Gâteau fabulous.

I was sat, pondering the other day about how different my diet was even just 5 years ago, it actually really surprised me. The amount of crap I used to eat, and for some reason I remember always being hungry. Cooking everything from scratch and buying everything, making your shopping lists, it does make you think about what’s going into your body more. I don’t know if it’s just me, but if you eat something that you have made from scratch, no packets or pre-made stuff, you get a sense of pride and a good sense of full, instead of the feeling of the sugar rush/crash pairing.

When it comes to the treat part of your diet, I think the best thing you can do is treat it with a bit of respect. Rather than scoffing a chocolate bar at lunch, if you can afford to wait until you get home, make something sexy, it won’t be necessarily good for you, but it won’t have the amount off added crap you get in most bought stuff. I’m not being preachy, it’s just an observation!
As I was saying. The other day I was thinking about my diet 5 years ago, and it made me think of treats and such like that I barely eat anymore. The first thing I thought of were the flapjacks I used to get in school at morning break. It was obvious that they were incredibly bad for you as they were gooey and sweet and good god I used to adore them! It was this kind of drooling reaction that made me want to recreate them. Now, i’ve honestly only made flapjacks, maximum, twice in my entire life, so I wasn’t holding out for a good outcome (never mind being half as nice as the morsels I used to inhale at school) but I really was pleasantly surprised! The ones I ended up creating – the recipe that will shortly follow – were awesome, gooey, like the ones from school, none of this hobnob-like flapjack rubbish, and just the right amount of sweetness. I must I woke up on the right side of the bed that morning. So by request of a few people on Facebook, here’s the recipe, do enjoy:
School Flapjacks
makes about 20 big portions or 40 small
6 mugs of oats (approx. 450g) (potentially more)
Enough milk to cover the oats
2 tbsp golden syrup
175g muscovado sugar
175g soft brown sugar
250g butter
NB: Before you start, it’s always worth having extra bits of your ingredients, because I found that when I mixed mine with forthcoming syrup, I needed to stir a few spoonfuls of oats to help it along a bit. But I think that’s common sense, just a heads up.
– Put all your oats into a tupperware box and cover with milk, stir to get it all mixed and nice and leave covered overnight to soak everything up. It makes them all soft and (in my opinion) even nicer!
– Preheat your oven to a low temperature, about 140C degrees/gas mark 2 and grease a fairly large dish. I used a baking dish, rather than a tin. It also needs to be quite deep, especially if you are making lots.
– Melt your butter and sugars together, then once they’re all sexy and combined, stir in the golden syrup.
– Stir in your oats – spare bag at the ready – it should be coat all the oats comfortably in the dark syrup you’ve made, but not drown them, otherwise they won’t stick together properly, just use your initiative here.
– Bake in the oven for about half an hour. Because it’s quite a low heat, if you think it’s not ready leave it in a little longer, I did mess about with the heat when I made them so just go with it. 
– Once you think they’re finished, take them out, cut them in to squares, but leave until they cool to take them out, I left mine in overnight and they went all cold and chewy and really yum. But if you can’t wait, just leave them to cool properly first.
I quite like this recipe, it takes very little effort, yes it has alot of sugar in it, but you’re not going to inhale the entire thing so it’s not too much of a big deal, it costs very little, and it’s very adaptable. Good for bake sales, what with Red Nose Day coming up and all! You can make them chocolatey by either stirring in some chocolate chips and cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate, it does have sugar in already remember), cherries, raisins, apricots, coconut, even sesame seeds. Although, if you do add the latter they emit their own oil when cooking so add an extra handful of oats to counteract it!
I would also like to mention an achievement of a retro cake nature, and although i’m not going to include the recipe just yet, but it’s worth a note, because it rocks so very hard. It is that of my virginal voyage into the land of…wait for it. Black. Forest. Gateau.
Now I know many will cringe at the horrible rememberance of this poor misunderstood’s carboard-esque predecessors, but think about it. Cream, chocolate, cherries and kirschwasser. It is a winning combinations, all the ingredients go together so well in any combination. This cake is so deliciously wrong, in all the right ways. I dislike the fact that this tribute to Black Forest cooking (where cherries and kirschwasser are abundant) is now seen as a drab recipe of the past because so many people have butchered the good name of this cake/gateau with their crappy reproductions! But it seems to have had so much more of a hard time than other retro dishes, prawn cocktails are still everywhere, and yes they sometimes are a little old school, but Black Forest gateau seems to have disappeared from everywhere when it used to be such a prestigious dessert. It makes me a little sad.
I love cherries, and although they are expensive over here in the UK (£13 for a bag in Morrisons, I think not Mr Manager!), they are so very awesome. I even have enough cherries left over to make a cherry lattice pie, which I am very much looking forward to. But I digress, this is a time for an intervention, enough with the BFG bashing and lets get it on the up, if it’s still good enough for Delia and Heston, then it’s good enough for me!
I must add that this isn’t entirely random, all this came from my best friend asking for a BFG for her 21st birthday party I didn’t want to go in blind, and seeing as I don’t want her birthday to be ruined by rubbish cake, I thought it apt for me to do a trial run. It did go better than expected, and thought I was initially concerned at the fact the sponge recipe I used had no butter in it, I went with it.
As it goes, the layers go, chocolate sponge, morello cherry jam, soaked morello cherries, whipped cream, second layer of chocolate sponge, more whipped cream, fresh cherries and cherry syrup!
And to prove that it’s not bought (not that i’m being cocky and saying it looks good enough to be store bought or anything!)…
The central layer of my cake!
And damn it i’m proud I have created such a pretty looking cake, I really am a sucker for presentation. So much so, that as I would normally provide a cross section picture to show you the inside, I actually don’t have one. Because I haven’t had the heart to cut into it yet.
Gateau Fabulous!
I shall let you know how it goes down!
Back to my short promise from the end of my last post. I thought I would learn more about perhaps a little more foreign dessert. I say foreign in the loosest possible manner by the way, as i’m betting that at least two thirds of the people reading this will have consumed it at some point in their life. I’m talking about the wonderful, baklava.
Now, for the people who haven’t tried it – or the ones who love it and want to know a little more – it’s modern form is layered filo pastry with nuts and honey and syrup and butter. This is where it gets tricky, it’s difficult to pin point where it originally started because it is thousands of years old, but it’s accepted that its roots lie thoroughly in the Middle East.. It’s been traced by food historians back to it’s crudest form by Assyrians in 8BC, where it consisted of thin bread, layered with nuts and honey, baked in wood burning stoves.
It was found by Greek merchants venturing to Mesopotamia who brought it back to Athens, where it was refined with phyllo (meaning leaf) pastry. It was then passed to the Armenians, who further evolved it with spices like cinnamon and cloves, and then onto Arabs who introduced rosewater and cardamom. Like many sweets of yester year, it was mostly consumed by the wealthy, and was prized for its aphrodisiac properties, cinnamon for woman, cardamom for men and cloves for both sexes.
It seems a shame then, that unless you find a traditional Greek baker (or attempt it from a traditional recipe), the only ones you will find are ones that are made with peanuts, not pistachios and walnuts, and cheap oil, rather than butter. But alas, I shall leave you with a recipe for a more traditional way of achieving a little bit of history in your cooking!

Traditional Baklava
Serves about 45
250g pistachios, finely chopped
250g walnuts, finely chopped
100g caster sugar
3 tsp ground cinnamon
200g butter
500g filo pastry

Honey Syrup:
300g caster sugar
125g honey
1 lemon, rind finely grated and juice
1 cinnamon stick
4 drops of rosewater, optional
– Preheat oven to 180C degrees/gas mark 4.
– Combine nuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. Melt your butter in a small pan on a low heat (don’t burn it!), set this aside and keep it warm, either with a lid or a plate.
– Grease a baking tray, about a large brownie size (24cmx 34cmx 3cm) with butter, cut your filo sheets to fit the tray and tuck it in with a damp tea towel.
– Layer one third of the pastry into the tray, brushing with butter between each layer, scatter evenly with half the nut mixture, then top with the second third of the remaining pastry, brushing between each layer with butter
– Scatter over the remaining nuts, top with the last third of the pastry, brushing with butter in between every time.
– Put in the fridge to firm it up (about 15 minutes), then cut through all the layers of pastry into diamond shapes about 4cm wide with a sharp knife. 
– Bake until golden and cooked through (about 45 minutes – 1 hour). If it’s starting to brown too quickly cover with foil  to cook through. 
– Whilst your pastry is cooking, the honey syrip. Combine the sugar, honey, lemon rind, cinnamon and 300ml of water in a saucepan over medium heat, dissolving the sugar. Reduce the heat to a simmer until all the spices and flavours are infused (about 20 minutes). Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve, stir in the lemon juice and rosewater to taste and set aside. 
– Cool the baklava slightly, a few minutes will do, pour over the syrup evenly, and leave to cool completely to room temperature (overnight if you can).
Baklava really does get better over time, you don’t need to refridgerate it but it’ll last for about 5 days. It peaks at around 2 days. So it’s worth making it in advance!
Next week: Spring watch and baby lambs!