Rum & pecan apple tart

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aaaaaaaaaaaand we’re in! We have an oven that works! That tart up there is one of the first things I’ve baked here, and it didn’t burn on the bottom or anything. It’s all about the little victories, right?

A week and a half in, the kitchen stuff still hasn’t been unpacked. If you employ tunnel vision, you’ll find corners that are almost Pinterest-worthy – I couldn’t rest until I found a big jar to keep pasta in – but if you stop squinting you might spot a few still-wrapped plates, or a book that’s not quite in the right place. We’ve got our priorities sorted, though. The first time we came to the flat, we brought the essentials with us: kettle; mugs; teabags; and Hobnobs, always pronounced without the H. We moved the tea supplies in before we’d even been given the keys.

RumPecanAppleTart2It feels right, finally. We – three of us, now – have grown as people considerably in the last year and a half, and this flats feels like it reflects us better than the flats we could never quite bring ourselves to call “home” ever did. The first few days, we’d nudge each other every now and then just to say, “Hey. Hey. We live here.” This is where we have a biscuit jar to dip into, and little bits of each of our personalities perched on every shelf and worktop.

Regardless of the boxes hastily shoved into corners, we’ve had friends over for dinner. Obviously I volunteered to make dessert, and obviously this ended with me botching together a recipe on that day that, thankfully, worked, so I didn’t have to pull my “sorry guys, here’s some ice cream” trick. You probably can’t go far wrong, though, with apples, cream, pecans, and rum.

Usually, I have a don’t-waste-drink-in-food policy. You know how recipes are often all, “add 250ml [semi-expensive] white wine”? When you don’t have spare twenties to throw around willy-nilly, you see that the same recipe with something else replacing the wine is almost as good. If you quantify the price of a bottle of wine by calculating how many weeks’ pasta, or cheese, or vegetables that’d be, you’re not as likely to throw a “glug” of the good stuff into a risotto. Food snobs, I’m sure, would be horrified. Continue reading

Tips & Hints – A black pepper pairing

SnackinsSurprisingly delicious: black pepper cream cheese & fruit

It’s a well-known fact among friends that I’m a weird eater – one of the ladies I went on holiday with was frequently openly baffled by what I ate, although considering one of those experiments was mussels and chocolate sauce, you can hardly blame her. But the juxtaposition of sweet and savoury is one of the best things about pairing foods, as proven by maple syrup and bacon.

So when it comes to snacking, of course I follow suit. Black pepper (light!) cream cheese (so far I’ve seen it in Morrisons and Sainsburys) goes wonderfully with apple and strawberries, keeping that 3pm lull interesting as well as virtuous.

If you’re feeling a little less saintly, Jane at The Hedge Combers made strawberry and black pepper muffins, too.

Tip of the Week – How to rescue “seized” chocolate

Seizing – or, to you and I, “Oh balls, the chocolate’s gone grainy” – happens when chocolate overheats or the cocoa powder in it absorbs water. You can bring it back for use in brownies or puddings by gently reheating it in a bain marie and adding 1 tsbp of vegetable oil, boiling water, or hot cream  for every 175g of chocolate. No more sadly spooning gritty Green & Blacks into your mouth before dashing to the shops again.

Honey apple hand pies with thyme

This post was very nearly given the subtitle, “Pastry, who’s got the thyme these days?”. Some people have pastry fear – that’s not my problem. It is a beast that can be tamed. The issue is more that, well, it’s a bit of a faff, isn’t it? When it comes down to it, I’d rather start cooking knowing that within an hour I’ll have a hot little pie in my hand, rather than my hands in a hot bowl of washing up. I’d rather spend these approaching early-dark weekends going for walks and breathing in petrichor than fighting with butter and flour. Sometimes it’s worth taking a shortcut. For the sake of apple pie.

Handpies

I’d love to say that I have some sort of emotional connection with apple pie, a story of sitting down to eat it with a grandma on a Sunday afternoon. The closest thing I’ve got takes place under the harsh yellow of university cafeteria lighting, the apple pie the only reason I’d frequently stray from food I’d cooked (or, let’s face it, assembled from Ritz crackers and Philadelphia), because I can’t be trusted to make a whole pie and not eat it. Which explains the tiny hand pies, right?

I’m happy to admit that I was a little nervy about this flavour combination, a bit concerned that it’d taste like medicine.  I’m also happy to announce that it does not taste of medicine. It does taste of apples and honey, with a hint of earthiness that’s so appropriate in this transition phase. Perfect for wrapping up and popping into your pocket for those walks. We’re halfway through the best month. Continue reading

Apple Cake with Pecan and Cinnamon Crumble Topping

I have a confession to make: I’m one of those really annoying people who just will not follow a recipe. I can’t help it. There’s creativity in my bones, and I’m drawn to changing things in an effort to make them even better.

So naturally, I couldn’t leave this apple cake recipe alone. It could have swum on through the internet, living out a successful life on the Pinterest boards of many, untouched by my meddling fingers. But thank goodness it didn’t.

Crumble cakes are kind of brilliant. After all, why only have a cake, when you can have the lovechild of cake and crumble? Sweet, comforting, warm apple cake, with the added crunch and zing of spicy crumble topping. I fully advocate adding crumble to normal foods, especially when it comes to creating a crumble/pie hybrid that’s sure to please those in both the Apple Crumble Camp and the Apple Pie Camp (it’s not just my family that’s divided on the subject, right?).

I also discovered it’s pretty good for helping to make friends with new neighbours who may or may not think you’re a little bit mad. My only advice would be to not ambush your neighbour, foiled package in hand, sporting post-baking hair and tracksuit bottoms, to force them to take said cake off your hands so you won’t eat it all. That might come across a little nutty.

But back to the cake. The recipe is loosely based on a crumble-less apple cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and will make two loaves.

Ingredients:

Apple filling:
3 apples, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Cake:
2 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable or sunflower oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs

Topping:

40g pecan halves, chopped
50g butter
50g sugar
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Method: 

1) Toss apple chunks in sugar and cinnamon and set aside. Set oven to 180C.

2) Mix together salt, baking powder, and flour. In a separate bowl or jug, whisk together oil, sugar, juice, and vanilla. Add these wet ingredients to the dry, and mix well.

3) Add eggs one at a time. The mixture may seem like it’ll never come together. Stick with it!

4) To make the crumble topping, rub together the butter, sugar, and flour until you get a crumb consistency. Stir in the cinnamon and chopped pecans.

5) When the batter is thoroughly mixed, pour into your prepared loaf tin until about half full. Next, add a layer of apple chunks, and then another layer of batter to cover the apples. Finally sprinkle on the topping and bake for about an hour, or until a tester/knife comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake. If the topping starts to burn at any point, cover it with foil.

Although it’s delicious warm, this cake also keeps well and improves after a day – if it lasts that long!