Pistachio and Hazelnut Macaroons using Whynut Pastes.

The fabulous goody box which Whynut sent me. It contained two types of pistachios, some hazelnut paste and some pistachio paste.
I had two small tubs of nut paste, here’s the pistachio one. A little goes a long way!

A couple of months back I was excited when WhyNut sent me a goody box through the post inviting me to try out some of their pistachio nuts and nut pastes.  I used the fresh nuts in different ways in to make some Pistachio Cupcakes and in cookies but wanted to try out the nut pastes to delicately flavour some macaroons. Now this was going to be a big challenge for me.  I’ve always wanted to be able to bake macaroons but always thought they looked far too fiddly and complicated.  I tried once but to be fair I rushed them and didn’t follow the recipe properly.  The result was a sloppy mess and since that bungled attempt about 3 years back I’ve never bothered since. But I had the nut pastes to try out so all I could do was try and try again!

So I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook what recipes they would recommend for baking macaroons.  One suggestion was to try the recipe in Lorraine Pascale‘s first book “Baking Made Easy”  I remembered seeing a macaroon recipe in the book, it was for strawberry and lemon ones.  Being as the title had “made easy” in it, I did hope that would apply to the macaroons too!

A couple of weeks ago we had a get together with my mum’s side of the family. We didn’t get round to exchanging presents at Christmas and I love making foodie presents. I always think macaroons look so pretty in a gift box and I had some brightly coloured ones bought from Lakeland to put them in.  I knew my family would appreciate the macaroons and wouldn’t take the mickey out of me if they looked like they’d been trodden on either!

Delicate pistachio flavoured macaroons, flavoured with Whynut Pistachio Paste.

So, jobs done and dog walked I started on the macaroons.  First I preheated the oven to 150oC as I was using my fan oven to bake them in and found my silicone macaroon baking sheets.  They hadn’t been used before so I hoped I could use them properly.

I weighed out icing sugar, some ground almonds and some egg whites into a bowl and mixed it so it formed a paste. When that had done I had to heat some water and sugar on the stove.  I was dreading this after my fiasco of burning my thumb when I got hot sugar syrup on me when I tried to make lemon meringue cupcakes a couple of years back.  I tried to be so careful.  I did rely on my sugar thermometer to help me.

After this some more egg white was mixed in a bowl until I got medium stiff peaks, then to this I added the sugar syrup. This was then whisked until the mixture became stiff and shiny.  At this point I added a teaspoonful of the nut paste and a couple of drops of food colouring paste.  For the pistachio macaroons I used a small dab of mint green paste, for the hazelnut ones I had to use a cream coloured food colouring as that was all I had left in the cupboard! After this I then folded the egg white mixture with the almond paste mixture.

Now for the piping bit.  To make it easier to carry I put the silicone macaroon mats on top of a flat baking sheet (the sort I use for cookies) and then started to pipe the macaroons into the bases.  I used one sheet for the pistachio flavour, the other for the hazelnut ones.  To pipe I used a large “Get A Grip” disposable piping bag from Lakeland which I swear by.  The nozzle I used was a straight one and I’m so glad I used a piping bag.  Otherwise it would have gone everywhere.

Before putting the macaroons in the oven I gave each tray a sharp tap on the side of the cooker and also left them for about 1/2 hour to stand before baking them.  Apparently this forms a skin on the macaroons.  Then they went into the oven for about 12-15 minutes, Lorraine suggests leaving the oven door slightly ajar! This was a new one on me but I tried it.

When the time was up and I looked in the oven I was so pleased.  The macaroons actually looked like they should. I was all set to do a big happy dance around the kitchen.  It was a major achievement to me.  What’s more they came off the tray without sticking as well.

The macaroon shells were filled with some whipped cream flavoured with a little pistachio paste.

After leaving the macaroon shells to cool for a while I got on with the filling.  I whipped up a tub of double cream then halved it into two bowls. To one bowl I added a spoonful of Whynut Pistachio Paste and to the other a spoonful of  their Hazelnut Paste.  These were spread carefully onto the shells with a small pallette knife and left to set.

Here’s the second attempt at macaroons- this time they were hazelnut flavoured using Whynut Hazelnut Paste.
The macaroons were filled with whipped cream and hazelnut paste.

Each family member got a gift box of 6 macaroons each and along with their spice jars and granola, the macaroons went down very well. They looked smaller than the ones I’d seen in the shops but everyone loved them.  I was so happy it has inspired me to try out some more flavours in the future.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Peanut Butter Cookies- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books January 2014.)

Peanut butter cookies are a serious addiction for me. Thank heavens I don’t make them often or I’d be the size of a killer whale!  Though keeping a whole jar of peanut butter aside for baking in our house is not an easy challenge.  Every time I buy a jar it miraculously disappears. Both my husband and daughter love peanut butter on toast for breakfast. So on the rare occasions where I have made peanut butter cookies, they just seem to vanish in our house.

Knowing that peanut butter cookies are naughty but nice, I was interested to see that Lorraine Pascale has a lighter version in her latest book “A Lighter Way To Bake” which I am currently using as my Cooking The Books Challenge for January.  Lorraine says in the recipe introduction that she has “worked hard to reduce the peanut butter, sugar and butter content in them as best as I can so that they still have that scrumbunctious flavour!”  To do this Lorraine uses no added sugar peanut butter which usually has palm oil in instead.  This is the peanut butter I usually buy anyway, like Whole Earth or Sainsbury’s Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter.

There isn’t any butter at all in the recipe, all the fat content comes from the peanut butter but there is a small amount of caster sugar.  It would be interesting to see how the peanut butter cookies tasted when compared with regular ones.

The peanut butter and caster sugar were beaten together in a large bowl.
Then I added in a beaten egg, some vanilla extract and a tablespoonful of water.
Finally I added in some wholemeal flour and rolled oats.

The recipe made 12 cookies and I quickly split the dough into 12 equal balls ready to be put on the baking trays.  Usually I find I don’t have to squash them or press them flat as they spread out in the oven.  I didn’t read the recipe properly, Lorraine says to flatten them down with the palm of your hand. I didn’t do it, they went straight into the oven.

Laid out on the baking trays well spaced apart and ready to go in the oven.

The finished cookies on a plate. The photo isn’t that good as I took it on my phone camera in very poor light!

When the cookies came out of the oven about 10 minutes later they were cooked to the perfect golden brown colour they should have been but they didn’t look like the ones in the book.  I then read the recipe properly and realised my mistake.  This didn’t affect the taste of the cookies though.  I was impressed with them, not too sweet and you could taste the peanuts in them without the cookies being too rich! I will definitely be making these again.  I did only have one with a cup of tea, honest!

Looking at the nutritional analysis comparison chart, it says there are only about 8 calories different between the lighter and the regular one. The fat and saturated fat content has been reduced, only by about 1g but the main reduction was in the sugar content, a huge difference of about 3 grammes! I did think the cookies were very tasty though and I did have to hide them away in the cupboard so I wasn’t tempted to binge on them!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Lemon Yoghurt Pound Cake- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books, January 2014.)

January 26th 2014.

Even though I’m trying to lose weight I just can’t face giving up my Sunday lunch pudding.  You’ve got to have SOME enjoyment in life.  A pudding after the Sunday roast rounds it all off nicely and although it can’t be a calorific, cream laden affair (now wouldn’t that be heaven?). I was thinking of what I could bake from my Lorraine Pascale “A Lighter Way To Bake”  book as part of my Cooking The Books January Baking Challenge.  It would have to be one of the bakes in the Cake chapter.

I fancied the idea of the Lemon Yoghurt Pound cake as it reminded me of a lemon drizzle cake but without the calories. Lorraine mentions in the introduction to the recipe was that she adapted a lemon drizzle cake from another of her books and gave it the least amount of sugar and butter possible. We all love Lemon Drizzle cake in our house and a small slice would fit in around my diet, everyone else could have theirs with a scoop of ice cream if they wanted to.

So here is how it was made:

Butter and sugar were creamed together in my mixing bowl.
Then eggs, egg white and Greek yoghurt were added to the bowl and mixed in.
Adding in the “dry” ingredients: flour and baking powder. I then added some vanilla extract as well as some lemon zest to the mixture.
Mixed all together. You could smell the lemon flavour as it was being prepared, what a gorgeous smell and so enticing!
I lined my loaf tin with a special loaf tin liner.
Then, the mixture was spooned into the prepared tin. My loaf tin was either too big or there wasn’t that much mixture compared to my usual lemon drizzle loaf recipe.
The cake was taken out of its wrapper and tin and left to cool down on the surface. I think I left the cake in a bit too long as the top burned a little!

Time was running out and I put the glaze on before I was really meant to. This meant some of it soaked into the cake instead of resting on the top like a separate layer of icing.  It did add to my cake’s rustic charm though.

With the citrus glaze poured on top, this was icing sugar and lemon juice mixed together.
Cut up into small slices ready for our pudding.

Our lemon cake ended up being eaten before pudding!  As we were all busy with the usual family things, chores and the like I ended up doing the roast at tea time instead.  I had made the cake mid-afternoon in between trying to get the ironing done and my son popped in the kitchen and begged for a slice.  As he was hungry and I was tempted, how could I refuse?  It meant no cake for pudding later though!

The cake appeared slightly smaller than my standard lemon drizzle cake recipe but, to me, what mattered most was that I could enjoy a small piece without the massive guilt trip.  It tasted fab and you wouldn’t believe it was a “lighter” version!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cardamom and Ginger Shortbread- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books- January 2014.)

Friday 31st January 2014.

I love baking shortbread and as soon as I came across Lorraine’s recipe in her A Lighter Way To Bake book I just knew I had to try this recipe out.  Anything with ginger in it is a winner with me.  There are lots of cardamom recipes around at the moment and I was keen to try baking with it.  The thing is though a lot of recipes call for ground cardamom and I just couldn’t find it anywhere, only in pod form.

My mum bought me a pestle and mortar at Christmas, something which I’d never got round to buying.  I was really pleased, at long last I could grind up the cardamom pods myself.  It was great fun bashing all the pods up and I managed to get the teaspoonful I needed for the bake in the end!

You needed quite a few cardamom pods to get a teaspoonful out of it!
You needed quite a few cardamom pods to get a teaspoonful out of it!

After I’d sorted out the cardamom pods I got on with the shortbread itself.  It was simple to make in my Kitchen Aid.  I started off by creaming butter and brown sugar together.  Once this was combined, I added plain flour and the ground cardamom to the mixture.

Adding the flour and the cardamom to the mixing bowl.

Once this was mixed through I then added some chopped stem ginger, some vanilla extract and a tablespoonful of egg white.  Lorraine says “Fiddly I know, but a whole egg white is too much!”  This then brought the gorgeous sounding shortbread into dough form ready to be pressed into the tin.  The tin was an 8″ round sandwich tin which I’d already greased and lined.  Once this was done, I marked the edges of the shortbread with a fork and scored lines for cutting.  Lorraine says this shortbread serves 10 but I didn’t concentrate and marked it as if it was going to have 12 pieces. Oh well.

All ready and waiting for the family to devour it!

So what made this shortbread lighter?  For a start when comparing it with the shortbread recipe I use normally the sugar and the butter content is reduced.  I think adding in flavour, such as the cardamom and ginger is key to eating healthily as you concentrate on the flavours of the spices and not the fat and sugar.  Lorraine  also used a little egg white to help bring it all together.  She mentions in the recipe introduction “This is not a massive change from a normal everyday shortbread  because, as I have discovered shortbread isn’t shortbread without a certain amount of sugar and fat, but it is a tinsey winsey bit better than my shortbread recipes of the past!”  

We all enjoyed this shortbread in our house.  I’m afraid to say my piece hadn’t even cooled down before it got eaten.  I will definitely bake it again.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

All Grain Nutty Seedy Soda Bread Loaf- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books- January 2014.)

Sunday 26th January 2014.

It was Sunday teatime and I realised we’d run out of bread for the morning.  This is not good.  We’d been very busy all over the weekend and checking the bread bin was the last thing on my mind.  It was too late to nip out to the shops. I had to bake my own instead.  But when I opened my baking cupboard I realised I didn’t have any yeast.  Thankfully I could get out of that problem by baking soda bread instead as it needed bicarbonate of soda.  Fortunately I had that and plenty of it!

I found a suitable recipe in Lorraine Pascale’s book “A Lighter Way To Bake” which uses wholemeal flour and semi skimmed milk to enrich it.  You had to add about 5 tablespoonfuls of mixed nuts and seeds.  I had some pumpkin seeds and a few hazelnuts which I threw in to the mixture.

So how did I make this delicious bread?

First of all you had to put the flour, seeds, nuts, bicarbonate of soda and salt together into a mixing bowl and mix it all together.  Once that was done I made a well in the centre and poured in the semi skimmed milk.  Finally the mixture was combined to make a soft dough (but not too sticky!)  I found a loaf tin liner and put this in my loaf tin as I couldn’t be bothered to cut out the parchment.

The mixture was spooned into the tin carefully and then I sprinkled on a tablespoon of rolled oats.

The very impressive All Grain Nutty, Seedy Soda Bread Loaf.

The loaf was ready after I tapped the base of it to see if it made a hollow sound.  This took about 35 minutes baking time and the mouthwatering smell permeated the whole house.  We ended up having a slice of it for tea with a bowl of soup so there wasn’t much left over for the day after!  My son, who would happily eat white processed “plastic” bread all the time said he liked it.  I thought he must have something wrong with him, he normally poo-poos any sort of seeded bread, calling it “nit bread”!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Lighter Herbed Lasagne from A Lighter Way To Bake- Cooking The Books, January 2014.

Monday 27th January 2014.

On a Monday I normally have more time to get the dinner ready as I only work on a morning as a rule.  We have to have tea early though as my daughter has a dance class.  Though last week I was in a right muddle and went off to work forgetting that I was going to make lasagne for tea that night and I hadn’t taken the minced beef out of the freezer before going off to work.  This wasn’t a good start and although my hubby had offered to go to the supermarket for me to do the weekly shop while our daughter was dancing, obviously we needed food before.  In the end I had to go shopping and buy some more minced beef for our lasagne.

Lasagne is one of my all time favourite dinners and I’ve loved making it ever since I was a teenager.  It can be time consuming sometimes so I don’t make it as often as I’d like.  I was pleased to see a mouthwatering looking version in Lorraine Pascale’s A Lighter Way To Bake and thought this recipe would fit in with the challenge out of the Savoury Bakes chapter.  Instead of lasagne sheets, Lorraine uses four courgettes cut in lengthway strips for the pasta layer.  As I am the only one in my family who like courgettes this was going to be interesting. I hoped they wouldn’t notice!

The first job was to infuse some milk for the bechamel sauce.  To this I heated up some semi skimmed milk with some rosemary, peppercorns, a bay leaf and some nutmeg.  After this began to steam I took it off the heat and let the flavours infuse with one another.

Then I had  to make the ragu sauce. I dry fried the mince with the chopped onions, carrots and garlic in my large pan.  Once it was browned I added in two tins of chopped tomatoes, some Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree and some beef stock.  Instead of the herbs Lorraine suggests I used some of my spaghetti spice which I made up from a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Nigelissima book.  This spaghetti spice has parsley, garlic powder, rock salt and crushed dried chillies in it and is so versatile for all pasta and pizza dishes.

To cook the ragu in the really authentic slow way I realised I had started the dinner way too late for it to be ready before my daughter went to her dance class.  In the end she scoffed down a slice of toast and I offered to make her an omelette when she got back!

While the ragu was cooking I prepared the courgette pasta.  My hubby saw the four courgettes on the chopping board and didn’t say anything.   I just got on with the bechamel sauce. The milk was reheated after the herbs were thrown away, to which flour and cheddar were added to it.

Then it was time to assemble the lasagne together.  This was when I realised my dish was a bit big so I could only get two layers of everything, not three as Lorraine suggested in the instructions.  I managed to get it all in the dish and into the oven it went.

Dinner was served with a side salad as soon as my hubby and daughter got home.  I was the only one who enjoyed the lasagne.  My hubby said “Where’s the pasta bit?” I explained that the courgettes were there instead to lower the carb levels, he wasn’t impressed. Neither was my son, who fished out all the courgette slices and left them on his plate.  I think they were both miffed that they were eating their dinner at 8pm at night as well!

In the end I also forgot to take photos of the dinner.  I thought it was really tasty, especially the sauce part. If I make it again I will make it with pasta and work out the calories accordingly as my family liked the meat part of it.

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books Challenge January 2014: Key Lime and Lemon Cheesecake Loaf from A Lighter Way To Bake

Sunday 12th January 2014.

I had had a busy week and had been food shopping the previous Friday for stuff we’d run out of.  I was in Morrisons in Wetherby, somewhere I don’t go that often and it was absolutely heaving.  I’d found the last parking space in the car park and even then I had to drive around to find it.  I had about 1/2 hour to run around the shop and eat a sandwich for my lunch. When I got in the shop it seemed like the whole of North Yorkshire was there.  Not only that but it had a different layout to my local Morrisons and I ended up going out of the shop without half of the items on my list.  One of those was some leaf gelatine which I needed to make our Sunday lunch pud with.

I was really keen to try out the Key Lime and Lemon Cheesecake Loaf from the Puddings and Desserts chapter as I love the flavour of Key Lime Pie.  It serves 12 and a small slice was 239 calories which I thought is a massive saving compared to the usual full fat cheesecakes I have made in the past.

You know when there are some days when you think, why didn’t I just pick up a frozen cheesecake in the shop? Well this was one of those days.  It started off well but I had to break off to drive my daughter to York.  So with some gentle encouragement I asked her to help me with the digestive biscuit base.  I then realised I had forgotten the gelatine for the cheesecake but would have no chance to get any. Would it set without it? Probably not!

My daughter was in charge of crushing the digestive biscuits.
My daughter was in charge of crushing the digestive biscuits. She enjoyed doing it as she made a divine mango cheesecake last year on her Catering GCSE course.
Crushed digestive biscuits mixed in with a little melted butter.
The cheesecake is meant to be made in a loaf tin. I asked my daughter to prepare the loaf tin with cling film while I got ready to take her into York. She said she preferred a circular one. Well as you can guess the digestive biscuits did not cover the bottom of the tin so we went back to the loaf tin we were meant to use in the first place!
The crushed digestive biscuits in the bottom of the loaf tin. This was then put to rest in the fridge while I took my daughter to York.

After a couple of hours I was back home panicking as I had not had chance to buy any gelatine.  This was a cheesecake that had to set in the fridge with gelatine, not a baked one so I had to hope for the best.

I beat in low fat cream cheese, light sour cream, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon and lime zest into a big bowl and then added in some lemon juice.
After this I added some freshly squeezed lime juice. At this stage the prepared leaf gelatine should have been mixed in but this wasn’t to be!
This is the only size loaf tin I have and it was very full and runny. I had to carry it very carefully over to the fridge. This was very difficult as our fridge door always swings shut unless you hold the door with your right hand and the other hand has to hold the food. I had to ask my hubby to hold the door for me!

Well, due to the lack of gelatine the cheesecake did not set properly.  We ended up with no pudding for our Sunday meal as it clearly wasn’t ready.  It stayed in the fridge overnight until Monday. I got in from work and poked the top of the cheesecake in the fridge. The top looked set but as I got it out and tried to cut it I realised it wasn’t a knife I needed but a spoon!

I was so ashamed of what the cheesecake turned out like that I didn’t take a photo. I put a couple of spoonfuls into a bowl and really enjoyed the taste of it.  It was sloppy so was more like a lemon and lime possett than a cheesecake.  No one else really fancied it in that state and sadly as I couldn’t over indulge due to my diet it ended up in the bin.  All because I forgot the gelatine! I’ll definitely make it again though.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx