Dutch Apple Tart

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My friend Kristel recently came to visit. She’s from the Netherlands, and we met in our first year at university in Sheffield, when we lived a few rooms down from each other. Despite there being countries (and sometimes continents) separating us, we have stayed in touch, and I went to visit Kristel in Boston last year (read more about that here). So then it was her turn to visit me, and we spent an enjoyable week ambling around Bristol. Baking was also inevitably going to be on the agenda, and when trying to decide what to bake on a rainy Sunday, there was only one option.

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This apple tart is always going to provoke incessant bouts of nostalgia for us, since it was one of the things Kristel made during our first year at uni. We were living in a flat with nine people, most of whom had some sort of dietary requirement, from vegan to lactose intolerant. Therefore, as you can imagine, group meals were somewhat difficult. Being committed to the cause of group bonding, however, we managed to rustle something up that would suit everyone.

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Our group meals usually consisted of pasta with some sort of vegetable based sauce, and this apple tart for pudding (because yes, there had to be pudding). The version that Kristel made originally was vegan, involving the genius use of tahini instead of egg to bind the pastry together. This recipe is not vegan, as it uses butter in the pastry and egg yolk to glaze the top, but we retained the tahini for old time’s sake.

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Banana, Hazelnut and Chocolate Cake

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When Paris and I cook together, we make a lot of wholesome, healthy things. Like, a lot. There has been beetroot falafel, chargrilled apricots with chard and cous-cous, quinoa porridge…and those are just the ones we blog about. There has been many a grain salad Tuesday (#gst) in which we discuss our upcoming blog collaboration over various disgustingly virtuous, vegetable-based creations.

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But just occasionally, a hankering for something a bit less holy raises its head. More specifically, something that contains (stage whisper) sugar. Not even brown sugar, which for some reason seems healthier than white. No, this cake was made with the sin of all sins that is white refined sugar. The hashtag #refinedsugarfree will most definitely not apply. So there.

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This recipe is vegan, so all is not lost. Mashed banana and oil seem to do the trick of binding all the ingredients together, giving a convincing cake texture. It is denser than a cake made by beating the hell out of butter and sugar, but with a banana cake I feel that a bit of density goes with the territory. This is a great way of using up those bruised, blackened bananas lurking at the bottom of the fruit bowl (although a few were so far gone that we had to admit defeat and consign them to the compost).

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Have a gander at Avocado Please.

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Pumpkin Pie

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I recently visited America for the first time. Boston to be precise, resplendent with the fiery colours of the New England ‘fall’. I was staying with my friend, and former food blog collaborator, Kristel, who is conducting some very complicated biological research at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. America was a surprise in how much it seemed different to England in almost every way, even though the same language was being spoken. The food was a source of constant surprise to me: I found it difficult to restrain myself on my first trip to the supermarket – there were so many things that I had seen in films but didn’t imagine to exactly exist, that I then felt necessary to purchase. Such as pop tarts. These are an invention that never really caught on in Britain (although God knows why), consisting of a pastry shell filled with tooth-achingly sweet jam filling, that you warm up in the toaster. In the TOASTER. Baffling, but annoyingly addictive.

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As it was Thanksgiving season when I visited Boston, pumpkin was another foodstuff that was literally rammed down your throat at every opportunity. It popped up in coffee, donuts, cakes, pastries and pretty much everything else. I gladly embraced this, stopping for a Pumpkin Spice Latte (#psl) on every street corner. Also, being so close to such industrious maple syrup producing regions, such as Vermont, meant that it was nigh on obligatory to have maple syrup with every meal. We literally did this one day, taking it as somewhat of a challenge. We had maple syrup pancakes for breakfast, salad with maple syrup dressing for lunch, followed by a maple spice mocha and maple syrup “froyo” (frozen yoghurt), and then squash roasted in, you guessed it, for dinner.

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I decided to combine these two flavours in the classic Thanksgiving dessert of Pumpkin Pie. The sweetness of pumpkins (bought in a tin, to be true to the American recipe) marries very well with the nutty maple syrup, and the sourness of crème fraiche offsets the sweetness slightly. Around the latter days of November, my Instagram feed was clogged up with pumpkin pies, turkeys and the rather bizarre ‘candied yams’ (often involving sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows). So I decided to jump on the Thanksgiving bandwagon and give a pumpkin pie a go. I used a recipe from Food 52 that was, to stay true to the American theme, measured in ‘cups’, but thankfully my conversion seemed to work out fine. Pumpkin puree from a tin is laughably easy, but you can make your own by boiling the required amount of pumpkin until soft, then mashing until smooth.

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Date and Ginger Cake

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I recently heard of the concept of a ‘house-cooling’ (from the infinite wisdom that is Kinfolk magazine). This is pretty self-explanatory, being the opposite of housewarming: it involves saying a fond farewell to a dwelling that has provided so many memories, and welcoming in the transition and all its exciting new developments. My friends Alex and Heather have lived on a houseboat for the past 3 years. The time has come to say goodbye to the converted Dutch barge, and they are moving out of the boat onto dry land.

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I made this dark and sticky ginger and date cake to take to the ‘boat–cooling’ gathering. I felt that feeling something stodgy and spicy might be in order, not least to fuel the impending sorting and moving of an entire boat-worth of stuff. We ate the cake huddled in the warmth of the boat, feeling the calm sway of the water and remembering all the many previous days and evenings spent there. This time felt poignant given the shift in seasons too – saying farewell to the boat and farewell to summer. There was a definite fizz of excitement around the anticipation of the next exciting phase, of things to come.

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Sweet Potato, Goats’ Cheese and Walnut Muffins

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At the moment, I’m loving the chill in the air that signals early Autumn. The leaves are starting to turn, the days are drawing in and there’s already a sense of anticipation about the ‘C’ word. I also want to eat nothing but orange vegetables. Carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash become a staple of my weekly trip to the greengrocers. Most often I roast them with spices such as cumin and cinnamon, but also enjoy them simply boiled and mashed with lots of butter and salt.

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Sweet potato is so versatile, being equally at home in sweet and savoury recipes. The unassuming knobbly vegetable lends itself really well to being baked into cakes. Vegetables in cakes is nothing new – if you go beyond the undeniable cliché of carrot cake there’s a whole new world out there. I’ve got a whole cookbook dedicated to cakes which contain all manner of vegetables, from courgette and lemon cakes to aubergine in brownies (yes, really).

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My friend Clare and I thought that some gentle Sunday afternoon baking was in order. So we decided to use the sweet potato to make some savoury muffins, utilising the natural sweetness of the vegetable to combine with the sour goats cheese. We used a combination of wholemeal, plain and polenta flour in this recipe, giving the muffins a slightly grainy texture and a more full flavour. But if you don’t want to faff around with this just use plain or wholemeal. The general muffin method is to mix together all the dry and all the wet ingredients and fold one into the other. The highlight for me of making these muffins was mashing the boiled sweet potato together with a frankly obscene amount of butter into a gooey puddle, then eating a sneaky spoonful (or three).

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All About Apricots: Apricot and Cardamom Cookies

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I remember when I first discovered that it was cardamoM, not cardamoN. My world was turned momentarily upside down – a bit like when you first find out that Father Christmas isn’t real. It took a good few minutes of staring intently at the final letter of the word for it to really sink in. But cardamom it is, and this versatile spice was chosen for this recipe as it goes surprisingly well with sweet things. Even chocolate. If you don’t believe me, try this gorgeous white chocolate and cardamom mousse from the one and only Nigel Slater.

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Me and Paris chose the combination of apricots and cardamom as the focus of this recipe. The delicate little pods need to be pried open and the tiny black seeds crushed in a pestle and mortar, then sprinkled over the mixture and mixed well to combine. Cardamom is a strong spice but can be very subtle when used sparingly. We decided the best choice for this recipe would be dried apricots, as fresh would be too wet. We teamed the apricots and cardamom with oats, pecans, flour and glued the whole lot together with peanut butter.

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These cookies come out more like flapjacks – given the oats and honey combination. They have a pleasingly dense, healthy texture, and are, because of dear Paris, completely vegan. They keep for a good long time, only getting more moist and gooey with time. They  make the perfect after work snack with a good cup of char.

Read Paris’ take on the cookies here, with some much appreciated flattery to go along with it.

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Sesame and Yoghurt Bread

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I got home from work one day feeling particularly frazzled. It had been a stressful day, for whatever reason, and I desperately needed a way to wind down and switch off from the day. I tried my usual technique of going for a brisk walk around the block, but this did nothing to calm me down. I tried watching TV to distract me, but this didn’t help either. After wandering around in a hapless manner for a while, I decided that the only thing that would relax me was baking. I wanted the soothing reassurance of putting ingredients together and seeing them transform into something else. And I decided that baking bread would do the trick. There is something about the process of mixing the dough, kneading it into submission, then watching it rise, that I knew would provide the calming effect I was after.

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I read in a recipe book once that bread just needs flour, a yeast and a liquid, but these can come from all sorts of different ingredients. You could include things like beer for the yeast, and milk instead of water for the liquid. So when I make bread, I get tempted to chuck all sorts of things in. This time, I experimented with adding an egg to enrich the dough, and natural yoghurt for the moisture, both of which helped to make the dough silky and soft. I used several flours too – mostly wholemeal, but mixed with some plain flour to lighten it slightly. I also used a little bit of Emmer flour, made from an ancient variety of wheat, that gives an interesting nutty taste to the bread. At the end of the evening, the act of inhaling the wholesome, homely, comforting smell of freshly baked bread was exactly what I needed.

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