Roast pear and blackberry shortbread crumble

Pear and vanilla orange crumble recipe

I don’t know what’s happened. I just. Don’t. Know. It’s like my small brain has gone pewfrewyspliffsploff. It’s like a switch has flicked and the lights have gone off in one control room, and on in another (I like to think they’re fairy lights). Maybe it’s because it’s nearly Christmas. But no, that can’t be it. Because Christmas is the time when I cook. I cook and cook and I make all sorts of festively feasty foods.

What’s happened to me??

OK, so I think you may be confused. Let me explain. Looking through the photo folders on my PC and I look at December 2013: there are over 30 recipes. That’s 30 recipes that I photographed and set aside as potential blogging material, never mind the endless culinary creations that happened in between the blog-worthy stuff.

Orange roasted pears recipe

Jump forward a year and look at the recipes in my December 2014 folder: 0. A big, fat 0 recipes. November has 5, but 4 of those are incomplete. Incomplete?! What? WHY, Trixie? It’s as if I gave up with the camera half way through baking and just went ‘Meh. Who cares?’. But I care. I DO.

I’ll tell you one thing: it’s partly down to the light. Not only are there very few daylight hours at the moment but those that we do have are pretty gloomy, and the amount of brightness that reaches in through the small windows of our new kitchen is minimal. I have to pick up all my stuff and drag it to a table set up in the thoroughfare that is our hallway. It’s just plain offputting.

Shortbread crumble

But the other thing is this: take a closer look at my December 2014 picture folders. I have 15 devoted to crafts; many of them new crafts for me, things like upcycling, decoupaging, machine sewing, stapling, printing, (basic) woodworking. I’ve always enjoyed being creative, but surely this is extreme, right? And what’s happened to my beloved baking?

Orange roasted pears

I suppose if you want to do crafts, Christmas is a good time to do them (think presents!) and I expect when Christmas proper begins (like, on the 23rd) I’ll be in the kitchen beavering away, up to my eyes in brandy and cocktail sausages. But it makes it hard to write a food blog when you don’t have anything to write about.

Except that one recipe in November that I got round to finishing, the one that didn’t end up with a ‘meh … peeeeeeew kaput’. Hallelujah.

Toasted crumble recipe

Luckily for me, it was good. It was a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-skirts kind of recipe: in principal it had to work (vanilla fruits and zesty shortbread crumble) but the methods were different to my usual crumble recipes as I roasted the fruit, pre-toasted the crumble and layered the elements up to make a fat wedge of sweet yumminess. There were no recipes in my research to back me, I just had to go for it.

Another lucky thing is that, despite being a November baby, this recipe is decidedly Christmassy. Comforting and fruity, with wintery warmth from the pears, vanilla and orange zest. I was lucky to still have summer-foraged blackberries in the freezer, but you could always replace them with stewy plums or something else that takes your fancy – try winging it a bit too.

Oh, and folks? Have a lovely Christmas!

Orange pear recipe

This will feed about 6-8 people. Halve if you have fewer people.

Ingredients

For the filling

1kg conference pears (about 8 medium), just ripe (not rock solid, not soft)

75g soft light brown sugar

75g caster sugar

1-2 tsps vanilla extract

zest of 1/2 large orange

250g blackberries (from frozen or fresh)

For the shortbread crumble

300g plain flour

100g caster sugar

175g butter, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

zest of  1/2 large orange

Pinch of salt

Roasted pear crumble

Begin by preparing the fruit. Peel the pears and cut them in half lengthways. Either with the tip of your knife or with a small teaspoon, remove the core from each half pear. Place the pears in a large bowl and add the sugars, vanilla and orange zest. Mix carefully to coat everything without damaging the pears.

Roast pears recipeVanilla orange roast pears

Spread the pears out on a large baking sheet (this shouldn’t need greasing or lining) and place in a preheated oven at 200 C degrees fan (220 C conventional oven). Roast for about 40 minutes, turning them over a few times during this period and basting them with some of the sugar liquid from the tray.

Once roasted, the pears should be starting to caramelise around the edges. Most of the sugary liquid will have reduced so remove the pears to a bowl and pour a dash of boiling water into the baking tray (about 3 tbsps). Scrape around the tray to collect the residue (as if deglazing a pan) and tip this all into a mug or similar container. If the residue is really stuck you can return the tray (with water added) to the oven for a minute or two to loosen it. Reserve the sugar liquid for later.

Roast pears recipe

While the pears roast, prepare the crumble. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and gently rub together with your fingertips until the mixture starts to clump.

Shortbread crumbleOrange vanilla shortbread crumble

Spread the crumble out on a baking sheet (this shouldn’t need greasing or lining) and bake on 180 C degrees fan oven (200 C conventional oven) for about 15 minutes, stirring up halfway through to make sure it colours evenly. It should be goldening at the edges but not be dark when you remove it  from the oven. Leave to cool until you need it.

Pear and blackberry shortbread crumble

To assemble the dish, lay half the pears in an oven-proof dish so they sit neatly together with some gaps around them. Sprinkle over half the blackberries and half of the sugar water. Top with half of the crumble. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.

Blackberry pear crumble recipePear blackberry vanilla orangeShortbread crumble with pears and blackberries

Cover the whole thing with foil and bake for about 30 minutes on 180 C degrees fan oven (200 C conventional) or until heated through. You may want to remove the foil for the last 5 – 10 minutes to allow the topping to crisp up.

Serve with cream or perhaps some orange zested crème fraîche.

Pear and berry crumble recipe

Blackberry crumble recipe

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