Vegan berry muffins

Each and every summer, I can be commonly found at the local park amongst the brambles. Doing nothing suspect, mind you – only furtively scanning the bushes for the plumpest of blackberries, and collecting them in a big plastic box. I’ll return home with said box full to the brim, with red-stained hands and stinging legs, but pleased with my hoard of what is essentially free food. Instead of plucking my berries from supermarket branches, I prefer to invest my own labour in gathering all-you-can-eat, organic, 100% free ones, and stashing them squirrel-like in the freezer to use all year round. As people buy packs of imported or frozen berries at large expense, I’m laughing, enjoying nature’s bounty.

Alas, it’s almost as perfect as it sounds. I’m a sucker for a frozen blueberry, and can eat them like sweets. At least with blackberries, my gathering instincts save me some of the money I throw at their blue cousins – and there’s something intrinsically rewarding about eating the produce of your own hands. (Ok, that’s not quite true either. I don’t know who planted them. I’m joking.)

I can’t post the recipe, for copyright reasons, but here’s the link. It’s for for blueberry muffins, but to use up my glut of blackberries, I’ve swapped them out for the latter, as well as dairy-free spread in place of oil. They’re still gorgeous, light and fluffy with a citrus twang. Give them a go!

 

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(Almost) vegan brownies

At the time of writing, it’s World Chocolate Day – a date quite redundant, in my eyes, as chocolate is an object I lavish much love and attention on most days. Similar to Valentine’s Day, nowadays just a massive money-spinning extravaganza, World Chocolate Day is most likely the brainchild of a mass chocolate manufacturer, and it hardly needs the attention to drive up sales. For me, just as you love your partner every single day, so you do chocolate.

Yet, that was good enough an excuse for me to make brownies. I’d like to be a little more ambitious in my baking, but the simplicity of this brownie recipe from spiceupthecurry.com (lots of egg-free recipes) won me over. I’ve tried making vegan brownies before, and although they went down quite well, the oil gave them a sticky kind of aftertaste – so I was pleased to find an oil-free variety. These brownies are devilishly sweet, probably dangerously so; omit the chocolate chunks or scale down the sugar for less impact on the teeth.

 

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To make eight good-sized pieces, you’ll need:

  • 85g plain flour
  • 115g butter (or dairy-free butter)
  • 125g plain yogurt (I used Alpro’s dairy-free version – the slight acidity is good)
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa powder (go for a good one – I used Cadbury’s Bournville)
  • 100g dark chocolate chunks (optional. But reccomended)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 2 tsps baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease an 8 x 8 baking tin (or whatever you have) and line with parchment paper.

Begin by gently heating the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, set aside to cool.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, if using. Do take care to sift the cocoa, to break down lumps. Add the sugar, and mix well to incorporate.

Spoon the yogurt in to the butter (I wouldn’t advise pouring it straight in from the tub – accidents may happen. Not that that happened to me. No, not at all.) Add the vanilla extract, and whisk briskly, until fully combined.

Pour the fats into the dry flour mixture and whisk together. Now’s the time to add any chocolate chunks, nuts, or dried cranberries: give everything a good stir, then pour into the tin. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes – if a toothpick comes out clean, it’s all good. Leave to thoroughly cool before dusting with icing sugar, and cutting up into slices. There’s no need to tell you how long this brownie will keep – it won’t last long!

Oat & raisin cookies: egg-free

Several posts ago, I lamented the importance of eggs in baking. Scientifically, they’re perfect for the job: as emulsifiers (proteins in the yolks bind liquids and fats), as leaveners  (the whites create that rise), and in giving structure, taste, and texture. So, when you take eggs out of the equation, you need to balance out the formula with an adequate substitute.

The chemistry of baking is something I’d love to understand better. Why do individual varieties of sugar give biscuits different textures? What actually happens to the molecular make-up of a cake when you put it in the oven? And can egg and dairy-free recipes really match up to those that include them?

My past experience with vegan baking hasn’t been too successful, but I’m going to crack on (no pun intended) with trying: starting with substituting out the all-important egg. Supposedly, eggs can be swapped for ingredients such as apple sauce, banana, chia seeds, and even tofu; after reading this article about eggs and vegan alternatives (very informative!) I thought I’d give flaxseed a go. I came across this recipe for oat and raisin cookies on egglesscooking.com – a good place to start, right?

 

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To make twenty small and rounded cookies, you’ll need:

  • 170g softened butter (could be replaced with dairy-free butter – I’d love to see how that would turn out)
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 85g plain flour
  • 270g rolled oats
  • 150g raisins or sultanas
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • tsp vanilla extract
  • tbsp ground linseed (flaxseed)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (leave out if your butter is salted).

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line two baking trays with baking paper. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, using a hand mixer if one is at hand (very punny today).

Make the ‘flax egg’: mix a tablespoon of ground linseed with three tablespoons of warm water. Whisk briskly with a fork, electric whisk, or milk frother, until foamy. Add to the bowl with the vanilla extract, and stir to combine.

Sift in the flour with the bicarb, salt, and cinnamon, before stirring in the oats and dried fruit. Incorporate well with a wooden spoon, before dropping small handfuls of the mixture onto the trays (these don’t spread too much during baking). Flatten each circle before popping in the oven for around fifteen minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown – I’d recommend putting in a tray at a time. Leave to cool completely before storing in air-tight containers.

These biscuits taste really lovely, and were very well-received in my family – described as “like Nature Valley bars” by my elder brother, something I’ll take as a compliment. I like small biscuits, but if you like your cookies thin and wide, make sure to flatten them out. The second time round, I used light brown sugar (as the recipe intended – I just didn’t have it in the cupboard) and three tablespoons of water for the flax eggs, and they formed much more stable rounds before baking. One more thing – if you’d like to try this recipe, don’t reach for the eggs – these are fantastic without them!

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Shortbread, and baking without eggs

I’ve recently decided eggs are off my agenda. Why? Because I can no longer deny the fact that the way in which they’re produced is cruel. That caged hens live a terrible existence is a fact that nobody can deny – but cruelty is inherent even in the production of free-range and organic eggs: as they’ve no functional use, almost all male chicks are killed immediately.

I hope I don’t come across as sanctimonious, in any way: I don’t judge anyone for eating eggs. It’s just that on a personal level, I feel uncomfortable morally with supporting such a violent way of producing food. If I could see first-hand how the hen was raised, and how her and her offspring are treated, then perhaps I’d buy eggs.

To be honest, I’ve never much enjoyed eating them, anyway – just as with meat, I only felt I should cook them for their nutritional benefits. (I have finally committed to going veggie – I’ll discuss that in another post.) But at uni, the eggs I bought generally ended up as someone else’s breakfast, almost at their use-by date; and although a tomato omelette tastes good, it’s something I can happily live without.

The hardest part of avoiding eggs, however, is baking: the world and literature of cakes revolve around that essential binding egg. As far as I’m aware, there’s only so far you can go with chemical replacements, bananas, or coconut oil, but I’d like nothing better than to be proven wrong. I love cake, and it’s proving hard to resist when it’s offered to me by relatives. Being placed in a moral dilemma by my grandad’s cake will continue to be difficult, but I hope that it will get easier.

Hallelujah, though, for shortbread: a biscuit which doesn’t call for a beaten egg. To start off my exploration of an egg-free-baked-good life, I turned to Paul Hollywood’s buttery shortbread recipe, with promising results. These biscuits have a lovely texture, far better than the average supermarket shortbread finger; the cornflour, although making the dough quite crumbly to handle, adds a new dimension of texture and thickness. I chopped some extra dark chocolate and threw it in for good measure.

 

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To make around sixteen circular biscuits, you’ll need:

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 110g cornflour
  • pinch of salt

Start by lining two baking trays with paper. Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl and cream until light and fluffy, using an electric whisk.

Sift in the flour and cornflour with the salt, and mix together. If you fancy some chocolate, raisins, vanilla, or Paul Hollywood’s suggestion of lavender, now’s the time to add it. Lightly flour your kitchen surface, and knead the dough. Then, cut two pieces of baking paper, place the dough in between, and roll out to a thickness of 1cm.

Cut the biscuits into whatever shapes you want: triangles, circles, squares, bunnies, bananas… Place the shapes onto a flat surface in the fridge, and chill for at least half an hour. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

Bake the biscuits for around twenty minutes, or until golden. Dust with sugar, and make sure you leave them plenty of time to cool before eating with a cup of tea.

 

Chocolate Orange biscuits

Is Terry’s Chocolate Orange now solely associated with Christmas? It seems as though it’s joined the likes of mince pies and Lindt reindeer, eaten solely in the festive season. I quite clearly remember the TV advert of bygone days: ‘Tap it, don’t whack it’, Dawn French instructed us. My initial plan with one of these was to chop it up for biscuits, until I recalled this recipe (is all I do praise Delia Smith?), the choice of my very first solo baking project in primary school. Aged nine or ten, I excitedly brought in plastic boxes of these biscuits and put them proudly in the hall for a bake sale. During break-times, I lingered to check the progress of sales, anxious that they be eaten; so my nerves were much soothed to discover that the one of the cleaners, having bought a couple, had returned a little later to buy up the whole lot.

The orange in these biscuits is just right in balancing the dark chocolate, with an ideal level of sweetness. They’re much better suited to a crispy biscuit than a soft one.

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You’ll need (to make around 22 biscuits):

  • 125g butter (Delia stipulated spreadable, but I used salted at room temperature)
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 level tsps baking powder
  • 75g chopped dark chocolate (I used a 100g bag of dark chocolate chips)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • extra icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and line two baking trays with baking paper. Zest both oranges, and juice one of them.

Mix the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon, or an electric hand mixer (much easier). Sift in the flour and baking powder, then add the remaining ingredients, before mixing well to form a dough. (Mine was rather wet, on account of my using too much orange juice.)

Flour a working surface, then roll out the dough to 1cm thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits, and place them on the trays reasonably spaced apart. (I had to skip this step, and used just a tablespoon to put the dough onto the trays.)

Bake the biscuits for twenty minutes, or until golden brown. After they have cooled, dust with a little extra caster sugar.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Gingerbread biscuits

Come Christmastime, nostalgia calls. For everyone, the festive season comes attached with a set of family-specific traditions – repeated year on year, these form the sacrosanct parts of our memories of Christmas.

For me, these traditions are very simplistic. We don Santa hats to decorate the tree; my mum fills our fabric advent calendars with little chocolates; we spend Christmas Eve writing late cards for the neighbours, and watching Scrooge in black-and-white; we hand-wrap the cat’s presents and watch on Christmas morning as he paws at them, nonplussed. Many of our traditions, like everybody else’s, are food-focused: getting the first mince pies in during November, making a chocolate Yule log on the 23rd, and munching through rather too many tins of Quality Street.

I like to bake a series of sweet treats which I associate only with Christmas. The first of these on my list this year was gingerbread biscuits: perhaps an all-year sight on shelves nowadays, but a December exclusive for me. So, I headed out to buy ingredients for my trusted Delia Smith recipe, who is my go-to chef for cakes and biscuits; however, two shops later, black treacle proved too elusive an item to track down. Not willing to do the recipe injustice by skimping on it, I decided to switch; and here Fate intervened in directing my attention to the back of the light brown sugar packet in my bag, featuring a recipe for gingerbread men.

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This is Tesco’s recipe, and also appears on the pack of their plain flour packet, as I discovered once back home. You’ll need:

  • 350g plain flour, and extra for dusting
  • 125g lightly salted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g soft light brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • an egg
  • gel icing or icing sugar to decorate (feel free to use raisins, chocolate  buttons, Smarties, or whatever you like.)

 

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4, and line three large baking trays with baking paper.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the ginger, cinnamon, and bicarbonate of soda. Add the butter, and use a hand mixer or food processor to pulse to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

Crack the egg into a bowl and mix well with the golden syrup – I used a teaspoon to scrape the syrup off of the larger spoon, stubborn liquid that it is. It’ll take a minute or two before they’re fully incorporated. Add to the flour bowl.

Mix everything well to form a dough. Press into a ball and place in the fridge for fifteen minutes -this makes it easier to handle.

Lightly dust a kitchen surface, and roll out the dough to half a centimetre’s thickness. Use any cookie cutter shapes you have to hand to form the biscuits; in my cupboard, there stands an old ice-cream tub of smiling dogs and cats, hearts, circles, and a few indistinguishable outlines. I chose a small gingerbread person (unencumbered by gender), a tree, and a star.

Dust the cutters with flour as you go along, to prevent the dough from sticking. Keep rolling the remaining until you’ve used it all up.

Pop in the oven and bake for fifteen minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and leave to cool before decorating. Having no gel icing, I mixed 60g of icing sugar with a few teaspoons of warm water, adding several drops of green food colouring, to decorate the trees and paint the ginger-folks’ faces. Rather sloppily done, in the style of my seven-year-old self. (But a perfectly decorated biscuit has nothing of the spirit of Christmas at all.)

On the whole, I enjoyed this variation of gingerbread biscuits, although I added an extra teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon, with the sneaking suspicion that the recipe wouldn’t pack enough flavour. The first tray, having been left in the oven slightly longer, provided a crisper biscuit; if you like them softer, stick to the recommended baking time.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

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!