Sweet sweet Friday: Caramel Oranges

Last week, on leg one of the great Moving-House-And-Having-A-Holiday road trip, we stayed with my sister in sunny Hawkes Bay. This part of New Zealand, on the eastern coast of the North Island, is renowned for its gorgeous Art Deco architecture and amazing climate. My sister has an incredible garden, filled with flowers and fruit trees and all sorts of things that would never grow anywhere else in the country.

Her two navel orange trees were laden with glowing orange globes and the Small Girl was in heaven. “Balls, balls!,” she shrieked, running towards them.

I ate loads of them, standing over the kitchen sink as sweet, tangy juice ran down my forearms. Later, my sister made Nigella’s Chilled Caramelised Oranges with Greek Yoghurt from Forever Summer. The recipe uses a frightening amount of sugar (it works out to 125g per person!), but the caramel sets hard on the plate and we consoled ourselves that we didn’t actually eat all of it. And surely, all that vitamin C counteracts the evils of sugar…

Now we’re on the West Coast of the South Island and the whitebait are running. Will the Boy Wonder and his brothers catch any? Here’s hoping for a sweet, sweet Friday for you all while we find out…

Sweet sweet Friday: Vegan Cupcakes

I’ve been making lots of cupcakes this week – the Boy Wonder took some to work and I froze the rest for Erin the Amazing Babysitter. Erin came into our lives when I started making cupcakes for a local craft market and she became my unofficial tester. I try to have some on hand whenever she comes over, which seems especially important now that we’re leaving town. I asked her mother if we could take Erin with us and she said “No! You’re not taking your daughter and mine away from me!” Oh well. Maybe I can send them some cupcakes from our new kitchen.

Best Ever Vegan-Friendly Chocolate Cupcakes

Once upon a time I had a brief flirtation with veganism. It didn’t last (I didn’t miss meat or eggs, but a life without butter, yoghurt or ice cream? No thanks!) but I discovered lots of my favourite cake recipes were vegan-friendly anyway.
This is my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe. It’s dark, moist, quick to make and freezes brilliantly. The flavour improves the day after baking (if you can resist them for 24 hours).

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3/4 cup coconut
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups cold coffee (or water)
3 Tbsp vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put cupcake liners in two 12-hole muffin tins.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and sugar into a large bowl, then stir in the coconut.
Mix the wet ingredients in a jug, then pour them into the dry. Mix well. Pour the mixture in the cake tin, or divide equally between the cupcake liners (I usually get around 22 cupcakes out of it).
Bake for about 20 minutes. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.
This can also be baked in a 23cm cake tin, for about 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to crack a decent vegan icing – butter is just TOO important! These are fine dusted with icing sugar, but most of the time I use the Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. It’s almost worth the price of the book by itself – a silky, voluptuous frosting that adds a very decadent touch. Just beat 75g very soft butter, 30g sifted cocoa and 200g icing sugar until very light and fluffy (easiest in a mixer or with an electric beater). Add 150g fridge-cold cream cheese and beat until even lighter and fluffier. Try not to eat it all before you get some on the cupcakes.
Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

Sweet sweet Friday: We Should Cocoa – Raspberry Choc Nut Bars

Warning: this post may be dangerous to your health. But don’t blame me, blame Choclette and Chele of the Chocolate Teapot. They’ve started up We Should Cocoa, a monthly challenge to food bloggers (floggers?) involving chocolate and a special guest ingredient.

September’s guest star is raspberries, which was a bit tricky given that it’s wild, wet spring outside here and fresh raspberries are a distant dream. But then I remembered an Ottolenghi recipe that I’d lovingly lingered over but never made. Could it be adapted to include chocolate?

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. And, believe me, this little baby will knock your socks off. It’s got nuts, chocolate, raspberry jam and rather a lot of unsalted New Zealand butter. But there are whole oats in there too, plus some milk. It’s practically healthy!
Here’s the recipe, taken from the first Ottolenghi cookbook and tampered with here and there. Wishing you a sweet, sweet Friday and a joyous weekend.

Raspberry Chocolate Nut Bars
A crunchy nut topping, a soft berry middle and a crisp, buttery bottom. Delish!

Base:
120g plain flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter, diced
80g whole rolled oats (often called ‘jumbo’ oats)

Filling:
250g good quality raspberry jam
80g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Topping:
70g flaked almonds
70g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
50g long thread coconut
100g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
40ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence (I actually used brandy – because that’s the sort of woman I am, the sort that has plenty of brandy in the house but no vanilla)

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl, then rub in the butter with your fingertips until it forms crumbs. Stir in the oats to combine, then tip into the prepared tin. Don’t press down too much, so the base stays light. Bake for 20 minutes or until light brown.
While the base is cooking, place the nuts and coconut in a large bowl. Put the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla into a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this mixture over the nuts and stir well.
When the base has had its 20 minute sojourn, remove it from the oven and spread with the jam – be gentle or the base will break up everywhere. Sprinkle on the chocolate chunks, then pack the nut mixture evenly over the top. Return to the oven for another 25-30 minutes, until it’s golden brown.
Leave until cold to cut into bars. A little of this goes a long way…

Treat me: Banana Oaties

Strange I know, but sometimes there is such a thing as too much sugar. These little cookies, on the other hand, are so virtuous that they’re practically candidates for canonisation. There’s no sugar, no dairy and no wheat – but plenty of flavour thanks to sweet, ripe bananas and sticky, chewy dates.

Sugar Free Banana Oaty Cookies

They’re an excellent snack for little people and make a good breakfast substitute for big people on the go. Actually, if you overcook them you could crumble them into a bowl and call it muesli. Otherwise, eat with a glass of cold milk.

Banana Oaties

3 very ripe bananas

2 cups rolled oats

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup dates, chopped

3 dsp peanut butter/tahini

4 dsp canola oil

Turn the oven to 170C fan bake.

Mash the bananas to a slurry, then stir in all the remaining ingredients until well combined. Leave to sit for 15 minutes (the mixture, not you – though this is the perfect opportunity for a cup of tea and the crossword). Drop tablespoon-sized heaps onto a lined baking tray (you’ll need two trays). These cookies don’t spread in the oven so nestle them up nice and close. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool, then store in an airtight container. Makes about 25.

Have a sweet weekend, everyone x

Sweet sweet Friday: Pretty in pink

There’s a lot of angst in the developed (read: affluent) world about healthy eating; a lot of handwringing and deep thought and worry when we all know we have nothing to complain about when so many are going hungry.

But every once in a while it’s good to lighten up and treat yourself – or be treated. I think the definition of the perfect present is something that you’d love but never buy. So it is with these beauties,brought over by a good fairy. I wish they’d invent scratch ‘n sniff computer screens so you could try them too.

All this and a cherry on the top!

They might look like ordinary fairy cakes but once you bite in there’s a whole lot of crazy stuff going on. That Barbie-pink carapace of glace icing hides a thin layer of sponge, a thick, creamy dollop of blueberry buttercream and a crisp shortcrust base.

If I could figure out how to make these I’d make a mint (which I’d then have to spend on elasticated waistbands, new teeth and a sugar-proof liver). Perhaps it’s better to leave some things to the professionals.

Wishing you all a sweet, sweet Friday and a happy weekend. We’re off to hunt for a new kitchen (and a house!)