Wednesday, February 14, 2018

‘Just because...’ cookies - and Valentine's Day rebooted !

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If you listen hard you will hear the unromantic din of cash registers chi-chinging all over the world. That’s the sound of big business cashing in on the scurry to live up to romantic expectations - your own, or someone else’s - on February 14th.
Valentine’s Day is quite possibly the least romantic day of the year. If you are someone’s special someone, hopefully you’ll already know it - and show it - in a thousand tiny ways throughout the year. You will be least in need of a day of ersatz romance.
Love is bigger than just romantic love. It’s in the everyday things: in the sticky pre-licked sweet my tiniest niece presses into my hand when I know she really, really, really wants it for herself; it’s in the email/card/text/call that says between the lines “Hey, I was thinking of you”. It’s in making the dinner/walking the dog/cleaning the bathroom/rescuing the laundry from a sudden rain shower without having to be asked. It’s in accepting the irritating imperfections right along with the good qualities that are so much easier to love, whether you are family, friend, or lover.
Since 2011, there has been a move to ‘reboot’ Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day; to make it less ‘cosy couples’ and more egalitarian. At first glance, this smacks of an ‘everyone-gets-a-medal’ race, but why not!  Generosity Day is an opportunity to practice random acts of, well, generosity. It is a day for giving rather than taking.
I’m celebrating February 14th (whatever you want to call it) with my fully customisable ‘Just because...’ cookies. I don’t need any excuse to make them. They can be ... Just because... I wanted to say thanks. Just because... you make me smile... Just because... sometimes you can read my mind. Just because... well... just because!




For 40 - 50  ‘Just because...’ cookies (depending on size) you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C
200g butter (at room temperature)
100g icing sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
250g plain flour
50g cocoa powder, sifted to remove any lumps
a small pinch of fine table salt
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 teaspoon of boiling water 

To decorate you will need chocolate and sprinkles. I’m not going to be too prescriptive about this bit of the recipe – this is the ‘pimp my cookie’ bit, where you get to customise these cookies for those lucky people who are loved by you, but I’ll tell you what I did. 

1.                  First make the cookies - Place the butter, icing sugar and orange zest in a mixing bowl or stand mixer and beat together until fluffy and lighter in colour.
2.                  Mix together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add to the butter mixture about a third at a time, beating until well combined. Finally, add the egg yolk and dissolved coffee and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball.
3.                  Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness of about 3mm. Using cookie cutters, cut into shapes – I’ve chosen hearts in a variety of sizes. Any leftovers can be squashed into a ball and re-rolled.
4.                  Place on a baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking tray for about 3 minutes before transferring carefully to a cooling rack. When completely cold, decorate as desired.


Here’s what I did: 

5.                  I melted 100g of good quality white chocolate in a small Ziploc freezer bag by removing all the air, sealing it and putting it in a bowl of hot water. In another Ziploc bag, I placed 50g good quality dark chocolate together with 50g good quality milk chocolate and melted it in the bowl of hot water. This gives a subtle two-tone, two-flavour effect.
6.                  While the chocolate was melting, I prepared a variety of sprinkles: chopped dried sour cherries, chopped dried apricots, chopped toasted hazelnuts, Maldon sea salt crystals. Use your imagination - the world is your sprinkle :)
7.                 When the chocolate had melted, I snipped a tiny corner off each bag, drizzling chocolate directly onto the cookies.
8.                  While the chocolate was still melted I sprinkled my chosen toppings onto the cookies.  

Just because... you deserve a treat!

When the cookies have completely set, make yourself a cuppa and taste-test a couple of these treats before packaging them prettily and distributing them to your loved ones, just because... 


Just because... you are salt of the earth!

Just because... xxx
First published 13 February 2013
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vanilla Orange Caramel Pancake Sauce – Mardi Gras for your mouth!

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Pancakes and crêpes are nothing on their own. Left to their own devices they would never go out. Savoury or sweet, they depend on fillings and dressings to give them a social life.

Though I’m a fiend for maple syrup, sometimes something as simple as a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice is just the thing to make a pancake interesting. However, for a real taste of Carnival, my current favourite is this zingy vanilla orange caramel sauce.  Pour the hot syrup over pancakes or crêpes and feel your taste buds samba!

The sauce thickens as it cools and if there is any left over, it’s delicious, cold, on ice cream.



For approximately 150mls of sweet, zingy caramel sauce you will need…
150g caster sugar
10g salted butter
zest of one orange, finely grated or cut into shreds
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
100mls fresh orange juice

You will need to exercise a little caution – melted sugar is extremely hot.

You will also need a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed, light-coloured saucepan (light-coloured so you can see the sugar change colour as it melts and judge easily when to take it off the heat.)



Put the sugar in an even layer in the pan and place the pan over a medium heat, supervising it constantly until the sugar has melted. You will need to swirl the pan occasionally so that the sugar melts evenly. I prefer to swirl rather than stir as over-stirring can cause the sugar to clump, however a little gentle poking at the melting mixture with a wooden spoon or spatula won’t hurt.

Another swirl or two will capture those sugar crystals on the side


Once the sugar has melted, keep it over the heat until it has turned a rich amber colour and starts to smell like caramel. Watch the pan like a hawk as the melted sugar can burn quickly and become bitter (if that happens, start again).


The caramel is ready when it smells like caramel and is a rich amber colour

Now add the butter, stirring until it has melted into the caramel, then add the orange zest, and vanilla and stir to incorporate.



Add the orange juice in a steady stream, stirring until you have a smooth syrup. It will bubble furiously and the cold juice may cause the caramel to solidify in places.  If this happens,  just keep stirring over the heat and any blobs of caramel will eventually melt back in to the sauce.

Bubbling furiously

Once you have a smooth sauce, remove from the heat.

This sauce can be made ahead and served hot or cold. If using hot, remember that it is super hot and warn people accordingly. As it cools it thickens up and is delicious with ice cream.

To serve hot, reheat in a saucepan over a medium heat and then pour over hot pancakes. You could also prepare (or buy) your pancakes ahead and reheat them in the sauce as in the picture below.  Click here to for an easy cider and cinnamon pancake recipe

Pancakes ready to party!

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