Whatever ales you..

(Little ale spelt cakes)

It is Day 4 in the world of this happy vacationer. So far, she has made plans to go to the beach, remembered to water the plants (twice), cleared the pantry of all heinously expired bottles and jars, reorganised her sock drawer and at the end of a long satisfying day, cracked open a beer. To bake with.

Three bites of an ale cake later and she’s searching for her phone to tell her best friend how tasty these cakes are; how much she loves her and how sorry she is that they haven’t met up for nearly 6 months. Work, y’know.

How she finally picked up a paperback on Day 1 and felt light headed with the pleasure of reading. Or on Day 2 when she woke up and played Lisa Hannigan loudly while dancing in the kitchen.

And when the ale cakes were gone, she used the leftover beer to make a small amount of sorbet. Bittersweet beer sorbet topped with salted candied peanuts, enjoyed one slow spoonful at a time.

(Beer sorbet with candied peanuts)

Yep, vacation’s going pretty well.

Little ale spelt cakes :
(based on a recipe by Jill Dupleix)

80g butter
300g sultanas
90g brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
130g pale ale, or beer of choice
1 egg
160g spelt flour

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Grease a mini popover or mini muffin pan.

In a pan, add the butter, raisins, brown sugar, spices, bicarbonate of soda and beer. Bring to the boil, stirring, then remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Once cool, whisk in the egg and then mix in the flours with a spatula. Divide the mixture between the muffin or popover holes.

Bake for 14 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool before removing cakes from pan.

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Amaranth “Happiness” Candy

(Amaranth “happiness” candy)

A very good friend has been complaining about being single. Her objection to spinsterhood (plus one cat) stems mostly from the fact she feels as though she has done everything expected in life – education, job, own home, own car – and yet there is still one thing that remains so elusive – a relationship. Commit to doing all the right things and happiness will follow? So not true, she grumbled.

I guess I could’ve given her the spiel about how some things take time. That we often place greater value on what we don’t have, rather than what we already have. I could’ve said a million things and sprouted enough catch phrases to fill three self-help books, but it seemed as though this was one of those times where all you’re expected to do is listen. If we’re lucky, age and experience eventually fills in the gaps where advice from friends have failed.

I was once lucky enough to work for an amazing chef whose technique still influences me to this day. There was a piece of advice she gave me out of the blue one day, that really stuck with me (though I didn’t realise it at the time). She said, Never be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. It has taken almost five years for this to sink in. It wasn’t about suddenly gaining a measure of self-worth. I think I finally remembered that I had value.

No one is going to evaluate you like a piece of furniture or a 3-bedroom house. Self-worth is something you have to price for yourself, not forgetting that happiness does not automatically follow.

Incidentally, I know a good looking 30-something female with a steady career and wide circle of friends who is looking for a similar guy with a long term relationship in mind. Know any one suitable? Drop me a line.

Amaranth “Happiness” Candy :
(recipe from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson)

1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup lightly toasted peanuts
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds [I used sunflower seeds]
8 ounces chopped piloncillo [I used 200g brown sugar]
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
4 ounces puffed amaranth seeds [I used 120g]

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Combine the pecans, peanuts, raisins and pumpkin seeds in a bowl and spread on the prepared pan.

Combine the piloncillo, honey and lemon juice in a medium pot over medium heat and cook until the piloncillo has melted and the mixture has thickened slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the amaranth seeds, stirring quickly to mix everything well. Pour into the pan with the nuts and seeds, and carefully press down with slightly damp hands (so you don’t burn yourself) to compact the mixture.

Allow to cool completely, 30 to 40 minutes at least, then invert onto a cutting board. Cut the mixture into the desired shapes with a sharp knife. If it seems to be sticking to the knife, simply dip the knife into hot water, dry, and continue cutting.

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One bake, two bake, chocolate and cranberry biscotti

(Chocolate and Cranberry Biscotti)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t make biscotti often. Something about that double baking requirement, often leaves me a bit too impatient. If I crave chocolate, I want it now, not two bakes later.

There are several exceptions to the rule, and Claudia Fleming’s recipe for chocolate biscotti is one of them. The pictures probably don’t do the recipe much justice. So perhaps I could offer a few words of advice instead.

1. I’ve actually made this recipe repeatedly, but I don’t think many (or any) of my friends are aware of it. It’s so good, it’s like a reclusive celebrity that rarely leaves the house.
2. It’s like a crispy brownie.
3. It’s the only version of hard tack that I’d ever want to take into a battle field. A baking battle field, that is.
4. If you can’t be bothered to bake it the second time, it actually tastes pretty darn awesome already, after the first bake.

And with that, cue recipe.

Chocolate and cranberry biscotti :
(based on a recipe from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming)

130g dried cranberries
290g whole unblanched almonds
325g plain flour
360g dark brown sugar
100g caster sugar
100g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
60g unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons coffee extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
210g 70% chocolate chips

Place the cranberries in a bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to cover. Allow to cool then drain.

Preheat oven to 160’C.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and set on low speed, mix together the flour, sugars, cocoa, salt and baking soda. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the butter and extracts, mixing to combine. Stir in the almonds, chocolate and cranberries. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.

With wet hands, divide the dough into 2 logs, each 2 inches in diameter. Place them on lined baking trays and bake until firm. 30-35 minutes. Cool completely on rack. At this point, I prefer to chill the logs in the fridge for a few hours to make it easier to slice.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log on the diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange on lined baking sheets and dry in a 95’C oven for 1 to 1/2 hours until firm and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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