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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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Weighing Worth / Coconut, Strawberry & Balsamic Cookies {dairy free, gluten free}

“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.”
Simone de Beauvoir

I’ve always had a rather unhealthy view of weight, I suspect I’m not alone. I grew up in central London, surrounded by skinny. I went to private schools where statistics at the time showed that one out of every seven girls had eating disorders. I remember being thrilled when people told me I was too thin, believing that was the only acceptable size to be.

After a whole life of being naturally slim, with minimal effort on my part, I fell pregnant. And put on 30kg (nearly 5 stone, or 66 pounds). I wept with my sister one day towards the end of my pregnancy because she was trying to convince me to buy some clothes – I’d refused to go shopping for months. I also hadn’t had a hair cut, wasn’t wearing makeup and had stopped looking in the mirror. On one level I was happier than ever because we were finally having a child, on another level (that I was ashamed to admit to myself) I was filled with self-loathing for my physical appearance. I would look at pregnant women who had a delicate bump jutting from a still-perfect form and felt, in a place that I wasn’t admitting to anyone, that I was failing at being pregnant.

I was comforted that once I gave birth and started breastfeeding the weight would fall off. I’d join the ranks of yummy mummies and my success as a hybrid mother/attractive woman would be assured.

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Except it didn’t happen. I lost 8kg during birth, but no more. As I’ve written many times on this blog, my son’s been a poor sleeper for most of his life and so my body craved high-calorie food as a replacement for sleep. I’d also been diagnosed (utterly unsurprisingly given the lack of sleep) with mild post natal depression, a classic vehicle for a slower metabolism.

I felt ashamed that I was ashamed of my weight. As a right-on women’s lib modern thinker I make a point not to judge others for which hole their belt fills. But it became apparent that I was near-incapable of practising even a basic level of self care while I was overweight. Granted, I wasn’t helped by some in my community, but the truth is that in all the emotional growth and shifts I’ve had over the years, one thing I never challenged was my belief about thin being best.

I started work on self acceptance, on seeing myself as the same person I was before the added weight. But I couldn’t break through the feeling I’d lost my femininity and the shame that I couldn’t fit into jeans. And the truth, that I wish wasn’t the truth, is that I didn’t want to accept myself. My whole life has been geared towards being slim and I still struggle with the belief that self acceptance is the right and healthy way to think.

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Six months ago my son’s sleep improved. It took a couple of months to find my feet from two years of chronic sleep deprivation and then I started to change my eating habits and up my exercise. Four month’s on and I’ve only a few kilos left before I’m a weight I feel comfortable sitting in (although I could always go thinner, I need to be careful to follow my doctor’s guidance instead of basing my ideal weight on exiguous girls in magazines). I tried on a pair of jeans today that I couldn’t have gotten over my knees a few months ago and they fit — I was so excited that I wore them out for the day, even though I probably need to lose a bit more weight to do them justice. The goodies you get on this blog are almost entirely given away to friends and family these days (and my invitations have risen accordingly!). I test my recipes extensively before posting and taste constantly through that process, but other than that I’m pretty healthy.

Well, I say healthy, but is it? Really, my aim is to be thin. All other health benefits are secondary to my weight. Can I claim health-consciousness if it’s just a bi-product of my vanity? Logically I know that slim should be a side effect of health, not the other way around, and the feminist part of me snarls at my shallowness, but I just can’t seem to marry up my logic with my feelings.

I know I usually have a resolution at the end of my posts, and intellectually it’s clear what I need to be feeling, but I haven’t managed to walk the journey from my head to my heart on this one. Not yet.

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What I do have are these amazing cookies. They’re not a health food, I think we can all safely agree that’s not going to happen on this blog — and why should it? But they’re a small bite of incredible flavour. Sweet strawberry, creamy coconut and tangy balsamic vinegar all cased in a super light cookie made from egg whites and sugar. The Cheergerm & The Silly Yak reminded me last week that I’d been meaning to make some old school macaroons since I made the curd for my Lavender, Honey & Lemon Curd Madeleines. Being a sweet-toothed sort, I enjoy traditional macaroons (and if that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest you head straight over to Cheergerm’s page because her recipe’s spot on) but I’ve designed this version to lengthen the flavours across your palate; turning this childhood classic into a rather special grown up treat. Enjoy.

Save and print this recipe by clicking here

Makes 24

  • 2 egg whites
  • Pinch of sea (kosher) salt
  • 100g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 100g fine desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbl sp freeze dried strawberry powder (either buy, or make your own at this link)
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • About 1 tbl sp balsamic vinegar glaze to finish (either buy, or recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 150˚C / 300˚F and line two baking trays with baking paper

Whisk the egg whites and salt in a medium sized bowl until stiff peaks form

Gradually beat in the sugar and strawberry powder

Gently fold in the coconut and balsamic

Using 2 teaspoons, shape heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls and place on the trays, about 5cm apart

Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through

When the macaroons are dry and cooked, cool on wire racks before drizzling with the balsamic glaze

Store in an airtight container

Balsamic Glaze

  • 500ml balsamic vinegar

Pour vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer

Turn the heat to low and reduce the vinegar for between 30 and 40 minutes, or until it has become thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You should end up with about 125ml

Remove from heat and allow to cool

If sealed in an airtight container and kept in the fridge, a balsamic glaze should keep quite happily for a year or more

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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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