With Easter just around the corner this usually results in a flurry of sweet chocolate based baking. This year, along with the usual sweet treats I decided to make an eggception and eggspand into the savoury section and bake an eggcellent pizza too – and it’s egg shaped – how eggciting! *after receiving many rolling of eyes* Ok, enough of the egg related puns!
When people mention Easter and food I’m sure most of us instantly think of chocolate eggs and other sweet goodies, but I don’t see why the Easter egg theme can’t be applied to savoury foods too – afterall traditionally chocolate has nothing to do with Easter. I have been planning on making pizza for a while now and today finally got around to organising myself to make it. While shaping the base I decided to have a bit of fun and make it egg shaped and then to decorate the top in a design. It sort of worked, just squint a bit…see the olives are gems and the pepper strips and the zig-zag design. I may not be the best looking egg inspired pizza, but I had fun being creative and it tasted yummy and that’s what matters.
My pizza took a Greek route as I had some olives and feta to use up in the fridge but obviously you can add whatever takes your fancy. You can make bespoke individual egg shaped pizzas to suit your friends and families topping preferences or if they are not fussy then just bake a giant one and divide it up.
I used my favourite pizza dough recipe for the base, it’s a no knead dough that simply needs mixing together the night before and then leaving in the fridge overnight to slowly bubble and develop into a lovely silky soft and stretchy dough. It couldn’t be easier and means you can be eating pizza within 20 minutes of walking in the door the following day, much quicker than a takeaway or even a shop bought pizza.
I hope everyone has an eggcellent Easter!
For the pizza dough
320g strong plain white flour
¾ tsp salt
15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)
30ml olive oil
210ml warm water
1 tsp caster sugar
1 large can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Toppings of your choice
Sun dried tomatoes
Method – for the pizza dough
Heat the water until it is just warm to the touch but not hot. Add the olive oil and crumble in the fresh yeast and sugar. Stir until dissolved.
Place the flour and salt into a large bowl and pour over the yeast mixture. Mix together using the tips of your fingers until a sticky dough is formed.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed until smooth, around 3 minutes. The dough should become less sticky although still tacky to the touch.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with clingfilm. Place in the fridge overnight or for up to 5 days.
Tear off chunks of dough when required.
Makes enough dough for 3 x 9inch pizzas.
For the tomato topping
Peel and finely dice the onion. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and oregano. Cook until soft, then finely crush the garlic and add to the pan. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes, sundried tomato paste and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Allow to simmer for 15 minutes until the mixture has reduced and thickened.
Allow to cool in the pan, then transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until required.
Makes enough sauce to cover 3 pizza bases.
When ready to eat the pizza, preheat the oven to its hottest setting, usually around 250-275C. Place a pizza stone or baking tray into the oven to heat up.
Have a sheet of baking parchment or a silicone mat ready and dust the top with flour or fine cornmeal.
Lightly dust your hands with flour and tear off a third of the pizza dough. Gently stretch it, pulling from the middle outwards, to your desired thickness.
When the dough is quite thin, lay it onto a sheet of baking parchment or a silicone mat and pull into shape.
Spread a third of the tomato sauce over the top, leaving a small rim around the edge.
Add the toppings - assorted vegetables or meats of your choosing and a few torn basil leaves.
Grate or crumble the cheese of your choice over the top.
Remove the hot baking tray from the oven and quickly slide the sheet of baking parchment with your pizza on it, onto the baking tray and return to the oven. (This ensures the base is cooked and crisp at the same time as the top).
Bake for 8-10 minutes until the crisp, golden brown and bubbling.
Eat and enjoy.
If you are still craving something sweet then here is a list of my previous Easter themed sweet treats. Simnel Cake – traditionally for Mothers Day but now often associated with Easter.
I realised recently that there is a distinct lack of cookies on this blog. That’s not because I don’t like cookies, far from it, but given the choice of cookie or cake – I choose cake every time. However, I thought it was about time I had a little break from cake, dusted off my baking trays and baked some cookies.
My brother in currently in his first year of uni and every month I have been sending him little packages of baked goodies. So far he has had cereal bars, brownies and peanut butter krispie treats and this month I thought it would be ideal to send him some of the cookies I was planning to make – another incentive.
These cookies are your simple crowd pleasing chocolate chip cookie. Quick and easy to make, crispy round the outside and chewy in the centre. I used a combination of white and dark chocolate that I cut into pieces myself in order to keep it nice and chunky. I used an ice cream scoop to measure out my cookie dough which helped make the cookies lovely and thick, ensuring a chewier centre.
I posted most of them to my brother who demolished the lot in about 2 days flat, so I think he liked them. Personally I would have liked them to be a little softer, as well as having a chewy centre, but this is just personal preference. Anyone got any tips for achieving a softer cookie, or should I just bake them for a couple of minutes less?
They were best when still warm, while the chocolate was all soft and melty.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
70g caster sugar
80g dark soft brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
50g dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line two baking trays with baking paper or silicone liners.
Beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Add the caster and dark brown sugars and beat until combined.
Mix in the egg and vanilla (don’t worry if it looks a little scrambled) followed by the flour and baking powder. Mix until just combined.
Chop the white and dark chocolate into 1cm chunks. Work them into the dough until well incorporated.
Use an old fashioned ice cream scoop to measure out equal scoops of dough. Place them on the trays with 3-4cm space between each one. Flatten the balls slightly with your fingers until you have a thick disc rather than a mound.
Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. They should be lightly brown around the edges but still seem quite soft in the centre. (They firm up on cooling).
Allow to cool on the trays for 1 minute before transferring to a cooling rack.
Pineapple upside down cake is a much loved cake dessert. The rings of pineapple filled with a shiny maraschino cherry make it instantly recognisable. It is traditionally made in a cast iron skillet, started off on the hob and finished in the oven, but it works equally well in a cake tin.
Believe it or not until I made this cake I had never tasted a pineapple upside down cake before, so I was delighted when it won the vote for this month’s Cake Slice choice. Now I have tasted it, I will definitely be making it again. I loved the whole fruit, cake, caramel combo.
A word to the wise though – if you make it in a springform tin (like I did) make sure you either wrap the outside of the tin well in foil or place it on a baking tray. I did neither and soon found out that a springform tin will not hold the beginnings of bubbling caramel. It managed to seep out of the tin and start dripping into the base of the oven within the first 10 minutes. This then burnt and produced smoke signals that some ancient tribes would have been proud of!! I hastily stuck the tin on a tray and wiped the oven as best I could – thankfully it didn’t seem to affect the cake, but you have been warned!
Making the caramel is very simple. A mix of melted butter and dark brown sugar are sprinkled over the base of a pan before being topped with rings of pineapple and glossy red maraschino cherries. This is then topped with a thick vanilla sponge and baked. The juices from the pineapple seep out of the fruit and combine with the butter and dark brown sugar in the base to produce a delicious dark and treacly caramel layer, which becomes the top once turned out. The cake top/base is a little dense, but this means it happily soaks up all the pineapple juices and the caramel once inverted, making one delicious dessert.
I loved how the caramel layer added a bronze glaze to the pineapple rings. The first flavour when taking a bite was of sweet and treacly caramel but this was counterbalanced as the pineapple released its slightly sharp, yet tropical juice as you bit into it.
I made this when my grandmother was visiting for dinner and she said she remembered it with great fondness from her childhood. This created a long discussion about other food memories and recipes. I think its amazing how certain dishes or flavours can transport us back to events that may have happened years ago.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
1 x 430-450g can pineapple rings, in juice
140g dark brown sugar
10 maraschino or glace cherries
180g plain flour
155g caster sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
50g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp pineapple juice from can
Method – Pineapple Topping
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Drain the pineapple well, reserving 2 tablespoons of the juice for the cake batter. Melt the butter in a 10inch/25cm cast iron skillet over medium heat. Or, melt the butter and pour it over the base of a 9inch/23cm round cake tin.
Remove the pan from the stove and sprinkle the brown sugar over the buttery surface. Place the pineapple rings carefully on top of the scattered brown sugar and melted butter, arranging them so they fit in 1 layer. (You may have a few left over). Place a cherry in the centre of each ring, and set the pan aside.
Method - Cake
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and gently mix. Add the milk and butter and beat well with a mixer, scraping down the bowl once or twice until you have a thick, fairly smooth batter, about 1 minute.
Add the egg, reserved pineapple juice and the vanilla and beat until well incorporated, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides.
Carefully pour the batter over the pineapple and use a spoon to spread it evenly to the edges of the pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the cake is golden brown and springs back when touched lightly in the centre. Cool in the skillet or pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack.
When the pan is still hot, run a knife around the edge of the pan to release any cooling caramel and use oven gloves to carefully invert the warm cake onto a serving plate.
Today is Mothers Day here in the UK. Along with cups of tea in bed, a card and some flowers, it is traditional for daughters to bake and present their mothers with a special cake on Mothers Day, known as a Simnel Cake.
A simnel cake is a light fruitcake containing sultanas, apricots and cherries that is topped off with a layer of marzipan and decorated with 11 marzipan balls around the edge. This fruitcake is also extra special as it also contains a middle layer of marzipan that is baked into the cake itself, producing a delicious moist and gooey almond centre layer. It’s quite unique and I know of no other cake which does this. The marzipan on top of the cake is often also toasted gently under a grill to give it a lovely golden appearance and a little more depth of flavour. Alternatively you can go at it with a blowtorch (I did!) and find this helps to give a more even browning.
Simnel cake is now often associated with Easter, but it is traditionally a Mothers Day cake and one that has been going on for decades. Young girls who lived and worked away from home in service were given half a day off on Mothering Sunday, during which they would bake this cake and take it home to their mothers.
The eleven marzipan balls around the edge are meant to represent the eleven disciples, minus the traitor Judas. However, I’m unsure if this was present on the traditional Mothers Day simnel cake as this seems to symbolise an event more associated with Easter, so this may have been added later. Either way if you are a lover of marzipan getting a slice of cake with one of the marzipan balls is an extra treat.
My mother and I both love this cake and I try to bake her one every year in secret. Its light and studded with a colourful array of fruits. The sweet gooey marzipan adding a wonderful flavour. I find it a very enjoyable experience as mixing the batter always gets me reflecting back on happy memories, mixing a little love and care into the cake itself. I’m sure this is one of the reasons it tastes so good, as a cake made with love, for someone you love is truly a special thing.
Happy Mothers Day Mum
(Recipe adapted from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book)
50g extra dried fruit of choice – raisins, pear, cranberries etc
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease and line the base and sides of a deep 8inch/20cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Weigh the sugar, butter, flour, ground almonds, eggs and spices into a bowl. Beat together using an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the milk.
Weigh out the dried fruit and chop the apricots and cherries into large pieces using a pair of scissors.
Fold all the dried fruit into the cake batter.
Pour half the cake mix into the tin and spread into an even layer.
Take 100g of the marzipan and roll out into a circle. Use the base of the cake tin to cut out a circle. Place this circle of marzipan on top of the cake batter in the pan. Top with the remaining cake mix and spread out evenly.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour before quickly removing the cake from the oven, covering the top of the tin with foil to prevent it from browning any further and return the tin to the oven for a further 30-40 minutes.
It should be firm yet springy to the touch when cooked.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, release from the tin and carefully peel off the greaseproof paper.
Thinly roll out the remaining marzipan and cut out another circle, using the cake tin as a guide like before.
Heat the apricot jam until soft. Brush over the top of the cake and place the marzipan disc on top. Use your fingers to crimp the edges slightly.
Gather up the leftover scraps of marzipan and roll into 11 balls. Use a little jam or water to attach them around the rim of the cake.
Heat your grill and place the cake under the grill and allow the marzipan to toast and go golden brown. Rotate the cake as needed and keep a careful eye on it as it will start to brown very suddenly. Alternatively use a blowtorch (I find this works best) or leave natural.
Tie a ribbon around the cake and present to your Mum.
I’ve had a busy week and sometimes when I’m particularly tired I just crave a bit of comfort food. Cake is usually my comfort food of choice, but sometimes even cake isn’t enough. Sometimes I want something warm and milky, something that comes steaming in a bowl that I can wrap my hands around and feel the warmth spread through my fingers and body start to relax before I’ve even taken a spoonful. Today was one of those days.
This afternoon when I opened the fridge door my eyes settled on a bowl of fresh cherries that were starting to look a little droopy and the thought that went through my head was ‘I bet they would be great as a compote’ which led to ‘I bet that compote would taste great on top of some rice pudding….ohhh rice pudding.... I could really eat some rice pudding right now.’
As the rice pudding started to simmer away on the hob, the room was filled with the rich, creamy, slightly sweet aroma of hot milk that always seems to soothe the soul. As I methodically stirred the pan and the rice became plump and tender I could almost peel myself start to unwind and relax. The cherries took on a whole new lease of life in their compote state and I also spiked them with a little almond extract for extra flavour.
Within 30 minutes I was nestled up on the sofa, hugging my bowlful of warm milky rice pudding topped with a spoonful of the glossy cherry compote. And relax…
Vanilla Rice Pudding with Cherry Almond Compote Vanilla Rice Pudding 150g pudding rice 650ml milk ½ vanilla pod ½ tsp vanilla extract 2 tbsp caster sugar
Cherry Almond Compote 100g cherries 2 tbsp caster sugar ½ tsp arrowroot ½ tsp almond extract 100ml water
Method Place all of the rice pudding ingredients into a large saucepan and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Heat gently allowing the milk to heat up gradually, stirring every 5 minutes. Once hot, increase the heat until the milk is simmering and leave to cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until the rice has absorbed most of the milk and become plump and tender. You may want to stir continuously when there is only a little milk left to prevent the rice from sticking to the base of the pan. Eat a small spoonful of the rice to test for doneness. It should be soft and tender. If it is still a little chalky or al dente, then add another 100ml of rice and cook for a further 5 minutes before tasting again. While the rice is cooking, prepare the cherry compote. De-stone the cherries and cut then into small pieces. Place in a small saucepan along with the water and sugar and heat until bubbling. Allow to bubble for 5 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half, slightly syrupy and glossy and the cherries softened. Dissolve the arrowroot in a small amount of cold water and stir into the cherries. Remove from the heat and stir until the syrup has thickened slightly and become glossy. Finally stir in the almond extract. Set aside until needed. Once your rice pudding is cooked, serve in individual bowls topped with a large spoonful of the cherry compote. Also tastes great topped with chocolate drops, a spoonful of jam or some fresh berries. Best enjoyed just after making if you want to eat it hot, although also tastes delicious cold. Serves 3-4 Note: If you want to reheat a portion the next day, place a small amount in your serving bowl and add 50ml milk (it will have become very thick overnight). Heat in the microwave or a small pan until piping hot.
I adore the bread you can buy from artisan bakeries. You know the kind - the ones with the thin crisp golden crust, a tender crumb studded with air holes and a nice chew. I have tried many times to create this at home, baking bread on a pizza stone, spritzing the oven with water, brushing the bread with salted water, but nothing has ever come close…until now!!
I recently read about a man named Jim Lahey who has a technique for baking bread in a cast iron pot. I was intrigued and decided to give it a go. All I can say is the photos more than speak for themselves – it was an absolute success! I have no idea who Jim Lahey is but he’s a genius in my books.
The technique involves making a dough that is very moist and wet. This is left to prove overnight before being transferred to a preheated cast iron dish and baked with the lid on.
As it was my first attempt, I used a very simple bread recipe of just flour, water, yeast and a little salt. The dough was very sticky and wet. After its overnight proving you can see just how elastic it became and absolutely full of air holes.
I heated my Le Creuset casserole dish and flopped the dough into it… the results were incredible! It came out perfectly risen with the beginnings of a crust. After a few extra minutes without the lid it became wonderfully crisp and golden. I loved the crack along the top, proving a hint at the texture underneath. The inside crumb was so full of air holes and had such a wonderful springy soft texture whose appearance and taste reminded me very strongly of Ciabatta. If I didn’t know, I would have guessed that the dough was made with olive oil.
I’m guessing that because of the moisture content in the bread, steam is created in the confided space of the pot which helps form the crust while it’s surrounded by the intense heat of cast iron on all sides. This means a wonderful crisp and chewy crust is formed whilst enabling the crumb to remain light, soft and airy in texture.
The bread was just as good as any I have bought from artisan bakeries and I love how rustic and natural it looks, crisp and golden with a few flour streaks. I can’t wait to experiment with other flavours and varieties. I would never have thought of baking bread in a casserole dish but I urge you to give it a go, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Casserole Dish Baked Bread (Technique inspired by Jim Lahey) Ingredients 360g strong white bread flour 1 ¼ tsp salt 330ml water 7g dried yeast
Method Heat the water until it is just warm to the touch and stir in the yeast. Leave to one side to allow the yeast to dissolve and bubble. Weigh out the flour into a large bowl and stir in the salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeasty water. Stir with your fingertips until it begins to form a very wet and sticky dough. Scatter a work surface generously with flour and tip the dough out onto it. Working quickly, knead the dough for about 2 minutes, folding the sides into the middle, it should still be very wet and sticky, so don’t try and knead too much extra flour into the dough. Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove overnight or for at least 10 hours. The next day, the dough should be risen and full of large air holes. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knock it back with 2 or 3 kneads and form into a round ball. Dust a tea towel generously with flour and place the dough into the centre. Fold the edges of the towel over the top and leave to rise for 2hours. When ready to bake, put a sturdy cast iron casserole dish, complete with lid, into a cold oven and preheat the oven to 230C. Once hot, remove from the oven and quickly flip the bread dough off the tea towel and into the casserole dish. Replace the lid on the dish and return the pot to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes. Then remove the lid from the casserole dish and allow the bread to continue baking for a further 15 to colour the crust a lovely golden colour. Once baked, remove from the oven and use a fish slice to lift the bread out of the dish and transfer it to a wire rack to cool. Makes 1 large loaf
I was in the mood for something sweet and spicy. Something with a bit of texture and also a little bit sticky and gooey. I couldn’t decide between carrot cake and cinnamon buns and was getting annoyed at myself for spending too long agonising over the decision. I decided to just make both, but we didn’t need both and they would go to waste, so I was back to square one. I asked my family and they didn’t mind - not very helpful. I then hit upon the idea of combining the two to make carrot cake inspired cinnamon buns – the more I thought about it the happier I became.
I adapted a recipe for cinnamon buns I have been meaning to try for a while and just added all my favourite parts of carrot cake to the dough. Grated carrot, a mix of spices and pecans. I also added raisins to the filling and decided to top the whole thing off with a cream cheese frosting instead of the usual glace icing.
I just went with my instincts and removed an egg from the original recipe to compensate for the extra moisture from the grated carrots. I switched white sugar for brown and used fresh rather than dried yeast as I had some in the fridge. I ended up with a spiced nutty dough, flecked with carrot and filled with spiced sugar and raisins.
Once prepared and baked they looked good and they smelt amazing, sweet, spicy and yeasty but I still wasn’t sure how they would taste. I cut a square, still hot from the oven, and spread it with some cream cheese frosting and pulled off my first bite...delicious. The dough was soft and springy thanks to the egg and milk used in the mix which keeps it tender. The spicy sugar had melted into a sticky middle glaze and the nuts and raisins added extra texture and variety in each bite. The frosting was fresh tasting, creamy and cool in temperature against the hot bun, melting slightly into the swirls. It had a slight sweetness but maintained its characteristic tangy flavour.
I loved tearing off little bits, unwinding the swirl to reach the gooey sticky centre. It could still do with a little tweaking, but it was still lick-your-fingers good. The best of both worlds combined into one delicious treat. You won’t be able to resist having another one – I know I couldn’t!
Carrot Cake Cinnamon Buns Spiced Carrot Dough 235ml milk 1 egg 75g butter 620g strong white bread flour 1 tsp salt 25g fresh yeast 125g light soft brown sugar 150g carrot 50g pecans 1 tsp cinnamon ½ tsp mixed spice ½ tsp ground ginger
Method – for the spiced carrot dough Place the butter in a small bowl and heat in the microwave until melted. Pour over the milk and heat again for 30 seconds until the milk is warm to the touch but not hot. Stir in a tablespoon of the sugar and crumble in the fresh yeast. Stir to combine and leave to stand for 10 minutes. In a large bowl weigh out the flour, salt, spices and remaining sugar. Coarsely grate over the carrots. Beat the egg into the milky yeast mixture and pour over the dry mix. Stir together using the tips of your fingers and bring the mixture together to form a sticky dough. Roughly chop the pecans, you still want them in fairly large pieces though. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the nuts into the dough. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth, elastic and less sticky, about 8-10 minutes. Lightly grease the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with cling film and place in a warm place to prove for 1½-2 hours until doubled in volume. I find the airing cupboard works well. While you wait, prepare the filling and topping.
Filling Combine the sugar and cinnamon together and mix well to combine. Have the butter and raisins weighed out in bowls and set aside.
Topping Beat the cream cheese and vanilla until smooth. Add the icing sugar to taste. You want it sweet yet still with a good tang to it as the buns themselves are quite sweet. Keep in the fridge until required.
Assembly Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a long rectangle, about 15x20 inches. Melt the filling butter and drizzle over the surface of the dough. Use a pastry brush to spread it out evenly. Scatter the cinnamon sugar over the entire surface. Sprinkle over the raisins and press down lightly. Starting at the longest edge, roll the dough into a roll. Use a serrated bread knife to cut the dough into 12-18 sections – depending on how long your roll is or how fat you like your buns. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch deep baking tray and arrange the buns in the tin. They don’t have to be swished in too much as they will expand and grow during baking. Leave to prove in a warm place for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Bake the buns for 15 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool for 2-3 minutes before cutting a square and spreading with a dollop of the cream cheese topping. Eat and enjoy while still warm and gooey. If you don’t fancy the tangy cream cheese topping, and want something a little sweeter, a simple glace icing of water and icing sugar can be used instead. Makes 12-18 buns Beat eaten on day of baking or else reheated for 5 minutes in a hot oven the following day. Also, freeze well.