No-fuss Tahini Bars

There is always something therapeutic about making bars. It’s pretty easy to do, for a first, and also hard to mess up, even if you miss a few tablespoons of an ingredient here or there. These tahini bars are quick, simple, and you will want to make them more than once. The perimeter is more cakey than chewy, and the middle holds a fudgy consistency. Delicious.

I have made tahini bars before, but these are extremely no-fuss, and simple substitutions (for example, using just brown sugar or vegan egg in place of the normal eggs here) suffice. I don’t know when I will get sick of tahini, but until then, I’ll be making these bars.

No-Fuss Tahini Bars (makes 9 medium bars)

Ingredients

130g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

70g butter, melted (in a microwave)

1/2 tsp fine salt

1 egg

150g light brown sugar

90g tahini (around 1/3 cup)

Directions

If you haven’t already, melt your butter in a microwave by placing it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaving on high in 30-second increments or until completely melted. Preheat your oven (no-fan setting) to 180C and line a square 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan with baking parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, salt, egg and tahini. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients using a rubber spatula. Pour the batter, which should be quite runny, into the prepared pan, and bake for at least 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs. If the batter is still wet, bake for 5 more minutes. Take the pan out and leave it to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares and consuming .

Peanut Butter Sand Cookies

On today’s episode of ugly delicious, I welcome the peanut butter sand cookie.

Soft, crumbly cookie with hard edges and a distinct peanut flavour

Pretty much a peanut butter crumble in a cookie. I think I cracked these cookies the second time. The first time, I deemed them too dry, although a friend told me that they were just to her taste. The second time, they retained the typical chew of your denser peanut butter cookie, but also had a soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth crumbly consistency. I couldn’t help but think they resembled sand somehow, hence the name.

You can use processed peanut butter here, but the natural oils of natural peanut butter, when blended into the rest of the liquid part of the batter, makes for an extra smooth and delicious result. Definitely go ahead and use chunky peanut butter too, if that’s your preference.

It’s all about the texture here. My go-to cookie is rich and chewy with hard edges, but this is quite something, too. When you bite into the cookie, you get a pure peanut butter flavour dispersed through large, fluffy crumbs, and then as your teeth sink in, all that strong flavour concentrates into a grind of chew at the end of the bite.

Another one-bowl wonder!

Peanut butter sand cookies (makes 6-7 large cookies)

Ingredients

110g peanut butter (preferably natural peanut butter but use any sort you like)

110g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp fine salt

90g brown sugar

1 egg

135g flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

optional: 100g chocolate chips, and flaky sea salt for sprinkling on top

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C) and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

If your butter or peanut butter is hard, place them in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or until soft to touch, not melting. In a medium bowl and using a whisk, whisk together the butter, peanut butter, salt and brown sugar until it looks light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and whisk that in too.

Add the flour, baking soda and optional chocolate chips. Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet, bringing everything together until you get a sticky, thick batter. Use an ice cream scoop or your hands to scoop large golfball-sized clumps of batter onto your prepared pan. Sprinkle on the optional coarse salt on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then take them out and let cool and set for another 10 before eating. These cookies keep well for up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature, but you can also freeze them. Take out and microwave one for up to 2 minutes with a break after a minute, for a warm cookie. Best eaten with vanilla ice cream, or with a steaming cup of milky coffee!

French Toast Pudding

No, it’s not Christmas. But I was reminded of a favourite french toast bake while writing up my list of curated recipes. You need not use panettone, but gosh, yes, this fluffy Italian bread is perfect for dunking into french toast custard and then baking. You can use any soft bread like brioche or challah really, but you would need to soak these slightly denser breads a little longer in the custard batter.

Soft, eggy threads of sweet dough.

You get the rich flavour of panettone fixed in a homogenous, sweet, eggy batter similar to that of a firm bread pudding. I looked through previous recipes for panettone french toast and casseroles, and most of them use cream, but I personally don’t think you need the cream in the custard, and you let the flavours of the panettone and everything it’s studded with shine. Once again, a one-bowl wonder with everything done (and maybe consumed) in less than an hour. What I love about french toast bakes is that it takes little to no effort, as you chuck everything into the oven without having to fry each piece of bread separately, no matter how large a griddle or pan you have.

Mine here just had chocolate chips, but there’s usually some dried fruit in there too, and I added some chopped pecans on top for crunch. The french toast pudding bakes very fast because the voluminous, airy bread allows the custard to quickly seep into and bake into every crevice.

French toast pudding (6 servings)

Ingredients

Half a whole panettone (500g) or about 5 cups of challah/brioche, cut into large 2-inch cubes

3 eggs

240ml milk of choice

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine salt

optional: chopped nuts and extra chocolate chips, around 1/3 cup in volume

optional: coarse sugar (like demerara) for sprinkling, and fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream for serving

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), no fan setting. Take a little cube of butter and rub it along the bottom, corners and and edges of a 9×11-inch casserole dish, or you could also squeeze it into a 9×9-inch brownie pan. Cut the half of a panettone into 1 inch thick slices. This will be easy if you’re using traditional uncut panettone, because then you can simply cut it as how you would a cake. If you’re using challah or brioche, or another type of light and fluffy bread, cut the bread into 2-inch cubes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, cinnamon and salt well.

Take each panettone slice and dunk each side in the custard for at least 3-4 seconds on each side, then lay the slices down in the prepared tin, each slice slightly overlapping one another. If you’re using other bread, just dunk each cube into the batter for 3-4 seconds before positioning the cubes in a relatively geometrical arrangement in the baking tin. Once the bread slices/cubes are arranged, pour the rest of the custard evenly all over the top, and if using, the chopped nuts and chocolate. Sprinkle the optional demerara sugar on top, then place the tin into the preheated oven.

Bake the french toast pudding for 15 minutes, take it out and serve immediately. Best eaten with fresh fruit, a la mode!

Peanut Butter Banana Marshmallow Grilled Sandwich

Having woken up from a deep heady nap that lasted all of 1 hour, I finally feel motivated to share this. Sometimes I get ideas that I know may have been attempted before or seem too simple to write about, but even these should never be left behind, especially if they taste this good. I struggle to remember that it’s not about whether your idea has been attempted before, it’s about how well you do it.

I recently read an article about why people with anxiety or depression should not be eating processed, inflammatory foods so as not to increase inflammation in the body- one of the root causes underlying the mechanisms of neurological disease is inflammation. I have always known this, and would not stir at the accusation of me being something of a hypocrite, waxing lyrical the good fortune of nutrition and a plant-based diet, while I myself write lengthy blogposts about sugar. I understand, I do, but having experienced the terrifying nature of what restricting entire food groups can do to my own health (orthorexic tendencies, heightened anxiety in social situations centred around a meal), and trying to cut out sugar entirely many times, I know that such drastic measures do not cut it, at least for me. Which is why I promote these recipes not to promote diabetes, but rather a sense of moderation, to let people know that yes, it’s ok to have this cookie once in a while, and you won’t die. And of course you can whip out the stevia or trivia as substitutions if that suits you better…

Sandwich time. Speaking specifically about toasties, I ate these regularly in primary school, and was relieved to not have to pack lunch in high school because God forbid I got another one. Only kids eat these anyway, right? Yet, squidged between my regular Asian lunches of mixed economy rice, I found myself buying the occasional (tuna mayo) sandwich. Then university rolled round. One of my close friends offered to share his delicious-smelling toastie with me. I reluctantly tried the deceivingly simple concoction of cheese and tomato, and could not help the wave of nostalgia rippling through my body as I sunk my teeth into the pressed, golden bread, glossy on the underside with the perfect hit of mayonnaise, and I do feel that mayonnaise is the underdog in a lot of classic favourites. Here I replicate something similar for the sweet tooth- you can do this in a toastie maker of course, but I decided to do it on a stovetop for adaptability.

Why not jazz it up by pressing a croissant with the same combination too?

Ah, an unreal crisp. Golden, buttery bread giving way to a soft, goo-on-goo inside. Once again, so simple, such child’s play. And yet, so satisfying. Given the pandemic and all the political nonsense in the world now, it feels good and right to return to what grounded us as children- a safe and familiar haven. As humans we like to seek out patterns and familiarity, to some degree. This may be an element of that. Little things like making toasties and sharing them with coffee may even help us rewire our brains for positivity and excitement.

Note: you can use bread that is not white of course, but white toasting bread is usually the optimal shape for toastie making, readily absorbing the melted butter that you brush on top and letting the heat penetrate its pores when the toastie maker is ready.

Peanut butter Marshmallow Toastie

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

2 thick slices of white bread*

1 tbsp butter*

2 tbsp peanut butter

half a banana, sliced

handful of marshmallows, each sliced in half*

*vegan sub: use vegan butter or vegetable oil instead of butter (I suggest staying away from avocado oil as the flavour is too strong and will overwhelm the rest of the flavours). Use vegan marshmallows instead of regular marshmallows.

*gluten-free sub: use gluten-free bread

Directions

Take one slice of bread and spread one side with butter. Repeat with the other slice of bread (around 0.5 tbsp butter on each slice). If you’re using a toastie maker, use slightly less butter. Make sure your butter is soft before spreading. Then spread 1 tbsp of peanut butter on the other side of each slice of bread. Now have your two slices facing you with the peanut butter sides facing upwards. Put the banana slices on one slice of bread and the cut marshmallows on the other. Then sandwich the bread slices so that the banana and marshmallows face each other on the inside of the sandwich.

Heat your pan on medium heat and press the sandwich down. Use a spatula to press it. After around 4 minutes check the underside of the sandwich with your spatula- it should be golden-brown and the marshmallows should look melty. Flip the sandwich over and press down again. Cook for another two minutes. The banana should be soft and the peanut butter and marshmallows should be soft and melty. Cut whichever way you want and enjoy alone or with a strong coffee.

Biscoff Oreo Brownies

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

This deserves to be recipe of the year. For me, at least. I’ll keep it short and sweet for everyone’s convenience today. Brownies are overdone and the combinations one can experiment with seem to be endless. The brownie category in every baking blog is usually a saturated one– basic fudgy, basic chewy, Nutella, jam-bellied, the works. You would think I’d be tired of reading or trying out any new brownie recipe at this point. BUT NO. This particular recipe features angles of child’s play, a three-stranded braid of chocolate, biscoff and oreo. I usually do a ‘Notes’ section just above the recipe itself for clarity and guidance, but the ease of this recipe needs no additional guidance aside from the simple steps stated below. The whole process of putting the brownie together and baking it takes around half an hour. Anyone can do it, during any point of the week. I guess my one note would be that, for maturity’s sake, the addition of salt both in and top of the batter is quite necessary.

I like recipes that make me feel like a 5 year-old at a birthday party, and this is the epitome of that. These brownies makes me feel all kinds of things that I hope you feel too- sunshine, sticky fingers, making reckless decisions that make for the best memories.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

When I was vegan one of my more sinful home staples was Biscoff, or lotus biscuit spread. I think I put it on apples, in place of peanut butter, which I also love but didn’t quite hit the spot in that moment. As a child I never thought much of the cinnamon, crumbly biscuits themselves, almost always served alongside a piping-hot cup of green tea at the hairdresser’s, but I did enjoy the spread miles more. The crunchy one specifically made my heart sing. Came across the spread here in Germany and felt a wave of nostalgia flood through my system. These are by far one of the best brownies I have ever toyed with. They are:

  • extremely fudgy in the middle
  • quite chewy all around the edges
  • layered with oreo biscuits

The swirling of the biscoff spread into the batter ensures that the crunch and notes of cinnamon of the spread melts into the brownies themselves as they bake in the oven and doesn’t simply exist as an isolated layer in the brownies. I recommend the crunchy stuff because I simply prefer the added crunch, but do smooth if that’s what you prefer, or if you think the crunch of the oreo cookies will suffice.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Biscoff Oreo Brownies (makes 8 brownies in a loaf tin)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

90g butter*

100g dark chocolate, chopped

1 egg*

½ tsp salt

120g sugar

150g Biscoff spread (crunchy/smooth)

45g all-purpose flour

25g cocoa powder

5-6 oreo cookies

Coarse salt for sprinkling on top

*vegan sub: use the same amount of vegan butter or margarine in place of the butter. For the egg, use 2 flax eggs: make this by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl, and let that gel for a while before you use it

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a loaf tin with parchment paper. You can also do this in an 8×8-inch square tin. Put the chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments on high until everything has melted together well. Let this cool for about 3 minutes before using- dip your finger into the chocolate-butter mixture to make sure it’s more or less at room temperature. It’s fine if it is still a little bit warm.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg (or vegan flax eggs) and sugar together well, until foamy. Then add the chocolate-butter mixture, salt, flour and cocoa powder. Whisk well until everything comes together and the batter seems to pull away from the edges. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Put dollops of biscoff spread onto random parts of the brownie batter and use a knife to swirl it through the chocolatey batter. Then put 5-6 whole oreo cookies on top of the batter and press them down into the batter. The batter will be pushed up between the cookies; use the back of a spoon to spread these parts over the cookies. Sprinkle the top with coarse salt before putting the tin in the oven.

Bake for 25 minutes. Check at the 20-minute mark, if a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with wet crumbs then you can take it out already. If it is still very gloopy and wet, leave it in for a few more minutes. If you’re baking this in a square pan, you will only need half the baking time. Leave the brownies to cool at room temperature on a cooling rack or heatproof surface for half an hour before cutting and serving. They are perfect on their own, but also good with ice cream or a scoop of crème fraiche on top.