Thursday, 30 June 2016

Jamie Oliver's pistachio, apricot & dark choc energy bars

I don't know about you, but we eat a lot of muesli bars in our household. They're just so handy to take to work for a snack. It got me thinking, surely I could find a recipe for something tasty that I could bake myself which would still fit the bill of being a  delicious, semi-healthy snack.

Cue Jamie Oliver's recipe for pistachio, apricot & chocolate energy bars. If this recipe didn't sound good enough by the name alone, it has medjool dates AND maple syrup. It also has something I had never tried before, almond butter. Turns out almond butter is quite delicious & it could almost be said it gives peanut butter a run for it's money.

Now, one of the main aims of my blog is to give you handy tips & tricks to avoid recipe failure. Often times I've tried to bake something & it hasn't quite turned out the way I expected, so I always make sure I steer you in the right direction to avoid this happening to you. This energy bar is no exception. Having made it once before, I encountered a couple of little snags, like the chocolate melting through the mixture when I added it. Rather than staying in melty bits throughout the slice, the whole slice turned chocolately brown. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but it's not like it looked in the picture. So for my second attempt, I waited for the rolled oat mixture & the sauce to cool, so that when I added the chocolate it held it's shape. The second thing was that I had problems getting the slice to hold together once baked. I think this might have been because I thought I could get away with using normal dates rather than the fancy medjools. Turns out I was wrong. The reason for using medjool dates is that they are much bigger, plumper & more gooey than your average 'cooking' variety date which is much drier. When cooked in the sauce, the medjools really help to thicken it up.  I also think that the slice needs a little longer in the oven. I would recommend leaving it in for more like 30 minutes give or take, at least until it is golden brown & feels firm to touch.

The recipe calls for 100g of mixed seeds. On my first attempt I used a seed mix which contained poppy seeds - & I noticed that the poppy seeds seemed to brown very quickly, almost to the point of burning. This makes complete sense in hindsight of course as they're so small. So for my second attempt, I opted for sunflower seeds & pumpkin seeds (AKA  pepitas). These worked a treat given they were similar in size to the rolled oats & chopped pistachios. The recipe also asks for smooth almond butter. I couldn't find smooth, so had to go with crunchy, which hasn't hindered the slice in any way - so don't worry if crunchy is your only option.

Now that I've shared my pearls of wisdom with you, let's look at the recipe.


75 g shelled pistachios
100 g mixed seeds
250 g rolled oats
8 medjool dates
100 g dried apricots
50 g good quality dark chocolate (70%)
100 ml maple syrup
4 tablespoons almond butter

What to do

  1. Heat your oven to 180C static or 160C fan bake.
  2. Prepare a flat baking tray & a square (roughly 20cm x 20cm) baking tin, by spraying them with cooking oil & then lining each one neatly with non-stick baking paper.
  3. Chop the pistachios, then add to a bowl along with the mixed seeds & rolled oats. Give everything a quick stir, then pour out onto your baking tray. Level off & then pop it in the oven to roast for around 20 minutes. Watch it like a hawk & be sure to remove it every now & then to mix it up a bit to avoid any corners from burning & to ensure a nice even roast. Once toasted, remove from the oven & leave somewhere to cool.
  4. De-stone (& remember this bit - for medjool dates still have the stones in them) & roughly tear up the dates, chop the dried apricots & chocolate.
  5. Grab a small saucepan, chuck the dates in along with the maple syrup, almond butter & 150 ml of water. Heat gently for around 20 mins until you have a thick, sticky sauce. I mashed the dates as they softened with a potato masher - just to help things along a bit. Once your sauce is ready, set it aside to cool.
  6. In a large bowl, place the cooled rolled oat mix, the apricots & chocolate & mix to combine. Then add the cooled sauce & mix quickly to combine.
  7. Pour the mixture into your baking tin & use a spoon to press it in & level it off.
  8. Bake for around 30-35 mins or until golden brown & feels firm when you push down on it. Just keep an eye on it as every oven varies & wit ill also depend on the depth of your tin. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.
Thanks to Jamie Oliver for another delicious recipe. Follow this link to check out the original recipe: 

Enjoy :)

Thursday, 12 May 2016

You little gem.

Ginger Gems

I want to start by explaining what a ginger gem is, because it seems that these little cakes might have originated in New Zealand - therefore quite a few of you won't have heard of them before.

Imagine if you will a super light & fluffy, mini ginger loaf. That is essentially what a ginger gem is. What makes them unique is the tin that they are traditionally baked in, called a ginger gem iron. Made from cast iron, the gem iron is heavier & sturdier than your average aluminium muffin tin. It must be pre-heated in the oven to 200 Celsius (392 Fahrenheit) before you spoon the mixture in. Whilst cast iron takes slightly longer to heat up than aluminium, it retains its heat for much longer.  

I'm always interested in finding out the history & origins of a recipe, but for the humble ginger gem this information is as light as the texture of the gem itself. It does seem look as though the recipe originated in New Zealand & has been around for many years.

Cast iron ginger gem irons are hard to find these days.  Your best bet is to look out for a second hand set. My gem irons were recently gifted to me by my Mum for my birthday. She enlisted the help of my Aunty to look online for a second hand set & luckily came across some on the website Trade Me, which is essentially the New Zealand equivalent of Ebay.

The flavour & texture of a ginger gem is a special thing. Not only do they have that lovely gingerbready flavour, but they also have a buttery after taste given that half teaspoonful's of butter are dropped into the hot gem irons before the mixture is spooned in. What results is two fold. The butter prevents the gems from sticking to the irons & it gets absorbed by the gems which makes for a delicious taste.

If you manage to get your hot little hands on a set of ginger gem irons, then the recipe I would recommend making is none other than the one from the iconic Edmunds Cookery Book. The trusty Edmunds Cookery Book was first printed in New Zealand in 1907, so you could say that it has become an essential ingredient in the history of baking in NZ.


50g butter (softened)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 egg
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup milk
Extra butter

What to do
  1. Place gem irons in the centre rack of the oven & pre-heat to 200 C static or 180 C fan bake.
  2. Place 12 lots of 1/2 teaspoonful's of butter onto a tray or plate & set aside for later. 
  3. Using a handheld or freestanding electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar & ginger together until light & fluffy. Add the egg & beat well. You want to get some air into the mixture at this point, so be sure to beat the egg in really well - scraping down the sides of the mixture so everything is well combined. Beat in the golden syrup.
  4. Sift flour from a height (to get more air through) into the creamed mixture & then stir by hand with a wooden spoon or spatula to combine.
  5. In a separate jug, dissolve the baking soda in the milk & pour into the mixture. Grab a hand whisk & whisk the mixture well to ensure your mixture is smooth & creamy.
  6. Grab your oven mitts & remove the gem irons from the oven. Grab your tray or plate of butter & drop one piece of butter into each gem slot. The butter will start sizzling away.
  7. Spoon the mixture into each slot, filling to within a couple of millimetres from the top. Return to the oven & bake for 10 minutes, or until the gems are well risen & beautifully golden brown.
NOTE: The Edmunds recipe states that it makes 12 gems, but my mixture went a lot further & I ended up with 16. Just keep any leftover mixture aside & as soon as your first batch come out of the oven, carefully remove them from the gem irons using a butter knife to assist. Pop the gem irons back in the oven to get them back up to 200 C & then repeat the process again.

Best enjoyed warm straight from the oven with a strong cuppa.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Seriously good blueberry scones.

We had some fresh blueberries to use up on Sunday & I fancied something tasty for afternoon tea. For ages now I've been wanting to make buttermilk scones - so I decided it was high time to try. 

I found a recipe for plain buttermilk scones, adapted it slightly & then added the blueberries. I added a decent amount of them too. No point having scones with only a couple of blueberries in them! With my fingers crossed I watched the scones in the oven like a hawk - my luck with scones can be hit & miss, but I'm learning a new scone secret each time I make them. 

The biggest scone secret I've learnt - which I had heard before but never fully appreciated - is that you need to make scones as if you're in the biggest hurry to get them in the oven. Like your life depends on it. What this means is that you won't end up faffing around mixing, kneading, rolling, patting - as soon as that scone mix starts to come together in the bowl, you want to quickly give it a roll around & gentle knead in the bowl - just for a few seconds - throw that mixture out onto a floured bench, pat it to form a rough rectangle & cut those scones out as quick as you can. Into the oven they go - & the key is to have a reasonably hot oven too, 220C static or 200C fanbake. Watch them like a hawk & don't be afraid to quickly rotate the trays in the oven if some scones are browning faster than the others. 15-20 mins is all they'll need. 

As soon as my scones came out of the oven, I had a good feeling about them. They had risen evenly & beautifully, with a soft golden glow on the top of each. Waiting for the scones to cool down ever so slightly, I cut one in half & spread a thin layer of margarine over the top which quickly melted in. My first bite was delightful & it just got better from there. 

I'm quite excited about these scones. They're super light & fluffy with a delicious blueberry goodness throughout. They would actually be quite nice plain - there's really no need for butter or marg on them, but I'll leave that one up to you.

My conclusion? These are the best scones I've ever eaten. So many scones these days are dry, flavourless, caked in flour on the bottoms or just too dense in consistency. It's refreshing to find a recipe that is easy & quick to make. It's a recipe that I can use time & time again - this one is definitely a keeper.

Enough of the chit chat. Let's get on to the recipe - I hope you enjoy making (& most importantly) eating these as much as I did.

Makes 12-15 scones


450g self raising flour
100g cold butter - cut into small cubes
85g caster sugar
284 ml buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Splash of milk
250g fresh blueberries (you could try using frozen blueberries, I would leave them to defrost while you get everything ready, then drain off any excess water)

What to do

  1. Heat your oven to 220C static or 200C fan bake. Prepare two large baking trays: spray them with cooking oil spray, then line them with non-stick baking paper
  2. Put the flour & butter into a large bowl, then using clean dry hands, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs & there's no more lumps of butter
  3. Stir in the sugar
  4. Using a microwave safe bowl or jug, measure out the buttermilk & add the vanilla. Zap in the microwave for 30 seconds
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients, then pour in the buttermilk. Set the jug or bowl aside as you'll use the leftover drops of buttermilk for brushing the tops of the scones
  6. Very briefly (remember like your life depends on it!) mix together the scone dough until it's just starting to come together. Finish the rest by hand - just give it a couple of quick rolls around to pick up any remaining dry ingredients & give it a quick, gentle knead
  7. Tip onto a floured bench. Only knead as much as you need (hehe - sorry, couldn't help it!) to quickly form the dough into a rectangle of a good 1.5 inches in depth. The trick is not to pat the dough too low. The last thing you want is a thin scone. Grab a knife & cut the dough into three strips down the length of the rectangle, then from there cut each scone out evenly.
  8. Place scones on your baking trays, at least 1.5 inches apart. Add a splash of milk to the leftover dregs of buttermilk, give it a quick mix & then use it to brush the top of each scone
  9. Place scones in the oven for around 15-20 mins. Turn/rotate part way through if you have a hot spot in the oven & some scones are browning quicker than others. Every oven varies, so just keep a close eye on them & remove from the oven when they're golden on top & have risen nicely
  10. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack
Needless to say, these scones are best enjoyed with a good cup of tea. Get out the good tea too - some nice tea leaves in an actual tea pot. Sit back & enjoy! xx

P.S any leftover scones can be frozen.