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Apple & Blackberry Muffins

Apple & Blackberry Muffins

September is my January. Maybe it’s that crispness that suddenly arrives out of nowhere (crisp air, crisp leaves, crispy-clean duvet sheets after a summer without one) or maybe it’s that back-to-school-ness I still feel aged 30. Whatever it is I feel ready to start all over. Fresh new notebooks are bought by the armful and immediately filled with lists and ideas that I was too busy to write down all summer. And this renewed sense of purpose doesn’t just stop at stationery my friends. Oh no, no, no. I also remember that I have a kitchen! And that I love baking! I think! Unsurprisingly this newfound desire to cover myself in flour also coincides with Great British Bake Off arriving on our screens to help welcome in those dark cosy nights and when I, yet again, truly convince myself that I am a domestic goddess.

The thing is though, I’m a bit of a crap baker. There is no rhyme or reason with the way I create anything so baking for me is a step too scientific. I prefer to whack things in a bowl rather than measure too accurately which sometimes works but sometimes really doesn’t. With that in mind I dusted off the cookbooks that had been deserted (geddit?!) and leafed through until I would come across a recipe that didn’t seem too easy to screw up.

When that failed I knew I needed to think smaller and instead re-focus on easy ingredients. With it being September I realised that it gave me the perfect excuse to pretend that I am a real forager and head home to Armagh to pick some apples, one of my favourite autumn things to do. My home county is bursting at the seams with fruit this time of year and I always head to Andrew’s friend Thomas’ orchard (#connections) to pick a few Bramley’s to bake with and to just generally take a gazillion photos of apples. His Dad is pretty used to this kind of thing since his daughter-in-law is a fashion and lifestyle blogger herself and when we popped down last weekend for the annual visit his face fell in apparent recognition. “I remember you”, said he with a painted smile.

David is a dote though and he very kindly pointed us in the direction of the trees with the best fruit (he’s well trained) and we skipped AKA drove down the lane to pick a few while taking a few very causal and very natural snaps. Only thing is I forgot an Instagram-friendly prop to collect my Bramley’s in – d’oh! So I collected a few using my dress like a basket – cute, right? What’s not so cute is climbing apple trees in tights – those darn things will catch like nobody’s business.

I picked a fairly modest dress-load of apples and headed back up the road to Belfast with them thrown in the bottom of my camera bag. The next evening, with still no recipe in mind, I went for a wander round Crawfordsburn Country Park and spotted blackberries out of the corner of my beady eye. They had arrived early this year and I was warned by Andrew’s parents that they’d likely be all gone by mid-September. They’re usually right on the money with this sort of thing, like a pair of botanical forecasters they are but thankfully they were wonderfully WRONG this time. There were loads!! I hit the freakin’ berry jackpot and again ripped more tights as I tramped through brambles to get to them (also stung myself with nettles which was sort of lovely because it made me feel about 8 again). I collected them in a nifty old pick ‘n’ mix bag I found in my car door (note to self: buy some cute props for next years forage) which then proceeded to seep all round my fingers staining them bright purple which again made me feel about 8.

Now that I had the perfect autumnal crop to bake with I went back to the drawing board and tried to find an unintimidating recipe. This time I used the power of social media and asked if anyone knew of any good recipes that a gal like me could use and holy smokers did I get recipes o’plenty. There were dozens of crumble requests but since I gave that a whirl last year I decided to try something new. I finally landed on Apple & Blackberry Muffins since these could be easily shared with my work chums or else just eaten entirely by me while I watch another Bake Off episode – let’s not think about which option I went for.

If you fancy trying your hand at some apple pickin’ too then you might just be interested in the Armagh Food & Cider Festival that’s happening this weekend. There are heaps of events across the entire weekend including foodie film nights (The Godfather is being shown in an actual pizza joint, I mean?!), sunset markets, harvest suppers and so much more. What’s really great is that a few local orchards are hosting tours so you’ll get to have your very own orchard photo shoot if you so choose. Otherwise you can take a few Bramley’s home and try your hand at this recipe which thankfully, tasted amazing!


Apple & Blackberry Muffins

IngredientsMakes 12 muffins
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium grated Bramley apples
  • ½ pint blackberries (washed dried and floured)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ cup brown sugar

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 and paper a 12 cup muffin pan.
  • Combine the dry ingredients.
  • Combine the liquid ingredients (I measure the milk in the measuring cup and then add the butter and egg). Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and combine in a few strokes.
  • Add the blackberries and the grated apple and mix quickly. Spoon the batter into the cups. Mix together the brown sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.
  • Bake at 400F/200C for 25-30 minutes.

Autumn Yumminess: Apple & Blackberry Crumble

Autumn Yumminess: Apple & Blackberry Crumble

Autumn is a season of sounds. Leaves crunching underfoot, the cooler winds howling at night, the first fire crackling in the hearth. Nature puts on the finest display for us before the famine of winter when we are robbed of foliage and fruit and the sun barely makes it over the horizon to warm our ruddy faces. There is nothing more autumnally glorious to me than the sensation of bitterly cold air nipping at my nose and ears, threatening to take away all sensation before escaping in to the warmth of the house where a hot bath awaits me.

But before we retreat indoors we must absorb every little bit of the harvest season by foraging for the treasures we miss so much in those long winter months. Being from Armagh, the orchard county of Ireland, I’m a cute hoor and have many opportunities to gather the last of the season’s produce whether it be plums, damsons and as always, the faithful Bramley apple. The bramley is something of an icon in Armagh and it’s been the principal variety to be grown here for almost a century. It’s blossom decorates the Armagh countryside in May and it’s green skin turns red in the heat of the late summer; even the apples get sunburned in Ireland!

 

I popped down to my friend’s orchard about a fortnight ago to gather some apples before the end of the season and as usual I came away with too many to use. Last year I made an apple tart but this year I wanted to use the blackberries I had picked from the roadside at home a few weeks before and thought an apple and blackberry crumble would be just friggin’ lovely as a midweek treat for two. Of course this recipe can be used for a rustic dinner party or to cheer up a mate or to just eat in one big bowl by yourself when you’ve had a shitty day. Your choice my friend, no judgement here.

I hope you can give it a whirl but more than that I hope you are embracing Autumn and all of its amazingness because this is the time to start doing things for you. Summer can be a hurricane of plans and commitments but as the colder months unfurl we are treated with weekends to ourselves, moments when we can actually revisit the things we cast aside in the summer haze. Let the briskness and sharpness of the change in seasons wake you up to what truly makes you happy and get out and do it.


Apple & Blackberry Crumble 

Ingredients

For the crumble topping:

  • 120g plain flour
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces

For the fruit compote:

  • 300g Bramley apples
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 30g demerara sugar
  • 115g blackberries
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • vanilla
  • big dollop of ice cream

Method

  1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Tip the flour and sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter, then rub into the flour using your fingertips to make a light breadcrumb texture – try not to overwork it! Sprinkle the mixture evenly over a baking sheet and bake for 15 mins or until lightly coloured.
  2. Meanwhile, for the compote, peel, core and cut the apples into 2cm dice. Put the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan and melt together over a medium heat. Cook for 3 mins until the mixture turns to a light caramel. Stir in the apples and cook for 3 mins. Add the blackberries and cinnamon, and cook for 3 mins more. Cover, remove from the heat, then leave for 2-3 mins to continue cooking in the warmth of the pan.
  3. To serve, spoon the warm fruit into an ovenproof gratin dish, top with the crumble mix, then reheat in the oven for 5-10 mins. Serve with a big scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream – yum!