Almost instant banana bread

Banana bread

I have a real problem with throwing bananas away. I like them when they are already quite spotted, so for me, the line between perfectly ripe and brown and shrivelled is not that big. Added to that are the bananas that travel around in a bag in case of toddler snacking needs and emerge a bit bruised from the experience, but otherwise edible, and there are often bananas that are a bit past it in our house.

When this happens, I like to make them useful, and make banana bread, or banana muffins. Not everyone enjoys the smell of banana cake. It is certainly distinctive. I’ve read that bananas that ripen on the tree smell quite different, and that there are many varieties of banana, with different scents.

I like to think that baking with a very ripe banana recaptures some of those tropical aromas and complexities. For me, it’s a buttery, fruity smell, reminiscent of toast and apricots and flowers.

Banana bread is a quick bread, meaning that it’s not structured the same way as a cake, and is risen with baking powder or bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) rather than eggs or yeast.

Bananas add a lot to a muffin or quick bread mixture. They bring sweetness, allowing you to cut back on the sugar. They help bind things together, removing some of the role that eggs would usually play. They provide a flavour in their own right, and some added liquid for moisture.

As banana bread is a solution to a fruit problem, I like the recipes to be as quick and easy as possible. I have posted on here before about my go-to banana muffin recipe. I have also tried a banana cake recipe, made in muffin cases, which uses dates as the sweetener, and seems to work well for my toddler.

More recently, I’ve been looking at ways to make banana bread in my Thermomix (or food processor), without getting any other dishes dirty, and having some success.

Behind the recipe

This is a cake made much like a muffin, with oil, not too much sugar, and leavened with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). The usual direction for this sort of recipe is to mix the wet and dry ingredients separately, and then combine them together very gently, even leaving in a few lumps so as not to mix too much.

While this will probably give the optimum texture, a great virtue of these recipes is speed and convenience, so if you can apply a little power with a blender or food processor (I use my Thermomix), it makes these even more feasible on a weeknight (or during naptime).

As a quick bread only needs the ingredients mixing briefly together, it’s important to not overmix using the motor. If needs be, stir the last bit together by hand. It also helps to layer the ingredients in. Start with the liquid ingredients on the bottom, including the bananas, and put the dry ingredients on top, finishing with the flour. This way, the flour is the last to be mixed in. You can also leave the flour not quite combined, or with some flour still remaining around the edges, and fold the last bits in while scraping down with a spatula.

There is no need to mash the bananas, as they will just be pureed with the other liquid ingredients at the bottom of the bowl. Pulse the blades of the blender or food processor so that you don’t mix more than you have to. Then scrape down and combine the last bits with a spatula.

Scrape and pour into a lined loaf tin (I use these Lakeland tin liners for extra speed) and bake for anything from 45 minutes to an hour – it should be risen with no wet mixture remaining.

Almost instant banana bread

Banana bread. Hastily made in the Thermomix, not too sweet. Adapted from @smittenkitchen

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s jacked-up banana bread.


  • 3 to 4 ripe bananas (230g peeled weight)
  • 75g sunflower oil
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of (baking) soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 200g plain flour

Add the peeled bananas, broken into pieces to the bottom of the processor bowl. On top, add the sugar, oil, egg, vanilla essense and bourbon/rum. Mix the flour, the bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt in a small bowl and add on top of the other ingredients. This helps to make sure the bicarbonate (baking) soda is evenly distributed, and to make sure there are no lumps in it. There may not be time for these to be thoroughly mixed in otherwise, and lumps of bicarbonate of soda taste revolting.

Pulse or mix on a medium speed until just mixed together. Scrape down the sides and mix any remaining flour in by hand. Pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour at 180C/160C fan. I often use two 1lb loaf tins (as above) and bake for 40-45 minutes.

This will keep, wrapped up, for several days, and freezes really well.

Milk bread

Milk bread

I sometimes feel that we mis-sell homemade bread. All of these ‘best bread of your life’ articles and books sell a particular vision: a craggy, very dark brown loaf, with a thick crust, and chewy, irregular interior. Loaves that take long and patient work and probably require a starter or levain of some sort. And it’s true that these loaves are achievable at home and all that time develops lovely flavours. But not everyone really likes eating them.

When you want to make a sandwich, or some really good, golden toast, that isn’t what you need. Sometimes there is a place for a soft, fluffy bread, with a thin crust that will toast really well, and won’t take three days to make. When that is what you’re after, and if that is your definition of really good bread, then what you need is a milk loaf, or a pain de mie.

This bread comes together in a few hours (although you can leave it overnight if that’s more convenient). It’s a great choice for sandwiches, toast, and even toasted sandwiches. It’s likely to be popular with children. It is gently golden on the outside, with a soft texture inside, but not as spongy and squishy as a cheap sliced loaf. A little sugar helps it to brown nicely when toasted. Not too much liquid means a nice even interior, without jagged holes that let the filling through.

Behind the recipe

All those macho, craggy loaves are flour, water, salt and yeast (or sourdough starter). Milk bread contains a number of other things: milk, butter and sugar. All of them get in the way of the flour a bit, and turn the interior from chewy and stretchy to soft and fluffy. You can also use eggs, or even a roux of cooked flour and water to soften bread. But milk, and a little butter and sugar make a nice soft loaf, but without too much richness.

The fat in the milk, and in the small amount of butter help to interrupt the gluten structure, and stop it from becoming too coarse and chewy. Baking at a high temperature for a short time prevents the crust from drying out too much and getting too thick and crusty. You can also cover the bread with a tea towel when it comes out of the oven to keep the crust soft. Some say that scalding the milk briefly will help to deactivate an enzyme in the milk, and allow the bread to rise a little more and be fluffier. I tried this with and without scalding, and couldn’t tell the difference. I warm the milk up to give the dough a headstart, and to melt and dissolve the butter and sugar, making them easier to distribute, but there’s no need to simmer it.

Milk bread recipe

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 2 tsp instant dried yeast
  • 150ml whole milk
  • 1 scant teaspoon sugar
  • knob of butter – 15g/1tbsp
  • 160ml water

Mix the flour with the salt and yeast.

Add the milk, butter and sugar to a small saucepan and heat the milk just until the butter melts. Take off the heat and pour in the cold water, and wait until it has cooled down so it feels just warm to the touch. (Temperatures over about 50°C will kill the yeast – that feels very hot to touch).

Add the liquid to the flour and mix everything together with a wooden spoon until all the dry flour is gone. If you have time, leave it for 20 minutes for the liquid to be absorbed and to help develop the gluten (this is called an ‘autolyse’).

After that time, knead for about 5 minutes by hand, or with a dough hook on a mixer (or even in a food processor) until you have a smooth and springy dough. Put into a bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise for about 1.5 – 2 hours in the kitchen  – no need for a warm place – or overnight in the fridge.

When the dough has roughly doubled in size, and seems very puffy, briefly knead it and pat into an approximate square. Shape into a loaf by rolling it up, and put into a greased 2lb loaf tin. Alternatively you can shape the dough into two or three balls of dough and tuck them into the tin together.

Dust the top with flour, cover again with cling film, and leave to rise for about half an hour. While it is proving, pre-heat the oven to 210°C/190°C fan for about 40 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool before slicing – the bread will be gummy if you slice it while it’s hot.

This dough can also be made into rolls, for burger buns or sandwiches.

Bread rolls


Friday food links – 12 Feb 2016

Camellia in the gutter. A casualty of yesterday's storm, a sign of spring.

This week has been powered by a big joint of pork shoulder that my mum slow-cooked on Saturday. It has been served with baked potatoes, in burrito bowls and in tortillas. It would have made it into pasta too if I’d remembered. I also made some freezer supplies for E: muffins to toast and banana date cakes. As it’s been a long time since a recipe featured anywhere on here, I’ve included the recipe for these below.


Without a recipe:

  • Pulled pork
  • Pasta with red peppers and mushrooms
  • Pork and black bean burritos
  • Pork burrito bowls
  • Slow cooker chicken curry
  • Carrot and sweet potato soup


A bit light on reading this week. I’ve been working through Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ‘Unfinished Business’, on the challenge of the work-life balance and the low value we place on care.

Banana date cakes

Recipe: Banana and Date cakes

Adapted from a banana cake in the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook, these little cakes have no sugar, but are still sweet from the bananas and dates, especially if you use really ripe bananas. They make great toddler food, or a good breakfast or mid-morning snack.

  • 100g self-raising wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 very ripe bananas (200g peeled)
  • 1 egg
  • 75g dates

Prepare a muffin tin by greasing or with paper cases. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan.

Chop the dates. If they are somewhat dry, cover with hot water and leave to soak for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Rub the butter into the flour. Stir in the mixed spice.

In another bowl, mash the bananas and mix in the egg. Add to the flour with the drained, chopped dates and mix everything together.

Spoon into cupcake or muffin cases and bake for 15 – 20 minutes.

Avoiding flapjack failure – five tips for better flapjacks

Treacle flapjacks

Flapjacks always go wrong! My flapjacks don’t work! Why do my flapjacks fall apart? You don’t have to look too far to find lots of tales of flapjacks gone wrong. Too chewy, too crunchy, but most often, just crumbly and collapsing into a super-sticky granola. I’ve had flapjack problems before, but put this down to errors on my part. After all, flapjacks are easy – aren’t they? And Nigella Lawson’s flapjack recipe in ‘Domestic Goddess’ is notorious for causing problems (there was a misprint in early versions of the book).  So when I made some peanut butter flapjacks that were a little too willing to fall apart, I decided I was going to solve this problem once and for all. What makes flapjacks so maddeningly inconsistent?  Original flapjacks

Pretty much all flapjack recipes follow the same simple pattern: melt butter with sugar and syrup, and stir in the oats. Then bake to toast the oats slightly, caramelise the sugar a bit and dry everything out enough to be sliceable.They are such a simple idea, where could it possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out, quite a few things create pitfalls for the flapjack maker. The details of ingredients and method make all the difference between a chewy slice, a crunchy biscuit – or a collapsed pile of sticky oats.

Crumbly flapjacks

After a bit of a marathon flapjack-making session last week, plus a bit of internet searching for others who had problems, here are my tips for successful flapjacks:

  1. You need the right oats – porridge oats. This is not the place for high quality, chunky, jumbo rolled oats. Those will make great granola, but rubbish flapjacks. You want Quaker oats, or Scotts – porridge oats that are rolled fairly thin. This helps them to absorb the syrup mixture, and holds the whole thing together. The jumbo oats just get coated, and the excess tends to boil over (see photo below). Instant cook/quick cook oats are a little too dusty, but can be useful to adjust the texture if there’s too much syrup.

Overflowing peanut butter flapjacks

  1. Melt the sugar completely. If you’re using sugar in addition to syrup, make sure it dissolves completely when you heat it, or you will end up with gritty sugar granules in the final result, and a more crumbly texture. The easiest way to do this is just to heat quite slowly, over a fairly low heat, and stir every now and then. To check if it has dissolved, use the trick advised in jam making: check the back of the spoon or spatula you are stirring with to make sure the liquid coating it is totally smooth and has no granules left.
  2. Adjust the oats/liquid before baking. As oats vary so much, even following the recipe carefully you can still end up with a mismatch between the volume of syrup and the oats needed to absorb it. So stop and look at the mixture once the oats have been stirred in. Is there any syrup pooled at the bottom of the pan? If so, add a few more oats, or leave it for five minutes to let the oats soak up some of the excess, and check again. Are there any dry patches of oats, or do they look thinly covered? You want everything to be coated and slightly glossy. If it doesn’t look right, throw in a bit more syrup.

Stirring in the oats

  1. Match the baking method to the type of flapjack you want. This tip comes via Felicity Cloake’s Guardian column. Some think of flapjacks as crunchy squares – something like biscuits in slice form. Others prefer a chewy and caramelised version. You can produce both, according to this blog, with the same recipe, by baking at different temperatures for different times. High temperatures will produce a crunchier version, lower temperatures a chewier one.

Four types of flapjack

  1. Bake until browned. Ovens vary, oats vary, so you need to be fairly flexible with the baking time. Adjust the temperature as above, and then bake until the top is a little browned. The oats taste better and have a greater dimension of flavour if they get a little colour.

Hopefully following these five tips will help you to make perfect flapjacks. And once you have a recipe that works for you, stick with the same brand of oats in future to ensure it will be consistent.

Friday food links – 10 Apr 2015

Yesterday's no knead bread, this morning's toast.

I’m now into the last two weeks of maternity leave, so this has been a week of firsts, lasts and letting go gradually. I am going back to work three days a week, so there will still be time for swimming lessons, walking to the park to see the ducks, and just lazing around on the living room rug. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that that our lives will necessarily be more planned and regimented from now on. Getting us both dressed and out the door for 7:30am, getting dinner on the table for us both, and organising shopping and deliveries will all be more challenging from now on. Considering a slow cooker, but also knowing that this is not a magic solution.

Fortunately, our last full week of freedom has been warm and sunny. We bought new shoes, went to Kew to see the magnolias in full bloom, rode around the supermarket in the trolley, and played on the swings in the park. The biggest hit with E for dinner (and lunch) was a very mild chicken curry with lentils and cauliflower. She’s been sucking it off bread, eating it by the spoonful and even getting her hands in the bowl and shovelling it in with her fingers. Our sea bass, potatoes and broccoli were summarily rejected in favour of more curry. I’ve also been hunting for some more prepare-ahead baby-led weaning options for when my preparation and imagination fail me (and pinning things I find here). Food52’s Cooking for Clara column is a good one – I made these baked beans this week.

* Earl Grey and Honey tea loaf – Justin Gellatly’s Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding
* Moroccan carrot salad – Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite
* Baked beans – Food 52
* Chicken stir-fry and broccoli with ginger – Fuschia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice (a library one this, but I think I may have to buy it myself – see also Sassy Radish on this book).
* Chicken Adobado – Thomasina Miers’ Mexican Food Made Simple
* Banana cake for First birthday monkey cake in a couple of weeks – Smitten Kitchen recipe

Without a recipe:
* Chicken stock
* Chicken curry, loosely from the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook
* Saucy Fish sea bass, with new potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli
* Burgers and wedges

* This piece on food in Homer, Alaska is a wonderful piece of writing, and is nominated for a James Beard journalism award (via Orangette)
* Apparently merveilleux are the new macarons
* Baking a cake for the first time can be daunting – here a cook (but not a baker) shares her worries
* The head chef at Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi restaurant left to be a school cook – inspiring stuff.
* Lots of sweet recipes appearing over Easter: carrot graham layer cake (graham crackers are more or less digestive biscuits); Ottolenghi on chocolate; Diana Henry on pistachios
* Lizzie at Hollow Legs has a new book out on Asian cooking – she lists her 5 essential ingredients here. (I must make another trip to Chinatown soon).

Genius recipes – recipes that changed the way you cook


Food52 had an article some time ago about genius recipes, which links to a column they run and a forthcoming book. But it made me think, what are the recipes that I would consider genius – that once made, changed my perspective on that dish forever.

Marcella Hazan’s butter and tomato sauce came up a lot in that piece, and I’d endorse that too. I think I first came across it on Amateur Gourmet, but honestly, there came a point where it seemed to appear on every other blog, so I had to try it. The main revelation is knowing that you can make delicious good-enough-to-eat-with-a-spoon tomato sauce without sauteing or frying anything, and using tinned tomatoes.

I now roast broccoli and cauliflower fairly regularly in preference to boiling or steaming, but I think it was Heidi’s recipe for roasted cauliflower popcorn that first turned me on to this idea. Amateur Gourmet’s the best broccoli of your life was another endorsement for this approach. Sometimes I do something much simpler, and just coat the florets in a little oil before roasting, but I often add a sprinkling of vinegar too, and some breadcrumbs if I have them around. I think it was Jamie Oliver that first prompted me to add vinegar or citrus whenever roasting root vegetables, and now I do it routinely.

Jenny Rosenstrach from Dinner: A Love Story is evangelical about her pork shoulder ragu – and with good reason. It was her solution to entertaining again after having kids. It requires very little preparation time and is endlessly rewarding. The ‘aha’ moment for me was realising that a lump of meat can be braised to the point of falling apart, and then shredded into its cooking liquid there and then. Yes, I had braised meat before, but either in cubes (which take ages to brown before you can get going) or in a large piece that was then sliced or shredded to serve as is, or the liquid needed to be chilled/skimmed/reduced before using. This one-pot dish just needs you to brown the pork on a few sides before adding onions, tomatoes, wine and herbs and sending the whole thing to the oven for four hours. The amount of meat is manageable for four people, or for two with leftovers through the week (many recipes for pork shoulder ask for the whole joint and feed 10-12).

Another obvious choice is Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread (I usually work from Clotilde’s metric translation). It has been posted and reposted (including here), but that recipe introduced a number of really useful home bread baking principles, which can be incorporated into other bread recipes and methods. The first was slow rising, by using a very small amount of yeast. A lot of bread recipes are geared to being done as fast as possible, and so use 10 or more grams of dried yeast to 500g flour. This recipe has a tiny 1/4 tsp of yeast and still gets a good rise. It is also a wet dough, but that doesn’t matter as you don’t knead it, so avoid the sticky mess that can result. And finally, it is baked in a preheated casserole or cast iron pot with a lid. This not only prevents the very wet dough from spreading out into a pancake in the oven, it also contains the steam created at the start of the cooking, giving a better crust.

Do you have your own genius recipes?

How to add crunch with crumbs and crumbles

A delicious meal has a balance of flavours, some element of contrast between the sweet, salty, sour and bitter; a sharp sauce to cut a rich meat, or a little sugar to enhance the savoury flavour of a tomato sauce. In the same way, contrasts in texture make a meal more interesting, and gives the mouth something more interesting to encounter. Texture is our sense of touch applied to food – the pressure on our teeth and tongue, the heat generated by spices, the silky feel of fat or the sparkle of bubbles.

A simple way to add another texture dimension to a dish is to add a layer of crunchy topping to it. Crumbles, granola, streusel, and breadcrumbs are all ways to provide a contrasting texture to an otherwise smooth dish. The crunch can come from toasting and drying bread, from the crisping of fat mixed with flour, from caramelising sugar, and from the built-in crunch of nuts.

Here are a few different ways to add crunch that can be prepared well in advance and stored for when you need a bit of extra texture for your dish.


Leftover and staling bread can be turned easily into breadcrumbs with a food processor or a blender(if you have quite dry bread). Stashing these in the freezer is helpful for making meatballs, gratin toppings or crumbing meat or fish for frying, but you can amplify their uses by doing a bit of additional work first.

You could simply toast the crumbs in oil or butter, getting them brown & crunchy before going into a freezer bag. This makes for extra-crunchy pasta bakes or gratins, or can be used as a pasta topping in its own right. Ruth Reichl (former editor of Gourmet magazine) thinks they are so useful they could be considered a Christmas gift.

Another option is to mix in some flavourings as you grind the bread to crumbs. Parsley, garlic and parmesan make for a green-tinged, intensely flavourful batch of breadcrumbs. Use them to top pieces of chicken or fish before baking in the oven, or add to minced meat with an egg for deeply flavoured meatballs.



Dukkah is an Egyptian nut and spice mix used to dip bread into. It has been popular in New Zealand and Australia for years, and as Middle Eastern food grows in prominence with the Ottolenghi effect, you see it here more often too. There are a range of different recipes and spice blends that can be used. Hazelnuts are used most often as the chopped nuts base, but you can also use almonds, cashews or pistachios, or a mixture. Once made, you can add this as a crunchy topping to a dip, as Ottolenghi does with this butter bean puree, or top soups or casseroles with it for last-minute flavour and crunch. Diana Henry’s new book ‘A Change of Appetite’ has a recipe for roast tomatoes and lentils with dukkah-crumbed eggs, which contrasts the dukkah with the soft, yielding tomatoes and egg yolks.


Banana granola in the jar

Granola is generally offered as a standalone choice with milk or yoghurt, but I prefer to use it as a crunchy topping to a bowl of cereal and muesli. This adds a nice contrast, but also means the dose of syrup and costly nuts per serving is reduced. Because with granola, you have to face the idea that it’s really just flapjack with a bit less syrup and a few more oats. A batch of granola can equally become a topping for cereal or yoghurt at breakfast, ice-cream for dessert, or make it into granola bars.

The crunch comes from toasting the oats and nuts in fat, but also from the caramelisation of the syrup or honey. One way to reduce the fat and sugar is to use some pureed fruit, but then more toasting is needed to thoroughly dry out the oat mix. My three favourite granola recipes:

Crumble topping

Strawberry crumble bars from @KimBoyceBakes recipe - using my homemade jam

The ideal contrast to a dish of soft cooked fruit, the recipe for crumble can provoke disagreement. Much of this is based in nostalgia for whichever crumble you had as a child, at home or school. As the American name, crisp, suggests, a crumble topping needs to have crunch. This is created by either rubbing roughly equal quantities of fat into the flour, or mixing in melted butter. Additional texture can be added with nuts and oats. Streusel toppings are along the same lines, often with more sugar, and can be used on top of a jam and shortbread base to make crumble bars.

 Further reading:

What makes meringues chewy?

piped meringue stars

Meringues are one of the simplest things to bake, with just two ingredients. But because of this simplicity, there isn’t much room for error. As with many baked goods that are difficult to get right, there is also a wide range of views on what the ideal meringue is like. Some want a completely crisp shell that shatters on the touch of a fork – ideal for something like Eton Mess where the meringue is smashed into pieces.

Others are looking for a chewy centre, almost like nougat. This is often the ideal state of a pavlova base. Finally, there’s the type of soft pillowy meringue used to top a lemon meringue pie.

Chewy almond meringue

All these are meringues that use egg whites and sugar – so what’s the X factor?

What is a meringue?

A meringue is an egg white foam that is made more stable by adding sugar. The sugar syrup supports the bubbles, and holds them up while they dry, leaving behind the sugar and egg-white-protein structure. Egg whites are pretty amazing at creating a foam anyway, owing to all these stretchy proteins they have. However, if you keep beating egg whites on their own, they will go too far – first becoming grainy and then collapsing on themselves.

Tips for making meringues:

  • Adding sugar to the eggs right at the start will make it slower to foam in the first place, so wait until you have a foam.

egg whites - soft foam

  • However, unlike egg whites on their own, it’s really hard to overbeat meringue, so if in doubt, add it early on, when the foam is still quite soft (a lot of recipes ask you to wait until you have stiff peaks before adding the sugar, but this isn’t necessary, especially if you’re using an electric whisk or a stand mixer). After the sugar is all added, you can also leave it whisking for a good few minutes to make sure you have a really stiff foam.
  • The more sugar you add the more stable the foam – you can use anything from 1:1 sugar to egg white (by weight) to 2:1, with the upper end being more common. For a 2:1 ratio, weigh your egg whites out, and then add twice the weight of sugar.
  • The sugar needs to dissolve, so use caster (superfine) sugar or icing sugar, and add it gradually. Warm or room temperature egg whites will make it easier to dissolve. Yotam Ottolenghi has a nice trick for his salted almond meringues – heating the sugar in the oven, then adding it gradually.
  • A little bit of acid helps egg whites to foam – you can wipe the bowl with a lemon, add a little cream of tartar or a few drops of vinegar.

And one more thing? Because egg whites are pretty much just protein and water, there isn’t much in them to go off. This means that you can keep egg whites quite safely for several weeks in the fridge. Or they freeze well (but never defrost in the microwave – they cook too quickly!).

For a crisp meringue

Here, we are after a meringue with all of the moisture removed so all that is left is the brittle egg white and sugar structure. To do this, use a ratio of 2 parts sugar (by weight) to 1 part egg white. As a large egg white is about 28g, that means about 110g (4oz) sugar for two large egg whites (or 100g for medium whites).

You also then need a very low temperature and a long time to make sure that all the water evaporates without browning the sugar. Something around 100°C/212°F is about right. When you have finished baking, leave the meringues in the turned off oven to cool, and remove any last moisture.

salted almond meringues to be baked

For a chewy meringue

If a meringue is chewy in the centre, it just means that it managed to hang on to some of the moisture in the foam. You still want a hard shell, so use 2 parts sugar again, or something close to it. You can add things to the mixture to help it hang on to this moisture – a little bit of cornflour being used most often. Chopped or ground nuts, as in french macarons or dacquoise, will also do this, partly by adding a bit of fat.

The other thing that will help make a chewy meringue is to bake them a little hotter and for a shorter time, meaning the centre doesn’t have the chance to dry out. Be careful of baking too hot though – this will cause the meringues to swell, and may overbrown the outside. A temperature of about 130°C/265°F is good.

For a pie meringue

Meringue-topped pies can be difficult. It can be particularly tricky to make sure it sits nicely on top of the topping, and to avoid moisture from the filling moving into the meringue, and making it ‘weep’. But in principle, it’s like the chewy meringue, but more extreme – it needs even more moisture in it, needs to stay stable, and you want the outside to cook very quickly and brown, before the inside dries at all. So add cornflour to stabilise it, and bake in a much hotter oven – around 170°C/340°F – to get a nice crisp top. Felicity Cloake’s Perfect Lemon Meringue Pie is a good guide.

Meringue recipes

I’ve made a couple of really good meringue recipes recently. Via pinterest, and this blog post by Jillian Leiboff, Yotam Ottolenghi’s salted almond meringues are really lovely – crisp outsides, chewy in the middle, and scented with both toasted almonds and almond extract.

This one, however, is an old favourite – adapted from a recipe in Flo Braker’s ‘Sweet Miniatures’. These are gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate cookies – little drops of meringue flecked with chopped chocolate.

Chocolate Meringue Stars

adapted from Flo Braker’s ‘Sweet Miniatures’

Chocolate meringue bubbles

– 100g caster sugar
– 2 large egg whites (55g)
– 45g dark chocolate

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Heat the oven to 110°C/100°C fan/225°F.

Grate or finely chop the chocolate, or grind it in a food processor until fairly fine.

Whisk the egg whites with an electric hand whisk or the whisk attachment of a stand mixer. Whisk slowly to start, as the protein unravels and the egg whites loosen up. Then increase the speed and whisk until a soft foam forms. Add the sugar a few spoonfuls at a time, whisking thoroughly between each, and then keep whisking for about three minutes until you have a very stiff and shiny foam.

stiff, shiny meringue

Remove the whisk and fold in the chopped chocolate until it is fairly evenly distributed.

folding in the chocolate

Use your finger to put a little meringue on the four corners of the parchment, and turn over to stick the parchment to the baking sheet (this stops it moving around when you pipe onto it).

Scrape the mixture into a piping bag with either a plain or star-tipped nozzle. If you don’t want to pipe them, simply use teaspoons to drop pieces of meringue about the size of a golf ball onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 1 hour. The finely chopped chocolate, combined with a short bake time means the centres should be chewy and chocolatey.

chocolate meringue stars

Further reading:

You might also be interested in these posts:

Cinnamon buns

Baked buns

I was going to start this post with something about the days of cupcake being numbered, because it seems that wherever you look at the moment, there’s another cinnamon bun recipe. I went to Google Trends in search of proof , and found a fairly reassuring chart that trends upwards to support this theory.

But when I added ‘cupcakes’ to the search, it became clear just what a long way there is to go. Cinnamon rolls are still a drop in the cupcake ocean.

Still, I brightened, that just means that this still counts as ‘ahead of the curve’! So go ahead and make some cinnamon buns, safe in the knowledge that you are still counted as trendsetting 🙂

Cinnamon rolls, or cinnamon buns, are much more straightforward to make than they might seem. You make an ‘enriched’ bread dough, roll it into a rectangle, spread with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then roll it up like a rug, slice it across and arrange the slices in a tin to bake them.

Of course, there are a few techniques that make things easier. Enriched dough means using milk, butter and probably an egg instead of plain water in the dough. The fat helps soften the texture of the final roll, as do the milk proteins. I find that rolling out the dough into an even shape is easier if it has chilled for a bit – that can mean leaving it to rise overnight in the fridge, or just chilling it for an hour or so before rolling out.

Dough after folding & rising

It was one of the biggest revelations of cooking school to me that you can adjust the shape of something as you roll it out. Before then, I had just tried changing the pressure of the rolling pin to try and get the right shape when rolling out a pastry crust or something. But you can just push and pull the edges as you go, to keep the shape even. So if you’re not getting a rectangle, but more of a blob, just push and pull the corners a bit to make them square, push the edges with a dough scraper to make them straight again, and carry on. This is, if anything, even easier with bread dough, which is much more forgiving of being pushed and pulled around than pastry is.

Rolling out - nearly there

Be liberal with the butter and sugar – stinting on the filling is not the answer. Roll the log up as tightly as you can, working your way up and down the length to make it even.

Front edge rolled

Use a ruler to mark sections along the roll so you get even sized rolls. If you want to be super neat, you can trim each end off, but I can never bring myself to sacrifice any proportion of the dough for neatness.

Cut into sections

Lay them out in a grid in a roasting tin (having sides helps to stop them spreading out too much), in a circle in a cake tin (like this Signe Johanesen cinnamon bun cake) or put individual rolls into a bun or muffin tin, as long as they are well-greased.

Each section sliced in three

Leave the rolls to proof, puff up and fill in all the gaps, then bake, not too hot (bread should be baked pretty well as hot as your oven will go, whereas dough enriched with sugar should be baked at a cake temperature – around 180C or 350F – so it doesn’t burn.


Scandinavian baking and spelt flour

Cinnamon buns centre stage

It seems there’s no escape from all things Scandinavian at the moment. In restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen is at the top of 50 Best Restaurants list for the 2nd year, and Faviken is the new cutting-edge place that has the food critics flocking across the Swedish tundra.

When it comes to cookbooks, you can take your pick from Nordic Bakery, Camilla Plum’s Scandinavian Kitchen or Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious. And that’s without getting to The Killing and that famous jumper.

At the forefront of this wave is Signe Johansen. From Norway, but having lived in the UK for 13 years, with her blog and her first book ‘Scandilicious’, she’s melded Scandi tastes with British preferences to create recipes that are approachable and easy, and bring fresh new flavours into the kitchen.

Posing for the Times

When I saw that she was offering a Baking Masterclass, with recipes from her new book, Scandilicious Baking, I signed up pretty quickly. For one thing, I love to meet enthusiastic bakers and cooks that I’ve only met virtually through twitter and their blog posts. And there’s always something new to learn in baking, especially when dealing with that tricky beast, yeasted dough.

The venue was a new cooking school in East London, the Central Street Cookery School, part of the St. Luke’s Charitable Trust. It’s a light and airy space, with high ceilings, plenty of counter space and ovens, and well equipped for classes. Even better, income from hiring out the space supports cookery projects for the local community.

The Central St Cookery school

We cooked our way through four recipes, two of which were yeasted, in about 4 hours. We made a straight spelt bread dough, quite a bit stickier and faster to rise than a wheat dough. Next came super-sticky cinnamon buns, the dough enriched with butter, sugar, egg and ground cardamom. Again, these were made with spelt flour, and were quick to rise and prove. Below is a cinnamon bun cake made by jamming the bun dough into a cake tin to bake.

Cinnamon bun cake

Third on the list was a fluffy cake, topped with almond caramel praline to form a crust. This is Toscakaka, a Swedish favourite. The cake is made like a Genoise, whisking whole eggs with sugar, before folding in flour and melted butter. Once baked, a sticky caramel of butter, sugar, cream and flaked almonds is spread on top before baking further to form a golden crust. It’s a delicious combination, and the Dream cake in Scandilicious, made in a similar way, has gone straight onto my ‘to make’ list.


Finally came super-short butter biscuits, made like pastry with chilled butter and just a little egg to bring them together. A very full morning’s baking. For lunch we feasted on Signe’s homemade gravlax with salad, and tried out some of the spelt bread.

Scandi baking spread

The class was good fun, with a great atmosphere. Signe gave lots of helpful tips and advice as we went along, and there was time for everyone to get hands-on with the recipes. The cookery school at Central Street has only been open for a few months, and is a great space for classes. The counters are in a big U shape, with lots of counterspace for everyone, and the high ceilings kept everything cool until later in the session.

There was plenty to learn, even for experienced bakers. Using 100% spelt dough is new to me. When I use spelt flour, it tends to be in bread dough and not more than half of the total flour content. Using all spelt flour in a recipe tends to make for a stickier dough, that rises faster and doesn’t need to prove as long before baking. It feels different to handle, and I think would take some practice to get used to.

Cinnamon bun dough

Spelt is actually a type of wheat, but split off from the wheat we now use at an earlier point in its history. This means it has less gluten than normal bread flour, but still enough to make bread with. [Correction: Azelia has quire rightly corrected me here: it’s not that spelt has less gluten, but it is of a different type and can be tolerated better by those who have an intolerance to normal wheat. Coeliacs cannot tolerate spelt, because it still contains gluten]. You can also get pearled spelt or farro, which can be cooked a bit like pearl barley, but less sticky, and can be used for risottos and salads. Both wholemeal and refined white spelt flours are readily available. Sharpham Park in Somerset produce great spelt flour, grown in the UK.

Signe is continuing to do a Scandi supper club, and planning more classes as well, so make sure you check and follow her on twitter for the latest details.