Culinary disasters: cranberry and almond flapjacks

Unfortunately, all too often things in the kitchen don’t quite go as planned. It doesn’t take much to take your eye off something for a few minutes, during which time it’s burnt; to break egg yolks when you’re trying to separate them from the whites or to misread the scales/measuring jug and put way too much/little of something into a recipe, which you might not notice until you come to eat it.

I have taken steps to try to prevent the egg disaster from happening though; I now break the eggs into a small bowl before transferring the yolk-free whites into the main mixing bowl, so that if the yolk breaks I don’t end up contaminating another 2/3/4/5/6 egg whites (believe me this was a slow learning curve). Unfortunately though, there are some things that you can’t really avoid unless you apply Mad-Eye Moody’s philosophy of CONSTANT VIGILANCE, and even then you might still make mistakes. I therefore figured that there was something to be gained from sharing my culinary disasters in the hope that I can pass on the benefit of my experience, and hope that you don’t make the same mistakes as I do!

I guess this particular flapjack disaster was more of a lack of rational thought than of neglect or lack of dexterity. I wanted to make a sweet treat for my colleague on his last day before he leaves for his new job, but as I knew he was cycling to work I thought he probably wouldn’t appreciate a cake full of fat and sugar when it came to cycling the 13 or so miles home. So I thought I’d make flapjacks, as oats are pretty energy-tastic. As it was for a special occasion (i.e. not for me to eat the full batch by myself) I thought I would use my “posh oats”; that is to say the whole rolled oats which I bought for my muesli making. Whilst I was making the flapjacks, which I rammed full of flaked almonds and dried cranberries, the oats looked so lovely and glossy when I coated them in the melted butter and syrup. However, when I took them out the oven I thought they felt quite soft still, but as they were nicely golden on top I didn’t want to leave them in the oven any longer. I let them cool and tried to cut them in the morning, but when I did they just crumbled into bits in the tin. I was so gutted; I bought them into work anyway as some bits remained in reasonable-sized chunks but the bulk just crumbled into a fine rubble (much more like granola, actually!). They might have ended up as little bits but they’re some very tasty little bits!

They didn’t cohere properly because the oats are too large – they don’t form such a strong cement as the quick-cook oats I usually use. In the past I’ve made these exact same flapjacks with total success when made with the quick-cook oats. That’ll teach me to try and show off! If I’d have blitzed these in the processor for a few seconds before using them they would have turned out perfectly.

The recipe is really straightforward and, as you might imagine, takes about 5 minutes to make. Here is the recipe, from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess:

Cranberry and almond flapjacks

Makes around 18 bars

450g quick-cook rolled oats (i.e. not readybrek!)

300g butter

150g golden syrup

75g light soft brown sugar (although I didn’t have enough so I used about 45g light brown and 30g dark brown soft sugar)

A few handfuls dried cranberries

A few handfuls of flaked almonds

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C. Weigh out the butter and golden syrup and melt gently over a low heat.

Whilst the butter and golden syrup are melting, mix together the oats, sugar, cranberries and almonds in a large bowl.

Once melted, pour the butter and golden syrup over the oat mixture and mix everything together really thoroughly. Everything should be glossy.

Press the mixture into a greased (and lined if you want to) tin around 25cm square (it depends how thick/thin/crumbly/sticky you like your flapjacks) until it’s all level, and bake in the oven for around 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Leave it to cool in the tin and then cut into bars. They’re delicious! (When they turn out right…..)

Strawberry and almond crumble

YES, another Nigella recipe. This one is from Kitchen, and in the blurb at the beginning she says it’s great for out-of-season, virtually tasteless strawberries. She’s right, it is. However, I had a punnet of strawberries that I’d taken into work to munch on during the day, but then for two or three days straight I was barely in the office and so these strawberries were just sat, uneaten, getting progressively riper and mushier by the day. I realised I’d need to eat them up REALLY quick, but they’d got to that stage where they were just a bit too mushy to want to eat as is. So I decided to use them in this crumble as I already knew it was amazing from making it with some punnets of reduced out-of-season strawberries that I bought a good few months back, and their squidginess would be desirable in this context.

Once I’d sorted through them and got rid of the REALLY bad ones I still had plenty for making into the crumble, and I added a few of my own strawberries from the garden that I’d picked juuuust underripe before the slugs/birds got hold of them. The mix for this crumble is really quick and easy (especially if you keep a supply in the freezer, ready to use at a moment’s notice), and there is no faffing with stewing any fruit as there would be for apple or rhubarb. As these strawberries were nice British (and home-grown!), seasonal ones they didn’t need any sugar at all. When I poured the vanilla extract over the strawberries the scent that hit me was amazing, total heaven!

Strawberry and almond crumble

Serves 6

Filling

500g strawberries, hulled

50g caster sugar

25g ground almonds

4 tsp vanilla extract

Topping

110g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

75g cold butter, diced

100g flaked almonds

75g demerara sugar

 

Double cream, to serve

 

Preheat the oven to 200C. Hull the strawberries and put them into a pie dish. Sprinkle over the sugar (if you need it), vanilla and almonds and mix everything together.

Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl and rub the butter in with your fingers until it becomes a kind of oatmeal texture. You can also do this in a processor/freestanding mixer but it really takes no time at all! (and much less washing up).  Stir in the flaked almonds and demerara sugar with a fork.

Cover the strawberries with the crumble mixture and spread it out fairly evenly. Stand the dish on a baking tray and bake for around 30 minutes, or until it’s turned golden and the strawberries are juicy and bubbling. Leave it to stand for 10 minutes, by which time it will be the perfect temperature to avoid burning your tongue. This HAS to be eaten with cream – it’s like summer in a bowl. Enjoy!

 

 

Breakfast at my desk: Cherry and almond muesli

I’m not one of those people that can get up in the morning in enough time to have a nice breakfast at home, so I eat it when I get to work. Unfortunately we’re not allowed a toaster (yes, ~HEALTH AND SAFETY GONE MAD~), which limits a lot of my favourite options for weekday breakfasts (i.e. crumpets), so I have to get a bit more creative.

I try and include fruit into my breakfast every day. I’m not very good at eating fruit, I get quite bored of eating apples and bananas and I have an intolerance to oranges, so putting berries on my breakfast is the best way for me to actually eat fruit every day with minimal effort.

Although I love cereal and could eat it three meals a day EASILY, I do get bored of the same thing over and over again. Really the only cereal that fills me up are the bitesize shredded wheats, and I went through a phase of eating them with blueberries or strawberries on top for almost a year(!). Lately though, I feel like I want more variety. So I’ve started making my own cereal instead – this is great for fussy people like me who inevitably find something they dislike in most ready-made muesli/granola (I loathe raw hazelnuts and I can’t stand coconut). My current batch was made thus:

Cherry and almond muesli

200g whole rolled porridge oats

100g dried sweetened sour cherries

100g flaked almonds, toasted in a dry pan

A few tablespoons of seeds (I used sunflower, pumpkin and golden linseed)

The sour cherries are really awesome; they’re big and squashy and have a really nice tang. As you can see I don’t put sugar in my muesli so it’s nice that the cherries are sweetened a bit otherwise it could be too bitter.

Today I enjoyed my muesli with quartered strawberries and Rachel’s Organic apple and elderflower yoghurt. It was yummy! I wholeheartedly recommend making your own muesli with whatever combination of nuts/fruit/seeds takes your fancy, it’s healthy, filling AND tastes nice!