Flourless Black Forest Brownies {gluten-free}

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March is birthday month in our family. It is also the month in which I seem driven to come up with alternative ways with chocolate cake, cherries and kirsch; all because my father’s favourite cake of all time is Black Forest Cake. Chocolate-y, creamy and boozy, nothing else comes close (except perhaps trifle). The trouble is that Black Forest Cake, by tradition, is a layer cake. And though I’ve tried, and tried again, layer cakes and I just do not get along.

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My mantra for cooking these days tends to be: ‘quick, easy and delicious’. Layer cakes do not fit the bill. First of all, they are not ‘quick’. There are several steps to completion, each of which could spell disaster. Neither are they ‘easy’. Baking the cake’s not so hard, but then there’s the business of splitting it into two (or even three) layers. I thought I had mastered that step, with a clever trick of cutting it with dental floss, but even that didn’t work this year!

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I’m usually pretty okay up until this point. It’s really the layering of cake with alcohol, cherries and cream where I come unstuck. For instance, this year, because Dad (a teetotaller except when it comes to dessert), likes his black forest cake boozy,  I thought, “Why don’t I let the alcohol soak into the cake overnight?” What a great idea! Yes, except that it made the cake layers soft and they cracked as I was lifting them onto each other the next day. *Sigh*

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But the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back is that I’m rarely constructing them at the venue – they need to be transported, and that’s where things get messy. There are cherries, and cream, and all kinds of slippery, slide-y  ingredients, and well, they slip and they slide. It all tastes very good in the end, but I’m not convinced one should suffer that kind of trauma just to enjoy cake; even if it is one’s father’s seventieth birthday cake.

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So, although we enjoyed last week’s attempt, I have decided to go with brownies next time. Flourless black forest brownies; all the flavour without the angst!

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Flourless Black Forest Brownies {gluten-free}
Wonderfully rich and just a little bit boozy, these flourless chocolate and cherry brownies have all the flavour of a Black Forest Cake without the angst!

Makes 16 brownies

Ingredients
1 x 670g jar Morello cherries, drained
2 tbsp kirsch or cherry brandy
225 g (8oz) dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
225 g unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
200 g (1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
3 large eggs (beaten)
100 g (1 cup) ground almonds (almond meal)
64g (½ cup) cocoa powder, sifted

Method
The day before: Drain the cherries (see Notes) and discard the syrup. Place 150g (2/3 cup) cherries into a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons brandy or kirsch. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark four. Grease and line a 23 x 23cm tin with non-stick baking paper. In a small pan, heat the cherries with brandy or kirsch over low heat for three minutes, stirring continuously. Remove from the heat, drain and set aside.

Using the same heavy-based pan, add butter and melt over low heat. Remove from heat, add chopped chocolate and stir until completely melted and smooth. (Alternatively, place cubed butter into a large, heatproof bowl and melt in the microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Add chopped chocolate to hot butter and stir briskly until completely melted and smooth).

Add the vanilla extract and sugar to molten chocolate and butter, allow to cool slightly. Add almonds, sifted cocoa, eggs and the drained cherries to the molten chocolate and butter and stir well. Pour into the lined tin and scatter a few extra halved cherries on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top of the brownie has formed a crust but there’s still a little squidge left in the middle. (The sides will be a little better cooked.) It may have puffed up a bit but will sink after removing from the oven. Cool completely on a wire rack before removing from tin.

To serve, slice with a hot knife (dipped in boiling water) for perfect little squares. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy with lashings of cream!

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies and Huffington Post

Notes: One 670g jar of cherries will make double this recipe (hint, hint!).

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Ham, Corn and Polenta Muffins {gluten-free + dairy-free}

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I enjoy being able to share what I know and love. Like when I was teaching English as a Second Language to adult migrants. As a native English speaker, you’re essentially passing on what you know and love about your own language (whilst trying to explain it!). The students I taught had been through so much hardship and were thrilled just to learn a few basics; everyday language that enabled them to negotiate life in a new country. It was my privilege to share some of my knowledge with them.

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The same applies to sharing my love and knowledge of baking and all things cake. I’m no expert, but I couldn’t help getting a wee bit excited when a friend began asking me questions about baking; “Ali, what’s the difference between bicarb and baking soda…?” By her own admission, ‘a complete novice’, R wanted to know what equipment was needed, and what sort of thing would be best for a beginner baker to make. It didn’t take long to decide that brownies and muffins were the place to start.

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A couple of weeks later we were ready, and with the kids playing at our feet, we began by making her husband’s favourite: Double Chocolate Raspberry Brownies… an excellent choice! Next up was Choc Chip Banana Muffins, which were almost healthy enough to share with young E (13 months). Then, because she is motivated to cook healthy food for her family, R asked if I had any savoury muffins in my repertoire. I was ashamed to admit I did not… which is really how these muffins were born!

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Admittedly, there is no shortage of muffin recipes on the web, but sometimes it pays to know someone who has tested them out first. For these, I chose polenta as a base because it provides a lovely crunchiness to the texture, and when baking gluten-free, we’re already halfway there! Polenta always seems to taste better with sugar, so these are not sugar-free. Polenta, sugar, plus some ham, corn and chives, rounds out the flavours for a great-tasting, savoury muffin that is gluten and dairy-free.

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Ham, Corn and Polenta Muffins {gluten-free + dairy-free}

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

Ingredients
¾ cup polenta
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 ¼ cups gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour (I used Orgran brand)
3 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil (olive oil or coconut oil is fine)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup dairy-free buttermilk* (see Notes)
1 x 125g tin (approx ½ cup) corn kernels, drained
1 bunch (approx 25g) garlic chives, finely chopped
100g (4 oz) shaved ham, chopped

Sweet paprika, for topping (optional)

Method
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400F/Gas 6).

Sift the polenta, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Place the oil, egg and buttermilk in a separate bowl, whisk together well and pour into the dry ingredients.

Add the corn kernels, garlic chives and ham, and stir together with a metal spoon until just combined. Do not overmix. The mixture should still be lumpy.

Spoon the mixture into twelve 125mL (4 fl oz/ ½ cup) non-stick muffin holes. (Or if yours are old and tend to stick like mine, then please, please line with muffin papers or baking paper! I cut 12 squares of non-stick baking paper, 15cm x 15cm each and used them to line the ungreased muffin holes). Sprinkle with paprika if desired, and bake for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Leave in the tin to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Best eaten warm on the day they are cooked.

Notes. Polenta is available at most supermarkets and health-food shops.

*Here’s a tip: You can make your own buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk (dairy, almond, soy or other). Allow to sit until it clabbers, about 10 minutes.

Adapted from Family Circle’s ‘Baking – a commonsense guide’ with some help from the Smitten Kitchen

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Broccoli and spring onion slaw with buttermilk dressing

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Aren’t holidays grand? Last month we managed to get away for a few days, and though it was only brief, it was refreshing. I could feel the stress dissolving as I soaked in the view; yellow post-harvest fields and wide red dirt plains up north. We drove nine hours to visit Alex’s grandmother, primarily so that she could meet her great-grandson. An incredibly resilient woman, Ona still lives in her own home at 93 years of age and took great delight in preparing a feast for us on Sunday after church.

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The seaside town where we stayed was quiet after the craziness of the summer holidays, and we camped in a motel five minutes’ walk from the clear aqua blue of the ocean. As well as visiting Ona, we spent lots of time near the water, making sand castles, practising handstands and swimming. I treated myself to a foodie magazine, and enjoyed a few quiet moments alone while the boys were out walking. Chilling out with a magazine is a real treat, and those moments are precious.

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Within the glossy pages, I found many drool-worthy recipes, but not many that were practical. Most of them were a bit out of my league; lots of meat, expensive ingredients and necessary equipment that I don’t have (e.g. ice cream churn). But I am always open to new ways with vegetables, and particularly salad on these hot summer days! We regularly buy broccoli, and I had half a packet of skinless hazelnuts already in the pantry, so with a bit of tweaking, we had this on the table in no time!

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Broccoli and spring onion slaw with buttermilk dressing
The original included rocket and broccolini as well, but as hubby doesn’t enjoy eating rocket, and because broccolini is rather expensive, I’ve left them out. It suits us perfectly this way; but if you’re interested in the original recipe, it can be found here.

Serves 4-6 as a side

Ingredients
80g (approx ½ cup) hazelnuts
2 small head of broccoli (about 600g), cut into florets
3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Buttermilk dressing
125mL (½ cup) buttermilk*
1 tablespoon each lemon juice and white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed

Method
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Spread hazelnuts over a baking tray and roast until skins darken and nuts are fragrant (5-6 minutes). Tip into a tea towel, rub off skins (or buy the skinless version and save yourself the trouble!), coarsely chop and set aside.

Shave broccoli florets lengthways, using a mandolin (or if mandolins scare you silly, use a sharp knife instead). Place into a pot and pour over boiling water to blanch (broccoli will turn a bright green). Drain in a colander, rinsing with cold water to halt the cooking process. Once completely cool, add to a large bowl with spring onions and hazelnuts, reserving a few hazelnuts to serve.

For buttermilk dressing, shake ingredients in a jar until well combined. Season to taste and drizzle dressing over salad to taste, toss lightly to coat and serve slaw scattered with reserved hazelnuts.

*Here’s a tip: You can make your own buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk (dairy or other). Allow to sit until it clabbers, about 10 minutes.

Adapted from Gourmet Traveller

Raspberry & Coconut Icy Poles

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I made my first ever batch of homemade coconut ice cream the other day. It was creamy, sweet and refreshing, but I couldn’t help wondering why it tasted so familiar. Then I remembered. My mother had made coconut ice cream regularly when we were children, growing up in the steamy tropical lowlands of Papua New Guinea. Although a little more ‘ice’ than ‘cream’ (perhaps something to do with an old, kerosene-fuelled fridge/freezer), her version was made with coconut milk fresh from the source.

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The local villages were situated on hills rising out of the lagoons and those ridges were covered in coconut palms. Whenever we wanted coconut, we simply had to take a long stick and knock some out of the closest tree. From there, a local friend would hack off the fibrous outer layer with a machete and pierce the shell with several holes. After catching the watery contents in a bowl, she would then, with practised precision, give the hard nut a swift whack with the back of the knife to split it in half.

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Sitting on a purpose-made stool, we would grate the coconut meat into a bowl. I can recall eating this freshly grated coconut for breakfast, but more often than not, we would pour the reserved coconut water onto the grated meat and then squeeze it hard to remove the excess liquid. What resulted from this process was the freshest, richest coconut milk you will ever find! This milk then provided a base for creamy fish curries, or as mentioned above, for Mum’s homemade coconut ice cream.

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Sadly, I don’t have access to fresh coconut milk these days, so canned coconut milk will have to suffice. It makes lovely ice cream, but because we like our ice creams to be portable, and because ripe, tart raspberries are the perfect complement to the sweet, creamy milk, we’ve made them into icy poles. These raspberry and coconut ice pops are as refreshing as a sea breeze on a summer’s day. Make them now… because summer is almost over, and these really need to be enjoyed today!

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Raspberry and Coconut Icy Poles
The fresh tartness of raspberries is the perfect complement to the sweet creaminess of coconut milk in these deliciously simple summer treats!

Makes about 500mL or 6 x 83mL icy poles

Ingredients
1 x 400mL can full-fat coconut milk
½ cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
100g (approx 1 cup) frozen raspberries

Method
Shake the can of coconut milk vigorously to combine contents. Open can and pour into a large bowl, scraping out all contents, especially the cream. Add the sugar and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.

Give it a quick taste. If you want to add extra sugar or more vanilla, now’s the time to do it.

Pour mixture into icy pole moulds until three-quarters full, and then add raspberries until mould is almost full, allowing some space for expansion. (I tend to shove the berries down with a long-handled spoon, as they don’t sink to the bottom without help).

Gently lower handles into pops or place in freezer for about 45 minutes, and then insert wooden sticks. Freeze for at least another 4 hours before eating.

To remove icy poles from moulds, simply run under warm water for a few seconds until you can twist and release.

Adapted considerably from The Hungry Mouse

Lemon-glazed Carrot & Pineapple Muffins {gluten and dairy-free}

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Consistency. It can be a good thing. It can also not be a good thing. My dad always used to call me (or rather, my actions) like a “bull at a gate”. If you can imagine a bull at a gate, charging, not using a lot of logic. Running, crashing, with no real thought of the consequences. Yep. I’m still like that today. Consistently rash. Like when I posted about a carrot, currant and coconut salad and some muffins that were okaay… just because I “had” to blog that day or bust. But really, it should be about the food, and the food should be worth sharing. Well, this time it is.

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Having had carrot muffins on the brain for well over a week now, I really wanted to adapt them to be gluten and dairy free. The oil was already coconut, and all I needed was to replace the yoghurt with crushed pineapple. The wheat flour has been replaced with a tri-fold mix beginning with plain gluten-free flour that you can buy in a packet at most supermarkets these days. It comprises tapioca starch and rice flour, but not much more than that. To add some nutrition and texture, I’ve also used brown rice flour and a bit of almond meal.

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The idea of combining gluten-free flours with nut meal really came thanks to the consistently delicious offerings on the London Bakes blog. So, a hat tip to Kathryn for the inspiration! The rest of the muffin recipe is fairly standard, with carrots and pineapple providing sweetness and texture, the oats for added fibre, and spices to round out and complement all those flavours. These muffins are sweet but not too-sweet, light and moist as a carrot cake should be, and the lemon glaze adds a zesty sweetness to an otherwise pretty healthy cake!

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Lemon glazed Carrot and Pineapple Muffins {gluten and dairy-free}
Deliciously light and moist, these muffins are all the good things – fruit and vegetable, healthy oils and spice, oats and almonds… and to top it all off – a zesty lemon glaze!

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients
Wet Mix
2 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
½ cup crushed pineapple, drained well and then squeezed to remove excess liquid
1 cup (150g) grated carrot

Dry Mix
½ cup plain GF flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour
2 tablespoons almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup gluten-free quick oats, divided

Lemon glaze
½ cup pure icing sugar
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice

Method
Preheat oven to 210 degrees C/425degrees F. Grease muffins pans or line with muffin papers.

Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients (see note) minus the oats in a large mixing bowl. Beat together the eggs, sugar, and coconut oil. Add a handful of quick oats to the dry mix. And then fold the wet ingredients into the previously combined dry mix. Add the carrot and pineapple. Stir until flour is just combined, do not beat.

Place by spoonfuls into muffin pans, sprinkle with more oats and bake for 5 minutes at 210deg. Reduce oven temperature to 190deg and bake a further 15 minutes or until golden brown and firm to touch. Remove from oven and cool in tins for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. Whisk together icing sugar and lemon juice, one teaspoon at a time until it is the desired consistency. Drizzle on cooled muffins using a zip lock bag with the corner snipped off.

Store in an airtight container.

Note.
The GF flour, rice flour and almond meal should together make up to 1 cup exactly.

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Carrot, Currant and Coconut Salad + a muffin recipe

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I feel like I’m becoming a bit like those chefs you hear about, or those Italian mammas, who cook by feel. A wodge of that, a glug of that (as per Jamie Oliver – love him). Don’t get me wrong. I follow recipes strictly, until I know them well enough to ad lib. But this salad is a little different. It’s made with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, so bear with me…

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We used to make it as a nice alternative to mixed salad at a campsite where I worked a few years back (okay, 20 years ago, half a lifetime in fact). There are no strict quantities, or at least I never wrote them down. But here I’ve written the approximations for your benefit, as we ate it with our Eggplant Lasagne the other day, and made muffins with the leftovers!

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Carrot, Currant and Coconut Salad
This salad can morph into something incredibly complex, with accents of Thai cuisine, with the addition of some roasted cashews, chopped fresh coriander and a simple dressing of lime juice and olive oil… but be warned… it won’t then convert into muffins!

Ingredients
3-4 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated (approx 2 cups)
½ desiccated coconut
1/3 cup currants

Method
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve as a side to any meal.

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Carrot, Currant and Coconut Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients
Wet Mix
2 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
½ cup plain Greek yoghurt, full fat
1 cup grated carrot salad (see above)
¼ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Dry
1 cups self-raising (rising) flour*
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Topping
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C/… degrees F. Grease muffins pans or line with muffin papers. Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl and mix together with fingertips. Set aside.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Beat together the eggs, sugar, coconut oil and yoghurt. Add the carrot salad and walnuts. Fold in the previously combined dry mix. Stir until flour is just combined, do not beat.

Place by spoonfuls into muffin pans, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to touch.

*Make your own self-raising (rising) flour by using 1 cup plain flour + 2 teaspoons baking powder.

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Chewy Fruit and Seed Slice {gluten-free, and very, very addictive}

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Is it too early to start talking about lunchbox snacks? Probably. But with less than one week to go until the new school year begins, I thought it was time to get some healthy snacks on the radar.

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What actually prompted this post was a visit to the beach in the incredibly cold, wet weather we had the other weekend. In the rush to get there, I had accidently left my rain jacket at home and found myself ordering a coffee inside a café instead of enjoying a brisk walk in the chill wind. During the inevitable wait I did what I love to do; stand and drool over the contents of the cake cabinet. In there I spied a couple of ‘raw’ slices; raw fruit and seed slice and raw brownie slice, too.

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Café food often inspires me to try similar things at home, and so this recipe for chewy fruit and seed slice was brought out of the dark where it had been languishing since last year. I had tried the recipe once or twice, and while it was good, it wasn’t ‘perfect’ and had been discarded whilst I experimented with other goodies. Here it is again now, having been tweaked to my satisfaction, and if the speed of consumption is any indicator, it’s a serious contender for favourite lunchbox snack around here!

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As the title suggests, it’s chockfull of fruit and seeds; but what I love most about this recipe is its flexibility. Whilst I’ve written it up here as per the original, there are so many ways that it could be adjusted to suit your particular tastes or preferences, food allergies or intolerances. For instance, coconut oil could be substituted for butter, maple syrup for honey, tahini for peanut butter, brown rice flour for wheat flour, and any type of dried fruit for raisins – the only limit is your imagination!

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Chewy Fruit and Seed Slice {gluten-free, and very, very addictive}
I left out the mixed peel, as I don’t like the taste of it, and you wouldn’t know it was missing. The orange zest lends a strong-enough citrus flavour all on its own.

Makes 24 pieces

Ingredients
150g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter or coconut oil
175g (½ cup) golden syrup or honey
125g (½ cup) crunchy peanut butter
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
30g (¼ cup) plain (all-purpose flour) (I used brown rice flour)
30g (1/3 cup) ground almonds (almond meal)
½ teaspoon mixed (pumpkin pie) spice
300g (3 cups) quick-cooking oats (I used gluten-free oats)
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
185g (1 cup) soft brown sugar
45g (½ cup) desiccated coconut
50g (1/3 cup) sesame seeds, toasted
90g (½ cup) pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or shelled sunflower seeds
80g (½ cup) raisins, roughly chopped (I used dried cranberries)
45g (¼ cup) mixed peel (mixed candied citrus peel) (optional)

Method
Preheat oven to 160degC (320F). Lightly grease a 20 x 30 cm (8 x 12 inch) baking tin and line with baking paper, leaving it hanging over the two long sides.

Put the butter or coconut oil and honey (golden syrup) in a heavy based saucepan over low heat, stirring until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla extract until combined.

Mix together the remaining ingredients, stirring well. Make a well in the centre and add the butter/oil and syrup mixture. Mix with a large metal spoon until combined.

Press evenly into the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes (check after 30), or until golden and firm. Cool in the tin, then cut into squares.

Note: Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Remember this slice contains nuts, so if you have a nut free policy at your school keep it strictly for munching on at home.

Adapted from Family Circle’s “Baking – a commonsense guide” – published by Murdoch Press