• Orange and pistachio bundt cake with saffron syrup (Alan Benson)Source: Alan Benson
If the thought of making your own pastry has you running from the kitchen, we've got you. We know for a fact that cooking most things is far easier than running...
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2 Dec 2020 - 1:24 PM  UPDATED 8 Jan 2021 - 1:31 PM

Good food is so wonderful that we often over-complicate it. In our heads, at least. So many recipes are straight-forward, easy-to-follow and rather basic, but we insist on thinking that we couldn't possibly tackle them. 

But first, the power of the 'measure & mix' method.

Not true! With a bit of preparation, most recipes will take you less time to knock up than it takes to wait for home delivery. A few tips to make anything far easier:

1. Prep your ingredients - ensure you have everything you need on hand and group ingredients together in your pantry or fridge by category. This makes it so much easier to find everything you need when you're ready to cook.

2. Keep things neat - start with all your ingredients on the bench, measure out what you need and - here's the kicker - put things back away as you go. It's far nicer cooking in a clear, organised kitchen than one where a bomb has gone off (that bomb is, ahem, you).

3. Read through the recipe - you would be surprised at how often people plough straight into a recipe without actually knowing what comes next. Or you might not. It's definitely best to read straight through to the end before you start chopping, grating or stirring anything.

Most recipes will take you less time to knock up than it takes to wait for home delivery

Righto, we are ready to go with the simple recipes that result in elaborate things to eat.

Pastry, especially flaky

Put your hand up if you've never used store-bought pastry rather than tackle a recipe? Good, you'll need both hands for whizzing through this 15-minute flaky pastry recipe.

Bridie pies

Originating from Forfar in Scotland, the bridie pie is said to be named after a travelling food seller, Margaret Bridie, who sold them during the mid-19th century. Deliciously more-ish, they resemble the pastie in shape and concept but are surprisingly similar in taste and texture to a plain sausage roll. Whilst not traditional, a beetroot relish tomato chutney makes a perfect accompaniment. O why has it taken me so long to discover the bridie!

Finnish fish pie

On a trip to Finland a few years ago it only took me a couple of meals to realise how much dill and salmon feature in the country’s wonderful cuisine. This pie is a little ode to the Fin’s favourite ingredients, all topped off with a deliciously buttery, flaky pastry.

Fancy biscuits

You may not wish to know how easy some of the most complicated-seeming biscuits actually are, for you will be making them all the time. For example, these Danish macaroons use just five ingredients and only take 15 minutes to pull together. Dangerous combination!

Chocolate crackle cookies

Unashamedly rich, these cookies are cute and clever – coated with icing sugar, a natural crackle pattern appears as they bake and rise, exposing the dark chocolate biscuit dough below.

Coconut oat biscuits

Dense with coconut and oats, these more-ish biscuits are really satisfying. Try adding chopped dark chocolate or pitted dates to the mixture before baking for added dimension.

Bread in all forms

Some breads indeed require more time than others (we're looking at you, sourdough), but others are actually very straightforward. You can't go wrong with most flatbreads, and this Italian focaccia is quickly pulled together.

Soft polar bread (polarbröd)

A Swedish flatbread similar to thick pita, polar bread is soft, slightly chewy, has a light rye flavour and makes the perfect sandwich bread to split and fill.

Armenian flatbread (matnakash)

This large flatbread is easily recognised by its traditional oval shape and bold central lines. A flour wash gives it a deliciously crisp upper crust that contrasts particularly well with its soft, slightly chewy texture.

Tarty things

Put anything into a tart shell (especially one you've made yourself) and you're instantly a chef.* Once you've nailed the pastry (see above), it's really just a matter of assembly. Get started with this pretty fig, honey and sage tart.

* With respect to actual chefs who toil away for years to earn their chef title.

Shallot and thyme tarte tatin

Caramel in moderation works wonders for some savoury dishes, this being one of them. Serve wedges of this rich tarte tatin with dressed salad leaves and a dollop of crème fraîche for a deliciously simple starter or light meal.

Lemon tarts

Everyone loves a good lemon tart. Sweet, creamy and mouth-puckering all at the same time, these lemon tarts are sure to become a favourite.

Pizza

With an entire industry built around someone else making pizza for us, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's tricky to make. It's not. 

Frying pan Neapolitan pizza

Baking your pizza in a super-hot cast iron pan will give a beautiful, golden base and crust, though it's hard to mimic a true Neapolitan pizza, which has been named a national treasure of Italy.

Mauro’s perfect pizza dough

"There’s a world of difference between a good pizza dough and a perfect one."

Complicated-looking cakes 

This glazed number looks like fun baked into a cake. The swirly, marbled pattern looks impressive, but is super-simple to achieve. The whole cake will take you just 25 minutes to prepare.

Layered cashew meringue cake (sans rival)

Chewy layers of cashew meringue are sandwiched with a rum-spiked buttercream to create this traditional Filipino dessert. 

Layered banana and hazelnut cake with caramel

Layer upon layer, this impressive cake is deceptively simple to make. What’s more, you could call it a hazelnut hummingbird cake with the added bonus of lashings of caramel. Now what’s not to love about that!

Loaded muffins

If you're not whipping up a weekly batch of muffins, you're missing out. Even though they are generally loaded with goodies, muffin making demands less of you - less fussing, less mixing and less cooking time than a cake. This banana, coconut and berry recipe is also dairy-free, gluten-free and trouble-free.

Persimmon and coconut muffins

Persimmons are a little mysterious – often one of those fruits that you’re not really sure if you should even take home with you, let alone bake with. These muffins are simple, make the most of persimmon’s sweet, rich, slightly spicy flavour. Rest assured, you’ve invited the right stranger into your kitchen.

Apple and pecan maple muffins

I always say that muffins should have substance – they shouldn't have "cakey" character. After all, they're muffins, not cake! Dense with apple, sweet with spice and topped with pecans these muffins are one of my favourites.

Crackers, definitely those thin ones

Once you've made your own crackers, you can never go back to store-bought. Mainly because they taste so good, but also because they are ten times easier to make than schlepping to the shops.

Spiced crackers

Laced with Indian spices of cumin, fennel and black pepper, these crackers make a surprisingly good partner for soft goat’s cheese. They are also wonderful served with a red lentil dip or hummus.

Gluten-free Parmesan crackers

These more-ish crackers pack a punch when it comes to flavour, and you'd never guess they were gluten-free. Serve on their own or with a soft fresh cheese, such as a goat’s curd or ricotta.

Airy eggs

While a soufflé is never going to be called dead-simple, it's definitely within range of most cooks. What it lacks in ease, it makes up for in wow-factor, so it's worth working through a step-by-step recipe like this one here.

Steamed 'water egg' custard

In Cantonese, we call this dish ‘water egg’ – egg whisked with water and a dab of salt, then steamed until it becomes a smooth, soft savoury custard.

Quiche Lorraine

Hailing from the mountainous region of Lorraine in northern France, quiche Lorraine is traditionally made with just eggs, crème fraîche and bacon. It began as a humble egg-and-bacon pie but has evolved to a more refined open tart. Some of the crème fraîche has been replaced with milk in this tart to make it slightly less rich and more suited our modern palates.

 

Brownies, any kind

Brownies taste so good we imagine they must be difficult to bake. The truth is: they are ridiculously easy instead. Yep, even a masterpiece like these dulce de leche brownies.

Fudgy chocolate and cherry brownies

This brownie one of those wickedly rich, unashamedly fudgy and completely over-the-top ones – the type that never disappoints. But be warned, only a small piece will suffice. Feel free to replace the brandy with an orange liqueur or whiskey. Alternatively, for a kid-friendly version, simply replace it with water.  It is also particularly good served for dessert with a generous scoop of vanilla or coconut ice cream.

Black and white brownies

Essentially these fudgy brownies are marbled with an orange-scented cheesecake and they appear far more difficult to make than what they actually are. Perfect with a cuppa or a dollop of cream for dessert these brownies will satisfy any chocolate craving.

 

Pretty cakes

If you want maximum bang for your bake, use a bundt tin. You can get them in all kinds of gorgeous patterns and they instantly turn a standard cake into a celebration. The bright saffron syrup takes this one-bowl orange cake straight into 'extra' territory.

Masala chai Bundt cakes with honey drizzle icing

These cakes capture the true essence of an aromatic, soul-warming Indian marala chai.

Brown-sugar ripple buttermilk Bundt cake

With wine-roasted pears and caramel sauce.

Bake, don't run
Popovers

The key to well risen and light popovers is to make sure the mixture is still warm when it goes into the oven – once you start making the mixture, don’t let it sit and cool before baking. 

Chai-spiced custard tarts

Portuguese custard tarts are one of those pastries that I just can’t go past and I love their rustic beauty. 

Lemon and pistachio cake with rosewater icing
This gluten-free and dairy-free recipe, with its subtle lemon flavour teamed with an aromatic rosewater icing and light nutty texture, is the perfect afternoon-tea cake.
Louise cake

Deliciously humble, the Lousie cake is a simple layering of shortbread biscuit, raspberry jam and coconut meringue that exist in pure harmony.

Almond briouats

Often savoury, briouats are traditionally fried. This sweet almond version is baked and generously soaked in honey – addictive in the best kind of way.

Lamington fingers

These lamingtons are based on a super simple, super quick, one-bowl butter cake recipe that requires no fussing at all. It is baked in a thin layer and then cut into fingers.

Oat biscuits

Reminiscent of the good old Digestives, these biscuits easily swing between savoury and sweet. Serve them with blue cheese or dip them in dark chocolate to give them the flavour preference you prefer.

Apple crumble slice

With its shortbread-like base, tart apple filling and crunchy crumble topping, this is a slice that you eat with a fork or spoon, not your fingers. It's more suited to dessert than afternoon tea.. although, by all means, feel free to indulge mid-afternoon!