All 27 entries tagged Baking
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April 30, 2013
I've moved on from Warwick and hence onto courgettesandlimes.com. It should automatically redirect you shortly to the new site.
I've handed in my notice at work.
In about 4 months time, I will be stepping onto a plane and waving good bye to the UK. Because... because (wait for it...) I am moving to Cambodia to join my friends Simon and Becci who lead a church in Phnom Penh. I haven't got a job lined up for me, nor do I know exactly what I'll be doing when I arrive, past the first couple of days of getting over jet lag. I imagine that my initial months will be spent learning Khmer language and culture. But, it's all guess work if I'm honest.
It's both exciting and terrifying.
I don't think that I've talked about this on the blogosphere before and that makes me feel somewhat dishonest with you. I'm sorry. So, let me give you a bit of context. Ever since I was young, I have wanted to live and work in another culture, specifically doing something that would help people have a better life and give hope. My earliest, serious career ambition was to live and work with street kids in a peruvian shanty town. I think that I was about 9 or 10 at the time and I definitely had some jacked up, romanticised ideas on poverty and 'doing good'.
I'm 31 now and from what I know, romantic is definitely not the adjective to describe poverty or that kind of work. I'm expecting it will be uncomfortable as I adjust to a new climate and culture, confusing to be illiterate in a new language, hard work and lonely being so far away from my family and friends.
So, how come I'm upping sticks and moving to the other side of the world? Besides, what difference can one person affect?
Well, I know that one person can make all the difference. And that childhood dream never died, nor did I want it to. Instead, in all the intervening years, it's been a real trusting game to wait for the right moment and opportunity.
About this time last year, I was sitting in a house, built on stilts over the sewers in Phnom Penh, thinking that sewage really did smell like durian. Between the floorboards, I could see faded, old rubbish lying a couple of feet below me. There were all these rustling sounds that kept distracting me from the conversation and I was trying really hard to curb my imagination as to what those sounds could be.
I think this was day 3 of a 10 day trip I was making with a team from my church, visiting Simon and Becci's church. We had brilliant fun with them and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if the airline did lose my luggage for 24 hours and I got really bad diarrhoea for 4 of those days. I never imagined that I'd be joining Simon and Becci in Cambodia. In fact, I distinctly remember the thought passing through my head, 'I really admire what Simon and Becci are doing, but there is no way that I could do that or move out here'.
Ha! God definitely has a sense of humour. Unbeknownst to me, Simon and Becci were thinking the exact opposite.
So, towards the end of 2012, they sprung it on me, out of the blue. A couple of months later, I told them yes and now I'm finally telling you. And to balance out my earlier apprehensions, let me tell you some of what I am looking forward to:
- Learning a new language and culture
- Being part of Liberty Family Church, Phnom Penh
- Making new friends
- South East Asian food - this is going to be one culinary adventure!
- Riding a moto
- Having lots of fun
- Travelling around the region
- Blue skies and the sun
And the time just seems to be right.
Which brings me neatly (!!!) to the subject of iced buns. No, honestly it does. Remember how I spoke about trusting and waiting for the right time and how it can be a bit emotional, earlier on? Well, that's kind of how it feels baking with yeast and bread: you can't rush the time the dough takes to rise on that first prove; you have to trust that the yeast will work and nothing beats the thrill of seeing your dough doubled in size. I could continue the analogy but suffice to say, there's quite of bit of emotion and waiting involved!
Attempt no. 1: glazed cream buns
This is a brilliant recipe that I'd wanted to make from the Great British Bake Off Series 2and I finally got round to trying it out 2 weeks ago. The first time, I stuck to the recipe (except I added too much water to the icing by mistake so ended up with glazed buns) and baked them into 12 buns, which I shared with my triathlon club. However, they were pretty big portion sizes and the cream was a bit bland, if I'm honest, not that they complained! So, the second time, I made them into 24 'mini' iced buns, coloured the icing and added vanilla extract to the cream. They weren't that mini, as you can see. Being somewhat unpracticed in the skill of whipping cream, I overwhipped the double cream on this second occasion and had to use my palette knife as a makeshift cream shovel! Not as pretty as my first attempt but that's alright when it's homebaking. I can't imagine Paul or Mary raving about my presentation but the buns still tasted great and looked pretty. I took them to a charity clothes swap that my friend was organising and the buns were all polished off.
So, here is my iced buns recipe, adapted slightly from Paul Hollywood's iced fingers recipe.
Ingredients for the dough
- 500g strong white flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 40g unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 14g fast action yeast
- 2 tsp salt
- 150ml whole milk
- 140ml water
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas mark 7 and line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Scald the milk in a small pan, by heating it up until it is just about to boil, and leave it to one side to cool down. I find that doing this creates a softer dough. Alternatively, use the microwave to heat up the milk until it is neither hot nor cold. I added in the cold water to bring down the temperature even more.
3. If you're doing it by hand, then measure out the flour in a large bowl, mix in the yeast, then add the sugar and the salt, rub in the butter and finally add in the eggs, milk and water. I use a scraper at this point to combine the ingredients, but you can use just your hands. It'll make a wet dough but don't be scared by it. The wetness of the dough should ensure that it's soft texture. Turn it out onto your work surface and knead. If you're like me and a bit slow at kneading, it'll take about 15-20 minutes. Of course, you could use a machine fitted with a dough hook. In which case, put all ingredients for the dough into a large bowl, ensuring that the yeast and salt are added to opposite sides of the bowl. Mix on a slow speed until it all combines and then move it onto a medium-high speed for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
3. Pour a little bit of vegetable oil into the bowl and lightly cover the dough with oil. This helps the dough not to stick as it rises. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour and doubled in size
4. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knock out the air by pressing your fingers over the dough. I like to strengthen the dough at this stage. Shape into a vague rectangle. Take hold of a longer side, fold one third towards the centre and press down with your thumbs or the heel of your hand. Fold the other third towards the centre and press down. Finally fold it in half lengthways, press down and roll it out a bit with your hands. The dough should feel stronger.
5. Divide the dough into half, then half again, so that you have 4 sections. Work with one section at a time and cover the others with a tea towel or cling film so that they don't dry out. Divide each section into 6 equal-ish pieces. Each piece will probably with between 35-40g. Shape these into rolls, using exactly the same steps as before when strengthening the dough. Place them onto the baking tray, leaving about 1cm of space between them so that they can double in size in the second prove. Cover with a tea towel for about 30-40 minutes.
6. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Check after 8 minutes and lower the temperature by 20C if they look like they're browning too much. Then set them aside to cool on a wire rack. When the buns are completely cool, start on the icing.
Ingredients for the icing
- 200g icing sugar
- 5 tsp cold water
- food colouring and edible decorations, such as chocolate curls, coloured sprinkles etc. (optional)
1. You can just ice the buns and not fill them, if you want to. However, if you'd like to fill them with cream then use a bread knife to slice the buns in half horizontally, leaving one long edge intact. Do this step now, otherwise the icing transfers onto your hands and they get sticky holding the already iced buns.
2. Measure out icing sugar into a medium sized bowl. Add in the water, one teaspoon at a time until it becomes a thick paste. You want the mixture to be thick enough to stick onto the buns. I coloured half of my icing pink, just for fun, using a cocktail stick dipped into a tiny bit of red colour paste.
3. Dip the top of the buns into the icing, smooth out with your finger and set them to dry on a wire rack. The icing may drip down the sides of the bun a bit, but that's okay. Sprinkle on some decorations if you'd like. I used strawberry curls, white chocolate stars and sugar butterflies.
Ingredients for the filling
- 300ml double cream or whipping cream
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 5 tbsp jam - I used raspberry, Paul suggests strawberry, but you could use any flavour that takes your fancy
1. Lightly whip up the cream with the vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl until it thickens but is pipeable. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle.
2. Spoon the jam into another piping bag and snip off a very small opening.
3. Pipe a generous amount of cream, followed by a thin line of jam into the middle of each finger. Gently fold the top of the bun down.
Et voila - iced buns! Enjoy.
March 31, 2013
I wanted to make a chocolate butterfly, the moment that I saw Emma's beautiful chocolate butterfly resting on top of her Fleur de Sel Caramel Cake.
But I'd never made any form of chocolate decoration before. So, how could I do it?
I found out that Emma had bought some special chocolate that didn't require tempering, which I didn't want to splash out on. Otherwise, I needed to temper my chocolate using a thermometor. That put me off for a few weeks because it felt a bit too complicated and pricey, if I'm honest.
And then, a cherry blossom cake started to take shape in my imagination. Dark chocolate forms the silhouette of the tree and branches and I'd use real cherry blossoms for the flowers. However, I'm not sure what the cake mixture will be so this cherry blossom cake is still locked away in my mind. Since then, I've looked at some pictures of beautiful cherry blossom cakes but they mostly seem to rely on sugarpaste and fondant decorations. I'd still like to do my chocolate version.
Well, true to character, I read a few more blogs and watched a couple of youtube videos. On the note of youtube videos, I recommend watching Ann's How to cook thattutorials for the variety of methods and decorations that one can attempt with chocolate.
Then, at 11 o'clock on Saturday night, armed with a bit more confidence and knowledge, I simplified the process of tempering chocolate as much as I dared, filled a piping bag, traced a butterfly template and gave it a go.
There are more complicated ways of tempering chocolate than the one that I'm going to share with you. Strictly speaking you need to use a minimum of 300g of chocolate in order to temper it. I chose to use 100g because it was meant to be a small trial and if it went wrong then it would be less of a waste. I also wanted to experiment with white and dark chocolate to see if they differed at all and 100g of each felt like it would be sufficient.
Next, I realised that I didn't have enough pyrex bowls. Perhaps it's a sign that it's not meant to be - as if! I used my Denby bowls (they're microwave and oven proof, so I was pretty sure they'd be okay).
Here's how I did it.
- Chocolate for melting. I began with 100g but, as you know, you're supposed to have a minimum of 300g of chocolate to temper it.
- Non-stick baking paper
- 1 large hardback book. I used 1 hardback and 2 smaller books to lift it up even more.
1. Preparation: I found a template of a butterfly and traced it onto my baking paper. Then I flipped the paper over, so that the chocolate doesn't pick up the ink, folded the paper down the middle of the butterfly's body and opened the paper back out so that it was flat on my worksurface. I opened up the hardback book in the middle. That's where I rested my butterflies so that they'd dry in 3D.
2. I chopped up the chocolate and set aside 20g of the chocolate and put 80g of chocolate in the bowl and zapped it in the microwave at 15 second intervals to begin with, reducing it to 10 seconds. I burnt my first batch, but only in the middle. Rather than waste the chocolate, I scooped out the burnt bits with a teaspoon, gave the remaining chocolate a good stir and learned my first lesson.
When microwaving chocolate to melt, the chocolate in the middle of the bowl melts quickest. Stir the chocolate at each interval, even if they don't look like they've begun to melt.
3. Once the chocolate in the bowl had melted, I stirred in the 20g. By doing this step, you are, in effect, bringing down the temperature of the chocolate. This is my very simple way of tempering the chocolate.
4. I filled a disposable piping bag with the chocolate, pushed the chocolate down and twisted the top end. It's better to do it now rather than when you snip off the tip, otherwise the chocolate will squirt out the hole. I'm not sure what you'd do if you weren't to use a disposable one... If anyone's got any helpful suggestions then please leave them as a comment at the bottom.
5. I snipped a bit off the tip. I began with the tiniest of openings and gradually made it bigger. Mostly because I realised, whilst piping, that I hadn't fished out all the burnt bits and they were causing a blockage. Ooopsies.
6. I barely used any pressure on the bag to pipe the chocolate carefully over the butterfly template. Once I finished, I lifted up the tip and quickly began work on my second, third, fourth.. you get the picture. That night, I went on to make chocolate stars and dragonflies.
7. I rested the baking paper in the open book so that the fold in the paper nestled into the fold of the open book.
8. Leave them to dry and then carefully peel the baking paper away from the chocolate.
See. Not so difficult afterall and the decorations will certainly impress your friends.
The Han-Na of 6 months ago would have been put off making a chocolate butterfly because of the notion of tempering chocolate; I guess my resolution to push myself in developing new baking skills is slowly paying off. Recently I noticed that my attitude is taking on a bit more of a 'if it's difficult, I'll give it a go' sheen.
This makes me giggle ruefully. I always describe myself as one who 'doesn't like pushing themselves'. Honestly, really, I'm not. I'm part of a triathlon club and I constantly see evidence of everyday athletes pushing their physical limits. I don't do that: my swimming at the end of lane two just doesn't mirror their drive.
So... is it baking that is going to knead that push and determination into me?
October 26, 2012
I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say 'another' because it isn't the first time that I've improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman...
The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.
Have you ever come across - ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that's like a Christmas cake? You'll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do :) *giggle* I would welcome them.
While I'm asking - do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don't know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?
So... a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I'm very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there's always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.
So, I did with Nigella's and Deb's (from Smitten Kitchen).
According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), '[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it's fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.'Well that sold it to me... as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen's Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella's and it is just a tad easier to make. I'll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella's banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.
Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)
- 100g currants.
- 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
- 150g plain flour
- 25g cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 125g unsalted butter, melted
- 90-100g soft brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
- 60g chopped walnuts
- 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I'm rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.
2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.
3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don't get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.
4. Melt the butter. I've used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don't seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.
5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.
6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.
7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don't worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You'll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.
8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it's warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.
Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I've made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you'll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won't dry out... if it lasts that long!
Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.
July 19, 2012
My sister and her husband are coming to Warwick next week and their imminent arrival reminds me, amongst other things, of the beetroot they left me with the previous summer.
First of all. Whoever came up with the idea of adding beetroot in chocolate cake deserves a medal. You saved me from letting the vegetable go to waste. Let me take you back to my summer last year (when we had a summer!)
Oh dear...What was I thinking?
Everytime I open the fridge door, I have been glared at by the beetroot that has been discarded in the corner. I can't believe that after I discovered my dislike of its flavour, I went ahead and bought some more beetroot.
I know that it's silly, but there's a wee bit of me that believes that beetroot will eventually taste alright if I eat enough of it. However - I just can't face another savoury beetroot meal (see the entry on the fuschia beetroot risotto). So, I have decided that for the timebeing the best place for beetroot is in a cake and I've been baking this Chocolate and Beetroot cake from Delicious magazine. It's main attraction is using raw beetroot, as opposed to the cooked stuff.
Top Tip: Use kitchen gloves when handling and grating beetroot to prevent the juices staining your hands. They'll also protect your nails and fingers from being accidentally grated.
But first, I'll answer the question: why bother adding beetroot to chocolate cake?
Answer: Mostly for the moistness it adds to chocolate cake, and moistness is an essential quality in a goodchocolate cake. It's alright. Not everyone tastes the "secret ingredient" in this cake. Nonetheless, I think that the beetroot flavour comes through. Not at all in an overpowering way; I would describe it as a hint of earthiness. Somehow the beetroot marries nicely to the chocolate, in an earthy kind of way. I'm going to stop before I try to make the chocolate-beetroot combination into a sexy one.
The first time I made it, I baked them as 12 muffins for a friend's picnic and there was enough mixture left over for a small loaf cake for my work colleagues to sample. I made a chocolate buttercream icing to go on top and finished it off with some slivered almonds. That was in the September with the first lot of beetroot given to me. Then with this second lot of beetroot, which I bought (silly me) I recently made three little cakes as a dessert, and a 20cm cake for another friend's dinner do. This time round, I finished them off with the chocolate sour cream icing detailed in Delicious's recipe. I've never been very interested in making icing (or as the Americans call it, 'frosting') as I'm not very fond of it. So, I'm pleased that I pushed myself on to learn something new.
What I like about this recipe is the end result: a scrummy, moist and very indulgently chocolate-y cake. Interestingly, the sponge in the muffins had wee air holes in it, like a wispa bar; the cake was a denser texture. If you like chocolate fudge cake, then I'd recommend you the cake version, especially with the chocolate sour cream icing. There's no fooling yourself that it's healthy, however, as there's an awful lot of chocolate that goes into it. Even on the basis that there is a vegetable in it. (Although surely if you ate enough of it, you could add it as a portion of your daily fruit and veg..?)
So, stock up on your dark chocolate before you bake this because you'll use a lot.
Ingredients for the Chocolate and Beetroot cake, adapted from Delicious Magazine's Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.
- 250g plain chocolate
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 150g light muscovado sugar
- 100ml sunflower oil
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 100g self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 50g ground almonds
- 250g raw grated beetroot
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and grease a 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin* (see above for variations). Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper.
2. Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave in short blasts. The second time round, my pyrex bowl was indisposed because of Herman (more about him earlier). So, I carefully melted the chocolate in a saucepan on a low heat and took the pan off the heat, the moment the chocolate at the bottom started melting, so that I didn't burn it. Set the melted chocolate aside to cool.
3. Peel and grate the beetroot using a normal cheese grater (see top tip about handling beetroot). Put the grated beetroot into a sieve over a sink and squeeze out the excess moisture. Leave it in the sieve whilst you get on with the next steps.
4. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.
5. In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and ground almonds. I'd recommend sifting the flour and bicarb of soda because you don't want to be eating ucky lumps of bicarbonate of soda in the baked cake. Then add them to the wet ingredients and fold it in with a spatula.
6. Now, add in the grated beetroot and pour in the melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be a dark violet colour.
7. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes in the middle of the oven. Mine needed the full hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, then cover the top with baking paper or foil. If you bake them as muffins, you'll need 14-20 minutes. The cake is done when your cake tester comes out clean inserted in the middle.
8. Let the cake cool in its tin for a few minutes, then take it out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack.
I made the chocolate sour cream icing the following morning, but you don't have to wait that long.
Ingredients for chocolate sour cream icing
- 150g dark chocolate
- 100g sour cream
- 100g icing sugar
Melt the dark chocolate gently in a pan, or in the microwave. Allow to cool, then add to the melted chocolate, the icing sugar and the sour cream and beat until you have a thick, spreadable chocolate gooey icing.
Spread it over the cake, et voila!
June 29, 2012
Item no. 25 on my 30 for 30 list is: bake macarons.
(That's not a typo, by the way. Remember the song: "You say eether, and I say eyether." Well, "You say macaroons, and I say macarons..." I've taken to saying macarons to describe these delightful creations because whenever I called them macaroons, people automatically assumed that I meant coconut macaroons.)
Anyway, back to the subject of macaron baking. These chocolate baileys macarons were the first batch of successful macarons that I baked and I was so pleased with myself. You see, I decided to bake macarons as a birthday cake of sorts for Sarah (of the White Chocolate, Rosewater and Cardamon cake episode) because she likes things that are a bit different. However, I had a disastrous first attempt making white chocolate and raspberry macarons from the Pink Whisk because I over-folded the mixture. Thus, when I added the bright pink mixture into the piping bag, it all ran out of the piping nozzle... and there was no stopping it. What. A. Fail. The sides of my mouth dropped a few centimetres as I scrapped the pink batter into the bin, and my bottom lip came out a bit. No joke.
Well, on the plus side, at least I know what over-folded mixture feels like. However, that's not much of a consolation prize when the clock is ticking.
The following day (which was the day I needed to present them), I decided to try another macaron recipe. I was still feeling somewhat deflated by the previous evening's disastrous attempt so decided to skip the grinding together of the almonds and sugar. That's why the macaron shells look rather rough and grainy, rather than smooth, on the photos. (I have done this for all subsequent macaron baking.) I was understandably slightly cautious when folding in the almonds and icing sugar into the eggwhites. I halted all folding action the second the batter slid slowly off my spoon in a somewhat ribbony fashion. No river of sugary, chocolatey, almond goo fell out of the piping nozzle this time. Success!
They (I don't know who precisely 'they' are) say that chocolate macarons are harder to make than normal ones because the cocoa powder drys them out. So maybe I lucked out with this. But I'll always remember them as the first batch of macarons that I baked successfully.
Ingredients for the chocolate macaron shells from Green and Blacks: Chocolate Recipes
- 125g/4½oz ground almonds
- 25g/1oz cocoa powder
- 250g/9oz icing sugar (225g in with the almonds + 25g with the egg whites)
- 100g egg whites, which is between 3-4 large egg whites
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 and line 3 baking sheets with non stick baking liners, such as Bake-O-Glide. Fit a large piping bag with a 1cm plain circle nozzle. Twist the piping bag and push the twist into the nozzle so that the mixture doesn't spill out of the nozzle. Stand it in a large receptacle, such as a pint glass.
2. Measure out the icing sugar and ground almonds. Put them into a food processor to grind down to an even finer mixture. I use my Bamix Dry Grinder and have to do it in 3 batches. When you're finished add in the cocoa powder then sift the almond, sugar, cocoa powder mixture and leave out the residue of ground almonds that weren't ground fine enough. (I always find that there can be up to a tablespoon of ground almonds leftover.) Then leave the sifted powders to one side.
3. Measure out the eggwhites and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until they are thick and glossy. (I sound like I'm describing hair for a shampoo advert!)
4. Use a spatula to gently fold in the almond, icing sugar and cocoa into the egg whites in a figure of eight. It will feel really dry at first and you'll wonder whether it'll ever come together, but don't worry. It will. It's important not to over-mix (see above) so stop when you feel like the mixture is dropping off the spatula in a thick ribbon. This is the tricky part to get right and it even has a name - macaronage.
5. Pour or use the spatula to spoon the mixture into the prepared piping bag. Once it's full, gently untwist the piping bag and begin piping the mixture onto the baking sheets. With the nozzle perpendicular to the baking sheet, squeeze out the mixture until it forms the circular size you're after. Firmly flick up your nozzle and move onto the next one. Leave 2cm of space between each circle, in case the macaron mixture spreads a bit.
6. Next, here's the noisy part. In order to remove spare air in the macarons, bang the baking trays firmly on a flat surface. Let them rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour for a film to form on the macarons. They're ready when you can lightly press your finger on the wet macaron circles and your finger comes away clean. This is also a good time to press down any remaining peaks on your macarons. Something that I clearly forgot to do with the one in the top photo.
7. Put the baking trays in the oven to cook at 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 for 1 minute, and then reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and bake the shells for another 10-12 minutes. The shells should still be soft to touch but not gooey.
8. Let them rest for a minute on the baking trays and then remove them gently from the baking sheets to cool on a wire rack.
Ingredients for the chocolate baileys ganache filling
- 100g double cream
- 100g dark chocolate
- 2 tbsp baileys or an irish cream liquor substitute (or more splashes of baileys if you prefer)
1. Break up the chocolate and put it into a heat proof bowl.
2. In a small pan, bring to boil the double cream and then pour the double cream on top of the chocolate. Leave for 2-3 minutes so that the chocolate starts melting of it's own accord.
3. Gently stir the cream into melting chocolate to encourage the remainder of the chocolate to melt away. Add in the baileys for flavour.
4. Let it cool completely and put it into the fridge to harden for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.
To assemble the macarons:
1. Lay out the macarons so that the flat side is looking at you, and pair up similar sizes - you can tell that I'm a novice macaron baker.
2. When the ganache is ready, you can spoon the ganache onto the shells using a teaspoon, or better still, transfer the ganache into a piping bag, fitted with a 1cm nozzle, and pipe the chocolate ganache onto half of the shells. Sandwich them together with the other half of the shells.
3. Ta DA!
How does the story end with Sarah's birthday treat? Is it happily ever after? Oh no - my list of things that went wrong in baking macarons didn't stop there. Once I'd arranged the macarons and the candles on the plate, I decided to hide them in the bottom oven. And then I used the top oven to warm the bread. You already know how this story ends, right? Yup, you've guessed it - when I took the plate out to surprise Sarah, virtually all the candles had bent over like the tops of walking sticks. Only three of them had survived the oven. We were all amused!
Oh and the verdict on the macarons? Tasty, of course. Sarah was really pleased with the alternative birthday 'cake'. Now, if you were patient enough to eat one 3 days later - heavenly! The flavours had matured and melded together. Elegantly scrum!
May 16, 2012
What’s my favourite chocolate cookie recipe so far? The recipe that came from a calendar of chocolate recipes and my then-housemate Claire baked, back in the day when I wasn’t very good at trying out new recipes. And, wow. Didn’t they smell gorgeous and taste incredible… with that wonderful chewiness that cookies should have, and a bit toffee-ish flavour (that’s the brown sugar talking)!! Lekker, lekker, lekker!
Without wanting to sound too much like a cookie monster, I decided to have a go baking them because I wanted to eat MORE! It turned out to be a really simple recipe (hurrah); a bit too simplified perhaps? I made quite a few basic mistakes when making these.
For instance, I discovered that cookies splay out in the oven, so if you don’t space them out enough, they can all meld into one big rectangular cookie, which you have to cut apart.
Next, I found out that if you don’t use baking paper, it’s hard to get the baked cookies off the baking sheet.
Then, there’s minutes in baking them so that they’re soft and chewy and them being rock hard. Err on the side of chewy caution, my friend and use a timer!
Finally, this is less of a mistake but a definite learning point. It was an eye-opener for me to realise how much sugar goes into making cookies. I kind of thought of them as a ‘healthy’ snack before then, but 500g of sugar doesn’t quite fit that category. Hmmm…. So, let’s say that you wanted to cut down the sugar a bit, then I’d try reducing the amount of white sugar you put in. I’ve not tried this yet, but I’d experiment with between using half or two thirds of white sugar. I’m not entirely certain how that will affect the chemistry and flavour. However, I would definitely not scrimp on the brown sugar because it’s the brown sugar that produces that more-ish nuttiness to the cookie’s flavour. That first time, I even asked Claire whether she’d put toffee in the cookies.
So, I’ve amended the method section so that you can build on my experience. Also, at the bottom of this post, I’ve listed some of different combinations that I’ve created by adapting this recipe.
This makes about 55 regular sized cookies (by regular, I mean 10-15 cm). Claire advised me later that she often halves the recipe so that there’s not an eruption of cookies. You can freeze them, if you have space in your freezer. I have rolled my spare cookie dough into ball shapes and frozen them in a ziploc bag. Later, all I’ll need to do is put the cookie dough balls out on some baking paper and sheet to defrost for an hour at room temperature, then pop them in the oven. A wonderful, ‘instant’ treat to have up your sleeve!Ingredients
- 250g soft dark brown sugar
- 250g white sugar
- 280g butter, softened
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 300g chocolate, roughly chopped into chunks (you can use dark, milk, white and in any combination)
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 500g plain flour
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Prepare 2 baking sheets/trays with baking paper or greaseproof paper.
1. Mix butter with sugar until creamy and fluffy, with an electric mixer. If you don’t have one, then use a wooden spoon and beat hard!
2. Add the eggs, chocolate chips and vanilla essence and mix well. Add the bicarbonate of soda and salt to the flour and add to the other ingredients. Sitr to form a thick cookie dough.
3. Take ping-pong ball size amounts of the mixture, roll it into a ball and place spaced apart on the baking sheet/tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the oven. The cookies should be slightly golden brown. Let them rest for a few minutes and then gently place on a rack to cool.
I’ve adapted the recipe a few times and substituted the 300g chocolate for:
- 100g dried cranberries, 100g roughly chopped macadamia nuts & 100g roughly chopped white chocolate chunks
- zest of 2 lemons & 300g dark chocolate chunks
- 100g roughly chopped brazil nuts & 200g dark or milk chocolate chunks
Kids love the lemon and dark chocolate one – or at least the kids I’ve baked with when babysitting them.
May 08, 2012
Choose some flowers
Charm a few canes from the florist.
Get out the strawberry cupcakesI baked earlier.
Now, meringue buttercream is a faff
Poke a hole in the bottom of the cupcakes with the canes.
Make a mess whilst arranging them all - and
Look what I MADE for my MUM!
- a cupcake bouquet!
p.s. she liked it A LOT! but I don't think that she wanted to eat it because it looked so nice on the table.
May 04, 2012
I am ready for the summer to begin... or at least the spring! What's with the hail and icy winds in Coventry... in May?!? Waaah! Where's the sun?
So here I've baked a little something to try and remind myself of the summer: figgy, lemon shortbread.
Figs and lemons remind me of the mediterranean and the sun. I ate an abundance of both when I was in Turkey. It must have been the right season or something. And last summer, my friends and I picked sun-ripened figs on the sea-side town of Baynuls-sur-Mer, and snacked on the delicious fruits the entire week that we were there. To be honest, I think that Jenny tired of them towards the end, but Sarah and I couldn't get enough of them. Unless you grow the figs yourself, I've yet to buy fresh figs in the UK that taste remotely like the sun-ripened variety.
There's a couple of lemon and fig cookie recipes out there, but I've yet to come across any recipes that combine the two together in a shortbread. When I was thinking up with this recipe, I toyed with the idea of adding another flavour to it, like cardoman or black pepper. I didn't add any this time round, but I rather like the idea of experimenting with some finely-chopped fresh rosemary or dried lavender. Having baked and tested them out on my students and colleagues, I think that the two flavours work rather well together in a shortbread. The flavours aren't overpowering and the end result is a bit more of a delicate, crumble/melt-in-your-mouth experience. It's really interesting asking my colleagues for their feedback on what flavour hits them first, the lemon or the fig. The consensus is that it's a rather subjective experience.
So, let's get on with this recipe. It's a really easy one to make. Two things to prep the night before. 1. Take out the butter so that it's soft. 2. Put the figs in a bowl and cover with some water so that they're plumped up. I adapted Fiona's shortbread recipe, to come up with my own figgy, lemon shortbread. This time I substituted some of the cornflour for semolina. I was improvising, to be honest, because I ran out of cornflour in the middle of measuring out the ingredients. But why semolina? A friend of mine had mentioned the use of semolina in a shortbread before, so it wasn't an entirely new idea. I thought that it would add a bit of bite and crunch to the shortbread and I think, I think, I think that it does. Give it a go and tell me what you think.
Top tip: When it comes to making shortbread, use real butter and always take it out the fridge the night before to soften. If you try and cheat to soften the butter by zapping it in the microwave and causing it to melt, you'll affect the baking process. The end result is a biscuit that splays out all over the place when it's baking in the oven giving it a harder, brittle texture.
Ingredients for my Figgy, Lemon Shortbread. I used 5cm cutters and produced about 55 pieces of shortbread.
- 250g salted butter, softened and cubed
- 100g golden caster sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 100-115g chopped dried figs
- 250g plain flour
- 75g cornflour
- 50g fine semolina (if you don't have semolina then use cornflour, so in total you're using 125g cornflour)
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a few metal baking sheet with baking paper. Put the dried figs in a bowl and cover them with boiling water for at least 15 minutes to plump them up. I left them overnight and then chopped them up really finely with my pampered chef food chopper. I think that you could experiment with how finely (or not) you'd like your figs to be.
2. In a big bowl, cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the lemon zest. Finally add in the chopped, dried figs. I use an electric mixer, but if you don't have one, then beat it together with a wooden spoon.
3. Measure out the flour, cornflour and semolina in another bowl. Then sift the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter in 4 batches. I add it in batches to make sure that the flour doesn't fly out the bowl. Combine well until it's a sticky mixture.
4. At this point, it's best to flour your hands before gently kneading the mixture until it is combined into a smooth texture. I forgot this bit and ended up with sticky fingers. It's important not to overwork the mixture because it will make it a tougher, less crumbly biscuit. Once it has reached that just smooth texture, then wrap it up in a piece of clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out later.
5. Roll out the shortbread mixture on a floured worktop so that it's about 0.5-1cm thick. I like to use a glass chopping board and have a large piece of clingfilm between my rolling pin and the mixture. I think that it makes it an altogether cleaner operation. No bits of dough sticking to the rolling pin, and less flour flying everywhere.
6. I then used 5cm round and daisy-shaped cutters to create my cookies. Maximise the space on the dough. Roll up what's left and start again. I may be wrong, but I found that the biscuit is a bit tougher when I roll out the dough a second and third time. I don't know whether it's because I've baked them in the oven for a bit longer accidentally or what... so I'll keep comparing.
One of my colleagues asked me to bake a larger piece of shortbread next time... like you get on the pettitcoat tails. I'll try another time and let you know how that turns out.
7. Place them on sheets of greaseproof or baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them round half-way through baking. They will be a light golden colour when they're done, like the colour of golden caster sugar, rather than a darker brown, like the colour of demerara sugar. Take them out the oven and immediately sprinke some granulated or demerara sugar on them. Leave them to cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring the shortbread onto a wire rack to cool completely. Put them in an airtight container and they'll probably last
3-4 days. Monica assures me that they'll keep for a month.
These ones that I baked have pretty much all gone within 24 hours. I took some freshly baked shortbread to my students to test it out on their discerning tastebuds. I don't know whether they were just being nice, but here are their thoughts on the recipe:
"It's like shortbread." (10/10!)
"I wouldn't change a thing."
"They just melt in your mouth."
"Maybe a bit more lemon and fig, but I like my biscuits to be really fruity." - if you think that this would be you, then add a bit more lemon zest and try chopping the figs into bigger chunks to see whether that helps.
I await to hear your verdict.
March 17, 2012
Last week, I made Simon Hopkinson's Cheese and Onion pie in celebration of national pie week. I can't recommend it highly enough. This pie is really tasty and simple to make, and even easier if you use ready-made shortcrust pastry from the shop.
Last summer, when I watched Simon Hopkinson make this on the Good Chef, I thought that he made it seem so irresistably tasty and simple. I don't think that I'd made a savoury shortcrust pastry pie before this one (correct me if your memory is better than mine). If you want to simplify it with shop-bought shortcrust pastry and don't count seasoning, then I count 3 cheap and easy to obtain ingredients that go into this pie: cheese, onions, pastry.
Okay, so I realise that the phrase 'shop-bought shortcrust pastry' keeps coming up. Reserve your judgement please. I'm making a stand for all of us who struggle to make shortcrust pastry from scratch without it falling apart. I hadn't realised that there was so much disdain out there for those of us who buy blocks of ready made shortcrust pastry. But when I put them on the conveyor belt at Tesco's, the cashier and the lady in front of me in the queue immediately tut-tutted me for not making it myself. "It's so simple, you know to make it at home. You just put it in the food processor and it's done." No, believe me! It's not that simple. I tried your method and Simon's method and it ended up falling apart like a patchwork quilt. See what a disaster it was the only time I tried making the pastry from scratch.
1. Blissful ignorance of the disaster to come; 2. Look - the pastry even looks sad!; 3. and it all falls apart.
Note to self: practise making pastry.
Since the summer, I've already made this pie four times and I'm no cheese-lover. So I'm pretty much saying that, I love this pie. Admittedly, having watched Simon Hopkinson's video again, my onions look browner and my pastry more soggy. Even so. I'm choosing to imagine that this pie will get scrummier and scrummier the more I practice making it.
So here's the yummy Simon Hopkinson's Cheese and Onion Pie. It does take a while... so choose a moment when you don't mind waiting at least 2 hours from start to finish.
First step in this pie making is sorting out the pastry side of things. I'll give you the ingredients for the pastry a la Simon Hopkinson, which means that I've got a note of it to attempt it at another time. If you've decided on the ready-made stuff then don't forget to preheat the oven at this stage and grease your pie dish. (read below)
Ingredients for the pastry
- 60g/2oz cold butter, diced into small pieces
- 60g/20z lard, diced into small pieces
- 200g/7oz self-raising flour
- 1 pinch of salt
- 2-3 tbsp of very, very, very cold water
Alternatively... a 350g block of ready-made shortcrust pastry. Last time, I bought the ready rolled stuff because it was on offer. Tee hee....
Method for the pastry
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and grease a pie dish 20cm wide. I have used both a pryex pie dish and a loose-bottomed deep flan dish.
2. Place the butter, lard, flour and salt in a food processor and mix until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Alternatively place the ingredients in a large bowl and with your fingertips, gently rub the fat into the flour so that it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. You don't want to be making them too fine because that means that the fat gets too warm.
3. Add 2tbsp of water to bind the mixture. If it looks a bit dry then add in one more tbsp of water.
4. Cut off a third of it and lay it to one side. Roll out the remainder 2/3 of the pastry so that it is 5mm thick and lay it on the pie dish, pressing it against the sides. Remember to prick the bottom of it. Roll out the remaining third of pastry into a circle so that it will cover the pie. Leave it to one side and turn your focus to the pie filling.
Ingredients for the Pie Filling
- 25g/1oz butter
- 3 white onions, sliced
- 250g Lancashire Cheese, grated
- approx 150ml cold water
- Salt & Pepper to season
- milk for sealing and glazing
Method for the Pie Filling
1. Roughly slice the onions, melt butter in the frying pan on a medium heat and add the onions to the pan. Fry the onions on a medium-low heat. Season with lots of pepper and some salt as you do this. Add 150ml water to the pan so that the onions stay moist. Maybe that's where I go wrong and allow the onions to brown before adding the water. Next time! Once the onions have softened and become translucent, take the pan off the heat and allow the onions to cool down slightly.
2. In the waiting time, grate the cheese.
3. Time to layer up! Add half of the onions and spread them out in the pie. Then add a layer of cheese. Follow with a second layer of onions and another layer of cheese.
4. I sometimes forget this step, but try and remember to brush the rolled out circle of pastry with milk, and lay it milk side down onto the pie to cover the cheese and onion mixture. Gently press the pastry cover on the top and press it against the sides to let the air out and also to seal the pie.
5. Cut off the pastry that's hanging over with a sharp knife. At this point, I decided to copy Simon and make a pretty pattern on the top of my pastry. It's not very important to do. What is more important is to make three 1 inch incisions in the pastry so that the air can come out while it's cooking. Then glaze the top with milk.
6. Bake it in the oven for 40-50 minutes. Take it out and let it cool down for at least 20 minutes before cutting into it and taking a bite.
The verdict? MMMmmmmm... Heavenly.
March 10, 2012
Item no. 7 on my 30 for 30 list reads: run a cupcake workshop.
So, on 30th January 2012, that's what I did. As you can tell, the date is still imprinted in my mind!
You know those moments when you wonder how you got yourself into 'that' situation. Well item no. 7 was one of them. This was my first ever cupcake workshop that I'd attended, never mind organise, host and teach. Having said that, I did have that tingling sense of nervous excitement about facilitating it; and terror by my lack of knowledge and expertise in the cupcake decorating front.
So, I marshalled some troops, in the form of enthusiastic volunteers, to assist me. I'm very grateful to them. (Now, I feel like I'm writing the acknowledgments section of a book :P. Bear with me.)
- Midge taught on using fondant icing and sugarpaste.
- Sarah hosted, lent me her a muffin tin, and listened to my ideas.
- Emma printed certificates, shared tips from a friends experience of a cupcake workshop, made fondant icing.
- Emily helped come up with the prose for the certificates (I added the poetry), practised piping with me days before the workshop, and rescued the buttercream!
The evening before, I had a 6 hour bake-a-thon and produced 4 different varieties of cupcakes: strawberry, courgette and sultana, vanilla, chocolate and green tea, using 5 different recipes, totally over 120 cupcakes in all! I am indebted to Kenny the Mixer, whom I fell in love with. (more about him in my strawberry cupcake post.)
On the morning of the workshop, I used 2kg of butter to make a vast quantity of buttercream.
I used A LOT of butter for this workshop. I'm estimating at least 7kg worth. So, when you're charged £40 for a cupcake workshop - part of it goes towards buying the butter!
What fun we had :)
So, I'd factored in 15 minutes for people to arrive late and get a cup of tea or something wet. Even though I'd asked people to arrive to start at 2pm, as I anticipated, there were some delays.
We began with pink champagne and a very quick icebreaker in pairs, where we shared our names, our previous experience with cupcakes and also one cupcake related thing that would push us out of our comfort zone. Then all of us fedback the main points. I remember that my pair and I both confessed a dislike of frosting, which had prevented us on venturing out on the cupcake decorating front. (This was before my discovery of meringue buttercream.)
Courgette and sultana cupcakes topped with lime and pistachio buttercream were doled out to each of the participants.
At this point I said that I'd really like them to learn something that they could do at home, have fun and make lots of mess!
I hope we achieved that.
A few people had already told me that they needed to leave early for the school run, so I planned the workshop so that there were parallel activities running throughout the afternoon which guests could choose.
- cupcake baking vs. sugarcraft
- piping decorations vs. sugarcraft
- piping decorations vs. assembling cakes
- assembling cakes and play
There were a lot of laughs and memorable moments. My guests had so much fun and lots of pretty cakes to take home afterwards, which I was thrilled about. Remember, how I was truly uncertain about it's outcome?
In the end, I think that I squashed too many learning objectives (forgive my teacher speak) and activities in there. When I reflected on it, I decided that in future, I would try this as 3 x 2hour workshops: 1. baking cupcakes; 2. piping frosting; and 3. sugarpaste. As I was reflecting on this, I had this delicious moment when I realised that what I was doing was CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT. The thing that I felt that I was incompetent to do and really scared of doing at work. So, one of my unexpected learning outcomes was greater confidence at work for lesson planning. When I unpack this, the workshop was a gem of a learning experience!
So, I was thinking about which of the five cupcake recipes to share with you, then decided against it. Rather, I'd like to introduce you to the simplest of cupcake recipes. I got taught this by a biology teacher in my secondary school many years ago, and I still remember it.
You will need a set of weighing scales.
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F. Line cupcake/muffin tins with liners.
2. Weigh the eggs and record their weight. Next, you're going to be using that magic number to measure out the self-raising flour, caster sugar and butter.
3. Once you've weighed out all the ingredients, place in one bowl and mix all the ingredients together. Use an electric mixer or a spatula - it doesn't really matter.
4. Using a tablespoon or a dessert spoon, dollop a spoonful into the cases.
5. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until a tester/knife comes out clean.
5. Take out and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then let them cool completely on a wire rack.