• 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)

  • 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)

  • Good Food

    For those of you who have read my posts for a while; the posts which are now private, you will know that BBC Good Food is my go-to site for recipes, particularly cakes and bakes.  The reason is essentially two-fold: (1) they have a large range of cakes and bakes to choose from and (2) the cakes and bakes tend to work well and are very tasty indeed.  Although I have been relying on the BBC Good Food site (not to mention their magazines, which I pick up from the newsagent if I see a copy of the latest edition) for some time now, I have had a bit of a BBC Good Food baking spate over the last few months.

    It started by baking a ‘brilliant banana loaf’ (their words).  My aim was to use my dehydrator, which I bought some months back, for the first time and luck would have it that the ‘brilliant banana loaf’ required dehydrated bananas for decoration, along with a drizzle of icing.  All was going well – the cake was baked and the bananas were dehydrating in the dehydrator – when I realised that I was running out of dehydrating time before my shift at work.   Rather than adding fully dehydrated bananas to my delicious banana loaf, I had to add a ‘sun-blushed’ version, which although looked absolutely fine when I photographed my creation, resulted in rather soggy, brown decorations by day two.  The good thing was that my lack of dehydrating time did not affect the taste of the cake in any way, just its appearance on day two.   The other good thing was that most of the cake was eaten on day one, so there was not much evidence of my flacid, discoloured bananas.  Note to self, ensure that you have enough dehydrating time (preferably overnight) and make another opportunity to practice your dehydrating sometime soon – perhaps lemons or oranges next time.

    My next bake was a decadent carrot cake loaf with a cinnamon cream frosting.  This bake came around as I was working one weekend (I don’t normally work on a weekend) and asked my husband, Jo to do the fruit and vegetable order.  When it came to ordering the carrots, he promises me that he asked the supplier for ‘the usual’ but when the order came in on the Monday, we were greeted with a large mound of carrots, which the Stores were certainly not going to sell in any great hurry.  By about day three, and still embarrassed by Jo (and my) collective faux pas, I decided to purchase about a kg of the carrots and then work out what I could make with them.  Carrot cake seemed the most obvious thing to make with carrots but I didn’t want to make a carrot cake that I had made before.  I also wanted to try a carrot cake loaf rather than cake.  A short google later, yet again the BBC Good Food site came up trumps.  Definitely one of the best carrot cakes I have made and tried to date.  Especially lovely with the walnuts on top.  With a retweet and like from BBC Good Foods, my carrot cake was quite a popular one on Twitter.

    My next two BBC bakes were a sticky malt loaf and a bitter orange and poppy seed cake.   Not to bore you too much with the details of these two bakes, lets just summarise as follows.  The sticky malt loaf was the best malt loaf I have ever tasted, full of flavour and moist (the word that makes everyone squirm).   One of my Twitter commentators remarked: ‘@bakebybuffy@bbcgoodfood that’s just gastro porn, stop it it’s too early ;-)’.  My bake was enjoyed warm with a generous spread of slightly salted butter, accompanied by a cup of tea.  Perfect!  The bitter orange and poppy seed cake was another flavour and texture triumph.  Following a discussion with one of my neighbours earlier in the week about the type of cakes that he liked, I took a piece of my bitter orange and poppy seed cake around to his to try.  The following morning he approached me at work with a great deal of enthusiasm saying that it was the best cake that he had ever tasted.   I am sure he was exaggerating, but you can’t really get a better accolade than that.

    My final two BBC Good Food bakes were a chocolate and banana loaf which I made for my in-laws, when they visited us recently and a cherry Bakewell cake.   While I will briefly mention the chocolate and banana loaf here,  I will devote a separate blog to the cherry Bakewell cake as over the last 12 months I have tried various incarnations of the cherry Bakewell, some which have been a great success while others have been less so.

    Going back to the chocolate and banana loaf briefly, I have to admit that I resorted to using bought dehydrated bananas (as I didn’t have time or didn’t make the time to dehydrate my own with all the cooking I had to do the same weekend) to decorate the loaf.  It was another delicious bake, made especially delicious by a sour cream frosting.  A posting on Twitter seemed to confirm the popularity of the cake, with 11 retweets and 55 likes and with one commentator stating that they had made the loaf for their book club ladies and they all agreed that it was delicious.

    On that note, let me end my blog post by saying that if you are ever at a loss as to what to bake, scour BBC Good Food site.  I am sure that they will have something to your taste and I am sure whatever you choose it won’t disappoint.

  • Nothing beats a warm banana and walnut muffin for breakfast

    Muffins have always been something that I have enjoyed making.  They are easier than most bakes, but still result in a delicious morsel to eat in a fraction of the time.  No mixers, blenders required, just a couple of bowls, one with your dry ingredients and one with your wet ingredients and a fork or spoon to combine the two.  The only care you need to take is when you add and mix your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, as over-mixing at this stage of the process will result in an over-processed looking muffin with a chewy rather than light and fluffy texture.

    If you live in the UK, you will know that it has been very hot and dry (i.e. no rain, not a lack of humidity) of late (the experts are saying unprecedented), well with my reorganisation of my kitchen to make way for home baking, my fruit bowl was relegated to the top of my new storage racks in which there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. However, there is a problem with the relegated spot for my fruit bowl; it is a little too close to the overhead lights, which I turn on when I need a little more light in that part of the kitchen.   As a consequence, when I was taking down a couple of apples to have with my lunch yesterday, I discovered a few browning bananas.  Not wanting to throw them away (as they say, waste not want not), I decided that the first mission of the day today was to turn what would otherwise be food for my food waste bin into a delicious breakfast.

    After Googling banana muffins I settled on a recipe from BBC Good Foods, simply entitled ‘banana muffins’.   It had a five star rating, albeit if I am honest from only one reader.  Despite this and despite not having two of the ingredients required i.e. pecan nuts and buttermilk, I went ahead as planned.

    PS, I should mention that the BBC Good Food site is one of my go-to sites for basic recipes as 9.9 times out of 10, they yield delicious products.

    The 1st step in my banana muffin making was making my buttermilk replacement – mixing the 125 ml milk with a teaspoon of lemon and letting it sit for 20 minutes while I weighed out the rest of my ingredients.   This is a good alternative to buttermilk as sometimes buttermilk is hard to find or not something you necessarily have in your fridge.  Or put another way, you are more likely to have lemon or vinegar (vinegar works just as well) in your kitchen arsenal than buttermilk.

    I had a bag of handy walnuts, so used these instead of pecans.  Not to bore you with the rest of the process; lets just say that I followed the rest of the recipe as outlined on the BBC Good Food site until I got to portioning out my muffins.  Although the recipe suggested that it made 12 muffins, I used large tulip muffin cases and so the recipe only yielded 8 rather plump looking muffins.  Despite this, the cooking time was still around the 20 minute mark in my fan oven at 170 degrees Celsius.

    I ate my first one (yes, I ate two) warm with a cup of tea for breakfast.  Nothing beats a warm muffin just out of the oven.  However, just to check my theory, I thought I would try another one, this time cold, with a cup of coffee to recover from a shopping trip to Fairford.  Okay, shopping trip is a bit exaggerated as I merely picked up a few groceries from Londis, fresh vegetables and bread from the Fairford Market and toiletries from Boots.  Low and behold, my theory seemed to be correct.  The flavours of the muffin seemed to be more enhanced when it was warm.  I needn’t have tried that second muffin after all – while my taste buds may have liked it, I am sure my waistline or the scales won’t be liking it shortly.

    In conclusion, although a very fine muffin indeed, I feel that it could benefit from a little added spice (a pinch or two of cinnamon and/or allspice) and possibly toasting the walnuts (or pecans) before adding them to the mixture to get a nuttier flavour.   I will have to wait until I discover another batch of browned bananas on the top of my storage rack before I can put these suggestions to the test.  However, if you already have some brown bananas which need to be used up give my suggestions a go and let me know what you think.  You will find the recipe for the banana muffins (by Elena Silcock) at www.bbcgoodfood.com.  Happy baking!