Saturday, 18 September 2010

Breakfast bars - easy, flexible, healthy, tasty....

...and not just for breakfast! I love these, and make lots of different variations depending what's in the cupboard. They are great for taking along on walks and for re/fuelling before or after exercise. They're about 200 cals each if you make 16 and are relatively low in refined sugar and fat.

  • 2oz/60g butter, at room temperature (or less, or even none)
  • 2oz/60g light brown sugar (or less, depending on fruit/juice used)
  • 6oz/180g porridge oats (regular work better than jumbo)
  • 6oz/180g Grape Nuts cereal
  • 8-12oz/240-360g dried fruit, nuts and seeds*
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 8oz/240ml fluid (cold black or herbal/fruit tea, milk, fruit juice). May need a little more when mixing but start with this much.
  • 1 good teaspoon mixed spice or other spice
*I've used pretty much anything here! Big fat sultanas, dates, apricots, figs, mango, cranberries, cherries (dried or even glace), candied peel and preserved ginger; pumpkin, sunflower, poppy and linseeds; flaked almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans or any other nuts; chocolate chips (just a few!). Just not all at once...

Try matching the fruit and nuts and spices to the fluid used. Cranberries and sour cherries (soaked in red grape juice or red fruit tea) and mango (orange juice) all go well with dark chocolate chips, and there's always classic date and walnut (apple juice or tea). You might want to reduce the amount of sugar if you are using sweet fruit and soaking it in sweet juice like orange or apple.


Ahead of time if possible (1hr or more - overnight is ideal), place any dried fruit to soak in the fluid, to plump it up.

Grease a baking dish approx 9" by 9" (or use silicone without greasing). Oven to 180C.

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add the eggs and the fruit with its soaking fluid. Mix, pause to let the fluid soak into the oats/grape nuts, then if needed add more fluid until a moist and spreadable mixture is obtained. Add the butter (if using) in little dots, a few at at time, and mix well.

Put into the pan, spreading into an even layer, and bake for about 25-30 minutes until firm and springy in the centre. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes and then on a rack. I cut a 9" x 9" panful into 16 squares and find it cuts more easily when cool.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Oat cookies and cranberry bread

I've been watching the Great British Bake-Off, and am feeling inspired to do something a bit more than the same old breakfast bars (although I still love them!). Might have to try some classics this week!

Spiced syrup oat cookies from Hannah Miles' Big Book of Cakes and Cookies. It's a pretty easy to remember:

  • 115g each of butter, caster sugar, plain flour and oats
  • 1 tsp each of baking powder, mixed spice and cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsb golden syrup

Cream the butter and sugar, and beat in the egg and syrup. Sift in the dry ingredients and add the oats. Fold in, mixing well.

Divide into 18-25 balls, spread between 2 baking trays, leaving spreading room. Press down a little if you want - my mixture was quite soft and didn't need this.

Bake 12-15 mins at 180C/350F. Larger cookies will be domed and more cakey in the middle, smaller ones will be flatter and crispier.

These are tasty cookies but I'm not sure I would identify them as having syrup in if I didn't know. I wonder whether melting the butter would allow you to use more syrup and less sugar (maybe with a touch more baking powder to compensate for the lack of air from creaming).

Update 18th Sept: A different method:
Melt the butter with 60g of sugar and 6tbsp syrup. Allow to cool. Sift dry ingredients (except oats) together, pour in cooled butter/sugar/syrup and mix well. Add oats and egg and mix again. Cool further in fridge to firm up. Dollop onto baking sheets (I used silicon liners so no greasing) and bake. After 12 minutes mine were a bit too brown on the edges, and they had spread more than the other method, but taste more syrupy. I suppose they are flapjack biscuits!

On to the cranberries...

I've had bargain fresh cranberries in my freezer since the new year. Time to do something with them. I went for cranberry bread from Jared Folkmann - I think I have made it before, but I didn't blog it (tut tut!). I've converted the amounts into metric (cups of butter - not useful!).

  • 360g (3 cups) plain wholemeal flour
  • 300g (1.5 cups) sugar ( ised half golden caster, half light muscovado)
  • 2.25 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 0.75 teaspoon baking soda
  • 170g (0.75 cup) butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1.5 teaspoons orange peel, grated
  • 270ml (1.125) cups orange juice
  • 300g (3 cups) fresh cranberries, chopped

I deviated from the original recipe because I wasn't sure about "cutting" the butter/sugar together. I creamed the butter and sugar as best I could (as with a lot of North American recipes, there is quite a lot of sugar), adding the eggs to loosen it and beating well. I sifted in a cup of the flour with the other dry ingredients, mixed it, then added in the other 2 cups alternating with the orange juice to keep the mixture workable. When it was mixed I stirred in the cranberries, and added some candied mixed peel I had lurking in the pantry. The cranberries were frozen and made the mixture really stiffen up, but it actually made it easier to portion out - I was able to get 15 muffins and a loaf out of the mixture.

The recipe says to bake for 1 hour (or so) at 180C/350F. I had an idiot moment and set my oven to grill... (duh) but the muffins were on the shelf below and they had 25 mins on grill and another 20 in the oven "proper". The cake had the 25 mins of grilling, got a bit toasted on top, and was then covered in foil and ovened for another 45 minutes - It's OK, a bit dense, but tasty enough and I'd do it again with the oven set properly :)