Beautiful black bean brownies

I’ll admit I’m a little (OK, a lot) late to the Deliciously Ella party, but I have officially joined in. When I spotted her latest cookbook in the library where I work, I had a quick flick through, then a proper look…followed by page marking, and then scribbling down a shopping list. It’s safe to say I’m now hooked.

One of the things that really appeals to me about Ella’s recipes is how suitable they are for babies. Low in refined sugar and full of superfoods, I found myself looking at a whole host of baby-friendly ideas for mealtimes.

But for my first foray into Ella’s recipes, I wanted to try something sweet. I inherited my sweet tooth from my dad and am used to baking with butter, chocolate and vanilla sugar, so I was really curious about using more unusual store cupboard ingredients to make a dessert.

So I merrily set about gathering ingredients for brownies…you know, cocoa powder, milk, apple purée, chia seeds, black beans… Yep, the main ingredient in these brownies is black beans. And yes, it totally works!

I treated my husband and various friends to these brownies, and they were a hit. What’s more, they’re gluten free and vegan if you use plant-based milk (I cheated and used cow’s milk). The chia seeds are soaked first so become gelatinous and help to create the lovely gooey texture, and raisins add a great plump chewiness. Oh yes, and Kitty loved them too.

I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily more tasty than a traditional chocolate brownie (because not much can beat that!) but they are very interesting, and extremely moreish. Plus, it’s great to feel kind of healthy while eating a delicious dessert…because when does that ever happen!?

Gooey black bean brownies
From Deliciously Ella: Every Day

Ingredients                 
2 tbsp chia seeds                          
400g tin of black beans, drained and rinsed
200g ground almonds
200g apple puree (I cheated and used shop-bought)
200ml plant-based milk (I used cow’s milk)
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp honey
8 tbsp maple syrup
7-8 tbsp cocoa powder
100g raisins

– Soak the chia seeds in 140ml water for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C).

– Place all the ingredients – except the raisins – into a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir in the raisins until evenly mixed.

– Line a baking dish with baking parchment, then pour in the brownie mix and spread it out.

– Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out almost clean. Let the brownies cool for about 45 minutes in the tin; this is really important as they continue to set during this time. Cut into rectangles.

– Store in an airtight tin for up to 5 days. But chances are they won’t last that long!

Note from Ella: It’s very important that you leave the brownies to cool as that’s when they set. They’re not totally solid when they come out of the oven, so please have patience!

Spring days

On our wild garlic hunt a couple of weeks ago, we stopped off in the picturesque nearby town of Llangollen. The weather was (finally!) beautiful, and it was so lovely to spend a gentle day of wandering with Jim and our funny little babe. I’ve been using my digital camera a lot more lately, determined to capture Kitty’s final baby days as much as possible. She is growing so quickly and recently started having the odd tantrum – toddler-dom is imminent!

Kitty is now 14 months old and getting more curious and aware of things every day. She copies us, doing pretend coughing and brushing her hair. She love to pull her socks off in the car, and is obsessed with lids. She loves watching other children. We’ve started planning holidays, camping, picnicking in the garden. I’m looking forward to beach days, sandy palms, sunhats, chubby baby legs, grass stains and ice cream cheeks. Those long summer days and the lovely sweet suncream smell that comes with them.

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Wild garlic and warm weather

Oh, poor neglected blog! I would like to blame my extended blogging hiatus on returning to work, family illness, or embarking on a new house project… but despite all these things, I must admit that having a baby really kind of kicked my ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother, and my daughter is an absolute delight, but since having a baby I’ve really struggled to fit in all those things I used to love to do. Blog. Take photographs with my camera. Knit. Bake! Only now, 14 months later, am I slowly starting to get back into everything. Having a baby is all-encompassing, but it is nice to think about me again…and this poor little blog, which I plan to start updating regularly. So why not begin with a recipe!

Last week, when the weather turned warm (hooray!), we took a trip out into the countryside. We are in the process of renovating a house in the hills near Wrexham so went for a drive up there. The sun was warm, the air clear and the strong scent of wild garlic all around. We picked a large handful, as I’d been keen to find some ever since hearing about a recipe for wild garlic and cheese scones on the radio a couple of months ago.

Later, once Kitty was asleep, I whipped up a batch of these scones. They only require a few ingredients and are really quick and easy to make. And they taste delicious warm from the oven – with lashings of butter, of course. If, like me, you like your garlic strong, you’ll love them! Head on over to Emma Bradshaw’s blog for the recipe. And go get foraging!

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A fresh crumb: banana bread

I was gifted Ruby Tandoh’s Crumb for Christmas, and it was a very welcome delight. During the winter I found myself in something of a baking rut, making the same few recipes again and again – which was fine, because it was the season for spicy gingerbread and yummy chocolate desserts! But it’s great to have a new source of inspiration. I was firmly on Team Ruby during Season 4 of ‘The Great British Bake Off’, and her first book is just as good as you might expect. So my new tactic for stymieing baking boredom is to work my way through my favourite recipes in Ruby’s book.

I’ve already made a list of what I want to bake, including soda bread, chocolate croissants, chocolate orange bourbons, butternut squash and mozzarella tarts, raspberry, whisky and oat cheesecake…be still my heart. But to begin the year, and for our first knitting session of 2015, I decided to start simple: with banana bread. As Ruby describes it, “Don’t be surprised if its sweet, deep banana scent draws you nose-first into the kitchen as it bakes”. She was right. Once it was done, I kept hoping it would taste as good as it smelled…and it really, really did.

Ruby’s recipe uses agave nectar and rum, but I didn’t have either of those, so I followed her suggestion for using caster sugar instead, and left out the rum. I think I may have overdone the loaf slightly, but that only gave it a nice crunchy crust, and any slightly darker areas were sweetened by the sugar glaze. This cake went down really well with my knitting pals, and what’s more, it was a breeze to put together. Easy, quick, delicious, heavenly-scented: definitely my kind of cake.

Banana bread
from Crumb by Rudy Tandoh

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Ingredients:
125g butter, softened
140g caster or light brown sugar
2 medium bananas, well mashed
2 tbsps rum or brandy (optional)
2 large eggs
190g plain flour
1½ tsps baking powder
1½ tsps ground cinnamon
4 cardamom pods, seeds only, crushed (optional)

For the glaze:
25ml water
100g icing sugar

– Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C. Grease and line a loaf tin with baking parchment.

– Cream the butter then stir in the sugar. Beat in the bananas and rum or brandy (if using), then the eggs and a couple of tablespoons of the flour. Don’t worry if it looks a little curdled at this stage. Combine the remaining flour with the baking powder, cinnamon and cardamom (if using) in a separate bowl, then add this to the wet mixture. Fold the ingredients together then stir lightly until fully combined.

– Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean (mine only needed around 30, so keep an eye on it). While the cake is in the oven, make the glaze: stir the water into the icing sugar, a teaspoonful at a time, until combined. Set aside.

– Once the cake is done, let it cool in its tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or wire rack. Spoon the icing over the top of the cake while it’s still hot. The glaze will cover the top and run down the sides in thick rivulets, but will set to a cracked sugar glaze as the cake cools.

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Seasonal baking

I realise that this blog has become pretty baby-centric of late, and I’ve posted no baking updates for quite a while. Well, I haven’t stopped baking, and still do so regularly, but recently I’ve been a bit uninspired in that department so have been turning back to old favourites: tried-and-tested recipes which I’ve made before and I know are sure to go down well in our house. With Christmas shopping and decorating vying for attention, it’s nice to be able to bake something easy and stress-free that I know I can whip up easily. So I thought I’d give you a little round-up of some of my favourite seasonal recipes which are just perfect for this time of year.

First up, back in November I revisited one of our favourites, treacle toffee. This recipe does make quite a lot, so we shared it out between friends to celebrate Bonfire Night. Treacle toffee also works well around Christmastime, why not bag it up and share with your loved ones as a festive treat?
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Next up, for a weekend away with some pals I made this delicious chocolate tart, which was a new recipe for me last new year. We ate it with cream, like complete gluttons, and leftovers were sent home with happy friends.
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I can’t quite believe I haven’t posted about this before, but it’s almost time to break out the spices and make lebkuchen! I first made this two years ago, using Ruth’s excellent recipe. You don’t need me to type out the process again, simply head over to The Pink Whisk for full instructions and photos. I love to make lebkuchen to give to friends and family for Christmas, and usually dip the biscuits in chocolate. Last year I also punched a hole in a snowflake-shaped biscuit and hung it from our Christmas tree (until it mysteriously disappeared). Cute!
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Although I pronounced this cake to be ideal for January, its beautiful gingery warmth will also get you through chilly December. A foolproof Nigel Slater recipe, which I’ve made multiple times now. Always gets a lot of praise and is a doddle to make!
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Finally, if it’s chocolate you’re after, Nigel is at hand to help out again. These chocolate puddings are delicious, but to make them truly festive you could add a few drops of irish cream or other liqueur.
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If you have a go at any of the above recipes, do let me know, and enjoy! Another firm favourite in our house is a simple gingernut thoroughly drizzled in dark chocolate. I hope your seasonal baking is filled with fun, happiness and – most of all – minimal stress!

Rainy day lemon cake

If, like us, you’ve been experiencing drizzly, grey days lately, you might (like me) have been craving comfort food. I did yesterday, which is why I decided to bake Mary Berry’s lemon drizzle cake. This is a recipe I come back to time and time again, because, for me, it is foolproof. It uses Mary’s all-in-one method, everything just goes in the bowl together and gets mixed up, so it’s super quick to rustle up for guests. The crunchy lemon topping really makes it, and a sneaky slice while the cake is still warm is just DIVINE (well, you have to make sure it tastes OK, right?).

This cake will fill your house with a warming, lemony smell, and draw everyone into the kitchen to find the source. Lemons may not be particularly seasonal right now, but if you’re looking for a cake which is comforting, delicious, and easy to bake, this is it. I usually bake this cake in a round bundt tin, for extra prettiness. But whatever. It’s going to taste just as good whatever you bake it in.

Lemon drizzle cake
from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

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Ingredients:
225g (8oz) softened butter
225g (8oz) caster sugar
275g (10oz) self-raising flour
2 level teaspoons baking powder
4 eggs
4 tablespoons milk (or enough to make the cake mixture loose and creamy)
finely grated rind of 2 lemons

For the crunchy topping:
couple of tablespoons granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon (or enough to make a runny mixture)

– Preheat the oven to 160°C/Fan 140°C. Grease a bundt or round cake tin then line the base with baking parchment.
– Measure all the ingredients for the cake into a large bowl or electric mixer and beat until well blended. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top with the back of a spoon.
– Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin and springs back when pressed in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out and peel off the baking parchment.
– To make the crunchy topping, mix the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl to give a runny consistency. Spoon the mixture evenly over the cake while it is still warm. DEVOUR!

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Autumn vibes

Another Autumn-y recipe today, in the form of a spiced apple cake which to me optimises everything lovely about the changing seasons from Summer to Autumn. It’s rich, warming but not too heavy and filling – maybe later into the cool seasons you could add raisins and brandy to spice things up a bit. But for now, this is a great cake to welcome those Autumn vibes and use up some apples falling from the trees. A friend suggested using pears, which I think is a great idea!

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The recipe comes from Cakes: River Cottage Handbook No.8, which is a great book (as you might expect from the River Cottage crew), full of homely Autumn recipes from flapjacks to jammy dodgers, florentines to Bonfire night parkin, toffee apple cake to Somerset cider cake, and even biscuits for dogs! I’ve made this apple cake several times, and it never fails to impress. Delicious straight from the oven with a coffee in the afternoon, it perfectly sums up Autumn to me.

The other great thing about this cake (besides being delicious) is that it’s very quick to make, if you don’t peel your apples. I tend not to, but the book advises that if your apples are older or waxy-skinned they are best peeled. I like to bake this cake in a round bundt tin, echoing the holes in the middle of the apple slices on top. The recipe uses nutmeg and cloves, but I usually switch these out for cinnamon and ginger, because I prefer them. Experiment with whichever warming spices you like! And enjoy: Autumn has arrived.

Apple cake
from Cakes: River Cottage Handbook No.8

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Ingredients:
For the cake:
125g self-raising white flour
125g self-raising wholemeal flour (I usually just use what I have to hand)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cinnamon and ½ tsp ginger, or whichever spices you prefer
125g butter, cut into small pieces
125g soft brown sugar
350g cored apple (prepared weight)
1 egg, beaten
50ml milk

For the topping:
1 small eating apple (ideally red-skinned, cored but not peeled)
1 tbsp caster sugar

– Preheat the oven to 180℃/gas mark 4 and grease and line a loose-bottomed round or bundt cake tin. Sift the flours, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl and mix well together. Add the butter and, using your fingertips, rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles medium breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

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– Cut the apples into 1cm dice and toss lightly in the rubbed-in mixture until evenly distributed. Add the egg and milk and bring the mix together with a wooden spoon to a sticky, lumpy dough. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level with the back of the spoon.

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– For the topping, cut the apple across into 7 or 8 slices and poke out any residual pips. Lay the slices on top of the cake. Sprinkle the caster sugar evenly over the mixture and apples – this will give the cake a lovely crisp topping when baked.

– Bake for 45-50 minutes until the top is golden brown, firm and crispy to the touch. Leave in the tin for 20-30 minutes before turning out. The cake will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight tin in a cool place.

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