RECIPE: Black bean brownies

30 Mar

Black bean brownies

Beans in brownies? Yep, it works. So these are no flour, no egg, no dairy. But still taste good. Amazing. This recipe’s adapted from one by Julie Montague in You magazine on 22 March 2015. I didn’t know chia seeds can be used as an egg replacement – when soaked in water, they create a protein-y gel. Brilliant.

Makes 16 squares

2 tbsp chia seeds
6 tbsp water (plus a bit extra, if needed)
1 x 400g tin black beans, drained & rinsed
90g cocoa powder
45g coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp baking powder
100g palm sugar


  1. Soak the chia seeds in the 6 tablespoons water in a small bowl for 10 minutes.
  2. Line a 8 inch square brownie tin with baking parchment.
    Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
  3. Put the black beans, soaked chia seeds, cocoa powder, coconut oil, vanilla extract, baking powder and palm sugar in a food processor and blitz together. The dough should be like a thick batter (like normal brownies) – if it looks too thick, add another couple of tablespoons of water and mix again.
  4. Spread the batter/dough evenly in the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before scoring and cutting into squares.

The brownies are meant to be squidgy. They’ll keep for a week in an air-tight box. If you can resist them for that long.


  • The ingredients are unusual but I found ‘em all in the not-particularly cosmopolitan Leamington Spa (tin o’ beans from Morrisons; chia seeds from Holland & Barrett; palm sugar and coconut oil from Chinese grocery store).
  • If the palm sugar you buy is in a block, hack it into bits. It doesn’t need to be cut up too fine because the processor will blitz it.
  • The original recipe called for ‘cacao powder’. It’s fiendishly expensive so I just used cocoa powder. What’s the difference anyway? Answers on a postcard…
  • Not got/can’t find an ingredient? Just use normal stuff instead of the weird ingredients: 2 eggs instead of the seeds; normal sugar; butter instead of oil.
  • Check the baking brownies after 20 mins – just like normal brownies, the top should look cracked, like a biscuit, but underneath it’ll still be gooey. It should wobble but not much. And if you do a skewer test, the skewer should have clumps of chocolate-y goo stuck to it.
  • I’m going to try making this with red kidney beans and also chickpeas – I’ll post an update to report on how they turn out…

RECIPE: Tortas de aceite

26 Mar

Tortas de aceite

I’d given up on finding these traditional Spanish biscuits in the UK. The best commercially-produced ones I found in Valencia are made by Ines Rosales but tortas cooked fresh and bought from a bakery are pure biscuit heaven. They’re thin and flaky, semi-sweet with a light aroma and flavour from the fennel seeds. And they contain no butter, just a healthy dollop of good quality oil. The name translates as ‘oil cakes’. Hmm. So best to just call them tortas de aceite…

Makes 12 large biscuits, or 24 small ones.
This recipe is adapted from one by Stevie Parle, a chef who writes for the Telegraph.

100ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast
3 tbsp golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
300g 00 flour
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp fennel seeds
plain flour, for dusting
2 tbsp milk, for glazing


  1.  Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8.
    Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
  2. Measure 150ml warm water into a small jug. Dissolve the yeast and a pinch of the sugar in the water and leave for a few minutes until the mixture begins to froth. Then stir in the rest of the sugar and the oil.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and fennel seeds. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour in the frothy mixture, using a metal spoon or fork to combine it with the flour, working from the outside in. When it comes together, use your hands to form it into a smooth dough.
  4. Lightly flour a clean work surface. For large tortas, divide the dough into 12 pieces. For smaller ones, divide into 24. Roll the pieces into balls, then roll out each ball until they’re about 3mm thick (for larger tortas, they’ll be ~10cm in diameter). Place them on the trays, leaving a good amount of space between them.
  5. Lightly brush the surface with milk, then scatter over a little caster sugar. Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes (8 -10 minutes for smaller tortas), until golden and crisp. Transfer to wire racks to cool.



  • 00 flour is the stuff used for making pasta. Most supermarkets have it. It’s a very finely milled flour but the recipe will work OK with normal plain flour.
  • Don’t try making it with any other oil than e.v. olive oil. It’ll be grim!
  • How ‘warm’ is ‘warm water’? You’re after blood-warm water – so if you stick your finger it it, it shouldn’t register as either hot or cold.
  • If you’re making smaller tortas, just tear off walnut-sized blobs of the dough, roll between your palms and flatten down on the baking sheets.
  • The original recipe uses egg white for glazing. I reckon that’s a waste of an egg, so I just use milk and that works fine. I don’t have a pastry brush (they’re a pain to keep clean): just use your fingers.

RECIPE: Chocolate & courgette cake with lime frosting

3 Oct

This is a super way to use up courgettes (maybe from friendly allotment owners who are sick of them after a glut). The grated courgette gives this cake a light moist texture, like carrot cake.

Prep: 20 mins   |  Cook: 40-50 mins  |   Makes: 2 x 2lb loaf cakes


Chocolate and courgette cake500ml grated courgettes (Measure by volume in a measuring jug – it’s about 2 medium courgettes; or 1 overgrown one. After grating, squeeze the flesh and pour off the water. If you’re using an overgrown one, peel first and take out seeds.)

350g self-raising flour
175ml vegetable oil
250g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

50g cocoa powder
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp fine sea-salt

140g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

For the icing
200g low fat soft cheese
2 tsp margarine
250g icing sugar
1 lime, grated zest and 1 tbsp juice



  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/GM 4.
    Line two 2lb loaf tins (or two 8″ cake tins).
  2.  In a large bowl, combine the grated courgette, oil, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla extract.
  3. On top of the wet ingredients, measure out the flour, cocoa powder, mixed spice and salt. Stir the dry ingredients together briefly to mix them, and then mix into the wet ingredients until just combined, then fold in the toasted hazelnuts.
    Pour the mixture into the lined tin(s).
  4. Bake for about 40-50 mins, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
    Cool in the tin for 10 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
  5. To make the icing, beat all the ingredients together, adding drops of hot water to thin as necessary.
    When the cakes are cook, carefully slice each loaf in half, spread with icing and sandwich together. Ice the top if you have enough icing to spare. (If using cake tins, spread one layer and sandwich the two cakes together. Then spread the top.)
    Serve with a cup of tea, or enjoy as a pudding with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt.


  • This cake is delightfully different – it has the texture and moisture of a good carrot cake, and a mellow chocolate taste from the cocoa. I took it into the office to share with colleagues – it didn’t even last until 11am.
  • I used 150g wholemeal SR flour + 200g regular SR flour.
  • The original recipe used 125g more sugar – I prefer it with less sugar, but if you make it and think it needs to be sweeter, then use the full 375g caster sugar next time. Or you could add another spoonful of vanilla extract.
  • Put the oven on to pre-heat before you grate the courgette – after that the cake comes together very quickly, so if you put the oven on right at the beginning, it’ll be ready as soon as you are.
  • Crikey, grating courgettes is dull and potentially painful. I used one big globe courgette – it took 10 minutes or so to grate. This is a recipe where you’ll want a good iPlayer radio show on in the background.
  • For the oil, I used 60g melted margarine and then topped it up with oil. The original recipe used e.v.olive oil but that’s expensive – regular veg or bran oil is fine, and has a lighter taste.
  • To toast the hazelnuts, dry fry them in a small frying pan over a medium heat for a few minutes, shaking occasionally – watch them like a hawk because they go from ‘done’ to ‘burned’ in seconds.
  • If you don’t have hazelnuts, walnuts would be a good substitute.


Adapted from a recipe by Celia Brooks Brown in BBC Good Food magazine, July 2010

RECIPE: Chocolate & beetroot brownies

31 May

Chocolate and beetroot browniesThese are my version of a lower-fat lower-cost higher-fibre brownie.

Prep: 15 mins   |  Cook: 30 mins  |   Makes: 15 – 20 brownies


400g cooked vac-pac beetroot (3-4 medium beets), roughly chopped
(reserve the juice from the vac-pac)
100g buttery margarine
200g plain chocolate (55% cocoa), broken into pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee powder
250g caster sugar
pinch salt
2 eggs
Approx 70g mayonnaise
100g plain flour
25g cocoa powder

For the icing (optional):
100g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp beetroot juice


  1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
    Line a 20 x 30cm traybake tin.
    Put the chocolate and marg into the plastic bowl of a food processor and microwave in 30 sec blasts until melted. Stir in the vanilla extract, coffee powder and beetroot.
    Whizz the food processor until the mixture is smooth – about 1 minute (it’ll still look grainy).
  2. Put the sugar into a large bowl. Then with the scales set at zero, weight 1 egg into it. Put in this same weight of mayo, and the other egg. Beat using an electric whisk until thick, pale and foamy – about 2 mins.
  3. Spoon the beetroot mixture into the bowl. It won’t look good – like a dark pink goo – but stay with it. Then fold it into the egg mixutre using a large metal spoon.
    Sift in the flour and cocoa powder, then gently fold in to make a smooth batter. Don’t over-mix.
  4. Pour into the lined tin and bake for 25 – 30 mins or until risen all over, with just the slight quiver under the centre of the crust when you nudge the pan.
    Cool completely in the tin.
  5. Make the icing: beat the icing sugar, vanilla extract and beetroot juice together. Make a cone from baking paper and pipe stripes or random drizzles onto the brownies. When the icing’s hardened, cut into squares.

Chocolate and beetroot browniesNotes:

  • Any kind of mayo works fine. The original recipe called for 3 eggs. I substituted 1 egg with light mayo.
  • I used half wholemeal, half regular plain flour.
  • If you don’t have instant coffee powder, use coffee granules dissolved in 1 tsp hot water.
  • This is based on a recipe from Good Food magazine, September 2010 
  • Nutrition per serving (for original recipe, with ordinary butter):
    255 kcalories, 13g fat, 7g saturates, 24g sugar

RECIPE: Inspired by Gregg’s Toffee Crunch shortbread squares

16 Feb

Gregg’s bakeries sell a dangerously scrummy pimped-up biscuit called Toffee Crunch – they rack up an astronomical 470 kcals per slice! Yeeeouch. So here’s my (slightly healthier lower fat) version:

Caramel white chocolate shortbread squares

Caramel white chocolate shortbread squares


For the shortbread

4 oz (100g) plain wholemeal flour
4 oz (100g) rice flour
8 oz (200g) buttery cooking margarine (eg: Clover)
1 tsp salt (optional)
4 oz (100g) caster sugar4 oz (100g) semolina
1 tsp vanilla essence

For the caramel

400g can condensed milk (minus 75g, see topping)
115g (4oz) cooking marg
115g (4oz) caster sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup

For the white chocolate fudge topping

175g white chocolate
75g condensed milk
20g cooking margarine
1 box Maltesers


For the shortbread

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C / Gas Mark 3. Line a baking tray with non-stick paper.
  2. Put the flour, salt and marg into a large bowl. Use your fingers or a pastry gadget to ‘rub in’ the marg until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, semolina and sprinkle in the vanilla essence. Mix, using your hands to bring the mixture together to form a crumbly dough.
  3. Tip the dough into the tray and press it down to a 1 cm thickness with the back of a spoon. Ensure the mixture is spread in a thick even layer.
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until pale golden. Check it after 20 minutes to make sure it doesn’t go too brown. Allow to cool in the tray until it reach room temperature.

While the shortbread is baking, make the caramel and topping:

For the caramel

  1. Put all the ingredients in a pan.
    Simmer for 8-10 mins, stirring continuously.
    The mixture will thicken, and the colour will change from yellowy to caramel.
    Take off the heat.

For the white chocolate fudge topping

  1. Put the white chocolate and condensed milk in a Pyrex bowl.
    Microwave for 30 sec then in 20 sec blasts, stirring between blasts, until melted.
  2. Then stir in the marg until melted.
    Allow to cool for 5 minutes. If it sets too much while you’re waiting for the rest of the recipe to cool, microwave the topping mixture for 20 secs and stir vigorously.

To assemble

  1. Caramel shortbread assembled in the trayWhen the shortbread has cooled, poor the warm caramel over the top and spread gently with a knife or back or a spoon to smooth the surface. Allow to cool (the caramel will thicken even more as it cools).
  2. When the shortbread topped with caramel has cooled, drop small dollops of the chocolate topping  onto the caramel layer. Use the back of a spoon to gently spread the topping, without dragging the caramel around.
  3. When the whole surface is covered, and while the topping is still warm, gently mark out small (2-3cm) squares in the topping.
    Gently push one or two Maltesers on each square.
  4. Leave the layered mixture in the tray to completely cool for 1 – 2 hours, or ideally overnight (in the fridge if it’s warm in your kitchen).
  5. When cool, dip a sharp knife into hot water to slice up the biscuits. Clean and dip the knife between each cut to keep the edges neat.

RECIPE: Easy apricot & almond flan

10 Mar

apricot_flan_glazed_250412I’ve adapted this from ‘Easy apricot and kirsch flan’ by Gino d’Acampo which you can find on the Daily Mail website. This is a genuinely quick and easy recipe – using tinned apricots makes it super simple.

In the recipe, the base is made with filo pastry but here in the photo, I’ve made the flan with wholemeal shortcrust pastry, which works fine but it’s ‘heavier’.

Makes one flan to cut into 6 – 8 slices.


For the case:
120g filo pastry
20g butter or marg, melted

For the filling:
120g butter or buttery marg
120g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
100g ground almonds
50g plain flour
2 tbsp amaretto (optional)
1 x 400g can apricot halves, drained

For the topping:
2 tbsp apricot jam
icing sugar, for dusting (optional)


1) Line a 25cm loose-based flan tin or pie-dish with non-stick paper.
Preheat oven to 220C/GM7.

2) Cut the filo pastry into 20cm squares and lightly brush each one with the melted butter. Line the base and sides of the tin with the filo squares, ensuring that each one overlaps the next. Fold in any uneven edges (or leave them to create darker coloured spikes around the outside).

3) Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy (quickest using an electric whisk).
Then whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the almonds, flour and amaretto (optional) and fold in.
Spread the mixture evenly into the pastry case.
Arrange the apricot halves on top of the mixture, placing the fruit rounded side up (there may be some left over).

4) Put the tin on a baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for 8 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 190C/GM5 and continue to bake for a further 20-25 minutes until the filling is golden brown and firm to the touch.

5) Meanwhile, heat the apricot jam gently in the microwave (a few short bursts) or over a low heat in a small saucepan. When the flan is ready, remove from oven and immediately brush the jam over the top.
Leave the flan to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.
Dust with a little icing sugar and serve warm, or leave to cool to room temperature.
Serve with ice-cream or a dollop of natural yoghurt or fromage frais.

This also works fine with shortcrust or wholemeal shortcrust pastry. But it’s ‘lighter’ made with filo.
You could not bother glazing the flan but it looks very professional if it is glazed!

Knitted cakes and biscuits

6 Feb

Spotted in Cambridge’s Cath Kidson store: knitted cakes.
My favourite: the Party Ring biscuit! Genius.

Knitted cakes in Cath Kidson store