Nut Energy Bars

IMG_2466Upon returning home from Thailand with just a few baht knocking around in my account, it was time to start earning some moolah to fund my next, dare I say it, gap year adventure. This six week professional culinary course is not going to pay for itself. So my search for a job began and ended very swiftly, with a position as a waitress at my all time favourite beach cafe, the Wayside. Since the age of ten, their humble dish of Cumberland sausages, mashed potato an onion gravy blew my tiny mind and has had a special place in my heart ever since.

The frankly ginormous benefit from working there is the permanently filled to the brim dessert fridge. Laden with banoffee pie, carrot cake, millionaire shortbread, raspberry and passion fruit roulade, brownies, cookies, muffins…the list goes on, makes it a disaster zone for furtive nibbles and sugar highs. When the banoffee pie whipped cream topping does the old seismic shift, you end up with a slice-and-a-bit. That bit cannot end its life in the bin! It just wouldn’t be right.

So to cut a long story shot, these mixed nut energy bars are an answer to the sugary temptations. Realistically, the only thing that actually stops me from digging into freshly baked bakewell slices every day is constantly chewing gum, (Extra bubblegum flavour, whatever else?!). If you fancy a homemade snack bar that is crunchy, sweet, chewy and satisfying, then look no further. Use up all the spare nuts you may have knocking about in the larder (we had a tonne of brazil nuts, sitting waiting to be eaten after reading an article about selenium poisoning) and get to baking these easy as pie, super healthy, nutrient packed, cheaper than shop bought energy bars. Phew.

Ingredients (makes 12 bars)

  • 90g honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 30g ground almonds
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp nut butter
  • 170g nuts, roughly chopped
  • 8 dates, chopped
  • 100g seeds and dried fruitIMG_2446IMG_2447

Method

Preheat the oven to 150°C and line an 8 inch square baking tin with greaseproof paper. Mix together the honey, vanilla extract, ground almonds, salt and nut butter (I used almond, my all time fave) together in a large bowl until smooth.

IMG_2448Roughly chop your choice of nuts into bitesize pieces. My combo this time was almonds, brazils and walnuts. You can by all means be a nut puritan, and use but one choice of nut.IMG_2450Chop your dates. Don’t waste your precious earnings on the Deliciously Ella endorsed Medjool dates, just buy the cheap ones in the baking aisle. They taste just as lovely in salads, too. I promise!IMG_2451Fold in the chopped nuts, dates and seeds and dried fruits of your choice. You can see that I went for a mixture of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and redder than red goji berries (this is what I sprinkle on my breakfast every morn – bought in bulk separately and mixed together. It lasts for weeks in jars and is much cheaper than buying the miniature sized mixed packets.) You can use anything you like! Raisins are recommended if you’re on a budget. IMG_2452IMG_2453Pop the mixture onto your prepare baking pan and press down using a spatula to spread it evenly into the corners. Try to pack it down as tightly as possible, with no potential break inducing gaps.IMG_2454IMG_2455Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, remove and make sure to let it cool on a wire rack for one hour. Before attempting to remove them from the pan, let it all firm up and stick together properly in the fridge overnight. Use the overhang of the greaseproof paper to pop the slab onto a chopping board the following day, and expertly slice into bars.IMG_2463Expertly meaning not like me, with the bars getting progressively wider as you move across to the right! These fantastically healthy treats last for a whole two weeks wrapped up in the fridge, so there is no reason to freeze them, unless you make a shedload and do not have an army on hand to feed. IMG_2469These are the most perfectly nifty bars to shove into your bag for a long shift, as they’ll keep you going with fruit and nut power all day long. Look down upon those overpriced Nakd, 9 and Trek bars, and make some homemade alternatives that taste that much better because you made them with your own fair hands. Let me know in the comments below of any of your favourite healthy snack ideas! Carrot cake energy bites are a permanent fixture in my fridge too, but they aren’t particularly transportable and get squashed on even the shortest journey.

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Courgette Super Muffins

IMG_2426‘What makes a super muffin super?’ I hear you ask. Now there ain’t no cacao, maca or spirulina in these bad boys, but they are so named super muffins because they contain a vegetable that isn’t a carrot. The consequence of a recent bout of spiralising every vegetable in sight, was an overwhelming number of courgettes knocking about the fridge. The most logical way to tackle this lower shelf invasion was to bake them into something delicious that I can freeze for many snacks to come. You can find the original recipe that these are adapted from here. Now, put down that sodding spiraliser, and get grating.

Ingredients (makes 10 large muffins)

Streusel topping:

  • 30g oats
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 30g cold butter

Courgette muffins:

  • 1 egg
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 120ml vegetable oil
  • 1 large courgette, grated
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 190g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 120g chopped walnutsIMG_2420

Method

Preheat your oven to 200°C and line a muffin tray with large muffin cases. First, we make the streusel by mixing together the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and flour in a medium bowl. Cube the cold butter into the mixture, and combine by using a cutting motion with a butter knife. IMG_2417Mix in this way until the streusel resembles coarse bread crumbs, and tastes like the best crumble topping ever.IMG_2419For the muffins, whisk together in a large bowl the egg, brown sugar, caster sugar, oil, courgette and vanilla until completely combined. Add in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, mixed spice and walnuts, then gently fold using a wooden spoon to combine. If there are some rogue flour pockets left, that’s fine! With muffins, you definitely don’t want to overmix the batter.IMG_2421Dollop the mixture evenly between your prepared cases, filling them most of the way to the top.IMG_2422Sprinkle the streusel over the tops of each muffin, carefully pressing down to make sure it sticks.IMG_2423Bake in the very hot oven for 5 minutes, before turning the temperature down to 180°C for a further 12 minutes. This should hopefully make them rise up successfully, as a muffin should! When they’re ready, leave them to cool in the tray for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.IMG_2425My family have gone mad for the buttery oaty topping paired with the light, fluffy, brown sugar sponge. Never again will we have a bare-topped muffin in the house! Do give them a go and let me know how they turn out. What are your favourite ways to incorporate vegetables into baking? I once gave beetroot brownies a go, but they most certainly did not put a smile on anyone’s face and were never made again.

Hot Cross Buns

IMG_2408Happy Easter to all of you lovely readers, bakers, friends ‘nd family. How I have missed each and every one of you! Without showing too much misplaced optimism, I hope that in my absence on this ole blog, you’ve been following my goings on over at Rosebud Dives. Now that my feet are firmly back on Blighty soil, you can expect to see a lot more of me back in the kitchen, donning my apron, where I belong (although for a moment there, I was seriously considering a trans-Atlantic move to live on the beach and teach the art of scuba).

On this fateful Sunday, Mary Berry gazed out at me with her twinkling blue eyes from the row of baking cookbooks that my godparents were lovely enough to give to me, and her message to me was to bake some lovely hot cross buns. With her trusty baking bible in hand, I turned to page 336 (ominously lacking a picture) and set to work.

Ingredients

  • 450g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp each mixed spice, cinnamon, nutmeg
  • 7g sachet yeast
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 150ml milk
  • 5 tbsp warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 75g raisins
  • 50g candied peel

For the glaze

  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp water

Method

To prepare your ingredients, melt the butter in the microwave for a few seconds, then leave to cool. Warm the milk in a saucepan over a low heat. Boil the kettle so that you have tepid water to hand. Measure the flour, salt, spices, yeast and sugar into a large bowl and mix.IMG_2398

Make a well in the centre, and pour in the cooled melted butter, warm milk, warm water and egg. Mix together briefly with a wooden spoon before adding the raisins and chopped peel, then fully combine to form a nice soft dough.IMG_2399

Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough will be very sticky at first, but after a while it will become smooth and elastic. Perseverance is paramount!IMG_2400

Pop the mixture into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave it to prove in a warm place for an hour and a half. My boiler room is decidedly the most perfect proving room, and has since been renamed as such.IMG_2402

Once the dough has doubled in size, knock the air out of it and knead again for two minutes. Using electric scales, divide the dough into twelve equal pieces, shape them into balls and score the tops with a cross. Pop these onto oiled baking trays, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove again for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200°C and you are ready to put these buns in the oven. At this stage, I foolishly mixed together flour and water to make a paste, to form the crosses on the buns. This seemingly simple task was totally unnecessary and not recommended, as the whole rolling stage became a sticky mess and the sticks ended up far too stick-like, less stripe-like as intended.IMG_2403

In any case, bake the lovely buns for 15 minutes until they’re golden brown and sound hollow when the base is tapped. Gently warm the sugar and water to make a glaze, and brush them with it as soon as they come out.IMG_2404

We thoroughly enjoyed ours sliced in half, toasted for a few minutes under the grill, and slathered in butter. With an obligatory cup of tea, of course!IMG_2409IMG_2410What other Easter baking have you all got up to? I’ve seen some glorious chocolate creations (India, I’m looking at you) and a world of roasts, mini eggs and creme eggs. One year coming these renowned creme egg brownies are a must-bake for me, but for the moment, I only received one creme egg this year and am rather reluctant to share.