sweet one. A nice little anecdote about a shopping trip and the purchase of too many lemons, much to my mum’s dismay and my dwindling delight.

Apricot jam recipe

With the revision and reposting of this recipe I felt the prologue should also get an update. It was time to screw my courage, shut my eyes, take a deep breath and severely edit my apple tart essay. Nay! Delete it completely. We can’t hold on forever, and some things are just not worth fretting over, especially if in their deletion we can create something – if not better – at least different. There are far worse things to lose; a few amateur words hastily written are not those.

But I might just have saved them in a Word document by way of consolation …

Apple tart recipe

Do try this tart, the original Pieflanart (for old times’ sake) and you, too, can arrange your apples elegantly atop the sponge for all to see.

Ingredients

Pastry

175g plain flour

40g icing sugar

60g butter, at room temperature

40g lard, at room temperature

Pinch of salt

Filling

About 3 tbsps apricot jam (+ extra to glaze)

140g butter, at room temperature (+ extra to glaze)

140g caster sugar

1 large egg (add a extra yolk if it’s tiddly)

140g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

3-4 medium-small dessert apples

Tart pastry

Begin with the pastry. Mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Rub in the fat and bring the mixture together. You shouldn’t need to add any liquid at all but if it’s too crumbly or hard then add a dash of cold water.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until thin.

Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry up around it then unroll it over an 11 inch fluted tart tin. Press gently into the edges. You can leave an overhang at this stage which ensures it won’t collapse into the case during cooking, but I trimmed mine by rolling the rolling pin over the top of the case. Just make sure you press the edges back in firmly.    

How to make shortcrustShortcrust pie crust

Line the case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes on 170C degrees fan oven (190C degrees conventional oven). Remove the beans and baking paper and bake for a further 4-5 minutes until just cooked and lightly coloured. Carefully trim any overhang with a sharp knife.

Turn the oven down to 160 C degrees fan (180 C conventional oven).

Next, prepare your filling.

Jam sponge recipe

Spread the apricot jam across the base of the tart case so it is evenly distributed. 3 tbsps should be enough. If you use too much it will be forced up around the edges when you add the sponge. If you’re a real jam head then just go for it and have fun :)

Beat the butter and sugar together well, add the egg(s) and beat again.

Sift over the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and stir until combined. Spread this over the jam layer.

Jam sponge pie

Next, peel 3 apples. Cut them into quarters and remove the seeds before cutting each quarter in half again. If you have particularly large apples then you may want to cut each quarter into 3, but the slices can be quite chunky.

Spread the apples out in a nice arrangement over the sponge mix, pressing them in but leaving a side exposed. If you need more, prepare your 4th apple the same way.

Apple sponge recipeApple jam tart

Melt a little more butter and brush this over the apples.

Return to the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until the sponge is set and golden on top. You can now glaze it with a little jam mixed with boiling water, if you like.

Leave to cool slightly but it is delicious eaten warm.

Apple tart recipeApple sponge pie

Bounty Bars … and a bit of drama

Mound bar recipe

It’s a bit of a lengthy post so skip to the recipe below if you want to. I don’t mind. *sniff*. I also apologise for the hazy notes on some photos. I blame the lighting.

I’m not really a fan of drama.

I don’t mean the TV kind, you know, like Borgen and House and Downton (although I must confess to never having watched the first two and becoming utterly uninterested in the last: it just went on and on and on …). And I’m not talking about amateur/school based drama which was in fact one of my favourite subjects.

No, what I’m talking about is the drama of life, from the small ‘Aargh I’ve just burnt the porridge pan’ to the bigger stuff. Who’d be a fan of the bigger stuff? But some people do seem to thrive on the sort of situation that I would shy away from. Some people seek it out. Those are the bungee jumpers and firefighters of this world. In my little kitchen I feel relatively safe and cosy by comparison, although there’s no knowing when armed men might burst in and threaten to steal all the plant pots unless I hand over my secret supply of baking powder.

Cream cheese bars recipe

But things are all relative. If our day to day lives involve risk and stress I imagine we become used to it, hardened to the struggles and better able to cope with them. I’m not saying we would become heartless, but just stronger. And for those of us who have reasonably quiet lives with the usual ups and downs of simply living through the daily routines, the more minor things can loom rather large.

I don’t cope well with stress. I tend to hide my head in the sand and pretend there’s nothing going on, or simply collapse in a quivering heap on the floor. I don’t like drama in my life and so there are some simple ways I try to avoid it (without, say, becoming a hermit on a remote Scottish Isle):

1. Stay organised – if you know where and when everything is, the probability of loss or mishap is greatly reduced.

2. Be nice – nasty people encourage conflict. Debates are not my conversation style of choice.

3. Don’t stress, & be realistic – if every time you go outside you’re constantly fretting that you’ll get hit by a bus then life’s going to be tough. And you’re still no less likely to get hit by that bus (unless, as mentioned before, you become some kind of hermit and even then I hear seagulls can be pretty vicious).

As you can probably guess this isn’t a comprehensive list of coping strategies but they help me a little, even if sometimes they don’t always work …

Home made chocolate bars

Take the other day. I write my recipes down on little scraps of paper. It’s not terribly organised but I know where I stand: the paper is always to hand when I start cooking, and when I’ve finished writing I store the scraps inside a notebook in case the recipe is a success and merits blogging. But something went wrong with my homemade Bounty Bars. It was recipe attempt #2 (the first ones hadn’t been great) so already I was a bit jaded. And then, somewhere along the line, between the chocolate melting moment and the blogging moment, I lost my scrap of paper. THE RECIPE SCRAP.

(Of course it didn’t help that there was a house move in the period between baking and blogging this recipe.)

Chocolate recipe

So I had a minor meltdown, a small strop, a period of stomping around the kitchen feeling grotty about everything. And this is when I should add a fourth bullet point to the above list:

4. Endeavour to have someone nearby who can help you out – an outsider’s opinion is likely to be more reasonable and less subjective.

Luckily I had my mum and she put up with the teeny tantrum before pointing out that I could make them again.

Oh yeah.

So I did and promptly lost that recipe scrap too. I think I need a new system. But then I found the recipe and all was fine and the panic was all for nothing. Phew.

So, lesson learnt? Am I gonna stop stressing? Maybe. Maybe not … it all depends on the seagulls and the buses.

Home made Bounty bars

Ingredients

125g cream cheese

100-125g icing sugar (depends how sweet your tooth is)

Then, either: 170g dessicated coconut only

OR: 150g desiccated coconut & 40g coconut milk powder

300g plain or milk chocolate

Cream cheese coconut bars

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl.

Sift in the icing sugar and stir to combine.

Add the desiccated coconut and (if using) the coconut milk powder (this was just to make a denser texture and more coconutty flavour.  It’s not essential). Mix until you have quite a stiff mixture. You should be able to roll balls of it in your hands, so if it’s too sloppy you’ll need to add more desiccated coconut.

Home made mounds

Line a loaf tin with clingfilm and press the mix into it to get a neat edges. Next turn it back out onto a chopping board and, using a sharp knife, slice into bars.

At this stage there are two choices: if you want to drizzle chocolate over them then don’t freeze them. If, instead, you want to dip them in the melted chocolate it’s best to freeze them now for a few hours to firm them up so they don’t fall apart in the warm chocolate.

Chocolate

When you’re ready, prepare the chocolate. Break it into a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of gently simmering water. Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted. Remove from the heat.

To coat them there I tried these two options:

1. If they are not frozen, place the bars on a wire rack with a tray underneath to catch dripping chocolate. Carefully pour or spoon the melted chocolate over each bar and coax it down the sides, or spread it with a knife. This way is better if you didn’t have time to freeze the bars (the chocolate will set pretty quickly on frozen bars which might make it hard to spread).

2. If frozen, remove from the freezer and, one at a time, drop them in the chocolate. Turn to coat completely then place on a silicon baking sheet or non-stick baking paper.

home made coconut bars

With both steps the base will either not have any chocolate on it (1.) or it will be a little messy from being placed on the silicon/baking paper (2.). You can leave this as it is or simply wait for the chocolate coating to set, re-melt more chocolate in the bowl and dip the base of the bars into the melted chocolate. Leave on their sides for the base to set.

Et voila! A little treat to make up for any of life’s dramas.

Coconut chocolate recipeHome made chocolate bars

Pear, chocolate & walnut flapjacks

Pear and chocolate bars

Sometimes you just feel like going to bed and staying there. Today is one such day for me, and never one to ignore a calling, I dutifully obeyed. Of course, if you go to bed during the daylight hours that’s still no excuse to do nothing (unless you are ill, in which case I forgive you and you have my permission to go to sleep. Get well soon). So I have spent my under-the-covers-afternoon doing a bit of browsing, writing, pinning and photo editing. Sometimes productivity is stifled by being warm and comfy, but luckily for me today I found that my place of extreme comfort was a help not a hindrance. I might have to factor in a few more duvet days …

Fruit, nut and chocolate flapjack recipe

Now, onto more important matters. Namely The Flapjack. Yes, this foodstuff of the Gods requires capitals. How many other delectable morsels require only 3 ingredients (minimum), take less than 40 minutes total to make AND cook, can be dressed up by the addition of endless variables, eaten naked or accompanied by cream or fruit or purées or melty oozy chocolaty sauces? I can think of NONE. Only The Flapjack.

Healthy oat bars

But for such a simplistic little bake, it can also be surprisingly difficult to get right. I find this is more often than not down to the cooking: it needs to be only just cooked, with barely a hint of colour so that it retains its moist and squidgy, non-crisp texture. I also like to use all syrup and no sugar, and I add fresh white breadcrumbs as I find these help create a texture which is dense but not too dense, as it can be if you add flour (although I’m a fan of the added-flour flapjacks too). My finished flapjack recipe is the result of much experimentation and I have included it at the bottom of the page for those of you who might still be in search of the perfect specimen: it may not be your idea of perfection, but it works for me so there’s no harm in trying, eh?

Chocolate, nut, oat bars recipe

But the main recipe, the star of today’s post, is a severely pimped up flappy jacky. She’s got pears (it makes her healthy. Honest.), walnuts (from France, no less – thank you parents!), sultanas AND dark chocolate whilst the golden syrup is replaced by honey which goes beautifully with pears. She makes for a satisfying and relatively healthy energy boost. Obviously we can’t ignore the fact that she’s got a hearty dose of butter in her, but alongside there are oats for long lasting, slow release energy: a small amount will see you through the morning (or afternoon/evening/night if that’s the way you roll). And if you’re über health conscious and want to replace the white breadcrumbs with wholemeal you can try that too.

Fruity flapjacks

A final note: this flapjack will keep fairly well in a tin, but may be best stored in the fridge due to the added fresh fruit. It will freeze fine.

Ingredients

175g butter or margarine

200g honey

400g pears (about 3 medium-small)

50g fresh white bread (or try wholemeal if you prefer)

150g regular porridge oats (not ground, jumbo or pinhead)

50g lightly roasted walnuts

150g sultanas

100g plain or dark chocolate

Pear walnut oat bars

Line a 20 x 20 cm (8 x 8 inch) square tin with baking paper and grease well with oil. Set aside.

Gently melt the butter and golden syrup in a large, heavy based pan.

Pear and chocolate recipe

Meanwhile, peel and core the pears, then cut them into fairly small dice. Add them to the melting butter/syrup mix, bring to a simmer and allow to cook gently for 10 minutes, lid on.

Whilst the pears cook, blend the bread in a food processor until it forms fine breadcrumbs. Roughly chop the walnuts.

Sweet walnut recipe

After 10 minutes remove the pan from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs, oats, walnuts and sultanas, along with a small pinch of salt.

Spoon half the mix into the prepared tin and press down to cover the whole of the base.

Fruit and nut oat bars recipe

Next roughly chop the chocolate and sprinkle all over the flapjack mix.

Spoon over the remaining half of the mix and press down again, making sure that the chocolate is all covered.

chocolate flapjacks recipeChocolate sultana pear walnut oats

Bake in an oven preheated to 180 C degrees fan (200 C conventional) for about 25 minutes until just starting to colour at the edges. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out and cutting into slices and eating.

PS – The cold chocolate helps to hold the bars together so if you eat them warm don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Chocolate and nut bars recipeChocolate flapjack recipe

 

Basic flapjack recipe

Ingredients

260g butter or margarine

315g golden syrup

75g fresh white breadcrumbs

250g regular porridge oats (not ground, jumbo or pinhead)

In a pan, melt the butter and syrup.

Stir in the breadcrumbs, oats and a pinch of salt.

Pour into a lined and greased baking tin (I leave the size to you as some people like deep flapjacks and other prefer them shallow. If you’re really not sure, try 20 x 20 cm/ 8 x 8 inches).

Bake for about 15 minutes on 180 C degrees fan (200 C degrees conventional) oven. The thinner the flapjack, the less time it will need.

Cut whilst still warm then leave to cool in the tin.

Chocolate and nut recipe

Foraged Pear & Chestnut Tart

Pear and chestnut tart

It has been a month of mixed emotions. September coming to an end and October beginning, bringing with it falling leaves and damp paving stones, musty smokey air and fresh mornings, we are truly in autumn now and although the loss of summer leaves a sadness, I can’t deny my love of this new season. Whenever I’m asked which season is my favourite there’s always a moment of pondering, as each new “era” brings something exciting and special. But I do love the transitional seasons most of all – the spring: when you’ve come through the barren cold of winter with its Christmassy excitement and cosy fires and have long dreamy summers ahead with lush grass and seaside walks, and in the meantime the flowers are coming back to life, the birds are returning and the prospect of Easter is eternally exciting. And autumn: with bonfires and woodland wanders, soups and toasted marshmallows and the necessary donning of extra layers which also mean you can eat more and no one knows … always a good thing.

But the step from summer to autumn hasn’t been the only change for me. My parents and I moved house recently, from a remote Cornish seaside spot to a busy Devonian town; from quiet, settled, solitude to fervent, active, bustling busyness. And I’m not sad to leave because this marks a new – and hopefully exciting – chapter for us all, but Clemmie and I will miss the sea.

pear and chestnut pieChestnut pie recipe

Any of you following my blog or Twitter will know that I am a fervent forager, that I delight in not only finding food for free but in saving it from otherwise certain rot, that no matter how many apples/pears/chestnuts I have I can’t say ‘no’ to a few more. And on top of this, with the move (and downsizing the freezer) I’ve been having to get through runner beans, a large crop of prematurely harvested onions, and a multitude of hard little cooking pears from our rambunctious tree at the old house. It’s been a challenge and there never seem to be enough jars but I love a culinary combat and this one has been between me and the perishables.

So when the parents went off to France last week for a much needed break I had free run of the kitchen to get to work. I could stink it out with as much vinegar in the chutneys and burnt sugar from the jams as I liked; I could spread my peelings and shellings and corings all over the place with no-one looking on with dismayed disapproval. And on our new and exciting exploratory walks Clemmie and I also came back with more delights to tackle: sweet chestnuts. Beautiful, shiny little brown nuggets that reveal the most creamy flesh beneath – delicious on their own but super in many baked goods too. And when you’ve got pears that need using up there’s no way you’re not going to try and combine the two somehow. So that’s what I did.

Oh, and the parents brought back a few more chestnuts from France. I think they only did it to trump mine because they were HUGE, but I’m proud to say I found some equally big ones the next day. Smug.

chestnut variations

Chestnuts in a dish are not usually noticeable for their flavour so the addition of almond or vanilla, cinnamon or orange is necessary. But don’t consider it a waste of good chestnuts to put them somewhere where you can no longer taste them – they add to the texture with their soft, smoothness and there is a slightly perceptible nuttiness below the surface. And if, like me, you’ve collected more than you know what to do with you’ll be glad of any excuse to use them up. Just make sure you save a few to roast on the fire when the cold really kicks in.

This is a twist on an almond frangipane. The chestnut paste sinks to the bottom to create a thick, delectable filling whilst a thin custardy layer sets on top in which the pears sit. It’s simply perfect.

Pear tart

Ingredients

For the pastry

175g brown four (or 1/2 wholemeal, 1/2 white)

50g icing sugar

100g butter, slightly softened

For the filling

Approx. 5 small, firm pears (450-500g total) – mine were cooking pears. You can use dessert pears.

75g granulated sugar

Approx. 350g unpeeled/225g peeled chestnuts

50g wholemeal flour

250g butter, softened

250g caster sugar (or 1/2 caster, 1/2 light brown)

3 eggs

1 tsp almond OR vanilla extract

Sweet chestnut recipe

Have an 28cm/11 inch loose-based shallow tart tin ready.

Begin by making the pastry. Place the flour(s) in a bowl with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the butter and rub it in using your fingertips until the dough clumps together. Add a dash of cold water and bring the mixture together into a ball.

Flour your work surface and pastry ball and roll out to a fairly thin round, larger than the diameter of the tin. Flour the rolling pin well and loosely roll the pastry up around the pin. Lift it over the tart tin and unroll the pastry over the tin, allowing a bit of “give” so that it falls into the base and hangs over the edges too. Once the pastry is off the rolling pin carefully push it in to fit the shape of the tin and up the sides. Leave a slight overhang and press this down on the outside of the tin.

Brown sweet pastry recipe

Line the pastry with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C degrees fan (200C degrees conventional oven) for 12 minutes, remove the beans and paper and bake for a further 4 minutes. Set aside.

Turn the oven down to 160C degrees fan (180C degrees conventional).

Meanwhile prepare the pears.

Hard pears recipe

Peel the pears, cut into quarters and core them. Place them in a pan with water just to cover. Add the sugar and bring to the boil on the stove. Place the lid on the pan and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until softened. Test using a sharp knife, which should pierce the flesh easily when they are cooked enough (if using softer pears, or dessert pears, they may only need 5-10 minutes).

Remove the pears from the water and leave to cool before slicing them at a slight angle (see picture).

Poached pear recipeHow to cook sweet chestnuts

Next prepare the filling.

Mark a cross in the shell of each chestnut and place about 10 in a microwaveable pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover and microwave for about 2-3 minutes until the water is boiling and the crosses on the chestnuts are beginning to peel back. Leave the nuts in the water as they are easiest to peel when hot, and take one out at a time. Peel off the shell and as much of the film-like skin beneath as possible, but leaving some of this on is fine. Once you’ve finished the first 10 chestnuts, repeat the process with another 10 and so on until all are cooked. This can also be done in  a pan on the stove.

Microwave chestnuts

Place the peeled chestnuts in a food processor and blend until they are as fine as possible. They may not become very fine and will begin to clump together. At this point add the wholemeal flour. This helps to dry the mixture and enables you to grind it down more finely. Grind for another 30-60 seconds until a finer mixture is achieved, but you may not be able to make a flour-like texture. Remove this to a bowl.

In the same food processor, blend the butter and sugar until smooth and well combined. Add the eggs and blend again. Scrape down the sides and tip in the ground chestnuts and the almond/vanilla extract. Blend for a good minute as this makes the mixture much smoother and very creamy.

Pear frangipane tart recipeSweet chestnut recipesPear frangipane bakwell

Tip the chestnut filling into the pastry case and place the pears on top. I originally fanned them out (see picture) but then dotted more all over to make it extra pear-y. This worked well as the pattern was lost anyway when the pears sank a bit in cooking.

Carefully place the tart back into the oven and bake for about 50 minutes. Until just set and golden brown on top. Check on it after 30 minutes, turn it around if needed, check for the wobble and adjust the temperature if it seems to be cooking too quickly.

Leave to cool until just warm before dusting with icing sugar and serving. It’s delicious with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Autumn pie recipePear frangipane recipeSeasonal pear pie recipe