Running Wild With Raw Almond Butter

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Apparently it’s very easy to make your own Raw Almond Butter and it’s supposed to be really good for you. (Especially, if like me, you’re training to run half marathons.) I had to give it a whirl.

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Perserverance is the key to making your own almond butter. It should only take 10 minutes of whizzing up almonds in a food processor to produce wholesome wonderment… However an hour later my head and ears were buzzing from the incessant food processor screeches and I was getting a bit annoyed.

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You may remember that in my wisdom this year, I have decided to run The Great North Run (all 13.1 miles of it) to raise money for Oxfam.I am trying my best to train as much as possible to gradually reach my target distance, but a few niggles have made the path to fitness nirvana rather steep.

So far I’ve;

  •  Been chased and bitten by an overly excited dog

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  • Been pursued by cows (Please note cows seem to like red running tops)
  • Bruised my spine running with my haversack on after work (Note: do not attempt to run home wearing a pair of cowboy boots and a jar of jam on your back)
  • Bought and broke 2 running haversacks
  • Cut my collarbones (see the previous statement)
  • Developed shinsplints and rhinitis
  • Endured 4 ice baths to ease the shinsplints! (For those unfamiliar with the extreme pleasure of an ice bath they are best enjoyed with your pants ON, a cup of tea, almond butter toast and wearing a hoodie)
  • Entered (and completed) 3 competitive races!
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with more races still to come… Gateshead 10k

  • Cut my toes and didn’t even notice (perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about ‘getting into the zone’?!)
  • Purchased a running wardrobe. (There’s a lot of fluorescent pink in there now.)
  • Eaten an inordinate amount of cake (running makes me hungry!)
  • Developed muscles I didn’t know I owned
  • Practiced a lot of yoga to stretch out those weary muscles…
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Carpet Yoga (note Super Hans’helping’ in the background)

Yet I’m undeterred! In fact I’ve even threw myself in at the deep end. Running in the UK monsoon conditions, which others may call ‘the Summer’, with my eyes closed as it’s too difficult to keep them open (perhaps this is a talent that I didn’t know I possessed?) and an all terrain 10k trail run.

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A spot of flash flooding up North to keep us on our toes

Almond Butter, promised me a miracle. It’s a high protein food that is full of Vitamin E and supposed to help prevent sore muscles and ease my aching legs! Hurrah! AND I had a bag of almonds already in the cupboard. It had to be made.

I threw a 200g bag of almonds (with their skins on) into the food processor and turned it up high. It wasn’t particuarly happy with this challenge, but with a little encouragement it ploughed through the almonds.

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Looking like ground almonds

About 4 minutes in (and a bit a scrapping down the sides of the bowl)the almonds looked like ground almonds, the kind you would use in macaroons. So you could make your own ground almonds from scratch too if you wished.

The instructions said to keep going and blitz them up as much as possible. About 10minutes in the almonds should ‘release’ their oils. This means that the almonds should then ball up in to a nice big lump of almond butter.

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Looks like the oils are being ‘released’ -scrambled nuts

However mine did not. It just kept looking like scrambled eggs made out of almonds and sticking infuriatingly to the bottom of the bowl. I religiously scraped the bowl with my spatula to ensure all of the almonds were getting an even blitzing, so much so my spatula got a bit sliced up on the blade and had to go to spatula Heaven. RIP trusty spatula.

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Adding coconut oil and honey – starting to come together….

Apparently you probably don’t need to add any oil to the mix as the almonds have enough oil to suffice. However I couldn’t get mine to stick together so I gradually added coconut oil, another super running food full of energy and good stuff (I clearly known my science stuff here) to help with those extra miles, until I got it to more of a paste like consistency. I also added a good slosh of honey to sweeten the mix, tasting it as I went to make sure it was to my liking.

Eventually I realised that I wasn’t going to get a peanut butter smoothness or glossy texture so I declared my Almond Butter done and popped the lot into a jam jar, ready for my pre run toast.

It is a little on the dry side and almost savoury (maybe I didn’t add enough honey or oil?!) but I quite like it. It doesn’t have any preservatives in it and it almost tastes healthy. You could use rapeseed oil or any other oil that you prefer too.

As it contains no preservatives, it needs to be stored in the fridge as the almond oil may go rancid. However the honey may help to preserve it as it’s the only natural substance that does not go off!

I’m going to see if I can incorporate my Almond Butter into some international baking too, but for now I’m going to just enjoy it on toast and spread on various fruits and vegetables too. Or if I’m feeling particularly lazy (or in a hurry) I might save myself the effort and chew on a handful of almonds instead…

The Final Product! Raw Almond Butter

Things I used to make my Raw Almond Butter

  • 200g of whole almonds with their skins on
  • A liberal splash of coconut oil (any oil would suffice)
  • Runny honey ( 1 to 2 tbsp)
  • A Strong Food Processor
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28. Jamaican Black (Rum) Cake – The most alcoholic cake I’ve ever baked

Jamaican Black Cake

Officially the most alcoholic cake that I have EVER baked. Jamaican Black cake is most definitely not for the faint of heart or soberest of people. Containing 2 bottles of dark rum and a half bottle of Brandy, the fumes emanating from the cake are enough to make you slightly squiffy, never mind devouring a full slice!

Dark Rum (not just any dark rum but Marks and Spencers Dark Rum)

I happened upon the idea of a Jamaican Black cake when looking for Christmas cake recipes and I spotted it for sale at the continental Christmas markets. I required a wonderful cake recipe to bake for my first ever venture into the world of Clandestine Cake Club where the theme was cakes with beverages and also something luxurious for my mam’s mothers day present too. This is how I ended up scouring shops for a ridiculous amount of prunes, raisins, booze and Angostura Bitters. Did you know that they are difficult to find despite their 47% volume and are rumoured to be poisonous in large quantities… Good job this only needed 2 tablespoons of the pink stuff!

rum soaked fruit

I soaked the mammoth amount of dried fruit in an entire bottle (1 litre) of rum for about 2 weeks. I had to split the fruit into 2 jars as I simply did not have a vessel large enough to contain the copious amounts of booze and fruit.

I probably should have read the recipe more carefully as I would then have discovered that this recipe is enough to yield 3 or 4 cakes. I had produced a Jamaican Black Cake factory!! [I’ve revisited this recipe and reduced it down to Just the one Jamaican Black Cake here if you want to bake fewer cakes.]

The recipe also did not specify the volume of the bottles of booze so I shall let you know what worked for me (and as per usual I did end up substituting something for things that I like better. I hope that doesn’t detract from its Jamicanness? (or Trinidad – ianness origin also).

Rum soaked fruit… how much can I cram in to the food processor?

I figured that soaking fruit in this sheer amount of rum as well as being highly decadent is enough to ensure a good result (or get you very drunk so you no longer care what the cake actually tastes like). The idea behind such a long soak is to help macerate the fruit and also creates a much denser and moist texture than traditional fruit cake/Christmas Cake. I also think that it might make a wonderful Christmas pudding.

Maybe a bit more…

Following the long rum soak the fruit required mushing up. My weapon of choice was my food processor. Rather dangerously I crammed the entire fruit and rum mix into the bowl and forced the lid on. It took rather a lot of whizzing to get the mix to condense down into a fruit paste but it’s a determined little processor and did a wonderful job. Adding the Angostura bitters left a pink hue to the mixer bowl for future Jamaican Black Cake memories.

Eeek! Full to capacity but valiantly managed to macerate the fruit fully

With the food processor chugging away I had a chance to get on with ‘browning the sugar’. This is a new technique for me and undoubtedly adds to the depth of the final cake colour. Light brown sugar is heated in the pan until it melts to create a caramel. Adding a little water (in total half a cup) at a time. I struggled to get the sugar to melt and in frustration tipped all the water in, which wasn’t a good idea as it crystalised into chunks and required a much more vigorous heat and stir to get a smoother caramel. And even then it was still on the crunchy textured side for my liking. But I figured the heat of the oven would help to incorporate the crystals into the cake, I’m pretty sure I was right too! No sign of crunchy sugar lumps in the final cake.

Bubbling and browning the sugar to a caramel

Perhaps I was multi tasking to the extreme as I then attempted to beat the butter, sugar and eggs together whilst macerating the fruit and drowning/browning the sugar. But hey I have 2 hands, why not use them?!

Creaming the butter and sugar

After a short while I realised I don’t own a bowl big enough to house all of the cake ingredients in. I now had 3 separate and extremely full bowls which were already overflowing!! Once I stirred the browned liquid sugar into the beaten eggs and sugar I then only had 2 massive bowls of stuff to combine…

Mixing the browned sugar into the mix

Tonnes of butter, sugar, eggs and browned butter!

A spot of logical thinking brought me to the conclusion that this was possible, I just needed to divide the mix in order to conquer it.

Emmmmm how do I combine all of this???

I poured roughly half the beaten eggs, butter and sugar into one large mixing bowl. I then decanted half of the mushed up fruit and rum on top of the batter. This meant I had some space to fold the mixture together with my metal spoon. Although some ingredients fell over board I feel I salvaged the majority of it.

Hope it doesn’t overflow…

I repeated the process in a separate bowl with the other half of the mixture. Although I’m sure my guess work is highly accurate I couldn’t help but notice one bowl of batter looked a bit blacker than the other which worried me that I had put more fruit in inequality bowl than the other but there was nothing to gain by fretting about it and these monster cakes needed a.good 3 hours in the oven so I had to plough on.

It was a bit of a tight squeeze!!

Fully combined all of the ingredients!!

I had already greased and double lined 2 round springform cake tins with an extra high collar fixed on the outside with string to prevent the cake top from burning. I used a.22cm tin and a 20cm tin and found I still had cake to spare so quickly greased my favourite bundt tin (with a very generous layer of butter as I couldn’t line the moulded tin with paper and wanted to make sure I could get the cake back out again!!) Due to its shape I also couldn’t tie a protective collar of greaseproof paper round the bundt tin so opted for a lid of tin foil over the top. This scrunched up edges to create a seal over the top of the tin and stayed put throughout the baking process.

Doubled lined and dressed in collars – cakes ready for the oven

I smoothed the tops of the cakes as flat as I could as I wasn’t expecting them to rise very much.

I did check on the cakes regularly and turned them slightly so as to avoid burning the edges. But I resisted opening the oven for at least 2 hours to keep the heat in and the cakes rising. No one wants a sunken and heavy cake…

Trio of Jamaican Black Cakes hot out the oven

After 3 hours they were definitely done and the skewer came out clean.

The final touch was to pour half a bottle of rum over the 3 cakes whilst they were still in their tins and warm.

More rum glistening on top

What a wonderful cake! It was definitely worth the extra preparation time and although it’s not traditional to ice a Jamaican Black Cake, my Mam loves marzipan and royal icing so I created a Cath Kidston -esque star design especially for her using the largest of my trio of cakes. This wasn’t the easiest cake to ice as the cake was still rather moist (and full of rum) so I struggled to get the icing to stick. Some say that it is too sweet with the layers of icing, but I actually really quite liked it. It is very similar to a Christmas Cake however it smells so much more of booze and brings a lovely rose to the cheeks.

Cath Kidston Jamaican Black Cake

The second cake which I baked in the bundt tin required some coaxing to remove it from the tin. (I implemented a cocktail stick to loosen the cake around the sides, then I let gravity do the rest of the work, turning the tin upside down on a plate.) I took this to my first ever Clandestine Cake Club and shared the cake with lots of other cake lovers. I will tell you more about this another time 🙂

Jamaican Black Bundt Cake – note the slight cocktail stick indentations… oops but rum hides all sorts of sins

The more traditional shaped Jamaican Black Cake

The Towering Trio of Jamaican Black Cakes

Things that I used to make Jamaican Black Cake…

An insane amount of dried fruit and alcohol! Although I didn’t stick completely to the combinations below I think you can play around with which dried fruits you use depending on what is available provided it all adds up to the same total amount of dried fruit. I also worked from 2 different recipes to make sure I had a good all rounder recipe and that I made it as authentically as possible.

[Since creating this recipe I have revisited it and reduced it so you can also now follow a recipe for Just the One Jamaican Black Cake if you prefer!]

Fruit Puree Base:

Soak the fruit in rum for up to 2 weeks (or at least 3 days) prior to macerating

  • 500g prunes
  • 500g dark raisins
  • 750g currants
  • 500g dried cherries
  • 250g mixed candied citrus peel
  • (Total of 5 and 1/4 pounds of dried fruit or 2.4 kilograms)
  • 1 bottle cherry brandy (I had to make do with plain old Brandy and used a 500ml bottle)
  • 1 bottle rum and/or Bailey’s (I used a 1 litre bottle of dark rum. I didn’t include Baileys)  -Other recipes also suggest using Manischewitz Concord grape wine which doesn’t seem to exist in England so I just opted for adding a bit more rum
  • 2 tbsp Angostura bitters

Browning:

Heat the sugar in a heavy based pan until it melts and then add a little bit of the water at a time until it becomes a dark caramel. Careful not to burn it, but it will come very close to being burnt to achieve ‘browned’ perfection.

  • 500g brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup boiling hot water

Cake:

Beat the sugar and eggs together and then beat the eggs in one by one. (You will need a big bowl as it gets a bit messy with 8 eggs!) Add all the flavours to the egg mix.

Sift the dry ingredients together and then fold it into the beaten eggs, sugar and butter.

Then mix in the fruit puree and browned sugar liquid.

Pour into 3 greased and double lined cake tins.

Bake at 120 degrees celsius (250F) for 3 hours

  • 500g unsalted butter
  • 500g sugar
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 tsp lemon essence (I didn’t have this so used lime juice instead…)
  • I used the zest of 2 whole limes (but then realised the recipe said 2 tsp lime rind)
  • 2 tsp almond essence
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 500g plain flour (I used plain white flour but you could make this cake gluten free by using your favourite gluten free plain flour or a combination of gluten free flours such as 250g cassava flour + 250g rice flour)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

The Final Touch:

Pour a generous amount of rum/brandy onto the top of your cake. It should absorb rather a lot of rum at this point. The cake will get darker with the more rum that you force feed it. It may take a day for the cake to absorb the rum but it will get there.

Wait until the cake has cooled completely before removing it from the tin and pop the cakes in an airtight container. I even left one cake in the tin for a week with tin foil over the top while it absorbed the rum (and I had ran out of containers big enough to keep it in!

MORE RUM 1 500ml bottle of dark rum for pouring on the hot cakes

Keeping Your Jamaican Black Cake:

The cake should keep for (at least) a month in an air tight container. Or perhaps even longer if you can resist eating it as it’s almost pickled with that amount of alcohol in it! Tin foil is also a good idea help seal in the rum and prevent the cake from drying out.

I froze my final cake and I think it will keep for at least a month in the freezer before I decide what to do with it.

This recipe was created using inspiration from Auntie Olga’s Trinidad Black Cake  and the Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook.

Thank you for reading!

27. Paul Hollywood’s Peshwari Naan Bread – India

Paul Hollywood’s Naan Bread

Rolling on to India and bake number 26! (All this baking is taking its toll! I’m now increading my exercise to 15 miles of walking a week, Ashtanga yoga and the occasional spin class/torture session.) But I love food and I love naan bread, particularly Peshwari Naan but then again who doesn’t love a good Naan? And not just any Naan bread but Paul Hollywood’s, the King of bread bakers, Naan bread?

Looking for the perfect accompaniment to my home made dahl and pilau rice I stumbled across the Paul Hollywood recipe I’ve been saving for a special occasion. Any excuse to whip out my trusty food processor too! I combined the flour, yeast, salt and oil and mixed it all up using the dough hook attachment, adding water until it became a good sticky dough.

The food processor alone was not enough to knead the dough properly and the food processor was about to leap off the worksurface with the sheer effort of spinning the dough. I had to admit defeat and resort to my own hands.

Shiny Happy People – Kneady Stuff

I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes on an oiled surface, to stop it sticking, which is so much easier than a floured surface. Until it was smooth and shiny and bounced back when pressed lightly. It’s times like these that I wish I was 2 inches taller so I didn’t have to knead the dough whilst teetering about on my tip toes to get the right force required!

Time to Prove

Whilst the dough proved under it’s oiled cling film covering I set to work on arranging my naan flavours. Paul Hollywood’s recipe called for caraway seeds and coriander. Unable to follow any recipe without substituting something or ad libbing somewhere, I decided to attempt a Peshwari Naan, guessing that I could throw some crushed garlic, spices (coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds), raisins and coconut into the mix and it would produce Peshwari Naan. Upon opening the cupboard I found dried fruit store severely depleted! My normal store cupboard staple, raisins, were nowhere to be found! (I forgot earlier in the week I bought an extra double amount to feed an entire litre of rum to for a very special future bake! All of my dried fruit is currently sitting patiently soaking up lashings of rum. All will be revealed soon!)

Naan Flavourings: Coconut, Garlic, Coriander, Cardamom Seeds and Cumin

Slightly disappointed I ploughed on with a combination of coconut, half a bulb of crushed garlic, dried coriander and cumin instead. Noting I must buy more dried fruit as soon as possible.

Risen to perfection

After about an hour of rising, (near the hot hob on the stove while I was cooking a chicken and vegetable dahl to encourage the dough to prove) the dough had doubled in size and was ready to be flavoured! I added the flavours a third at a time and kneaded them thoroughly through the dough.

Flavoured and divided

Once all the coconutty goodness was distributed evenly throughout the dough I rolled it into a fat sausage to chop it into quarters. Each quarter of dough should then be cut in half and flattened. Paul Hollywood is obviously a bit more of a perfectionist than me as he insists that a rolling pin is required to flatten the dough portions out. I can’t believe that people in India whip out a rolling pin at this point and so I decided to do all this flattening with my bare hands. Which did mean that my first attempt was more like a paperback novel than a fluffy, naan bread.

Stacks of semi flattened naan bread dough – must be flatter than this before hitting the pan!

I re-read the recipe and realised that the dough should be stretched into circles about 25cm in diameter, probably twice as big as my inital attempt! This explains the chunky naan brick that I produced.

Chunky Naan

Once flattened the dough has to be rested again for 5 minutes before plopping them (individually) into a hot pan with a splash of oil. I quite enjoyed the sizzle of the naan in the oil as the naan immediately puffed up and bubbled away happily in the pan. Then a quick flip over to sizzle it on the other side too. I was worried the coconut would all fall off as I got a bit bored whilst frying up the naans and decided to press some more coconut and coriander into the awaiting naan breads. I’m not sure if Paul Hollywood would approve of my inconsistent making-it-up-as-I-go-along approach but hey they were looking golden and lovely in the pan, so why worry about presentation and consistency now?!

Naan -ish and Golden (look at those bubbly edges!)

Once the naan is golden brown on both sides, it’s ready to hop out of the pan on onto a plate. I continued pan frying all 8 of the naans, piling them high on a plate ready to be devoured with daahl.

Stacks of Naan

Tea time! It smelt amazing, although a tad smokey in my kitchen as I definitely had the heat up too high on the pan. The windows had to be opened to get rid of the haze in order to see at one point. But other than my carelessness when it comes to fire safety, this recipe was a resounding success. I did slightly chargrill (burnt) one naan and created a naan brick, but I still had 6 more naans to get the technique right with. When I eventually got it right, I really got it right!

Chargrilled Naan

The bread was fluffy and light around the edges with thinner crispier bits towards the middle, where I had possibly been a bit over enthusiastic with my thinning process. I quite liked the texture and it was a good call to add an extra layer of coconut before frying the bread as it toasted on the top. Lovely! I’ve frozen the rest of the batch after we had eaten our share, to be defrosted in naan bread emergencies, of which I’m sure I will have many.

Tea Time! (The naan was so massive I couldn’t fit it all on the plate or in the photo…)

The recipe, just in case you would like to try it is…

    • 500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour
    • 10g/¼oz salt
    • 15g/½oz fresh yeast
    • 30ml/1fl oz olive oil
    • water, to mix
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds (I substituted this for – the crushed seeds of 4 cardamom pods)
    • 1 tsp caraway seeds (I used a generous 1 tsp of dried coriander and 1 tsp cumin)
    • I then added further to Paul’s recipe with 1/2 a cereal bowl of coconut (sorry its a very rough guestimate, my usual measurement unit)

You can also find the full Paul Hollywood Naan Bread recipe on the BBC Food website.

Paul Hollywood’s Naan Bread Recipe

24. Knished! – Eastern Europe

After watching a Woody Allan film ‘Whatever Works’, I was intrigued to find out exactly what a Knish is , the food that Larry David’s character loves so much.

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It turns out that it's a traditionally Jewish Pastry usually filled with oniony mashed potato. Curious, I signed myself up to the Knish challenge.

All of the recipes online varied massively. One site gave a recipe for 5 dozen or 58 knishes. This would be a bit excessive for me and my 5 friends to eat. I settled for a more basic version and (yes you guessed it) modified it slightly.

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I peeled and boiled 3 large baking potatoes but then proceeded to drop lots of them (and the glass pan lid) into the sink. So after disposing of the sink potatoes I guess I actually had about 2 and a half potatoes mashed up in the end.

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The chopped onions had to be fried in rather a lot of vegetable oil until soft and translucent whilst I messed around with pastry making.

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Its a very simple recipe with flour, oil and water. Again I threw it in the food processor to bring all the ingredients together but you could use a spoon instead 🙂

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needed kneading

It needed kneading until smooth then it needed a rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Enough time for a cup of tea and to stir the onions.

The pastry seemed a bit dry. This might be because the recipe that didn’t include an egg, where as some of the other put 1 or 2 eggs in the pastry. To remedy this I kneaded a little more water in until I was happy with it.

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Divided

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I chopped the dough into 12 pieces and rolled each piece into a thin circle about 7 inches in diameter.

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Then a quick slick of vegetable oil on the pastry before dolloping a lot of oniony mashed potato in the middle. There is no way I accurately measured this. Perhaps a handful of potato? (I’m sure this is how the professionals do it.)

I tucked up the edges and spread a little egg wash where pastry met pastry to help it seal shut (in theory).

12 Knish balls later and they were ready for a generous egg wash and the oven.

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In hindsight I should have popped a little air vent in the top of each Knish to avoid this Knish mass explosion. There was more mashed potato on the tray rather than in the Knish. This is another danger of making it up as you go along after catching a fleeting glimpse of what it should look like in a film.

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Knish Catastrophe

Nevertheless they tasted pretty good. If I’m being a little critical perhaps a tad on the greasy side, but I bet it would be a  perfect hangover cure!

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If you ignore the mashed potato hanging out the sides of the Knish it looks exactly like how I imagined it would…

There are other flavour variations you can try too if you’re not a mashed potato fan, like meat. I thinkimage its a bit like a pasty so you can have fun with it!

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Sideways Knish

Things I used:

Pastry:
1 and half cups of plain flour
1 top baking powder
Half a cup of water ( and more as needed)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Filling:
2 and a half large baking potatoes
2 large white onions
Salt
Cracked black pepper (to season)
A cup of vegetable oil

1 egg to seal and wash pastry with

Happy New Year and New Food Processor!

Apologies for lack of bloggage over the festive period. I have been a bit distracted with moutains of Christmas baking and subsequent eating so there’s rather a lot to catch up on. I’m not even sure where to start so here’s a selection of some of my most recent bakes. Not all of the food was officially international baking so I can’t  count it towards the around the world in eighty bakes nevertheless I thought you might like to see some of my experiments following my new acquisition, a wonderful food processor, for Christmas. My wonderful new baking toy that I’m attempting to learn how to use. (Thanks mam and dad!)

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Dinner rolls for New Year

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An invention what I can only term a plaited crown loaf

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Rose cupcakes of the Hummingbird Bakery Variety

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The new food professor!

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Merry Christmas!

Super Hans (sorry I couldn’t resist)

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Happy New Year! Hope you have a fantastic 2012 and thanks so much for reading! We’ve made it to 20 bakes so far, so hope you enjoy reading the next 60 bakes!