Saturday, 31 January 2015

Walnut & Rosemary Fougasse

Fougasse is a type of French bread which originates in Provence, but is now found  in bakeries throughout France. With the growth in popularity, generally, of artisan bread making it is often found for sale in farmer’s markets and specialist bakeries here in Ireland.
Some versions of fougasse are flat breads not unlike the Italian focaccia whilst other, like the one that I have made here are distinguished by their shape, which is achieved by slashing the dough into a pattern to resemble an ear of wheat or a leaf.

Fougasse can be made using a simple white bread dough, but it also often contains, herbs, nuts and other flavourings. Those of you who have read my recent blog posts will know that I have been trying out a load of recipes including walnuts, so it seemed fairly inevitable that I would include some in the recipe I present here for Walnut & Rosemary Fougasse.
I was delighted with how this bread turned out. At its most simple, this is the basic white bread dough that I use as the basis for most of the breads that I make and to which I have added some walnuts and finely chopped fresh rosemary. Rosemary can be quite potent, but its punchy flavour is wonderful set against the walnuts in this bread. To be honest this recipe is merely a template and you could easily substitute the walnuts and rosemary for whatever nuts or herbs that take your fancy.
Since I recently embraced bread making again and feel more confident in doing it now after recently attending a course in the wonderful Firehouse Bakery, I really feel that a whole new world of possibility and different flavours has opened up to me. The sense of satisfaction you get from baking your own bread is hard to explain, but I would urge anyone to give it a go. I have also found that of all the things that I cook and bake, nothing has been received with as much enthusiasm by my family than the breads that I have been baking… well anything containing chocolate is still hugely popular with my children, but bread definitely comes a close second!
This bread will look very rustic when it emerges from the oven, but that is part of its charm and the way that it is meant to be. I love the contrast between the crusty outside and the soft interior studded with the walnuts. Seriously yummy! This would make a lovely accompaniment to a bowl of hot homemade potato and leek soup in winter or as one of a selection of breads at a picnic in the summer.


500g strong white bread flour
10g fine sea salt
10g yeast
350ml water
75g walnuts, roughly chopped
1-2tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary


1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt, giving everything a good mix with your hands so that the salt is well distributed. Crumble in the fresh yeast and mix this through as well. Add the water and mix with your hands to create a soft dough. Tip the dough out on to a clean work surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough feels soft and silky. Resist the temptation to flour your work surface despite the fact that the dough will feel initially sticky. As you work it by kneading, it will come together.
2. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Set the bowl aside and allow to prove until doubled in size.
3. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and punch out the air. Add the chopped walnuts and rosemary and work these into the dough by gently kneading for a minute or two.
4. Line two large baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
5. Divide the dough in half and shape each into a rough triangular shape. Use a rolling to flatten each piece out until it is about 2cms thick. Using a sharp knife slash the dough down the centre about 3cms from the apex of the triangle to about 3cms from the base. Then slash the dough three times to the side of the central slash (look at accompanying photos to see what I am talking about).
6. Gently open out the slashes using your hands. Sprinkle the prepared baking sheets with a light dusting of flour and place one fougasse on each. Cover with a little oiled cling film and allow to rise again for 40-45 minutes until almost doubled in size.
7. Meanwhile preheat the oven to its highest setting. Bake the breads for 12-15 minutes until deep golden brown. Remove and allow to cool before serving.
Makes 2 large flat breads.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Roast Chicken with Walnut Pesto

I decided to post this recipe (even though it is so simple to make I am loathe to call it a ‘recipe’) because it uses the walnut pesto that I made recently to great effect. This is a dish packed full of lovely fresh flavours and was received with great enthusiasm by my gang!

I have used my homemade walnut pesto, but you could always use regular pesto made with basil, pine nuts and parmesan or indeed a store-bought version. Buying a premade pesto would also make this an even quicker meal to prepare and make which, given the busy lives that we all have these days, is a great thing. 

I kept it simple and added lemon, red onions and a couple of halved garlic bulbs to the roasting tray, but you could add other vegetables if you like. This is definitely one of those mix-and-match dishes and I would encourage you to experiment. The walnut pesto which I added after roasting the chicken was wonderful and really complemented the other ingredients. You could add the pesto before cooking the chicken but I find that it tends to discolour, so prefer to add it to the finished dish just before serving, where it retains more of its fresh flavour.


2 large red onions, peeled and quartered
2 bulbs of garlic cut horizontally through the middle (no need to peel)
2 lemons, chopped into chunks
6 skin-on chicken breasts
2tblsp runny honey
2tblsp olive oil
100ml dry white wine
2 sprigs of rosemary
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
2 generous tblsp walnut pesto (or regular pesto if preferred)


1. Preheat oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6. Place the onions, garlic and lemons in a roasting dish large enough to hold the chicken breasts when placed in a single layer.
2. Rub the honey into the skin of the chicken breasts and place on the vegetables in the roasting tray. Drizzle the olive oil over the chicken breasts. Add the wine to the roasting dish and tuck the sprigs of rosemary around the chicken. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
3. When ready, the chicken breasts should be a deep golden brown and the juices should run clear when pierced with a sharp knife. The garlic should be soft and almost buttery in texture. Discard the sprigs of rosemary and serve with the walnut pesto spooned over.

Serves 4-6.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Walnut Pesto

Walnuts are wonderful!

The Coffee & Walnut Cake that I made recently reminded me just how fabulous this gnarly nut is with its complex flavour and slightly bitter undertones. Walnuts can be used very successfully in both sweet and savoury dishes, but are often forgotten especially when battling against the popularity of almonds, hazelnuts and pecans for use in cookery and baking. Well… I love walnuts and have been experimenting with them quite a bit in the past couple of weeks, trying out dishes that are both familiar and also others that are a little bit more unusual! I shall of course post the recipes, once I have perfected them!

I find walnuts impossibly difficult to shell and tend to buy them ready-shelled, so all the hard work is already done. I suggest that you do the same, unless you have an ace nut-cracker and biceps a body-builder would be proud of. You can buy chopped walnuts, but I prefer to chop my own and find that chopped walnuts, as sold, are often a little rancid, so I recommend buying just the amount that you need and using them well before their ‘use-by’ date.
I love pickled walnuts – a traditional English pickle - which are made from ‘green’ walnuts (or walnuts that are not fully ripened) and are preserved in a pickling solution which can be sweet or savoury.  A few picked walnuts thrown into a beef stew is a wondrous thing and really adds that little extra ‘something’! Pickled walnuts are popular at Christmas and can be quite easily obtained then, but are regrettably hard enough to get your hands outside of the festive season.
I’m not really a chocolate addict and would always prefer to have a slice of cake rather than a chocolate bar if I want to treat myself, but I have always had a really big soft spot for Walnut Whips, made by Nestlé. These are cone-shaped chocolate confections, encasing a vanilla flavoured, airy fondant filling, topped off with a walnut! Sometimes, after removing the packaging I find that the walnut has become dislodged and I have to hunt around in the packet for it… When this happens, as childish as it might sound, I always feel slightly cheated!!!
This recipe is incredibly simple, containing relatively few ingredients, but is one that really showcases the flavour of the walnuts and demonstrates their adaptability. Try to get the best ingredients that you can and do use a good virgin olive oil!
I used flat leaf parsley, but you could substitute fresh basil or even kale, the superfood du jour, to make the pesto. This is lovely used as an accompaniment to fish such as steamed cod or hake on grilled chicken or as a pasta sauce; it really is very adaptable and can be used in a variety of ways. Any leftover pesto can be stored in a sterilised jar and refrigerated for up to a week – it may lose some of its vibrant colour, but it should still taste lovely.


Large bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 75g-90g picked leaves)
120g walnuts
120ml olive oil
1 clove of garlic
25g freshly grated parmesan (optional)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper


1. This is really simple to make; basically put all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until everything is combined. Be careful not to over-process, you don’t want a smooth purée, but rather it should still retain some texture.
2. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, remembering that if you have included parmesan, it can be quite salty! Serve.
Serves 4-6.


Monday, 26 January 2015

Coffee & Walnut Loaf Cake

As far as I am concerned, there is nothing to beat a good cup of tea. I absolutely love it… when you are feeling down or a little bit off-form, a cup of tea can make everything seem a little bit better. Regular readers will know that I love to have something a little indulgent to nibble on with my cup of tea and although I do like biscuits, nothing beats a slice of homemade cake! Now lemon cakes are my all-time favourite, but you might be surprised to hear, given that I am not a coffee drinker that I have always had a real soft spot for Coffee & Walnut Cake. It has been ages since I made one, but I had a real yearning for one recently, so out came the mixing bowl and cake tins!

My grandmother used to make the most divine sponge cake filled with coffee-flavoured buttercream and topped with walnuts which she arranged in a decorative pattern on top of the cake. I absolutely loved it. I distinctly remember her making it when ‘special’ guests were invited. They would be served finger-cut sandwiches, buttered brown soda bread with smoked salmon and capers (very posh… or so I thought as a 9 or 10 year old), homemade shortbread and then finally the Coffee & Walnut Sponge Cake would be served on fine china plates and eaten with dessert forks!!! There was just something so ‘grown-up’ about this cake.

Interestingly, my grandmother didn’t use coffee to flavour her cake, but instead used a coffee flavouring called Camp, which in fact was made out of chicory, which had previously gained recognition as being a coffee substitute during the Second World War. Also, the walnuts were merely used as decoration on top of the cake and weren’t included in the sponge and she always baked the cake in round sponge cake tins.

Now, I love walnuts… I mean… I REALLY love walnuts and delight in their nutty texture against the soft crumb of the sponge cake, so in my version, I have included them in the cake batter. Also, I prefer to bake my cake in a loaf tin which when cool, I then split and fill with a coffee-flavoured buttercream icing before topping off the cake with coffee-flavoured glacé icing and some whole walnuts. Perhaps the most significant difference between my cake and my grandmother’s is that I do use actual coffee to flavour it (well - coffee aficionados might dispute this) but I use espresso coffee powder, which works an absolute treat and gives that coffee ‘hit’ without all the palaver involved in grinding my own beans and brewing a pot just to make this cake!

This is a great cake and after a little tweaking over the past couple of weeks, I think that I have struck the right balance between the slight tannic bitterness of the walnuts and the roasted coffee flavour. Coffee and walnuts are a wonderful combination and particularly so in this cake!


175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
150g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
4 heaped tsp of espresso coffee powder dissolved in 25ml boiling water (allowed to cool)
25ml milk
100g walnuts roughly chopped
Buttercream filling:
60g butter, softened
120g icing sugar, sifted
2 heaped tsp of espresso coffee powder dissolve in 1tblsp boiling water (allowed to cool)
Glacé icing:
1 tsp espresso coffee powder dissolved in 2tsp boiling water
100g icing sugar
To finish:
6-8 walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 160C/Fan Oven 140C/Gas Mark 2. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin and set aside.
2. Place the butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat together using a hand held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs making sure that they are fully incorporated before adding more.
3. Sieve the two flours together and fold into the creamed mixture before adding the cooled coffee and the milk. Mix together until the coffee and milk are mixed through completely, but try not to over-mix as this will result in a heavier cake. Finally, add the chopped walnuts and mix through until well distributed.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a small spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until the cake is well risen and a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
5. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and placing on a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
6. When the cake is cool slice it through the centre horizontally and filly with the coffee buttercream.
Buttercream filling:
7. Place all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl and beat together using a hand-held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Spread on to the cut side of the bottom half of the cake and replace the top half, sandwiching the filling in between the two layers.
Glacé icing:
8. Place all the ingredients in a small Pyrex bowl and mix together to create a lump-free slightly runny icing. Pour this evenly over the top of the filled cake and allow to naturally dribble down the sides of the cake.
To finish:
9. Arrange the walnuts on top of the cake.

Serves 8-10.

My Lovely Baps!

I am a fairly confident and experimental home cook and definitely more so in the past couple of years since I appeared on MasterChef Ireland and started writing this blog. For me, cooking is very much about making food that others enjoy eating; otherwise, what’s the point? Given all the new and exciting things that I have been experimenting with cooking and baking, I find it amazing that one of the things that my children particularly love are the baps that I have made a number of times recently. As soon as they emerge from the oven my three are hovering around, wanting to know when they can eat them! I barely had enough time to photograph them for the pics to accompany this post before they gobbled them all down.
Don’t, get me wrong, I’m delighted that they love them… but in comparison to some of the sometimes exotic and challenging things that I make, these are… well… quite plain. This got me thinking; so often we think that things that are complex are somehow better and really, this is so far from the truth. Too often when we go to restaurants, we seem more impressed by dishes that contain a number of technical processes rather than dishes that are simply cooked well and taste wonderful. We are swayed by how something looks rather than whether it is delicious. Surely the best cooks are those that can make something wonderful out of the most humble of ingredients?
These baps are made with flour, yeast, a little salt and butter and some milk/water – very simple, but they taste wonderful. They are soft and billowy and light in the mouth but without being dry. I love a bap split with some freshly grilled bacon and a splodge of tomato ketchup… real comfort food and a very tasty snack! 

So, what are baps?  Well, they are large round, slightly flattened bread rolls with a soft crust and an aerated, yielding crumb achieved by the addition of a little butter to the dough.  The liquid used is a mixture of water and milk which results in a lovely tender crumb. Baps are regularly sold filled with meats and salads as ‘sandwiches’, but they can also be eaten on their own. Baps are not unlike Waterford Blaa (see my recipe here) a regional bread historically made in counties Waterford, Wexford and parts of Kilkenny in Ireland. However baps tend to be flatter and more disc-shaped whereas blaas are rounder.

This dough is quite sticky to work with at first, but don’t let this alarm you… keep working the dough by kneading and stretching it and it will come together in a beautifully soft and silky ball.


300g strong white bread flour, plus a little extra for dusting
150g strong wholemeal bread flour
5g fine sea salt
50g butter, cubed
12g fresh yeast
5g sugar
150ml milk
150ml water


1. Place both the flours in a large mixing bowl and add the salt, mixing it through with your hands so that it is well distributed.
2. Add the butter and rub into the flour until it is broken down and well combined. Crumble in the yeast and mix through the flour to distribute. Make a well in the centre and add the milk and water. Bring together with your hands to form a slightly sticky dough and then turn out onto a clean work-surface.
3. Knead for approximately 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and silky and no longer sticky. Place the dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling-film. Leave to rise for about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
4. Line a large baking tray (2 if smaller) with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
5. Tip the dough out onto a clean work-surface and knock out the air in the dough. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions (I weigh mine using my electronic scales for the sake of uniformity). Form each portion into a ball and then flatten them with a rolling pin or the palm of your hand until they are about 3cms thick. Place each bap on the prepared baking tray, spacing them well apart so that they have room to expand.
6. Dust with a little flour and cover with cling-film and allow to rise for 45-60 minutes, until doubled in size.
7. Just before baking preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6. Dust the risen baps with a little more flour and bake in the preheated oven for 17-20 minutes until they are a pale golden colour (do not allow them to brown too much). Remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving.

Makes 8.