Gingerbread Biscuits

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This weekend I’ve been overcome by the spirit of Christmas, and what better way to kick off the celebrations than with a traditional batch of gingerbread biccies.

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This is my go to recipe which I come back to year after year and it never does me wrong. (I found it on the Channel 4 website once upon a time, but it seems to have disappeared!) The fabulous thing about this gingerbread is that it doesn’t just contain ginger but also fragrant cinnamon and cloves giving it the ultimate christmassy flavour.

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These biscuits are slightly crunchy on the outside but perfectly soft and fluffy on the inside, making them perfect for pairing with a cuppa or better yet a glass of steaming mulled wine.

(By the way, check out the awesome rolling pin in the pic above that my sis got me for my birthday, it actually writes Scaredy Cat Kitchen in the dough! Thanks Jules!) (continue reading…)

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Cheddar & Thyme Crackers

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Today feels like a comfort food kind of a day, sometimes it’s the only way to alleviate that Sunday fug and when I think of comfort food, I think of cheese (and mashed potato, but that would make a pretty poor blog post). Thankfully I already had all of the ingredients necessary to make some absolutely marvellous cheese crackers, so I didn’t have to drag myself to the shops.

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These crackers are puffed, flakey and intensely cheesy and would be utterly brilliant at a cocktail party or with a cheeky vino on a Friday night. Alternatively just wolf them whilst slobbing out on the sofa in front of cooking show after cooking show on the Food Network. Sounds good to me.

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They’re predominantly made out of mature cheddar cheese and very little else, which is undoubtably what makes them so completely gorgeous. Joy the Baker’s original recipe makes 70 crackers, which would be much too dangerous in this household, so I’ve halved the recipe. I also decided to sub the spices for thyme, as the gorgeousness of cheddar combined with thyme can’t be beat, and the smell when they’re cooking, oh my word, hold me back! (continue reading…)

Double Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

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Last time I visited New York, I frequented a lovely Soho restaurant called The Dutch. After a very tasty meal, of which I no longer recall the detail, the bill arrived with a couple of petit fours which stuck in my memory much more clearly.

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Super chocolatey cookies with a little thumbprint of white chocolate in the centre. Immediately thumbprint cookies were added to my blog to do list.

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This weekend I finally got a chance to whip some up and not only were they scrumptious, (if not quite what I’d had in NYC) but bagged up and decorated with a bit of ribbon they made an ideal hostess gift! (continue reading…)

Sticky Ginger, Dark Chocolate Dipped, Flapjacks

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First thing’s first, I must apologise to anyone who clicked though to this post expecting to see some pancakes. Nope these aren’t pancakes, they’re granola bars, but as far as I’m concerned oats, butter and golden syrup = flapjack.  Sorry Americans!

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My boyfriend’s first and only attempt at baking, and in addition, the first thing he ever cooked for me,  was some coconut and apricot flapjacks. They may have crumbled into tiny shards, but they were utterly scrumptious.  Therefore, flapjacks have a special place in my heart. And then, I saw Nigel Slater dip a flapjack into melted dark chocolate and I almost fainted.

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So when one of my friends requested a tray bake that could possibly be eaten for breakfast, I knew what had to be done.  Admittedly the addition of chocolate makes these a pretty decadent breakfast but it’s only a thin coating, go on treat yourself! (continue reading…)

Salted Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Biscotti

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Salt and sweet, for me it’s a life long love affair. Despite the fact that I’m as British as bangers and mash, my childhood lunch of choice was most definitely the all-American peanut butter and jam sandwich, PB and J if you will / must. (I’m sorry, I just can’t call it jelly, you have to draw the line somewhere!)

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As I’ve matured (umm…) and developed a mildly crazy peanut phobia, so my tastes have evolved, but my salty/sweet love has not abated. I could eat chocolate covered pretzels until they’re coming out of my ears, but my most recent obsession is the salted chocolate chip cookie.

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Having previously whipped up a very tasty batch of salted pistachio and dark chocolate cookies, I was keen to find out whether a salted biscotti would work equally well. And let me tell you, salted chocolate seems to work in just about anything! (continue reading…)

Honey Creme Brûlée with Rosemary Shortbread (and Slow Cooked Lamb!)

Creme brûlée

My flatmate and I love playing the grown up and hosting mock-sophisticated dinner parties. On the rare occasion that we both have a weekend at home we’ll invite a few friends round (not too many, owing to our tiny dining table) and the deal is, Jess takes charge of savoury and sweet is my territory. This bank holiday was just such an occasion.

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Jess whipped up her party piece of slow roasted lamb with (as Nigella always says) jewel-like pomegranate seeds and fresh mint, taken from the marvellous book, Kitchen by Nigella Lawson.

Here she is, beating the crap out of a pomegranate, before dropping it on the floor and showering the kitchen in pips. This flat is no stranger to pomegranate mishaps. Last time we made this dish I somehow managed to get pomegranate juice roughly 7 feet up the kitchen wall. Skills.

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With the lamb, we feasted on a simple, yet effective quinoa and broad bean salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and some chargrilled baby courgettes with feta. Absolutely perfect for an unusually sunny summer bank holiday.

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So then it was my turn. This time I opted to try my hand at a honey creme brûlée and some rosemary shortbread.

Rosemary

The inspiration for the rosemary shortbread came from my friend Emily of Lady Cycle, who recently thrashed me in a bake off with just such a buttery treat. I would claim that I was robbed, but her shortbread was utterly gorgeous!

Rosemary shortbread

Using a food processor to whip up these biscuits results in a ridiculously crumbly texture, which, most likely, can be credited to the butter staying nice and cool. This shortbread is the very definition of ‘short’.

The rosemary is pretty subtle, more of a fragrance really and it will make your kitchen smell so good!

Rosemary shortbread 2

This wasn’t my first foray into the world of the blow torch, but I’m pretty sure mine has been gathering dust in a cupboard for the best part of 10 years. (Man, I feel old!) But after watching a recent episode of Celebrity Masterchef, which featured a scrambled egg like disaster of a creme brûlée, I was a little worried about overcooking mine.

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I needn’t have worried, it turns out that it’s incredibly easy! I don’t know if it’s the fact that the custard was made using honey instead of sugar, but the resulting dish was soooooo smooth! I was super proud of it, I don’t think I’ve ever made a dish this nice before! Please, please, please give it a go next time you want to pretend to be a grown up!

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Honey Creme Brûlée with Rosemary Shortbread
Serves 6 with a few biscuits to spare

The shortbread
Adapted slightly from Chrissy Carter

Apologies for the mixture of old school and American measurements, I just can’t get my head around tablespoons of butter!

Ingredients:
4 oz cold, unsalted butter
1/4 cup caster sugar, plus a little extra for topping
1/2 tsp of finely chopped fresh rosemary
pinch of salt
1 cup of plain flour

In a food processor blitz together the butter, sugar, rosemary and salt until nicely combined. Add the flour a little at a time, turning on the processor between each addition, until you have a sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of cling film, roll it into a fairly smooth log and pop it into the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 190 C / 170 C Fan / 375 F and line an oven tray with baking paper.

Unwrap the dough and slice it into 1/4 inch rounds. Put the rounds onto the baking tray and sprinkle each one with a little sugar.

Pop the tray into the oven for 20 minutes, until the shortbread is lightly browned.

The creme brûlée
Adapted slightly from Romancing the Bee

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups double cream
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/4 cup of good quality set honey (none of that cheap squeezy bottle stuff that tastes of nothing!)
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup of sugar

Put the cream and vanilla paste into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring them to the boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, pop a lid on and leave it to cool for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 150 C / 130 C Fan / 300 F.

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the honey and egg yolks until they start to lighten in colour. Add the cream a little at a time, whisking the whole time.

Pour the mixture into 6 ramekins (I had a little left over for a tiny additional one as my ramekins were pretty small). Put the ramekins into a high sided roasting or cake tin and pour enough boiling water into the tin, around the ramekins, to come halfway up their sides.

Bake until the custard is just set and still a little wobbly in the middle. For me this took just under 40 minutes, but it could take as much as 50 minutes, depending on the size of your ramekins.

Remove the ramekins from the tin, leave to cool to room temperature and then pop them in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days, covered in a little cling film.

Now for the brûléeing! Remove the custards from the fridge at least 30 minutes before you want to brûlée them. Divide the sugar between the ramekins, sprinkling it nice and evenly over the top. You may not need all of the sugar, I only felt I needed a large teaspoon full per ramekin. Use a kitchen blow torch to melt the sugar and create a crispy top. You can do this under the grill if you don’t have a blow torch, just keep an eye on them!

Leave the creme brûlée to sit for 5 minutes before scoffing with the shortbread biscuits!

Best served with good company.

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Ciambelline al vino

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As you may have guessed from the name of this blog, I’m a somewhat timid cook. Rarely one to experiment or stray from a recipe. Sticking to the rules like the accountant/dork that I am. But the whole point of this blog was to force me to go against my instincts, fight my cautious nature and ultimately become a better cook.

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So when I read a recent post from the beautifully written blog rachel eats, I knew I’d found the perfect place to start, my first challenge!

Ciambelline al vino

Rachel’s blog focuses on simple, delicious, predominately italian food. The type of food that bursts with bold flavours and showcases quality ingredients. In the post that inspired me, she discussed ‘quantobasta’ or ‘how much is enough’. In a lot of italian recipes, rather than giving precise measurements, the quantity is simply given as ‘q.b.’ and then it’s up to you to get the balance right. (Rachel describes this so much better than me, you really must read her post)

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For a scaredy cat like me this concept is fairly terrifying. I couldn’t bear the thought of a kitchen disaster (especially not after the chocolate macaroon debacle, which I can’t bring myself to discuss right now) and I didn’t know if my baking experience would be enough to get me through.

Thankfully this recipe was a fairly gentle introduction, with little scope for an appalling result!

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Ciambelline al vino, otherwise known as wine biscuits, are an absolute revelation to me. They feature one of my favourite flavours, the aniseed like punch of fennel seeds. They have a crunchy, sugary top and their texture is reminiscent of shortbread which is ideal as they are designed for dunking. But rather than dunking them in a lovely cuppa, the idea is to dip them in wine.

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However, their name isn’t just due to their wine dunking abilities, these babies are also made with wine. Yes, dipping wine in wine, what an fabulous idea, the italians are absolute geniuses! Genii?

The wine imparts a beautiful flavour to the biscuits, but the main selling point is definitely the fennel seeds. In estimating my quantities, I went with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of fennel seeds, but personally I could have taken a little more, I wanted to be punched in the face by aniseed. However, if you’re not such a big fan you can rein it in.

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I really recommend that those of you clinging to recipes and exact measurements like me, give these biscuits a go. And even if you’re not, these bad boys are bloomin’ gorgeous so try them anyway! Who could resist a lazy evening with friends, chatting round the table and dunking biscuits in a nice glass of red? I rest my case.

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Ciambelline al vino
Taken from rachel eats
The amount of biscuits made from this recipe will vary wildly based on the size of glass you use, I went with a glass that holds 250ml and I made 25 biscuits.

Ingredients

1 glass of sugar
1 glass of wine (I chose white wine, but red will do just as well)
1 glass of extra virgin olive oil
Salt q.b. (I went with a pinch)
Fennel seeds q.b. (I went with a 1 1/2 tsps, but I would up it next time)
Plain flour q.b.
Sugar for topping q.b.

Start by mixing together the sugar, oil and wine in a large bowl. Add the salt and fennel seeds and then start adding the flour. Stir in a little flour at a time, getting your hands involved in the mixing as it starts to become less liquid. Continue to add flour until the dough comes together into a soft ball that cleans the sides on the bowl.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it for about an hour.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180 C / 160 C Fan / 350 F and line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment.

Flour a clean work surface or chopping board and also coat your hands with flour. Take a walnut size piece of dough, roll it into a log and join the ends together to make a little donut.

Dip one side in sugar and pop it, sugar side up, onto the baking tray. When you’ve used up all the dough, put the baking trays into the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until the biscuits are lightly browned and crispy.

Turn off the oven and open it a crack (use a wooden spoon handle to stop it closing fully if needs be) . Allow the biscuits to cool fully in the oven.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, dunk and enjoy!

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