French Macarons Inspired by Persian Love Cake

Macarons used to terrify me. Not eating them… that was easy enough. Making them though scared me so much that I very rarely attempted them. My very first attempt, shockingly, was a success. Others after that were a disaster, with nothing but cracked macarons, very unelegant!

There are 2 methods of making macarons, French or Italian. A lot of my friends advised me to try the Italian method as that seemed to make the shells more stable. That method involves boiling sugar and water and adding it to the egg whites. I can be a real stickler for detail though, which can be a real pain in the backside. The stickler in me decided that as macarons are a French treat, I wanted to be able to make them the French way. I found a wonderful book in a set of 3 published by Love Food. This book is called Macaroons and has lots of different recipes. I’ve tried a few now and each time they’ve come out perfectly. My Persian Love Cake Macaron recipe is based around the recipes I picked up from this book.

The story of the Persian Love Cake is a beautiful tale of love and romance, which really appeals to me. Depending on which version you follow, it shows that the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach! A lady fell in love with a Persian prince and baked him a beautiful cake as a symbol of her love. In the version I like to believe, the prince fell in love with her and they lived happily ever after. In the other version, the prince was allergic to one of the ingredients and died. Boo hiss. I don’t like that version! There are nuts in these macarons though so make sure the person you give them to doesn’t have a nut allergy!!!

The macaron shells are flavoured with cardamom and rosewater. You can buy ground cardamom but the very best flavour and aroma comes from grinding them yourself. For baking purposes, you need green cardamom pods. Black ones are much more savoury and not suited for sweet bakes. The pods are quite hard, but break them open to reveal the cardamom seeds. It is these that you need. Grind them as finely as you can using a pestle and mortar. You can buy them in the spice section of supermarkets, or a great online seller for all your spice needs is The Spiceworks. They also sell dried rose petals in various sized bags, which are used to decorate these macarons.

Another ingredient in Persian Love Cake is saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. It is derived from the stigmas of the crocus flower, and is handpicked as there is no machine capable of such a delicate job. I use saffron from The Persian TraderThey only use the most superior grade of saffron from farms in North Iran, with the most intense colour, flavour and aroma. Cheaper versions can be bought but they are sometimes artificially dyed or mixed with less superior grades. As saffron is so expensive, you may as well make sure you’re getting the very best for your money. And believe me when I say you only need to use the tiniest amount, so a jar lasts forever!

Persian Love Cake is also flavoured with pistachio nuts. As macarons already have ground almonds I didn’t want to add extra nuts but wanted the flavour of the pistachio. As you know, I’m a huge fan of Monin syrups and had a bottle of pistachio syrup already. This was perfect to make a pistachio buttercream. The flavour was all there but the texture was beautifully smooth.

Enough waffling… here’s the recipe.

PERSIAN LOVE CAKE MACARONS

FOR THE MACARON SHELLS

115 g icing sugar

75 g ground almonds

Seeds from 5 green cardamom pods, ground very finely

2 large egg whites, must be at room temperature

50 g caster sugar

Half tsp rosewater

Pink food colouring, gel or paste but not liquid

FOR THE FILLING AND DECORATION

115 g icing sugar, sieved

55 g unsalted butter, softened

1.5 tbsp Monin pistachio syrup

dried rose petals and saffron to decorate

  • Using a food processor fitted with a sharp blade, blitz the icing sugar, ground almonds and cardamom until it is like powder, around 20-25 seconds. Sift this into a small bowl using a fine-meshed sieve. If there are any bits left in the sieve, throw them away.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. This means that when you lift the whisk, peaks will form but the tips of them will fold back over. I find it is best to use an electric handheld whisk for this, but you can use a stand mixer if you prefer. Add the caster sugar very gradually, whisking well each time you add any. The meringue mix will become glossy. Add the rosewater and enough food colouring to give the meringue a beautiful pink colour, and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks. This means that when you lift the whisk, peaks will form and will not fold over.
  • This next part is the stage that is most likely to cause problems if not done right, so be extra careful at this point. Tip a third of the almond mixture in with the meringue and use a flexible spatula to very gently fold the dry mixture in to the meringue. I scrape around the bowl, then lift the mixture from underneath and fold it over, occasionally cutting through the middle. When it is all combined, tip another third of the almond mixture in and repeat. At this point it will start to firm up a bit. Finally add the last third of the almonds, and fold as before until fully incorporated in to the mixture. It will be quite firm now. Keep folding gently until the batter loosens a bit. When it is ready to pipe, it will be glossy and smooth, and when you lift the spatula out of the mixture and let some fall off, it will lie in a trail on top of the batter for around 30 seconds without losing it’s shape. If you over-mix at this point allowing the batter to go too runny, your macarons will not hold their shape when piped.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. (I have a fan oven, so to make sure the breeze from the fan doesn’t lift the paper, use a tiny bit of the meringue mixture left on your electric whisk to stick the corners of the paper to your baking sheets). Spoon the mixture in to a large piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. Or if you are using disposable piping bags, just snip the end off to make a 1cm opening. Pipe 16 macarons on to each sheet, around 3 cm wide. To do this, just hold your piping bag vertically almost touching the paper, and squeeze until the mixture spreads to around 3 cm. Lift and repeat to pipe 4 rows of 4 shells on each sheet.
  • Hold the baking sheet with one hand and very firmly tap all along the underside with your other hand. Or gently tap the sheets on to your worktop. This helps to get rid of any air bubbles. The macarons will spread very slightly as the action flattens them a bit and gets rid of any peaks from the piping. If you do still have any peaks, lightly wet your finger and gently smooth them down. Carefully place a rose petal and a few strands of saffron on to 16 of the macaron shells. Saffron tastes very strong so don’t put too many on!
  • Leave the macarons on the side at room temperature to stand for around 30-40 minutes. They need to dry out a bit so that they bake evenly without cracking. They are ready to go in the oven when you can gently touch them without any mixture sticking to your finger. They will also lose their shine as they dry. While they are standing. preheat your oven to 140C fan, or 160C conventional oven.
  • Bake one sheet at a time for 10-15 minutes. (They take 10 minutes in my oven). Check them after 5 or 6 minutes and if they look like they are browning, turn your oven temperature down slightly.
  • To test if they are ready, gently nudge one of the macarons. If it wobbles on its base, it needs a little bit longer. If it has a crisp shell and doesn’t move, it is ready. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Cover a wire cooling rack with a piece of baking paper, gently peel the macarons off the baking sheet paper and place them on the wire rack to cool completely.
  • While they are all cooling, make the buttercream. Place the icing sugar, butter and pistachio syrup into a bowl and beat until light, fluffy and smooth.
  • Use a piping bag with a small nozzle or cut a small opening on a disposable piping bag, and pipe buttercream on to the macaron shells which don’t have the rose and saffron on them. Then place a decorated macaron shell on top and gently press together.

 

As these are based on a royal story, I wanted to make them extra indulgent, so brushed some gold lustre dust around the tops of them. You don’t have to though if you don’t want to.

Eagle eyed readers will notice I said pipe 32 shells but I only have 15 complete macarons in my photos. I couldn’t resist instantly sampling one before the photos were taken. My willpower is sadly lacking!!!!!

These would make beautiful gifts for loved ones, or wonderful wedding favours. What better way to celebrate a union of love than with these romantic treats. Whoever you make them for, I’m sure they’ll be very gratefully received.

 

Spaghetti Carbonara – Satisfying Family Meal For Less Than a Fiver!

I recently overheard a conversation between two mothers, talking about the cost of food. One was saying she finds it impossible to make a meal for less than £10 for her family of 4. I was a bit shocked, as I could think of plenty of meals that could be made much cheaper. I decided to go home and come up with some tasty and satisfying meals which would cost half of that price. The first recipe in my #FeedAFamilyForAFiver series is this delicious Spaghetti Carbonara.

It is such a simple and quick meal to make, so perfect for when time is limited. I based the meal price on the cost of ingredients in Tesco, as that is my local shop. I did look on Asda’s website at their prices too though and it worked out pretty much the same. It could be made even cheaper by using eggs from caged hens, but I never ever recommend that, so this recipe uses free-range eggs. Apart from not wanting to support the sale of caged hen eggs for compassionate reasons, they don’t taste anywhere near as good as free-range either. Free-range yolks are much more yellowy-orange compared to the insipid colour of caged hen eggs, and the flavour is much better.

I have tried this meal with Tesco Value spaghetti which cost just 20p for 500g and another brand which cost £1, and I can honestly say there was no difference in taste, so you may as well stick with the 20p one for this recipe. Most recipes for Spaghetti Carbonara use pancetta, but I just used a pack of unsmoked streaky bacon and it was delicious. My son isn’t a huge fan of smoked bacon but if your family like it, by all means try it with smoked instead.

Here is the recipe:

SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

1 pack of unsmoked streaky bacon, around 275-300g

50g butter

340g spaghetti

4 medium eggs

100g grated Parmesan cheese

  • Beat the eggs in a jug or small bowl and add most of the Parmesan cheese. Keep a little bit of the cheese to one side to sprinkle on the cooked meal if wanted.
  • Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet, usually for around 8 minutes, until cooked but still slightly firm to the bite (al dente). Remove from the heat but do not drain it.
  • While the spaghetti is cooking, use kitchen scissors to cut the bacon into small pieces. (Bear in mind that the bacon will shrink as it is fried, so don’t cut them too small). Melt the butter in a large non-stick pan and add the bacon pieces. Fry over a medium heat until the bacon is brown and crispy. Turn the heat down to low. (You might be thinking there looks like too much butter in your pan now as the bacon fat has added too, but it is all needed so don’t worry).

  • Use tongs to lift the spaghetti and place it in the pan with the bacon. Toss the bacon and spaghetti together, letting the butter and bacon fat coat the spaghetti, until the bacon is evenly distributed. Remove from the heat.
  • Pour the egg and cheese mixture on to the spaghetti and use the tongs to toss it together, making sure the spaghetti is all coated with the mixture. Add 3 tbsps of the spaghetti water and mix well. This will produce a lovely slightly creamy sauce without making it sloppy. Season with black pepper to taste.
  • Serve, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese if required. Enjoy!

 

You might be wondering about the eggs now, and whether they are safe to eat as they are not cooked. Well, the answer is yes they are fine as they DO cook. You have to remove the pan from the heat before you add them or else they would simply scramble, and you don’t want that. The heat from the freshly boiled spaghetti, along with the hot butter and bacon fat, and the boiling hot spaghetti water will cook the eggs to a safe level while keeping them soft.  I have made this recipe many times and none of us have ever been ill from it. In fact it is now a firm favourite with my son. There are only 3 of us so we have some leftover when I make it. My son loves it cold from the fridge the next day too!

Here’s the ingredients price list to show how cheap it is to make. This is using Tesco ingredients.

  • 100g Tesco grated Parmesan cheese – £2.00
  • 500g Tesco Value spaghetti – 20p
  • 1 pack of Woodside Farms streaky bacon – 275g – £1.04
  • 6 free-range medium eggs – 89p – this makes it 60p for 4
  • Block of Tesco butter – £1.18 for 250g- this makes it 24p for 50g

Total for the ingredients used – £4.08!!

Ok so you don’t use all of the spaghetti in the pack but that’s only pence anyway. Obviously you can spend more if you use other brands, but the brands I used made a very tasty meal which we all loved. You really can keep the cost down without compromising on taste!

I hope you enjoy it as much as we all do 🙂 Check back soon for another cheap but tasty family meal.

 

Peach Schnapps and Raspberry No Bake Cheesecake Hearts

One of my all-time favourite desserts has to be a no-bake cheesecake. So simple to make, yet with so many different flavour combinations to try. My favourite up until now has been THIS ROSE AND PISTACHIO CHEESECAKE but I think I’ve now come up with a worthy contender for the title of my number one recipe.

I was kindly sent a fantastic mini hearts pan to use from The Little Cook Shop and I’ve used it in a few recipes now as it is so versatile. (See HERE and HERE for a couple of other recipes using it). I was going to make one big cheesecake but decided that mini hearts ones would be much nicer, especially as the topping was going to be bright red. I was also going to make a peach puree to mix in but decided to use peach Schnapps instead. I used Archers as I always have a bottle in the house. You can’t beat Archers and lemonade on a Summer’s evening!

The secret of a no-bake cheesecake is in the pan you use. Never make one in a pan that has a fixed base, or else you’ll have a nightmare trying to get it out in one piece (unless you line it with strong foil first and lift it out). That is why this heart pan is so perfect. Each heart has a loose base so that you can easily push the cheesecakes out of the pan when they are set. It is such a good quality pan and washes up so easily too. I really can’t recommend it highly enough!

I made these cheesecakes yesterday and half of them disappeared very very quickly. I’ve eaten another one today and it tastes just as good, if not better! These will keep well in the fridge for a few days, but I doubt you’ll have any left after two!

PEACH SCHNAPPS AND RASPBERRY NO-BAKE CHEESECAKES

160g digestive biscuits (about 10 biscuits)

60g unsalted butter, melted

150g full-fat cream cheese

30g icing sugar

85ml double cream

2.5 tbsp Peach Schnapps, or more for a stronger taste

150g fresh raspberries, rinsed

30g caster sugar

0.5 tsp lemon juice

extra raspberries to decorate if required

  • To make the biscuit base, either blitz the digestives in a food processor, or place them in a ziplock bag and bash them with a rolling pin, until you have fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and mix well until completely combined.
  • Divide the mixture equally among the heart shaped cavities, and press down firmly with the back of a teaspoon until flat and well-compacted.
  • Place in the fridge for an hour to firm up.
  • Place the cream cheese and icing sugar in to a bowl and whisk until smooth. Place the double cream in to another bowl and whisk until it reaches soft peak stage. (This means that peaks will form when you lift the whisk out of the cream, but the tips of the peaks will fold back down).
  • Add the cream to the cream cheese and fold in until combined. You’ll notice it becoming thicker as you do this. The more you fold, the thicker it will become. Add the peach schnapps and keep folding to mix it in well, until smooth. (Taste a tiny bit at this stage and add more schnapps if required).
  • Divide the mixture between the hearts. I found it easier to use a piping bag to make sure I covered the bases completely. Use a small palette knife or spatula to level the tops, then place in the fridge for at least 3 hours to set. The longer the better.
  • While the cheesecakes are in the fridge, make the raspberry sauce: Press the raspberries through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the seeds (or blitz in a food processor and then pass through the sieve). Pour the seedless raspberry juice into a small saucepan, add the sugar and lemon juice, mix, and place over a low heat on the hob. Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring regularly, and keep on the heat until the sauce starts to thicken. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • When the cheesecakes are set, remove from the fridge and push the bases up from underneath to release them from the pan. Use a knife to gently ease the metal heart base off the biscuit. Place on to a serving plate.
  • Stir the sauce until smooth and pour in to a disposable piping bag. (If the sauce has thickened too much, just mix in a little bit of boiled water that has cooled down). Cut a tiny end off the bag to make a very small opening. Drizzle the sauce over the cheesecakes, and add a raspberry on top of each if required to decorate.
  • Enjoy!!!

As these are so small with a decent amount of biscuit base, they are easy to pick up to eat. Or you can be more civilised and use a spoon, of course.

You could substitute the Schnapps for any flavour or alcohol you prefer. I can think of many cocktail-inspired cheesecakes to try with various alcohol and fruit toppings. I’m looking forward to making many more!

SPECIAL OFFER

If you would like to give these a go and would like to make them in the same pan, you can buy it HERE and to make it even more tempting, if you use the code CONFARREO10 at the checkout you will get 10% off your order. That code can be used for everything on their website so make the most of it 🙂

Carrot Flapjack Hearts Recipe…. Little Hearts of Happiness

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My previous blog post was one in which I made a scrumptious cinnamon sauce and a cream cheese icing, and I now make sure my bottles are permanently full of these as they are so so delicious. I was thinking about other bakes I could make that they would complement and thought they would be amazing drizzled over a carrot cake. When I checked my cupboards though I didn’t quite have enough of the ingredients I would need, and I didn’t fancy a trip to the shops. I did however have plenty of oats, so decided to have a go at making carrot flapjacks that would hopefully give me the carrot cake fix I was craving. Well They most certainly did! They taste just like chewy carrot cake! I posted a photo of them on Twitter and a lovely lady described them as “little hearts of happiness”. I loved that description so much I decided to use it in the title 🙂

As I mentioned in THIS SHORTBREAD RECIPE recently, I received a beautiful Heart Mini Bakes pan from The Little Cook Shop and I decided it would be perfect for these flapjacks. I’ll be honest, I used my own recipe for these and guessed how much of each ingredient to use as I went along, so I was over the moon when I had mixed it all together to find it was the exact amount needed for the pan! That was such a stroke of luck. Although if I’d known how popular they would be in my house I would have doubled the amounts and made 2 batches! I am making more tomorrow and that is what I shall be doing this time! My Other Half ate 2 as soon as he walked through the door from work, then another 2 not long later. In his words, “these are ridiculously moreish”. That made my day. I frequently get accused of being a “feeder”, and I know I’m guilty of that. I get so much pleasure from cooking or baking something and seeing it being greatly enjoyed. The batch of 12 was polished off within a few hours. Good result! They are chewy rather than crunchy as that is how I prefer flapjacks. If you prefer crunchy, use 1 tbsp less honey and bake a few minutes longer.

I was thinking these would be perfect for Easter too. You know how you leave a mince pie out for Santa, a tooth for the Tooth Fairy…. well I can guarantee the Easter Bunny would love to find a couple of these left out for him when he visits your home! He doesn’t want a plain old carrot as he knows you leave them out for Rudolph. He wants something different that tells him you love him. What better than a carrot flapjack heart? Trust me, he’ll thank you for it!


You could use any pan for these but the Heart Mini Bakes pan is just so perfect. You will find you’ll use it for so many bakes so it is well worth buying. It is available HERE and if you enter the code CONFARREO10 at the checkout you will receive a 10% discount! You can use that code across the whole site, not just on that pan, so it is worth having a look at what else you might like. Chocolate moulds, bakeware, cookware, bundt pans, cook books…. the list goes on.

I topped half of mine with the cinnamon sauce and cream cheese icing I had made previously, and half with just the cream cheese icing. You don’t need to top them with anything but they do make them extra special. here is the recipe:

CARROT FLAPJACK HEARTS

75g unsalted butter, plus a bit extra for greasing

60g light brown soft sugar

3 tbsp runny honey

Half tsp mixed spice

100g carrots (weight after being peeled). peeled and finely grated

25g seedless raisins

25g chopped walnuts

150g porridge/rolled oats

  • Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C fan. Melt the little extra bit of butter and use a pastry brush to grease the heart cavities of the pan.
  • Place the butter, sugar, honey and mixed spice into a medium sized saucepan and heat until the butter and sugar have melted, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from the heat and add the carrots, raisins, and walnuts and mix well.
  • Add the oats and mix until completely combined and the ingredients are distributed fairly throughout.
  • Divide the mixture between the 12 heart cavities and press down firmly until level. I found it easier to use my (clean!) fingers for this part.
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  • Place the pan on to a baking sheet/tray and bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. They should still feel a bit soft, and will have shrunk away from the sides slightly.
  • Leave in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove gently and place on to a wire cooling rack to cool.

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You can either eat them as they are, or to make them extra special make the toppings from THIS RECIPE and drizzle them over the flapjacks. If you can only make one topping, make it the cream cheese icing. It goes so perfectly with these. Let me know what you top yours with. Happy Baking!

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DISCLAIMER: I received the pan for free from The Little Cook Shop in exchange for recipes/review. They very kindly provided a discount code for my readers. I receive no commission from the use of the discount code and receive no compensation from the Little Cook Shop (apart from getting to keep the pan). All views and opinions are my own and I believe in honesty in all my posts. I only review products I absolutely love for companies who I feel offer amazing service, so you can trust any recommendations I make 🙂

Cinnamon Sauce and Cream Cheese Icing Recipes for Fluffy Pancake Toppings

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This time last year there was a huge amount of excitement in our house as we were just a couple of weeks away from flying out to Orlando to see Mickey Mouse and friends. Half of me was dreading it (I imagined it would be just like a jam-packed Alton Towers for 2 weeks) and the other half of me was excited for the Disney magic. I have to say now though it was absolutely fantastic! The people were so friendly and fun, the weather was just glorious, the whole atmosphere was laid back, and the magic was definitely there. I had been kind of dreading the food too. I’d imagined just fried chicken and burgers for 2 weeks. Isn’t it funny how wrong our preconceptions can be? Three particular meals will always be remembered as some of the best food I have ever eaten. A Mexican feast in a gorgeous restaurant called Chuy’s on International Drive. A delicious meal in a restaurant called The Plaza, in Magic Kingdom. And a humungous breakfast in Denny’s Diner on International Drive. For this breakfast I chose pancakes with egg, hash browns, bacon, sausage and I think there were beans too. Can’t quite remember that part so well.  It was all soooooo good but the best part by far was the pancakes. They arrived on a separate plate and they had a cinnamon sauce and cream cheese icing drizzled over them. (Cinnamon seems to be a very big thing in Orlando).

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You can’t tell from the picture but these beauties were enormous! Actually you can tell…. the plate they are on is a dinner plate! I can honestly say these were divine! The pancakes were super light and fluffy, and the sauce and icing were… it’s hard to find a word to describe how amazing these were. You know the extremely famous scene with Meg Ryan in the diner in “When Harry Met Sally”? Yes, THAT scene? Well I think she had just tried a mouthful of this dish when she filmed that! Enough said.

I have craved these pancakes ever since returning home but had no idea how to go about making them. Two days ago it was Pancake Day and I was determined to recreate the only pancakes I have thought about in the last year. It took a bit of trial and error to get the sauces right but I was deliriously happy to eventually sit at the table with a stack of fluffy pancakes and two squeezy bottles full of the 2 most delicious toppings in the world. And as I would feel selfish keeping these recipes to myself, I’m going to share them with you. These taste EXACTLY like the ones I had a year ago in Florida. I am so happy now I can enjoy them every day!!!

You can use your favourite recipe for fluffy pancakes if you already have one. I used THIS RECIPE and it made 5 good sized very light and perfectly fluffy pancakes. Some people use buttermilk but these were just perfect as they were. I actually made 2 batches so had 10 pancakes. They were just as good the next day warmed quickly in a dry frying pan. I should imagine you could warm them quickly in a microwave too in around 15 seconds. Or eat them cold! Here are the recipes for the sauces:


CINNAMON SAUCE

200 g granulated sugar

25 g plain flour

1 level tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

140 ml water

30 g unsalted butter

  • Put all of the ingredients except the butter in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sauce starts to bubble and thickens. Let it boil gently until it is the thickness you prefer. I boiled mine for around 5 minutes, still stirring it.
  • Take the sauce off the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter has melted and is thoroughly combined.

 

This sauce is at its best served slightly warm or room temperature. It is perfect for pancakes, waffles, churros, or glazing cakes. It would make a delicious dipping sauce for fruit too.


CREAM CHEESE ICING

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

50g cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tbsp milk

half tsp vanilla extract

220g icing sugar, sifted

pinch of salt

  • Using a handheld electric whisk/beater, mix together the butter and the cream cheese until combined.
  • Add the milk and vanilla extract and beat until creamy.
  • Finally add the icing sugar and salt and continue to beat until very smooth and any lumps have disappeared.

This icing is perfect for pancakes, waffles, to use as a dipping sauce, or drizzling over cakes. Leftover icing will need to be kept in the fridge and ideally used within a few days.


I had 2 squeezy bottles which I used to put mine in and they made it so easy to drizzle the sauce and the icing over my pancakes. They also make them very easy to store. Both of these recipes made enough to fill 1 and a half bottles of each, so if you don’t want that much, just halve the recipes. Although I am absolutely certain that when you try them both, especially together, you will be wanting a permanent supply of them!

As you can tell from the photo of the ones I made, I put quite a bit more sauce and icing on them than the ones I ate in Denny’s Diner. When you try them, you’ll understand why. I have no shame in saying I could even eat them on their own straight from the bottles!!! I hope you love them as much as I do. I’d love to hear what you use them for if you make them. Enjoy! 🙂

2…4…6…Ate! Easy Shortbread Hearts, Baked with Love

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As many of you will know, my mother sadly passed away when I was still a child. It wasn’t just my mother that died that day, it was also a whole host of experiences that many people take for granted. I’d never get to tell her about my first boyfriend, or go wedding dress shopping with her, or hand a precious grandchild to her to hold for a while. Those things fill me with sadness, but strangely enough the one thing I never got chance to do but really wish I had was to bake something for her. When my son makes or bakes something for me, it fills my heart with so much joy and pride, and I wish I could have done that for her. The look of pure satisfaction and happiness on my son’s face as he watches my face light up… well that’s a look that will stay with me forever.

I always loved baking and loved making things at school in Home Economics, as it was then called. Those lessons taught me so much. How to make shortcrust pastry, how to make a Victoria sponge. The methods and quantities used always stick in my head. One thing I was taught which I remember well was shortbread. The easiest shortbread ever to remember. In those days (the 1980s) we measured ingredients in ounces not grams, and for shortbread my teacher used to write on the board “2-4-6-Ate”. Easiest ingredient quantities ever, right? It stood for 2 ounces of sugar, 4 of butter, 6 of flour, and that would make them good enough to eat. It is such a simple recipe, my 9 year old son knows it by heart too, and he makes scrumptious shortbread!

With Mother’s Day approaching I wanted to write a blog post of a recipe that would be easy enough for children to make, with supervision, to give to their Mums as a gorgeous little gift. Baked with love. A wonderful cookware and bakeware shop called The Little Cook Shop very kindly sent me a beautiful Eddingtons loose-based mini heart pan to try, and I decided this would be perfect for this recipe.

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The pan has 12 small heart-shaped cavities, and each has a removable base so you can get your bakes out so much easier. Push up from underneath and your bake just pops out. It is also non-stick for extra easiness. There is a scrumptious looking recipe on the back of the box to make strawberry and chocolate cheesecakes with this pan. I shall definitely be trying those at some point!!! This pan costs £9.99 and is well worth it at that price as the quality is fantastic. However, The Little Cook Shop have given me a code to pass on to you so you can have 10% off any order, making this pan just £8.99! I can’t recommend it highly enough. I will be using mine A LOT! It will be perfect for savoury bakes such as quiches as well as so many sweet bakes. Have a look around their website and enter the code CONFARREO10 at the checkout to redeem the discount offer. You can use it on anything you order, not just this pan.

Back to the recipe. I normally only really use unsalted butter in my baking, but I was taught that shortbread is best when made with salted butter. It also is best made with butter that is slightly softened but still cold. Too warm and it affects the texture. Too cold and it’s hard to mix in properly. This is where a fairly new butter in the shops is just perfect.

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The Softer Butter Co. has produced a delicious butter that tastes exactly as you’d expect from a quality 100% natural butter, but it has one big difference. It is, as the name suggests, softer! No need to leave this one out of the fridge for a while to soften up, it is the perfect softness straight from the fridge. If you want to try it yourself, you can find it in Morrisons and in some Tesco stores. It is perfect for this recipe as it is softer but still cold.

EASIEST SHORTBREAD EVER 2-4-6-ATE!

2 ounces of caster sugar

4 ounces of salted butter slightly softened, or the Softer Butter Co straight from the fridge

6 ounces of plain flour, sieved

a knob of butter, melted for greasing

extra caster sugar for sprinkling on after baking (optional)

  • Use a pastry brush to grease the heart cavities with melted butter.
  • Cream together the sugar and the butter, until pale and fluffy. You can do this with a wooden spoon or an electric hand whisk. Obviously the electric whisk is quicker, but children love mixing with spoons.
  • Tip the flour into the butter mixture, and use a wooden spoon to mix well until you have a fairly stiff paste/dough and everything is combined thoroughly.
  • Use your hands to gently press the mixture together and then divide into 12 equal sized balls, about the size of walnuts.
  • Place one ball into each greased heart cavity, and use your fingers to press them down until they fill the bottom of the cavities and are level. Use a fork to prick them all over, making sure you don’t go all the way through them.
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  • Place the pan with the uncooked dough into the fridge. While it is chilling, turn your oven on to 170C or 150C if using a fan oven.
  • When the oven has reached the temperature, place the pan on to the middle shelf and bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the shortbread with caster sugar, if using. Leave in the pan for 5-10 minutes.
  • Using a clean tea towel to protect your finger from getting burnt, push up each heart shortbread from underneath, and place them on a wire rack to cool completely. They will pop up so perfectly and cleanly.
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You can keep them plain like this, and they will be delicious served with a cup of tea. They are perfectly crumbly and melt in the mouth.

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Or you can decorate them by dipping half in melted chocolate or icing, and sprinkling decorations on. I love the different ways you can present them so I decorated 4 with melted white chocolate and dried rose petals, 4 with melted ginger dark chocolate and chopped hazelnuts, and 4 with icing and sprinkles.

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Beech’s Fine Chocolates make 60g bars of various flavours of the most delicious chocolate, and I used their bars for the melted chocolate decoration on these hearts. Their chocolate tastes so luxurious and smooth. The white chocolate was so creamy and the ginger dark chocolate had a beautiful gentle warmth. Of course, you can use any chocolate, but these bars make the shortbread so indulgent. Melt the chocolate either in a microwave (being very careful not to burn it) or in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Dip each heart into the chocolate and then place back on the wire rack. Sprinkle with whatever decorations you fancy.

If using icing, mix a few drops of water into 2 ounces of icing sugar, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but runny enough to dip. Dip the shortbread into the icing and return to the wire rack. Decorate with sprinkles. I used the stunning Unicorn Sprinkletti available from Scrumptious Sprinkles. The colours in this are so feminine and magical, and the shapes are so pretty.

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My son said you could decorate them to show what you think of your mother. You love her so you make them heart shaped with this beautiful pan. Then if you think she’s pretty, you decorate with sprinkles or flowers. If she’s daft and nutty, you use chopped nuts. I asked him how he would decorate mine and he said with plenty of nuts! Charming!

I hope you enjoy baking these oh so easy treats. And if your children will be making them for Mother’s Day I’m sure there’ll be some very happy mums.

Don’t forget, if you head over to The Little Cook Shop you can buy anything you want and get a 10% discount if you use the code CONFARREO10 at the checkout. You could even pick up some presents for Mother’s Day there! If you particularly want to buy this gorgeous mini heart pan click HERE to go directly to it. Happy shopping and happy baking!

Queen of Hearts Cocktail… The Perfect Drink for Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and with it, many people will be planning a romantic evening for their loved ones. What better way to start the celebrations than with a beautiful cocktail?

I have to confess, I really love cocktails! The different flavours all blended to perfection to make an even better flavour, the colours, the glassware…. I just love them! They are the perfect way to enhance any celebration. In fact I enjoy them so much I even bought a cocktail shaker set to make them properly! You don’t need one of those though. Any container with a tight fitting lid will do the job just fine. Thermos flask, large screw-top jar… the list is endless.

When I think of cocktails, I think of alcohol, fruit juices and Monin syrups. Monin is recognised by many as the market leader in flavoured syrups and has won several international quality awards. Their syrups are used in the hospitality industry, both in cocktails and in hot beverages such as coffee. I personally use them in cocktails, coffee, hot chocolate, and baking, and they never fail to impress me with their flavours.

I was recently sent an email telling me about a romantic cocktail created using 2 of their syrups. Obviously I had to try it and all I can say is WOW! Allow me to introduce you to the Queen of Hearts. She is a thing of beauty. Fruity, sweet, delicate but powerful, and with a warming aftertaste which lingers after the last sip has been taken.

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The Queen of Hearts contains Monin Grenadine syrup, which is a beautiful combination of slightly tart red berries and a hint of a vanilla. This syrup is widely known for its use in a Tequila Sunrise. It has a rich red colour which is perfect for romantic cocktails, with red traditionally being the colour of love and passion. The Queen of Hearts also contains Monin Vanilla syrup, with its warm and comforting properties. The alcohol content in this cocktail comes from white rum. There are many brands to buy but I used Bacardi. It is my rum of choice for drinks where a white rum is needed. So how do you make one? I’ll tell you.

THE QUEEN OF HEARTS COCKTAIL

Fill a cocktail shaker (or any container with a tight fitting lid) with ice. Add 20ml Monin Grenadine syrup, 20ml Monin Vanilla syrup, 40ml of light/white rum, and 60ml of orange juice. Shake well, and strain the liquid into a cocktail glass.

You can serve it like that, but if you want to add a touch of romance, I think cocktail glasses look better rimmed with sugar. You need to do this BEFORE you pour the liquid in to it! Just pour some water on to a plate and place the glass upside down on to the plate. Sprinkle some caster sugar on to another plate and press the glass rim on to the sugar. It will stick perfectly, giving a lovely frosty look. To go one stage further, garnish with a strawberry heart. This is a really simple but oh so pretty garnish. Just slice a strawberry from top to bottom, and you will have a slice which is very similar to a heart shape. You can trim it slightly to make it look even more like a heart. Cut a small slit diagonally upwards near the bottom. Dip into the leftover caster sugar from the glass dipping to coat both sides, then position on to the edge of the glass using the slit you cut. I’m sure you’ll agree that looks so pretty and just says romance!

Monin Grenadine syrup is available in the spirits aisle in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, priced at £2.99 for 250ml.

Monin Vanilla syrup is available in the hot beverages aisle in Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Ocado, at the same price.

If, like me, you plan on making lots of cocktails, I would recommend buying bigger bottles from UDAL SUPPLIES. This company stocks a massive range of Monin syrups at amazing prices and it is much more economical to buy larger bottles. (This is where I bought mine from too). Delivery is 1-2 days and your bottles arrive packed so securely there is no chance of any breakages. Their customer service is friendly and efficient. Perfect.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

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DISCLAIMER: Monin sent me details of how to make the cocktail (apart from the garnish) but I bought the ingredients myself. I received no compensation in any form for writing this post. Udal Supplies also provided no compensation. I am just happy to recommend good products and services. All views and opinions are my own.