Onion & Cheese T&S Loaves

Don’t be fooled, T&S is only an abbreviation for ‘tear and share’ and not some mystical spices or mysterious ingredient I used to make this stunning bread. The idea behind it (nor mine, but hey) is to create a big loaf you can tear in pieces and enjoy in small quantities, rather than having to cut yourself a slice every time. The recipe had been looking at me for a while, begging to be tried out, from the first GBBO book. I remember one of the wannabe bakers making it on the show and Paul Hollywood convinced it wouldn’t work right until the end, when he finally tasted it. In your face, Paul.

Choose a very strong cheddar for this one. The more mature, the better. The reason being the bread here is pretty much flavourless and the real kick comes from the onion and the cheddar in the small buns. The pattern, moreover, very honeycomb-like, is totally non compulsory. If you wish, you could also make bigger buns and arrange them differently. These will also last for a while in a sealed container, so that if you don’t manage to eat them all while warm and fresh from the oven (a temptation hard to resist, let me tell you), you can also enjoy them later in the week as a perfect accompaniment to soups and other big and bold dishes.

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Ingredients

  • 450g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action yeast
  • 300ml lukewarm water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 120g mature cheddar, grated

Method

  1. Start by putting the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a big bowl or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. Make sure to put the salt and the yeast well away one from the other.
  2. Start the engine of the mixer or make a well in the centre (if you’re making this completely by hand) and pour in the oil and the water. Mix this in to form a soft but not sticky dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a working surface and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and put into a big oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for a good hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Put some olive oil in a saucepan over a medium to low heat and add the onions. Cook for at least 15 minutes or until soft but not coloured. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  5. Once your dough has proven enough, punch it down, turn it out onto a working surface and knead until smooth. Divide into 19 even pieces (I used scales to measure) and roll each one into a small ball. Once you have rolled them all, use the palm of your hand and your fingers to spread each ball into a small disc, then divide the onion and about 75g of the cheese among the discs.
  6. Wrap the dough around the mixture and pinch at the top to seal, then roll out again to a ball and arrange on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Ensure the seam is down and arrange in a honeycomb structure (3, 4, 5, 4 then 3 balls respectively). Leave about 1cm between each balls but try to squeeze together as much as possible. Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave to rise for about 40 minutes until doubled in size. Close to the end of the rising time, pre-heat your oven to 190C.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the buns, then bake for 25-30 minutes. or until risen and evenly golden brown. Leave to cool slightly on a wire rack and serve warm or cool completely.

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A very moreish Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake. Ok, I’ll say it again: chocolate cake. Honestly, I think a post about this should have no further introduction. What’s not been said about chocolate cake? And, most importantly, what’s not to like? To those of you do not like chocolate (and I know there’s plenty out there, my best friend’s boyfriend, to give you an example), I offer my deepest condolences. I recently watched an episode of The Taste – the new cooking TV reality show with Nigella in the judge panel – about comfort food. Well, for me, nothing evokes the image of comfort better than a big slice of dark, intense and creamy chocolate cake. Not even a bowl of pasta. Such a pity that no-one on the show actually prepared one.

Anyway, back to this cake. I always like to try out new recipes and this is no exception. The recipe for the cake comes from the Add a Pinch blog, which labels it “The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe {Ever}” (I reduced the amount of sugar if compared to the original). I decided to put my own frosting on it as I wasn’t impressed with the one which came with the cake. On that note, I also hope the quantities got a bit lost in translation, otherwise eeek! 340g of butter! I also did not like the fact there was no chocolate in a chocolate cake. Cocoa powder, yes, but no chocolate. That’s why my chocolate solid frosting has some good quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate in it. The cake is moist and crumbly, but utterly delicious. Maybe not the best chocolate cake ever, but a good contender for the title.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 88g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 235ml hot coffee
  • 235ml whole milk
  • 118ml vegetable oil
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Ingredients (for the chocolate frosting)

  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g icing sugar, sifted
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp creme de cacao blanc (or any other chocolate liqueur)

Method

  1. Start by greasing and lining 2 x 20cm round cake tin. Don’t use a springform tin here or the mixture will ooze out (it’s very liquid!). Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), sift the flour, raising agents, cocoa powder and sugar, then mix together.
  3. In a small jug, combine the eggs, milk, vanilla extract and paste and vegetable oil. Pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix over low to medium speed until fully combined.
  4. Slowly add the hot coffee and beat on medium to high speed for a good couple of minutes to incorporate as much air as possible. Divide the mixture equally between the two cake tins and bake for 30 minutes.
  5. Check that the sponges are cooked through with a skewer, then remove from the oven and set on a wire rack. Remove from the tin after 10 minutes and leave to cool completely.
  6. Right before you are ready to ice the cake, prepare your icing.  In the bowl of a freestanding mixer combine the softened butter and the icing sugar, mixing well with the paddle attachment to combine. Add the milk to obtain a creamy consistency, then slowly pour in the melted chocolate and beat over high speed until light and fluffy. Lastly, add the chocolate liqueur and mix that in too.
  7. Transfer about half of the chocolate icing to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, then spread the rest on one of the sponges, which you should have positioned on your cake stand. Sandwich with the other sponge, then use the icing in the piping bag to pipe small stars or rosettes on top. Work quickly as the chocolate will harden in no time. Dust the cake with some icing sugar and drizzle over any remaining melted dark chocolate (I had about a tablespoon left in the bottom of the bowl), then apply to face and enjoy.

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My very own Chicken Pie

Creativity is such a beautiful talent. I have to say I don’t think I’m massively gifted in that field, at least as far as cooking and baking are concerned. I’d rather stick to a recipe with ingredients already measured out and which has already been tried and tested. I think it probably has to do with the fact this way I’m not afraid things might not turn out just as in the picture, although I have soon learnt with baking that this is not always the case. Anyway, this time I decided to do everything from scratch and not to follow any recipe whatsover (apart from the one for the shortcrust pastry). And, I have to say, the result is quite impressive. Way to go, me!

The idea for this chicken pie comes from a recipe by Ina Garten, also known as Barefoot Contessa. This caterer-turned-TV-cook entertains plenty of Americans (and British alike) with a fast and easy take on cooking and baking. She is pretty much considered the US equivalent of Delia Smith, although clearly less posh. Her TV series is also set in her huge house in the Hamptons and regularly features some of her rich and food-ignorant friends, who just happen to be coming for dinner (I don’t know how she does it, honestly, I would freak out and chase people out of my house). She suggested roasting the chicken first for maximum flavour, and so I did. The quantities below make quite a lot, but then you could always freeze the leftovers. Therefore, here it is: my beautiful and proud chicken pie.

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Ingredients

  • 1kg chicken pieces (breast, thigh, drumsticks), skin and bone on OR a large whole chicken
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 250g peas (frozen are fine)
  • 250g frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, broccoli, etc.)
  • 1.5l chicken stock
  • half a bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 150ml creme fraiche
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 300g shortcrust pastry (make your own!!)

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Lay the chicken pieces skin side up on a roasting tin, rub some olive oil onto them and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for half an hour, then turn the pieces upside down and give it another 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature.
  4. In the meantime, melt the butter in a big saucepan, then add the chopped onion. Fry for 5 minutes, until translucent.
  5. Add the flour and stir vigourously to incorporate any lumps, then pour in the chicken stock and keep on stirring to avoid lumps forming at the bottom of the pan. Add the vegetables and creme fraiche, then let it simmer over medium heat for half an hour.
  6. Using two forks, remove and discard the skins and the bones from the chicken pieces, then pull the meat apart and divide it into small pieces. Add the chicken to the saucepan and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the oregano, parsley and season well. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
  7. Once cool, transfer the filling to a big pie dish. Roll out the shortcrust pastry to a rectangle/circle slightly bigger than the dish, then wet the edges and stick the sheet of pastry on top. Crimp all around the edges and use any leftover pastry to make decorations, etc.
  8. Chill for a good 30 minutes, then pre-heat the oven to 180C, brush the pie lid and the decorations with egg wash (and use the egg wash to stick the decorations to the top) and bake for 30 minutes.

As Ina Garten likes to say, “How easy is that?”

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Chelsea Buns

There’s something about yeasted doughs which puts me off them. I don’t know whether it’s the fact they need time to rise or whether it’s simply that sometimes they seem not be working quite right. I am also terribly scared they might not cook in the middle, something I don’t fear when baking a cake. I also think I don’t make enough of them, so I started this week by making these and a loaf of yummy bread. I need to start facing my (unfounded) fears, so better be practicing. Needless to say, it’s important to knead these breads by hand as much as possible. Therefore, I usually start the mixture in a freestanding mixer, but tip it out once it’s combined and knead it by hand. I also don’t flour the surface when possible, neither I drench it in olive oil. Rather, I leave it plain. I read in a really good book that by doing so you increase the friction of the dough on the work surface, which in turn means it kneads better.

Chelsea Buns, which date back to the 18th century, are a great example of British baking. A sweet dough is rolled out and then filled with dried fruits (usually currants). Then you roll it all up (much in the way as a Swiss roll), cut it into portions and bake it. This recipe is Paul Hollywood’s, although I ended up tweaking it slightly because 1) I didn’t have all of the ingredients and 2) I forgot to add the egg. Personally, I think it makes the whole thing lighter. I incorporated the missing apricots with dried prunes and I have to say it worked really well. I gave them to my partner to take to work and they went down a storm (he says). Also, rather than drowning the baked buns in jam and icing, I decided to simply drizzle some on top, thus making it look a lot nicer than the mess Mr Hollywood makes on TV and, probably, slightly less sweet.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 x 7g fast-action dried yeast
  • 300ml milk
  • 40g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the filling and to finish)

  • 25g unsalted butter, melted
  • grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 100g sultanas
  • 50g dried apricots, chopped
  • 50g dried prunes, chopped
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam

Method

  1. Put the flour into the bowl of a freestanding mixer (equipped with the hook attachment). Add the salt and the yest, taking care to put them in opposite corners.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and the butter until the latter melts and the mixture is lukewarm. If you heat the milk too much, don’t worry! Fill your sink with about 2cm of cold water, then plunge the base of your saucepan (taking care not to let the water get into the saucepan) and leave to cool slightly.
  3. Add the liquid to the flour mixture and start the engine of the mixer on low. Leave it to knead until it forms a soft dough, then tip out onto a non floured surface and knead by hand for a good 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball, then tip into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for a good hour at room temperature or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down the dough to its original size, then turn out onto a working surface. Roll out the dough to a rectangle about 40cm long and 5mm thick. Place it horizontally in front of you, that is with the longest side horizontal and facing you.
  6. Brush the dough with the melted butter, then sprinkle the orange zest from 1 orange over it, followed by the cinnamon, brown sugar and fruits.
  7. Tack down the long side of the rectangle nearest to you (that is, press it onto the working surface with your fingers so it sticks to it) and begin rolling from the opposite side towards you. Try and keep it as tight as possible. Once completely rolled, use a scraper or a knife to untack the pieces attached to the work surface.
  8. Line a rectangular baking tray with some baking parchment, then cut the log into 10 pieces, about 4cm wide (you’ll see only 9 in the picture!).
  9. Place the pieces cut side up and leave a little space in between them as they will expand. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for another 30 minutes at room temperature.
  10. Pre-heat the oven to 190C, then bake the buns for 30 minutes, until nice and golden on top. If you see them turning too brown during baking, cover the tin with some foil and keep on baking.
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Melt the jam with a splash of water in a small saucepan, then brush liberally over the top with a pastry brush.
  12. In a bowl, combine the icing sugar with 1 tbsp cold water and the remaining orange zest (add more water if you see the mixture is too thick), then use a spoon to drizzle the icing on the buns. Leave to cool completely (if you can resist!).

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Salmon and Ginger Fishcakes

My partner’s Christmas presents was a massive Magimix food processor, something I had my eyes on for quite a while. Despite already having a food processor, I hated it. To be perfectly fair, we’d bought it a while ago because I wanted one and, having just moved into a new flat, we went for the cheapest option, Russel Hobbs. I think it probably worked fairly average for the first couple of months and then things started to go a bit pear-shaped. Because of the way it was designed, the plastic tube holding the blades kept on being pushed upwards, thus coming off its base and jamming the whole thing. It took me ages to simply process, let’s say, vegetables and making shortcrust in there was a big no.

Now, I’m in food processor paradise. It may cost 6 times as much, but believe me when I say it’s worth it. I have now made pastry in there and it’s a total delight. User-friendly, very silent (I am still impressed) and extremely easy to clean. This also means I can now tackle the recipes I was a bit worried about before, including fishcakes. This recipe comes from the delicious. magazine online portal and it originally states to mince the fish and the vegetables by hand. I say, “why bother if the food processor can do it for you?” I whipped up these fishcakes in a second. Very easy to make, quite as easy to eat, especially if accompanied by the crunchy salad. A simple recipe for a mid-week supper which can be quickly converted into a packed lunch too.

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Ingredients

  • 400g skinned salmon fillet
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 red hot chilly, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 red and 1 yellow pepper, finely sliced
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Dice the salmon and add to the food processor together with the spring onions and the minced ginger. Pulse and/or process until thoroughly combined. Season well and transfer to a bowl, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to firm up.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and rice vinegar with the chopped red chilli. Set aside until needed.
  3. Take the fishcakes mixture out of the fridge, oil your hands with a little bit of olive oil and divide it in about 8 portions, then shape each into a small patty. Heat some oil in a frying pan, then cook each fishcake for a couple of minutes a side.
  4. Arrange the vegetables onto a platter, then lay the cooked fishcakes on top. Drizzle with the reserved dressing and enjoy while warm.

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Melting Moments

In the past, I have always steered clear of very buttery biscuits. I didn’t like the taste and the crumb you get when you first take a bite: too much butter, not enough chocolate. Even now, I have breakfast the exact same way I used to when home in Italy, with milk and (chocolate) biscuits. However, little by little, I have come to appreciate a good buttery shortbread, as long as I can find someone willing to eat them all if I ever make some! These are delicious, crumbly and, to be technical, very ‘short’. The recipe uses the same amount of flour and butter and makes up the difference with icing sugar and cornflour. They also have a very strong vanilla scent, which I found perfectly marries the filling.

On that note, this recipe comes from the first GBBO book and was made on the show in 2011 by Mary-Anne Boermans. She called the unusual filling a ‘Depression Era buttercream’, thus referring to the fact it is mostly made of milk and flour cooked on a stove and a little bit of butter and sugar added retrospectively. The recipe comes from a time when butter was in shortage and you really needed to make the little you had go further. You can read further insights directly on Mary-Anne’s blog. Mary’s decorative idea, that is painting the inside of the piping bag with gel food colouring, is a very creative one. I have seen it done to meringues and this way the piping provides some lightly coloured shells which are more original and enticing.

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Ingredients (for the biscuits)

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour
  • 60g cornflour
  • gel food colouring

Ingredients (for the buttercream)

  • 125ml full-fat milk
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly (the original recipe stated raspberry jam)

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter and the icing sugar, then beat until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract, then beat for a few seconds. In a bowl, combine the flour and the cornflour, then sieve the mixture into the bowl and mix until smooth.
  2. Using gel food colouring, paint a straight line on the inside of your piping bag, then insert a star shaped nozzle at the end. Spoon the biscuit mixture inside the bag.
  3. Pipe the mixture into approximately 32 swirls on baking trays lined with parchment, then chill in the fridge or the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the filling. Heat the milk and flour in a pan, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, until the mixture boils and thickens. In my experience, this happens quite suddenly, so make sure you are whisking the mixture. Transfer to a shallow plate, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to cool completely.
  5. Beat the butter and the sugar together in a freestanding mixer until pale and fluffy, then add the vanilla extract and the flour and milk mixture and beat on high speed  for a good 5 minutes, until light, creamy and almost white. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  7. Bake the biscuits for 12 minutes, until they are slightly golden on the top, then set aside to cool completely.
  8. Once cold, pipe a circle of buttercream on half of them, then fill the circle with the jam and sandwich with another biscuit to seal the filling inside.
  9. If you want to, you can serve them lightly dusted in icing sugar.

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Chicken and Yogurt Curry Pie

If you got tired of all the desserts I publish, this post is for you. Rather than a sugar-filled concoction, here is a wonderfully vibrant and flavoursome pie made entirely out of puff pastry. On that note, I strongly suggest you make your own puff pastry. Once you got the hang of it, whipping up a batch only takes a couple of minutes. The lengthy process as far as this pastry is concerned is the chilling and the resting, but if you have a very busy schedule or a life full of important events to attend to, puff pastry is not a needy lover and only requires a couple of turns every hour or so. Worst case scenario, you could always do it over two or even three days. After all, the more it rests, the better the end result will be.

This recipe comes from a truly inspiring book I recently bought on a very rainy December afternoon when I was in need of comfort (some people turn to cake, I usually make it). The book is called Pie and is by Dean Brettschneider. What I love about it is the fresh take on some classics, like tarte tatin or a simple pie, and the fact it provides plenty of suggestions on how to turn a standard and plain puff or shortcrust pastry into something completely new by adding a few extra ingredients. When you are making this, the longer the chicken thighs get to marinate, the more intense their flavour would be. Therefore, make sure to start your pie the day before by simply marinating the meat overnight.

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Ingredients

  • 350g puff pastry
  • 2 tbsp freshly minced ginger
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 300g thick Greek yogurt
  • 4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 800g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 3 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1 large bunch of coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 medium egg (for the glaze)
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Divide the puff pastry in two portions: set aside two-thirds for the base and use the rest for the top. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger portion to the thickness of a pound coin and use it to line it a 23cm fluted tart dish (about 3cm deep).
  2. Roll out the remaining pastry for the top of the pie to a circle slightly larger than the pie top. Set aside on a baking sheet, cover both with clingfilm and set aside in the fridge.
  3. To make the filling, puree together the ginger and the garlic with the yogurt to make a smooth paste (I did it by hand because I use already chopped ginger and I just finely chopped the garlic). Stir in the ground spices and salt, then place the chicken thighs in a large glass bowl and pour in the marinade. Stir to combine, then cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.
  4. When your meat has marinated long enough, heat some olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion and the chilli (leave the seeds in for extra heat!) until soft. Add the tomato puree and cardamom seeds, then cook for another minute.
  5. Add the chicken and its marinade, then turn up the heat and cook until the watery curry becomes creamy (about 15 minutes).
  6. Reduce the heat to low and add the cream. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the coriander, lemon juice and seasoning to taste, then cook until the curry has dried up and is creamy but not too liquid. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.
  7. Pre-heat your oven to 200C.
  8. When ready, spoon the filling onto the puff pastry base, then brush the rim of the pastry case with beaten egg and drape the remaining pastry over the tart dish. Press the pastry together to seal, then trim the edges.
  9. Brush the top with egg wash, then use a sharp knife to make 4 or 5 slits in the top to allow the steam to escape during baking.
  10. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until nicely golden on top and the sides of the pie have raised from the tart dish. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly, then unmould and serve while warm.

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Pistachio Cups with Berries and Yogurt

The inspiration for this recipe comes from Sugar and Spice: Sweets and Treats from Around the World by Gaitrich Pagrach-Chandra. This was the Christmas present from a very good friend and I have already successfully tried a couple of things off this wonderful book. These, in particular, are presented in the book with a mango shrikhand as the filling. However, after trying them that way and deeming them too sweet, I slightly adapted the recipe and topped them with an apricot half instead, much to the delight of my workmates in the office.

This time, I decided to shake things a little bit. Using yogurt as a filling is a great idea, especially because it’s not as fat as double cream and if you use extra thick Greek yogurt then you can play with textures too. In this case, I swirled it with a homemade berry compote and piped it in the pistachio cups. On that note, I had never thought about changing the way I make pastry. This is a real revelation to me: the addition of nuts to the shells makes them extremely crispy and crunchy, not to mention they pack a punch in terms of flavour! Shame the pistachios’ emerald green colour does not come through after baking, but one cannot ask for too much I guess. Try the pastry with different nuts too and be creative with the filling. This recipe is extremely versatile!

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Ingredients (for the pastry cups)

  • 100g pistachios, very finely ground (but almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts etc. are also good choices)
  • 115g plain flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g chilled butter, cubed
  • scant 2 tbsp beaten egg

Method 

  1. If using a food processor to grind the nuts, add the dry ingredients to the nuts and pulse again until well combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, then transfer to a large bowl.
  2. If doing it by hand, mix the dry ingredients before rubbing in the butter with your fingertips until you get the same texture.
  3. Add enough beaten egg to moisten the dry ingredients and knead lightly in the bowl to form a dough. Use the egg sparingly, as there is not much flour to absorb it.
  4. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap it in clingfilm and chill until it firms up enough to roll.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out to the thickness of just under 3mm, then cut out 12 circles with a plain 10cm cutter, re-rolling the trimmings as necessary.
  7. Line the muffin tin neatly with the pastry, pressing it against the sides and ensuring that it comes all the way to the top of each cavity. Chill again for 30 minutes or put in the freezer for about 7 minutes.
  8. Place a paper case on top of each pastry shell and fill with baking beans, dried beans or rice. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the paper cases and weights and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through. Twist the pastry shells free after a few minutes and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  9. Store in an airtight container at cool room temperature for a few days, or freeze for up to a month.

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Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g white chocolate, melted
  • 300g blueberries
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • 2 tbsp Chambord
  • 1/2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 75g sugar
  • 300g thick Greek yogurt
  • 30g pistachios, finely chopped

Method

  1. First prepare the berry compote. Put the blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan and cook with the lid on for about 20 minutes over low heat. You want the blueberries to burst completely and the juice at the bottom of the saucepan to become dark red.
  2. Remove the lid and add the Chambord and the redcurrant jelly, then mix well to combine and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  3. Pass the compote through a fine sieve and use a spoon or a rubber spatula to extract as much juice as possible from the blueberries. Return the liquid to the saucepan.
  4. Mix the cornflour with 1/2 tbsp water, then add to the berry juice. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then transfer to a bowl and cover with clingfilm. Chill until needed.
  5. Retrieve the baked pistachio cups and, using a teaspoon, spread some white chocolate on the inside. Ensure to cover well the sides too, as the chocolate will prevent the yogurt from seeping into the pastry and making it soggy once assembled. Set aside until cooled and completely set.
  6. Once your compote is thoroughly chilled, pour it into a big bowl, then dollop the Greek yogurt on top. With a few swift movements, roughly mix the two together, although you do want to clearly see the two ingredients and a few streaks are more than welcome. Transfer the whole mixture to a piping bag with a star nozzle.
  7. Gently pipe some filling inside each pistachio cups. You can choose to go for a fancy design or keep it simple, that’s up to you. As you haven’t mixed the berry compote and the yogurt completely, you will obtain a nice swirled and speckled effect.
  8. Top with some chopped pistachios and refrigerate until needed.

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Baci di Alassio

Do you have your boarding card? Have you packed your suitcase? Perfect. So let’s fly to Liguria, a coastal region of north-western Italy which is probably known for pesto, Genoa and the aquarium. Very few do know that these region is also well known – at least in my country – for these sweet little ‘kisses’, as the name goes, which come from Alassio, a city on the western coast of the region. Lore states that they were invented in the ’20s by Rinaldo Balzola, the then patissier of the House of Savoy, who modified the traditional recipe for Baci di Dama. The biscuits then became very popular, so much that by the end of the ’50s, every single bakery in the region had their own version. What with the authentic recipe being a jealously guarded secret, the different interpretations all differ because of the quantities and the ingredients used.

These Baci are oval-shaped and composed by two biscuit halves, which are then sandwiched together with a whipped ganache. The biscuits are made with hazelnuts (possibly from Piedmont), sugar, cocoa, egg whites, flour, butter, vanilla and aromas. The ganache is ‘whipped’ because the quantities of cream and chocolate are 1.5:1, which allows to whip the ganache and make it into a mousse-like consistency. The recipe below is one of the many adaptations available and I found it in an Italian recipe book about biscuits. I modified the recipe slightly and adapted the cooking times. Traditionally these biscuits are left to dry out overnight or for at least 12 hours. If you want to skip this step, like I did, follow the recipe below. Otherwise, increase the temperature to 200C and bake for only 12 minutes.

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Ingredients

  • 150g ground almonds
  • 100g ground hazelnuts
  • 375g icing sugar, sifted
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 30g honey
  • 35g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 90g egg whites, at room temperature
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa content)
  • 150ml double cream

Method

  1. Line two baking trays with parchment and set aside. Equip a piping bag with a star nozzle and also set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), combine the ground nuts, icing sugar and cocoa powder. Add the egg whites and use the paddle attachment to mix the ingredients together. Once you have a homogeneous mixture, add the butter and the honey and keep on mixing until thoroughly combined.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag. It will be firm, so no panic there. Squeeze out little mounds or rose-shaped mounds on the baking parchment, then transfer to the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  5. Once thoroughly chilled, transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Check the biscuits: if you see any dark wet bits, return to the oven for a further 5 minutes at 150C.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. In the meantime, start with the ganache.
  7. Finely chop the dark chocolate either by hand or in a food processor. In a saucepan, bring the double cream to the boil, then remove from the heat and pour onto the chocolate. Use a whisk to mix the cream in and allow the chocolate to melt completely. Set aside and cool slightly but keep on mixing to avoid the mixture separating.
  8. When you are ready to assemble, either use a freestanding mixer of electric whisk (I did it by hand) to whisk the ganache. You’ll need a good 10 minutes and the result should be a light and mousse-like chocolate ganache. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.
  9. Use the ganache to sandwich two biscuit halves together by squeezing some on one biscuit and topping this with another half. Repeat until you have used all of the biscuits, then transfer to the fridge to firm them up.

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Banana Bread

The BBC Good Food magazine has had a ‘healthy makeover’ section for a while now. I have always overlooked it and ignored because, let’s be frank, life without full fat cream cheese, butter and double cream really has no meaning. However, having ended up with some really ripe bananas (the black skin type ones, to be precise), I decided to give this recipe a go. After all, you can’t always turn down things in life.

I was lucky enough to find some authentic Greek yogurt in my local supermarket. The brand is FAGE and it’s the hardest and creamiest I have seen so far. It also tastes really good and it’s marketed (with a caption in Italian, weirdly enough) to be the real thing. Good enough for me. I also took a turn for the worse (or the fat, if you prefer) by substituting the walnuts in the original recipe with some chocolate chips. The mixture here is dense enough to hold them in place, so they won’t sink to the bottom but spread evenly throughout the cake. The pictures below I’m afraid don’t do the cake enough justice, but it really is delicious and the chocolate chips add just that extra flavour.

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Ingredients

  • 2 very ripe bananas, preferably with black skins
  • 1/2 lemon, zest only
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g plain flour
  • 50g plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 25g butter, diced
  • 85g light brown sugar
  • 100g dark chocolate chips
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 100g full-fat natural yogurt
  • 3 tbsp rapeseed (or flavourless vegetable) olive oil

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a loaf tin (about 1kg) with baking parchment.
  2. Peel the bananas, break them in pieces and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the vanilla.
  3. In another bowl, mix both the flours with the raising agents and ground almonds. Add the sugar, then tumble in the butter and rub it in with the tip of your fingers.
  4. In a jug, mix the yogurt with the eggs and the rapeseed oil, then add it to the rest of the mixture. Don’t worry if it looks too dry as the mixture is a bit on the stiff side, but keep on mixing (but don’t overmix!). Last addition, fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Pour the mixture in the loaf tin and level it out. Bake for 45 minutes, but check with a skewer whether the cake is done.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely.

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