Italian baked chicken with grapes followed by semifreddo with honey, figs and walnuts

Italian feast

Boasting honey, figs, grapes, nuts and sweet wine, this Italian feast would surely have won the approval of Bacchus himself. When I think about good food, when I dream about delicious dishes bringing together the simplest ingredients to create something truly magical, when I picture myself being served an incredible meal in an idyllic setting, I tend to find myself transported to Italy.

It’s been a few years since I’ve travelled in Italy and I long to return. My parents are in Tuscany right now and as you can imagine I am extremely jealous. My step-mum Sue has been sending me droolsome updates on Whatsapp, replete with photos, documenting their food adventures. There have been accounts of wonderful salads with chicken, ravioli in a walnut cream sauce,  the thinnest pizzas with just one or two toppings, grilled sea bass with roast courgettes, fritto misto in the lightest of batters, fagiolini with fine green beans and bacon in tomatoes and garlic. Oh and lots of gelati with figs and cherries… The list goes on. It’s been pure torture.

So when Expedia challenged me to come up with an Italian meal for their #expediaworldonaplate challenge, I knew I would be taking my inspiration from Tuscany. Continue reading “Italian baked chicken with grapes followed by semifreddo with honey, figs and walnuts”

A squidgy malt loaf for Mothering Sunday

malt loaf

Last year I featured on the blog some pretty little pistachio scones for Mothering Sunday. Only problem was my own Mum was at home in Spain at the time, so she didn’t actually get to sample them until she got around to baking a batch for herself from my recipe.

When Mum was over from Spain last weekend, I baked a super squidgy malt loaf which she really, really enjoyed, and so it feels appropriate this is the recipe I post this year as my Mother’s Day offering. One I’ve actually managed to bake for my own mother.

Malt loaf was always a favourite when I was a kid. Never homemade of course but the variety made by that well-known brand in the bright yellow packaging. My other favourites as a kid in the eighties included that uber-sweet Jamaica ginger cake and those sponge puddings in a tin. As you can see, not a lot of baking went on in our house. Both my Mum and I discovered the joys of baking later in life…

I found myself reminiscing about malt loaf a few weeks ago, wondering how a homemade version would compare to shop-bought. Sometimes there’s no point messing with something you already love. But I figured with malt loaf there was potential, and it turns out I was right. You can add loads more fruit to a malt loaf you bake yourself (I majored with big, fat pieces of gooey dried fig but you can go with whatever you fancy) and you can up the sticky-squidgy levels with lashings of malt extract and treacle. The children ate theirs as it came, but Mum and I enjoyed ours with a thick spread of butter. Heavenly.

malt loaf2

Squidgy malt loaf

sunflower oil, for greasing the tin
75ml hot black tea – I used Redbush tea
90g malt extract, plus a little extra for the glaze
20g black treacle
25g demerara sugar
50g sultanas
50 dried figs, chopped into small pieces
25g dried cranberries
25g dried blueberries
1 egg, beaten
125g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 150°C/gas mark 2.

Grease and line a 450g/1lb loaf tin with baking paper.

In a large bowl, mix the hot tea with the malt extract, black treacle, demerara sugar, sultanas, figs, cranberries and blueberries. Next add the egg and combine well.

Add the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and mix thoroughly.

Pour into the loaf tin and bake for around 50 minutes until fairly firm and slightly risen.

Leave to cool a little on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then brush the top with a little more malt extract. Then leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

Store in an airtight container for up to five days. The malt loaf will get progressively stickier and squidgier. If it lasts that long before getting gobbled up.