• What was all the flap(jack) about?

    A couple or so week’s ago I was contacted by a potential customer who had seen my profile on Instagram.  Within a couple of days I had met with the potential customer, put together a price list, shopped for ingredients and completed my first bake.

    The request was relatively straight forward, a batch of brownies and a batch of flapjacks.  Nothing that I hadn’t done before.  However, most of my brownie and flapjack baking was done when I was at Lynwood & Co. and as you will know if you have eaten at Lynwood & Co, both their flapjacks and brownies are exceedingly good.  Despite being exceedingly good and despite being familiar with their recipes, it would not have been right to use these recipes when baking for a potential customer.

    With about 24 hours in which to research, cook and deliver the bake, I did not have time to develop my own recipes from scratch.  So armed with an array of my cookbooks around me on my bed, as well as the Internet to hand, I scoured all the recipes I could to find a suitable flapjack and brownie.  I settled on the one flapjack recipe that I had baked in the last couple of years (other than the Lynwood & Co recipe of course) and a chocolate fudge brownie.

    The bakes were relatively straight forward, especially the flapjacks.  The chocolate fudge brownies were a little more complicated with a few more steps, including hand beating the eggs and sugar into a light, thick and smooth mixture with no sugar granules and melting the chocolate and butter in a Bain-Marie, stirring regularly and preventing the chocolate from getting too hot (simmering water which does not come into contact with the bottom of the bowl in which the chocolate and butter are being melted).

    With an order being placed for 15 brownies and 15 flapjacks, I cut the respective bakes into 15 pieces and delivered them to the potential customer.  As there were no pieces to spare, except for a few brownie crumbs, I was unable to taste my bakes before they were dispatched.

    This is not how I would normally operate.  My usual modus operandi is to allow potential customers to ‘try before they buy’ or at least test the bakes before I deliver them.  However this time, there was no time.

    Although the brownies went down well, the flapjacks needed to be more gooey and the size of the bakes were not quite right for the price that the customer wanted to charge for them.  Taking on board the feedback and rising to the challenge, I tweaked the original flapjack recipe.  I upped the quantity of ingredients as a whole to make larger flapjacks and tripled the amount of syrup to make them more gooey.  I also tried a second flapjack recipe, which professed to be the ‘best ever flapjack’.  Cutting both flapjacks into larger portions and tasting both flapjacks I headed off to drop off my bakes.

    A day later, I received the news that ‘taste-testers’ thought that both flapjacks were delicious but that they preferred the new recipe.  I have to confess that I had initially preferred the adapted original recipe, albeit that I thought it could do with a bit more syrup.  However, when I tried the flapjacks the following day, it was definitely the new recipe that I preferred.

    And with that, I now have a brownie and flapjack recipe under my belt and hopefully a happy customer who I can provide regular bakes to.  As they say, all is well that ends well.

  • Roses are red, violets are blue, be my Valentine & I’ll be yours too

    “I think that Valentine’s Day is only as good as you want it to be.  You know, I don’t think it should be anything fancy, nothing crazy.  As long as you’re spending time with that person that’s special, I think that’s a great Valentine’s Day.”  Prince Royce

    I tend to agree with Prince Royce (American singer and song writer) that Valentine’s day does not need to be anything fancy, nothing crazy.  So with this in mind, I bought my husband of 25 years a few of his favourite things: some coffee beans from Rave; a bottle of good red wine and a card.  The only thing that was missing was a personal gift from yours truly, so I decided to bake a cake.

    To backtrack a bit, Valentine’s day did not start off well.  I had the early shift at work (a 5.30am start) and no sooner had I walked through the door than the fire alarm went off for no rhyme or reason.  After struggling for a while I rang the doorbell of the gentleman upstairs to see whether he could reset the alarm – he was unable to do so.  So after one slightly distressed call to the Assistant Manager (it was his day off from the early shift), he came in and saved the day.  He reset the alarm and peace descended once again.

    All was going well until one of our regular customers came in and when I mentioned that my day had started badly because of the fire alarm going off (and me not being able to reset it) he said that he knew as he could hear the fire alarm going off down the road.  Feeling mortified that I had not only woken the gentleman upstairs, but possible others in the street, we got talking about Valentine’ day and our respective plans.  I mentioned that I was planning on baking my husband a cake.  To this, the gentleman said ‘what, just for your husband?’  With this question, I knew that I would now need to make a couple of cakes.  The least I could do under the circumstances.

    Still interested in exploring vegan baking, I found a recipe for vegan mini chocolate and raspberry loaf cakes on www.biddieskitchen.com.  The bake was a relatively straight forward one, albeit that the icing was something that I had not made before.  It was a combination of crushed, fresh raspberries, icing sugar, melted coconut oil, vanilla bean paste and a pinch of salt.  Although I said that the recipe was straightforward, I changed the method for the icing slightly.  Instead of combining and whisking the raspberry puree, coconut oil, vanilla bean paste together and then adding the icing sugar until the correct consistency was obtained, I combined the raspberry puree, vanilla bean paste, salt and icing sugar together and then gradually added the coconut oil until I got the required consistency.  This allowed me to created an icing which could be piped rather than spread on top of the mini loaf cakes.  Irrespective of the method, the end result was a rich and decadent chocolate cake with refreshing and tasty icing.  Not only was the icing refreshing and tasty, but it also had a lovely consistency to pipe.

    I tried out a couple of simple finishes – one with multi-coloured sprinkles and the other with heart-shaped sweets.  I boxed up the the cakes in a kraft boxes and tied them up with raffia and wooden hearts.  I kept the one with the hearts for my husband and then hand-delivered the other to the gentleman I had disturbed when I set off the alarm on Valentine’s morning.  He was delighted with his unexpected Valentine’s gift and had plans to eat a slice before an evening meal with some friends in the village.  Lo and behold, not long after I returned home, I got the message below in my inbox.

    “I can tell you straight away…..it’s delicious!  I’ve obeyed instructions and eaten the icing and the cake together….a perfect combination. And I rather like the bit of crunch with the little sugar sprinkles.

    Thank you very much…..and I hope you won’t have to bring a peace offering for any sounds that might go off tonight!! On the other hand…….”

    My husband eventually got his cake when he returned home that evening, after a few days away on business.  I am not sure who was more excited at receiving their cake, but it seems that both enjoyed their sweet treat.  As they say ‘the way to man’s heart is through their stomach’.

  • 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.

  • The straw that broke the camel’s back

    “The straw that broke the camel’s back’, a seemingly minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions’ (Wikipedia).

    You will know if you have read any of my recent posts that I am partial to a crumble slice.  In fact you will be aware that I have been making quite a number of them:  mincemeat crumble slices, apple crumble slices and yesterday, I added to the list by making a pear and ginger crumble tart (really just a slice in a tart form).  Why, you might ask?  Well, I need to try out a few more crumble slices before my new adventure at the end of March.  I also needed to complete the fifth week of my 52 week challenge and I felt that a tart rather than a slice filled the brief better, albeit that in retrospect I think that my choice of bake may have been a bit of a cop out (not strictly patisserie).

    Despite me thinking that my choice was possibly a bit of a cop out, the bake went well.  I am used to making the crumble bottom and top (a simple mixture of plain flour, caster sugar and melted butter) but I wanted to try another filling.  As I had bought some pears a week or so back, which were definitely past their best so I thought I would make a pear and ginger filling.

    Rather than trying out a new recipe, I played around with the apple filling from Donna Hay’s recipe for apple crumble slice.  I cooked the pears with some sugar, butter, sultanas and ground ginger.  Given that the pears were not at their best, I had to discard quite a lot of pear before I started the filling, so the end result was less voluminous than I would usually have.  When it came to spreading the filling over the already baked base, it didn’t take long to realise that I my filling was a little scant.  I spread the filling as evenly as I could, but felt that the ratio of filling to biscuit base/crumble would have been out so with wishful thinking I opened my larder cupboard to see whether I had a tin of pears stashed away.  Lucky for me, I did.  Even luckier for me, they were in date.  I cut up most of the tinned pears and interspersed them between the pear filling.  The extra pears seemed to do the trick.

    After topping the filling with the crumble topping (which I had scattered a few chopped, toasted hazelnuts through for good measure) and baking it for the required 35 minutes, all that remained was to let my creation cool and then tuck into it.  Although it was a good bake, albeit that the ginger could have been a little stronger, I came to the realisation that after all these months of making crumble slices that maybe I was a little crumbled out.  Both making them and eating them. You could say that this crumble tart was ‘the straw that broke the camels back’.  Hence the title of this blog.

    Despite being all crumbled out, I won’t have any rest from making them as I have a weekly order for an apple crumble slice, but I think I need to give the taste testing a rest for a little while.  In fact, despite my grand plan to do 52 patisserie challenges this year, I think I am going to have to deviate from my plan for a little while (so soon, I hear you say).

    Rather than focusing on sweet bakes for a while (my sweet taste buds and waist line are a little over saturated and my husband is starting to blame me for a extra kilogram or two that he has put on over recent months), I am going to shift my challenge to two areas (1) more savoury bakes and (2) vegan bakes.

    The first, for two reasons.  Firstly, after weeks of baking sweet things, I am craving savoury food.  Secondly, scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came across a post from Nathan Outlaw, promoting a new book from Richard Bertinet, called ‘Crumb: show the dough who’s boss’.  It didn’t take my brain much persuading to pop into Waterstones on the weekend to pick up a copy.  It was so fresh off the press that they hadn’t even put the book on the shelves when I asked whether they had a copy of it.  Needless to say, it is a gem of a book and I am hoping to try my first recipe or two from it this weekend.

    The second is that, with the rapid increase of people exploring a vegan lifestyle or at least dabbling in it from time to time, I am keen to try out more vegan baking recipes.  I have already started experimenting in this area and plan to write a couple of posts on about my foray in vegan baking next.

  • Creme brulee tartlets

    It was my husband’s birthday last Saturday.  As a treat, we decided to stay at Cowley Manor – ‘the perfect place for a luxury getaway in the Cotswolds’.

    Our aim was to have a relaxing couple of days away from home and the sadness which had pervaded our house since we lost Montague, our much loved dog.  In the main, we achieved our objective.

    We were treated to a lovely dinner at the restaurant on Friday night, courtesy of my mother.  On Saturday, after a relaxing breakfast of bircher muesli and fruit, followed by scrambled eggs and salmon/chilli avocado on toast, we went for a 6 mile run.   After a quick dip in the pool and hungry again after our exercise we sat down to a delicious lunch of artichoke, sweetcorn, mushroom, sun blushed tomato and mozzarella pizza, served in the bar area.   If that wasn’t enough indulgence, we then both had a half an hour neck, shoulder and back massage.  Note to self, never ask for a firm massage as my encounter with the masseuse was not a relaxing one.  I was pummelled with an elbow for almost half an hour, but my pride (or stupidity) would not allow me to admit that I should have requested a medium massage.  Whereas Jo emerged quite relaxed from his experience, I emerged grateful that my back was still in one piece.  As they say, you live and learn.

    Stopping en route at Waitrose to pick up a few bits and pieces, it was back to reality again when we got home.  One part of my reality was that it was still Jo’s birthday.  The other part of my reality was that I had to complete week 4 of my challenge.  As a dutiful wife, I thought that if I was going to do my challenge I should do it on Jo’s birthday so that he had a good dessert to finish off the day.  After some discussion with Jo, we settled on a creme brulee tartlet from BBC Good Food (surprise, surprise).

    My bake was going to plan.  The first step was to make the pastry.  A straightforward pastry (flour, cold butter, a sprinkling of sugar and egg yolk) with a hint of orange from the zest of half an orange, chilled and blind-baked in tartlet cases prior to adding the filling.  As with the pastry, the filling was also straightforward to make.  Heated cream infused with vanilla (I used a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste instead of a vanilla pod as stated in the recipe) was added to eggs and sugar to make a custard.  After straining the custard through a sieve to remove any lumps, the mixture was poured into the blind-baked pastry tarts and cooked for 18/22 minutes until almost set.  The tarts were then required to be cooled for 30 minutes before adding the caramel topping.  The next step was to make the caramel topping – a mixture of water and sugar cooked out on the hob until a deep caramel colour and then cooled on a lightly oiled baking tray until hard.   Once hard, the caramel was blended to a fine powder, which was later to be sprinkled on the cooled tarts before placing them under the grill to create the required caramel topping for the creme brulee tartlets.

    It was at this point that things started to unravel a bit.   You see, having made all the component parts (pastry, filling and topping), I relaxed with a glass of wine on the sofa and dozed off.   I was woken up by my husband when the timer went off to advise me that the tartlets were cool enough to top with the caramel.  Rudely awoken from my slumber, I set about finishing off my tartlets.  I went to sprinkle the blended caramel on top of my cooled tartlets, and realise I had made my first mistake.  Having made and blended the caramel earlier, I had left it in the blender rather than an airtight container and as such my beautiful caramel powder had started to clump together (as you know sugar is hygroscopic so will absorb water in the atmosphere).  This made sprinkling an even layer of fine caramel powder on each of the tartlets a little difficult.  Protecting the pastry of the tartlets from the heat of the grill (I had to cover the edges of the tartlets with foil) was also a little tricky.  To cut an already long story short, rather than having an even, glossy layer of caramel on top of my tartlets, the caramel topping was uneven (both in appearance and cooking).  Even an attempt at dusting the tartlets with a sprinkling of icing sugar (to disguise the flaws) only made it look like the dusting of caramel had not melted in places.

    Despite the end product being less than perfect, I have to say that the pastry and the custard filling were absolutely delicious.  The caramel topping even had the required crack, even though it didn’t look as delectable as it should have.  The morale of this story is three-fold: (1) it is best to leave drinking alcohol until after the challenge is finished; (2) it is best not to fall asleep (because you have been drinking alcohol) during a challenge and (3) when attempting caramel items, ensure that they are stored correctly in an airtight container to prevent them from absorbing moisture.

  • 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!

  • All puffed up

    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.