Cook’s Perks

One of the good things about being the cook is that you get access to the best bits.

I was making a savoury pie, using shop bought puff pastry, and had some left over. I hate food waste, so rather than throw it out, I dusted it with some brown sugar and cinnamon to make a version of bite sized Danishes. I also sprinkled with sesame seeds just to be fancy, but they’re without these.

With only 3 ingredients these are delicious little perks of being the cook.

Ingredients

Ready made puff pastry

Brown sugar

Cinnamon

Method

I had a 5-6 centimetre wide piece of puff pastry. Dust with brown sugar and cinnamon and roll up in a coil.

Cut into 1-2cm slices, place on a baking sheet (sprinkle with sesame seeds if you want to), and bake for 15 minutes at 200 degrees (Celsius) until gold brown.

Homemade Rosemary Focaccia

Nothing smells better than freshly baked bread straight out of the oven. Making your own focaccia also costs about a third of the price of buying one from a fancy bakery or deli.

Like most people I don’t bake my own bread everyday. At the weekend when you have a little more time its nice to shake off the stresses of the week and kneading bread is a great way to work off any residual tension. Although this bread only needs 5 minutes kneading and you’re rewarded with amazingly tasty bread that can be sliced in half for sandwiches or is a delicious side dish served along side soups, stews, or pasta.

I’ve used a traditional salt and rosemary topping, but caramelised onion or olives are also brilliant alternatives. This also freezes really well.

Ready for the oven

Ingredients

500 Grams Strong white flour

7 Grams Dried yeast

1 Tsp Salt

300-400 Mil Luke warm water

4-5 Tbsp Olive oil

2-3 Sprigs Rosemary

Method

  • 1. Mix your yeast with 300ml of luke warm water and set to one side while you measure out the flour and add it to a large bowl
  • 2. Add a teaspoon of salt to one side of the (this will stop it coming into direct contact with the yeast and killing it). Make a well in the centre of the flour, add two tablespoons of olive oil and the water and yeast mix.
  • 3. Mix well, you may need to add more water, your dough should be quite soft and sticky, but not super wet
  • 4. Turn your dough onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes (or until the urge to punch someone has passed, if I haven’t mentioned it before I sometimes “rage bake”)
  • 5. Clean the bowl you were using, (I always give the bowl a quick wipe with a little oil to stop your dough sticking). Put your dough back in the bowl and cover with a tea towel and prove for one hour
  • 6. Grease an 8 x 12 inch tin with some olive oil and transfer the dough from the bowl to the tin. Stretch the dough out to fill the tin. Cover with a tea towel again and prove for 45 minutes
  • 7. Pre-heat your oven to 220 degree (Celsius). Remove the tea towel from your baking tin, and with your finger tips press little dimples into the dough
  • 8. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of olive oil across the top of the dough. Pluck leaves of rosemary and poke them into the dough (it will just sit on top and then fall off if you don’t). Sprinkle a teaspoon is salt across the top of the dough (sea salt is best if you have it, but just use a little less ordinary salt if you don’t)
  • 9. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes

Chocolate Chip and Walnut Pie

Any type of chocolate dessert is normally a winner. This pie is similar to a Kentucky Derby pie, I have left out the bourbon, and reduced the sugar because I found the original version overly sweet. The finished result is still rich and delicious and feels really indulgent.

This is divine served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If you’re short on time you can use shop bought pastry or even a pre-made pastry case.

Serves 8

(For the pastry case)

125 Grams Butter

200 Grams Plain flour

2 Tbsp Sugar

Pinch of salt

Cold water

For the filling

125 Grams Butter (melted, and allowed to cool)

125 ml Golden syrup

4 Eggs

200 Grams Brown sugar

50 Grams Plain flour

150 Grams Walnuts (roughly chopped)

125 Grams Dark chocolate (roughly chopped) or chocolate chips

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

Method

  1. For the pastry, add the butter, sugar and salt and flour to a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs, (you can use the old fashioned rubbing in method if you don’t have a food processor). Gradually add cold water until the mix comes together as a dough. Form into a ball and wrap in cling film and then chill in the fridge for 30 mins
  2. Grease a 12 inch pie dish/tin, ideally one with removable base. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out on a floured surface or between two pieces of parchment paper until 1/2 cm thick (you can check the size by placing your tin the centre of the pastry and checking there is enough room to cover the depth of your tin)
  3. Carefully transfer the pastry to the pie dish and gently ease the pastry into the edges, place in the fridge and chill for another 30 mins. Trim any excess pastry that hangs over the edge of your pastry case
  4. Preheat your oven to 180 degree (Celsius), place a sheet of baking parchment in the prepared party case and add baking beans (I use old uncooked rice, rather than buying the fancy clay baking beans), Blind bake for 20 minutes and then remove the baking parchment and baking beans
  5. For the filling mix, whisk the melted butter (make sure its cool), eggs and add the sugar, vanilla extract and golden syrup and whisk until it lightens in colour and increases in volume (the sugar should have dissolved)
  6. Whisk in the flour, ensuring there are no lumps, and then fold in the chocolate and walnuts with a spatula
  7. Pour the filling mix into the pastry case and bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes, until the centre of the pie is just starting to set (it will continue to cook as it cools)
  8. Cool for a couple of hours before serving with whipped cream or ice cream

Cherry Clafoutis

This is one of the quintessential French desserts and it’s actually quite easy to make.  It’s basically a baked custard/batter with fruit.

Cherries are a traditional, but you can use other fruit like blueberries or apricots.

Straight from the oven, dust with a little icing sugar before serving.

I use frozen cherries that I allowed to thaw. This is mainly because fresh cherries here in Ireland are really expensive, and because the frozen type usually have the stones removed. Purists argue that the cherry stones add an almond flavour, but I think this is nonsense.

Ready for the oven.

If you have a blender you can make the batter in this or just use a bowl and whisk if you don’t. This should normally be cooked in a round pie dish and served in wedges. I didn’t have one, so my clafoutis is was probably a little deeper than the regular type. It also looks prettier cooked in a round dish but ho hum, you use what you have.

It’s usually served just warm or at room temperature. It’s traditionally served with whipped cream, but ice cream is also delicious.

Ingredients

For the fruit

450 Grams Cherries (fresh or frozen)

3 Tbsp Caster sugar

For the batter

100 Grams Caster sugar (plus a little extra to coat the baking dish)

4 Eggs

1/2 Tsp Salt

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

200 Mil Milk

150 Grams Plain flour

30 Grams Butter (melted and allowed to cool slightly, plus extra for greasing the dish)

Method

  1. Cover the cherries with 3 Tbsp of sugar and allow to macerate for an hour
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius)
  3. Add the milk, salt, vanilla extract, and eggs to a blender and give a quick blitz
  4. Add the flour to the blender and whizz for 1 minute, before adding the cooled melted butter. Whiz for another 30 seconds
  5. Rub a knob of butter along the inside of your baking dish, and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the dish and shake this around the dish so that it sticks to the butter. Discard any sugar that hasn’t stuck to the butter
  6. Spread your fruit across the base of the dish, and then gently pour over the custard
  7. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. To check if the clafoutis is cooked, stick a knife in the centre of the dish and if it comes out clean the clafoutis is cooked. If it doesn’t give it another 5 minutes and check again

Lemon Bars

I love any form of lemon dessert and these are the ideal tea time treat. There’s a rich buttery shortbread base and a zingy lemon topping.

OMG I love these so much, I have to distribute these among friends and family or else I could easily eat these entirely by myself. If you have better self discipline than I do, these will keep in an airtight box for 2-3 days.

Use a food processor if you have one to make them even easier to make. There’s no need to roll out the shortbread base, just press it into the dish.

Makes 18

Ingredients

For the base

120 Grams Butter

130 Grams Plain flour

30 Grams Icing sugar

For the topping

Juice and finely grated zest of 3 lemons

190 Grams Sugar

3 Eggs

65 Grams Plain flour

Extra icing sugar for dusting the finished bars

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius) and line a 9 in x 12 in baking tin with parchment paper
  2. To make the base, add the flour, butter, and sugar to a food processor and pulse until it looks like breaks crumbs. If you don’t have a food processor you can use the rubbing in method to combine the butter and flour
  3. Transfer the crumb mix to the baking sheet and press it down. Put in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until light golden brown
  4. Allow the base to cool slightly before making the topping
  5. Using your food processor again, add all the topping ingredients to the bowl and whizz until light and fluffy
  6. Pour the topping on top of the cooled base and bake for 25 minutes (or until the centre doesn’t jiggle
  7. Allow to cool completely before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into bars

Pina Colada Squares

Pineapple and coconut are a marriage made in heaven, and though there is no booze in these, they are still yummy.

These are amazing for a special teatime treat or for dessert with ice cream. You can make the sponge 2-3 days in advance and wrap in cling film, then just add the topping before you’re read to serve. You can even freeze the sponge if you’re super organised (just remember to make sure the sponge is fully defrosted before applying the cream cheese frosting).

I’ve added some toasted coconut as a topping and take a few minutes to toast it, this adds a whole extra element.

Toasting the coconut will make all the difference

I used margerine for the sponge, Mary Berry uses this in her sponge recipes. Since nobody probably knows more about cakes than her, so I’ll go with her advice, but feel free to use butter if you prefer.

Makes 18 squares

Ingredients

For the sponge

Large tin of pineapple junks (drained weight 340 Grams), roughly chopped

350 Grams Caster Sugar

350 Grams Margerine

275 Grams Self Raising flour

100 Grams Dessicated coconut

5 Eggs

For the frosting

25 Grams Icing sugar (if you prefer a sweeter frosting you can use more)

200 Grams Cream cheese

25 Grams Dessicated coconut (toasted)

Method

  1. If you have a stand mixer I would recommend using it, but an electric hand whisk is fine too.
  2. Pre heat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), and line a 9 in x 12 in baking tin with baking parchment
  3. In a bowl, add the margerine and sugar and whisk together until light and fluffy.
  4. Whisk in one egg at a time, along with a tablespoon of flour. Whisk the remaining flour when they eggs have been added along with coconut (don’t panic if it looks curdled)
  5. Fold in the roughly chopped pineapple, and transfer the mix to your prepared baking tin
  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes
  7. Allow to cool in the tin
  8. For the toasted coconut topping, you can spread the coconut on sheet pan and bake for 5-10 minutes while the sponge is baking. I prefer to do it in a pan, as its easier to check that it’s not going to burn. Once toasted set to one side and allow to cool
  9. Add the icing sugar to the cream cheese and mix well. When the sponge is completely cool spread with the cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with the toasted coconut
  10. Cut into squares

3 Ingredient, Condensed Milk and Fruit Squares

We’re currently getting battered by storms and I couldn’t face going out, so I had to work with what I had. 

I love this recipe as it takes minimal effort and can be made with ingredients you normally have in your cupboard.  I recommend everyone always has a tin of condensed milk in the cupboard.  It can be used for everything from making ice cream, sweets and baking.

These are perfect with a cup of tea or coffee on a miserable day (they also freeze well, just freeze before you decide if you’re going to sprinkle with icing sugar)

Ingredients

390ml Tin of condensed milk

160 Grams Self raising flour

350 Grams Dried fruit (you can use any fruit you like or a combination)

Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Makes 15 squares

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), and line a 16cm x 24cm baking tin with baking paper
  2. Add the flour, fruit, and condensed milk to a bowl and mix well
  3. Transfer the batter to the baking tin and bake for 25-30 mins
  4. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes, and then add a dusting of icing sugar if you want to make it look pretty. Cut into squares and store in an air tight box for up to 2-3 days

Blackberry Muffins

When it’s cold and wet outside its nice to have a recipe that you can rustle up something yummy out of what you have in the cupboards. These are great for brunch, lunch boxes, or just because you want something nice with a cup of tea or coffee.

I’ve used frozen blackberries and orange zest to flavour these. This can be swapped for blueberry and lemon, which is also delicious. Dried fruit works well too.

Makes 12 Muffins

Ingredients

300 Grams Self raising flour

100 Grams Sugar

100 Grams Butter

2 Eggs

150 Grams Blackberries (defrost first if using frozen)

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

1 Tsp Baking powder

Zest of one orange

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), line a muffin tin with paper cases
  2. In a mixer or with an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together
  3. Add the eggs and mix well before adding the flour (set aside 2 Tbsps of flour), baking powder, orange zest and vanilla and mix until combined (it might look a bit lumpy, but that’s OK)
  4. Toss your fruit in the flour you set aside (this will stop it sinking to the bottom of your muffins). Gently fold the fruit through your muffin mix
  5. Spoon the mix into your muffin cases as evenly as possible and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown

Almondina

After Christmas many of us want a break from big heavy sit down dinners. With cheese and grazing boards becoming popular, almondina are the perfect addition to lend some interest if you’re bored of crackers.

This is also a great recipe to use up any left over nuts or dried fruit. I actually think it’s better to have mix of fruit and nuts.

Ingredients

175 Grams Nuts (I used a mix of almonds, walnuts and pecans, but any mixture will work)

125 Grams Plain flour

25 Grams Brown sugar

125 Grams Dried fruit (I used roughly chopped apricots and dates, if you are using smaller fruit like raisins or sultanas, keep an eye in them during the second bake as they can catch quickly)

1/4 Tsp Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1/2 Tsp Salt

175Ml Milk

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius). Grease a loaf pan
  2. Add all the dry ingredients to a large bowl and combine
  3. Stir in the milk with a wooden spoon and when thoroughly mixed transfer to the loaf tin and bake for 60 minutes
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool
  5. Wrap in cling film and freeze for 1 hour. This will help you slice the almondina thinly. Do not freeze for longer than this
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees (Celsius) and line a baking sheet with parchment
  7. Take the almondina out of the freezer and remove the cling film
  8. With a bread knife, slice the loaf into 1/2 cm thick slices and place on the baking sheet for 12-15 mins (until they brown around the edges), before cooling on a wire wrack
  9. These will last in an airtight container for up to a week

Vanillekipferl (Almond Crescent Cookies)

About a million years ago I lived in Germany, and nobody does Christmas or Christmas confectionery like the Germans.

These rich buttery cookies are the perfect Christmas cookie. I have used pistachios but you could use any type of nut you prefer. These are quite rich, but they aren’t something you’ll be eating everyday. They also make great Christmas gifts.

You could also swap out the vanilla extract for almond essence or pistachio paste if you want to experiment with different flavours.

(Makes 24 cookies)

Ingredients

95 Grams Ground almonds

75 Grams Sugar

270 Grams Plain flour

25 Grams Pistachios (chopped)

225 Grams Butter (chilled and cut into cubes)

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

Method

  1. Add all the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and combine
  2. Add the vanilla extract and butter, and rub the butter into the dry mix (you can also use a food processor to do this)
  3. When the butter has been rubbed into the dry mix, start pressing together to form a dough
  4. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes
  5. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), and line a baking sheet with baking parchment
  6. Take the dough out of the fridge and turn out on a lightly floured surface
  7. With your hands, roll the the dough into a sausage and divide into 24 equal parts
  8. Shape each section of dough into a half moon shape with your hands and place on your prepared baking sheet
  9. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the cookies start to brown at the edges
  10. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire wrack
  11. When cool, dust liberally with icing sugar
  12. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days