RSS Feed

Category Archives: dessert

Sugar-free peanut and date bites

While I’m not a vegan (and never could be), I like following people who are on Instagram for healthy food inspiration, especially trying to come up with different healthier snacks for Nicholas. One of my favourite vegan Instagrammers is the lovely Two Minute Vegan (@twominutevegan).

A few weeks back she came up with a great idea for a two-ingredient healthy snack bar using just dates and peanuts. I just had to try it!

veganBlending up the dates into a sticky purée produces a wonderfully sweet caramel-like flavour in the finished bites and a seemingly naughty chewy texture. They really do taste like a sugary treat rather than a healthy snack.

The original recipe has a layer of peanuts on the bottom as well as on the top which works well if you’re cutting them into bars, but I just put peanuts on top. Even after cooking they’re quite squidgy, so it’s better to cut them into smaller pieces to avoid a sticky mess particularly with little ones.

Because of their squidgy soft texture, I think this recipe would also be great as pop-in-the-mouth balls, rolled in crushed peanuts before baking.

You really must try making these addictive bites!

SUGAR-FREE PEANUT AND DATE BITES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10 mins plus 30 mins in the fridge to harden
Makes 16 squares
Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days

1 1/2 cups unsalted peanuts
1 1/2 cups dates, roughly chopped

Heat your oven to 175C and line a square baking tin (mine is 20cm x 20cm) with baking paper.

Put 1 cup of the peanuts in a food processor and grind until they’re fairly evenly broken up into small pieces.

Add the chopped dates and blend while pouring in two tablespoons of water. Keep adding a little water until you have a thick paste (similar in consistency to a thick peanut butter).

Spread the date and peanut mixture into your prepared tin using the back of a spoon (wet it if the mixture keeps sticking to it). Sprinkle over the remaining 1/2 cup of peanuts and press them in.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Put the bites, still in the tin, in the fridge to harden (at least half an hour) then cut into squares.

vegan

Gingerbread House

When I was small I used to love making things for my family at Christmas (homemade gifts and yummy sweets). One of the festive creations I remember making was a Christmas candle made from half a polly waffle (a cylindrical  Australian chocolate bar filled with marshmallow) stuck into a pastry tart filled with more marshmallow and a licorice handle, and a red and orange painted blanched almond stuck in the top for a flame. I was very proud of them!

I often imagined being a mum and having so much fun being creative with my kids at Christmas, so I’m absolutely loving that this Christmas Nicholas is old enough to really get involved and for us to start some family Christmas traditions. And his enthusiasm for all things ‘Christmassy’ is very catching!

ChristmasMaking a gingerbread house is a lovely traditional activity for the whole family. You can make a big one all together or a village of smaller ones with everyone decorating their own.

We decided to make one small one, that we could decorate easily and also eat before we go to Italy for our Christmas holidays. I used the template from this gingerbread house recipe from the BCC’s Good Food site which was the perfect size (the finished house is about 16cm high, 11cm wide and 12cm long). The extended roof is very cute although it did make it extremely difficult to decorate the sides of the house. Using my gingerbread recipe, we had enough dough to make the house as well as about a dozen Christmas tree biscuits.

ChristmasI like to roll the dough on a piece of baking paper to avoid sticking to my kitchen work top and a piece of plastic wrap on the top (less cleaning and washing up!). We rolled the dough to a thickness of about 5mm. Keeping the plastic wrap on top, we laid the template pieces on top and used the back of a knife to lightly score around them. Taking away the plastic wrap, we then used a sharp knife and a small cutting board to cut out the pieces. We baked our pieces immediately which meant they did puff a little and the edges weren’t completely straight anymore. If you want your pieces to be as precise as possible, put them in the fridge for about 15 minutes and then trim away any bits that have expanded before baking.

Sticking the pieces together can be a bit tricky. You can stick them together with a stiff icing, but you often have to patiently hold the pieces together for quite some time while the icing sets. Some people also use melted sugar as it sets quickly, but it’s very very hot so not the safest option for children. We used melted white chocolate. I melted about 40g of it in the microwave in a small bowl then left it for a few minutes to cool and get tacky rather than runny. You can then spread it on with a knife similar to spreading cement on bricks!

We let the house ‘settle’ overnight so it was completely stable before we decorated it. Then we let Nicholas go to town! And I had fun making a snowman and Christmas tree.

ChristmasIf you’re munchkins are small, put the sweets in individual bowls beforehand so they can easily see and choose the sweets they want. We used small tubes of ready-made icing to stick the sweets on with; they’re easy for little hands to use on their own. Nicholas loved choosing each sweet, adding the “glue” and attaching, then got papà to hold them while the icing dried.

We admired our creation for a day, then demolished it! When I asked Nicholas what the best bit of making the gingerbread house was, he replied, ‘Eating it, mummy!’

What are your family Christmas traditions?

Dairy-free Orange Cake

I do love the lightness of dairy-free cakes and muffins, and there’s a lot less guilt when you eat them for breakfast or have several servings over the course of a day!

In coming up with this orange cake recipe, I researched Italian cake recipes as using olive oil is quite common. Italian cuisine doesn’t have the tradition of adding butter to cakes and a lot of Italians actually don’t like the heavy richness of butter in cakes. I do love the taste of butter, but am enjoying experimenting and adapting recipes to make them a bit healthier (or friendlier for lactose-intolerant friends). I also reduced the sugar content.

dairy-free orange cake

Experimenting with this recipe I liked having a bit more control over the lightness of the cake by using plain flour and adding my own amounts of baking powder and bicarbonate of soda to the flour, but you can easily just use 2 cups of self-raising flour omitting the baking powder and bicarb.

My next experiment is to do a dairy-free mandarin version, and I’m sure a lemon one would be delicious too.

DAIRY-FREE ORANGE CAKE

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 50-60 mins

2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
2 medium-sized oranges
1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar (for serving)

Preheat your oven to 170C and lightly grease a 22cm spring-form cake tin.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together.

Cut a slice off the top and the bottom of each orange (to reduce the amount of peel in the cake) and discard the slices. Cut the oranges into quarters and discard any seeds.

Put the orange chunks in a food processor and blend until the rind is fairly evenly broken up but there is still some texture. Add the olive oil and blend a little.

Gradually add the flour mixture and blend until combined. Pour the mixture back into the large bowl you used for the flour.

Beat the eggs by hand until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Gently fold through the orange mixture.

Pour into your prepared cake tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Sprinkle with the icing sugar just before serving.

AlphaBakes LogoI’m linking this recipe to the AlphaBakes monthly challenge (this month it’s the letter ‘O’) jointly hosted by Caroline from Caroline Makes and Ros from The More than Occasional Baker.

Dairy-free one-ingredient strawberry ice cream

Since discovering how easy it is to make banana ice cream by simply blending frozen banana until it becomes creamy, I’ve wanted to try other fruit flavours. However, living in the UK doesn’t usually lend itself to eating much summery food. But this glorious summer, yes!

Banana is the perfect fruit to use in a one-ingredient ice cream because it’s naturally creamy and high in sugar. Strawberries on the other hand have a high water content (that’s why frozen strawberries become mushy after defrosting) so can easily produce an icy consistency when blended. But I thought I’d give strawberry ice cream a go seeing as it’s Nicholas’ favourite ice cream flavour.

sugar-free strawberry ice cream

The frozen strawberries blend at a very similar speed to frozen banana and you need to regularly scrape down the sides of the bowl. The result using strawberries was definitely less creamy with a texture of ice cream verging on icy sorbetto. It was sweet enough for both Nicholas and me, but hubby (being Italian and therefore believing strawberries are never sweet enough on their own!) wasn’t so sure. If you’re not sure either, you could add a little honey, agave nectar or icing sugar while you’re blending.

I’ve since read adding a handful of frozen banana slices to the frozen strawberries adds creaminess and sweetness without taking away from the berry flavour. That’s definitely something I’ll try next time.

Like the banana version, it’s easier to blend the pieces of frozen fruit if they’ve been left to defrost for a couple of minutes. If the resulting ‘soft serve’ texture is too soft for you, put the blended mix into the freezer for 15 minutes or so for it to firm up.

If there’s any leftover ice cream, put it into a freezer-safe container for another day (letting it defrost for a couple of minutes and then reblending it before eating, or mush it up with the back of a spoon if you’re lazy like me). I’ve also poured leftovers into ice lolly moulds (sometimes also adding a layer of plain yogurt).

There are lots of other fruit I want to try this with. Jamie Oliver does a similar thing with mango in his 30-Minute Meals although he also adds yogurt, honey and lime juice.

DAIRY-FREE ONE-INGREDIENT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM

Preparation time is cutting up the strawberries, waiting for them to freeze and then blending them.
A 300-400g punnet of strawberries makes about 4 adult servings.

Cut your strawberries into quarters (or halves if they’re small) and lay them on a tray covered with baking paper. Put in the freezer for a few hours until frozen. If you’re not going to use them immediately, put them in a bag after they’re frozen and keep in the freezer.

Put your frozen strawberry pieces into a food processor. Blend and blend, scraping down the sides, until it becomes creamy (about 5 mins). Don’t worry if you think it’s not going to get creamy, just be patient and keep blending.

Variations:

  • add a handful of sliced frozen banana for a creamier texture
  • freeze a variety of berries, not just strawberries
  • add a little honey, agave nectar or icing sugar for extra sweetness
  • add a little rose water as you’re blending

Other uses:

  • pour leftovers into ice lolly moulds, alternating with layers of plain yogurt

What fruits would you love to try making into healthier ice cream?

Dairy-free chocolate cupcakes

Here in the UK the weather is glorious (and what a difference that makes to everyone’s mood!). Although I’ve lived here for (hang on while I count…) almost eight years (EIGHT YEARS – where did that time go?!) and I’m half-British, I find it really difficult to do the very British thing of stripping down to summer clothes the instant the sun drags itself out. My head just needs time to adjust (and often by that time, ‘summer’ is over!).

But, what my friends and I are very good at is having barbecues to make the most of our limited sun exposure. Thankfully Nicholas, growing up in the UK, isn’t missing out on seeing the men folk standing around a sizzling barbecue, stubby in hand (how many of you are going to have to look that one up?!), tending the flames, while the women folk do pretty much everything else (and I wouldn’t have it any other way!).

diary-free chocolate cupcakes

I made these cupcakes last weekend for our friends’ barbecue. I’ve been wanting to try Nigella’s Chocolate Olive Oil Cake for a while, especially as the barbecue-tending half of our dearest friends is lactose intolerant. The original recipe makes a dense and squidgy flourless cake (well it’s Nigella after all!) which I’m sure is amazing, but for a sunny day, after eating loads of meat, I wanted to make something a bit lighter. I also thought by the time we’d want dessert we’d be lazily enjoying the sun, not wanting to move, therefore ‘pop-in-the-mouth-without-effort’ cupcakes would be better than a whole cake 🙂

If you followed Nigella’s original recipe, using all ground almonds and no flour, these would make fabulous gooey individual puddings. They’re also easy enough, with lots of measuring and mixing, to get your little ones to help you make them.

diary-free chocolate cupcakes

DAIRY-FREE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes 12 cupcakes
Freezable

150ml olive oil (not extra virgin olive oil)
50g good quality cocoa powder, sifted
125ml boiling water
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
75g ground almonds
65g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 pinch of salt
200g caster sugar
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 170C and line your cupcake tray with paper cases.

In a small bowl or jug, whisk the sifted cocoa powder with the boiling water until you have a smooth paste. Whisk in the vanilla and leave to cool.

Cream the sugar, olive oil and eggs quite vigorously (about 3 minutes) until you have a pale creamy texture. Turn the speed of your beater or mixer down a little and pour in the cocoa paste, beating until combined.

Slowly add the flour, ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and salt, and gently mix until combined.

Divide your mixture evenly between the paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes (when you stick a skewer in to test, it should come out mainly clean possibly with some chocolate cake crumbs attached).

Eat warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar or not.

Variations:

  • for a gluton-free squidgy cupcake, substitute the flour with more ground almonds (140g in total).

Cute lunches: Gruffalo crumble

Ok, so technically this wasn’t a lunch but after creating a toasted Gruffalo for Nicholas and getting such a great reaction from him, I thought I’d make him Gruffalo crumble. And it’s definitely cute.

Gruffalo crumble

Use your preferred crumble topping recipe (I like adding some rolled oats and desiccated coconut) over your munchkin’s favourite fruit (I roughly mashed some fresh mango), adding a spoonful of extra crumble topping to form the Gruffalo’s nose.

After the crumble was cooked, I added circles of mango and chocolate drops to make the Gruffalo’s terrible eyes, and a fruit button for the poisonous wart on the end of his nose. His terrible tusks, teeth and horns are cut from banana, and I fried two slices of banana in a little butter for his ears. His black tongue is made from licorice laces.

Nicholas has already asked to “eat more Gruffle crumble!” so I guess this was a success.

Sugar-free Anzac biscuits

Tomorrow (25th of April) is ANZAC Day. The word ‘ANZAC’ (an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) was coined during WW1 to refer to the Aussie and Kiwi troops in Egypt. More than 10,000 of them lost their lives during the campaign to capture Gallipoli in Turkey, which saw them landing on the penisula on the 25th of April 1915. Now ANZAC Day not only remembers these WW1 soldiers but all the Australian and New Zealand men and women who have served and died in wars.

Anzac biscuits came about supposedly when the soldiers’ loved ones wanted to send them something nutritious from home. They had to send something that could withstand a couple of months travel without refrigeration and use ingredients that were readily available during the war. The traditional Anzac biscuit of rolled oats, sugar, plain flour, coconut, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water was born.

sugar-free Anzac biscuits

If you would like to make the traditional Anzac biscuit there are many recipes online, including this one on the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee website and also here (with a choice of crisp or chewy biscuits).

I experimented to make a sugar-free, more toddler-friendly version. Instead of the sugar and golden syrup (or treacle in some recipes), I used honey and applesauce (unsweetened pureed apple). The texture with these two substitutions produces a biscuit with a soft chewy centre, but you can make them less chewy by flattening out the biscuits as much as possible before cooking them.

They went down very well with Nicholas (he’s had them as snacks and also for breakfast, and they survive dunking in milk very well). Hubby, who usually doesn’t like my sugar-free experiments, has happily eaten them without complaint, while I’ve also scoffed a few feeling a lot less guilty than if they were packed with sugar.

This would be a great recipe to try making with your munchkins, but because of the honey it’s advised not to give these biscuits to little ones under 12 months old. It’s also a recipe that’s easy to halve if you don’t want to make so many biscuits.

SUGAR-FREE ANZAC BISCUITS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes about 30 biscuits

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
125g butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup applesauce / apple puree
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp boiling water

Preheat the oven to 160C and line two oven trays with baking paper.

Gently melt the butter with the honey either in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Let cool.

Combine the rolled oats, plain flour and coconut.

Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the boiling water and add it to the cooled butter mixture.

Stir the butter and bicarbonate of soda mixture into the dry ingredients, add the applesauce or puree and mix until combined.

Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture (it’s normal that it’s quite runny) onto your prepared trays and flattened the mixture out (the thicker the biscuit the softer and more chewier the centre will be). Unlike traditional Anzac biscuits, these won’t spread any more during cooking.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove carefully from the trays (they’ll still be quite soft) to cool on a wire rack.

Other uses:

  • Use the biscuits as the base for individual unbaked cheesecakes: place a whole biscuit in the bottom of a muffin tin (lined with a paper case to get it out more easily), top with your preferred cheesecake mix and refrigerate.
  • Use broken up biscuits as a crumble topping for cooked fruit.

I’m linking this recipe to the AlphaBakes monthly challenge (this month it’s the letter ‘A’) jointly hosted by Ros from The More than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes.
AlphaBakes Logo