Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Parenting in the Imperfect / Nutella Macaroons with White Chocolate Ganache

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” John Steinbeck

My three-year old son spent most of today with at least one hand down the back of his nappy or up his nose. Although I can admire his tenacity, I felt the need to gently and persistently steer him away from this new activity. Partly because I can’t keep an eye on everything he touches after; and partly because the only other part of his body he’s currently obsessed with is the inside of his mouth. And he gives me lots of kisses, which can turn into licks. Just one of the many joys that come with parenting a toddler…

His other new activity’s opening his mouth as wide as possible and yelling a single note as loudly as he can. Mostly in response to something he doesn’t want to hear. Which, these days, could be just about anything. He has no compunction about doing this in the car, in a cafe, in the supermarket. I believe his preference is somewhere public and definitely where others are quiet.

I was laughing with a fellow mother the other day about our opinions on parenting before we had children. Before my son was born, I was judgemental towards parents who allowed their children to use electronics, once staring in horror at a family allowing their two-year old to use an iPad for an entire breakfast. My child was never going to have a dummy. My child was going to sleep through at 6 weeks thanks to letting him cry himself to sleep. My child was going to only eat organic, biodynamic produce, prepared entirely from scratch by me and was never, never going to have sugar, salt or preservatives in food. Before he was born I seriously considered cloth nappies and unpainted, Scandinavian wooden toys. I briefly played with the idea of changing all our cleaning products to white vinegar and baking soda, with the occasional whiff of diluted eucalyptus oil. He’d never have a temper tantrum because I’d read all the right books. I’d never bribe him to behave. I would exude patience, love and tolerance at all times.

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Three years on, as he’s eating chocolate covered sultanas (totally a fruit in there), watching his second hour of television (Dora’s educational, right?), wearing clothes probably made in terrible sweat shops in a third world country (Kmart have trolleys with child seats – my new essential for a shop), with an ugly plastic toy xylophone that keeps him happily entertained for the 20 minutes it takes for me to have a shower; I’m so very grateful that I’ve learned to be happy about being an imperfect parent. And beyond grateful for the parents who snort with laughter when I tell them about this, before responding with tales of their children sharing bites of food with dogs, of co-sleeping, of owning 14 types of dummy, of fish finger dinners and of having watched every episode of Peppa Pig… twice…

As part of my softening to all parenting ideas that involve parenting as happily as possible, my boy and I share a love for these macaroons. Hazelnut and chocolate is a completely delicious combination, as the Italians discovered many years ago by creating Nutella. As a side note; there are macaroons and macarons, two completely different nibbles. Macarons are the slightly fussy, often poorly made meringue biscuit sandwiched with something creamy. Macaroons are a very easy-to-make, robust meringue biscuit; super-light in texture, packed with flavour and last happily for several weeks in an airtight container  — perfect for toddlers (and adults) who need to be bribed out of a brewing temper tantrum (yup, I do that too) or for afternoons when your friends drop by and the only other food in the house is a honey sandwich…

Enjoy.

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Nutella Macaroons

  • 250g (9oz) hazelnut meal
  • 125g (4.5oz) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 50g (2oz) cocoa powder
  • A pinch of sea (kosher) salt
  • 150g (5.5oz) egg whites (about 4 egg whites)
  • 25g (1oz) caster (superfine) sugar

Preheat the oven to 200˚C and line two baking trays with baking paper

Place the hazelnut meal and salt in a bowl

Sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder and stir to combine

Place the egg whites and caster sugar in a separate bowl and whisk together until soft peaks form

Gently fold in the hazelnut mix

Spoon into a piping bag and pipe walnut-sized balls onto the trays, about 5cm apart (if you don’t have a piping bag, you can shape using two teaspoons. The only warning I have with this is that when I tried it this way they looked like… and I don’t know another way to say this… cow pats. Yes, they still taste amazing but they will look slightly dung-like. My son thinks this is hilarious and now won’t let me pipe them. You have been warned.)

Decrease the oven temperature to 160˚C and place the trays in the oven, baking for 25-30 minutes or until the macaroons are lightly coloured and dry to the touch

Cool on the trays for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely

White Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  • 440g (15.5oz) white chocolate (choose real chocolate, check on the ingredients that it contains cocoa butter)
  • 150ml (5.5oz) double cream (at least 35% fat)
  • Small pinch salt
  • 5ml (½ tsp) vanilla essence

Heat up your cream until it almost starts to boil and then pour over the chocolate

Let it sit for 30 seconds and then stir

If there are still lumps of white chocolate you can microwave it for 10 seconds and stir it again until it’s smooth

Leave it to cool

Using a palette knife (really any blunt knife will do), smear the ganache onto the macaroons in quantities and patterns that make you happy

Use for all your most important bribes.

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Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Gratitude / Chocolate, Caramel & Marshmallow Cookies

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” Alphonse Karr

Something I’ve been struggling to write about, mostly because my tightlipped Britishness isn’t sure how, is the incredibly kind words sent to me over the past few months. Scores of The Imperfect Kitchen readers sent me messages, either on the blog or by private message and I read each of them frequently during my time away from here.

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I didn’t respond to any individually. I’m still unsure how to express my gratitude appropriately, convinced that each would have turned into some awkwardly gushy tome of thanks. I’m sorry if you were hoping for a response to your notes and hope that it’s sufficient to write here that every single one of your messages meant the world and were one of the things that kept me waking into the possibility of light each day.

I shouldn’t be surprised by now that the world is full of wonderful people. And I should be even less surprised that my readers and fellow-bloggers are some of the most thoughtful. I’m not nearly as competent at expressing my thanks as I want to be. But if a little warmth sinks into your heart today and you find yourself smiling for no real reason — that might just be a tiny piece of my gratitude seeking you out.

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As a small offering of thanks before I start writing in earnest again; here’s a very favourite recipe that I often play with liberally from Paris Pastry Club for you all to share with those whose kindness means something to you. Or may be with those you would like to introduce to a little more kindness. These cookies are charmingly soft in the middle and slightly crunchy on the outside, almost like brownies. The marshmallow is sweet and gooey, counteracting the almost sharp sweetness from the dark chocolate; and sitting unobtrusively in the middle, comforting and cradling, is the caramel. If I could bake these for each of you and share them over a cup of coffee at my kitchen table, I’d be one happy lady.

Until then, enjoy.

  • 100g (3 ½ oz) dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
  • 3 tbl sp dulce de leche (if you can’t find any in the shops, here’s a link to a couple of ways you can make your own)
  • 1 tbl sp unsalted butter
  • 90g (3 oz) plain (all purpose) flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 egg
  • 75g (2 ½ oz) light brown sugar
  • 24 mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 200˚C / 390˚F and line a baking sheet with baking paper

Place the chocolate, dulce de leche and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over simmering water until melted (you can also do this in the microwave, just be careful not to burn the chocolate)

Set the bowl aside to cool down slightly

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl

Beat the egg and sugar in a separate bowl for a few minutes, or until light and fluffy

Gently fold in the melted chocolate mix

Working quite quickly, tip in the flour mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon

The dough will feel quite sticky and soft so use a couple of teaspoons to shaped into 12 walnut-sized balls and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. Place two mini marshmallows in each ball and press down slightly

Turn down the oven heat to 170˚C / 340˚F and place the tray in the oven to bake for 10 minutes

The cookies should still be soft and their tops will be slightly cracked

Leave to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a serving plate

I have no idea how long these last in an airtight container, they’ve never lasted anywhere near that long in my house. Please feel free to let me know if you ever manage to find out…

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Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Warring with Desire / Dark Chocolate, Whipped Peanut & Caramel Cookies

“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.” Mark Twain

I moan gently in the back of my throat, half heartedly protesting at the frisson of excitement running through my body. I’m determined not to cave this time. I’ve made so many promises to myself over these months, so many times determined not to give in to the desire again, and so many times crumbled into frantic ripping and devouring.

Damn you Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

I’m not normally a fan of American chocolate, preferring the creaminess of the British, but once these little devils snuck into my chocolate repertoire it’s been nearly impossible to resist their salty, caramel deliciousness for any proper length of time. Like a week.

And they come in pairs. Could life get any more unfair?

Apparently so, because then my local food market started selling them. The one place I rely on for whole foods untainted by the stain of my nasty chocolate crushes and they fail me utterly by supplying Reece’s by the boxful. Cunningly placed next to the organic, 80% cocoa chocolates and raw peanut balls as if to say, “Who? Me? Oh, I’m just hanging out here for a while. Watching the scenery. Don’t mind my gorgeous chemical-laden calorific presence on the shelves. Go and buy some carrots. Bad girl.”

Caramel & Part Nibbled Dark Chocolate Biscuit

I went through a stage of slipping a pack under the rest of my shopping; like all the organic, raw produce sitting on top would somehow transmogrify the terrible temptation into a tamed beast. No such luck. Now, like the hard bitten addict I’ve become, I jut out my chin and slap one into my basket, daring the artisan chocolates to question my life choices.

When I had my son, two and a half years ago, the side of me that houses my passions, desires and a penchant for the naughty just shut off. I felt numbed to anything more than motherhood and existed in the dubious freedom that comes with muted, untangled emotions. The price to pay was a level of depression, at times the exhaustion left me so bleak I couldn’t fathom ever feeling human again. But there was also a cleanness to my emptiness, a relief in living a half life for a while.

Over the past few months I’ve begun to feel everything again and, as with all change, there are plusses and minuses, with Reece’s sitting firmly in the terribly naughty but so very good category. And it’s not just that temptation, it seems that my tastebuds have burst into permanent activity, offering up all the flavours I’d forgotten and threatening to turn the rest of my eating life into that scene from When Harry Met Sally…

Unfortunately, another gift from my son is a slowed metabolism. Where I used to be one of those people who could eat anything and stay slim, I now need to be far more conscious of what I put into my body and how much dreaded exercise is going to be needed to shift it. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to recreate the naughtiness of Reece’s without so much of the wide-eyed horror when I step on the scales.

And here it is…

A soft nuzzle of caramel and thoroughly whipped peanut butter are gently sandwiched between two dark chocolate cookies in this definitely-still-rather-unhealthy-but-so-very-good cookie recipe…

Enjoy.

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper

On a high speed, whisk the butter, half the peanut butter, caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla until pale and creamy

Sift half the flour and cocoa powder over the butter mixture. Stir by hand until just combined. Add the remaining flour and cocoa powder and stir until the dough begins to clump together

Gather the dough into a ball and turn onto a large sheet of cling film, fold over the film and, using your hands, gently roll and shape the dough into a rough tube shape. Then wrap again with a tea towel and roll into a log about 6cm in diameter from tip to tip. Remove the tea towel and wrap in a sheet of card. Secure with elastic bands and put in the freezer overnight

(At this point you can keep the dough in the freezer and chop off slices as your cravings hit)

Cut an even number of 5mm slices from the log and place on the baking tray

Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes. Set aside on the tray to cool

Meanwhile, add the cold cream, peanut butter and remaining vanilla into a bowl and whisk until it’s combined and no clumps remain. Sift in the icing sugar and whisk until stiff and completely combined

Spread half the biscuits with a teaspoonful of the caramel spread

Spread the other half of the biscuits with a tablespoon full of the peanut whip

Gently sandwich together and serve to groans of achingly naughty delight

Chocolate, Peanut & Caramel Cookie finished

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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Nutty Nutella Cookies

I read a series of books by an author called Debora Geary. It’s a series that nominally deals with communities of witches, and are among the lightest and most enjoyable reading I have on my virtual shelf.

What draws me to these books is not setting fires with a click of fingers or any excuse to continue my Harry Potter book obsession (because I clearly don’t need a reason). For a series of books that profess to be light reading, Debora Geary offers an unusually grown-up and kind look at relationships and responsibilities. More than anything, I love the camaraderie, the compassion and the community. The characters on her pages are the people I want to be when I grow up.

All of this heartwarming writing is backed up by a large offerings of food. Seafood linguine, ice-cream by the ton, and lots & lots of cookies. But of all the food gorged on her pages, the one that always calls to me the most is Nutella Cookies.

I’ve written before about the affinity I have for baking biscuits (as they’re called in Australia and England), something about minimal ingredients that all have room to speak their flavours and support each other. The fact that they respond best to gentle treatment and don’t ask too much of any cook. They seem to me to be the quiet kids I always have a soft spot for, who ask for little and offer so much in return.

A short while ago, I was cruising on the pages of Sneaky Pudding’s blog – which is one of the things I like to do on a regular basis, and I noticed with absolute glee that she has a recipe for Nutella Cookies. O.h. m.y. g.o.d…….

While trying to hold back my suspicion of a baker who doesn’t include Nutella as a part of her daily diet I tried making them and immediately fell in love. I’ve played around with the recipe a bit, the original is a little too sweet for me (although if you have a sweeter tooth, ignore my recipe and quickly shoot over to her) so here I exchanged the choc chips for salted peanuts. Other than that there are only very small differences.

  • 1 cup Nutella
  • ½ cup plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 180˚C/350˚F

Line a large baking tray with baking paper

Mix Nutella, egg, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl

Sift in flour, and stir until just combined – try not to over-stir as the biscuits become very chewy if over-worked (unless that’s your thing, in which case by all means break out the electric whisk!)

Stir in the nuts

Roll spoonfuls of the dough into 12 balls and place on the prepared tray

Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or until slightly cracked on top

Transfer the cookies on the baking paper to a cooling rack to cool completely

Store in an airtight container

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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

In Coddled Comfort / Anzac Biscuits

I’ve spent the last few days in coddled comfort. Wrapped in much needed space from the hectic world I don’t readily inhabit. It’s been a time of homemade blankets and cosy tea with friends. Mornings filled with their laughter, and afternoons with the slow, steady heartbeat of home. I’m truly lucky to be gifted these times, and I try not to ignore the blessing.

My head has been much slower to sink into this proffered comfort. I’ve struggled to find an ease with my writing. It’s the first time in a while I’ve felt the words constrict, and my old fear that I won’t be able to write again is peering over my shoulder – like a carrion crow waiting for the death knell of inspiration.

I often find my feet readily move forwards while my head trails far behind, struggling to keep up with changes that constantly swirl. But, after years of practise, my mind is a little quicker to catch up each time, and I’m looking forward to it to being gently stroked into purring ease once more.

I try to remain mindful of the consideration I need to continue to practise, especially this week. When my perfectionist rears up and insists on all the things I should be busy doing in order to have value, I try to gently and firmly remind myself that it was only a few days ago my emotional tank was completely empty, and that I cannot be wholly useful in the world until I’ve taken some time to refill.

It can be hard to steer my mind into right thinking, but I have developed some tools along the way, and continue to improve, thanks to finding the many breadcrumbs of wisdom from all the people who have trudged this path before me.

Biscuits are a food (a food group all on their own, surely?) I find entirely soothing to make, and the making reflects the way I would like to live my life. They’re generally uncomplicated ingredients found in my store-cupboard at any time. The measuring and mixing are both gentle and simple. I don’t need to think about them too much, I just need to follow where the recipe and my hands are, with an open and trusting mind, and the end result is usually fantastic.

Anzac biscuits are particularly satisfying to me. They have an oaty, caramelly flavour with a hint of coconut – almost light in texture, and are completely enjoyable eating. Perfect on their own, or with a cup of tea. This recipe makes about 24 biscuits, which is nearly enough…

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbl sp golden syrup
  • 2 tbl sp boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 150˚C / 300˚F

Mix the oats, coconut, flour and sugar in a large bowl

Melt the butter and golden syrup over a gentle heat

Mix the water and bicarbonate of soda and stir into the melted butter and syrup

Pour the liquids into the mixed dry ingredients and mix well using either your hands or a wooden spoon

Roll walnut-sized balls of the mixture in your hands and place onto a greased baking tray

Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden

Cool on trays for a few minutes, remove and store in an airtight container when cool

Nibble or scarf in joyful succession…

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