• 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.

    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!

  • 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.

  • 12 months, 52 weeks, 52 pastries

    Okay, I should have written this post some time ago as the 01 January 2019 is looming and I haven’t documented my challenge as yet.

    As you will be aware, it has been over a year and a half since I completed my Diploma in Professional Patisserie and to be honest, I haven’t really used much of what learnt on the course.  I have been largely baking rather than doing patisserie since I left Ashburton Cookery School all those months ago.  Okay, so I may have dabbled a bit more recently – I have made meringues, short-crust pastry (a variety), caramel, praline, profiteroles etc. but I haven’t really indulged in the art of patisserie.  Concerned that I may lose my skills (I hope I haven’t already done so), I have decided to set myself a challenge for the New Year – 12 months, 52 weeks and 52 patisserie items.

    A few days ago, I started scouring my cookery books for suitable pastries.  To date, I have scoured three of my patisserie books for ideas (Patisserie at Home by Will Torrent, Patisserie Made Simple by Ed Kimber and Patisserie by Christophe Felder) and have come up with a list of 32 pastry challenges so far:

    1. Almond and honey friands
    2. Breakfast brioche buns
    3. Brioche
    4. Chocolate and hazelnut sables
    5. Chocolate fondant
    6. Coffee and chocolate madeleines
    7. Coffee tart
    8. Creme caramel
    9. Croissants
    10. Croquembouche
    11. Flan parisien
    12. Framboisiers
    13. Gateau au chocolat
    14. Gateau opera
    15. Kouign amann
    16. Macaron a l’ancienne
    17. Milk chocolate and hazelnut praline Buche de Noel
    18. Millefeuille
    19. Raspberry and pistachio financiers
    20. Paris-brest
    21. Pear and chocolate tartlets
    22. Pear tart
    23. Pistachio & cherry souffles
    24. Savarins
    25. Salted caramel and chocolate tartlets
    26. Spiced rum babas
    27. Tarte au chocolat
    28. Tarte au citron
    29. Tarte au pommes
    30. Tarte aux fraises
    31. Tarte tatin
    32. Tarte tropeziene
    33. Viennese biscuits

    I am not sure what I will start or finish with or what order I will bake the pastries in, or whether I will change my list during the course of the year.  What I am sure of is that at the end of 2019 I aim to have 52 pastry attempts under my belt, notwithstanding any acts of God.  This of course will be along with any other bakes that I do during the year.  If you want to get involved and set me a pastry challenge, please let me know.

  • 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)

  • Hot (or not) news – an update on some of my previous posts

    I don’t often look at my previous posts, but I guess I should as when I do I realise that I have mentioned things that possibly need some sort of conclusion.

    Let me first take you back to my post  ‘Video debut in my quest at becoming an Uuni Pro’ which I wrote back in October.  After a wait of more than a month and a mention that over 5000 people had applied to become pizza tasters for UuniPro, I finally heard, what in my heart I already knew, that I had not been successful in my quest at becoming an UuniPro.  I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed, but it certainly didn’t come as a surprise.  5000 applicants were just a little too much competition for me (and I am guessing, many others).

    My big bake started as suggested on Friday, 22 December with two batches of mincemeat and pecan crumble slices (one for the coffee roaster in Cirencester and one for my manager), a batch of vegan cookies and a batch of rocky road; something I hadn’t made before.  I didn’t think that I would like the rocky roads as I thought they would be too sweet, but the combination of mini marshmallows, dark chocolate, rich tea biscuits, glace cherries etc. was  the perfect combination.  When I delivered my bakes for the cafe in Cirencester on Friday, I included a few squares of rocky road for them to try.  Their feedback was as follows:

    ‘Thank you for the rocky road by the way, delicious and perfectly balanced!  We may well go for that in January.’

    Saturday saw me bake 60 traditional mince pies.  I was planning on making 18 wholewheat, vegetarian mince pies (another customer order which came in late) as well, but the 60 traditional mince pies took longer than I expected and I wanted to fit in a run as well.  With the 60 traditional mince pies dispatched around 4pm and a 6 plus mile run under my belt, we indulged in some mulled wine and later a pizza from Sourdough Revolution in Lechlade.

    As I didn’t finish my baking on Saturday as planned and I also got another order for 12 traditional mince pies on Sunday, whilst at work,  Sunday was not a bake-free day.  Although my baking didn’t go as planned on Sunday, my visitors (youngest son and in-laws) arrived as planned.  I managed to deliver the mince pies by early evening and then proceeded to make a delicious chickpea curry with cucumber raita and rice for dinner.

    Despite planning an early start to my baking on Monday, I was somewhat delayed as my in-laws stayed longer than expected.  After a 10.30am start, three chocolate roulades and two batches of profiteroles later, I had two roulades for one customer and 24 profiteroles (8 large, 8 medium and 8 small) for another customer.  The spare roulade and the excess profiteroles were put aside for our Christmas dinner.  I sent Jo off to deliver the roulades while I went off to deliver the profiteroles.  We were both rewarded for our efforts with a little Christmas Eve tipple.  Our Christmas Eve was topped off with an invite from one of our neighbours for drinks and nibbles.

    Already baked out, there was no rest for the wicked on Christmas day.  My Christmas Day started with a 4.5 mile run, opening of presents and a Christmas Day service at the local Church.  It was followed by making the starters (vegetarian and pork and cranberry sausage rolls), vegetarian main (beetroot and red onion tart tatin), vegetables (thyme roasted parsnips and carrots; coriander seed red cabbage, chilli-charred sprouts and fluffy, roasted potatoes) and finishing off the desserts (chocolate roulade and cream filled/chocolate covered profiteroles).  I was very fortunate to have been assisted all day in the kitchen by my very capable, youngest son, Noah.  I am not sure what I would have done without him.

    The dinner was well-received, along with my sister’s contribution of ham, turkey and chicken, so I guess all the effort was worth it in the end.  Another positive note is that Montague (our dog), who has been very poorly for some time, made a somewhat miraculous recovery over the Christmas period, aided I am sure by all the delicious food on offer.  He spent most of Christmas Day evening on his feet, in close proximity to one of my brother-in-laws, who had the job of carving the meat.  Given my brother-in-laws love of dogs, I think Montague was given his full of tasty meat morsels.

    I can’t recall much about Boxing Day other than returning home and trying to clean up after the Christmas period.  I must have cooked something that evening, but I can’t recall what.  Either way, I had a slight reprieve from cooking/baking on Boxing Day.  This was all change again on the 27 December as you will see from my next post.

  • The big bake

    It has been a wee while since I last wrote.  Although it has been a very difficult time in the Upton household (our elderly pooch, Montague lost the use of his back legs a couple of weeks ago (blood clot) and we have been nursing him ever since – he has bad and better days but we are still not sure what the outcome will be) I have been doing quite a bit of baking.

    As mentioned in my previous post, I continued to experiment with mince pies and variations thereof.  I made deep filled mince pies with shortbread pastry and mincemeat and pecan crumble slices.  The deep filled mince pies were delicious but the pastry was very fragile.  The thought of making 48 mince pies using shortbread pastry was too much for me to bear.  I decided to try the mincemeat and pecan crumble slices as an alternative as these are made in a tray and can be portioned after the bake.  I was delighted with the outcome of the bake.  So much so that I gave four of them to the neighbour who had requested the 48 mince pies so that she could try them as a possibility a pre-Christmas get-together.  She tried one then and there and we then left her with the rest to eat at her leisure.  I also gave a couple of slices to another neighbour, who has indulged in my bakes from time to time.

    In response to receiving the treats, this neighbour sent me the following email:

    Morning Bridget,

    I had just eaten one, (well maybe two!!), Waitrose mince pies when Joe, the delivery man at the door, presented two beautifully wrapped mincemeat slices. Thank you, you are kind. They are sitting tantalisingly on the counter and will be tonight’s pudding….if I can resist earlier temptation!!

    They look scrummy…

    The following morning, he popped into where I work and in a lowered tone asked me if I wanted some constructive feedback.  I thought he was going to tell me what a wonderful bake it had been (as Jo and I could not stop eating them once we started).  Instead, he said that he felt that the slices were over- caramelised on the edge and that the mincemeat was a bit on the dry side for his taste.  Despite this criticism  he said that he thought that the slices were very tasty.  The other taster said that they were delicious but that they were slightly on the sweet side. Slightly taken aback by the less than positive feedback, but not put off entirely, I adjusted the sugar and the baking time when I next baked them.

    I should mention that my next time I baked the mincemeat and pecan crumble slices was for a coffee roaster in Cirencester, which has a small cafe in it.  I got an opportunity to make a few test bakes for them a week past Friday: a chocolate cake, vegan biscuits, ‘caramel heavens’ and the mincemeat and pecan crumble slices.  After a slight delay (it is the Christmas season after all and coffee roasters are a roasting to meet demand) the feedback to my bakes was as follows:

    Cakes went down a storm (especially mince pie crumble and the cake).  Unfortunately, the cake is too messy for us to serve realistically, its perfect otherwise, light, moist, buttery, great cake!

    This feedback was followed by an order for another batch of mincemeat and pecan crumble slices and vegan cookies, which I delivered on Monday.  Today I returned to the coffee roasters for a chat about invoicing and future bakes and I received a further order for mincemeat and pecan crumble slices and vegan cookies, which I need to deliver tomorrow morning.

    The next four days will be baking mad as in addition to tomorrow’s order for the coffee roaster, I also have to make a batch of the crumble slices and some rocky road for a Christmas gift for my manager.  Also on the back of the pre-Christmas get-together, I have an order for 5 dozen traditional mince pies and one and a half dozen wholewheat mince pies, which I have to deliver on Saturday.

    I think Sunday will be a bake-free day as my youngest son, Noah is arriving for Christmas, along with my in-laws who are visiting for the day.  I am then back on it on Monday as I have to make two chocolate roulades for one of the local residents (she bid for them at the recent Auction of Promises) and 24 profiteroles for one of my colleagues at work, who wants to make profiterole snowmen, but doesn’t want to make the profiteroles.

    With my big bake looming, I had better sign off and get some sleep.   But before I do, I forgot that I also made another variety of mince pies for one of the regulars at work.  This time, cranberry, orange and almond mince pies.  The crumbliest of pastry with the tastiest of filling.  Although I am a little mince pied out at the moment, I have a few days, 78 mince pies and two mincemeat and pecan crumble slices to make and then I can breathe a sigh of relief, unless of course I get another order through in the meantime.

  • 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.
  • Autumnal pizzas

    Scrolling through my Instagram account a couple or so weeks back I came across an OoniHQ post about an autumnal pizza using spiced pumpkin puree instead of tomato sauce, which was topped with zucchini, pine nuts and fresh chilli.

    Scrolling down even further I came across another autumnal pizza topped with butternut squash, chilli, mascarpone, mozzarella and basil.

    Inspired and intrigued by these more unconventional toppings and with a couple of butternut squashes in my fridge from our neighbour who has a very productive vegetable garden, I decided that I would give both of the pizzas a go.

    Not put off by the autumnal weather and the dark (it only added to the theme), my husband, Jo, fired up our UuniPro.  Okay, he didn’t fire up our UuniPro immediately as I had quite a few preparations to do (if you own an UuniPro, you will know that it doesn’t take very long to get to the required temperature) but he did when he knew that I was nearly ready for the pizzas to be cooked.

    When I say that I had a few preparations, I mean the making of the pizza dough and in this case, the making of the pumpkin puree.  If I can say so myself (although they do say that pride comes before a fall), I have got my tried and tested pizza dough down to a fine art.  In the early days, I used to knead the dough by hand but one day when I was pressed for time I decided to use my trusty Kenwood instead.  Releasing 10 minutes of my time to do other preparations, the dough was kneaded just as well with my Kenwood dough hook than by hand.  That being said, I always finish the dough off with a bit of hand kneading before proving, just to ensure that the dough is beautifully smooth and elastic.

    The pumpkin puree was made by simply roasting and pureeing the pumpkin and then adding olive oil, garlic and seasoning.  Once the dough was proven, divided and shaped, the only thing left to do was to top both varieties of the pizza with the pumpkin puree, add the respective toppings and bake them in my UuniPro.  I should possibly mention that Ooni’s recipe for one of the pizzas was for a vegan pizza i.e. pumpkin puree, courgette and chilli.  I added a bit of mozzarella as I am a bit of a cheese fiend.  I am sure that it was not necessary, but I personally loved the addition of a bit of melted mozarella.

    The result of my husband and my toil was two vibrant and delicious varieties of pizza.  Warming to look at and warming to eat (aided of course by the hint of chilli on both) – perfect for an autumnal evening.

    Inspired by my autumnal pizza experimentation, I used the remaining two portions of pizza dough the following night to make another non-tomato based pizza.  This time, I topped my pizza dough with a mound of mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil and garlic.  To this, I added a generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, mascarpone and Parmesan before baking.  With the final addition of fresh parsley before serving, Jo and I tucked into another delicious pizza.  I have to say that this concoction was a treat for the taste buds and definitely one to be repeated.

    Having bought our UuniPro this year, I have definitely been stretching myself (and a lot of pizza dough) when it comes to pizza toppings.  With the ideas on Ooni’s Instagram and Facebook pages, as well as their website, I don’t think I will ever be short of ideas.

  • 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)