Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

My good friends Hett, Kirsty and Dean are about to set out on one hell of a physical challenge – cycling 1000 miles – the length of the UK from Lands End in the south of England to John O’Groats at the very top of Scotland. They will do this by cycling on average 100 miles a day for 10 days straight. There will be lots of hills and wild weather to contend with.

Thinking of them preparing for this gruelling adventure and the fact that Hett is an absolute granola bar fiend, led me to whip up a batch of these in an attempt to supply her with a granola bar full of goodness instead of being loaded with butter and sugar like most are.

These little snacks are a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and good fats and are extremely filling. They make a good breakfast option on the run and they can be frozen as well which is handy. There are a few ingredients in these that you may want to substitute i.e. hemp protein powder or agave syrup if you can’t find them. I’ve listed the alternatives for you.

However, the one ingredient that I think you should try to source are the chia seeds. These little black and white seeds are a complete superfood and when mixed with water to form a gel (not dissimilar to tapioca in appearance) they become a slow release form of carbohydrate; the perfect energy food. Because you don’t need a lot and they can be used in all sorts of recipes or added to smoothies, yogurt, cereal etc you will find you can buy a small bag of chia seeds and they’ll last a long time. Worth the extra effort needed to find them I think!

Hemp Protein, Banana and Chia Seed Granola Bars

Hemp Protein & Chia Seed Granola Bars (ingredients adapted slightly from Sarah Britton’s version)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped (or any other nut)
1 cup dates, chopped (or any other dried fruit)
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup hemp protein powder (if you don’t have hemp powder use a protein powder that is as natural and neutral in flavour as possible)
1/4 cup linseeds or flaxseeds
2 tablespoons poppy or sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ripe bananas
1/4 cup sunflower oil (or coconut, olive, walnut…)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons agave syrup (maple syrup or honey can be used)

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.

2. In a small bowl, mix the chia seeds and water together. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients. I found it easier to use my hands for this to break up all the protein powder lumps.

4. In a food processor/blender or just mash with a fork; mix the bananas, oil, vanilla, and agave syrup. Add the chia seeds mix and pulse until smooth.

5. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir until well combined.

5. Pour the mixture into a 9″x11″ baking tray suitable for slices and press evenly until the top is smooth.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.

7. Let cool completely in the tin before cutting into squares or fingers. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Hett, Kirsty and Dean begin their epic journey this Saturday and they are raising money for Diabetes UK. If you would like to sponsor them, then you can do so here. Good luck guys xxx


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 Why Hummingbird Cake of course!


Hummingbird cake

I’ve made this a number of times for special occasions and it’s always a winner, especially with the boys for some reason. They of course always wolf down a couple of pieces, making sure to lick all the cream cheese icing off their fingers at the end and then proclaim they don’t have a sweet tooth…always! 😉

Hummingbird cake

Anyway, the trusty Hummingbird cake came out again for my friend Hett’s birthday party on the weekend and I took a couple of pics. Unfortunately, no photos of the cake cut as I didn’t think it was quite appropriate to turn up with a half cut cake for the birthday girl! But hopefully you’ll get the picture and believe me when I say this cake is so moist, full of flavour and exceptionally easy to make it’s worth considering when you have some ripe bananas that would normally go into a banana cake.

I use the Hummingbird Bakery recipe and like all their recipes I’ve tried, it’s pretty foolproof and produces excellent results. A very good baking book to add to anyone’s collection (thank you Anna!).

Hummingbird Cake from Hummingbird Bakery

300g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
300ml sunflower or canola oil
270g peeled and mashed, over-ripe bananas
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
300g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g tinned pineapple, drained and cut into small pieces
100g roughly chopped walnuts (or pecans)
600g sifted icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g cream cheese, cold
extra cinnamon for dusting over the icing
extra nuts for decorating
3x 20cm cake tins for a tiered cake, or you can just make it in one 20cm tin

 1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees celsius (325 degrees Fahrenheit) and make sure your oven tray is sitting in the middle of the oven.

2. Oil or butter the cake tin/s and line with greaseproof/baking paper.

3.  Place the sugar, eggs, oil, mashed banana and cinnamon in a large bowl and beat with an electric beater until all the ingredients are well combined. Don’t worry if the banana and oil makes the mixture look a bit curdled or split.

4. Have the flour already sifted in another bowl along with the baking soda, salt and vanilla extract. Add very slowly to the wet ingredients, beating continuously until all ingredients have been mixed in completely.

5. Stir in the chopped nuts and pineapple.

6. Pour the mixture into the tin/s and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean and the sponge bounces back when touched.

7. Leave to cool in the tin/s for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before icing and decorating.

For the cream cheese icing:
1. Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a large bowl with an electric hand beater on the lowest speed until well mixed.
*Tip* whenever a recipe calls for creaming or beating butter and sugar/icing sugar, I always start by beating the butter on its own first because that way when you add the sugar it won’t fly all over the kitchen!

2. Add all of the cream cheese and continue beating until completely incorporated. Turn the beat to the faster speed and beat until the icing is light and fluffy but before it starts to turn runny – about 5 minutes.

3. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing generously all over (and between layers if you’ve gone for the tiered option) and dust with cinnamon and decorate with the extra nuts, chopped or left whole.

This cake will make 10-12 slices and will keep very well due to the oil and nuts, but make sure you wrap in tinfoil and place in the fridge because of the cream cheese icing!

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I love this time of the year; all the twinkling lights, tinsel, wrapping paper and present shopping. The lead up to Christmas has a really exciting feel to it on this side of the world. The crisp coldness and the early darkness makes the lights of Regent Street, the roasted chestnut stands dotted around Oxford Circus and each glass of spicy mulled wine seem extra festive. I love nothing better than meeting friends at one of our favourite pubs like I did last night, to share a bottle of hearty vin rouge and exchange gifts before we all head our separate ways for Christmas Day.

Here is what I made for the girls – two of the tastiest little treats I can imagine, perfect to have on hand at Christmas time when you need a tiny pause between all the festivities. Perfect with a strong cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Merry Christmas everyone! xx

Panforte (on the left)
Panforte is an Italian fruit cake with a chewy texture created by combining the fruits and nuts with just enough sugar, honey and flour to bind it altogether. My version of this delicious treat is not so traditional, as I’ve replaced the candied citrus fruit and peel with dried cherries and cranberries, added hazelnuts to the almonds and cocoa and chocolate (which is found in many Italian Panforte recipes but not in the very original ones). 

– 90 grams dark cooking chocolate
– 1 cup toasted and roughly chopped hazelnuts
– 1 cup toasted and roughly chopped almonds
– 1/2 cup dried and roughly chopped cherries
– 1/2 cup dried and roughly chopped cranberries
– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon ground mixed spice/allspice
– 1/2 cup plain flour
– 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
– 2/3 cup white sugar (standard/granulated)
– 2/3 cup runny honey
– 1/2 cup icing sugar for dusting

Start by greasing an 8 inch/20cm tart or slice tin and then line with baking paper.

To toast the nuts, pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas Mark 4. Place the nuts on a baking tray and bake for 7-8 minutes until the nuts are starting to colour and releasing a lovely nutting aroma. Take care not to let them burn. Remove and leave to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 150 degrees C/300 degrees F/Gas mark 2.

Next place a heat-proof bowl over a simmering pot of water, break the chocolate into the bowl and stir to melt. Remove from the heat once all the chocolate has melted and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the toasted nuts, dried fruit, flour, cocoa and spices.

Next is the most important part, creating the sugar syrup. Place the sugar and honey in a small pot over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time to dissolve the sugar. Once the syrup begins to boil, stop stirring and let the syrup reach the soft ball stage (115 degrees C/240 degrees F). This is easy if you have a sugar thermometer. If not, drop a teaspoon of the syrup into a glass of cold water and if it hold its shape it’s reached the correct temperature. It will only take a few minutes once the syrup starts to boil for it to reach this stage.

Once the syrup has reached the soft ball stage, you need to work quickly before the syrup starts to set. Add the syrup and chocolate to the dry ingredients and quickly mix to combine. Transfer the mixture to your lined tin and spread evenly. I find that the easiest way to do this as the mixture begins to harden, is to use my hands moistened with water.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until you see tiny blisters/bubbles on the surface. Remove from the oven and after 5 minutes, remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.

While its cooling, liberally sift the icing sugar over the Panforte. Then gently rub the sugar in. Once it’s completely cooled, store in an airtight container and it will keep well for weeks.

Snowballs (on the right)
These little shortbread like gems are very similar to melting moments. In fact the only difference is that these have ground nuts in them. I think this is what makes snowballs extra special whilst retaining that amazingly delicious melt-in-your-mouth texture.Ingredients:
– 2/3 cup toasted hazelnuts (use almonds, pecans or walnuts if you prefer). You can also just use store-bought ground almonds if you want, although toasting and blitzing the nuts yourself adds a wonderful flavour and texture.
1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
– 1/4 cup icing sugar
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 2 cups standard plain flour
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas Mark 4. Place the nuts on a baking tray and bake for 7-8 minutes until the nuts are starting to colour and releasing a lovely nutting aroma. Take care not to burn. Remove and set aside to cool. Turn the oven off for now as you need to chill the dough for an hour so baking is a wee way off.

Once the nuts have cooled, place them in a food processor or blender with 2 tablespoons of the flour and blitz until they are finely ground.

Next cream the butter and icing sugar in a large bowl. The best way to do this is to use room temperature butter and cut it up into cubes first. Then, I always find that it’s easier to start beating the butter on its own until it’s slightly creamed before adding the sugar. That way, when you do add the sugar it combines quickly instead of flying everywhere. Beat the butter and sugar for a couple of minutes until it’s light, fluffy and pale in colour.

Beat in the vanilla extract, then add the remaining flour and salt and continue beating until combined. Stir in the ground nuts and then roll the dough into a ball, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour. This firms up the dough so that when you begin to roll out the balls they will hold their shape and not melt in your hands.

Once the dough has nearly finished chilling, preheat the oven back up to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas Mark 4 and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Take the chilled dough from the fridge and roll into small (2cm wide) balls and place about 2 cm apart on the baking trays. You should get about 3 dozen snowballs out of this quantity of dough.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the sides of the snowballs are just starting to colour. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

After about 5 minutes, dust liberally with icing sugar. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container and they will keep for a couple of weeks.

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the humble scone

We’re off to Prague this weekend, but if I wasn’t I’d probably be baking because that is exactly what is required in this sort of weather. It’s hard to feel anything but happy when you’re all cosy indoors, the heat from the oven is warming up the kitchen and delicious smells of sugar, butter and rising dough are wafting through the house. Divine.

What’s always a crowd pleaser surprisingly enough is the humble scone and they are so easy to whip up in as little as 20 minutes. In England, apart from plain scones, you will always be able to get your hands on a very good sultana scone. Quite often, although not as popular it seems over here, is of course the savoury scone in all it’s varieties. However, I personally prefer a sweet scone and my ultimate favourite are ones made with dates. And of course, typically, no one makes or sells date scones here! Why is that? I find this truly astounding considering they are ubiquitous in NZ and rightly so as they are so damn tasty.  Scones are such an institution in England, you’d think they’d have all types covered. Maybe it’s because it’s not the done thing to mess with such a tradition. Definitely their loss (well actually my loss…). Someone should start selling them here, I reckon they’d make a killing. You know how everyone’s always saying ‘why isn’t there more Antipodean style cafes around?!’ Well imagine an Antipodean style cafe that also sold date scones – genius! Someone do it, please!!! 

So because I can never buy a date scone, this is always the type I make for a treat that reminds me of home and my mum who brushes brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter on hers before they go in the oven making them extra decadent and delicious. Whenever my uncle was coming to visit, Mum and I would always make date scones. Not because they were his favourite, quite the opposite in fact.  We always felt a bit wicked doing this, but because he doesn’t really like date scones and also has a BIG appetite, we knew that there would always be some left over for us if we made date scones when he visited because he wouldn’t be inclined to eat them all himself! Mean perhaps but quite funny we thought…or maybe that’s just our weird sense of humour.

Anyway, here is the recipe so that you can enjoy too!

Date Scones










Date Scones (makes 12)

– 3 cups plain flour
– 6 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 3/4 – 1 cup of pitted, chopped dates
– 1 tablespoon castor sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 75g butter
– 250 – 375ml milk, approximately
– 1 tablespoon brown sugar
– 2 tablespoons melted butter
– pinch of ground cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees celsius.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl.

Cut the butter into cubes, add to the dry ingredients and gently rub with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the chopped dates, sugar and cinnamon and give a quick mix to combine.

Add 250ml of the milk at first and mix quickly with a knife until a soft but quite sticky/wet dough is formed. Add more milk if the mixture is too dry. Knead a few times.

Lightly dust a baking tray with flour and press the dough out onto it until it’s about 1 inch/couple of cm high.

Cut into 12 equal pieces and then arrange them on the tray with 1 cm of space between each scone.

Melt the butter, stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon until the sugar has dissolved and then brush the tops with the mixture. This of course is optional but definitely recommended! You can always just brush with a little extra milk or egg yolk if preferred. But do one or the other to ensure your scones come out looking nice and golden. Even scones need a bit of fake tan in this weather!!

Bake for 10-12 mins or until golden brown. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack before serving warm with jam and cream and a big pot of steaming tea.

A few tips
1. for the mixture to form fine breadcrumbs, you must use cold butter straight from the fridge (don’t leave it out to soften at all)
2. don’t worry too much about the height or uniformity of your dough when cutting into scones – a bit of unevenness adds character!
3. if you are unusual and don’t like dates, then you can go plain by just omitting the dates, sugar and cinnamon or you could swap out the dates for the same quantity of sultanas.

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