Sweet sweet Friday: Italian Cinnamon Biscuits

In theory, one of the good things about freelancing is that you can work from home, as and when it suits. Mix freelancing with working for someone else (oh, and having a small person to look after) and you quickly realise that working when it suits means working late at night when you’d much rather be in bed.

This week has been all about late nights, which has made me realise two things. Firstly, I’ve become much better at working when I’d rather be sleeping. Secondly, I’m not much good in the kitchen after hours. Last night, after finally finishing off an urgent (and incredibly boring) job, I decided to celebrate by making a birthday cake for a friend. Overtiredness made me overconfident, which meant that I didn’t worry too much when a slightly acrid smell started emanating from the oven. As the smell grew stronger I realised that most of the cake had escaped the tin and was now cooking burning on the oven floor. This is not a relaxing, sleep-inducing discovery to make after 11pm, especially when you have used the last egg and most of the butter. Please, don’t try this at home yourselves.

But do join in the fab new challenge from Dom at Belleau Kitchen, in which he asks participants to pick a recipe at random from their cookbook collections. Here’s what I chose…

Italian Cinnamon Biscuits – Biscotti alla cannella
I have to confess I wasn’t too random about the choice of book – it’s our wedding anniversary on Sunday and the Boy Wonder gave me The Silver Spoon as a present some four years ago. I’ve never made anything from it, despite referring to it regularly. Now, I have no idea if these turned out how they were supposed to. I ended up adding an extra tablespoon of olive oil because I didn’t think the mixture was going to come together. They aren’t the prettiest biscuit, but the flavour is good. At this point in the week, that’s good enough for me!  But I’d love to know if this is what they’re supposed to be like. Can you help?

250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
5Tbsp olive oil
130g caster sugar
grated zest of a lemon
ground cinnamon, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a baking sheet with butter and dust with flour.
Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the oil, then add the sugar and lemon zest. Mix well, then leave to stand for 20 minutes. Shape into walnut sized balls, flatten slightly and place on the prepared tray. Dust with cinnamon, then bake for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool slightly on the tray for a few minutes, then cool completely on a rack. Go to bed, exhausted.

Sweet sweet Friday: Vegan Muffins

One of the cool things about my new(ish) job is that I get to ring up various cafes and restaurants on behalf of readers and request recipes. It might sound easy but it actually requires all the skills I’ve built up over a decade to convince some of these chefs to part with their recipes. Some of them are such hard work that sometimes I think it would be easier to go back to doing death knocks or interviewing media-trained celebs.

Anyway, this recipe is from Baobab, a cafe just down the road from our house. It’s a very laidback spot and the couple who run it are amazing. One day we’re going to manage to go there on a Friday night and have tapas, but in the meantime the Small Girl and I occasionally treat ourselves and stop there for one of these muffins when we’re out running errands or going to the library.

Easy Vegan Muffins From Scratch

Baobab’s Vegan Muffins

You don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy (or make) these hearty muffins. In fact, you might be just someone who wants to make some muffins for Saturday morning breakfast and realises they don’t have any eggs. Rachel, the chef at Baobab, makes these in six muffin tins but I find them too hard to get out of the tin that way and divide the mixture into eight. I also use spelt flour and add some orange zest. They’re pretty irresistable straight out of the oven (“Mummy, muffins!”) but they also freeze well for weekday lunches.

1 1/2 cups plain flour (or spelt flour)

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup coconut

2tsp baking powder

1tsp baking soda

1tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/4 cups soy milk (or milk of your choice)

1tsp vanilla

grated zest of an orange

1 ripe banana, mashed

Fruit – about a cup of sliced stonefruit, berries, or whatever else takes your fancy

Preheat oven to 175C and grease and flour eight medium-sized muffin tins.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add rolled oats, brown sugar and  coconut and stir well. In a separate bowl, mix the mashed banana, oil, milk, vanilla and orange zest. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together gently until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups until they are about half-full. Place some of your chosen fruit on top, then top with the rest of the muffin batter (the cups will be very full). Garnish the top of the muffins with the remaining fruit. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean when you plunge it into a muffin. Cool for five minutes, then gently turn out of the tin and leave to cool on a rack.

Do you have an end of the week baking treat? Add it in here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Sweet sweet Friday: Banana Parfait

Last week, when I was moaning about my fruitless search for a banana and chocolate semi-freddo recipe, lovely Peggy of Fake It ‘Til You Make It fame reminded me of the world’s easiest (and best?) dessert. It’s been hideously humid and sticky here (sorry, northern hemisphere readers) and this is just heavenly.

Banana Parfait
Gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, fat-free, child-friendly, budget-friendly – there is a lot to love about this delectable dessert even before you taste it. You could always shave over some dark chocolate (or pour over some chocolate sauce (melt equal quantities of dark chocolate and cream), but it’s hard to beat as it is.

Are overripe bananas cluttering up your fruit bowl? Throw them in the freezer – you can peel them and wrap them in clingfilm if you like, but I just put them in, skin and all.
When you want to eat, take the bananas out (allow one per person) and peel off the skins with a sharp knife. Cut them into chunks and throw them in your food processor. Blitz until they have formed a smooth, icy puree (this makes a hell of a racket, but it’s worth it). Eat immediately. Chill out.

Do you have an end of the week sweet treat? Add a link to it here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Sweet sweet Friday: Apricot Chews

My friend Jeremy, a filmmaker, stay-at-home dad and Renaissance man, recently told me that multi-tasking was overrated. Yesterday, after managing to simultaneously burn a pot of porridge and embarrass myself by running down our street in my threadbare nightie to catch the binmen while writing a blog post, I felt inclined to agree. But right now I am writing while consuming possibly the best biscuits I have ever made – and multi-tasking seems like a very good thing indeed.

I’ve had this recipe for nearly nine years and can’t understand why I’ve never made it before. It comes from my dearest friend Anna, an amazingly talented artist, crafter, cook and gardener. Anna and I shared a house together for a year in a funny New Zealand provincial city, where she taught me to bake, sew and occasionally pose for drawing purposes. We’ve been separated by geography for most of the time since then, but my notebooks are full of her recipes and when we talk on the phone her laugh still sounds like music.

Anna’s Apricot Almond Chews
You do need a food processor for this recipe, so if you don’t have one, go and find someone who does. (Put a coat on over your pyjamas first.)

250g ground almonds
80g (1/2 cup) dates, roughly chopped
80g (1/2 cup) dried apricots, roughly chopped
4Tbsp brown sugar
4Tbsp maple syrup (or golden syrup, or date syrup, or a mixture of the two)
grated zest of an orange
1 egg white
about 2/3 cup desiccated coconut

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Throw all the ingredients except the coconut into a food processor and whiz until you get a chunky paste. Divide into walnut-sized balls and roll in the coconut. Put on the baking tray and press down slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container. Delicious for breakfast while blogging…

Do you have an end of the week sweet treat? Add it here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Sweet sweet Friday: Hokey Pokey Biscuits

Have you ever noticed how things that you admire as rustic and charmingly old-fashioned in other cultures are often dismissed as deadly dull in your own? Take these biscuits, for example. They come from the Edmonds Cookbook, which was first published in 1908 as a marketing tool for Edmonds ‘Sure To Rise’ baking powder. Since then it has become the biggest selling book ever published in New Zealand and most households have a copy – the lucky ones still have their grandmother’s annotated copy with its tissue-thin pages.
I have a modern edition, which I rarely use because many of its dishes (using horrors like packet soup and sausage meat) seem rather old-fashioned and out of touch with the sort of food I cook. But its baking recipes cannot be faulted, especially if you’re after a nostalgia hit.

Hokey Pokey Biscuits (from the Edmonds Classics Cookbook)
These hokey pokey biscuits have humble ingredients and would never win a beauty pageant. But they have a deliciously buttery, caramel flavour and their very simplicity seems to make them extremely modern.
They would also be good as an accompaniment to hokey pokey ice cream…

125g butter
1/2 cup sugar
1Tbsp golden syrup
1Tbsp milk
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 180C. Combine butter, sugar, golden syrup and milk in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture nearly boiling. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm (about five minutes). Sift the flour and baking soda together, then add to the cooled mixture and mix well. Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on lightly greased oven trays. Flatten with a floured fork and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight tin. Makes about 18.

Do you have an end of the week baking treat or a classic favourite? Post it below to share the sweetness of Fridays…