• Life is what you bake of it – vegan baking

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been focusing on vegan baking recently.   Although I have baked a couple of vegan bakes in the past (an apple and rhubarb cake and chocolate and hazelnut cookies when I was the prep chef at Lynwood & Co) I was keen to explore vegan baking further.  Firstly, as part of my 52 week challenge, I wanted to explore a different type of baking.  Secondly, as veganism is on the increase, I wanted to be able to offer my current and future customers a range of vegan bakes.

    I started by making a chocolate sheet cake using a recipe from www.domesticgothness.com.   The first step was to make a ganache so that it could cool down in the fridge while the cake was being made.  I have made traditional ganache many times, both at Ashburton Cookery School and since I left the School, but I have never made a ganache with coconut oil.  It worked very well.  The only thing I would do differently next time is cool it for shorter as I had to work the ganache quite a bit to get it into a spreadable form to ice the cake.

    The chocolate sheet cake was a simple bake.  A simple recipe of mixing the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another and then whisking in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth.  It is important not to over mix the batter as this with develop the gluten in the flour and make the cake tough.

    A possible unusual element of the bake was the use of cider vinegar, something I haven’t really used in cake baking in the past.  I was aware that cider vinegar is widely used in vegan baking, so it wasn’t a surprise that it popped up as one of the ingredients.   Info: cider vinegar is used for its leavening and flavour enhancing properties.

    The end result was a delicious-tasting, light chocolate cake with a lovely texture.  The coconut milk ganache added a decadence to the bake and the eating.  I have included the recipe below in case you wish to give it a try.  Happy baking!

    Chocolate sheet cake

    Ingredients

    Ganache

    • 200g dairy free dark chocolate
    • 100g dairy free milk chocolate
    • 250ml full fat coconut milk

     Cake

    •  480 ml unsweetened almond milk (or other plant milk)
    • 2tsp cider vinegar
    • 250g caster sugar
    • 100g light brown soft sugar
    • 200ml sunflower oil
    • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
    • 300g plain flour
    • 100g cocoa powder
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • ½ tsp salt

    Method

    •  Start by making the ganache. Chop the chocolate finely and place in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the coconut milk until it is just coming up to the boil.
    • Pour the hot milk over the chocolate and set aside for two minutes then stir until melted and smooth. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to set for about 2 hours while you make the cake.
    • Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 23 x 33cm rectangular cake tin.
    • Whisk together the almond milk, vinegar, caster sugar, brown sugar, sunflower oil and vanilla extract in a bowl.
    • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
    • Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until smooth.
    • Pour the batter into the prepared tin and spread level.  Bake for 25-35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
    • Leave the cake to cool in the tin.  Once cool, carefully flip it out onto a wire rack.
    • When the ganache is thick and spreadable, spread the ganache over the top of the cake and top with chocolate curls.  If the ganache is too runny when checked, return it to the fridge/freezer until it is firm.  If it is too thick, warm it over a pan of hot water until it has softened.
    • The cake will keep for up to five days in an airtight container at room temperature.  If it is warm, place the cake in the fridge so that the ganache doesn’t become too soft.

    Like many people, I am partial to a lemon cake.  So when considering baking vegan cakes, I knew I had to include a lemon cake in my repertoire.   I came across a recipe for an iced lemon cake on www.allrecipes.co.uk.  As with the chocolate cake, the cake was a simple one.  Mixing wet ingredients into sifted dry ingredients.  The iced lemon cake was even easier to make than the chocolate cake as the icing was simply, sieved icing sugar mixed with lemon juice to the right consistency.  Despite the simplicity of the bake, the recipe (see below) yielded another delicious, well-textured cake.

    Iced lemon cake

    Ingredients

    • 275g self raising flour
    • 200g caster sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
    • 100ml vegetable oil
    • 200ml cold water
    • 150g icing sugar

    Method

    • Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a loaf tin.
    • Add the sieved flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest to a large bowl. Mix the juice of half a lemon, oil and water. Add to the bowl and stir mixture until thoroughly combined.
    • Pour into the tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes.  Remove from the tin after 10 minutes and leave to completely cool before adding the icing.
    • To make the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and mix in enough of the remaining lemon juice until it is thick enough to pour over the cake.  Avoid adding too much juice into the mixture or the icing will run down the sides and form a puddle at the base.

    My final vegan cake as part of my foray into vegan baking, was a vegan ginger cake with orange and almond from www.littlesugarsnaps.com.

    Vegan ginger cake with orange and almond

    Ingredients

    For the Cake

    • 75g caster sugar
    • 75g dark brown sugar
    • 175g plain flour
    • 50g ground almonds
    • 1 tsp Baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
    • ¼ tsp Salt
    • 4 tsp ground ginger
    • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
    • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
    • 60 ml rapeseed (canola) oil
    • 120 ml almond milk
    • 100 ml orange juice (freshly squeezed)
    • ¾ tsp almond extract
    • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger
    • Zest from 2 oranges

     Icing

    •  160 icing sugar
    • 25 ml orange juice

     Topping

    • Flaked almonds
    • Crystalised ginger (chopped fine)

    Method

    Cake

    •  Preheat oven to 170C and grease & line a loaf tin with baking parchment.
    • Firstly, remove lumps from the brown sugar.
    • Measure all dry ingredients into a bowl (sugars, flour, ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt). Stir to combine.
    • Measure all wet ingredients (oil, milk, juice, extracts, syrup) in a bowl or jug.  Whisk with a whisk until blended. Add the orange zest.
    • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and beat together with the whisk until just combined.
    • Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin and bake for 50-60 minutes.  After 50 minutes test with a skewer – if it comes out clean the cake is cooked. If not, return to the oven and bake for a few more minutes before testing again.
    • Once baked, set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and baking paper and let cool completely on a cooling rack.

    Finishing

    • Mix the icing sugar with 3 tsp of orange juice until smooth.  Add more orange juice, bit by bit, until you obtain the correct consistency (dropping).
    • Spoon the icing over the cake and spread it with a palette knife to cover the top – it drip down the sides.
    • Sprinkle finely chopped crystallised ginger and almond flakes across the top of the cake.
    • Leave to set slightly before serving.
    • Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
  • How to swap this for that to make it vegan

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been dabbling a bit in vegan baking of late.  I guess it was triggered by veganuary, albeit I did explore vegan baking a bit when I was the prep chef at Lynwood & Co.  Although I will write about my recent vegan bakes shortly, I thought that I would share the fundamentals of vegan baking with you.

    As you will be aware, the principal of veganism is that no animal-derived ingredients are used or consumed.  This means that when ‘baking vegan’ certain traditional baking ingredients e.g. eggs, milk, butter, honey etc. need to be replaced with non animal-derived ingredients.

    With so many non-dairy milks on the market, replacing milk in baking is pretty straight-forward.  Common varieties are soya, almond, oat, rice and coconut.  It is best to use a unsweetened variety of non-dairy milk when substituting for milk as adding a sweetened non-dairy milk, without adjusting the sugar in the recipe is likely to affect the overall sweetness of the bake.  Hazelnut milk and chocolate soya milk can also be used when baking chocolate cakes, albeit that the sugar in the recipe will need to be reduced.

    Quite a few recipes call for buttermilk.  For a simple buttermilk replacement, add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per 250ml of soya milk.  Stir with a fork, and leave to curdle for a few minutes before using.

    As with milk, replacing oil and fat in vegan recipes is also quite straight forward.  The role of oil and fat in baking is three-fold: (1) bind ingredients together; (2) add moisture and (3) provide depth of flavour.

    A range of oils can be used in vegan baking.  A commonly used oil is rapeseed oil as it is light in flavour, as well as can withstand high temperatures.   Coconut oil, is also good for baking, albeit that it has a more distinctive flavour than rapeseed oil.  As coconut oil is solid at room temperature but liquid when melted, it is quite versatile i.e. it can be used to replace a solid or liquid fat.

    Although vegan margarine is more processed than the likes of coconut oil, it does have a role to play in vegan baking.  Vegan margarine is most suitable for bakes which require the ‘taste’ that the vegan margarine offers e.g.  cookies.

    If you are thinking of replacing butter with oil, for half a cup of butter (110g) use third a cup of oil.

    Again, replacing honey in vegan baking is relatively straightforward.  There are a variety of alternative sweeteners to honey e.g maple syrup, agave nectar.  You can also use sweeteners such as rice and date syrup, albeit that date syrup has a stronger flavour and is darker in colour so is only suitable for some bakes e.g. flapjacks or bakes containing dates.   Sugar beet, granulated sugar, labelled suitable for vegans is also a suitable for vegan baking.

    Although at first sight it might appear that eggs are more difficult to replace than other ingredients, there are in fact a number of egg substitutes.  As www.onegreenplanet.org suggest ‘Why did it ever come about that eggs got used in a cake in the first place? Well who knows, especially when there are so many cheaper-to-use and just-as-effective options out there – as war-time housewives discovered when eggs were rationed and in short supply.’

    That being said, eggs or egg substitutes have an important role to play in baking.  They are used to bind, help retain moisture, create the crumb texture, lift, thicken and add colour and flavour.  Common egg substitutes and their uses include:

    • Apple sauce (3-4 tbsp unsweetened apple sauce): brownies, muffins and cakes
    • Chia seeds (1 tbsp of ground chia seeds with 3 tbsp of water, allowed to sit for 5-10 minutes until thickened – mix with fork before adding to other ingredients): cookies
    • Mashed banana (half a banana): brownies, muffins and cakes
    • Ground flaxseed mixed with water (1 tbsp of ground flaxseeds with 3 tbsp of water): good for muffins, breads and cookies
    • Silken tofu (3-4 tbsp of silken tofu processed in blender until smooth): brownies, custard pies and thick cakes
    • Soy yoghurt (3-4 tbsp)
    • Starches (2 tbsp arrowroot, cornstarch, potato starch with 3 tbsp water): breads and cakes
    • Vegan buttermilk (soya milk mixed with apple cider vinegar): for bakes requiring buttermilk
    • Mashed vegetables (3-4 tbsp mashed potato, sweet potato, canned pumpkin, canned squash): savoury breads and muffins.
    • Vinegar and baking soda (1 tsp baking soda with 1 tbsp of white or apple cider vinegar): cakes and quick breads.

    (Sources: www.veganuary.com and www.onegreenplanet.org)

    And for something a little different,  aquafaba (brine from chick peas) meringues:

    •  90ml  aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas)
    • ¼  tsp Cream of Tartar
    • 100g white sugar
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract

    Method

    • Place the chickpea liquid and cream of tartar into the bowl of an electric mixer.
    • Start at slow speed and whip until foamy.
    • Gradually increase the speed until white and glossy and stiff peaks start to form.
    • Add the sugar in slowly while whipping at fast speed.
    • Add in the vanilla.
    • Keep whipping until glossy stiff peaks form.
    • Preheat your oven to 121°C.
    • Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
    • Pipe the meringue mix into cookie shapes onto the parchment lined tray.
    • Place the meringues into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, switch off the oven but DON’T OPEN IT.  Leave the oven off, but don’t open it for one hour.
    • Remove the meringues from the oven after the combined cooking time.
    • When cool place in an airtight container and store them in the fridge.

    (Source: www.lovingitvegan.com)

    Although I have talked about vegan substitutes in traditional recipes, there are many vegan recipes on the Internet, which don’t require any substitution at all.

  • Viennese biscuits

    My third challenge saw me make Vienesse biscuits.  I have to admit that I really did not feel like doing my third challenge, as on Friday last week we had to let our beloved dog, Montague, go after a period of ill health.  Montague was effectively my third son and I am lost without him.  He has been my constant companion for almost 14 years – he has been there for me when my sons left home to go to university and when my husband regularly goes away on business trips.

    I have spent the last week sort of avoiding being at home.  In fact as I write this blog post, I am sitting in Vera’s Kitchen in Lechlade having a lunch of parsnip and apple sauce with artisan bread.  This is something I rarely do on my own, but having completed an early shift at work, I didn’t fancy spending the rest of the day at home on my own.  That being said, I have a lot I could and should do.  I should be putting together a price list for supplying a range of cakes and savoury bakes for an event in June/July; updating my costing sheets; trying out a range of new vegan bakes etc.

    Anyway, back to my 3rd challenge.  On the way back from a belated Christmas get-together with my husband’s side of the family in Devon last weekend (we delayed going down until the Saturday because of Montague), I realised that I needed to complete my 3rd challenge before the week was up.  Less than enthused, I decided that the bakes in the list that I drafted in 12 months, 52 weeks, 52 pastries were a little too complicated for someone whose mind was elsewhere, so I looked for something that classified as patisserie, but was relatively easy to make.  Or so I thought ….

    I settled on Viennese biscuits from BBC Good Food.  All was going relatively well until it came to piping the biscuits.  I had forgotten how tough it was to pipe Viennese biscuit dough until I started trying to pipe them.  We had made Viennese biscuits once on my Diploma in Professional Patisserie at Ashburton Cookery School and I recall most of us having difficulty piping neat shapes.  In this attempt, I initially put too much dough in the piping bag and couldn’t budge it through the nozzle despite using a large star nozzle.  Not surprisingly my first piping bag burst.  I reduced the amount of biscuit dough in the piping bag and tried again.  After bursting a second bag, I eventually got the piping right.   Not perfect but right.  I should possibly mention that the recipe (which I have written below) called for softened butter.  As this was a last minute bake (early evening on Sunday), I didn’t take the butter out of the fridge earlier enough to soften before making the biscuit dough.  Hence the dough was harder than it should have been, despite beating the butter with the icing sugar, as per the recipe.

    Rather than making Viennese sandwich biscuits as described in the recipe, I decided to pipe the biscuit dough into a range of shapes as I wanted both variety, as well as an opportunity to practice my piping skills.  I tried:

    • swirls with glace Morello cherries and blanched almonds in the centre
    • fingers dipped in dark chocolate; and
    • plain and chocolate-dipped double ‘S-shapes’

    I have to say that despite the piping difficulties, the end result was the lightest, butteriest, delicious, melt-in-the-mouth biscuits.  Too good, not to share.

    Ingredients

    • 200g slightly salted butter, softened
    • 50g icing sugar
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 200g plain flour
    • 2 tsp cornflour
    • ½ tsp baking powder

    Method

    • Heat oven to 160C fan and line a baking tray/s with baking parchment.  Put the butter and icing sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk for about 5 mins until pale and fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and beat again until fully incorporated.
    • Sift in the flour, cornflour and baking powder, and fold into the mixture using a spatula until combined (the dough should have a tacky consistency).  Spoon the dough into a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped nozzle. It is easier to pipe in small batches.
    • Pipe circles, double S-shapes and fingers onto the baking sheet/s making sure that there is a 3cm space between each biscuit.  Place a single blanched almond or glace morello cherries in the centre of the circles.
    • Bake for 10-12 mins, swapping the trays (if using more than one tray) over halfway through the cooking time so the biscuits are evenly baked, until pale golden and cooked through.  Leave to cool on the baking tray/s for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling rack/s.
    • While the biscuits are cooling, melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pan of boiling water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl) .  When melted, dip both ends of the fingers and the edge of the length of the double S-shaped biscuits in chocolate.  Place dipped biscuits on cooling rack/s for the chocolate to harden.

    (Source: BBC Good Food)

  • No need to knead bread

    I was in a situation over the last week where I had to take time off work for personal reasons.  Sitting on my sofa trying to find things to do, I decided to search Netflix to see whether they had added any new cooking programmes.  Alas, despite every effort, I was unable to find any new programmes so decided to watch further episodes of Martha Bakes.   Watching the ‘bake it dark’ episode, Martha reminded me of the simplicity of no-knead bread and the fact that a few months back I dabbled in making a few varieties:

    • White no-knead, Dutch oven bread
    • Cinnamon & raisin artisan bread
    • Crusty wholemeal loaf, made with wholemeal and eight grain flour

    My brief foray into this bread making method is documented in my Dutch Ovens, Pizza Ovens blog post.

    Watching Martha make ‘no-knead seeded overnight bread’ got me thinking a bit more about no-knead bread.  Initially it was because, although she provided all of quantities of ingredients provided for the bread recipe, she omitted the quantity of yeast required.  A search on www.redstaryeast  suggested the following ratios of flour to yeast:

    Flour (cups)                                                           Dry Yeast (grams)

    0-4                                                                                     7

    4-8                                                                                   14

    8-12                                                                                 21

    12-16                                                                               28

    16-20                                                                               35

    Feeling very proud of myself for finding the missing piece of the recipe (I had written down the rest of the recipe while watching the episode), I suddenly thought to myself (a bit too late, I know) that maybe I should have just checked whether Martha had just posted the recipe for the bread.   And sure enough, she had.  I could have simply followed the recipe online.

    Although I could have made things all the more simpler, looking at flour to yeast quantities piqued my interest in the nature of no-knead bread.  According to Wikipedia, no-knead bread is a “method of bread baking that uses a very long fermentation (rising) time instead of kneading to form the gluten strands that give the bread its texture.  It is characterised by a low yeast content and a very wet dough.  Some recipes improve the quality of the crust by baking the bread in a Dutch oven or other covered vessel”.  The article goes on to mention the method adopted by New York baker, Jim Lahey, as described in his book My Bread.  His method suggests that one loaf of bread is made by mixing 400 g bread flour, 8 g salt and 1 g (¼ teaspoon) instant yeast with 300 ml cool water.  “The dough is allowed to rise, covered, for 12 to 18 hours until doubled in size and covered with bubbles, then scraped onto a floured surface, given a few folds, shaped, then allowed to rise, covered, for another hour or two.  It is then dropped in a pot that has been preheated in an oven at 230 °C. The bread is baked in the covered pot for 30 minutes and, with the lid removed, for another 15 to 30 minutes until the crust is a deep brown, then removed from the pot and allowed to cool for an hour”.

    Although Lahey’s recipe offers a recipe for a straight-forward white bread, Martha’s recipe (as mentioned above) is for a seeded loaf.  Although I have not as yet attempted the recipe, I thought I would write it down so that I (and you) have it to hand when we need it.

    Ingredients

    • ½ cup rolled oats
    • ½ cups cold water

    Method

    • Stir together 3 cups whole-wheat flour, bread flour, oats, salt, yeast, 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, and 2 tablespoons each flax, poppy, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Whisk honey into water in measuring cup, then stir into flour mixture. Drizzle a thin layer of oil over top of dough, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 2 hours, then let rise at room temperature 12 to 18 hours.
    • Coat the inside of a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with oil and sprinkle evenly with 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour. Stir dough to deflate, then quickly form into a ball and place in pot. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour and smooth into dough with your hands. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon each pumpkin, flax, poppy, and sesame seeds. Cut an X in top of dough with a sharp knife. Cover; let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
    • Preheat oven to 240 °C with a rack in lower third. Lightly sprinkle top of dough with water, cover, and place in oven. Reduce oven heat to 230 °C. Bake until browned, about 45 minutes. Remove lid; bake 15 minutes more. Let cool in pot on a wire rack 15 minutes, then turn bread out onto rack to cool completely. To store, wrap tightly in plastic and keep at room temperature up to three days.

    (Source: www.marthastewart.com)

    Happy Baking!

  • Let’s get ready to crumble

    As you know, I made a mincemeat and pecan crumble slice on a number of occasions over the Christmas period.  As you will also know, on the whole, the bake was met with a favourable response.   Despite the favourable response, with the festive period over and done with for another year, so too was my mincemeat and pecan crumble slice.  The time had come to try something new or somewhat new.  As a lover of all things crumble, but in particular a crumble slice, I didn’t want to get rid of the bake in its entirety, but rather the mincemeat layer.

    En route to my Mum’s last week, we stopped at a delicatessen in Highworth for a bite to eat and picked up a couple of pieces of crumble slices for taste testing – mixed berries and lemon.   We picked up the lemon slice on one of the members of staff’s recommendations.  While we enjoyed the mixed berry slice, it was the lemon slice that we liked the most.   I hadn’t really considered doing a lemon slice prior to this sampling but it really was quite delicious.

    Scouring the Internet when I got home, I found a recipe at Kitchen Confidante for Meyer lemon jam crumb bars.  Although a delicious looking recipe, the base of the bar was made separately and contained different ingredients to the crumble topping.  I was ideally looking for a simple crumble slice recipe, much like the mincemeat and pecan crumble slice.  I decided to combine the idea of using jam from the Meyer lemon jam crumb bar (rather than lemon curd) and the majority of the recipe for the base and crumble topping from the recipe for the mincemeat and pecan crumble slice.  I did however replace the pecan nuts with flaked almonds in the crumble topping as I thought almonds would go well with lemon.  The result was a delicious, lemon and almond tasting slice.

    Rather than putting all my eggs in one basket, I decided to make a second crumble slice.  This time using a Donna Hay recipe for apple crumble slice.  I made the apple filling on the Saturday (the recipe suggested that this could be made up to two days in advance as long as it was refrigerated) – a delicious combination of stewed apples, sultanas, brown sugar and nutmeg – and then completed the bake on Sunday.  Again the end result was a delicious tasting crumble slice.

    Pleased with how both of my bakes turned out, I dropped them off at the coffee roasters in Cirencester for them to do a taste test and decide which one they wanted to replace the mincemeat and pecan crumble slice with.  After a couple of days, I got the following response and an order for some for their cafe:, which I need to bake tomorrow and deliver on Monday:

    “Really loved the rhubarb crumble (I think it was rhubarb)?”.

    Okay, so it wasn’t rhubarb, but apple.  I think stewing the apples with brown sugar, nutmeg and sultanas changed the colour of the apples so that they mimicked rhubarb.  Anyway, although my apples were masquerading as rhubarb the coffee roaster loved the slice anyway and placed an order.

    I have to say that in my heart of hearts I would have preferred it if they had liked the lemon crumble slice instead of the apple crumble slice as it is slightly easier to make.  I guess there is something in the saying ‘you get out what you put in’.

    Anyway, as the apple crumble slice was the preferred one, I have decided to share the recipe with you.

    Ingredients

    Base and crumble 

    • 600g plain flour, sifted
    • 295g caster sugar
    • 375g unsalted butter, melted

    Apple filling

    • 50g unsalted butter, chopped
    • 1.2kg granny smith apples, peeled and chopped
    • 135g brown sugar
    • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
    • 80g sultanas
    • Icing for dusting

    Method

    • Preheat oven to 180°C.
    • Lightly grease and line a 20cm x 30cm tin with baking paper.
    • Place the flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl and mix well to combine. Press half the crumble mixture into the base of the tin.
    • Refrigerate for 10 minutes or until firm.  Remove from the fridge and cook for 20–25 minutes or until a light golden brown.  Set aside.
    • To make the apple filling, place the butter, apples, sugar, nutmeg and sultanas in a large saucepan over high heat.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for 5 minutes or until the apples are soft and the liquid has been absorbed.
    • Spoon the filling over the  base in an even layer.  Sprinkle the remaining crumble mixture over the apples and cook  in the oven for 35–40 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow to cool in the tin, dust with icing sugar and cut into slices to serve.  Makes 16.

    (Source: Donna Hay)

    Happy baking!

  • A request: meringues, nuts & chocolate

    Just before Christmas, one of my neighbours invited us to dinner at his house over the festive period.  During the discussions as to what he may cook on the night (we settled on something containing fish), I volunteered to make the dessert if he provided the pre-dinner nibbles and the main meal.  Why I offered to make the dessert after 5 days of almost solid baking (for customers and family), I don’t know, but I did.

    Keen to provide a dessert which he liked (bearing in mind that he is the neighbour who had a strong opinion about my mincemeat and pecan crumble slices), I asked him what his favourite dessert would be.  He said that it would be something containing meringues, nuts and chocolate.  Already armed with a go-to meringue recipe in the form of a Martha Collison recipe from her recipe book, ‘Twist’ (an excellent book if you would like my opinion), I had to have a little think about what I needed to make to accompany the meringues.  Knowing that I had a couple of bags of hazelnuts which needed to be used, I googled ‘hazelnut meringues’.  As if by magic, my favourite recipe site, ‘BBC Good Food’ popped up with a recipe which incorporated the three ingredients I required, meringues, nuts and chocolate.  As I already had a meringue recipe to hand, I used the BBC Good Food recipe for hazelnut praline and chocolate sauce.

    The result of my bakes was a mound of mini-meringues, a golden hazelnut praline and a smooth, rich and decadent chocolate sauce.  Armed with my meringues, praline and chocolate sauce and a carton of double cream, we made our way to our neighbours around 7.30pm.  After a delicious fish pie accompanied by beans and a Tuscan bean side dish, I assembled my pudding as outlined in the recipe below.   I know you should not blow your own trumpet, but I have to say that the pudding was delicious.  I think everyone else would agree as everyone had seconds.   Jo and I even had thirds the next day after lunch.  Feeling that my waistband may expand too much if I had a forth helping, I sent my younger sister home with the remains of the dessert for her family and friend to enjoy.  She seemed quite happy to relieve me of my goodies.

    So pleased was I with the dessert that I have included the recipes in this blog post for you to try if you so wish.  Happy baking!

    Mini-meringues, praline cream, hazelnut praline and chocolate sauce

    Meringues

    Ingredients

    • 300g white caster sugar
    • 150g egg whites

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan) and line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
    • Pour the sugar onto the baking sheet and spread it out in an even layer.  Warm in the oven for about 6 minutes, until it feels hot to the touch.
    • While the sugar is heating up, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (ensure that it is clean and grease-free).  Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
    • Remove the hot sugar from the oven when ready and turn the oven down to 100 degrees Celsius.
    • Whisk the hot sugar into the egg whites, adding a spoonful of sugar at a time and ensuring that the sugar is fully mixed before adding the next spoonful.  Add the sugar slowly and carefully as if added too quickly the meringue will collapse,
    • When all the sugar has been added, turn the mixer speed up and whisk the mixture for 8-10 minutes or until the mixture is thick and glossy.  Check the mixture by rubbing a small amount of the mixture between your fingers.  You should not feel any grains of sugar.  If the mixture feels gritty, whisk it for a few more minutes until it feels smooth.
    • Line one or more baking sheets with baking paper (depending on the size of the baking trays).
    • Spoon the meringue mixture into a piping bag with a star or round nozzle or snip off the tip.
    • Pipe out 40-50 meringues, depending on the size you require, leaving spaces between each on the baking sheet.
    • Bake them in the oven for 1.5 hours until crisp on the outside and they can peel of the baking paper without sticking.
    • Let them cool completely.

    Hazelnut praline and praline cream

    Ingredients

    • 150g caster sugar
    • 150g hazelnuts
    • 300ml whipping cream

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan) and line a large baking sheet with baking paper.  Place the hazelnuts on the baking sheet and toast in the oven for 6 minutes.
    • In the meantime, warm a small heavy-based pan over a medium heat and cook the caster sugar until it melts and turns a rich caramel colour.  Carefully swirl the toasted hazelnuts around the pan until they are fully coated. Pour the mixture out  onto a tray lined with baking paper.  Leave to cool.
    • Chop two-thirds of the hazelnut praline in a food processor and set aside.  Chop the rest of the hazelnut praline into bite size pieces.
    • Whisk the cream into soft peaks.  Stir half the processed hazelnut praline through the cream (you can be more generous if you wish).

    Chocolate sauce

    Ingredients

    • 50g golden caster sugar
    • 50g cocoa powder
    • 50g dark chocolate

    Method

    • Make the chocolate sauce by heating together 150ml water, the caster sugar and cocoa powder until boiling. Pour over the chocolate and whisk well until smooth.

    To assemble

    • Spoon a layer of the praline cream into the bottom of a glass bowl or rounded glass.
    • Place 5-6 small meringues on top of the cream, pushing the meringues into the cream.
    • Place a generous spoonful of the praline cream on top of the meringues and then pour over a generous helping of chocolate sauce.
    • Top with a sprinkle of the processed hazelnut praline and the hazelnut praline pieces on top.

    (Source: Martha Collison and BBC Good Food)

  • Mince pies and all things Christmas

    Okay, I have to let you into a bit of a secret.  Last year when I was working at Lynwood & Co I was responsible for making the mince pies at Christmas.  As you will know from my posts at the time these went down very well, especially with the gentleman who lives in our village.  What I didn’t mention at the time was that while the mince pies were indeed delicious, they were made with ready-made puff pastry and mincemeat.   I was just responsible for cutting the pastry to shape (the bases and stars); filling the pastry shells; baking them (of course to perfection – tongue firmly in cheek) and dusting them with a light dusting of icing sugar.  As we had to make a lot of them at Lynwood & Co, it would not have been commercially viable to make the mincemeat or the pastry from scratch on a regular basis.

    However, chatting to one of the regular customers at work, she mentioned that she enjoyed almond pastry mince pies.  Intrigued by her suggestion and also feeling that I should at least make mincemeat from scratch once in my life, I set about finding a recipe for almond mince pies.  It didn’t take long to find a recipe on the Delicious magazine website.

    The first step was to make the mincemeat.  I didn’t realise that making mincemeat was such a prolonged process (okay, I exaggerate, but it did take longer than I thought it would).  The first thing I needed to do was leave all of the mixed, mincemeat ingredients overnight to macerate.  The following day the mincemeat was cooked out at a low temperature for a couple of hours before placing it in steralised jars.  I left my mincemeat to ‘mature’ for a couple of days (not much time to mature, I know, but I was keen to try out the mince pies).  I then set about making the almond shortcrust pastry, which was relatively straight forward, albeit a bit more fragile than normal shortcrust pastry.  I chose to make mince pies topped with almond pastry stars rather than ‘lids’.  After 20 minutes in the oven, the pastry stars were still looking a bit anaemic so I left my pies in the oven for another 5 minutes.  In retrospect I should have only cooked them for a couple more minutes instead of 5 minutes as although not a mitigated disaster the pastry was still a bit over-baked.  That being said, overall, I think the pies tasted relatively good.  I took a couple to my Mum’s house and as my greatest critic, she was quick to point out that although she liked the pies, she felt that the mincemeat could have matured more before using.  She was correct of course (although don’t tell her), as the alcohol was still quite strong.

    With my Mum’s voice ringing in my ears, I left my mincemeat to mature for about 10 days before I incorporated it into another bake.  This time a Christmas cake, which just happened to be another recipe from Delicious magazine; a recipe for spiced rum butter mincemeat cake.  As I already had my own mincemeat, I used this instead of the rum butter mincemeat suggested in the recipe.

    I have to say that despite being on this planet for over half a century, this was the first Christmas cake that I have ever made. I have made many a fruit loaf or malted fruit loaf but never a Christmas cake.  What I found interesting about the bake, was that I had to line the tin with two layers of baking paper on the inside and newspaper on the the outside, as well as a wadge of newspaper underneath.  On top of all this protection from the heat and drying out during a two hour bake, I then had to cover the cake with a double layer of baking paper with a small hole cut out in the centre.  After two hours, the cake was looking well baked, albeit slightly under-coloured on top.  I took the decision to cook the cake for a little longer without the baking paper on top to get it a little more coloured.  While I don’t think this was entirely the wrong decision, I think I should have possibly left it as the recipe said – a two hour bake.

    No sooner had I baked and cooled the cake, and before I had time to wrap it and feed it alcohol for Christmas, my husband suggested that the cake would not last until Christmas.  He was right.  When I came home from work the next day, half the cake had disappeared.  My husband had taken it with him on a business trip to Holland, where he proceeded to eat most of it for breakfast on the few days that he was away.  As the cake was half eaten, I felt that there was no point trying to save the other half until Christmas so I have had a few pieces since then.  It is a lovely flavoursome cake with a boozy kick.  The only thing I would change if I made the cake again (as I suggested earlier) is reduce the baking time slightly as the cake is slightly crumbly – possibly the result of being slightly over-baked or otherwise being so jam-packed with fruit.

    As I was finishing my blog post, one of my neighbours knocked on the door and asked whether I would make 48 mince pies for a pre-Christmas get-together.  Although I enjoyed the almond mince pies, I am not sure whether the almond pastry is my favourite, so I think I may need to experiment a bit before the 10 December.  I will keep you posted.  In the meantime, I will leave you with the mincemeat recipe that I used in my almond pastry mince pies and Christmas cake, as this is definitely a winner.

    Mince meat

    Ingredients

    • 340g sultanas
    • 250g raisins
    • 140g currants
    • 50g dried cranberries, finely chopped
    • 250g Pink Lady apples, peeled and cubed
    • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
    • Zest of 2 oranges, juice of 3
    • 50g candied orange peel
    • 300g dark muscovado sugar
    • 1 ball stem ginger, finely chopped
    • 3 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 ½ tsp cloves
    • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 tsp all spice
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 90g shredded vegetarian suet
    • 90g unsalted butter, melted
    • 150g flaked almonds, toasted
    • 160ml Grand Marnier, or ordinary cognac

    Method

    • Stir the dried fruit together in a large bowl.  Dice the apples and add them to the bowl, grate over the lemon zest; squeeze in the juice and stir to coat the fruit.  Next add the orange zest and juice, sugar, spices, peel, salt and fat then stir until everything is evenly coated. If using ordinary cognac, add the zest of the 3rd orange.  Carefully fold through the almonds. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm spot overnight, stirring occasionally to agitate the flavours.
    • Preheat oven to 90°C fan.   Place the mincemeat to a baking tray, cover the top with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Set aside to cool slightly, and then stir in the alcohol.   Transfer to sealable sterilised jars.
  • At Nigella’s table

    For quite some time now we have not had access to terrestrial TV.   In the absence of terrestrial TV, I got a little hooked on Netflix.  Initially, it was ‘research’ where I watched almost every cookery programme on Netflix:

    • Chef’s Table
    • Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip
    • Cook your Ass Off
    • Martha Bakes
    • Rebel Without a Kitchen
    • Sugar Rush
    • Ugly Delicious
    • Zumbo’s Just Desserts

    After almost exhausting what Netflix had to offer cookery-wise, I have to admit that I got a little hooked on ‘box sets’, watching back to back episodes over a short period of time.  Not a good use of my time when I should have been concentrating my efforts on setting up a business.

    Anyway after being devoid of terrestrial television for a while, I was delighted to be able to watch a range of cookery programmes when our aerial was finally fixed; programmes like The Great British Menu; Great British Bake Off and At Nigella’s Table.

    Not long after I started watching At Nigella’s Table, Nigella made a ginger and walnut carrot cake.  As a huge fan of ginger, I loved the fact that the cake contained three types: ground ginger, crystalised ginger and fresh ginger.   I first made the cake a month back and it was met with great enthusiasm when I took it into the Coln Community Stores for my colleagues to try.   The second incarnation of Nigella’s ginger and walnut carrot cake was a celebration cake for my mother’s 78th Birthday today (5th November).   My plan was to use the ginger and walnut carrot cake as a base for a bonfire style cake.  The colours of the cake lent themselves to being a bonfire cake, as did the crystallised ginger and walnut pieces  which decorated the cream cheese icing.  Despite having an excellent base, I wanted to elevate the cake by topping it with honeycomb and caramel shards; so yesterday morning my mission began.  I started by making the cake and the icing.  While the cake was baking and the icing was cooling in the fridge I turned my attention to making the honeycomb and caramel shards.  Working with sugar is always a potentially difficult task, as not heating it enough will give you an insipid and poorly set end result.  Heating it too much will make the end result too dark with a burnt taste.  It was my lucky day and both the honeycomb and caramel came out as I had hoped.  The only thing I would have changed was to use a non-textured baking paper and tray as my honeycomb had a bit of an unwanted texture to it.

    With all my component parts made, I assembled my cake.  I iced my ginger and walnut carrot cake with a generous layer of cream cheese icing, flavoured with fresh ginger and topped it with a scattering of crystallised ginger and walnut pieces.  I then added my shards of honeycomb and caramel.  I left adding my shards to the last moment as I knew that the moisture in the icing would start to dissolve the sugar in the honeycomb and caramel.  I then crossed my fingers hoping that all would be well at the big reveal at my Mum’s Birthday lunch.  The aim was to add sparklers at the last moment for a grand bonfire cake.  Unfortunately it was not to be.  The pub was so warm that the heat contributed to the melting of the shards (not completely, but the shards became a little wilted in the heat).  To add insult to injury, I was not allowed to bring out the cake at dessert time (the pub required us to eat their desserts), so I didn’t add the ‘crowning’ glory, the sparklers , to my bonfire extravaganza.  With my family dissipating in different directions after lunch, the best I could do is send them off with pieces of carrot cake without its crowning glory.  Thank goodness I took a photo of the cake with its honeycomb and caramel shards before we headed off for lunch.  However, despite this my vision for my bonfire cake was never fully realised.

    Irrespective of my slight disappointment, nothing can take away from the fact that Nigella’s cake, without any added decoration, is a triumph in itself.  So much so that I am sharing it with you below.

    Ginger and walnut carrot cake

     Ingredients

     Cake

    •  200g plain flour
    • 1tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 2 tsp ground ginger
    • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
    • 175g soft light brown sugar
    • 2 large free-range eggs at room temperature
    • 200ml vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
    • 200g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
    • 100g walnut pieces, roughly chopped, plus extra for decorating
    • 75g crystallised ginger, finely chopped, plus extra for decorating

    Icing

    • 100g butter, softened
    • 100g icing sugar, sieved if lumpy
    • 1 tsp cornflour
    • 100g cream cheese
    • 1 tbsp coarsely grated fresh ginger

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 150C Fan and grease the sides and line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper.
    • Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and salt together in a bowl.
    • Beat the sugar, eggs and oil in another large bowl until they are completely mixed together, then gradually add the flour mixture. At this stage the mixture may seem alarmingly stiff, but the carrots will loosen it up. Beat in the carrots and then fold in the walnuts and crystallised ginger, until everything is evenly combined.
    • Spoon into the prepared tin. Don’t worry if it looks as if you haven’t got enough batter, as the cake will rise well as it bakes. Smooth the top and bake for 55 minutes (as much as an hour). When it’s ready, the cake will be set and golden-brown on top, beginning to shrink away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out with just a few crumbs stuck to it. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool in its tin.
    • Meanwhile, to make the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar together and when combined, beat in the cornflour, followed by half the cream cheese. Once that’s incorporated, beat in the remaining half. Be careful not to over-beat or the icing will get too runny. Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into the bowl and mix in, discard the ginger flesh. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge.
    • When the cake is completely cold, take the icing out of the fridge for about 20 minutes. Beat briefly to make sure it’s smooth. Remove the cake from its tin and place on a plate or cake stand. Spread the icing on top, swirling it a little, then sprinkle some chopped walnuts and crystallised ginger on top.

    Source: www.bbc.com (Nigella Lawson)

  • The best ever lemon curd

    I have been meaning to share this recipe for a wee while but have not got around to it as yet.  Whether you like to eat your lemon curd by the spoon or on your toast or in a dessert like lemon meringue pie, this is the best ever lemon curd recipe thanks to the Head Chef at Lynwood & Co.

    Ingredients

    • 6 lemons (zest and juice)
    • 200g butter
    • 410g caster sugar
    • 6 eggs

    Method

    • Heat lemons, sugar and butter over Bain Marie.
    • Whisk eggs then add to mixture and cook until thickened.
    • Cool for 2-3 hours.
  • Peach and raspberry vegan loaf cake

    Variation on vegan loaf cake as promised.  Happy baking!

    Ingredients:               

    Dry mix for loaf cake:

    • 500g plain flour
    • 60g ground almonds
    • 5 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 160g soft brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp ground ginger

    Wet mix for loaf cake:

    •  280ml orange juice
    • 90ml oat milk or other non-dairy milk
    • 20ml vanilla extract
    • 120ml vegetable oil
    • 1-2 peaches (or nectarines) depending on size
    • 1/2 small punnet of fresh raspberries plus extra for decoration
    • 125g sultanas
    • Ground cinnamon and soft brown sugar for dusting

    Method:

    • Preheat oven to 180C. Grease (with non-dairy butter or oil) and line two loaf tin tins.
    • Peel the nectarine/s. Cut nectarine/s into small pieces.  Set aside.
    • In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon and ginger together. Then add the ground almonds.  Mix well.
    • In a measuring jug, add the orange juice, oat milk, vanilla extract and oil.  Mix well.
    • Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, then pour in the wet ingredients.  Add in the chopped nectarine pieces, raspberries and the sultanas.  Fold and mix gently until a thick batter is obtained.  The batter may look quite dry (although less likely with the addition of raspberries fruits).  Do not be tempted to add more liquid as the fruit will release some moisture when the batter is baked.
    • Pour the batter into the two lined loaf tins. Spread the batter evenly in the tins.  Then place extra raspberries in a ‘herringbone’ pattern on top of the batter in a row.
    • Sprinkle with a mix of sugar and cinnamon.
    • Cook for 20 minutes at 180C and a further 20 to 25 minutes at 160C. When time is up test cake with cake tester and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.
    • Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting it.

    Please note that the cake can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of days. To keep it longer it should be kept in the refrigerator as the fresh fruit can go mouldy if not refrigerated.

    Source: variation on Veganlovie recipe.