Friday, November 30, 2012

Pastie pastry?

A few weeks ago, I made a steak and kidney pudding or, more accurately, a steak pudding, since I couldn't find any kidney at the time. The recipe included its own version of suet pasty, which was interesting, but meant I still needed to make the slightly different suet pastry (p80) in the pastry chapter.

According to the recipe, suet pastry is for use in savoury puddings. I had no real desire to steam another savoury pudding, but I thought it might be possible to use the suet pastry for a Cornish pastie instead. My 1998 version of the Edmonds book does not include a Cornish pastie recipe, so I consulted my 1986 edition instead.

The pastry was very easy to make: I had some suet left from making the pudding, so all I had to do was mix it with flour, salt and water. It made  a lovely soft dough, though you could still see lumps of suet here and there in the pastry.

Using the 1980 pastie recipe as a guide, I mixed up a filling of steak and chopped potato, adding various herbs and seasonings. This recipe was included in the old "Meat with Oxo" section which no longer features in the Edmonds book. I guess the pastie recipe fell by the wayside when they took that section out.

I rolled out my pastry and spooned my filling over half of it, then folded the pastry over the top and pinched the edges together. A few pricks of a fork, and a brush with milk (I would have used an egg-wash, but I'd run out of eggs) and my pastie was ready to go in the oven.

Half  an hour later, I pulled out a slightly lumpy, slightly oozing, but still beautifully golden pasty that smelled and tasted as delicious as it looked. The suet pastry was light, crisp, and had a nice savoury flavour to it.

I couldn't help thinking about the fat content as I ate my entire massive pasty (which really should have been too big for one sitting, but I couldn't stop chomping on it). It's quite a disconcerting feeling knowing precisely how much fat you have put into something. So no, you wouldn't want to be eating this every day, but if you happen to have some suet that needs using, making a pastie with suet pastry is not a bad way to go.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

500 cupcakes

No, I didn't make 500 cupcakes! That really would be quite an effort. The point is, I've just reached a total of 500 completed recipes, and the 500th one was a cupcake recipe. That's all I meant.

I had a day off yesterday, as Mum and Dad were arriving in Christchurch, about to fly out to Canada for a few weeks. As usual, I decided I'd better have something baked ready to have with a cuppa when they arrived. The majority of baking recipes I have left are loaves and cakes, and after a reasonable sleep-in, I found I wouldn't have time to bake any of these before they arrived. I'd almost given up on the idea when I glanced at the cupcake recipe and noticed there was still one variation yet to be tried: queen cakes (p47).

Queen cakes are just plain cupcakes with sultanas added. Easy to make, and suitably quick as well. All you do is cream butter, sugar and vanilla, then beat in eggs one at a time, and fold in some sultanas with the dry ingredients and milk. Of course, I discovered partway through making the mixture that I had almost run out of sultanas. Never mind: I topped them up with raisins and continued.

For some of the cupcake variations I've made them in mini muffin pans, merely because I like things to be bite-sized - especially when you're loading them down with icing! I didn't intend to ice these ones though: I thought they would be quite nice plain. So this time I went with the recipe and used standard patty tins.

The instructions are to share the mixture evenly between 18 patty cases. I followed this instruction, but I was worried that the patty cases were too full as a result. I expected the cupcakes to have overflowed all over the tins, but actually only a few rose high enough to expand over the edge and acquire a shape more consistent with muffins than cupcakes.

The traditional 'slightly rounded' cupcake shape is usually topped with icing, or filled with something sweet and creamy. I decided that although they looked a bit flat without any of the usual decoration, I'd stick to my decision to leave them plain.

I didn't regret it, either: the queen cakes were lovely just on their own: sweet, with a sugary crunch at the very edges, and the odd burst of juicy sultana or raisin. They were nice and light, but not dry, which can sometimes be a problem with cupcakes.

I was amused when Dad commented "these remind me of old-fashioned queen cakes". When I explained that's exactly what they are, he laughed and told a story about my Uncle Trev attempting to make queen cakes as a kid - but forgetting to put the flour in! Doesn't sound like someone who would be related to me, does it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lamb 'n' mint

I scrounged a bit of mint from my garden the other night to make a mint sauce (p186). The obvious accompaniment to mint sauce is lamb, traditionally roast lamb (how amusing that I think in terms of what meat should be "an accompaniment" to a sauce. It's supposed to be the other way around). I wasn't about to do a whole lamb roast just for myself, however, so I just cooked a couple of lamb chops instead.

For my usual half-recipe, I needed 1/8 cup of chopped mint leaves, firmly packed. I overestimated how many leaves this would require, and found myself with much more than I needed. For a while I toyed with using this to make mint and apple jelly, but after a careful perusal of the recipe, I decided it wasn't going to be practical. I'll have to find non-Edmonds uses for that extra mint.

Putting my chopped mint in the bottom of a jug, I covered it with boiling water, then added malt vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. A bit of a stir, and the sauce is ready to go. The rest of my dinner wasn't, though, but it didn't harm the sauce to leave it sitting while I rested my lamb chops and mashed the potatoes.

When all was ready, I poured a generous amount of sauce over chop and potatoes. I have to say I liked this sauce as much or more than any version I've tried out of a bottle. The vinegar is a bit pungent, (you might want to add it a little more sparingly than it says in the recipe, then adjust to taste) but it doesn't overwhelm the mint. This sauce is so easy to make, that if you've got a bit of mint in the garden, there's no reason why you should ever have to buy mint sauce in a bottle.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Party nibble / simple snack

I had half a banana and one strip of streaky bacon left over from my banana and bacon English muffin topping. Ideal for making a little Sunday night TV-watching snack: bacon-wrapped bananas (p193).

This is actually one of the 'party finger food' recipes. Since I wasn't planning a party and happened to have the ingredients on hand, I made it anyway.

The full recipe uses two bananas, each cut into four pieces, and four rashers of bacon. So what I was doing was really a quarter-recipe, but you can pretty much make it with however much you've got. All you do is brush the bananas with lemon juice - presumably to prevent browning - then wrap each chunk of banana in half a rasher of bacon and secure it with a toothpick.

Finally, you just bung your bacon-wrapped bananas under the grill, turn them a few minutes later and grill the other side, then you're done: sweet, salty morsels once again utilising that delicious banana and bacon combination.

These may be pretty tasty, but they have to be served warm, so if your're going to do these for party finger food, you'd need to spend a few minutes in the kitchen doing the grilling bit. I expect you could do the banana-wrapping bit in advance, but how far in advance, I'm not sure. I'd say best keep the time between wrapping and grilling as short as possible.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Expectations of 'old school'

There are a few recipes scattered throughout the Edmonds book that represent outdated fashions in food; recipes like the cheese ball, which were once commonplace but are now considered a bit retro. The cheese ball turned out to be delicious, and I hoped I'd be able to say the same about luncheon salmon mould (p115).

You know you sometimes see those old copper moulds that are shaped like fish? This is what those are for. You mix up canned salmon with some gelatine and a few other ingredients, then set it in a mould. Of course, I didn't have a fish mould, so I just set mine in a bowl and hoped for the best.

The instructions are to swell gelatine in water, then dissolve over hot water, and after that, add everything else. I decided it made just as much sense to get all the other ingredients ready in a separate bowl while the gelatine was swelling/dissolving, then mix in the gelatine afterwards. It seemed to work ok.

I drained a can of salmon (half-recipe: the full fish-mould recipe uses two cans), carefully reserving the liquid as described in the recipe. To the flaked salmon I added chopped spring onion, mayonnaise, malt vinegar  mustard powder and chicken stock powder. 

I was mixing in the dissolved gelatine when it occurred to me to wonder "hang on, why am I reserving this fish liquid again?" I read and re-read the recipe, convinced I was missing something, but no. It tells you to reserve the liquid, then there is no further instruction about what to do with it. Clearly they're just messing with me.

When all the ingredients were combined, I spooned the mixture into a wet bowl, and left it in the fridge for a couple of hours. It set quite well, and I din't have too much trouble when it came to getting it out of the bowl. The final flourish is to "garnish with cucumber". Hmm. I cut a few cucumber slices and placed them around the sides, but it looked more silly than decorative. I guess there's a reason people used to do this in the fancy moulds - it's a bit boring-looking otherwise!

The suggested accompaniments were salad and Melba toast, but since I was hungry and wasn't about to bother with that Melba toast palaver again, I just had it with ordinary toast. It was ok. Nothing to write home about, just sort of a creamy, oniony fish paste. Disappointing, really: I was hoping to be able to either highly recommend it or roundly denounce it as disgusting, but luncheon salmon mould has foiled both these objectives by being blandly mediocre. Oh well, can't win 'em all!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Another non-recipe

Amongst the breakfast recipes is one called 'breakfast toppings for English muffins' (p155). It's not really a recipe: apart from the instruction "split muffins and toast", it's merely a list of suggested toppings. Still, I'd included it when I made my original recipe count, meaning I had to try it out.

There are four different suggestions, so I got myself a packet of muffin splits a few weeks ago and have been trying out the various toppings for weekend breakfasts.

1. Banana and cooked bacon
This one is very tasty - banana and bacon is a classic combo, especially if you add a little maple syrup (which I did). It certainly makes a more substantial breakfast than a plain buttered muffin split.

2. Ham and avocado
Also very nice - the avocado cuts through the salty ham quite nicely. I don't know if I'd necessarily consider it a combination suitable for breakfast, but it'd taste good whatever time of the day you ate it. I've just discovered that I forgot to take photos when I made this one, so you'll just have to believe me!

3. Cooked bacon and peanut butter
I don't eat peanut butter very often, which perhaps is why I enjoy it so much when I do. This is not the first Edmonds recipe I've come across with bacon and peanut butter - it's a great combination, as long as you get the balance right. I skimped on the bacon a bit, so the peanut butter dominated. Not that I didn't enjoy it - sticky, creamy half-melted peanut butter with a hint of bacon? Yuuum!

4. Jam and Cheese
This is the simplest of the four toppings, but simpler doesn't mean less tasty. Jam and cheese is always a nice combination: a nice fruity jam contrasting with savoury cheese. Not a bad little breakfast.

A toasted muffin split or two always makes a nice breakfast - though in the past I've tended just to have them buttered or with a little jam. It seems that getting a bit more creative with my toppings can be worthwhile!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Garden salad

Sometimes, you just feel like a nice fresh salad for dinner. A salmon salad (p179) with herb dressing (p184) perhaps?

The salad is composed of red lettuce, cucumber, avocado, smoked salmon and hard-boiled egg. So clearly, the first thing I had to do was boil some eggs and get them cooled. Naturally, I dropped one of the eggs as I lowered it into the pot, so it cracked, oozed, and cooked partly inside the shell, but mostly in a massive tumourish blob escaping from one end. Incidentally, The other egg came out perfect.

While my eggs were cooling, I mixed up the herb dressing. Now that I have a garden (and a few things actually planted in it - a fairly recent development) I have the ingredients for this sort of recipe conveniently at hand. I grabbed some parsley, chives and thyme, chopped that all up finely and put it in a screwtop jar.

 Also into the jar went some lemon zest and juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar. A good shake, and the dressing was ready. Time to assemble the salad.

I wasn't sure if there's a specific variety meant by "red" lettuce, but I had some of that frilly reddish stuff in the garden, so I figured that'd do. I'd triple washed it and was fairly sure I got all the aphids off, but if not, never mind: it wouldn't kill me and anyway I'd never notice it under the dressing.

I laid the lettuce out over a plate (and some in a little container for my lunch the next day. I was making a half-recipe, but it was still too much for one meal) along with short strips of cucumber, sliced with a potato peeler. Next, I added chopped avocado and arranged the smoked salmon and boiled eggs on top. A liberal application of the herb dressing, and you're good to go.

Initially, I was a bit disappointed in the dressing. Olive oil seemed to be the dominant flavour, when I'd hoped the herby flavour would come through. Interestingly, the leftover dressing I had on my lunchtime salad the next day was much tastier. The flavours had developed overnight, and the herbs and lemon were far more noticeable.

The salad I loved. This is not a surprise, since I'm a big smoked salmon fan, and I always like salads that are substantial enough to have as a meal. Ok, so it probably wouldn't be for a bloke, but for me, a decent-sized plateful of salad greens with a reasonable helping of salmon and egg is plenty enough for a meal.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Distracted by the vacuum

In need of some baking to have for my morning teas this week, I spent about five minutes this afternoon preparing a sultana loaf (p32).

The method is slightly unusual - you put the sultanas in a bowl with a small amount of butter, some sugar, salt and golden syrup. Then you sprinkle in baking soda (it says "sprinkle" but I used a sieve) and pour boiling water over the top.

It takes a couple of minutes for the water to melt the butter, which also allows time for the sultanas to soak up a bit of moisture. After that, you just add flour and baking powder, and "mix quickly". I wasn't sure if this meant you should stir really fast, or that you should just do it briefly, i.e. with as little mixing as possible. I opted for somewhere between the two, and in a very short time had the loaf in the oven to bake.

My previous attempts at loaves have had mixed results - usually they taste ok, but have a thick crust around the edge. I attribute this to my oven being too hot, and followed my recent practice of reducing the given temperature by 8-10 degrees to allow for the 'hotness' of the oven. I set the timer for just under the recommended cooking time and went off to do the vacuuming.

I was still vacuuming some time later when it occurred to me that I wouldn't hear the timer if it went off. Turning off the vacuum, I noted that the timer wasn't beeping, but decided to have a look at how many minutes there were to go.

When I checked the timer, it showed 0.00, which was odd. Why no beep? I figure it went off but must only beep for a certain time before stopping. I wouldn't have heard it, blithely attacking carpet-adhered cat hair at the other end of the house!

Luckily, the loaf wasn't too overdone. It didn't even have that thick crust I've had before - further evidence that adjusting the oven temperature is definitely the thing to do - and was only slightly drier than it should be. Of course, you don't expect a basic sultana loaf to be bursting with flavour, but it's still sweet and pleasant to eat, with nice bursts of juicy raisin here and there. Considering how little effort it took to make, I reckon it was time well spent.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dessert in Hanmer

Leah had organised a house in Hanmer for Show weekend, and a number of us gathered there on Friday afternoon. Since it would be unthinkable to attend something like this without bringing some Edmonds to the party, I brought along a chocolate liqueur cake (p52).

This recipe is a variant on the rich chocolate cake recipe. It's a flourless cake based on eggs and ground almonds. The only difference is this one has some liqueur in it. The suggested liqueurs are chocolate, coffee or orange liqueur, but I didn't have any of these in the house. I popped around to the local bottle store, thinking to get a miniature of Kahlua. Their selection was a bit limited though, so after some hesitation, I selected a bottle of Baileys instead.

I started by separating six eggs, and melting some chocolate over a pot of water. Next, I creamed unsalted butter with brown sugar, and beat in the egg yolks and Baileys. The recipe says two teaspoons, and when you think about it, that would probably be enough if you were using Cointreau or something. Baileys doesn't have quite as strong a flavour, so I doubled the amount.

The next additions were the ground almonds and melted chocolate. I'd made a point of having the chocolate ready in advance, but this did mean that it had started to set again around the edges. A few chunks of partially-set chocolate made it difficult to combine the mixture evenly.

At this stage, I tasted the mixture and couldn't detect any hint of the Baileys. I sloshed a bit more in and hoped for the best.

Finally, I beat the egg whites to soft peaks and folded them through. I had my doubts about how successfully they would combine with the heavy chocolate and almond mixture, but actually, it folded through quite well. I was left with a comparatively light mixture to pour into the tin.

You're supposed to cook this cake for 20 minutes at 190, then for a further 30  minutes at 150 - or 'until firm'. After the 30 minutes at 150 were up, I took the cake out and found it was barely cooked on top, and certainly runny in the centre. I kept adding another five minutes, and another five - by the time I'd decided it was ok, the cake had been at 150 for around 50 minutes.

The cake had to cool in the tin, so I left it covered on the bench while I ran around throwing things into a bag for Hanmer. It still wasn't entirely cold an hour or so later when I went to leave, but I decided it would do. When I took the cake out, it was very greasy on the bottom. I blotted it with paper towels before packing it into a container to take with me.

The last step was to dust with icing sugar. In my hurry, I grabbed the wrong shaker and shook flour over part of it instead. I had to pick the cake up again and brush off the four, before returning it to the container and dusting with icing sugar.

I guess this kind of cake is not supposed to be high and rounded - instead it was a bit sunken in the middle and had a crack across it because I'd had to handle it too much. Never mind, I was willing to take the gamble that it would taste ok.

I was the last of Friday night's arrivals (another group turned up on Saturday), but was there in plenty of time to sit around with drinks and nibbles before dinner. Leah was pleased I'd brought cake, since she'd provided dinner but not dessert.

After dinner, Phil kindly cut the cake into slices of wildly inconsistent size and shape, so we all ended up with a slightly different portion - and a reason to make fun of Phil. Fortunately, the cake was a success. It was very moist and rich, with an almost fudgy texture. There were a couple of pieces left over, which stayed on the table and got chipped away at during the evening whenever anyone felt like having a little more.

In short, pretty good cake. Couldn't taste the Bailey's though - I think coffee or orange liqueur would work better, but even then, you'd probably want to adjust that to taste.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Another one for the shelf

The top shelf of my pantry holds a huge collection of chutneys, relishes and jams that I have made during the course of this challenge, and not yet used. It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I make them faster than I can actually use them - not being a habitual jam or chutney eater. That doesn't put me off making more: I can always manage to squeeze another jar up there! So tonight I set to and made some kiwifruit chutney (p230).

Like pretty much every chutney recipe, this one starts with onions. I have to say the standard of onions available at this time of year is pretty rubbish - the ones I got were soft and one was rotten when I cut into it. They were plenty strong enough though, and I had to put up with stinging eyes and watery nose as I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

In with the onions went some chopped apple, crushed garlic, raisins, brown sugar, malt vinegar, and ground ginger, cloves and allspice. Once again, I found I had only whole allspice on hand. Initially I contemplated throwing them in whole, but then, how would I ever pick them out again? In the end, I ground them up in the pestle and mortar.

So where does the whole kiwifruit thing come in? Hold your horses: I'm getting to that! First, I had to gently boil the chutney mixture for half an hour. At the end of that time, it'd cooked down into a thick gooey mixture: time to add the kiwifruit.

After putting in the kiwifruit, I simmered the chutney for another 20 minutes or so. The recipe described a "thick and jam-like" consistency, which quite accurately described what I had before I put the kiwifruit in, but afterwards, the chutney seemed to get more watery the longer I boiled it. In the end, I decided it'd cooked long enough, and got out the jars I'd been sterilising.

As it happens, I only needed one jar - quite a big one that once held gherkins. The recipe doesn't make all that much, which is good - only one more jar to squeeze onto that top shelf! As to flavour, it's hard to tell with a chutney: they need a few weeks at least for the flavour to mature. At this stage, it's very sweet and fruity - not vinegary as some of my previous ones have been. I think it's going to be quite good, especially as an ingredient in curried sausages!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This "with Edmonds" gets my vote

I chose to make myself an apple coconut flan (p215) this evening. It's a recipe from the "Desserts with Edmonds" chapter, and is sort of like a fruit sponge, made with an Edmonds cake mix. Since I wouldn't expect to eat a whole dish designed to serve 8-10, I halved the recipe. There'll be another "with Edmonds" recipe I can use the remaining cake mix on.

To start with, I needed some stewed apple, so I peeled and chopped a couple of apples, and put them in a pot to stew while I cooked myself some dinner. By the time I had a meal ready the apple had softened up, so I set it aside to cool for a while.

After eating, I mixed buttercake mix with coconut, then rubbed through some butter. This, instead of creating the breadcrumb-like texture described, made for a moist mixture with a similar density to biscuit dough. Oh well, not much I could do about that.

I grated some lemon zest, stirred it into the apple, and spooned the apple into the bottom of a casserole dish. I spread the clumpy coconutty mixture over the apple, then poured a mixture of water and lemon juice over the top. That last step was a bit unusual, but that's what it says in the recipe. I wondered if it was going to result in a self-saucing style pud, but that didn't turn out to be the case.

After 55 minutes in the oven, the top of my apple coconut flan was golden brown, but wasn't as firm to the touch as the recipe seemed to indicate. Remembering that I didn't start with the described texture either, I decided the final result would probably be a bit different too.

Having now tried a bowlful of the flan, (with hokey pokey ice cream, because how could I not?) I can tell you it's delicious beyond any expectation I had from this recipe. On the surface, there's a light crunchy crust tasting of toasted coconut, topping a beautifully airy sponge. Underneath is the tangy lemony apple. I enjoyed every mouthful: just what I felt like eating tonight!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cocktail salad

I've spent my weekend trying to find a recipe that I felt like doing. Nothing I considered had any particular appeal, until I wandered past the fish counter on a quick supermarket visit, and spotted some prawns.

I've wondered for a while what I was going to do with the cocktail sauce (p185) recipe. The obvious use is in a seafood cocktail, but since there's a separate recipe for that, I felt like it would be too repetitive. On seeing the prawns, however, I suddenly had the idea of using them  - and the cocktail sauce - to make something somewhere between a cocktail and a salad.

The first thing to do was hard-boil an egg (the recipe has two, but I was making a half-mix). When that was cooked and cooled, I mixed up the sauce. It's just a matter of combining ingredients - spiced vinegar, prepared mustard (I used wholegrain, since that's all I happened to have on hand) mayonnaise, oil, the chopped egg, chopped cucumber, parsley and seasoning.

I arranged the prawns on some salad and spooned the cocktail sauce. Ok, so it didn't look that pretty, but it tasted really good. The sauce is tangy and creamy, and it's quite substantial for a sauce, with all those chunky bits of egg and cucumber. If you can think of a use for it, this sauce is worth doing - tasty and easy to make.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

For soaking up soup

I'd turned my leftover spicy chicken into a soup - fairly successful and entirely suitable for the unseasonably cold weather we've been having this week. I'm always happy to have a bowl of soup for a meal, but it's nice to have some bread to dip in it. How about cheese bread (p22)?

Cheese bread is a variation on the apple bread recipe. Unlike many of the variations I've tried, this one is actually quite different from the main recipe, though the basic process remains the same. Effectively, you make a completely different bread, simply by swapping the apple for potato and adding some cheese and cayenne pepper.

One useful aspect of this recipe is that it doesn't use yeast. I find it hard to keep yeast on hand, since it has a fairly short shelflife and I always find it's expired when I go to use it. For some reason, you don't seem to be able to buy it in small quantities, so unless you make bread quite often, most of the jar ends up going to waste.

That's why it's interesting to see a bread recipe based on baking powder instead of yeast. Of course, you're not going to get that lovely bread-baking smell wafting through the house, but hey, you can't have everything!

So this bread is made rather like a scone recipe. You sift together the dry ingredients, and stir through the grated potato and cheese. Then you add enough milk to mix, and you should have a nice soft dough.

This is where I ran into trouble. I opened the fridge and found I had much less milk than I thought. I poured in the little I had, but had to make the rest up from powder. It didn't work too well, and the resulting dough was dry and lumpy instead of soft and smooth.

I kneaded it a little (it doesn't say to do this in the recipe, but I couldn't use it the way it was) and eventually produced a dough that was at least holding together, though it still looked a bit lumpy. I placed the dough in a greased loaf tin and got it in the oven.

About two-thirds of the way through the baking time, I checked on the bread. It appeared to be cooking ok, but it was very dry on top. To make it look and taste a bit more appealing, I scattered a handful of grated cheese over the top and put it back in the oven.

The bread didn't look too bad when it came out of the oven, but it was very heavy for its size. I wrapped it in a teatowel and let it cool down a little before cutting a couple of slices. I immediately saw that it was much denser than an ordinary bread. It turns out that it's not just the recipe that's similar to scones - the result is very sconeish as well.

Even for a scone, this would have been very dense-textured, but I put that down to the watery powder-milk and my heavy-handedness in mixing and kneading. I suspect that, done right, this bread comes out a lot like a large, well-made scone. Nice, but not quite what you'd use for a sandwich.

Luckily, this heavy, cheesy bread was ideal for dipping into my soup. It soaked up lots of moisture without falling apart, and was crusty enough to still have a slight crunch around the edges even when the rest was dripping soup.

In short, not a bad recipe - as long as you're going to use it in a suitable way. Sandwiches, no. Mopping up gravy or dipping in soup, definitely!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The last slice

It'd been a while since I'd filled up the baking container, so I decided to make myself some oaty date bars (p65). This is the final recipe in the 'slices and squares', a section I have had no trouble getting through, since I'm very partial to a piece of slice.

I started with the filling, chopping 1 1/2 cups of dates and putting them in a saucepan over a low heat with a little water and some lemon juice.

While the dates softened, I started preparing the base. I creamed butter and raw sugar, then beat in egg and golden syrup. Into this mixture I added vanilla essence, wholemeal flour, basking powder, salt, porridge oats and coconut. It took a bit of mixing to get this to a decent consistency, but eventually I had a thick doughy mixture.

By this time, the dates had softened up nicely. I took them off the heat and set them aside to cool while I pressed the base into the tin. I used only half the mixture, utilising a wet spoon to smooth it out until it evenly coated the base of the tin.

I then spread over the base mixture. 1 1/2 cups had seemed like a lot of dates while I was chopping them, but it doesn't amount to much filling - it was spread very thinly over the base.

Lastly, I spread the remaining base mixture over the filling, and pressed it down until it was nice and smooth. The slice went into the oven for half an hour or so, then I took it out and left it to cool in the tin.

The final touch, once the slice had cooled, was lemon icing. I whipped up a quick icing, roughly based on the Edmonds one. I was slightly hampered by the fact that the lemon I'd counted on using turned out to be mouldy (and I only bought it a few days ago!) so I had to settle for a few drops of lemon essence.

I'd made the icing quite thick, so I made use of my handy wet spoon again, repeatedly dipping it in hot water to get that icing smoothed out.

When the icing had set, I cut the slice into squares, quite forgetting it's supposed to be 'bars'. It's also supposed to make 36, but I'd be interested to see how that's supposed to work! I'd used a tin only slightly smaller than the recommended 20x30, and mine made 20 small squares.

While the quantity promised seems a bit far-fetched, this recipe doesn't disappoint on taste. The dates are not really the dominant flavour - they really only serve to prevent the chewy oaty slice from being too dry. Add lemon icing for a bit of freshness, and you've got a winner. Make sure that icing's not too thick though: you don't want it overpowering the slice.

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