Sunday, August 31, 2014

Great British Bake Off Technical Bake (5.4)

Desserts! Always an odd episode in my mind, as I'm never quite sure what constitutes a dessert, nor why a biscuit or a cake or a sweet bread is not a dessert, indeed, this technical bake caused a few ripples in the definition world, with comments about whether a tiramisu cake was actually, in fact, a cake, not a dessert. I digress.

This technical bake conclusively proved to me that I would struggle to cope with the pressure of the bake-off tent. I don't receive a television signal where I live (story for another day) and, therefore, watch the bake-off at a later date, in the company of The Fair Physiologist, The Pure Mathematician In Exile (when he's not at work) and their son, Little Boy Red. My contribution to this viewing is the technical bake.

Despite knowing that this family is one of the nicest around, and that, quite frankly, if a bake contains cake, chocolate and cream they will eat it, even if it doesn't meet the exacting standards required of a Bake Off Bake, I still found horizontal sponge slicing one of the most stressful things I have ever done. Just saying.

I didn't add the brandy to my tiramisu cake, because 100ml of brandy is an awful lot if you're expected to drive after eating this cake. I replaced it by increasing the amount of water used to make up the coffee, but upon reflection should have increased the coffee too, as the flavour was somewhat lost.

I also did not entirely understand the point of the crumb coat on the top layer of the cake - either this needs to be done all the way through to stop the marscapone cream and sponge from becoming one entity, or it is unneccessary, as the top layer is thoroughly covered in a thick dusting of cocoa, so you cannot see any splodgy bits of sponge anyway.

(External, after paper peeled off, sorry, no internal shots, too keen to tuck in! It was much neater inside, promise)

Having broken my thermometer whilst attempting to temper the chocolate previously (resulting in a drive to the tip clutching a bag with balls of mercury in, which the nice tip man kindly relieved me of), I merely microwaved half until melted, then stirred in the other half, which I had broken into smallish pieces. No measuring temperatures, and the chocolate was beautifully tempered, nice even snap and a lovely shine.

Recipe (from BBC Food)

For the sponge
a little softened butter, for greasing
4 large free-range eggs
100g/3½oz caster sugar
100g/3½oz self-raising flour

For the filling
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
150ml/5½fl oz boiling water
100ml/3½fl oz brandy
750g (3 x 250g/9oz tubs) full-fat mascarpone cheese
300ml/10½fl oz double cream
3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
75g/2½oz dark chocolate (36% cocoa solids), grated

For the decoration
100g/3½oz dark chocolate, (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped (you do NOT need all of this - 50g would have been plenty)
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Preparation method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C(fan)/350F/Gas 4. Grease a 38x25cm/15x10in Swiss roll tin and line with baking parchment.
2. For the sponge, place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and, using an electric hand-held mixer, whisk together for about five minutes, or until the mixture is very pale and thick (here, five minutes really means five minutes, not a half hearted two and a half, you want SO much air in here). The mixture should leave a light trail on the surface when the whisk is lifted (ribbon stage).

3. Sift over the flour (the one and only time I sift flour, I just spent five minutes beating air in, I jolly well want the flour to be light too) and fold in gently using a metal spoon or spatula, taking care not to over mix (also taking care not to under mix, or you'll have blobs of flour - I think would be better to add the flour in stages, but didn't actually test this theory).
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and tilt the tin to level the surface (again, no prodding or smoothing it out, preserve that air!).
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until risen, golden-brown and springy to the touch (mine took nearer 30 minutes). Cool in the tin for five minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
6. For the filling, dissolve the coffee in the boiling water and add the brandy (see note above about omitting brandy). Set aside to cool. Now is a good time to grate your chocolate if you haven't already.
7. When the sponge is cold, carefully slice the cake in half horizontally, so you have two thin sponges of equal depth (hahahaha, unless you have some sort of freaky precision cutter these sponges will not be equal depth, just be proud if they are two sponges rather than millions of pieces).
8. Using the loose base of a square cake tin as a guide, cut two 18cm/7in squares from each sponge (I found it easier to cut the squares out and then cut in half horizontally, due to the relatively short blade of my knife). You don't need the sponge trimmings for the tiramisu cake, eat them now to calm your nerves or save them for something else.
9. Line the base and sides of the square tin with long rectangles of baking parchment; there should be plenty of excess parchment which you can use to help lift the cake from the tin later (which is all well and good, but good luck getting the base parchment off the blessed thing!).
10. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the cream and icing sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting.
11. Place one layer of sponge in the base of the lined cake tin. Spoon over one-quarter of the coffee brandy mixture. Then spread (or pipe. I wish I'd piped) one-quarter of the mascarpone frosting over the soaked sponge. Scatter over one-third of the grated chocolate.
12. Place the second sponge on top, spoon over another quarter of the coffee mixture then spread another quarter of the frosting over the soaked sponge. Scatter over another one third of the grated chocolate. Repeat with the third sponge and another one-quarter of the coffee mixture and frosting and the remaining grated chocolate.
13. Place the fourth sponge on top and spoon over the remaining coffee mixture. Using a palette knife spread a very thin layer of the remaining frosting over the top of the cake – this is called a ‘crumb coat’ and will seal in any loose crumbs of sponge. (Nope, still haven't worked out why you need this crumb coat, you won't be able to see the cream once the cocoa dusting is on)
14. Wipe the palette knife and spread the rest of the frosting in a thicker layer over the cake. Chill for at least one hour in the fridge before turning out.
15. While the cake is chilling, melt half of the chopped chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. (Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.) Gently stir the chocolate until it reaches a melting temperature of 53C/127F.
16. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the remaining half of chopped chocolate and continuing stirring gently until the chocolate cools to 31C/88F or lower and is thick enough to pipe.
17. Place a sheet of baking parchment on the work surface. Use another sheet to make a paper piping bag.
18. Spoon the melted chocolate into the paper piping bag. Snip off the end and pipe decorative shapes onto the baking parchment. Leave to set until required.
19. Dust the chilled tiramisu cake with the cocoa powder (thus hiding any boo-boos in the cream), before turning out (there is no turning involved - you want the cake to still have the top at the top) onto a serving plate using the parchment paper to help lift out of the tin. Decorate with the chocolate shapes.

Now drink the brandy you didn't put in the cake.

I'm entering this in Supergolden Bakes #GBBO Bake Along and Mummy Mishaps Great Bloggers Bake Off 2014 (Desserts) .

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wild Plum and Apple Jelly

Foraging for food is one of my favourite things. First - the thrill of the chase, to track down some wild, but tasty, foodstuff. Then the stuffing of pockets and bags. Finally, the joy of creating something that, if not entirely free, certainly of smaller cost.

Wild plums, here, encompasses damsons, sloes and bullaces. The apple is added to mellow the bitterness and provide a little extra pectin. I also had to add lemon juice, as mine initially wouldn't set (I also added too little sugar) and had to reboil (which sadly loses some of the wild plum flavour and makes it a little "caramelly" in flavour.) This jelly is good with game or other "rich" meats, but could just as easily be spread on toast, or in jam tarts, if that's your preference.

The plums were picked over the course of two weeks, as they ripened, and stored in the freezer (whole) until enough were gathered, as it was such a short period of time. If I was going to keep them for longer, I would consider removing the stones first, as they can make the plums (more) bitter.

2 kg wild plums (I used a mix of damsons, sloes and bullaces)
750g cooking apples (I used underripe bramleys and a few windfalls of indeterminate breed)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1.8 kg granulated sugar (ish - will depend on your juice yield)

1. Place plums in a large pan with 1 litre of water. Cook over a gentle heat until the plums have broken down (this can be assisted with a potato masher.)

2. Tip the mush into a jelly bag over a large bowl and leave to drain.
3. Place the apples, roughly quartered, but not peeled or cored, into the same pan (don't bother washing it!) with 500ml of water. Cook as for the plums.
4. Add the mush to the jelly bag and leave to drain overnight.
(Optional: after 30 mins, empty mush back into pan, add a further 500ml of water and simmer for a further half hour, then tip back into the jelly bag and leave to drain overnight - I did this, but don't think I would bother next time, I think I just diluted the extract)
5. Measure the juice (I got 2 litres) and allow 900g to 1kg of sugar per litre. Don't add the sugar yet.
6. Put clean jam jars in the oven to sterilise.

7. Pour the juice into a very large pan and bring to the boil. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, then return to the boil. Boil until the temperature is ~108C on a jam thermometer, or until your chosen method indicates that the jelly will set.
8. Pour hot jelly into hot jars, and put the lids on. Leave the jars undisturbed to set overnight.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Great British Bake Off Technical Bake (5.3)

Bread week. The week that your baking future depends on microbes and elbow grease.

The week that perfectly sane people begin repeating, "does that sound hollow?" with alarming frequency.

The week that I wish I had a food mixer with a dough hook, rather than an amusing hand mixer with spirals.

And the week that I cannot even wait for a photo before sinking my teeth into the delicious loaf. (And the week that I am so proud of my crumb structure!)

Point of note - this recipe needs to be started the night before if you're hoping to eat the ciabatta at lunch time, and early in the morning if you're hoping to eat it for supper.

400g/14oz strong white (bread) flour, plus extra for dusting
7g instant yeast
300ml/10fl oz water
30ml/1fl oz olive oil, plus extra for oiling
7g salt
Semolina flour, for dusting

1. At least six hours before you intend to bake the loaf (I started mine off at 8pm): Combine half of the flour (200g) and 4g of the yeast with half the water (150ml), in a bowl. Beat it together into a thick batter.
2. Oil a clean work surface and knead the dough for five minutes.
3. Cover the dough with a damp tea towel and leave it to rise for at least six hours at room temperature.
4. (The next morning)Tip the mixture into the bowl of a food mixer. Add the remaining flour (200g), the oil and remaining  (3g) and half of the remaining water (75ml).
5. Mix this all together in a food mixer with a dough hook attached.
6. Dissolve the salt in the last of the water (75ml) and gradually add this to the mixture (v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y or you will be wearing it); mixing for 6-10 minutes, or until the dough is stringy and soft.
7. Tip the dough into a well-oiled litre square plastic container and put the lid on.
8. Leave the dough to swell until the dough has risen three-quarters of the way up the side of the container. (If you accidentally leave it until it has risen to the top of the container it doesn't mind, and this may fulfil Paul Hollywood's edict to "be patient")
9. Mix equal amount of flour and semolina flour together and use this to flour the work surface (don't use all of it, mind, as you'll need some to flour the baking tray later). Tip the dough out onto the surface. Split the dough into two and stretch the two pieces into shape (do NOT knock back - the lovely irregular holes are because it is not knocked back).
10. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7 (I have a fan oven, and bread is the one time that I don't adjust the temperature - the hotter the better).
11. Place the dough on a baking tray floured with a mixture of flour and semolina and allow to prove again for another 30 minutes. Bake for 30 minutes.

I'm entering this in Supergolden Bakes #GBBO bake along and  Mummy Mishaps Great Bloggers Bake Off (Bread) (Updated to add - also submitting to Yeastspotting )

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Healthy Nibbles

One of the good things about Twitter is occasionally you will stumble across something new and interesting. Recently I stumbled across Healthy Nibbles. This is a brand new company "oop north" producing vending machines stocked with healthy snacks and mail-order healthy mixed snack boxes. In fact, they were so brand spanking new that when I first checked them out, they had only just installed their first machine and weren't yet selling their boxes.

However, after some rather energetic pester power, I managed to be their first official customer!

The box arrived very quickly, via Royal Mail. It is quite big, so if you have a standard "hole in the door" letterbox, it may not fit through. It is beautifully packed, and there was a charming handwritten note thanking me for being the first one to buy one.

There was a wonderful range of snacks. Being quite new to the world of healthy, slightly niche, snacks, I only recognised about 4 items, and had only ever tried 2 of them!

The box contained the following (forgive the spattering of links, I want you to be able to have a look at these items if you're not familiar) : Snapz tomato crisps (only 40 calories a packet, containing only tomatoes, and utterly delicious, with a wonderful crunch,) Oloves chili and oregano (just the right kick,) Elements for Life Yummy Scrummy Raw Chocolate Brownie (true to its name, yummy scrummy,) a tube of Superseeds Feel the Heat (not yet tried,) a sachet of Munchy Seeds Honey Seeds (I've tried these before, delish!) Nakd cocoa and mint bar (I think Healthy Nibbles have been watching my Twitter Feed, as I recently declared these my favourite Nakd bar!) Frank Orange & Chocolate and Blueberry & Chocolate bars (I preferred the orange one, I didn't dislike the blueberry one, but wasn't entirely conviced by the blueberry/chocolate combo), IQ Superfood Chocolate Orange and Wild Raspberry chocolate (haven't tried, yet,) Bounce Energy Balls Ginseng and Spirulina (not tried yet,) Olly Bars All Day Breakfast bar (really yummy, and my first taste of something containing chia seeds,) and last, but not least, Tyrrell's veg crisps (I like. A lot.)

A range of really tasty healthy snacks, several of which were new to me, meaning I tried things I probably would have passed over (to my loss.)
Lovely customer service.
A snack box service, delivered to the door; come on, who doesn't love the joy of opening a parcel and not knowing what will be inside?
Quick delivery after ordering.

Rather short shelf lives on some items (I brought this up with Healthy Nibbles, and am informed that this has been raised, and from now on all items will have at least 60 days until they expire)
The lowest priced box is still £19.95 (but I do acknowledge these are premium snacks, often from small independent companies, and this includes P&P)

Disclaimer: I paid full price for the standard Nibbles Box although there were a couple of bonus snacks as there was a slight delay in the posting, due to a supplier issue. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, and this review is entirely voluntary.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Great British Bake Off Technical Bake (5.2)

Week two of season 5 of The Great British Bake-Off brings florentines.

I must admit, here, that I actually had a practice run yesterday - I went to visit the Ballerina, the Maharajah and their daughter Princess Smiles. The Ballerina had arranged an excellent programme of activities that included making tart tatin and florentines. I am firmly of the opinion that both are better made, for the first time, with company.

Florentines are certainly an easier technical bake than tuiles, especially if you are not blessed with heat-proof fingers. However, they have their own foibles. I had excellent advice from Pigling about how much they spread, but noted that the addition of an extra tablespoon or two of flour can take the florentines from this: 

To this:

The thicker, less holey florentine (with the additional flour) is also more receptive to its chocolate backing, and less likely to allow the chocolate to ooze through.

Recipe: Mary Berry's Florentines

    50g/1¾oz butter
    50g/1¾oz demerara sugar (I replaced this with light brown sugar, because I don't have any demerara!)
    50g/1¾oz golden syrup
    50g/1¾oz plain flour (an extra tablespoon or two makes the florentines slightly thicker and less lacy - your call)
    25g/1oz dried cranberries or glacé cherries, finely chopped (I used dried morello cherries)
    50g/1¾oz candied peel, finely chopped
    25g/1oz almonds, finely chopped
    25g/1oz walnut pieces, finely chopped (I omitted these, and made up the weight with almonds and cherries)
    200g/7oz plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C (fan)/350F/Gas 4. Line three baking trays with baking parchment or silicon sheets.
2. Measure the butter, sugar and syrup into a small pan and heat gently until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and add the flour, chopped cranberries or cherries, candied peel and nuts to the pan. Stir well to mix.
3. Make 18 florentines by spooning six teaspoonfuls of the mixture on to each of the prepared baking
trays, leaving plenty of room for them to spread during cooking.
4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden-brown. Leave the florentines to cool before lifting onto a cooling rack using a palette knife (if the florentines have been baked on greased baking trays, then allow them to harden for a few moments only before lifting onto cooling racks to cool completely). If the florentines become too hard to remove, then pop them back into the oven for a few minutes to allow them to soften.
5. Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, without letting the bowl touch the water. Temper the chocolate by breaking half of the chocolate into the bowl. Stir until the chocolate reaches a melting temperature of 53C/127F. Meanwhile, finely chop or grate the remaining chocolate. Carefully remove the bowl from the pan, add the rest of the chocolate and stir gently until the chocolate has cooled to 26C/79F. (The chocolate needs to be REALLY thick to stop it oozing through the florentines)
6. Spread a little melted chocolate over the flat base of each florentine and leave to cool slightly before marking a zigzag in the chocolate with a fork. Leave to set, chocolate side up on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

This is being entered into  My GBBO Bakealong and the Great Bloggers Bake Off

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Great British Bake Off Technical Bake (5.1)

Yes, yes, I know this is late. However, I have no television, so an arrangement has been made - I will watch the bake off on catch-up at someone else's house, and in return, I provide the technical bake of the week.

 Last week, then, was cake week. Mary Berry's cherry cake.

Sadly I don't own a large enough savarin mould or bundt tin. So it had to go in a loaf tin.

And, as it turned out, I had to flake my own almonds. (Easy but time consuming, how to here )

It was a little drier and darker than I would have liked. My oven was on the blink a bit, and a bit too hot I think. However, it went down rather well.

From BBC Food
Equipment and preparation: for this recipe you will need a 23cm/9in savarin mould or a bundt tin
(alternatively use a 20cm/8in round cake tin).

        175g/6oz softened butter, plus extra for greasing
        175g/6oz caster sugar
        1 lemon, finely grated zest only
        3 large free-range eggs
        200g/7oz glacé cherries
        225g/8oz self-raising flour
        50g/1¾oz ground almonds

For the decoration
        175g/6oz icing sugar
        1 lemon, juice only
        15g/½oz flaked almonds, toasted
        5 glacé cherries (taken from the 200g), quartered

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease a 23cm/9in bundt tin or savarin mould with butter. (Two smallish loaf tins also work)
2. Cut the cherries into quarters. Set aside five of the quartered cherries for the decoration. Put the rest of the quartered cherries in a sieve and rinse under running water. Drain well, then dry thoroughly on kitchen paper and toss in two tablespoons of the flour.
3. Measure all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl and beat well for two minutes to mix thoroughly. (I actually did this the traditional way, and creamed butter and sugar, added eggs, then flour, no idea if it made any difference.) Lightly fold in the cherries. Turn into the prepared tin.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until well risen, golden-brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out and cool on a wire rack.
5. For the icing, mix the icing sugar together with the lemon juice to a thick paste. Drizzle over the cooled cake using the back of a spoon (or pipe it like most of the contestants) sprinkle over the toasted almonds and reserved cherries.

Right, time to work on my florentines!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Chocolate Courgette Cake

Move along please, nothing to see here.

Certainly not a rich, chocolately cake where the butter was replaced by shredded courgette.

And then frosted with clouds of creamy chocolate.

No sirree, that would be madness. Wouldn't it? Even if one had a rather large courgette harvest, and was running out of ideas for it.

This recipe was originally posted on a great blog called "Peas and Thank You," which now no longer exists. I have adapted it somewhat from the original incantation and updated it to weights (what is it with Americans and cup measures?!) It is endlessly adaptable and could be dairy free/egg free/gluten free as required.

Chocolate Courgette Cake
180g flour (could be replaced with oat flour (gluten free oats can be ground in a food processor to make flour)
80g cocoa powder
225g (250g) light brown sugar / 1 cup (250ml) maple syrup
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp salt
300g shredded courgette (approx. 2 medium courgettes, shredded and squeezed to release moisture, then drained in a colander)
2-3 eggs (3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce / apple puree)
2 tsp vanilla extract
100g chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 180C
2. Grease a 23x33cm deep tin and set aside (I used a disposable foil tin here as I was baking to take to work)
3. In a large bowl, combine (oat) flour, cocoa powder, (sugar), baking powder, bicarb of soda and salt.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together shredded courgettes, eggs (applesauce), (maple syrup) and vanilla.
5. Add wet ingredients to dry, add chocolate chips, and stir until all just combined.
6. Spread mixture into the prepared tin
7. Bake for 20 minutes (original suggestion, mine took about 30 minutes), or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (beware of stabbing a chocolate chip, which can make the pick appear coated in batter). 
8. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate Cream Topping
225g cream cheese, softened (could be replaced with dairy free cream cheese)
115g butter, softened (or dairy free margarine/spread)
125ml. maple syrup (100ml golden syrup mixed with 25ml water - a liquid sweetener is important here)
2tsp vanilla extract
60g cocoa powder
pinch of salt

1. Beat cream cheese, margarine or butter, maple syrup, and vanilla together using an electric mixer until smooth. If your cream cheese and butter were not completely soft, you may have a rather lumpy mixture, to make this smooth, gently heat until melted, then cool to room temperature and beat again.
2. Gradually add cocoa powder and salt until incorporated and the topping is fluffy and light.
3. Spread over the cooled cake. Then decorate to your heart's content!

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Garlic Harvest

I've been growing garlic for a few years now. I first grew it in a pot on a balcony in the East End of London! It is easy to grow and pretty tolerant to novice gardeners, but no-one needs to know that.

One of the traditional, and attractive, ways to present garlic is in a braid. However, before you can get to braiding, you need to get rid of all of the dirt, mud, roots and excess flaky bits.

Beware, this is a rather dusty, messy business, so make sure there is newspaper down or you have a good dustpan and brush. Then braid away! I used the instructions here.

Finally, take gratuitous photos!