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Pear and hazelnut muffins

Muffins are a little bit passe these days. Like Friends and Snapple, they’re just a bit nineties. They have been overtaken by their brash, rather disgusting, cupcake cousin.

But I still have a lot of affection for them. I think muffins are nice. And I came across this very straightforward looking recipe in a newspaper, but which utilised American cup measurements.

I was annoyed about this, just as I am always annoyed when a recipe specifies some sort of wildly exotic spice, cut of meat or fruit in an offhand manner, which implies that of course you ought to know where to source it from. I fucking don’t!! And even if I did, I am not going to spend one of my three child-free mornings a week tracking it down. If you can’t get it in Waitrose I am. Not. Interested.

Of course these days I DO, however, have a set of cup measurements, which I bought in Waitrose, so can convert the measurements for you.

On a whim, I decided to make these muffins with some pear and hazelnut because those were some things I had knocking about. I also used soured cream instead of buttermilk, (buttermilk!! we are in ENGLAND, nowhere sells it except big branches of Waitrose and I’m not always near one of those), which worked just fine.

You do not have to use pear and hazelnut in these – pretty much anything works: apple, chocolate, sultanas, banana, whatever. It’s a very flexible vehicle, muffin mix. Having said that, the pear and hazelnut combination was really terrific and I recommend it to you.

Pear and hazelnut muffins – makes 8

2.5 cups plain flour – 340g
1.5 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar – 160g
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup soured cream or buttermilk – 120ml
3 drops vanilla essence
1/cup melted butter – 75g butter, melted
2 ripe pears, diced
2 lady-handfuls of hazelnuts, chopped and toasted in a dry frying pan for about 10 mins

1 In one bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. You do not have to sieve this but you could swizzle it about with a whisk for a bit.

2 In another bowl mix the beaten egg with the soured cream, vanilla extract and melted butter. Someone like Raymond Blanc would separate the eggs first, beat the whites and then add them separately, to make the muffins lighter.

3 Add the flour to the egg mixture and mix just until there is still about 10% flour showing, then tip in your pear and hazelnuts (or whatever you are using) and mix to combine.

4 Spoon immediately into muffin cases. Fill these to just below the brim. This is important, as these will not rise that much on cooking and you want that big luscious, over-spilt look.

5 Bake at 200C for 16-20 mins. Keep an eye on them if you have a light on in your oven. Mine were slightly underdone as I put them in at 180 (because of fan nuke horror panic) but if you have a normal oven I think you’ll be okay at 200C for 16 mins. Bake in the middle shelf.

 

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Date bread

If this looks familiar, it’s because it is almost identical in every way to a Banana Bread For Dory (q.v.) but it uses dates instead of bananas.

I wanted to try this out because my friend Becky B brought over a sticky date cake the other day and it reminded me of the packet of dates in the larder I had been meaning to use to make a sticky toffee pudding, but have never quite found the excuse for.

It’s also because I do LOVE that banana bread recipe but quite often don’t find I have quite the right number of overripe bananas to justify it. So I wondered if it was possible with dates. And it is! It is still a sort of date bread, rather than a cake, because it’s not especially sweet, which I think is a good thing. You could definitely spread this with butter, for example. Like all cakey/breads that are not a sponge, this keeps very well in tupperware for a few days.

Becky B did a terribly clever thing with HER date cake, which was to soak it, in the manner of a lemon drizzle cake, with a caramel sauce that she bought from Waitrose – it was Bonne Maman, she said: “Confiture de Caramel”. She thinned it with some hot water, pricked the cake all over with a skewer and then went MAD with the sauce. It was really, really fab. My mother always says that things that other people have made for you are always more delicious than something you have made yourself, but still – Becky B is a terrific cook.

You can also make your own caramel sauce if you are that sort of person – there is a recipe somewhere on here, have a rummage.

So here we go

Date bread

150 veg oil
200g dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
250g dates
75g natural yoghurt
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
225g wholemeal spelt flour (get it from Waitrose)
2 tbs caster sugar or cane sugar

1 Pre-heat your oven to 170C and butter a 2lb loaf tin and line it (YES you must do this, don’t be lazy) and line a baking sheet, too.

1 In a bowl whisk together the oil, sugar, vanilla and eggs

2 Chop up the dates roughly then put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water to just cover them. Leave them to soak for 20 mins then drain them and sort of gently mash them through the sieve to get out most of the water.

3 Add the youghurt to the dates and mix together. Sprinkle over the bicarb of soda, baking powder, and salt and stir again.

4 Mix the date mixture and the sugar/egg mixture together. Then sprinkle over the flour and stir until things are only just combined. Over-mixing is disastrous here so stop as soon as you can’t see any more flour. Spoon the batter into your smugly-lined tin.

5 Sprinkle some sugar – caster, cane or granulated -down the spine of the loaf and then put in the oven.

7 Bake for 45-50 mins.

HOW is Kitty, people say to me. How is she, how is she? I don’t talk about her that much any more because she is just off my hands. She turns two in February but she has been off since she turned 18 months old and could walk, talk, ask for things, watch tv, sit and draw or look at her books, play imaginary games with her stuffed animals, scoot around the kitchen on her little trike and so on. She is an actual person these days and it’s such a relief, I can’t tell you.

When I look back on some of the darker things I wrote when she was small I feel awful, so guilty. But it must have been bad for me to write those things, it must have been like that. She’s now this little chattering pixie, everyone wants a piece of her, everyone wants a smile and to hear her squeak “I’m knackered!” – her first party trick.

I used to dread her waking up in the night – the thought of it made me feel actually sick with anxiety. Now sometimes I wake in the night and hope that she might wake, too and need me. But she never does.

Here is a picture of Kitty with her bunny, her hair a bit wild from her nap. Note how she is gripping the bunny quite hard round the neck – I think she is trying to get him to tell her where the chocolate is. I can get pictures printed on t-shirts, mugs, bags and mousemats for a small fee if anyone is interested?

Though I can see the benefits of babies, I suppose. They are not constantly after your iPad and whatever it is that you are eating. And they don’t have a massive fucking tantrum when you try to stop them from doing incredibly dangerous things.

 

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