Cherry Oat Bars

Cherry oat bars

Cherry oat bars

I’m writing about sweet things again.  I apologise.  Despite how it looks here, I can assure you that I do eat proper food. Promise.

One of the things I love about the street I live on is the cats.  Almost every other house has one and they can often be seen parading up and down, jumping on walls and hiding under cars.  Being surrounded by pets reminds you that you are in a part of the city where people actually live.  Real people, not just those with a city bolthole they use from time to time.  My favourite cat is a fluffy ginger one that lives at the end of the street.  Regardless of what time I am arriving home, he always seems to be there to greet me.

My friends John and Heather have just got a cat, and on Friday we popped over to meet him.  He is just too cute and, despite my being allergic to his fur, we became firm friends.

I baked these cherry oat bars to take for them as a little gift.  I seem to be making quite a lot of cake bars at the moment – I think it’s because I seem to be transporting bakes across town, and are more robust than a cake or cupcakes.  These are a cake bar combined with a fruit flapjack, with an oat crumble baked into the topping.  Cherries have recently gone out of season, but the tinned ones work well. Just make sure that they are well drained as the coloured liquid will spill into the base and ruin the effect of the layers.  If you don’t fancy cherries, other fruits will work equally well.

Cherry Oat Bars

For the bottom layer and topping
185g plain flour
100g icing sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp lemon zest
175g butter, at room temperature
90g rolled oats

For the filling
400g tin black cherries, drained and halved
2 large eggs
175g caster sugar
40g plain flour
125ml natural yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

In a medium bowl, combine the plain flour, icing sugar, salt, and lemon zest.  Rub in the butter until you have a smooth dough.  Separate a small handful of the dough (about half a cup) into a separate bowl, this will be used later to make the topping.  Press the remaining dough into the base of the tin, spreading evenly to cover.  Bake for around 15 minutes until brown at the edges.

Arrange the black cherries over the crust.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, caster sugar, plain flour, natural yoghurt, lemon juice and salt until well combined.  Pour this mixture over the cherries.

Add the rolled oats to the reserved dough and rub together to form a crumble.  Sprinkle this over the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until set.  When baked it should have a very slight wobble.  If it is too wobbly, return to the oven.

Adapted from a recipe by Joy the Baker.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays:  Viet Van, East Dulwich


Leek and Cheddar Pie

Leek and cheddar pie

Leek and cheddar pie

I have a bit of a confession to make.  One of my favourite topics of office conversation to have at those pivotal points where the seasons are changing is the inappropriate attire of my fellow commuters.  It is barely ten degrees in central London today and I saw three people on Regent Street in summer dresses and sandals.  They must have an incredible immunity to cold or not look out the window before leaving the house in the morning.

Yes, London is under its familiar clouds once more.  It takes little more than a sharp gust of wind for me to start swaddling myself in knitwear and putting on the heating.  I think I have become more like this the older I get.  I love the cold weather, I just don’t like to be cold.  This is one of the reasons I am grateful for the abundance of coffee shops in London – a great, if slightly expensive, handwarmer.

Last night I was faced with three leeks and a defrosted pack of puff pastry that I took out of the freezer for some apple turnovers that never were.  There was nothing else for it but to make a pie.

There are a lot of debates flying around the internet at the moment about pie: most notably about whether it is a real pie if it has only a top crust.  Purists believe a pie should have both a top and a bottom crust to be given the moniker, claiming that a pie without a pastry bottom is merely a stew with a pastry lid.  Although I am inclined to agree, both do have their place, and the latter is often a good way to use up a small amount of leftover puff pastry that would not stretch to a top and a bottom.  Whether my pie would please the purists, I don’t know, as it is made on a baking tray and not in a pie dish.  However, it does have a top and a bottom.

This pie is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, despite my inability to grow my own produce.  Grouping the recipes by ingredient, not by course, really helps give you some inspiration for leftover vegetables.  It is an incredibly simple pie to make – just perfect for a week night.

Leek and Cheddar Pie

650g potatoes, sliced ½cm thick
3 large leeks, white and light green parts sliced
50g butter
Olive oil
200g creme fraiche
175g mature cheddar, grated
A pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of lightly salted water until tender.  Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil, in a deep frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the leeks.  Stir, cover and cook over a low to medium heat for about 10 minutes until tender.  Transfer both the potatoes and the leeks to a large bowl.  Allow to cool a little.  Stir in the creme fraiche, cheddar, nutmeg, sea salt and ground pepper.

Divide the puff pastry in half.  Roll out one half on a lightly-floured surface and use to cover the bottom of the baking sheet.  Spread the filling out on top of this, leaving a border of an inch on all sides.  Roll out the second half of the pastry and lay over the top of the filling.  Pinch and crimp the edges to seal in the filling.

Brush the pastry with egg wash and then use a sharp knife and any pastry trimmings to decorate.  Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Southampton: a Tale of Two Burgers

Pastel de Nata

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

The first time I had a Portuguese custard tart, I was hooked.  This was some time ago and, unlike now, they were a rare find.  We use to trek all the way to the Lisboa Patisserie on the Goldborne Road and have one as a treat, and you can imagine how much of a mission that journey was from south-east London in the pre-Overground days.  I would buy one to have there and then, and one to keep me awake on the Hammersmith and City line as it trundled, painfully slowly, towards my connecting station.

Now, of course, times have changed and you can buy them in more or less every London neighbourhood.  The boom in street food markets has made them even more available, and now it seems that all of London is enraptured with the pastel de nata.  Londoners’ love affairs with certain baked goods are well-documented: we went nuts over the cupcake, briefly flirted with the cronut (or whatever you’re allowed to call them without infringing copyright) and now it seemed that this little treat from Lisbon is king.

I have heard that the best example of the pastel de nata can be found in its birthplace, more specifically in a bakery called the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.  Apparently, these tarts are so good, people go on pilgrimages for them.  With no trip to Portugal on the horizon, I instead decided to make my own.  I’ll be honest, these are not the easiest thing to make.  Flaky pastry is always a bit temperamental and requires a lot of time and care to get right.  The custard is relatively straightforward, but as with anything that combines hot milk, hot sugar and eggs, there is often a potential for it to go wrong.  You could, of course, use shop-bought pastry to save time and effort if you wish.  I have tried these tarts with both shop-bought puff pastry and the homemade flaky pastry in the recipe below; and, of course, the latter is better, but it also takes a considerable amount longer.

The recipe below is the most straightforward of those I’ve tried.  The key is to chill the pastry overnight, anything less and it will be difficult to work with.  If you have better skills than me, you could replace the pastry below with an all-butter puff.

Pastel de Nata

For the pastry
225g plain flour
¼ tsp sea salt
200ml water
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the custard
3 tbsp plain flour
310g whole milk
265g granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 strip lemon peel
1 strip orange peel
165ml water
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks

Start to make the pastry the night before you want to finish the tarts.  Combine the plain flour, salt and water in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix until the dough forms a smooth ball, about 30 seconds.  Place the dough on a floured surface and pat into a six-inch square.  Cover with clingfilm and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it forms a large square – it should be about half a centimetre thick.  Take one-third of the butter and spread it across the left two-thirds of the dough, leaving a border of 1inch around the edges.  Neatly fold over the unbuttered part of the dough, then fold over the left third in an envelope fold.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers.

Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the long edge is facing you.  Repeat the buttering and folding process again.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers and turn the dough 90 degrees once more.

This time, roll the dough out into a rectangle with the shorter edge facing you.  Spread the butter over the whole surface, again leaving a border at the edges.  This time, roll the dough away from you in a tight log.  Cut the log into two halves, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight.

To make the custard, whisk together the flour and 65ml of the milk in a large bowl and set aside.  Place the sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel in a small saucepan and bring to the boil without stirring.  At the same time, scald the remaining milk in a separate saucepan.  Keep an eye on both.

Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.  Remove the cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel from the saucepan and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the vanilla and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before whisking in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven to 250ºc and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.  Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin.  Using a large cutter, cut out circles of the pastry, removing a small section so that they can be pushed into the muffin tin without any excess.  This should look like a pie with a wedge missing or like ‘pac man’.  Push the pastry into the muffin tin and seal any gaps.  The pastry should reach the top of the hole.

Fill each cup ¾ full with the warm custard.  Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until the pastry has browned and the custard is puffed up and a little coloured on the top.  Allow to cool in the tin for half an hour and then transfer to a wire rack.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart


Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

I’m not really sure that my blog needs another chocolate recipe, but as chocolate is the theme for tonight’s Band of Bakers event, there is one.  In any case, it is good to get this one in before Easter gets any closer and the blogosphere is awash with chocolate recipes.

It seems like a very short time since our last Band of Bakers gathering, when we were all at The Crooked Well eating far too much cheese than is healthy to eat in one evening.  Tonight’s event is a rather special event as we will be hosting it at The Chocolate Museum in Brixton.  Yesssss, there is a whole museum devoted to chocolate.  It’s run by the lovely Isabelle who also brought gourmet chocolate to the streets of Peckham in the form of her chocolate shop, Melange.  If you haven’t been over there yet, do go, their hot chocolate is to die for.

My offering for tonight’s event is a chocolate and salted caramel tart with chocolate pastry.  The filling comprises a layer of firm salted caramel, topped with a decadent dark chocolate ganache.  Both layers are chilled rather than baked, so were it not for the pastry having gone in the oven, I wouldn’t be able to bring it to the event (we aren’t called ‘Band of Assemblers’, after all).  Adding salt to chocolate and caramel is kind of old hat, heck, there probably a salted caramel product in every cafe and supermarket in the land.  Twinings have even brought out a salted caramel green tea, which I am highly skeptical of.  When done right, though, the combination of sweet and salt can be wonderfully tantalising and appeals to those who claim not to have an overly sweet tooth, my boyfriend included, who has already snagged a slice of this tart for later.

There are about 25 bakers attending tonight, all bringing chocolate bakes.  Something tells me that the combination of caffeine and sugar might lead to a sleepless night indeed.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 140g cold unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks

For the salted caramel:

  • 225g caster sugar
  • 100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1½ tsp sea salt

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 225g dark chocolate
  • 250ml double cream
  • 65g chocolate malt powder

To make the pastry, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and icing sugar and pour into a food processor.  Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the food processor.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until the mixture comes together in a firm dough.  Turn out on to a floured surface, and gently knead for a few seconds.  Form the dough into a disc and wrap in clingfilm.  Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry on a well-floured surface and use to line a loose-bottom tart tin.  Gently push the pastry into each of the grooves, but do not trim the edges.  Return to the fridge and chill for a further 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat of the oven to 150ºc / 300ºf / gas 2, remove the baking parchment and baking beans and bake the pastry case, uncovered, for a further five minutes.  The bottom of the pastry case should be dry and cooked through.  Trim the edges and allow to cool.

Whilst the pastry is cooling, make the caramel.  Put the sugar and 75ml water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Increase the heat to medium and add the butter, stirring until it melts, then let it bubble away until it turns a light toffee colour, about 10 minutes.  Add the cream and the sea salt flakes and boil for a couple more minutes until thickened.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before speading over the base of  the cooled pastry case and setting aside to cool completely.

To make the ganache topping, break the dark chocolate in a glass bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it almost reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate malt powder.  Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and stir constantly until the chocolate has melted and you have a smooth ganache.  Leave to cool for a few minutes before pouring over the cooled caramel.  Place the tart in the fridge for one hour to set the ganache before serving.

Gruyere, Mustard and London Pride-Caramelised Onion Puffs


Last Thursday was the eagerly anticipated Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Cheese’ event at The Crooked Well in Camberwell.  There is often a push to get more savoury bakes on the table, not only so that we can all kid ourselves that we’re eating dinner rather than platefuls of cake, but also to limit slightly the sugar rush we all experience upon arriving home.  I have had many a sleepless night after gorging myself on sweet treats at Band of Bakers.  This was the event for that to happen; for the first time we had more savoury bakes on the table than sweet.  It took all of my self control not to do a complete sweep of the table and retreat to the corner to eat my spoils.

Before I go on to what I made for this event, I have a couple of favourites that I need to mention.  Jamon and manchego scones by Ben; feta, ricotta and cheddar filo pies by Mandy; and little cheese buns with gruyère, smoked salmon and dill by some unknown genius (make yourself known please!)

Initially, I was intent on making brownies:  a hybrid of my salted caramel brownie and my cheesecake brownie, which would end up as the incredibly rich combination of chocolate, salted caramel and vanilla cheesecake, however after making the impromptu chocolate-coconut brownie earlier that week, I changed my mind and went for savoury instead.  A while back, I found a recipe for Joy the Baker’s French Onion Soup Puffs, using gruyère cheese, and decided to adapt it slightly to make a London-inspired version for this event:  the gruyère, mustard and London Pride-caramelised onion puffs were born. 

Despite the fact that I do not drink beer at all (I have tried to learn to like it for about 15 years and have so far failed), I am a big fan of using it in all forms of cooking.  Its versatility means that it lends itself to everything from beef stew to chocolate cake, and a slosh in an onion soup is nothing short of heaven.  Guinness, obviously, is my cooking stout of choice, however when something a little lighter is required, I almost always opt for London Pride (it would be rude not to, after all).  The onions used in the puffs in this recipe are caramelised simply in butter for 45 minutes or so until soft and broken down, and then boiled rapidly in a generous amount of London Pride which, when it reduces down, gives it a dark silkiness and a malty beer flavour.

These little puffs, one bite or two at the most, are a tangy mixture of these onions, gruyère and a little smear of wholegrain mustard, encased in crispy puff pastry.  They are incredibly quick to make, especially if you use shop-bought pastry, and make a great vegetarian party snack.  Using pre-rolled pastry is the easiest way to go as the thickness is just about right, if you’re using a block of pastry or home-made, roll it out to about half a centimetre.  If I were making them for carnivorous friends, I might also include the smallest smidge of shredded beef brisket. 


Gruyère, Mustard and London Pride-Caramelised Onion Puffs
Recipe makes about 15 puffs

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 large onions
  • Salt and pepper, halved and thinly sliced
  • 125ml London Pride ale
  • 2 sheets ready-made puff pastry, or make your own (see above)
  • 4 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 150g gruyere cheese, finely grated
  • 1 egg, beaten

Start by caramelising the onions:  heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat until the butter has melted.  Tip in the onions and stir so that they are evenly coated in the butter mixture.  Turn down the heat to very low, put on the lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and broken down – this should take about 45 minutes.  Once the onions are soft, turn up the heat and pour in the London Pride, gently stir the onions, scraping off any bits that have stuck to the bottom and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates.  Leave to cool in the pan whilst you make the pastry puffs.

Preheat the oven to 190ºc / 375ºf / gas 5.  Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.  Using a 5cm cutter, cut 30 rounds from the two sheets of puff pastry and arrange half of them on the prepared baking sheets, putting the other half to one side – these will be the lids.  Brush the rounds on the baking sheets with egg wash and top each one with a small smear of wholegrain mustard.  Add a pinch of gruyère, followed by a teaspoon of the onion mixture. 

Brush the remaining rounds with beaten egg and place, egg-side down on top of the cheese and onion mixture.  Pinch the edges of the pastry together to seal and crimp with a fork.  Make two very small holes in the top of the sealed parcel and place on the baking tray.  Brush with the remaining beaten egg and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Any leftover onions are fabulous in a sausage sandwich.

Adapted from a recipe by Joy the Baker

Smoked Aubergine, Red Pepper and Spinach Strudel


Smoked aubergine, red pepper and spinach strudel

Smoked aubergine, red pepper and spinach strudel

Last year, I attempted to solve the age-old problem of what do you serve vegetarians for Christmas dinner? with a mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington.  I was happy to see that a couple of my friends did actually make this dish over the festive period and enjoyed it, but it was not to everybody’s taste.  A conversation thread on Facebook after posting the recipe alerted me to the fact that many vegetarians are exasperated by the prominence of mushrooms in meat-free recipes.  One friend, who is allergic to mushrooms, said that he often went hungry at weddings due to the never-ending mushroom risottos, mushroom stroganoffs and wild mushroom tarts that caterers tend to favour.  A couple of other vegetarian friends simply couldn’t stand them.  I can see why mushrooms are often the go-to for vegetarian dishes – they are cheap, have a strong savoury flavour and provide a robust, almost meaty texture to a dish that is difficult to achieve with other vegetables.  In this conversation, I mentioned that I once had an aubergine and red pepper strudel at a friend’s house, and they seemed far more interested in this.

It’s not a very seasonal recipe for the bleak mid-winter, but the ingredients are readily available and it’s a break from the abundance of root veg that I seem to be cooking with at the moment.  I had some filo pastry in the freezer from some samosa-like parcels I have been working on and half a bag of spinach from the weekend’s curry.  I also had a jar of red peppers and a jar of olives in the fridge.  Roasted red peppers in jars are one of my all-time favourite storecupboard staples – they taste great and take away the need to laboriously roasting and peeling fresh peppers.  My local shop, Barry’s Food Store in East Dulwich, sells a large jar for £1 and when you consider that one fresh pepper from a supermarket costs in the region of 85p, this is very cheap indeed.  This is also a very simple dish to make – the only tricky part is cooking the aubergine over the gas burner on the cooker, which can smoke out your kitchen if you don’t keep an eye on it.  The reason for doing this that it gives the aubergine flesh a wonderfully smoky flavour.  You can roast it in the oven instead, but you won’t get the same effect.

Strudel filling

Strudel filling

This recipe serves four, if you need to feed a larger group, I would suggest making two strudels, rather than trying to make one larger one as the filo sheets often come in a standard size.

Smoked Aubergine, Red Pepper and Spinach Strudel

  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 roasted red peppers (from a jar, see above)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 75g green olives, roughly chopped
  • 150g baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 6 sheets filo pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten

Pierce the aubergine a few times with a fork and place on the open flame of a gas cooker.  As the skin blackens, use tongs to keep turning the aubergine to make sure that it is cooked on all sides.  This should take around 10-15 minutes.  Alternatively, you can roast the aubergine in the oven for around 20 minutes.  Leave to cool slightly then peel off the blackened skin and roughly chop the flesh.  Seat aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and cook the sliced onions until they soften, around 10 minutes.  Add the roasted red peppers, chopped aubergine, cherry tomatoes, garlic, cumin seeds and all-spice and cook for a few more minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the olives and lemon zest.

Wilt the spinach under boiling water, then drain and squeeze out any excess liquid.  Roughly chop and stir into the vegetables.  Stir in the Greek yoghurt, salt and pepper and check the seasoning, adding a little more if necessary.

Place a sheet of filo on a work surface and brush with olive oil.  Place another sheet on top and repeat the brushing.  Repeat this process until you have six layers of filo – do not brush the top layer with oil.  Spread the filling along the short end of the pastry, leaving a couple of inches at either side and a large space at the bottom.  Tuck in the sides and roll the pastry towards you until the filling is completely encased.  Carefully transfer to a baking sheet, seam side down, and brush with a little egg wash.  Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.  Serve in slices.

Adapted from a recipe by Pieminister.