Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
On the shortest day of the year, here’s a little something baked to brighten up the barely light hours. I picked rather too much rosemary the other day, and spent a few days pondering on how best to use it up. It doesn’t freeze very well and I’m not a fan of the dried stuff. After admiring the stems as a herbal arrangement in my kitchen for a while, I decided to do some flavour experimentation, and these muffins are the result.
I wasn’t really intending them to be so festive looking, but the sprigs reminded me of tiny pine trees and then my mind started going into creative mode. I hope you enjoy them. The flavour is really rich and perfect for the time of year. You only need to use the leaves for this recipe – the stems are too tough – and try to chop the leaves as small as possible for the best flavour and better eating.
150ml sunflower oil
150g dark brown sugar
150g silken tofu
45g cocoa powder
2 level tsp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
1 level tbsp ground arrowroot (I often add this to help bind gluten-free cake mixtures together)
100g ground almonds
Finely grated rind 1 unwaxed orange
2 level tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
Pinch of salt
125g icing sugar + extra to dust
Approx. 40ml freshly squeezed orange juice
10 tsp Chia or poppy seeds
10 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line a muffin tin with 10 paper cases. Put the oil, sugar and tofu in a bowl and whisk together with an electric mixer until well blended and thick.
Sieve 25g cocoa, baking powder and the arrowroot on top. Add the almonds, polenta, orange rind, chopped rosemary and salt. Mix all the ingredients together until thoroughly combined.
Divide the mixture equally between the cases. Smooth the tops and bake for about 35 minutes until just firm to the touch – the cakes may look slightly sunk in the middle. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To decorate, sieve the icing sugar and remaining cocoa powder into a small bowl and mix together with sufficient orange juice to make and smooth, spreadable icing. Spoon sufficient icing on top of each muffin and spread to cover the top completely.
Sprinkle the top of each muffin with 1 tsp seeds. Leave for a few minutes to set before adding the finishing touches.
Just before serving, carefully put the muffins into small flower pots. Push a sprig of rosemary into the top of each and if liked, dust the rosemary lightly with a little icing sugar for a frosted look.
The muffins freeze well once iced and seeded, and will also keep for 4-5 days in an airtight tin once decorated. Simply decorate with fresh rosemary and icing sugar just before serving.
I’m spoilt for choice at this time of year as to what sweet treats and edible goodies to make, but Florentines have to be up there in my Top 10 of all time favourites. These thin, crisp, Italian, chocolate-spread morsels are jammed packed with fruit and nuts, and they are just as delicious served with a spoonful of your favourite ice cream or sorbet, as they are with a cup of coffee.
I have chosen to use a combination of candied green fruits, seeds and nuts, but you can use any dried or candied fruit, and any unsalted, roasted nuts and seeds – in fact these biscuits are one of the best ways to use up any bits and pieces of dried fruit, nuts and seeds you have leftover. They will also work with all fruit or all nuts and seeds, so you can make up your own combinations to suit your personal preference.
Traditionally, Florentine biscuits are spread with melted dark chocolate on the back, but they are good left as they are. Cover the backs with 90% extra dark chocolate for a less sweet finish, and, if you can bring yourself to give them away, they make a lovely gift.
75g coconut oil or vegan margarine
75g golden syrup
50g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
1 tsp good quality natural almond or vanilla extract (such as Dr Oetker)
200g milk free, vegan white “chocolate”
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the oil or margarine with the syrup in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients except the white “chocolate”.
Drop 20 heaped teaspoonfuls, spaced well apart on to the prepared trays, and flatten each mound slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes until flattened and lightly golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the trays, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To cover the biscuits with chocolate, put just over half the amount of chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Line a large board with baking parchment.
Working on one biscuit at a time, carefully dip and roll the edge of the biscuit all the way round in chocolate and place on the lined board. Leave to set.
Once all the biscuits are dipped and set, melt the remaining chocolate as above. Turn the biscuits over and spread a little chocolate thinly over the backs. Leave to set. Note: If you can leave them alone, these biscuits will store well in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
With the weekend approaching, I thought a baking recipe might go down well today. One of my “turn to” bakes for entertaining is sweet and gooey blondies – a guaranteed winner. Very easy to make, quick to cook, and a bake that improves on keeping (although it doesn’t usually hang around long enough to test this theory to the full!). Here’s the recipe:
Makes 24 pieces
200g good quality white chocolate
115g salted butter
3 medium eggs
115g light soft brown sugar
225g gluten free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
1½ tsp gluten free baking powder
1-2 tsp caramel or butterscotch flavour (such as Dr Oetker Caramel Flavour or Beau Concentrated Butterscotch Flavour)
150g white chocolate chunks
300g your favourite caramel sauce or canned caramel
Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan oven, gas mark 3). Grease and line a 20 x 30cm rectangular cake tin. Break up 150g white chocolate into a heatproof bowl and add the butter. Sit the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and leave to melt. Remove from the water and cool for 10 minutes.
Beat the eggs and sugar into the melted chocolate mixture. Stir in the flour and baking powder, and add flavour to taste; then stir in the chocolate chunks.
Transfer to the prepared tin and smooth over the top. Bake in the oven until risen, lightly golden and lightly crusted on top (for about 25 minutes if you want a very dense centre, or for 30 minutes for a more even and spongier texture – this is my preference).
Whilst the cake is warm, score the top with a knife to make 24 equal pieces and then, using a wooden spoon handle, push the end into each portion of cake to make a deep indent – try to avoid pushing the handle right through to the bottom of the tin. Leave to cool completely in the tin.
Once the cake is cold, remove from the tin and wrap and store for 24 hours to allow the flavour to develop and the texture to moisten.
The next day, unwrap the cake and cut through into the 24 pieces. Depending on your caramel sauce preference, either squirt it straight from the tube; spoon it, or, transfer it to a piping bag and pipe sufficient caramel into each pocket to fill it.
Melt the reserved white chocolate as above and, using a teaspoon, drizzle liberally over the top of each blondie. Leave in a cool plate to set, or until you are ready to indulge. Yummy!