Tag Archives: Rachel Allen

A soda bread recipe for the impatient…

I’m quite obviously addicted to baking, which most commonly takes the form of cakes…large and small and of many different varieties! However, every now and again I have a longing to master the art of bread baking. I think the reason I keep putting it off isn’t the technical aspect but the fact that it takes so damn long! I love the (nearly) instant gratification you get from cake baking…mixing up the cake batter, licking the spoon, popping it in the oven and being rewarded by, first it’s divine sugary aroma, and then, a beautiful freshly baked cake, all within an hour (depending on variety obviously). 

I do however, love bread, especially of the wholemeal, seedy, substantial variety! I decided to end my bread baking evasion and meet it in the middle somewhere by trying my hand at Irish soda bread. It doesn’t use yeast so there’s no hanging around waiting for it to rise but has all of the winning bread characteristics mentioned above.

Without a modicum of modesty, I’m extremely proud to announce that my first soda bread attempt was a victory…

I used Rachel Allen’s ‘Brown Soda Bread’ recipe as a starting point but went a bit off piste with my choice of flours. 

To try it yourself you need…

225g wholemeal flour. I used this seed and grain bread flour and it worked a treat.

225g plain flour

1 tsp salt

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

Rachel suggests adding 50g mixed seeds such as sesame, pumpkin, sunflower or golden linseeds but the beauty of using the seed and grain bread flour was that they’d added those for me already! 🙂

25g butter

1 egg

375-400ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.

Sift the plain flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. There’s not point trying to sift the wholemeal flour as you’re really not going to get very far so just mix it in afterwards.

Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers tips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. 

Beat the egg and buttermilk together in another bowl.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the majority of the liquid ingredients into it. 

Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get involved…use a hand to bring the flour and liquid together. It’s a messy old process so just embrace it and get stuck in! If it looks a bit dry, add a bit more of the buttermilk mixture. Your aiming for a soft dough that’s not too sticky. Don’t panic, if it IS too sticky, all is not lost, just sprinkle in a tad more flour.

When you’re happy with it, turn your dough onto a floured surface and shape it into a round that’s about 4cm high and cut a deep cross into the top like so…

Place it on a baking tray and pop it into the oven for 15 minutes. Then turn down the heat to 200 degrees and bake for a further 30 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready because it’ll sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom and it should look a little something like this…

I made myself wait until it had cooled before tucking in but I can confirm that it was definitely worth the wait!…

I think I’ve found the perfect bread recipe for even the most impatient of people, like me. Prepared, cooked and cooled within an hour and a half and…entirely delicious! I already have plans to make another loaf this weekend as an accompaniment to… ‘Jool’s favourite beef stew’ ,a Jamie Oliver special, which my brother’s cooking up as a special Mother’s Day treat for us all! Yum!

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Chocolate, marmalade & hazelnut cake…serious chocoholics venture forth!

Due to my recent Seville orange marmalade escapades (blogged here) I have 10 jars of the wonder stuff sitting, looking up at me from my bedroom floor (maybe not the standard place for marmalade storage but let’s face it, not many people are lucky enough to have a larder like Nigella’s!). They serve as a constant reminder that there’s so much baking I’d like to be doing but, frustratingly, not enough hours in the day to do it!

I treated myself to a relaxing Saturday morning holed up in bed, under the duvet, perusing cook books and deciding what was next on my baking agenda. I eventually settled for a chocolate, marmalade and hazelnut cake from Rachel Allen’s ‘Bake’ book…

It appealed to me because, not only would I be able to use my yummy marmalade but also for that fact that it’s a flourless cake, which is something I’ve not really experimented with before. Little did I know that it’d turn out to be the gooey-est, squidgy-est, richest and most intensely delicious cake ever! The kind of cake that shakes awake your taste buds, gives you a head rush and sends you into a food coma simultaneously! If you think you’re hard enough to give it a go you’ll need…

175g butter

175g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)

5 eggs, separated

175g caster sugar

150g hazelnuts (with skins on) ground up in a food processor. I used a handheld stick blender, it was a bit messy but got the job done.

200g marmalade

Zest of 1 orange, grated finely

For the topping you’ll need…

75g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)

75ml double cream

Zest of 1 orange, grated finely

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees and grease and line an 8 or 9 inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together with a handheld electric beater or some muscle power and a good old fashioned whisk until they’re light and have a mousse-like consistency.

Once the chocolate and butter have totally melted, add in the ground hazelnuts, marmalade and orange zest and stir well.

The final component of the cake mixture is the egg whites. Whisk them until they form stiff peaks. You need to make sure there is no yolk in with your whites and that the bowl you use is spotlessly clean or they’ll never reach the right consistency.

Now to put everything together…fold the egg yolk and sugar mixture into the chocolate and hazelnut gloop until well combined. Then, in 3 batches, add the egg whites, folding them into the mixture very gently so as to retain as much of their light, fluffy, airiness as possible. 

Pour the finished cake mixture into the prepared cake tin and cook in the oven for 20 minutes, before turning the temperature down to 170 degrees and cooking for another 35-40 minutes. I tested mine at 35 minutes by inserting a skewer into the middle of the cake and seeing whether it came out clean…it didn’t, so I popped it back in for another 5 minutes and repeated this process at 5 minute intervals until the skewer came out clean and I was satisfied that it was ready..

Leave the cake to cool for a few minutes in the tin before removing it and letting it cool completely on a wire rack.

When it’s cool, it’s ready for icing. Melt the chocolate, cream and orange zest in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. As before, be very careful that the bowl isn’t actually touching the water.

Something went a bit awry for me at this stage…my icing was very thick! The recipe told you to put the cake on a serving place and to pour the icing over, letting it drip down the sides. My icing, however, was far from pouring consistency! A taste test told me that although it didn’t look quite right, it tasted amazing, so I decided to make the best of a bad situation and used a pallette knife to coat the top of my cake with what was in essence, thick, chocolate ganache…

I couldn’t wait the recommended 30 minutes to 1 hour for it to set and instead, put the kettle on, made a cuppa and got stuck in…

My eyes were bigger than my stomach and the flavours so amazingly intense that I savoured it very slowly and had to pause for a rest midway. It’s most definitely not a cake for the lily-livered…only serious chocoholics should venture forth!

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Honey and spice cookies

Last weekend I attempted my first recipe from Rachel Allens ‘Bake’ cookbook. Ginger and honey snaps…

They were unbelievably easy to make. You just need…

225g self-raising flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

½ tsp ground cinnamon

100g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra for sprinkling

125g butter, cubed

100g runny honey

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices into a large bowl with the 100g of caster sugar and mix together well.

Rub the cubes of butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until it has the texture of breadcrumbs.

Heat the honey gently in a saucepan before adding to the other ingredients and using a wooden spoon bring the whole lot together into a smooth dough.

Sprinkle the tablespoon of caster sugar onto a plate and using your hands take a small amount of the cookie dough, roll it into a ball and then roll it around in the sugar before popping it onto the prepared tray, making sure they are about 2 inches apart from each other. To give you an idea of the size that your balls need to be…the recipe should make about 20 cookies. Finally use the back of a fork, dampened slightly, to flatten down each of your cookies before baking them in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until they are medium brown. This is where you need to keep a watchful eye on them and use your judgement because Rachel says that if you let them get too dark they’ll taste bitter…and what Rachel says…goes!

Once you’re happy that they’re the correct shade of brown, take them out of the oven and let them cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring them onto a wire rack.

Mine didn’t get that far before me and my housemate were doing a taste test with a cuppa…


They get the thumbs up from me, apart from the fact that I would definitely class them as a cookie and not a ‘snap’, as Rachel billed them, due to their melt in the middle texture. However maybe I was just too hasty in taking them out of the oven…that’s just the way the cookie crumbles…or doesn’t in this case 🙂

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