Crisps, seed bread and tarts: Nancy Birtwhistle’s quick kitchen hacks
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Crisps, seed bread and tarts: Nancy Birtwhistle’s quick kitchen hacks

Sep 07, 2023

Microwave crisps, simple seed bread and a quick shortcut for almond tarts

We’re all looking to work smarter, so if I can share a tip that will save time, avoid food waste, save on energy and make the household budget go further, I will. Here, the “hands-free” bread and “cheat’s” almond tarts can wait until you turn on the oven for something else. Or forget the oven entirely – have you ever tried making your own microwave crisps? One potato will yield the equivalent of an individual bag for a fraction of the cost, and no single-use packaging, either.

Potatoes are about 80% water and roughly one goes into each packet of crisps. The thinner the slices, the quicker the cooking and the crisper the crisps. Note: my microwave is 1000W.

Prep 5 minCook 5 minServes 1

1 potato (about 125g)Olive oil sprayFine salt

Slice the potato very thinly and pat dry on absorbent paper. Cut a piece of greaseproof paper to the size of the microwave turntable. Lay the potato slices in a single layer on the greaseproof paper.

Spray on one side with oil, then microwave on high for three and a half minutes. Take out of the microwave, rest for a minute or so, then give them another 30-second burst – keep microwaving in 30-second bursts until crisp and golden. Add a sprinkling of salt and/or your flavour of choice and enjoy.

Even if you’ve never made bread before, you can make this. There’s no machine required, no kneading and no sticky hands, plus the dough will sit happily on the worktop for up to 24 hours until you are ready to put the oven on for something else.

Prep 15 minCook 45 minProve 8 hr+Serves 6

300g white bread flour50g porridge oats, plus extra for rolling50g mixed seeds, plus extra for rolling1 tsp salt3g dried yeast2 tsp sesame oil

Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and pour 300ml cold water over them. Using a spoon or spatula, stir to combine, making sure all the water has been absorbed, then cover the bowl with a plate and leave at room temperature for at least eight hours, and up to 24.

The next day, oil a 18cm x 9cm casserole dish. Pour in two teaspoons of sesame oil and use your hands to coat the insides, paying particular attention to the high sides. The sesame oil will give the crust a gorgeous, nutty flavour. Lay a circle of reusable baking papaper in the base of the dish. Put the cold casserole dish in the oven and turn it to a very high heat – 250C (230C fan)/500F/gas 9+, or as high as your oven will go.While the oven heats up, use a spatula or spoon to ease the risen fermented dough gently from the sides of the bowl; a thin-ended spatula is handy here, because its flexibility will neatly get down between the dough and the sides of the bowl to the centre. Repeat four or five times, until you end up with a ball of sticky dough at the bottom of the bowl.

Sprinkle two tablespoons of oats and seeds over a worktop. Once the oven has reached temperature, take out the casserole dish and place it on a trivet on the worktop. Remove the lid and quickly transfer the dough from the bowl on to the oats and seeds on the worktop. Quickly roll the dough over the seeds, so it’s well coated. It will be very sticky, so don’t try to shape it.

Using a dough scraper, transfer the dough to the casserole dish, cover with the lid and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for a further five to 10 minutes, to allow the crust to brown. Remove from the oven and transfer the bread to a cooling rack before serving.

Save your pastry offcuts in a bag or box in the freezer and, once you have sbout 250g, you’ll have enough to make 12 “budget” tarts. Ground almonds are expensive, so I’ve replaced them with ground rice, which is a fraction of the cost. If you can’t find ground rice in the supermarket, blitz your own uncooked rice to a fine powder in a food processor or coffee grinder.

Prep 20 minChill 1 hrCook 20 minMakes 12

For the two-minute pastry170g plain flour85g chilled butter (or lard), cubedA pinch of salt

For the filling75g butter (or margarine)75g white sugar75g ground rice (or go 50:50 ground almonds and ground rice)1 egg1 tbsp self-raising flour1 tsp almond extract 6 tsp apricot jam1 tbsp flaked almonds

Put the flour, cubed butter or lard and salt in a food processor, and blitz for 10 seconds. Add three tablespoons of cold water and mix until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in paper or a beeswax wrap and chill for an hour in the fridge. (The pastry can be made by hand, too, but with the butter at room temperature: rub it into the flour until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Add three tablespoons of cold water, then form the dough into a ball and chill as above.)

Roll out the pastry (I roll it between two cereal packet liners, so I don’t need extra flour – too much flour means tough pastry). Cut out 12 circles of greaseproof paper about 7cm in diameter. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin, use the paper discs to line the holes, then cut out 12 circles from the pastry and put these on top in the muffin tin.Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. For the filling, put the butter, sugar, rice, egg, flour and almond extract in a large bowl and mix until well combined.

Put half a teaspoon of apricot jam in the base of each pastry shell, then add a heaped teaspoon of the filling and top with a few flaked almonds. Once assembled, these tarts will wait in their tin in the fridge for several hours until you’re ready to put the oven on for something else. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until risen and golden.

Nancy Birtwhistle is the author of Clean & Green and Green Living Made Easy. Visit

5 min5 min11 potato Olive oil sprayFine salt15 min45 min8 hr+6300g white bread flour50g porridge oats50g mixed seeds1 tsp salt3g dried yeast2 tsp sesame oil20 min1 hr20 min12170g plain flour85g chilled butter A pinch of salt75g butter 75g white sugar75g ground rice1 egg1 tbsp self-raising flour1 tsp almond extract 6 tsp apricot jam1 tbsp flaked almonds