Apple bundt pie

Best apple pie

Ah, blogging is a merry thing. What do other folk do when they sit down to write their posts or edit their photos?

I often like to have the radio on in the background for the latter. It provides entertainment during this otherwise potentially tedious task. If you visit my Twitter page at all you’ll know that I’m an inveterate Radio 4 listener, with a particular fondness for the 6.30 comedy (that’s 6.30pm, folks. 6.30am and I’ve yet to enter the land of the living), Gardeners’ Question Time (don’t ask. I hate gardening) and The Bottom Line which, thanks to research for you lovely people, is presented by the same guy who does Dragon’s Den.

My joy is complete.

Best apple pie recipe

But this morning I sat on the old bed and hummed away to myself in the way I do occasionally, usually when:

a) I’ve got precisely the correct amount of sugar inside me. Just enough to make me zingy without sending me overboard into an exhausted, refined-carb slump.

b) Spring is in the air (which isn’t to say I spend the whole season in an irritatingly jolly mood. Just more than in Winter, say).

Best apple pie recipe

Today I think I might just about have got the sugar sorted (thank you fruit and home made granola) and it is most definitely spring time, no? So hum I did, with a few lahs and the odd lyric thrown in for good measure. Clemmie lies there watching me with a mixture of concern and apprehension: in this mood she has no idea when I’m going to scoop her up for indulgent hugs and it would be really nice if I would just shut up and let her sleep. When I started clicking my fingers it was almost too much for her.

Apple pie best recipe

Perhaps strangest of all with these moods is the mixture of music I’ve covered this morning. A few little ditties of my own bridged the gaps between Beautiful soup from Alice in Wonderland (it’s a lovely tune. Do listen.) and Bang Bangwhich has almost as many YouTube views as my blog gets a day (joking). It’s a wildly inappropriate song for a vicar’s daughter to be mumbling, but it’s catchy so clearly I can’t blame myself.

Luxury apple pie recipe

Anyway, none of this is relevant to the recipe. It’s just what you get with spring fever (there’s another tune).

A note on the recipe: Inevitably, the bundt form creates slight difficulty in both shaping the pastry and later turning the pie out but I think it’s worth it for the appearance. You could always use a normal pie form. The filling is my favourite of any apple pie filling I’ve yet made so do give it a go if you want a luscious, rich mixture.

Best apple pie recipe

Ingredients

6 medium-small dessert apples (800g)

40g butter

100g dark soft brown sugar

75g caster sugar mix

1 tsp cinnamon

For the pastry

400g plain flour

pinch salt

150g caster sugar

225g butter, at room temperature (or 150g butter, 75g lard)

Enough cold water to bind

To finish

Icing sugar

Dessert  apple recipe

Peel the apples, cut them into quarters, core and then slice each quarter into three (top to bottom). Place them in a saucepan with nothing else added, put the lid on and cook on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened but still with some bite. Drain off any liquid and then stir in the sugar, butter and cinnamon. Set aside and leave to cool.

Apples and raisinsLuscious apple pie filling

Make the pastry. Place the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add the cubed butter and rub in using your fingertips until you have a fine breadcrumb texture. Drizzle over a small amount of cold water and use a blunt ended knife to bring the dough together. It should be pliable but be careful not to overwork it. Set aside 1/3rd.Apple pie pastry

Roll out remainder to a medium thickness (between 50p and £1 coin thick), cut  cross in the centre for the bundt tin pole to go through and drape loosely into the bundt tin. Gently lower sides and press into the bottom, around the central pole and up the sides (it needn’t reach the top). There will be some gathering and puckering but don’t worry. Just press this down with your fingers and ensure the pastry is firmly in the tin. Make sure there are no cracks because syrup oozing through will make the pastry stick to the tin.

Pastry lined bundtLine a bundt tin with pastry

Fill with the apple pie mix and half of the liquid (reserve the rest to put in a cake, tip over ice cream or to drizzle on the finished pie) and then roll out the reserved 1/3rd of pastry, slightly thicker than the first layer as this will be the base. Press it down over the top of the pie, allowing the central pole to piece through, Trim most of the overhanging pastry from the lining, leaving a little lip. Brush the lip with water and then press it down over the pastry lid.

Bake at 170 C degrees fan (190 C conventional oven) for 50 minutes, turning occasionally if your oven cooks unevenly. It should be golden brown on top. Leave to cool almost completely in the tin then turn it out onto a plate. If the pie sticks try to ease a knife down the side of the pastry to loosen it.

Deep dish apple pie recipe

If you like your pie warm, place it in an oven on about 150 C degrees fan (170 C conventional oven) for 10-15 minutes before dusting with icing sugar and slicing.

Dessert apple recipeBest apple pie recipe everThe toes are tapping now. Poor old Clems.

Clemmie’s birthday cake (warning: contains meat)

Yorkie birthday cake

It’s Clemmie’s birthday! Whoop whoop! She’s 3 today!

Now, I know that many (most) of you will be following this blog because of the human recipes I offer you and I PROMISE it’s not about to turn into a pet zone, but I have decided that today, as a one off,  the recipe is not for you but for your dog.

Birthday cake for dogs

The interesting thing about dog food is that it seems like a secret code to many people, me included: when I began researching the possibility of making my own food for Clemmie I came up against a whole bucketful of sites saying I needed to get the precise quantities of the correct nutrients for the exact age and size and breed of my dog and then, after all that, may have to vary it by unknown degrees in order to make it totally tailor-made. And yet when I buy a can from the supermarket to feed my 3.4 kilo Yorkie the contents are identical to the next can which is going to feed an 35kg Doberman. He’ll just be getting more of it.

Meat cake for dogs

You can hum and ha as long as you like, but there’s no denying that making dog food shouldn’t be rocket science. Obviously it would take some time and effort to ensure sure that the nutrients were right and essential vitamins and minerals (such as calcium and zinc) were covered with (natural) supplements. But I’d also hasten to add that many commercial pet foods fall short in these areas too, not to mention the fact that some manufacturers put in other ingredients that may not be at all suitable. However, home made dog food is a time consuming business and I understand that for most people the best option is to choose a reputable brand which doesn’t hide away behind indecipherable ingredients. I am one of those people, and so I buy the shop stuff whilst making the occasional meal or healthy treat for my pooch.

How to make a dog birthday cake

When thinking about making Clemmie’s cake I had a little browse at dog food cans on the shelves and came across two brands that looked really excellent: Lily’s Kitchen and HiLife Spoil Me! pouches (I can’t vouch for other HiLife products). I was amazed and delighted to see how natural the contents were, and was especially impressed with the Lily’s Kitchen range which had all manner of natural additives and flavourings, not one of which could be called into question.The only problem was the price: at £1.99 for a 400g can that’s more that a cash-strapped gal like yours truly can afford. But it did give me hope that all dog foods didn’t have to be made up of a whole malarky of mysterious extras. When I’m rich, Clemmie, you can eat Lily’s Kitchen. Promise.

In the meantime, she’ll have to put up with some of my creations instead. And so we get to the cake. A dog can eat it, a human could eat it although I reckon the dog would probably prefer it ;) (there’s no added salt so it’s bland by human standards). It’s got a balance of dog-friendly ingredients, chosen to supply energy and health-boosting protein, vitamins, fibres and fats. And just to please my cook’s eye, it even looks like a proper birthday cake.

Happy birthday Clems! Here’s to many more.

Dog food recipe

A few notes for dog owners

1. Clemmie’s a fussy eater so I shied away from adding too many peas and bulking agents to the meat. I  also did a taste test on her before spreading the “icing” over the cake. She licked it off the spoon and jumped up for more, so that was a winner. But if your dog doesn’t like it, don’t waste it: you can use it yourself on a shepherd’s pie or in a soup.

2. This cake has liver in it which contains vitamin A and plenty of protein, amongst other useful nutrients. However, it’s best not to feed too much liver to your dog as it can cause digestive issues in larger quantities. As there’s also cream cheese which is fatty, Clemmie will have a small slice of cake every few days.

3. If you want to get into making more dog food or treats yourself, please bear in mind that some human foods are toxic to dogs, and others, whilst not toxic, still do them no good (it takes much less ice cream to make a dog fat than it does a human). 

4. I’ve listed a few useful websites at the bottom of the page for those of you wanting to find out more.

Safe home made dog food

Ingredients

For 1 medium-small cake

30g brown rice (I used organic short grain)

240g sweet potato (1 medium-small)

150g lean minced beef or lamb

80g liver (I used beef)

1 tsp dried parsley

1 medium egg

Small handful of peas

50g cream cheese + extra for decorating (I used full fat as it had no nasty extras)

Soak brown rice

The night before, soak the rice. Rice contains phytates which cause bloating and/or digestive problems so I like to soak mine for both human and dog consumption. Simply put the rice in a bowl with enough water to cover and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Give a stir and then leave out on the counter overnight.

The following day, drain and rinse the rice thoroughly under fresh running water. Set aside whilst you prepare the sweet potato.

Sweet potato dog recipeVegetables safe for dogs

Peel and cube the sweet potato. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and either cook the sweet potato in it until soft, or put the cubes into a metal colander, place this over the simmering water and secure the saucepan lid on as closely as possible. This steams the sweet potato so it doesn’t get too heavy with liquid and allows the nutrients to leak into the water below (which is then used for the rice). Make sure it doesn’t boil dry.

Once the sweet potato is soft, scoop it out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the rice to the pan of sweet potato water, bring to a simmer and replace the lid. Cook for 30-50 minutes, stirring every now and then and checking that there is still liquid in the pan. Add more water if necessary.

Sweet potato cream cheese icing

Meanwhile, mash the sweet potato ***Don’t add cream cheese yet***. Place 75g of the mash in a food processor along with the mince, liver, parsley and egg. Once the rice is soft and fluffed up, strain through a sieve and add to the food processor too. Blitz the ingredients until they are well combined. They don’t have to be totally smooth, however.

Beef cake

Scoop the mixture into a bowl and stir through the peas. Line a small cake or loaf tin with greased baking paper and spoon in the meaty mixture. Pat down and bake at 180 C degrees fan for roughly 50 minutes. To test if it’s done, make a hole in the centre using a skewer and then press down on the cake with your finger. If the juices run out clear, the cake is cooked; if they are red and bloody, cook for a further 15 minutes. Once cooked, leave to cool in the tin then place in the fridge until you are ready to ice it.

How to make a cake for dogs

For the icing, mix the remaining sweet potato with the cream cheese. Spread the mixture all over the cake and decorate with a little more piped cream cheese and some sprinkles of dried or fresh parsley.

Dog foods recipeDog birthday cake

Present to your dog but please ration the serving! It may be a special day but you don’t want your poor pup getting indigestion with too much cream cheese and liver.

This cake will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge. It can be frozen: cut it into portions and open freeze. To defrost: defrost single portions overnight in the fridge, and make sure it is eaten within 2 days.)

Beef cake with potato icing

Useful websites for pet nutrition

http://www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk – Helps advise on the best commercial dog food for pet. Rates commercial dog foods out of 5, taking various factors into account.

http://www.best-dog-food-review.com/69101.html – Gives informations about ingredients, which ones are nutritionally good and bad for your dog, and simple things to avoid or look out for on dog food packaging.

http://www.caninejournal.com/foods-not-to-feed-dog/ –  A list of foods which are dangerous for dogs to consume.

http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/15_7/features/Home-Prepared-Dog-Food-Nutritional-Information_20568-1.html – This site has a lot of information about home prepared dog food, but readers will find the comments left by other visitors interesting too.

Recipe for meat cake

*Disclaimer: I am not a vet or expert in animal nutrition. I have done thorough research for this post but I cannot say that it will be suitable for your dog. Please consult a vet if you have any questions or concerns*

White chocolate & lemon cake truffles

White chocolate lemon recipe

I think I might have been wasting my time. I decided, given that today’s recipe has lemons in it, to go and see if I could find some interesting things out about lemons on the internet. Honestly, I set out with good intentions!

A quick scan of Google Image results, and I came across was this:

Fruit quiz
http://www.fruitquiz.co.uk/quiz.php

Ooh, how exciting! So I tried the quiz a few times and discovered that (as you might guess from their description) you had to be pretty cynical in your responses to be deemed to  be a lemon. Can you believe I had to fake my answers? Maybe not. But how about if I reveal that when I answered truthfully it told me I was a pear: “a bit of a loner” who can’t work with other people? How does that work? Maybe lemon doesn’t sound so bad …

Something told me this quiz was out to get me. Even when I twisted it so it made a nice comment about me I ended up having to be a banana which is hardly flattering.

Quite frankly, I’m happy not being any type of fruit, thank you.

Why couldn’t it say Lemon: you’re zesty and zingy and great at reacting ?

Or Pear: the epitome of femininity, you’re slightly thin skinned but sweet to the core ?

Why, thank you! I’ll take that.

Lemon cake balls

With continued <research> I also found a joke …

Why did the father disapprove of his daughter? Because she was a little tart.

Sounds harsh until you realise we’re still dealing with lemons here. You may now laugh.

I’ll never look at lemons the same way again.

I gave up with the investigating. It was far too exhausting. On the plus side, however, I’ve now discovered the great joy that is attributing human characteristics to foodstuffs. The Trixpin Ingredient Quiz would tell you only nice things, like White chocolate: you’re smooth and slinky and well refined, or Cake: you’re dense and you crumble under pressure … oh no, wait, that’s not good. How about Cake (take 2): you’re a great comfort to people and you enjoy a party? Better.

Easy lemon icing

So now that we’ve got the ingredients’ personalities sorted (always a priority) we can discuss the recipe as a whole.

Typically, truffles are formed from a ganache of cream and chocolate. These use cake and butter in place of the cream, giving them a different texture, denser and, well, more cakey (but still truffley). The lemon icing adds an extra lemon zing and looks pretty, but alternatively you could dip the truffles in melted chocolate which, once set, would create a nice contrasting crunch to the filling. Try white or dark chocolate as both would be super.

Lemon white chocolate recipe

The recipe for the truffle itself is also fairly flexible: why not experiment a bit? Switch the vanilla for lemon in the cake and truffle mix, or replace some of the cake with dessicated coconut. Make them red for Valentine’s day; put a mini rolo in the centre; sprinkle sugared violet petals over the top. Go crazy!

Now, what would the Trixpin Ingredient Quiz say about these ones?

White chocolate & lemon cake truffle: you’re highly addictive and people gravitate towards you.

Sounds about right.

Sweet nibbles recipe

Ingredients

 For the cake

1 small lemon sponge cake (you’ll need 175g)

OR (to make your own cake)

100g butter

100g caster sugar

1 large egg, or 2 med-small

60g plain yoghurt or sour cream

100g self-raising flour

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Pinch of salt

For the truffle

150g white chocolate

50g butter

2 tbsps double cream

Zest of 2 lemons

Icing

30g icing sugar, sifted

Lemon juice

If making your own cake, begin by creaming the butter and sugar. Add the egg(s) and yoghurt and beat again. Fold in the flour, salt, lemon juice and zest and spoon into a greased, baking paper-lined tin (any shape will do. I used a loaf tin). Bake on 170 C degrees fan (180 C degrees conventional oven) for around 30 minutes, or until well risen and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Stale cake recipes

When the cake is cold, continue with the truffles. Gently melt the white chocolate, butter and double cream in a heat-proof bowl placed over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally. Alternatively, melt in the microwave in short bursts, stirring at regular intervals, until completely melted.

White chocolate lemon recipe

Weigh out 175g of the cooled cake and blend in a food processor until it forms fine crumbs. Add these to the melted chocolate mix along with the lemon zest. Stir well and then chill for 2-3 hours, or until firm.

White chocolate lemon cake trufflesWhite chocolate lemon cake recipe

Line a baking tray with baking paper, tin foil or a silicon sheet. Take a teaspoon of the chilled truffle mix and roll it between your palms until you have form a ball. Place on the sheet and continue until you have used up all the mixture.

Next making the icing. Place the sifted icing sugar in a bowl and add a few drops of lemon juice. Stir well. Add a little more lemon juice if necessary, but be careful not to add too much. Proceed until you have a thick paste that only just drizzles. Using a fork or spoon, drizzle this icing across the truffles until they are nicely decorated.

Lemon cake popsIced lemon cake pops

Place the tray of truffles back into the fridge to chill and firm up for another hour or until needed.

Lemon cake truffles

Minty pea, leek and potato soup

Leek and potato soup recipe

I read again recently that onion and garlic have more nutrients in their skins than the in their flesh.

Some sassy website pointed this out to me before suggesting that it was easy to harvest the goodness by simply boiling the skins for 5-10 minutes and then adding the strained liquid to a soup or smoothie. Well, I don’t know if I overboiled, or if my onions were particularly strong, but the resulting liquor was far too bitter to easily put to good use. A small amount in a pan of soup along with plenty of water and milk made the whole thing twang like I’d added a tin of Silvo. Not good.

Easy soup recipeGarlic in soup recipe

Other beneficial “outers” included orange, banana and kiwi skins; but whilst I’ve taken wholeheartedly to slicing up a kiwi like I would an apple, and it’s possible to imagine putting a whole orange, rind and all, into a blender for my smoothie, I draw the line at deliberately making a rancid flavoured stock with which to destroy my culinary efforts. I couldn’t even squint my eyes and down it. It was that bad.

One super way to make tough odd bits edible is to roast them. Things like butternut peel and garlic skins (still on the bulb) love this: tossed with oil and a little seasoning, they come out chewy and crunchy and flavoursome. But when I tried it with the onions those pesky skins burnt quickly and it tasted weirdly like chewing charcoal fruit leathers.

Pea and mint and leek soup recipe

I don’t like to give up on them as plenty of other websites reiterate their benefits. I’ll give it another go, but I’m afraid I may end up following my own advice: that unless you’re healthy to the point of insane, or you’ve discovered a magical trick to mastering those antioxidant-rich but unfalteringly unappetising onion jackets, then just toss them. Life’s too short, and a few bits of skin aren’t likely to make it much longer.

Essentially, this anecdote bears no relation to the recipe, other than the fact that I’ve got an alright shot of a bulb of garlic up above. You might be relieved to read that there isn’t a single onion involved, so no need to start fretting about saving the skins just yet.

Two notes about the recipe

1. This recipe makes a nice sized batch, about enough to serve up to 8 people (maybe more). But it will freeze, so I always like to make spares.

2. It tastes predominantly of peas, so if you want a more leeky/potatoey flavour then halve the amount of peas and add another 100g of potatoes. You could skip the mint too, which works best with the peas, and try adding fresh parsley instead.

Pea, mint, leek and potato soup

Ingredients

2 tbsps olive or vegetable oil

300g floury potatoes

500-600g leeks (about 2 medium large)

3-4 cloves of garlic (1/3 medium bulb)

300g peas (frozen, although I’m sure fresh would be super)

600ml vegetable or chicken stock

300ml milk

salt and pepper

fresh mint to garnish (as much as you like)

Leek, potato and pea soup recipe

Scrub the potatoes well and remove any eyes. Only peel them if the skin is really thick and gnarled. Dice fairly small and place in a large pan with the oil. Give a quick stir to coat then put the lid on the pan and sweat on a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it seems to be sticking then add a dash of the stock and use this to deglaze the pan.

Leek and potato soup recipeGreen soup recipe

Meanwhile, trim the roots and tips of the leeks, slice down the centre and rinse out any dirt. Roughly slice. Peel and finely slice the garlic. Add these to the potatoes after 10 minutes. Replace the lid and sweat for another 10 minutes, again stirring occasionally. (You can add the garlic with the peas later, if you prefer a more zingy garlic flavour).

After 10 minutes add the peas and stock, and the garlic if you saved it for this point. Stir to combine and then heat until everything has come back up to the boil. Remove from the heat.

Minted pea soup recipe

Add the milk and season well with salt and pepper. Blend with a stick blender, or leave to cool slightly before processing in a smoothie blender to make it as smooth as possible. At this stage you may want to add a little more milk or stock to make the soup thinner.

Serve topped with chopped mint.

Green soup recipeLeek and garlic recipe

Cheese and celery shortbread

Cheddar celery shortbreadCelery leaves are good for you, did you know that? Really good for you. They contain magnesium which helps control blood pressure and improve bone health (including helping to ward off osteoporosis); iodine, for the creation of hormones which control the metabolism and stimulate growth and development; vitamins E & A, which are beneficial for your skin and eyes, boost your immune system and help cell growth. Not to mention the many other nutrients to be found within these leaves, albeit in smaller quantities.

And all this from something that most people throw in the bin.

The problem, of course, is that we are too used to tossing out the bits and bobs which the recipes don’t call for, those parts which are are considered as “handles” on the main event: the tops of beetroot, the peel on potatoes, the leaves of cauliflower. All these get discarded because they are generally stronger in flavour and more prone to weather damage during the plant’s growth, thus making them more time consuming to prepare. It’s far easier to cut off that thick broccoli stalk than to have to wash it, perhaps peel it, chop it and cook it for longer than you would the florets.

But look at the benefits: a simple internet search will tell you how nutritious these appendages are, packed full of supplementary vitamins which are often more concentrated than in the fruit or vegetable proper. I wince when I see my dad peeling his fruit, but I benefit from it: he gets the low vitamin sugar pulp, I steal the nutrient & fibre-dense skin that would otherwise be tossed away. Think of how many others like him are wasting the best bit!

Cheddar butter celery tops biscuit cookieThe beauty of celery tops is that they are frequently nestled safely inside the stalks, perfectly preserved in both quality and colour. All you need to do is give them a rinse, a quick chop and then scatter them into salads, use them like herbs in stews or omelettes, toast them up with buttery breadcrumbs to top soups with, purée them with other greens to make a superfood smoothie … You don’t need many to get that delicious celery flavour and, of course, the health benefits.

With this recipe I’ve taken that beautiful combination of celery and cheese (a nice, strong farmhouse cheddar works well) and put them into a rather indulgent shortbread, made with self-raising flour so that they puff up ever so slightly and crumble nicely. And so what if all that butter and cheese detract from the wholesome quality of the celery leaves? At least you’re getting some goodness in there, *wink wink*.

Place these on your cheese board or serve with drinks as a pre-dinner nibble. Or just eat them yourself.

Actually, the dough is so tempting I applaud you if these even make it into the oven …

Cheese and celery top biscuits

Ingredients

200g self-raising flour

175g butter

125g strong cheddar cheese, grated

Celery leaves from 2 heads of celery, chopped

Large pinch of salt (or celery salt) and grind of black pepper

Cheddar celery shortbread

Place all the ingredients together in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated and large lumps have formed.

Now press the mixture together in your hands to bring it into a ball, but try not to overwork it.

Cheddar celery crackers

Sprinkle flour lightly onto your work surface, including any flour left at the bottom of the bowl, and begin to roll out the dough, sprinkling this with a little more flour to prevent it from sticking. Roll to about 1 cm thick.

Use a cookie cutter to cut out your desired shape – I used a small square cutter and then cut each piece in half to create little rectangles. Place these onto a lined baking tray.

Mini cheese biscuits

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 C degrees fan (200 C degrees conventional oven) for 10-14 minutes until lightly golden but not browning at all. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Store these in a tin for up to 2 weeks.

Cheddar celery crackersCheese celery tops butter biscuits

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