• Challenge 2: nattering about laminated dough

    Challenge two really start yesterday.  My first bake was Portuguese custard tarts (natas).  Although these were essentially my second challenge, I felt that I couldn’t count them as such as I didn’t make them in there entirety.  In other words, I used shop bought puff pastry but made the custard filling.  When I was at Ashburton Cookery School, the Chef Tutor mentioned that most chefs don’t make puff pastry from scratch as it is such a prolonged process, so I thought I too would rely on shop bought puff pastry.

    I should possibly mention that I chose to bake Portuguese custard tarts as my brother-in-law asked for them specifically as a Birthday gift, and I couldn’t turn down his request for a home bake.

    I knew that last time I made Portuguese custard tarts that I used a Tesco recipe, but when I searched for the recipe again, I came up with two versions.  One a regular recipe and the other a step by step guide to making Portuguese custard tarts.  I chose the later.  This recipe involved infusing whole milk with lemon zest and cinnamon and then combining it with flour and egg yolks to which a sugar syrup was added.  The mixture was then cooked out to make a thickened custard, which was spooned into the puff pastry cases (made from rolled up puff pastry cut into twelve pieces and pressed into the individual holes of a muffin tin).  Despite thickening, my custard was a little on the thin side when I ‘spooned’ it into the puff pastry cases.  Although I think I cooked out the custard properly, I think I could have let it cool for longer before I ‘spooned’ it into the puff pastry cases.

    Although the end result was some decent enough looking and tasting Portuguese custard tarts, I was not as happy with them as I was with my first attempt at them a few months ago.  In retrospect, I think I chose the wrong recipe of the two.   Although I was not entirely happy with the end result, I was already late in giving my brother-in-law his gift, so last night, after Crossfit, I took his gift of Portuguese custards tarts around to him.  After a delicious dinner of pizza from Sourdough Revolution in Lechlade, my brother-in-law and sister tucked into a Portuguese custard tarts.  From what I could gather from their response, they seemed to enjoy them.  So although I was not entirely happy with them (they did not have the required sheen and blackened top), they were not an unmitigated disaster.

    Despite not being a disaster,  I felt that I had cheated on the bake so I didn’t think it was fair to count them as my second challenge.  To redeem myself, I decided to make croissant pastry today as a substitute for the puff pastry I didn’t make yesterday.  As you will know, making croissant dough is quite a drawn out process so you really need to have time to make it.  After a morning of shopping (mainly food), I only started making the dough around 2pm.

    I decided not to use the recipe that we were taught at Ashburton Cookery School as I wanted to try something different.  All seemed to be going well with the dough making process until it came to rolling it out to cut and shape the croissants.  I noticed that the quantity of dough was quite a bit less than I was used to and the resultant croissants were very much on the small side.  Hoping that by some miracle the croissants would do some serious growing during the prove, I enjoyed my Saturday evening in front of the television with a glass of good wine and a delicious omelette with a filling of harissa vegetables.  Although the croissants did enlarge somewhat during the prove, they certainly did not resemble the fine specimens from cookery school.   Even the bake did not remedy the situation, albeit that the end result had two positive attributes: flakiness and lamination.  Despite the positive attributes, my croissants looked more like rugelach than croissants.

    I am not for one moment saying that the recipe I chose was wrong (I must have executed the recipe incorrectly), but when comparing it to the one which I used at Ashburton Cookery School, I noticed a number of significant differences between the recipes, which could possibly explain the outcome of my bake.  Below, I have outlined the respective quantities of the ingredients for the two recipes for comparison.

    Ashburton Cookery School

    • 500g Violette T45 flour
    • 15g fresh yeast
    • 50g white caster sugar
    • 250ml full fat milk
    • 1 egg
    • 5g salt
    • 250g butter (no added flour)

    Recipe used

    • 380g strong white bread flour
    • 30g fresh yeast
    • 37.5g sugar
    • 2tsp honey
    • 230ml cold milk
    • No egg
    • 10g salt
    • 300g butter combined with 40g plain flour (for laminating)

    In addition to the differences in the quantities of yeast and salt (double in recipe I used for a smaller quantity of flour), the most noticeable differences between the two recipes were: the type of flour used (Violette T45 versus strong white bread flour); the amount of flour (500g versus 380g)/ratio of flour to butter (2:1 versus 1.27:1) and the use of an egg in the Ashburton Cookery School recipe.  There was also quite a noticeable difference in the method.  Whereas the recipe I used, suggested kneading the dough for 10 minutes after bringing the ingredients together in a dough, the Ashburton recipe suggested to ‘work the dough gently but do not kneed roughly’.  The Ashburton recipe also suggested splashing a small amount of water in the bottom of the oven to help the croissants to develop a crust, whereas this was not suggested in the recipe I used.

    I know ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’ (so to speak), but there is also merit in the saying ‘better the devil you know’.  If only I had remembered the ‘devil I know’ or thought to refer to it, I would have questioned the recipe I used and maybe have done somethings different – although I would in no way say that I am an expert in making croissants ( I have only made them a handful of times), I do know that the type of flour used; ratio of ingredients and how you handle the dough (kneading or not kneading) does affect the end product.

    All in all week 2 of my challenge was not as successful as week 1, but then I have called my adventure a challenge with trials, tribulations and triumphs along the way.  Maybe in this case there were more trials and tribulations than triumphs.  I might give croissants another go before the year is out, just to prove I can make them properly.  But next time I may just use my trusted Ashburton Cookery School recipe.

  • A fruit for all seasons

    I have been fortunate over the past few days to have been given a couple of opportunities to take my business forward this year.   One of them isn’t until April and the other will have a mutually agreed start date.  As they say, you only have one chance to make the right impression so I have the next few months to ensure that I have everything in order so that I make the right impression when I present my bakes.

    As you will know from my most recent posts, I am partial to the crumble slice.  So much so that I want to include these in the bakes I offer.  I am very keen to use what is in season in the UK, so I spent some time yesterday looking up what fruit is in season at different times of the year.  Depending on what site you look at you get a slightly different list.  After a bit of digging and thinking about what I already know about seasonality, I settled on a list from the Vegetarian Society:

    Seasonal UK grown produce

    • January: Apples, Pears
    • February: Apples, Pears
    • March: Rhubarb
    • April: Rhubarb
    • May: Rhubarb, Strawberries
    • June: Blackcurrants, Cherries, Gooseberries, Raspberries, Redcurrants, Rhubarb, Strawberries, Tayberries
    • July: Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Blueberries, Cherries, Gooseberries, Greengages, Loganberries, Raspberries, Redcurrants, Rhubarb, Strawberries
    • August: Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Cherries, Damsons, Greengages, Loganberries, Plums, Raspberries, Redcurrants, Rhubarb, Strawberries
    • September: Blackberries, Damsons, Pears, Plums, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Strawberries
    • October: Apples, Blackberries, Elderberries, Pears
    • November: Apples, Cranberries, Elderberries, Pears
    • December: Apples, Cranberries, Pears

    (Source:  Vegetarian Society)

    With seasonality in mind, I have come up with a short-list of possible crumble slices:

    • Apple crumble slice
    • Lemon crumble slice
    • Pear and ginger crumble slice
    • Plum and almond crumble slice
    • Raspberry crumble slice
    • Rhubarb crumble slice

    Over the next few months (as the different fruits come into season) I will be giving these recipes a go.

  • 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.


    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


    • 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!

  • Challenge 1: When life gives you lemons

    Let’s start by saying that I have had a bit of a challenging week and it made me think about the saying, “when life gives you lemons make lemonade”.  To make sure that I quoted the quote correctly,  I did a quick Google search and wikipedia comes up with the following explanation of the quote:

    ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune.  Lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life; making lemonade is turning them into something positive or desirable.’

    Of course Google will also suggest other versions of the quote, like the ones below.

    “I believe when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade…and try to find someone whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.”
    Ron White

    “When life gives you lemons ask it for sugar and water too. Otherwise your final product would be some acidic lemon juice!”
    Priyavrat Gupta

    Okay, so I wasn’t actually given any lemons and nor did I make lemonade, but I did buy five lemons to make a Tarte au citron.  With Week 1 of my patisserie challenge almost over and no bake to show for it, I thought that I better get started, so last night, I made pâte sucrée for the base of my Tarte au citron.   According to Will Torrent, pâte sucrée, which is used to make tarts ‘is similar to pâte sablée but the use of caster/granulated sugar instead of icing/confectioners’ sugar makes a less delicate pastry’.

    As the recipe suggested leaving the pâte sucrée in the fridge overnight to chill, I  didn’t complete the bake until later this afternoon after we had completed an 8 mile off-road run.   The next step of the bake was rolling out the pâte sucrée and lining a tart tin.  Having recently worked with straight forward short-crust pastry, I had forgotten that pastry enriched with egg can be a little bit more difficult to work with.  I struggled with the first roll (the pastry was more sticky than I think it should have been, possibly because I added vanilla extract rather than the seeds of a vanilla bean) so I ended up having to re-roll the pastry.  Re-rolling is not the best as it can result in the pastry becoming too tough, but I really didn’t have an option as my pastry was sticking to my work bench, despite lightly flouring the surface.  My re-roll resulted in a relatively well-lined tart tin, except for the fact that I really do need to get a new 25 cm tart tin.  My tart tin is a cheap one that I got for our camper van.  It has a lip/rim on it which means that when you try to cut off the excess pastry, it is difficult to get a neat edge.  Alright, I know a poor work person blames his/her tools but I think I have a legitimate concern in this regard.

    The next step was to blind-bake the pastry.  The recipe suggested that I should blind bake the pastry with baking paper/baking beans in it for 10 – 15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius and then lower the oven to 160 degrees Celsius, remove the baking paper and beans and bake it for a further 5 to 10 minutes.  Given the lip on my tart, I erred on the side of caution and blind baked my pastry for 10 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius and 5 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius.  Needless to say, I was a bit too cautious as the base could have had at at least another 5 minutes.  That being said the sides and the rim of the pastry was nicely cooked with a slightly nutty, caramelised flavour.  And my husband says that despite my concern the pastry was not under-cooked.

    Although I may not have been entirely happy with my pastry, I have to say that the filling was cooked as it should have been.  The recipe says ‘Pour the filling slowly and carefully into the tart case.  Push the tart further into the oven , close the door, say a little prayer and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until it just starts to set in the centre but still wobbles like a jelly’.   Although I didn’t say a prayer, I did continue to watch the tart closely through the oven door (as the do on Great British Bake Off).  I checked the tart after 30 minutes, again after 35 minutes and then finally lost my nerve and removed the tart from the oven after about 37.5 minutes.  The result was a well cooked filling with the required wobble.  The only thing that I would do differently next time (if there is a next time) is skim the lemon filling mixture more before pouring it into the tart case.  My cooked tart had a few small, burst bubbles on the surface, which shouldn’t have been there.  The perfect lemon tart has a smooth, glass-like surface.  Thank goodness the recipe suggested finishing the tart with  light sprinkling of icing sugar, which hid most of my multitude of tiny bubble ‘sins’.

    After allowing the tart to cool to room temperature, my husband and I tucked into a small slice.  My husband was ecstatic, whereas I felt that it was a little too sweet and rich for my taste (9 eggs, 390g sugar, 275ml of double cream and the juice and zest of 5 lemons will no doubt do that).  Despite my opinion, my husband says it has just the right balance of sweet and tart.

    After my husband squirreled away another piece of the tart to eat tomorrow, I took the rest of the tart up the road to our resident photographer so that he can try to works his magic on my bake and turn it into a piece of art in the form of a photograph.  Given that my tart cracked slightly en route and the light sprinkling of icing sugar had dissipated somewhat from the surface of my tart by the time I delivered it to him, who knows whether he will be able to turn what may have become a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

    Thank goodness I took a photo of my bake earlier, before my walk in the dark partly-destroyed the aesthetics of my bake.  Oh yes, and I should have used a warm knife to cut the tart so that I would have got a neater edge – what would my Chef Tutor say about my over-sight?  And with all this, Week 1, my 1st bake and the first of my 52 challenges is complete.  As in cookery school, I am sure there will be trials, tribulations and triumphs along the way.