Monday, January 21, 2013

Bread Take Two: Rustic white-ish loaf

This time it was a combination of completely running out of bread (which was worse than usual because I was roasting a ham and thus had no way of making sandwiches with the leftovers!), and a desire to get this bread thing right.

I returned to old reliable, remembering that Deb had gone through a bit of an obsession with bread a few years back. There were two posts which she then simplified a little here and all three are filled with recipes I'm now feeling a bit more confident about trying out!

I based my recipe on this post though, wanting to make a loaf which was as simple as possible. It turned out well despite my experimentation although I still struggle with timing - I really like to cook at my pace rather than when the food decides it's ready, which isn't the ideal attitude for bread!

The loaf didn't end up quite the shape I was hoping for - it eventually proved quite well, but the final loaf didn't rise. I think this was a combination of my lack of attention and also the shape I made for the final prove. I guess time will tell if I've got the knack of this. It was however delicious, seemed to be the right consistency and had a lovely crust.

As is now habit, I'm telling it like it is, not necessarily as it should be!

Rustic white-ish loaf

1 cup warm water
1 1/4 tspn dried active yeast
1/4 tspn sugar
1 1/2 cup plain flour
3/4 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup white bread flour
Additional plain flour for dusting the loaf

Mix the warm water, yeast and sugar in a jug and leave for 5 minutes or until foam appears over the surface of the liquid.

Place all the flour in the food processor and pour in the liquid. Pulse until mix has formed into a ball and then leave to rest for 5-10 minutes. Let me machine run for about 20 seconds and then check the consistency to see if it's sufficiently kneaded -I gave mine another 20 seconds.

Place ball of dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingwrap and leave to prove until it has doubled in size.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and gently press to deflate creating a square roughly 10 x 10 inches. Roll up tightly, then roll up again in the other direction before leaving to rest for 5 minutes. Gently roll out to elongate and move onto lightly dusted baking tray seam side down.

Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove again. About 20 minutes into this i decided I didn't like the shape of the loaf and repeated the rolling process. Leave to prove for around 30 minutes.

As you leave the loaf to prove preheat the oven to 260.

Before putting the loaf in the oven, dust the top with some more flour and slash the top a couple of times (I snipped it with scissors). Turn the oven down to 230 and place the loaf in also placing an empty baking tray on a lower shelf to absorb some of the heat.

After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 180 and bake for another 20 minutes before removing and cooling on a rack.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Absinthe Cookies: yes, they really are a thing.

Wholefoods and generous friends to the rescue! Right?!
Except that they're not. 

Or they weren't until I invented them. Or , more correctly, until I invented 'Absinthe flour-free chocolate cake mushed up with a bit of cream cheese frosting (cake pop style) then pressed and cut into cookie sized shapes before being dolloped with a generous portion of Channel Islands cream flavoured with Cointreau and then smothered with green edible (but not digestible!) glitter'.

And despite getting a 'special mention' by the judging panel, they are unlikely to be a thing ever again.

I had a flourless chocolate cake flavoured with Absinthe. "I know! I'll cut it into stars and serve that as a course," I thought. "Everyone likes chocolate; Absinthe will make me look really glamorous, exotic and adventurous; and cutting dense cake into shapes with cookie cutters is dead simple."

I had a minor panic when I realised that I couldn't get enough servings using the cutter I'd chosen. Then, while I contemplated what to do I nibbled at some crumbs. That was when total and utter disaster struck - turns out, I really don't like Absinthe.

For reasons that seemed sensible at the time, I crumbled up the cake, stirred in a basic cream cheese frosting with a big of cocoa, mushed it all together and then rolled it out until it was about 5mm thick. Then I froze it briefly to make it easier to cut. After a bit I pulled it out if the freezer, cut into stars and layered it into a box with greaseproof paper to separate.

Stolen from little swallow : china doll with many thanks
When serving up I laid the 'cookies' on the plate and tried to smother them with the ridiculously delicious Cointreau cream I'd impulse bought while waiting for a delivery earlier in the evening. Then sous chef B took control and enthusiastically smothered them in green glitter.

I have never felt so uncomfortable as I do when serving people something I've made which I don't like. It's just not right.

They were really difficult to pick up and they were horrid. Well, they were horrid to someone who doesn't like Absinthe. But I totally would have licked the cream and glitter off each and every one of them!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Jamie Oliver's Banana & Honey Bread

As I sat at home on on a Saturday night, sick for the second weekend in a row, I had three serendipitous thoughts. 

The first was that I had no bread in the house. No bread meant no toast to have with my scrambled eggs in the morning - the only thing that would redeem not having been out the night before. The second was that while I was stuck in I might as well try to finish my list of new year's resolutions before it turned into a thesis. The third was that there was an obvious solution linking both of them, so I procrastinated a while longer and decided to make Jamie's Banana & Honey Bread for breakfast.

As usual, I made compromises. I used defrosted bananas; I think my yeast was a little old and I totally miscalculated; I forgot to add the honey; I ended up proving it about 3.5 times; and finally my breakfast was ready at ... well ... dinnertime.

I haven't quite worked out the best way to blog these things, so below is how I baked. I'd recommend sticking to Jamie's recipe.

Lizzie's Banana & Honey Bread

400g strong bread flour
100g wholemeal flour
3 bananas (defrosted)
0.5 tbspn dried active yeast
1/2 tspn + 2 1/2 tspn sugar
1/2 tbspn salt
4 tbspn runny honey

Knead, knead, knead, knead, knead and knead again ..
Whisk the bananas until there's no lumps and top up with warm water to make 325ml. Add the yeast, 1/2 sugar to the mix, stir and leave for 10-15 mins until the top is covered in foam.

In a large bowl mix the flours, remaining sugar (2 1/2 tspn) and salt, then make a well in the middle. Pour in half the banana and yeast mix and stir with a fork until it becomes too sticky. Then, add the remaining banana liquid and mix with your hands until it all comes together. Jamie said to knead for 4-5 minutes, thought that really wasn't enough for mine. A wise woman once told me that it's nearly impossible to over-knead by hand so I've believed that ever since. The dough is ready when it's pliable and elastic. One day when I've made enough bread I think this this'll come naturally, the same way I've learned to tell if a mix is right or a cake is baked properly.

This stage is not highly attractive.
Then put the round into a bowl covered with clingfilm and leave in a warm, moist place for 30 minutes. Mine didn't rise properly so I panicked and googled and kneaded again for 5-10 minutes before putting back in the bowl to rise for another 30 minutes. At this point I realised I'd completely forgotten the honey so I kneaded half of it in and left it to prove again for a while ... Finally (nearly) I pounded the air out of the mixture, shaped into 6 buns and placed in a round tin dusted with flour. At this point things looked really sticky and messy and highly un-photogenic. Seeing as though I am typing this blog in real time I appear to have committed myself. Unless I declare them inedible (which would really be saying something for me). So, prove them again for a bit - 30 minutes seems to be the favourite number. This proving is the important one as  this is the one that goes to bake. Once they've doubled(ish) pour over the remaining 2 tbsps of honey and put into the oven preheated to 190 degrees. Bake for about 25 minutes - I opened the oven at 20 mins to see how it was going and decided to squeeze some more honey over the top. Serve while warm. Eat them all. By this point you've earned them!

I was prepared to be disappointed but this... well, once you remember that you've just made bread, not the cake-like delicacy that I think of as 'banana bread', it's heavenly. It was a little heavy and stodgy and I know I can improve on it, but seriously, this stuff is great. And the wholemeal makes the lashings of butter so very acceptable!

What I also learnt today: An Australian tablespoon is bigger than a UK/US tablespoon by about 1/3 again (20ml vs 15ml). I always know there's differences in cups but i don't think I realised the tablespoon measurement was so drastically different. Must remember for when I'm called upon to make my godson's birthday cake. Please feel free to remind me.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Strawberry Tart: And then there were four...

This is the vibe I was aiming for
At our most recent Supperclub Petal served us a delicious strawberry tart with a balsamic, honey glaze, served with lashings of cream of course.

It was so simple and delicious that it seemed like an ideal fruity option to add to the menu, which could be easily turned into individual portions.

The carnage which followed just serves as evidence as to why I shouldn't experiment when cooking for others...

I had oh so carefully prepared my circles of pastry & my glaze - everything that could be chopped, mixed or baked ahead of time was neatly tucked into containers and packed into carry bags like a puzzle for OC bakers. I'd even got a little crazy and added some pepper to the glaze. I'd toyed with the idea of basil cream but thought better before I clogged our arteries completely.

As we began the prep, I laid the pastry into a greased. shallow cupcake tray, sliced the strawberries and strategically laid them into the tarts, and then handed them over to my sous chef B who gently painted them with glaze before I unceremoniously shoved the lit in the oven. 

B made an admirable rescue effort after I left them ...
When they emerged a little later - cook them until the pastry browns I figured - the strawberries had unattractively shrivelled (as they do), and the glaze had puddled in the base.

As midnight rapidly approached, I made an uncharacteristically rapid decision and decided not to serve them. It's fortunate I did, as when I returned to them later I found them stuck to the tin. Such an event would have sent me into meltdown pre-2013, but the new year brought with it a more relaxed, more mature outlook on the world (and by then I realised that 2 desserts each would have been plenty...)

I have no advice other than 'don't do what I did'. I will however be trying this again in summer - firmly sticking to the recipe!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lemon Posset-y: Simple, tart indulgence

The New Year's Eve pudding-fest just keeps rolling ...

I knew I wanted something tart (in addition to the tarts) and originally was looking for an excuse to use up my lemon curd - ideally a lemon cheesecake with a curd swirl through it. 

Despite my best intentions practicality took over and I decided to go for something simple ... but keeping the digestive crust which is possibly my favourite part of any dessert. 

After lots of googling I decided to adapt the recipe from this article - ironically about the best summer ingredients. Why this one? Well, the author Simon Hopkinson was first served it by Lucy Crabb who was one of the chefs with who he and Terence Conran started Bibendum. And I am fascinated by Bibendum for so many reason - it, and the Michelin Building really is Terence to me.

But back to the cream and sugar etc.

I had already decided to serve this in small plastic wine glasses. Apart from looking pretty (though I did have my doubts about that) I was short on dishes and keen to save on the washing up.

Lemon Posset-y
Makes 10 small-ish servings in plastic wine glasses

Base 11 digestive biscuits
100g melted butter

Mix and fill bottom of glasses/ramekins. I left these in the fridge overnight. It probably doesn't need that long, but they should have a good hour in the fridge.

600ml double cream
165g caster sugar
150ml lemon juice (approx 3 lemons)

In a large pan, bring the cream and sugar to the boil and continue boiling for 3 minutes. The article makes note, as do I, that a large pan is important as the cream drastically expands as it boils.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in lemon juice. At this point I took a tip from another article (which for the life of me I cannot remember) and sat the pan in some cold water to cool the mix down a little. Strain through a fine sieve - I'm not entirely sure why this step is necessary, but perhaps I was luckier than most and didn't end up with any lumps. I strained into my mixing bowl which has a spout - it's just so useful for so many things, especially pouring into glasses or ramekins.

When I poured my mix in it stirred up some of the  crumbs from the bottom which is not ideal. not sure how to fix this one other than making sure the crust is firmly squashed down and pouring the mix in gently.

Tap the bottom of the glasses/dishes/whatever against the bench-top to get rid of any bubbles.

Chill for at least 4 hours before serving.


I made an attempt at candied lemon peel based on this recipe from smitten kitchen ... admittedly, they didn't quite work out, but even so I wouldn't bother again...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nutty Balls: An unassuming champion

In the foodie feast that was New Year's Eve 2012 ... On a side note, it feels wrong to write 2012 when it was actually the eve of 2013, though my figuring is that it was New Year's Eve in 2012 and I shall stick with that until Google tells me differently ... but back to our gluttonous celebrations ...

Despite the effusive praise heaped upon the those marvellous meringues and luscious lemon possets there was a small little sweet treat that made its appearance after everything had been cleared away, after we all insisted that we never wanted to look at food ever again, that seems to have been the dark horse.

My New Year crush (Please note those awfully healthy apples in the background)
Small melting mouthfuls that are suitable for eating at any time of the day (honest) these 'Cashew Butter Balls', now affectionately known as 'Nutty Balls' - variations of which are called Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Polvorones - came to my attention the weekend before Christmas and my life has been the better for it.

Perhaps as I write more, and more frequently, my utter devotion to Smitten Kitchen will become a wee bit obvious. I love Deb's style of writing, I love the way she photographs her food, I love her somewhat obsessive nature, I love that we have quite different tastes. 

I also love cashews. When – in her post about these mouthfuls of melting yumminess – Deb wrote "...I’ve never made them or absolutely anything else with cashews because I don’t much care for cashews", I was mildly appalled, before figuring that if these had converted her, even momentarily, it was rather likely that I would not be averse to their charms.

I made these as Christmas gifts, I took them with me on Christmas Day, and at last, triumphantly they made their full public debut as 2013 dawned. 

My advice: take the cashews out of the oven before they're done and/or take them off the hot tray immediately; I prefer to roll the biscuits by hand; the sugaring is fiddly but worth spending the time; and never, ever, think that you've made too many - there is no such thing.

I don’t think I can improve on Deb’s recipe – not yet at least -  though I thoroughly intend to try her many variations as soon as humanely possible.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Start as I mean to go on?

As I've written elsewhere, 2013 started with a feast of epic proportions and neatly worked in to my resolution to "cook for people more" ...

Now seemed like as good a time as any to start documenting my baking 'adventures' (let's face it, they're rarely that adventurous) so I'd always remember the good, the bad and the ugly.

So here goes ...