My cookies are the best…on this street.

It’s true.  My tummy said so…and my tummy’s bigger than your tummy!  Granted, England isn’t known for its cookies and most of the population over forty would probably choose tea and cake over milk and cookies.  There will be countless more across the pond who no doubt will stand up and be counted for coffee and donuts.  However, what I’m sharing with you today is nothing less than my ultimate, works-every-time, so-easy-to-make, can’t-wait-till-they’re-out-of-the-oven recipe.  I’ve tried so many recipes over the years and often been disappointed.  That’s why I decided to combine the best bits of every recipe I’ve tried to make these beauties.

The dough recipe is nice and easy, but the best part is that once you’ve got the dough recipe, you can make any type of cookie you want.  That’s why I love these.  Today I’ve made a batch that give a little tip of the hat to my favourite biscuits, dark chocolate gingers.  I have quite a thing for them and I’ve had to stop buying them lest I begin to resemble one.

You, dear friend of food, can load up your cookies with whatever takes your fancy.  I’m sure you have your own amazing cookie dough recipes and it’s likely that they will make my attempts look like My First Cookies, but let me tell you, when I’m going for an ice-cold glass of chocolate milk (and I do so far too often), these cookies are the perfect partner!

What’s your favourite type of cookie?  What should I put in my next batch?

Dark chocolate & ginger cookies

300g plain flour

215g light brown sugar

200g dark chocolate (chopped into little chunks)

170g melted butter

120g caster sugar

120g glace ginger

1 egg

1 yolk

1 tblspoon vanilla extract

1 tspoon ginger powder

1 tspoon salt

half tspoon bicarbonate of soda

Beat together the egg, yolk, butter and sugar.  Add the vanilla and combine with the soda, salt, ginger powder and flour to form a thick dough.

Tip in the chocolate and the glace ginger (or whatever ingredients you are using) and work them into the dough with your hands.  Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Break off small chunks of dough, roll them into balls and press them between your palms so that you have little pucks to place on your baking tray.  The cookies will flatten and spread out in the oven, so leave enough space between them.  They’ll be done in less than ten minutes.

For years I made brittle, crumbly cookies.  It was because I used to bake them until completely brown all over (thinking that they were done).  For perfect, chewy cookies, however, it’s important to take them out of the oven to cool while they are still soft.  Wait until they are beginning to brown at the edges and then use a fish slice to transfer them to a wire rack.  They will firm up once cooled.

Enjoy and let me know how they turn out!


A frangipane recipe for tough guys.

The stereotypical hunk: tall, dark, handsome and able to make a darn good frangipane.  I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no, I don’t quite fit the bill.  I’m short and my brother reckons he got all the looks.  Still, I rarely burn in the sun and my frangipane tartlets are as good as any you’ll find in these parts.  I can pretty much guarantee that last statement since I live in a part of the world that does not tolerate anything that is less than truly manly.  You’ll be surprised to learn that frangipane tartlets don’t rank very highly in the manly charts.  I know, I was as surprised as you.

A pint of bitter, a minced beef and onion pie, rugby and some sporadic sexism clock up way more in the manly stakes.  Funny then, that the top chefs in the world and some of the top pastry chefs are male.  There has always been a disparity between those who cook for a living and those who cook at home.  The former may be a cook with a modest repertoire and a list of previous employers longer than the menu of his current traditional English pub, or he might be a professional line cook with a good grounding in French cuisine and hopes of becoming his own boss one day.  Both at different ends of the spectrum, but equally understood as being dignified in their own way.

Then there’s the home cook.  Views on the male food enthusiast have begun to change over the last ten years.  For many, dad’s role was to carve meat and, if the weather permitted, cook a variety of sausages and burgers rather badly outside while the neighbours called the fire brigade.  The idea of men in the kitchen has been a source of mirth among housewives for decades.  Men not knowing their way around a kitchen, using every pot, pan and plate in the house to make even the simplest of meals and the dreadful offerings of heart-felt dross that grace tables every Valentine’s Day.  Sadly, some of these stereotypes have a firm historical truth.  In 2011, however, things are very different indeed.

As women have found their independence, so too have men found it necessary to fend for themselves in the kitchen.  Without writing an essay on social history, I think it’s safe to say that men and women have spent the last forty years re-defining their roles and the kitchen is one area that has changed dramatically.  It’s acceptable for men to cook for the family, women who lack any form of culinary knowledge are not embarrassed to say so, television chefs continue to make home-cooking a popular past time among young men and televised cookery competitions have no doubt inspired countless adolescents to pursue a career in a professional kitchen.

No matter how much things have changed, there is one thing that I suspect will not.  Your average bloke will not be boasting to the lads about his latest frangipane tartlet recipe over a pint of lager and a packet of pork scratchings.  Even with a wife and baby boy, a decent amount of self-esteem and the ability to eat my own body-weight in pizza, I feel slightly self-conscious about posting a recipe for apricot and almond frangipane tartlets.  They’re a delicate balance of flavour and texture and I think it’s impossible to make them at all manly.  Anyone for mangipanes?  Frangimans?  No, I didn’t think so.  Therefore, if my friends ask me what I’ve been making, I’ll just say something like beef brisket.

Almond and apricot frangipane tartlerts

250g shortcrust pastry

1 jar apricot jam

125g butter

125g icing sugar

125g ground almonds

40g plain flour

1 tspoon almond extract

whole almonds for decoration

Roll out the pastry and cut to the size of your tartlet trays.  Line each tray with the pastry and prick the base with a fork all over.  Trim the edges and place in the fridge until you’ve made the frangipane mixture.

To make the mixture, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and light.  Add the eggs and beat until well combined.  Next, add the almond extract and the ground almonds.  Beat again and finally add the flour.  Beat one last time and don’t worry about the mixture having small lumps in it.

Spread jam over the base of the pastry and then pour the frangipane mixture over the top.  Don’t fill the tartlet tins to the top because the mixture will puff up in the oven and will ooze over the sides.  Leave at least a centimetre between the mixture and the top of the pastry case.  Decorate with flaked or whole almonds.

Bake in the oven at 200C for between twenty and thirty minutes.  The top will be golden and firm when the tartlets are done.  Lower the heat if the tartlets begin to burn and make sure that you leave them to cool before serving.  The jam will be extremely hot.

Trying to explain carrot cake to a Frenchman.

I’ll hold my hands up now and declare that it’s true.  I wrote at length about carrot cake.  Heck, I even baked a few!  One thing’s for sure, the recipe for this most comforting of cakes has yet to make an appearance on the blog.  “A travesty!”,  I hear you cry.  Yes, I’m aware that it is listed in the recipe drop-down menu.  “What other crimes against cakes have you committed?”, I hear you demand.  Let’s all just get a grip here.  We’re talking about cake.  A good cake, but a cake none-the-less.

Before you start throwing cinnamon in my eyes and prodding me with a wooden spoon, let me just say that the following recipe is one that has taken a long time to perfect and I’m very proud of it.  Don’t go printing it off for any old chap in the street, or one of those friends that you accepted as a friend online, but if you saw them in the street you’d dive into a shop before they saw you.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  This is a recipe that I believe will lead you to a slice of something rather special.  It’s our little secret that we can smugly keep to ourselves while basking in the praise from those lucky enough to eat it.  Okay, okay..give it to whoever you like!  The world needs good cake.

It’ll be September soon and my French father-in-law will be making his way across the water with a suitcase full of saucisson and Cotes Du Rhone.  It was on his last visit that I had to explain what carrot cake was, all the time watching him scrutinise my every facial expression for some grain of dishonesty.  He was convinced I was pulling his leg.  “But you say that the carrot is in the cake?”  He just couldn’t understand how this could be and he was even more surprised when I explained that it was not savoury.  It wasn’t until he sampled a slice, and then a second, and then another that I saw he was convinced, converted and content.  “This is a good one”, he said, “Who could believe that the carrot is inside it? Perfect!” 

My perfect carrot cake

(For the cake)

300g carrots (grated)

250g wholemeal flour

175g Muscovado sugar

175g light brown sugar

175ml vegetable oil

3 eggs

2 tblspoons Greek yoghurt

2 tspoons vanilla extract

2 tspoons cinnamon

1 tspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 tspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 tspoon salt

(For the icing)

200g cream cheese

120g icing sugar

3 tblspoons double cream

2 tspoons cinnamon

zest of 1/2 lemon

Begin by beating the eggs, vanilla, oil and all of the sugar in a medium-sized bowl.  Next, add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, bicarbonate of soda and salt to the bowl and give it a good stir.  I usually add the Greek yoghurt next and stir it in.  Finally, stir in all of the grated carrots.

Pour the cake mixture into a 20cm cake tin and bake in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for about an hour and a half.  It’s best to check the cake by sliding a knife into the centre.  You’ll know it’s done when the knife comes out clean.  Leave the cake to cool before trying to remove it from the tin.

For the icing, just give all of the ingredients a whisk and spread over the cooled cake.  You can grate extra lemon zest onto the cake or even add some curls of zest for decoration.  To be honest, this cake rarely lasts long enough to warrant careful decoration!

PS  I usually make this cake in a shallow sandwich tin and use the rest of the cake batter to fill a loaf tin.  I bake them both at the same time, but I put the loaf out of sight and eat it when nobody is looking.  A little carrot cake loaf is so much easier to hide!