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April 30, 2013

Iced buns and some news: I handed in my notice

I've moved on from Warwick and hence onto courgettesandlimes.com. It should automatically redirect you shortly to the new site.


iced buns 1

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.

iced buns 2


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.

making coconut milkoverladen motoCambodia team 2012

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!

iced buns attempt no. 1

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

Method

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.


iced bun dough 1iced bun dough 2
iced bun dough 3iced bun dough 4

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.

shaping rolls 1shaping rolls 2

shaping rolls 3shaping rolls 4

shaping rolls 5shaping rolls 6

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.

buns ready to prove
baked buns


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)

Method

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.


icing consistencydipping buns into icingsmoothing icing

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

Method

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.

filling

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.

iced buns 3



February 28, 2013

A Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with Baileys Ganache


hazelnut brown butter cake slice

I had already decided that I was going to like this hazelnut brown butter cake the moment I saw it. And then I read on:

'This is a cake that has it's roots in dacquoise and meringue.' - Shuna Fish Lydon

A whatcha, whatchamacallit? Dacquoise and meringue.

Meringue is a dessert that we're pretty aware of, but dacquoise? I've been blissfully ignorant of its existence until Monday evening. I was trying to find another cake recipe to make for Sarah's birthday, other than Praline Almond Cake, because I didn't have enough butter for that recipe and I was much too tired to trawl round Tescos. I can't even remember how my brain jumped from praline almond cake to hazlenut brown butter cake, but somehow I found myself reading Smitten Kitchen Deb's enticing blog entry on it. Debs links onto Eggbeater Shuna's detailed poston how to make this cake. I highly recommend reading Shuna's step-by-step instructions before baking the cake because if you follow it, it's pretty fool-proof. And that's where I first stumbled across dacquoise. A dacquoise, so Wikipedia tells me, is a french dessert made with layers of nut meringue and whipped cream or buttercream. The meringue is normally made with almonds and hazlenuts.

I decided to read up a bit more on the cake. I got as far as Jibuyabu's metricised description on making this cake(thank-you) and then I stopped. It was 9:30pm and I needed to begin the baking.

My preliminary reading on this cake intrigued me. All three bloggers were in awe of this chef named Suzanne Goin, like we should all know her. "Chef Goin served this as her wedding cake. Need I say more?" - Smitten Kitchen. Well yes. Who is she? and why should that sway my decision on whether or not I should make this cake? As it turns out she is one of America's most highly-acclaimed chef. That is, at least, according to her book on Amazon. Debs and Shuna are US based food bloggers so that probably explains their awe of her. So, okay maybe that should sway my mind. But it doesn't really. At least, not yet. I wondered, whether she is the equivalent of say, Tom Ketteridge in the UK. Now, all you non-Brits, might be typing Tom Ketteridge into google search because you're scratching your head and wondering, 'who is this Tom Ketteridge dude?' Just this incredible michelin starred chef! Ah - the nuances of across the pond baking.

I tell you what, though, if we just call the cake what it is - a hazelnut brown butter cake - I think that it makes it sound utterly enticing. Don't you think so?

hazelnut brown butter cake ready to go

The 'not your standard cake' ingredients and the fun of trying out a new technique, validated it as the one to make as Sarah's birthday cake (the same Sarah of the Cardamon, White Chocolate and Rosewater angstand Chocolate Macarons)

In Suzanne Goin's original recipe, she serves it up with sauteed pears and icing sugar; Debs from Smitten Kitchen went for a chocolate ganache. It's a no-brainer which option Sarah would prefer, and I tweaked Deb's version and replaced the coffee with baileys liquor.

And I'll tell you what - the cake lives up to expectations and tastes perfectly divine. On Tuesday evening, I served it up and we all commented on how it smelled and tasted like ferrero rocher. It's not heavy, even with all that butter. Moreover, I believe that it would taste better as it gets older because of all that lovely moist nuttiness. Do you know - I'm pretty sure that we all managed two slices, after a pretty big main meal - so there's not much a chance of this cake hanging around that long.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with Baileys Ganache, adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Jibuyabu and Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Ingredients for the cake

  • 140g blanched whole hazelnuts plus some extra for garnish
  • 225g butter
  • 1/2 vanilla bean or 1tsp of vanilla extract
  • 170g icing sugar
  • 45g plain flour
  • 180g egg whites, which is about the equivalent of 5 extra large egg whites or 6 large egg whites
  • 45g granulated sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and prepare a 23cm or 25cm springform cake tin, by greasing the sides and lining the bottom with baking paper. I only had a 23cm cake tin and it turned out fine.

toasted hazelnutshazelnuts and icing sugar

2. Toast the hazelnuts under the grill or in the oven, by spreading them out in one layer on a baking tray, until they smell gorgeously nutty and turn a golden brown. It normally takes between 10-15 minutes. Once done, leave them cool. I transferred them onto another baking tray so quicken the cooling process.

3. Put the butter in a medium sized pan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthways down the middle and scrape out all the seeds onto the butter. Add the vanilla bean to the pan. Now, make the brown butter. I was a bit intimidated by this ingredient until I read this tutorial on Poire au Chocolat. Cook the butter on a medium heat until the butter browns, finishes crackling at you and smells nutty. It'll take a good couple of minutes for this amount of butter. Take the pan off the heat and leave it to one side to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and dump it in the bin.

preparing butter to brown with vanilla

4. Weigh out the icing sugar and place in a food processer. Once the hazelnuts have cooled down, add them to the food processer too and whizz them up until they are finely ground (this takes about 10 minutes, interspersed with moments of me scraping the sides of the food processer with a knife so that everything gets whizzed up). Add the flour and pulse it a few times to ensure that the flour is evenly mixed through. This mixture will smell gorgeously nutty and it tastes good too, if you happen to get some of it on your fingers while you are emptying this out into a large bowl. There are some perks for being a bit clumsy.

5. Whisk the eggs with a stand mixer or a handheld electic beater. I held off adding the sugar until the eggs had formed soft peaks, but in the original recipe she says to add the sugar in from the start. Keep whisking until they form stiff peaks.

6. In a small bowl, take a large dollop of egg white and a generous splash of brown butter and mix it together vigorously before re-adding and folding it to the egg whites. Eggbeater Shuna explains this process as creating an emulsion between two ingredients that would normally repel each other (whisked egg whites and butter) so that after it is introduced to egg whites, it makes it easier to incorporate the remaining large quantities of ingredients.

7. Alternate folding in the dry mixture of the icing sugar, hazelnuts and flour and the liquid brown butter to the egg whites, being careful not to overmix and knock back all the air that you've carefully worked into the egg whites.

cake batterhazelnut brown butter cake

8. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 40-50 minutes. It's done when the cake is coming away from the sides of the tin and a knife comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes, before then inverting it onto a wire rack so that you can peel the baking paper from it's bottom.

9. Turn the cake back over onto the plate that you'll be serving on.

** You could serve it just like this with a dusting of icing sugar and sprinkle the reserved hazelnuts. To make it pretty, why not use a stencil?

Ingredients for the ganache

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp baileys or irish cream equivalent

Method

chocolate ganache 1chocolate ganache 2

1. Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small pyrex bowl. As you can see, I put mine directly into a pyrex measuring jug to make the pouring bit over the cake easier.

2. Heat up the double cream in a small pan until it just starts bubbling and then pour it over the chocolate. Leave it for a few minutes, then gently stir until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add in the baileys and stir to incorporate.

preparing to dress the cake with ganachecake with ganache


3. Carefully pour the ganache evenly over the cake. It doesn't matter if some of the ganache spills over the sides of the cake. I think that it adds a certain charm and elegance. Decorate the top of the cake with the remaining hazelnuts. I toasted and crushed them before sprinkling them over the cake. Alternatively, you could make caramel hazelnuts or a hazelnut praline (unfortunately, I had run out of sugar as well, so couldn't pursue either of those options). Or... just serve it as it is. Plain with the chocolate ganache.

You can make this a day or two in advance and store it in the fridge or in an airtight container in a cold room. So, go on - bake this one up and impress your friends.

Happy Birthday Sarah Cake

January 18, 2013

Peanut and Rosemary Cookies

I am, in fact, quite excited that it's snowing outside. It has given me that wee impetus to press publish on this recipe, which has been lurking around in my drafts folder for a while.

peanut and rosemary cookies

On an aside: say aloud with me, 'lurking around for awhile'. Doesn't it conjure up that horrible childhood fear of a shadowy bogeyman patiently waiting to catch you in the middle of a long, dark corridor? Mind you, saying the whole of that first sentence out loud now brings up a ridiculous image of a recipe like a white vapour, snaking out of a metal filing cabinet. It's not quite the way that I'd planned to introduce this recipe to you.

rosemaryrosemary 2

peanutspeanut and rosemary cookies

So, back to the recurring theme of this post. Essentially, it's about ideas remaining dormant and not being actualised because of whatever reason.

You see, I'd been wanting to bake these peanut and rosemary cookies ever since one of my colleagues passed me a newspaper clipping with this recipe on it. That was about 18 months ago. The timing of this recipe landing on my desk was perfect because I had just been thinking about combining rosemary or thyme with a sweet dessert for a wee while. But I just didn't get round to it, or I forgot. Maybe some student emergency came up before I fully committed to baking the recipe, or something! You get the idea. The recipe continued to lurk in between the covers of other recipe books.

When summer came around, my tastebuds changed and my mind started exploring the idea of combining lemons and black pepper. So, one afternoon I invented a lemon, fig, nut and black pepper cookie recipe, which Val promptly decided were her favourite cookies.

When the nights started drawing in and the temperatures dropped, my tastebuds hankered after a more pungent flavour. I pulled out this recipe, sent myself off to go to the shops to buy some salted peanuts and snipped off some fresh rosemary. It's as simple as that really. I think, that most of you, will have the other ingredients as standard store cupboard items already. The other joy of this recipe, I discovered, is that you can pretty much make this in one bowl, mix it within 5 minutes and be biting into your first batch within 20 minutes of starting out on the recipe. I don't know many other cookie recipes out there that can beat that!


chopped rosemarypeanut and rosemary cookie dough balls

And boy, did I enjoy eating them.

peanut and rosemary cookies

These are fast becoming my favourite cookies: I baked them twice within 5 days. Elegant, fragrant, crunchy and very more-ish. If you want an alternative sweet grown up sweet this season, or you'd like to do something different with your leftover bag of salted peanuts which you offer to your guests, then I'd recommend this recipe to you. I know that rosemary and salted peanuts cookies sound odd but I have to congratulate Dan Lepard on this fine flavour combination.

peanut and rosemary cookie ingredients

Dan Lepards' Peanut and Rosemary Cookies.

Ingredients

  • 100ml sunflower oil
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 1tsp honey
  • 2tsp very finely chopped rosemary - I used one very long sprig
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 150g salted peanuts
  • 200g plain flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line two baking trays with baking or greaseproof paper. I tried out the pizza stone for one batch but found that the baking trays did a better job than the stone.

2. Mix the oil, sugar, honey, rosemary and cinnamon in a bowl until it is like a paste. I use a metal spoon for this,

stage 1 of mixing the ingredientsmixing ingredients stage 2

3. Add in the peanuts and egg and mix well.

4. Finally stir in the flour and bicarb of soda. Naturally you start mixing this in with the metal spoon, but soon, it becomes clear that it'll be much easier to get hands-on stuck in with your hands and finish mixing in the flour.

mixing ingredients stage 3mixing ingredients final stage

5. Press together 30g balls of dough. That's ping pong sized balls, for those of you who don't really want to measure out them out. Lay them out on the baking tray, spaced 5-6cm apart because they spread a lot. Last time I made them, the peanuts rebelled a bit and didn't want to stay on the cookie dough. Tell them who's boss and push them on.

6. Bake them in the oven for 12-14 minutes, depending on how chewy you like them. I aim to take them out when they're a golden colour, rather than bronzed all over. The bronzed ones are fine warmed up, but otherwise they get a bit hard when they cool. Lift the baking paper with the cookies, off the baking tray and let them cool on a wire rack for a minute, then carefully peel them off to the wire rack.

They make 24 cookies, so I bake these in batches.

If you find them a bit too salty, Dan suggests that washing the salt off the peanuts first. Personally, I like salty sweetness. To top it off, I've got a kitchen fragrant of rosemary.


October 26, 2012

Understudies in Nigella's Chocolate Banana Bread: Introducing Whiskey and Currants

img_1846.jpg

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...

img_1818.jpg

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?

mixing egg

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.

banana and chocolate cake ingredients

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

Method

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.

banana and flour

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.

stirring butter and sugaradding the banana - looks really yummy!

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.

adding the chocolate, nut and fruitadding flour to chocolate banana mixture

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.

adding flour to chocolate banana mixwet banana and chocolate cake mix_1wet chocolate and banana cake mix_2

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.

  • Banana, Date and Toffee Bread: 100g chopped up dried dates, 75ml of butterscotch schnapps, subsitute half of the soft brown sugar with dark brown sugar. I'd also leave out the 25g of cocoa powder with replace it with plain flour so that the toffee has a chance of coming through.
  • The original Banana and Chocolate Bread: 100g sultanas, 75ml dark rum - this is Nigella's original recipe. Tastes alright but the whiskey and currants one tastes even better. I might try this one out later without the chocolate and compare it to Smitten Kitchen's version.
  • Banana, Apricot and Chocolate Bread: 100g chopped up dried apricots, 75ml apricot brandy. - gave this one away before tasting it.
chocolate banana whiskey currant bread
An alternative to Christmas cake, perhaps?

September 30, 2012

Learning to make Ouzi with Ola and her mum

ouziouzi parcels

I aim to post a blog entry once a month. You wouldn't think that it would be a difficult task. However, this is the month of September and I feel like I'm running as hard as I can on an upward inclining treadmill, which is about to spit me off because of the amount of work and time required to prepare for the start of an academic year at university, both at work and in the residential life team. I guess, the feeling is intensified this September because I had to move into a new flat, learning the ropes of a new role and area with my promotion to the role of deputy warden, meeting a new team of tutors, looming work deadlines... I'm going to stop trying to explain now because it's beginning to sound like I'm whinging.

Besides, amidst all the change and chaos, I decided to take a two weeks holiday to Jordan. A luxury, I admit, in September.

So, as the rain beats down against the window of my new study/dressing room, I'm thinking, 'was it really only a fortnight ago, that I was eating breakfast on a balcony in 30°c, listening to the tannoy of the scrap metal truck making it's way around the neighbourhood, looking forward to my first arabic cookery lesson?' I want to go back to that morning, when I made my way to the apartment, drinking in the sun and lingering slowly past the jasmine flowers that seem to overhang the walls on every street corner, so that I could inhale their fragrance one extra breath.

I guess the best thing to do in my case then, is to make some Ouzi.

On holiday, I learned that Jordanian women love FOOD. I had tremendous fun interacting with them whilst eating together, sharing cakes, talking flavours and recipes, helping with cooking. Maybe this is the same for all Arab cultures? I hesitate to generalise. One really interesting cultural food fact that I learned is, that the smaller you dice the tomatoes and cucumber that go into your salad, demonstrates how much you care for your guests. More effort goes into cutting up your salad veg finely, you see. I'd never thought of it in that way before!

The opportunity to cook together with Ola came out of a conversation Ola and I were having about okra! I smile as I remember this because I was telling her that I really don't like the slimeyness of cooked okra, which prompted her to share a recipe with me. I still remember the arabic for okra (bamieh). Oh my random memory! When Ola mentioned how nice it would be to cook together, I seized on the opportunity - yes please! I'm only here for a fortnight, but I love learning new dishes! My British friends, also asked whether they could join in too. We'd agreed to keep okra for another event and settled on making Ouzi, which is a traditional Jordanian rice dish, that can be served as a rice dish or rice stuffed filo parcels. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that every Jordanian mother has their own family recipe for Ouzi, like the Brits do with roast dinners?

jordanian oven
An arabic oven

We met at Ola's mum's house. What a privilege and because we were there, I experienced baking with an arabic oven! What did I learn?

  1. Arabic mixed spice is entirely different from UK mixed spice. More savoury rather than sweet. Shall I post a recipe for one later?
  2. An arabic oven automatically has a grill function, by design.
  3. Arabic curry powder is different from UK curry powder, but I don't know how, so I'm going to use the british stuff for the timebeing.

I'm going to write this recipe a bit differently. It's in 3 distinct bits and I thought about writing the ingredients list for each separately. I've seen a number of recipes laid out like that. However, I think that in this case, it would be annoying NOT to have the whole list of ingredients at the beginning because there are so many spices that go into each stage.

ouzi spices

Please don't let the long list of ingredients put you off making this delicious dish. I've written down the recipe as Ola's mum taught me; would it help you to imagine that most Jordanian women would add their own variation of spices to this?

To give you an idea of the flexibility of flavouring in Ouzi, I'll let Ola interject: "you can add more spices other than cinnamon to the meat (first step) if you like. but even if you don't it won't matter because all the flavours will blend at the end, so every spice will add to the flavour regardless of the step at which you add it."

So, what ingredientsdoes one need to make Ouzi for about 8-10 people?

  • 454g/1lb ground beef or finely diced steak
  • ground cinnamon
  • curry powder
  • chicken or vegetable stock
  • ground green cardamon
  • ground cumin
  • arabic mixed spice or bokharat
  • ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 400g frozen peas
  • 600g or 4 cups of dry basmati rice
  • raw, blanched almond slices/halves
  • 16 sheets of filo pastry
  • ghee or melted butter
  • sunflower or vegetable oil
  • water
  • 1tbsp of freshly chopped parsley

You'll also need:

  • 2 large baking tins, preferably roasting tins.
  • A soup bowl or ramekin, which you will use to help you shape and stuff your filo pastry sheets with rice.

I think that once you have everything out and ready, then it's pretty easy to cook and assemble. So, let's begin.

Cooking the meat

Ingredientsfor the meat part:

  • 454g or 1lb of beef mince, or finely diced beef steak
  • ½tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp salt

Method:

1. Brown the beef in a frying pan or the stock pan that you're planning on using for the rice. As the meat is browning, add the cinnamon and the salt. Once the meat is browned, empty it onto a dish.

cooking ouzi meatadding spices to peascooking ouzi rice
Cooking the rice and vegetables

Ingredients for the rice:

  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 400g frozen peas, defrosted in cold water and drained.
  • 600g or 4 cups of basmati rice, rinsed and soaking in cold water
  • 1tsp ground cardamon
  • 1tsp cumin
  • 2tsp arabic mixed spice
  • 1tsp curry powder
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 3 stock cubes
  • boiling water
  • 3 handfuls of raw, blanched almond slices

Method:

1. Put the sunflower oil in the stock pan and add the peas and 1tbsp of salt. Do this on a medium-high heat. Cover the pan to allow the peas to steam for about 5 minutes.

2. Now, comes the fun part of adding all the spices to the peas. Give it a good stir. Break up the stock cubes and add them to the peas as well. You can add a cup of water at this stage, if you think that the peas are starting to burn a bit.

3. Boil the water. Meanwhile, drain the rice and add it to the stock pan. Cover the rice with enough boiling water so that it the rice will steam cook at the end. I'm not very good at measuring out water for this, but I believe it's something like 1 cup of rice:1¼ cups of water?

4. Bring the water to boil, then cover the rice and peas in the pan with a lid and leave it for 10-15 minutes on a very low heat, until the rice is cooked. Test it - it should be light and fluffy. No al dente nonsense.

5. Heat 1tbsp of sunflower oil in a frying pan and on a medium heat, fry 3 handfuls of the almonds until they brown. Leave to one side until the rice is ready.

frying almondsfrying almonds2mixing rice and meat

6. On a big serving dish, put out half of the rice, then half of the meat. Mix it up. Then repeat until you have used up as much rice and meat as you'd like. Ola's mum said to us that we can put the rice and meat together in whatever proportion we like, according to taste. Now at this stage, you can add the almonds and eat it just like this. That's what I did when I made ouzi by myself after my cooking lesson. See below. If you tilt your head, there's thank you (shukran) written with almonds in arabic.

shukran ouzi
serving up ouzi

Or.... you can also wrap up the rice in filo pastry, which is what Ola and her mum taught us to do.

Assembling the filo parcels

Ingredients:

  • The fried almonds
  • The ouzi rice, cooled.
  • 16 sheets of filo pastry
  • ghee or melted butter
  • sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

You'll also need the baking trays/roasting tins and ramekin/soup bowl at this point

Method:

1. So, you need to leave the rice to cool completely now before adding it to the filo pastry. Otherwise, Ola's mum shared that from her experience, the filo pastry will break when you come to wrap up the rice with them. She advised preparing the rice part in the morning when making Ouzi for dinner, in order to give the rice sufficient time to cool down. However, if you have left it too late or are impatient, you can speed up the cooling process by laying the rice out as a thin layer on a BIG serving dish so that the rice is exposed to as much cold air as possible. If you want to use warm rice, then on your heads, be it!

bowl to shape ouzi parcelslaying in the filo pastry

2. While you're waiting for the rice, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 you could fry the almonds and prepare the baking trays by generously greasing them with oil. When the rice is ready, get your ramekin or soup bowl out, the almonds and the filo pastry sheets. (For the sake of ease, from this point forward, let's call the ramekin or soup bowl, a bowl.) Cut the sheet so that it's 2½-3 times the size of the dish that you're using. It's possible to cut away extra pastry, so err on the larger size when you first begin.

3. It's assembly time :) Flour the bowl if you want to doubly make sure that the pastry won't stick to the sides. Gently place one sheet of filo pastry on top of the bowl, so that the centre of the pastry sheet is in the bowl and the sides of the filo sheet are comfortably overhanging over the edges of the bowl. When we assembled them, Ola used 2 sheets because the pastry broke when we only used one. It's worth experimenting to find out what will work, but don't use anymore than 2 filo sheets per parcel. Press the pastry to the sides of the bowl.

layering the ouzi parcelfolded ouzi parcel

4. Add a tablespoon of almonds and then use a large spoon to add the rice until it reaches the top of the dish. Fold the layers of the filo pastry over the top, so that it begins to look like a parcel. You want to have enough pastry on the top so that when you invert the bowl, there will be enough there to form a firm base. Tear away any spare pastry from the top and store it, just in case you need to patch anything up!

5. With one hand on top of the folded sheets, carefully invert the dish and hopefully you'll get the satisfaction of seeing an unbroken filo parcel appear. Lay the parcel, folded sheets down, carefully on the greased baking tray and move onto the next one. If you find that the filo sheet has torn, gently take it apart and use an additional filo sheet to assemble your parcel again. When lots of them appear on a baking tray, I think that they look like perfect white pillows.

2 ouzi parcels on the golots of perfect parcels of ouzichecking ouzi for baking

6. When they are all assembled, brush them with ghee or melted butter, and cook them in the oven for 3-5 mins, until the parcel bottoms are browned. Check by lifting them up with a spatula. Then take it out and put them under the grill for an additional 2 minutes to brown the tops of the pastry. Essentially, we're making sure that the pastry is cooked.

baked ouzi parcelsserving up ouzi

7. When the tops are brown, take them out the oven and sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley. Et, voila - your ouzi parcels are ready to be served. Ola's mum served them with laban, which is thick natural yoghurt which as slightly soured, and baked chicken.

Do you know what makes this really more-ish? The almonds. The nuts add texture, taste and totally complete the dish. When I made ouzi the next day for 13 friends, I made a slight variation of the recipe and missed out the wrapping in parcels bit, in the interests of time. Also, I burnt the almonds and I could have added a bit more salt. Even then, the resounding verdict from the lunch guests was 'Zaki' (Tasty). In conclusion, this seems to be a pretty fail-safe recipe.

Thank you Ola and Ola's mum.

me assembling ouzialison assembling ouzi



July 19, 2012

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

beetroot chocolate cake
choc beetroot muffins

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.

beetroot beetroot

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.

chocolate beetroot muffins 1packing up the muffins

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.

chocolate beetroot muffins

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

Method

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.

dark violet beetroot chocolate batterbaked beetroot cake

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

Method

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!

icing on beetroot chocolate cakechocolate beetroot cake
iced chocolate beetroot cakechocolate beetroot cake 2

June 29, 2012

When Han–Na baked Chocolate Macarons (with a SPLASH of Baileys)

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.)

cimg8219.jpg
not many photos (yet!) of these chocolate macarons. I was too busy focussing on getting them right.

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

Method

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)

Method

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!

cimg8226.jpg

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 26, 2012

I can smell summer BBQs: here's easy, peasy, juicy Beef Burgers

I do love how summer smells.

What does summer smell like in your part of the world?

These are my current summer notes from my part of the world:

Freshly cut grass,

Pimms and lemonade,

Honeydew melons,

Lancome Midnight Rose,

salty sweat and soltan sunscreen (let's keep it real!)

and

The charcoal smoke of barbeques!

bbqjuicy beef burger

I like spotting faces in places, can you spot the faces?

This beef burger recipe originated from Meagan (my Canadian friend from Oreo Cheesecake fame!). Meagan said that she didn't know how to cook, but produced great cheesecake and these juicy homemade beef burgers. Maybe they have a much higher standard of home-cooking in Canada compared to the UK?!

She never told me the recipe when she lived in the UK. Was it because she was stunned that none of her UK friends had ever thought to make their own burgers and was worried that our brains would get fried by the complexity of it?

I'm joking. I think it was just me, at that point, who couldn't getthat home-made burgers could be so easy to make. When I visited Meagan and Darren a few years ago, in Canada, I watched Meagan make them in less than 10 minutes: that's how she convinced me of the utter ease of this recipe. Oh winter BBQs! That's another great thing about Canadians. It was the beginning of March, there had been lots of snowfall, temperatures had plummeted to -25C during the day, and Meagan and Darren decided to put on the BBQ. A gas one that sits out on their porch, naturally. Why not?

But back to the subject. These home-made beef burgers are really easy and quick to make, cheaper and much tastier than any you'll buy in a shop. I think that there are three reasons why these burgers are so simple to make:

  1. They use ingredients that most of us have in our cupboards.
  2. I use porridge oats which eliminates the step of making bread crumbs or crushing cream crackers.
  3. I use spring onions instead of onions, because no matter how finely I chop white or red onions, the onions always cause my burgers to fall apart in the cooking process. Spring onions provide the flavour and the burger holds together.

Please feel special because I have especially measured out the ingredients for you in order to give you this recipe. When I make these burgers I normally do a few squirts of tomato ketchup, mustard, a handful or so of oats, a bit of salt and pepper, as many chopped herbs as I fancy etc. So, if you'd like to, you can use my ingredients as a guide, and flavour it as your tastebuds lead you. On the other hand, I do get irritated with recipes that say things like, a bunch of dill or coriander etc., it's just not helpful when you're starting out. Oh I remember, back in the day, when I first came across Jamie Oliver's Naked Chef recipes. His personality and style of cooking appealed to me. However, when he wrote things like 'a glug of olive oil' it was utterly meaningless and put me off making his recipes. Please! I don't know what you mean by a glug or a bunch!

This recipe makes 8 medium sized burgers (approx 75g each). I pretty much double the recipe if I want to make more and modify the seasoning (by that I mean everything apart from the beef, spring onions and egg) depending on how it tastes. You can eat raw beef so it's possible to taste as you go, only if you want to! I don't mind it.

burger ingredients

Ingredients for Easy, Peasy, Juicy Beef Burgers

  • 1lb/454g minced beef aka ground beef in the US
  • (Highly recommended, but optional) 2 spring onions, finely chopped - I use all of the spring onion including the green bits on the top. I know that some people only use the white bits.
  • 50g porridge oats, or rolled oats
  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 3 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1½ tbsp barbeque sauce (woodsmoke flavour preferably)
  • 1½ tbsp french mustard
  • a shake of worcester sauce - difficult to measure that one, sorry.
  • ½ tsp salt (add more if needed)
  • ½ tsp ground pepper (add more if needed)
  • Optional herb flavourings. Add these according to how you want them to taste, but here's a guideline: 10 stalks of parsley with leaves - finely chopped, including the stalks and 6 stalks of dill, finely chopped.

Method

1. Get a plate/tupperware box to place the burgers that you're about to make before cooking them.

pre-mushing the burger

2. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mush [mix thoroughly] them together with your hands.

hand sized burgerssarah

3. Wet your hands so that the mixture doesn't stick to your hands. Pick up a handful of the beef mixture. I weighed this out specially for you guys, and I think that anything between 70-80g is a good size. Gently roll it into a ball, then press it down firmly into the thickness that you want it, so that it forms flat-ish, round-ish disc shape. If you'd like to freeze them at this stage, spread them out on a baking sheet in one layer and place the sheet flat in the freezer. Once the burgers have frozen, you can store them into a bigger freezer bag. Take them out the day or morning that you want to eat them and let them defrost completely before cooking.

4. Barbeque them or grill them - the choice is yours, or if you live in the UK, depends on the weather. Serve as you like. My current favourite is to eat them with fresh bread with some guacamole, freshly cut tomatoes, and salad.

I've since taught this recipe a couple of times. Always with a bellyful of laughs and burgers.


yummy beef burgers



May 16, 2012

Claire's Chunky Chocolate Cookies

Chunky Chocolate Cookies

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.

chocolate cookie dough

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
chunky chocolate cookies 1

Method
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.

chocolate chunk cookies 2
The top ones have been baked for 5 minutes too long and are too hard, whilst the bottom rather anaemic looking ones have been baked perfectly so that they’re chewy but with a bit of crunch.
Ideas for different flavours?
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 04, 2012

Figgy, Lemon Shortbread (and my longing for the summer to begin)


figgy lemon shortbread 1

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.

figs in baynulsfigs in baynuls 1

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)

Method

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.

figgy lemon shortbread 2figgy lemon shortbread 3

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.

shortbread doughflower shortbreadfiggy lemon shortbread 3

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:

"Perfect!"

"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.

figgy lemon shortbread 4


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