Donal Skehan

Sweet Pumpkin Baking…

It’s definitely all about pumpkins this week with Halloween just around the corner.  We have a lovely homemade Halloween wreath on our door made from decorative gourds, hay and lots of string and there are four big pumpkins which are sitting on the kitchen table waiting to be carved.  One of my favourite things growing up was carving pumpkins and we used to plead with my dad to bring home the biggest ones we could find.  I love the whole process of cutting the top open, diving into the squelching flesh and seeds and then ripping and scooping them out.  Once the seeds are clean I toss them in a little melted butter sprinkle over some sea salt and then pop them in a hot oven until golden and crisp, they make the perfect little Halloween snack.

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Maple Glazed Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

This muffin recipe is incredibly easy to make. You basically combine wet and dry ingredients, spoon the batter into muffin cases and bake! You can make this same recipe without pumpkin puree and instead use milk. The tinned pumpkin purée is made by Libby’s and comes in 822g tins. Many good speciality food shops carry them at this time of year and they are perfect for seasonal baking. If you want to add more texture to the muffins add some of the nuts throughout the batter.

Makes 12
240g of plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
200g of caster sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon of all spice
80ml of sunflower oil
400g of pumpkin purée
2 large free range eggs

For the glaze:
90g of icing sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons of maple syrup
40g of walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180˚C.  Line a muffin tray with paper cases. Place the dry ingredients into bowl and make a well using the back of a wooden spoon. Add in the wet ingredients and mix until you have a smooth batter. Don’t over mix. Divide the mixture amongst the 12 paper cases and place the whole tray into the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

While the muffins are baking, prepare the glaze by whisking the maple syrup and icing sugar together until you have a stiff yet runny mix. When the muffins have cooled completely on a wire wrack, drizzle with the maple syrup glaze and scatter over the nuts.

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Blood Red Mummy Cupcakes

These spooky mummy cupcakes have a secret blood-red inside made from a wonderfully rich red velvet batter.

Makes 12 cupcakes
225g caster sugar
225g of plain flour
180ml buttermilk
90g of butter
2 medium free range eggs
2 tablespoons of red food coloring
1 tablespoon of good quality of cocoa powder
2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
90g of icing sugar
1 teaspoon of red food coloring
1/2 pack of ready to roll icing

Preheat the oven to 190˚C, place the oven wrack in middle of the oven and line a 12 hole muffin tray with cupcake cases.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until it becomes light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time until they are incorporated in the mix.  Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Mix through the vanilla extract.

Sift the cocoa powder and flour into a bowl and then mix thoroughly into the batter in 3 batches alternating with the buttermilk until you are left with a smooth mix.  Mix through the red food coloring.

In a separate small bowl whisk together the bicarbonate of soda and white wine vinegar which will give a good fizz and then stir through the red velvet batter.

Using two dessert spoons, divide the batter evenly amongst the cupcake cases.  Bake the cupcakes for approximately 20 minutes. Remove from the oven allow to cool slightly and then transfer to a wire wrack and leave to cool completely.

In a bowl mix the icing sugar with a few drops of cold water and the red food coloring until you you have a smooth icing.  Spread the icing over the cupcakes and place 3 smarties on each for the mummy eyes and nose.

Dust a clean work surface with icing sugar and roll out the fondant icing to 2mm in thickness and then cut out 1cm wide strips the size of the cupcakes.  Drape the fondant strips over the mummy’s nose and then continue to pile on the strips to form the bandages.

Make sure to leave space for the eyes which you can give a quick brush with black food coloring for character!

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Creepy Chocolate Eyeballs

Are you looking at me? These creepy little eyeballs stored in a jar are a perfect addition to any Halloween spread. Not only do they look impressive but they’re also incredibly easy to make.

Makes 30 eyeballs
400g of bourbon biscuits
300g of white chocolate
115g of cream cheese

Red, Green and black Food coloring
skinny paint brush

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Whizz the biscuits in a food processor until you have small crumbs.

Tip the biscuit crumbs into a bowl and add in the cream cheese, mix with a wooden spoon until a dough comes together.

Using your hands roll 30 little balls and place them on a baking tray and pop in the fridge while you melt the chocolate.

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl sitting over a pot of gently simmering water until it’s smooth. Remove from the heat.

Toss the balls in the melted white chocolate until they are completely covered then lift out using a fork and place on a lined baking tray.

Allow to set in fridge and then carefully decorate the eyeballs with food coloring.

Allow to dry and then place in a large jar. The eyeballs will keep for about a week in the fridge.

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Back Of The Pack Retro Recipes and Pumpkin Pie

It’s another pumpkin recipe this week, but while last week’s was a savoury offering, this week’s is all about sweetness and the kitsch factor! I love collecting old recipes and one of my absolute favourite cookbooks is one I robbed from my aunt, a compilation of recipes from the backs of American packets and tins. Half the book is made up of recipes that would make the Masterchef inside you cry a little, but hidden amongst them are true gems which are not to be sniffed at.

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Irish Barmbrack

Irish Brack-1 copy

Barmbrack is a traditional Irish fruitcake which is also knows as Irish Tea Cake depending on the time of year that you’re eating it! This recipe makes a really beautiful moist fruit loaf which is packed with flavour from the mixed spice and dried fruit, which sits overnight in cold tea and whiskey to soak up all the goodness. You can drop the whiskey if you wish but I think it adds another flavour kick…

Makes one 900g loaf
225g plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
375g packet of fruit mix
250ml cold tea
50ml of whiskey
125g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice
A ring to place inside

Place the fruit mix in a bowl and pour over the whiskey and cold tea. Allow to soak up the liquid overnight.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C/Gas Mark 3 and grease and line a 900g loaf tin. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and mixed spice in a mixing bowl. Make a well and break in the egg, using a wooden spoon, mix the egg with the dry ingredients. Add a little bit of the liquid the fruit mix is sitting in and mix it through. You may not need all the liquid, you are looking for a wet dough. Then stir through the fruit mix until everything is thoroughly combined. Add in the ring and stir through. Spoon the wet dough into the lined loaf tin and place in the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the loaf tin and placing on wire rack.

Cover in cling wrap and tin foil and allow to sit for 1-2 days before cutting into it. Serve in slices spread with a little butter and good cuppa!

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Chocolate, pumpkin and pecan brownies

These pumpkin brownies are so delicious, you just have to try them. I didn’t manage to get my hands on pumpkin puree so I made my own. I slowly roasted the pumpkin until it was soft, scraped out the flesh, then I puréed the mixture and passed it through a sieve.

Makes about 20 squares
For the pumpkin mixture:
25g butter
75g cream cheese
100g caster sugar
1 egg
100ml pumpkin purée
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2tsp ground ginger
75g plain flour

For the chocolate mixture:
200g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, chopped
3 large eggs
300g granulated sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
Pinch of salt
100g pecans, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Grease and line a rectangular baking tin, approximately 20cm x 30cm (8-12in) and 3-4cm (1 1/4-1 1/2in) deep, with greaseproof or parchment paper.

To make the pumpkin mixture, beat all the ingredients together until smooth. Keep to one side. For the chocolate mixture, melt the butter and chocolate together, either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water or gently in the microwave.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract with an electric hand whisk until thick and creamy. Mix in the melted chocolate and butter. Finally, stir in the flour, salt and pecans. Pour the chocolate mixture into the lined baking tin and level off the surface. Using a tablespoon, drop dollops of the pumpkin mixture all over the top, and then, using the back of a table knife, loosely swirl it into the chocolate mixture. Place in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes, until the top is cracking and the centre is just set.

Leave to cool in the tin for 40-45 minutes before cutting into bite-sized squares.

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Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

These seeds are my perfect little Halloween snack and they are far more healthy than your average Halloween treats! Try experimenting with flavours, I have yet to make a sweet version of these but I’m pretty sure they would work good too.

Serves about 4 people as a snack
The seeds of 2 pumpkins
3 tablespoons of melted butter
2 teaspoons of chilli powder
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons of sea salt

Remove the seeds from the pumpkin, place in a colander and rinse with water until they are clean. Shake off any excess water and place the seeds on a dry tea towel and pat dry.

Place the seeds in a large roasting tray and pour over the melted butter. Sprinkle the seeds with the chilli powder, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Toss the seeds until they are all thoroughly coated. Place in the oven to toast for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool, though to be honest sometimes they taste the best straight out of the oven!  Just watch out for burned fingers!

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Pumpkin and Crispy Pancetta Risotto

I absolutely love this recipe, it is a real cosy dish, which leaves you full, satisfied and warm. Risotto may seem a little tricky, but it’s just a case of giving it your full attention and slowly incorporating the liquid, so give it a go! If you can’t get your hands on pancetta slices, use smoked streaky bacon.

Serves 4
850g pumpkin, cut into slices
A few fresh sage leaves
3 garlic cloves, roughly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
8 slices of pancetta
1 litre of chicken stock
150g butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
300g risotto rice
75ml white wine
150g parmesan freshly grated
A good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220oC/425oF/Gas Mark 7.

Peel and gut the pumpkin and cut into slices. Make sure to save the seeds they are super tasty roasted with a little butter and sea salt. Place the pumpkin on a roasting tray with the garlic, sage, salt and pepper, toss together. Cover with tin foil and bake until soft for about 50 minutes.

10 minutes before the pumpkin is ready remove from the oven, lay the pancetta over the pumpkin and place bake in the oven till crisp. Melt 75g of the butter and the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onion until soft for about 15 minutes.

Add the rice and off the heat stir through until it is totally coated with the onion mix. Return to the heat, add enough stock to cover the rice and simmer stirring until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid. Continue to add a little more stock at a time until it is all absorbed. This should take about 15 minutes, until the rice has a creamy coating. Add the remaining butter, roast pumpkin, white wine, garlic and parmesan. Gently stir though.

Serve immediately.

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Nacha’s Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

My parents are in the fruit and vegetable business, this meant we always had two massive pumkins every Halloween, when my brother and I were growing up. Carving pumpkins became an annual tradition and everyone had a role. My brother and I would draw the faces, my mom would gut the pumpkins, and my dad would carve them. There was always huge arguements over choosing the right pumpkin and even more competition when it came to drawing the best and most scary face!

I picked this recipe up from our first au-pair from France, Nacha, who taught us never to throw away any of the precious seeds. They are so tasty toasted with butter and sea salt. Here’s the simple recipe.

Makes enough for 4 greedy trick or treaters!
The seeds of 2 large pumpkins.
4 tablespoons of melted butter.
A generous pinch of coarse sea salt
A generous pinch of ground black pepper.

Cut off the top of the pumpkins.  Using your hands, separate the seeds from the gooey insides and transfer to a colander.

Rinse the slippy seeds under cold water and pick out any remaining stringy orange flesh.  Transfer to a few sheets of kitchen paper or a dry tea towel and pat dry.

Tip the seeds into a large roasting dish and spoon over the melted butter.  Toss the seeds so they are all coated in the butter and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Toast in the oven at 200oC/390oF/Gas 6, for 20 minutes or until nice and golden.

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