Anzac biscuits

Ever heard of an Anzac cookie? No, me neither. At the care home where I worked during the summer, the cook baked a few batches of these strange new new delicacies, and offered me one – and I really rather liked them. Their defining feature is coconut, although you can add to them whatever else you wish.

I followed this simple BBC GoodFood recipe, from which I also discovered the namesake of these biscuits: they were made to serve the Australian and New Zealand corps (ANZAC) during the First World War. Anzac Day (25th April) is celebrated in those countries to commemorate those who lost their lives. According to our trusty friend Wikipedia, the wives of soliders sent these biscuits because they didn’t spoil quickly. What an education baking gives you.

So I gave them a little go.

You’ll need:

  • 85g porridge oats
  • 85g desiccated coconut
  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g butter, plus extra butter for greasing
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Start by preheating the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line two baking trays with paper.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, and once it’s melted, stir in the golden syrup. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in two tablespoons of boiling water, and add it to the pan – it’ll go frothy.

In a small bowl, mix the oats, flour, sugar, and coconut. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the liquid mixture, stirring to incorporate. I added three handfuls of sultanas at this point – you could also add chocolate chunks, or another variety of dried fruit (I think cranberries could be a winner.)

Put dessertspoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking trays; you may need to squish them into balls in your hands beforehand. They won’t spread too much. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

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I’ve never tried coconut in a cookie, but it’s definitely something I’ll be making again; and the sultanas added a lovely sweetness to complement the nutty taste. Thank you to the wives of the Anzac corps!

Birthday meal at Prezzo

Last week, my twin brother and I celebrated our birthday. It was a quite low-key affair, as we both spent the best part of our days at work; and now that we’re older, birthdays aren’t as exciting as they used to be. As a child, I would count the days down to the day where I could open a stackload of presents and eat a tonne of cake. Perhaps it’s just me, or adulthood seems a whole lot less cheery.

We decided to go out for a meal as a family, something we don’t do very often, what with everybody being busy at work or uni. I suggested that we go to one of the restaurants my dad receives discounts at with his The Times membership, as a way of reducing the cost (and so we could go somewhere a bit more upmarket than Pizza Express or our local Indian.) As a meal for six with drinks is never going to be cheap, my money-saving radar (honed by the student lifestyle) set itself buzzing.

I pre-booked a table at a pretty little Prezzo in Harpenden, with a familiar atmosphere and some nice ambient lighting and decor. The waitresses were Italian, making me feel more assured of the authenticity of the food (a clever ploy for the gullible consumer).

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We ordered drinks and a starter of four flatbreads to share, with toppings including a tomato and proscuitto combination. I ordered an Aranciata cocktail, which tasted like a refreshing fizzy Fanta, consisting of rum and San Pellegrino. The males in the family had Peronis, which came in massive bottles and corresponding big glasses.

On to mains: I ordered the chicken and n’duja sausage pasta, with cherry tomatoes, peppers, and mozzarella. (N’duja has to be the most streetwise sausage name on the market.) It had a good chilli kick, and the waitress grated over a generous quantity of Parmesan cheese (although as a cheese lover, I would have preferred my own little bowl to scatter over.) My twin ordered a pulled pork pizza, upgraded to the VIP size, which was rather large; but no problem for him. The same couldn’t be said for me; unable to finish my pasta, I asked for a little box to take it home in.

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Chicken and n’duja sausage pasta

Sea bass and minted baby potatoes

Sea bass and minted baby potatoes

There was no question of skipping dessert (not on my part, anyway.) Knowing full well that I was stuffed, but determined not to be beaten, I compromised with the best-of-both worlds option: a little slice of vanilla cheesecake with salted caramel sauce, and a hot chocolate. It was a wise choice, and the perfect finish to the meal; the cake was gooey and indulgent, but well balanced by the mildly sweet hot chocolate.

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Cheesecake and hot chocolate

Salted caramel Arctic slice

Salted caramel Arctic slice

In total, we spent £130, saving £20 with The Times membership card. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and would reccomend Prezzo as a place to go on a family special occasion, or for a more intimate meal for two.

Plum torte

Plums are in abundance this autumn, and seem to be hanging about everywhere I look: in supermarkets, in the organic fruit box, and dropping off a neighbour’s tree into our garden. Over the years we have milked this tree for its worth – if they’re on our side of the fence, they’re ours, right? Plum jams, chutney, and crumbles have been stewed and baked on many an occasion in our house.

For years, my grandad has had his own allotment. I’m very much in awe of his skills, growing not just the basic potatoes and carrots, but also tomatoes, strawberries, beetroot, spring onions, and more. This weekend he gave to us a vast quantity of his homegrown plums and raspberries, as he simply didn’t know what to do with them. I’ve been scoffing them on their own, with yoghurt, and in my porridge for breakfast, but I thought I’d try putting the plums into a cake.

My eye was caught by this recipe for plum torte on the Smitten Kitchen blog, one of my favourite Instagram users. It was first published in the New York Times in 1983, and was apparently republished every season for the next twelve years – so it’s clearly a recipe to be relied upon.

This torte is easy to make, and smells absolutely heavenly in the oven. You’ll need:

  • 125g plain flour
  • a tsp baking powder
  • 200g granulated sugar (the recipe advises adding another one or two tablespoons on top, if your plums aren’t particularly sweet)
  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • large pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 relatively small purple plums (I only needed 9 and a half)
  • 2 tsps freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used the juice of a whole  small lemon)
  • 1 tsp / tbsp ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to gas mark 5, or 170 degrees Celsius. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl. (If you’re using salted butter, leave out the salt.)

In a bigger bowl, cream the butter and 200g sugar with a hand mixer, until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure to scrape down the sides.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and mix until just combined. (I added an extra couple of dashes of cinnamon to the flour, just to give the whole cake more of a cinnamony taste.)

Cut each plum in half, and take out the stone. It’s easier if you make a slit on each side of the plum, pull it apart, then take the stone out.

Grease and line a 9″ springform baking tin, and spoon the batter into it. Actually, the recipe didn’t call to line the tin, but I was too nervous to try it without; but seeing as the thick batter pulled up the paper as I levelled it out, it’s probably easier unlined.

Arrange the plums, skin-side up, however you like on top of the batter, perhaps in two concentric circles. Sprinkle the lemon juice and cinnamon evenly on top, then the remaining sugar if you think you’ll need it.

Bake until golden brown for 45 – 50 minutes – mine actually took an hour, before the knife I stuck in came out clean. Leave it to cool before removing from the tin – be careful, as the sides of the torte may want to stick and come away from the base.

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The plums ooze a delicious tart sweetness, so I’d really recommend serving the torte with cream or custard. It’s a rather lovely autumnal dessert, and a good way to use up those excess plums. You can freeze plums, too: just pit them, put about a pound into freezer bags, and defrost at your leisure.