Cinnamon & pear muffins

img_0593-jpg

I’m finding myself with a lot of tinned goods recently, not unlike many people in our little shaky isles in the wake of our 7.8 earthquake.  It pays to be prepared.

I’ve heard the comment more than once that tinned pears are the least exciting of the tinned fruits….pale, bland, only good when topped with ice cream.  I had a hunch that this was wrong, but how to prove it?  By coupling tinned pears with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, that’s how.

img_0596-jpg

I’ve taken my inspiration for the muffin base from Donna Hay’s basic muffin batter.  Which is delicious if you’re on the hunt for a reliable basic muffin, by the way.  I will of course buy a replacement tin of pears for our emergency food stash, but this idea for pear-topped muffins could not wait any longer.  Sunday night requires a sweet little pick-me-up, amiright?

img_0602-jpg

For these you will need (makes 12):

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence

For the topping:

  • 1 tin of pear quarters, drained and cut into thin slices
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 knob of butter, melted

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, mix the egg, milk, oil and vanilla essence.  Add this to the dry ingredients and mix only until just combined.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin tray cups.  Arrange the sliced pears on the top of the batter.

Combine the topping ingredients and distribute over the top of the pears.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

img_0608-jpg

 

Spiced apple and ginger loaf

IMG_2418

Every Autumn when I start spying lovely plump pears, plums and apples, thoughts of warming fruity goodies are not far behind.  This particular little loaf I’m bringing you today has been a long time in the making.  It first starting flitting about the corners of my mind a few years ago, when the aforementioned greedy Autumnal thoughts lead me to this delicious chocolate and pear cake. So this Autumn, finding my fruit bowl running over with many sweet little apples, I began hankering after something upside down-y involving apples.

It has taken a little experimenting, but I am happy to settle on this combination of slightly spicy ginger loaf topped with apples.  Upside down fruit-topped baking, I have concluded, needs a reasonably hefty cake to support it, and ginger loaf is up to the task.  I used this ginger loaf recipe as a base with some tweaking of my own, including a little wholemeal flour to give it some extra muscle.  And also because I love wholemeal flour.

For this spiced apple and ginger loaf you will need:

IMG_2455

Apple topping:

  • 1 apple (I like Braeburn for this)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Ginger loaf:

  • 50g butter
  • 1 Tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup milk

Butter your loaf tin.  Peel your apple if you like, although I prefer mine with a little bit of skin.  Quarter the apple and cut each quarter into thin slices.  Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle into the bottom of the loaf tin.  Lay the apple slices in top of this mixture and set aside.

IMG_2460

Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a large saucepan.  Add the egg and the sugar and mix in.  Then add all the other dry ingredients except for the baking soda.  Mix the baking soda into the milk and then add this to the mixture.

Pour the ginger loaf mixture into the tin, on top of the apples.

Bake for 50 – 55 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.  This may seem like a long time for a little loaf, but the fresh juicy apple slices make the mixture quite moist and mean the loaf needs longer to bake.  Trust me, I have been faced with the sad, sucking noise of turning out under-cooked baking in earlier versions of this apple-topped cake, when I have had less patience with the length of baking time.

Rest the loaf for a few minutes in its tin before running a knife around the edges and gently turning upside down.

The apple keeps this loaf tasty and moist. It can be a little prone to breaking up, so you may like to use a spoon, particularly if you fancy this warm with some vanilla ice-cream.  This, I can recommend.

Happy baking.

IMG_2480

Maple candied walnuts

IMG_2661

I love walnuts.  Perhaps this started with the grand old walnut tree in our garden when I was little.  When I wasn’t swinging from it or chasing the chickens that lived at its feet, I was happily crushing walnuts between concrete blocks so I could prise the nuts from their wrinkly little shells.  I still remember the pang of pride the day Mum put the mangled results in a small dish at the dinner table for everyone to share, even though the results of my efforts were mainly bits of concrete with the odd bit of bruised walnut flesh.

IMG_2582

So I felt a very lucky person indeed when I was offered some walnuts recently, still in their green casings.  Of course I jumped at the chance. One of the things I love most about walnuts is their versatility – they will happily partner with savoury or sweet, and can turn an ordinary salad or muffin into something that little bit more scrumptious and gourmet.

I fancied something autumnal and sweet, and after a little research settled on experimenting with candied walnuts spiced up with some maple and cinnamon, borrowing heavily from the caramelising talents of BraveTart who I have learnt from with my candied sugar experiments in the past.  And here’s how I got there:

IMG_2596

Ingredients:

  • 12 walnuts – of course whole is ideal, but I was whacking mine with a hammer to get them out of their shells and some where less than whole, which didn’t seem to matter too much
  • 12 toothpicks
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 4 T white sugar
  • 1 T water
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Method:

Put toothpicks into the walnuts.  They get their pretty little stalagmite-like shape from being hung upside-down, so I put a wooden board along the edge of the sink to hang them from and some baking paper in the sink to catch the drips.  I also prepared some strips of masking tape for taping the toothpick ends to the board.

Put all of the other ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to the boil, swishing the pan to stop it sticking.

When the sugar is dissolved and the mixture turns amber, put the pot on the wooden board.  Take each tooth-picked walnut in turn and dip it into the sugar, coating it generously.  Turn it upside down over the the sink so the caramel drips off.  Secure and tape the other end to the wooden board.  It may look a little like a Game of Thrones-style torture chamber for walnuts, to be honest.

IMG_2656

When the caramel has hardened and cooled, pull the toothpick out and you will have pretty little maple walnut teardrops to use as garnish or gobble up as is.  They are lovely with ice cream.

IMG_2672

Spiced maple biscuits

Who doesn’t love a bit of maple syrup?  The indigenous people of the Americas were the first to harvest maple sap.  One legend credits the humble squirrel with its discovery, telling of a young boy who watched a red squirrel nip at the bark of a maple tree and lap up the sap.  How cute is that?!  I love squirrels and I’m well willing to believe it.

IMG_0595

My husband came home from work recently, deeply enamoured of some maple syrup cookies, an office treat from a workmate’s holiday in Canada.  Not one to be outdone by holiday biscuits, I decided to rise to the challenge of making some maple cookies of my own.

I based my biscuits on this lovely recipe, with the addition of some spices as I fancied a little kick.

To make these spiced maple biscuits, you will need:

  • 180g butter, melted
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 60ml maple syrup
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Begin by melting the butter and once melted, mix in the sugar and leave it to cool.  Melt the butter in a reasonably-sized pot, as the beauty of this recipe is you can make the whole lot in this one pot.  And what’s not to love about less washing-up?

Once the butter and sugar are cool, add the egg and mix in.  Follow with the maple syrup and the vanilla.

Sift in the flour, salt, baking powder and spices and mix to combine.

This will leave you with quite a gloopy mixture (as demonstrated below).  Do not panic!  It now goes into your fridge for at least an hour to chill.

IMG_0605

Set your oven to 180 degrees during this time.

Once chilled, scoop teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto a greased baking tray.  The mixture is quite pliable and you can easily shape the biscuits with your fingers.  Sprinkle with some caster sugar and a little cinnamon if you fancy.

IMG_0608

Bake them until golden, about 10-12 minutes in my oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.  The mixture makes about 36, if you use teaspoon-sized dollops of the raw dough.

Because I was feeling creative, I topped mine with a little heart-shaped dusting of icing sugar….pretty easy to do, although I warn you, the icing sugar gets everywhere.  If you wish to try this at home (although I understand if you cannot be bothered),  I simply cut the shape out of a piece of stiff cardboard slightly larger than biscuit size, placed the cardboard over the biscuit, and sifted on the icing sugar.  Remove the cardboard and there you have it, a cute little heart plonked on your biscuit.

IMG_0620IMG_0621

These go down nicely with a cup of tea!

IMG_0610