Panforte di Siena – fruity, gooey Italian cake!

Hi everybody! So I’ve been cooking again and this time I was inspired by the blog ‘Just Visit Siena’ who posted a selection of traditional foods from Siena, one of which caught my eye and I decided I had to try. My following attempt was based loosely around a recipe I found online (link at the bottom).

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All the ingredients.

I began by placing the dates in a pan and covering them with water, before adding honey, light brown sugar and cinnamon. The original recipe called for mincing the dates before heating but I found that it worked perfectly well to mash them with a potato masher once they were slightly heated and therefore softened.

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After heating on a small flame for 10 – 15 minutes the mixture began to thicken and take on a slightly sticky consistency. From there I poured the mixture into a mixing bowl and added in the mixed fruit (cherries and orange peel), nuts (mixed chopped nuts and whole almonds) and red wine. I added 4 tablespoons of flour, stirred everything in well and poured the completed mixture into a grease-proof-paper-lined tin.

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I baked it for half an hour at 150C (300F, Gas Mark 2), but as a word of warning keep your eye on it as the top will crisp very quickly! If you see it starting to burn either turn the oven down or cover the tray with tin foil.

The finished product was true to the title in being very gooey, very sticky but very tasty! It was a nightmare to cut and tricky to eat without having to pick your teeth and lick your fingers. However if you’re anything like me when it comes to sticky treats then you’ll think the taste is well worth the mess! Excuse the messy presentation but a lack of a sieve meant I had to improvise with sprinkling the icing sugar.

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Full details of the recipe can be found on this website: http://www.antonio-carluccio.com/Panforte_di_Siena

..and..

The original post from Just Visit Siena can be found at: http://justvisitsiena.com/2014/04/30/prodotti-tipici/

 

Hope you enjoyed the post, thanks for reading and let me know how your own attempts go!

 

Jess 🙂

 

 

 

 

Healthy banana cake!

Hi it’s Jess here, so this post isn’t much to do with travelling, it is however a lot to do with one hell of a tasty banana cake recipe that I’ve played around with for months and have (hopefully!) perfected.

 

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Now if you’re anything like me you’ll hate seeing perfectly usable, overripe bananas going to waste and it was after stumbling upon a bunch of browning, sticky bananas in the back of Ben’s uni kitchen that I first took to making this recipe (much to the delight of his housemates!). This cake has no added sugar in it so it’s perfect if you want something that has all the taste of a moist banana cake but you can feel somewhat healthy whilst eating it. I’ve also made this cake reasonably vegan friendly as it already has no eggs and you just need to replace the small amount of butter with a vegan replacement like soya… et voila healthy and vegan banana cake!

 

One thing to keep an eye out for with this cake is not to overcook it as it will cook very quickly on the outside but stay almost as cake mixture on the inside. It’s not the kind of cake that will leave the cake tester/knife clean after sticking it through the middle but to be honest it’s best like that, gooey on the inside and crispy on the out! I’ve made the mistake before of repeatedly taking it out of the oven, sticking in the cake tester, seeing it’s gooey and throwing it back in until there’s a ridiculous cooking time of about 500 hours and all you want is a nice piece of warm cake!

 

Once it’s out of the oven all you need to do is trust in the cake and as it cools it slowly hardens meaning it’s less tricky to cut if you don’t want to risk the mess of hot gooeyness (but lets be honest it’s totally worth getting mess all over yourself and surfaces and floor and curtains to have a piece of warm cake!)

 

Ok onto the actual recipe!

 

1. Start off by turning the oven to 160C (gas mark 3, 320f), measuring out the ingredients and placing the butter in a mixing bowl. Line the loaf tin with grease proof paper, then fully melt the butter in the microwave for around 20seconds (this can also be done in a saucepan over the hob).

 

2. Next add in the bananas and completely mash them into the butter.

 

Mash 'em good and proper!

Mash ’em good and proper!

Butter and mashed banana mix.

Butter and mashed banana mix.

 

3. After the banana is well mashed throw in a handful or so of sultanas (raisins, mixed fruit, walnuts or anything you fancy also works) and mix them into the mashed banana/butter mix.

 

Add and mix in sultanas.

Add and mix in sultanas.

 

4. Combine the baking powder with the flour then add both to the banana/butter/sultana mix. You can sieve in the flour/baking powder if you’re feeling fancy but if not just chucking the lot in does the job just fine for this cake!

 

Mix in flour and baking powder.

Mix in flour and baking powder.

 

5. The final step is to mix in a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon.

 

Finally two teaspoons of cinnamon.

Finally two teaspoons of cinnamon.

Mix everything together.

Mix everything together.

 

6. Give it all a good mix and pour it into a loaf tin. I have also made this recipe as cupcakes before which work really well and take a significantly less amount of time to cook (perfect if you want a quick, healthy snack!). Word of warning though if you’re going to make them as cupcakes make sure you use the silicone cupcake moulds instead of paper cases as the mixture is quite sticky and it will just end up clinging to the paper after it’s cooked and will mean you’ll miss out on half your cake!

 

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Pour it in!

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Ready for the oven!

 

7. Bake for around 45 – 60 minutes (or 15 minutes for cupcakes), checking it every so often as every oven cooks slightly differently and then put the kettle on, sit back, relax and breathe in those wonderful smells of a cooking cake (which I am doing this very minute whilst writing this post!).

 

Finished product!

Finished product!

Slightly sticky inside but still firm.

Slightly sticky inside but still firm.

 

Now I would say after taking it out of the oven leave it to cool for a good five-ten minutes before attempting to take it out of the tin, however I would be lying if I said I did that! So grab a knife and dig in!

 

Perfect to be enjoyed with a cuppa.

 

Perfect!

Perfect!

 

Ingredients:

 

150g self-raising flour (wholemeal self-raising also works)

50g of butter, melted (or vegan alternative)

3-4 mashed bananas depending on their size

A handful of sultanas or your chosen dried fruit

1 tsp of baking powder

2tsps of ground cinnamon

(side note: you can add a tablespoon of honey to the mix depending on how sweet you like your cake, I did this when the banana’s were not quite ripe enough.)

 

I hope you enjoyed the post and let us know how your attempts at this cake went!

How not to live off McDonalds when travelling!

Hi it’s Jess here! So being the one with some cooking knowledge I will be writing about the cooking side of things and in this post in particular I want to talk about how to eat cheaply and well without resorting to those golden arches (like Ben did for three weeks travelling!). My travelling experience so far involves me inter-railing around Europe with four friends, all of us at university with not very much money in our pockets. This meant we wanted to make the trip as cheap as possible whilst still fully experiencing the different countries and cites that we visited. One of the main ways we did this was by not eating out and instead buying supermarket food and making meals for ourselves. So what I’d like to do is just give you a few tips and pointers on what foods can be bought cheaply, easy foods to cook with and important things to remember.

 

Your options of course depend on where you are staying but if like us are planning on staying in hostels, the best thing you can look for in a hostel (bar the price, location and possibly cleanliness!) is whether or not it has a kitchen you can use. By having access to a kitchen your options are almost limitless, meaning you can cook whatever you want and spend as much or as little on ingredients as you like. We unfortunately made the mistake of only staying at two hostels that provided a kitchen out of the eight we stayed at, meaning that when we finally did get to cook a hot meal, since we hadn’t been eating out, it tasted like heaven!

 

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‘But how did you live?’ I hear you ask. Well when we didn’t have access to a kitchen we lived very cheaply by making our own sandwiches, which often consisted of nothing but bread, lettuce and cheese. Cheap, if not a little dull and tasteless. Of course there are better ways of going about this, such as mixing up the fillings (this was a little difficult for us as there was two vegetarians on the trip, including myself!), mixing up the breads (we found baguette was the best tasting and cheapest to buy) and of course buying something extra to go with it. For us the extra was usually some sort of fruit everyday (very important to keep those bowel movements regular!) which was really not that expensive particularly when choosing bananas and apples.

 

Now you may be thinking, how on earth do you make sandwiches with no kitchen, utensils or even a side to place the bread on? Well you improvise. A lot of the time we would find a park bench, a low wall or seating area somewhere, have a sit down and create our own factory line for sandwich making. Of course this was made easier by the warm weather, but when it rained we simply went back to the hostel for an hour or so and attempted to make the least amount of crumbs possible! This all meant a lot of ripping up of baguettes, tearing at lettuces and using sliced plastic cheese, but by the end of it all we developed a pretty good routine.

 

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If on the other hand you do have access to a kitchen some good basic meals to cook are things that revolve around pasta and rice as you can buy lots of these on the cheap. We found the best recipe to make was a risotto. It only involved us buying some rice, onion, stock and any other veggies we wanted (like mushrooms and peppers), which we found were really cheap to buy, especially when split between us. Now I know that of course not everyone is a sous-chef in the kitchen, so maybe prepare yourself before hand so as not to make some basic mistakes like attempting to cook pasta without water and not using an oven glove when getting trays out of the oven (yes I have seen both of these before!).

 

If you’re not too sure how to go about cooking for yourself, please do leave a comment and let us know and I will be more than happy to write up in detail some really simple recipes that you can use when cooking in a foreign country, in a kitchen you don’t know. And don’t forget if you find yourself with some odd ingredients and don’t know what to do with them, log in to the hostels wifi and find your own simple recipe.

 

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Another way to save on a bit of money is to find a hostel that offers a free, or if not cheap, breakfast. This is something we overlooked when booking hostels, which meant once again that only a couple offered us this, however when we didn’t have this option we made the most of it by buying things such as brioche, croissants and fruit to wake us up in the mornings. This might sound like it would come to a fair amount of money but not only were many of these items no more than a couple of Euros, once split between the five of us, it was merely cents! Nevertheless, when a cuppa tea or coffee was available with breakfast, rather than just some water, it definitely made us all happier for that day!

 

Speaking of beverages I want to emphasise how important it is to drink plenty of water when travelling. I know I might be stating the obvious and I don’t want to patronise you all but this is something easily forgotten, especially when, depending where you are, drinking tap water may come with unwanted consequences. It’s a good idea to ask the hostel workers in each area whether the tap water was ok to drink, which we did and in each place it was. We also collected many 2litre water bottles en route, filling them up in each place as we went and taking it in turns to carry around the heavy water bag. Yes this was a burden lugging it about in the hot sun but as the day went on and we drank more water it soon got lighter. So make sure you get your fluids in!

 

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Aperol Spritz

 

Now of course in our upcoming trip to New Zealand things will be slightly different as we will be living and eating out of our camper. This means we will only have a teeny tiny flame to cook over and a sink with a limited amount of water. We’ll keep you updated while we’re there on what we manage to cook up in the camper. Having our own kitchen space to cook in will however be a blessing as this can be tricky when in a hostel and everyone decides to cook at once!

 

However cheaply we lived when travelling around Europe we did promise ourselves that treasured McDonalds when we had gotten to the end, so after that final train journey from Paris to London St Pancras International we skipped across the road, bought ourselves some fast food goodness and tucked in at the train station. Finally I also have to implore that you don’t hold back on everything when it comes to food, you can limit yourself to not eating out every night to save money but when it comes to trying the different delicacies from all over it has to be done! Especially Italian ice cream!

 

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Once again, thanks for reading and hope you stick around for more. Jess 🙂