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Macarons – easier than you’d think

23 Sep
Chocolate orange macarons

Chocolate orange macarons

When I was wee we called them macaroons, but I’m going with the zeitgeist and will refer to them as macarons. Whatever you call them, they are the most scrumptious light almondy sweetie bonbons you will ever come across.

I always had this idea that macarons were tricky to make, that they wouldn’t rise properly, that they would just be too solid and not light and airy like they should be. Or that they’d be dry and crunchy instead of deliciously softly moist.

So, what changed my world view of macarons? Firstly it’s that I love them, and wanted to be able to make them. But mostly it was getting chickens. And then once we had so many eggs, I started making my own mayonnaise. And once you make your own mayonnaise you have a plentiful supply of egg whites. And I don’t like meringues much, so macarons were the obvious solution.

Don’t you love your life when macarons are the obvious solution!!

Basic macarons

  • 175g icing sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 75g caster sugar

To make these properly you need a few bits of kit. For starters, a food processor. You know, the kind that whizzes round and round and chops everything up really fine. You’ll also need a piping bag with a large plain nozzle. And your life will be a whole lot easier if you have either a food mixer too to whisk the egg whites.

Before you start, get your piping bag ready with the right nozzle in place, and prepare your baking tray (I line mine with non sticking baking parchment, but you could use rice paper, or a re-useable silicon mat).

  1. Combine the icing sugar and ground almonds and pop them in the bowl of the food processor. Whizz it briefly. Well not too briefly, get it all a bit more powdery and mixed together
  2. Put the egg whites into a scrupulously clean bowl (any hint of anything greasy and you will have a FAIL), and whisk them until you have soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar, and get it all glossy and thick and gorgeous. At this stage I whisked in a few drops of orange essence.
  3. Now get yourself a big metal spoon (or a spatula) and fold half of the sugar/almond mixture into the egg whites. Once they are combined, add the remaining sugar/almonds and fold them in to make a light smooth mixture. Don’t over mix or you’ll lose all the air, but try to get rid of all the lumps.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and pipe even sized circles of macarons mixture onto your baking tray.
  5. Turn the oven on: 140C or GM3.
  6. Now leave the tray of uncooked macarons at room temperature for about 15 minutes so the surface dries out ever so slightly.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool still on the tray.
Macarons out of the oven

Macarons out of the oven

Make the chocolate orange filling…

  • 50g good quality dark chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • zest of an orange, and some orange juice
  1. Melt the chocolate
  2. Beat the butter, and add the icing sugar and orange zest. Keep beating
  3. Fold in the melted chocolate and mix together
  4. Mix in some orange juice or cointreau if you want an adult version – enough to make the mixture just squidgy enough

You know what to do now.. spoon (or pipe) some chocolate orange filling onto half of the macarons. And pop a second macaron on top of each, to make lovely macarons sandwich. YUMMY.

 

 

 

Boozy mini cakes for BozzyFest

10 May

We get the Sunday Times every weekend. And occasionally the Times on a Saturday too. Last weekend the Times promoted that it had recipes for Bank Holiday baking. So, of course, I didn’t see much of the rest of the paper (apart from the utterly ace column by Caitlin Moran).

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top mini pear cakes

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top of mini pear cakes

I was kinda sniffy about the Bank Holiday Baking initially. I mean, it’s just the very beginning of May and the first thing I’m being encouraged to bake is Blackberry and Crumble Cake. Now, I’m sure the Blackberry and Crumble Cake is lovely, but brambles are seasonal fruit, and this really  is NOT their season. Get real cookery writers! And please stop encouraging supermarkets to stock fruit and veg that is out of season – it is more expensive to produce and ship and probably doesn’t taste as good.

There, rant over.

Then I moved on and spied Pear Cakes with White Chocolate, and Lemon Curd. I had literally just made some lemon curd (in a bid to do something else with our glut of eggs – my girls laid seven in one day earlier this week). And I’d just bought some pears. Yup, I know, pears aren’t in season either. But there they were on the shelf at the farmshop, and they looked delicious. And they store better than brambles, so perhaps it’s not quite so mad to buy them out of season?

Anyway, given that I clearly don’t have a leg to stand on in the ‘seasonal rant stakes’ I’ll move on. The recipes are all from Andrew Dargue of Vanilla Black. I’d never heard of Vanilla Black before, but now I’ve looked at the website, they are ‘Michelin-recommended’ and they have a book coming out this week. So that’ll be why I’ve seen his recipes in various places.

I made the Mini Pear Cakes, complete with white chocolate frosting, but something made me add a slug or two of gin to the frosting. And it was ace.

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes ak the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes aka the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

This weekend I made the cakes again, adding some gin to the cake batter too, and took them along for the volunteers at the wonderful Boswell Book Festival.  It wasn’t an entirely selfless act, supporting both the literary and volunteering community, for I wanted to see Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown give a talk. He’s the most remarkable man – he has flown more different types of aircraft than any other person, living or dead. And it is unlikely (allegedly) that his record of 487 aircraft will ever be beaten. He also interrogated a number of Hitler’s henchman, including Goering, Messerschmitt and Himmler, and the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His description of what he witnessed at the camp, in its last few days was incredibly moving – after almost exactly 70 years to the day he still can’t stop smelling the stench of the dying and near dying in that awful place.

But anyway, I digress.  These cakes were just going to be called Mini Pear Cakes with Gin and White Chocolate Frosting. yes GIN! But they clearly need to be called the Boozy BozzyFest Cakes instead. They are utterly delish. I’ve adapted the original recipe, but only slightly, so thank you The Times and thank you Andrew Dargue. These rock.

And so long as you use GF baking powder, these are gluten free badboys.

Boozy BozzyFest Mini Cakes

Preheat the oven to 155C / GM3. Grease a large muffin tin – this quantity works well for 12 proper-sized mini cakes. Don’t bother with muffin or cake cases, you don’t need them if you prepare the tin well, with lots of butter to prevent the cakes from sticking.

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 125g light brown sugar
  • 100g buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 small very ripe pears, cut in half and cored
  • 1 TBsp gin
  • 1/2 tsp almond essence (or vanilla, depending on what mood you are in

For the boozy icing

  •  100g white chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 TBsp gin
  1. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl
  2. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and mix well together
  3. Add the gin and essence
  4. Using a large grater, grate the pears into the mixture. This should be possible if you hold onto the skin side, and just grate the flesh – you should be left holding the skin, with all the flesh grated into the cake batter
  5. Mix again, but only lightly to combine everything
  6. The batter is pretty runny, but don’t worry – it’ll work out. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, filling each hole about two thirds of the way to the top.
  7. Bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
  8. Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then use a knife to run around the rim of each cake to loose them from the tin, and turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
  9. For the icing: melt the chocolate in a microwave on the lowest power setting, or in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
  10. Beat the butter and icing sugar together. Add the gin.
  11. Fold in the melted chocolate until well combined
  12. Smoosh the icing on to each cake or if you want to be a bit posher, pipe it on (it’ll look smart but not too twee if you use a plain round piping nozzle).

Want other recipe ideas? Take a look at my index of recipes. It’s got everything from croutons (I kid you not!) and boiling an egg (twice) to spicy turmeric chicken, which I’m going to eat tonight. Oh, and more recipes for brownies than is strictly necessary.

 

Crunchy, tasty, sweet and salty.

3 Mar

I’m one of those people who likes their sweets to be slightly salty.

Tasty homemade snack bars

Tasty homemade snack bars

I don’t cook with a lot of salt, preferring to use herbs and spices. I’ve bought into the ‘fact’ that too much salt is bad for you. However, there was a credible article in the Sunday Times the other week, highlighting new evidence which showed that the low sodium diet was as damaging as the high sodium one. My father has always just tipped the salt pot upside down and sprinkled it liberally over his plate, often then creating a small salt mountain on the side of the plate to dip forkfuls of food into. He’ll be 95 in a couple of months, so his super-high salt diet hasn’t exactly limited his life too much.

Anyway, although I like my sweets salty, I’m less keen on my savoury dishes being too sweet. I’m not a big fan of putting fruit into a stew or casserole. My exception is good redcurrant or rowan jelly with a roast meat. Or a not-too-sweet apple sauce with roast pork.

But back to the salty sweetness. When I was in the US last year, with a work colleague, we discovered Nature Valley’s Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars. It was love at first bite for me. They aren’t available here in the UK, although there’s a huge variety of similar products. But I can’t be trusted in a sweet shop, so have to confess I haven’t tried terribly hard to find a suitable substitute.

I hadn’t thought of making my own. Why hadn’t I? I must be entirely mad.

Anyway, once the thought came to me, I flicked through all my recipe books and scoured the internet for the perfect sweet and salty crunchy nutty bars. And then I adapted. This isn’t entirely true. I can’t lie. What really happened is that I came across a recipe on Half Baked Harvest’s blog and decided it was time to get experimenting. This recipe is adapted from hers. It is the perfect crunchy, sweet, salty, nutty snack. But it’s not as healthy as eating an apple, so although they are addictive, try to ration them.

Crunchtastic sweet and salty nutty bars

  • 250g / 3 cups porridge oats
  • 35g / 1 cup rice krispies (or any puffed rice cereal)
  • 40g / 1/4 cup roasted salted nuts (peanuts is fine, but mixed nuts would work just as well)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g honey
  • 130g peanut butter
  • 30g butter or coconut oil (I prefer to use coconut oil these days)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F or GM4. Line a 9″ x 13″ baking tray with greaseproof paper. Leave an overhang of paper over one long side of the tin (to make it easier to remove the bars later)

  1. Mix porridge oats, krispies, nuts, salt, and bicarb of soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre
  2. Put the honey, peanut butter and butter (or coconut oil) in a small pan and warm gently till all the ingredients are melted
  3. Add the vanilla
  4. Stir the melted ingredients till they are all combined into a sweet and goopy sauce
  5. Pour all this melted mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingreds.
  6. Stir well to combine it all together. Try to make sure there are no dry bits left in the bowl
  7. Pour this into the prepared tin. Get a big metal spoon (or a metal measuring cup) and lightly oil the back of it, then use this to press all the mixture down into the tin
  8. Put in the oven and bake for about 20 mins, or until golden brown. Watch out, it can go from perfect to ‘slightly burnt’ quite quickly.
  9. When you take it out of the oven, try to slide the whole lot out of the tray onto a heatproof surface, and then walk away from it for at least half an hour. (I’m only telling you to do this so that you don’t end up trying to cut the bars when they are still in your baking tray, and you end up ruining your tray, with knife scores across it)
  10. Once it is cool, try to cut it into pieces. You’ll need a sharp knife, and some of it might crumble a bit. Any extra crumbs left, pour into an airtight pot and use for sprinkling over yoghurt, or ice cream or in a crumble.
  11. Keep the bars in an airtight tin, for as long as possible. You may need to put them on a very high shelf, out of your reach. Or to give them to friends.

Suggested adaptations – you could add dark chocolate chips, or dried fruit (cranberries, chopped up apricots, raisins). Or desiccated coconut. Or, cinnamon would be nice, Or chopped dried apples, with some cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and some ginger. You could probably replace the honey with agave syrup, or golden syrup, although I’m not sure why you’d want to do that.

And apologies if you don’t have digital weighing scales. I was old-school for YEARS, but bought a digital set recently (so I could weigh out my 7g of yeast to make home made bread) and it has entirely changed how I bake. Just pop the bowl on the scales and add the next ingredient. Easy peasy. They’re not expensive and take up hardly any room in your cupboard. Isn’t it time to treat yourself?

Want to find more of my recipes? Take a look here: Shewolffe’s Recipes. If you like this, you’ll probably like my salty nut brittle, but go see what else is in there.

Blondie

23 Jan

The first record I bought was Abba’s Arrival. The second was Blondie’s Parallel Lines. I was a little in love with Debbie Harry. Weren’t we all?

Blondie has stood the test of time. But these days Blondie is less of an aural treat and more of an oral one for me. I have at last discovered the Blondie (as opposed to the Brownie). It’s a squishy tray bake, like a chocolate brownie, but with a caramelly buttery flavour, almost like butterscotch. And of course the regular blondie can be pimped up, by adding all manner of bling. In this recipe I’ve added dark choc chips, brazil nuts, ginger and dried sour cherries. And they rock.

Pimped up blondies

  • 100g butter, melted
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar, bashed to get rid of all the lumps (or use a soft brown or light muscovado sugar)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 140g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g crystallised ginger, chopped into wee nibs
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped into wee nibs
  • a handful of brazil nuts, chopped
  • a handful of dried sour cherries (or cranberries)

Grease and line an 8″ square baking tray. Pre-heat oven to GM5.

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Leave to one side.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar and melted butter – this is easiest with an electric beater. Don’t worry if it’s still a bit bumpy and grainy.
  3. Add the egg and vanilla and keep beating – it’ll change colour to a much lighter tan and will become fluffy and almost moussy.
  4. With a large metal spoon stir the flour mix into the buttery mix. Fold it in, without beating, or you will lose the lightness of the mix.
  5. Add the ginger, nuts, chocolate and cherries (or whatever you are pimping the mix with) and stir through.
  6. The mix will be relatively thick. Spoon it onto the baking tray, and spread it out.
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the blondies are smelling too good to leave for a minute more, and they look golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and cool for about 20 mins before removing from tray and cutting into slices.

Perfect with an afternoon coffee. A proper real strong coffee.

Other ways to pimp your blondies:

  • Add smarties or M n Ms
  • Add any dried fruit
  • Try salted nuts if you enjoy that sweet-salt hit
  • Gobs of peanut butter stirred through once the mix is in the tray
  • Coconut
  • Chopped up mint toffees
  • Oh, just raid your cupboard, or the sweetie drawer (what you don’t have a sweetie drawer?) and see what inspires you

Sweet and salty nut brittle

18 Jan

Is salted caramel still on trend? A couple of years ago it seemed to be everywhere. And I was happy. I love that combination of sweetness and saltiness. I adore peanut butter, adore it even more on hot buttered toast with marmite. Or incorporated into a sweet with chocolate and a biscuit base.

So, a simple salty, nutty caramel brittle is pretty much the perfect sweet to make. And it turns out it was pretty much the perfect home-made Christmas present to give to nephews too! (Although obviously not for you, if your nephews have nut allergies).

Salty nut brittle 

  • 340g mixed nuts, preferably not salted. The type of nuts doesn’t really matter, but why not buy a bag of peanuts, of brazil nuts and pecans. Or hazelnuts, and macadamia and almonds. Whatever you prefer.
  • 400g sugar. Ordinary granulated sugar is fine, or you could use caster, or golden caster
  • 120mls water
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Maldon sea salt (there are other brands, but please use a good quality salt in flakes, not ordinary table salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM 4
  2. Spread the nuts onto a big baking tray, as big as you’ve got – you’re aiming to get them into a single layer, if possible
  3. Roast the nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes, give or take. You’re looking for a golden browniness, not burnt.. and there’s a relatively short window of opportunity between the two. To make it easier in a minute or two, pour the nuts onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper or kitchen foil, or a bowl (this is so that you can QUICKLY pour them from whatever receptacle they are in, into a pan of hot hot hot caramel later on). While you’re at it, get another sheet of greaseproof paper, and line the baking tray with it, and leave to one side. You’ll need it soon.
  4. Now put the sugar, water, butter and golden syrup into a heavy based saucepan, and gently heat, stirring till the butter is melted and the sugar has all dissolved.
  5. Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan, and leave it in there while the mixture heats up to the boil. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally if you can’t stop yourself
  6. Keep an eye on that sugar thermometer, and as soon as it reaches 150C (which incidentally is between ‘soft crack’ and ‘crack’ on my thermometer) take it off the heat, and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
  7. It should all swoosh up a wee bit which is exactly what you want it to do. Work quickly – pour in the nuts and stir them in. And then pour the whole lot out onto a baking sheet, with a piece of greaseproof paper on it
  8. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture nice and thinly … but not TOO thin
  9. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes
  10. And now walk away for a while. Leave it be. Come back when it’s cool
  11. Break it up with your hands and store in an airtight container. Then hide it somewhere you can’t reach, just to save yourself from eating more than you really should

I popped great big shards of this into kilner jars as Christmas present this year, and they went down a treat. If the shards had been smaller, I might have considered dipping them in chocolate to add to the sugar-salt-nut treatiness. It wasn’t required, but just imagine it enrobed with lush dark chocolate. Mmm.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

 

Traybake-tastic

15 Nov

I do love a traybake. You may have noticed that I have more recipes for chocolate brownies on this blog than perhaps is strictly necessary. But I haven’t really indulged my love of a traybake with other recipes. That is about to change. You can look forward to such joys as the Malteser Traybake, various variations on a flapjack and a frangipane bakewell style thing. But for today you have the utter delight that is Sue Lawrence’s Lemony Fridge Cake. Checking her book I see that she calls it Lemon Fudge Cake. Whatever you call it, its a great and super easy recipe; and the perfect go-to recipe if you have a spare packet of digestives and a can of condensed milk in the cupboard, and a lemon or two to use up.

For those who don’t know Sue Lawrence, do yourself a favour and seek her out, or at least her writing. Her books are very readable – both well researched and well-written. And I’ve tried many of her recipes over the years and not one has ever failed. That’s some good cookery writing. This recipe is taken from her Book of Baking (although for some reason I’ve re-written the instructions).

If you’re looking for instant results, this isn’t the recipe for you – but it needs no actual baking, and is simplicity itself.

Lemony Fudge Cake

  • 150g / 5 1/2 oz / 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 200g / 7 oz condensed milk (half a regular can)
  • 400g / 14 oz digestive biscuits
  • 100g / 3 1/2 oz / 2/3 cup desiccated coconut
  • 300g / 10 1/2 oz / 2 1/3 cups icing sugar
  • juice of 1 large juicy lemon
  1. Line a 23cm x 33cm / 9 x 13in Swiss roll tin
  2. If you have a microwave, put the butter in a large bowl and melt it in the microwave. If you don’t do it in a large pan over a gentle heat
  3. While the butter is melting, smash the digestives till they are mostly breadcrumb-like. A few larger lumps are fine. I do this by putting the biscuits into a high-sided bowl and bashing it with the rounded end of a basic rolling pin.
  4. Pour the condensed milk in with the melted butter and mix them together.
  5. Add the crushed biscuits and coconut and mix well together
  6. Pour into the prepared tin and press down. Chill in a fridge for a couple of hours
  7. Mix the sifted icing sugar with the lemon juice and carefully spread this over the biscuit base. Use a palette knife to spread it so it covers the whole base. Chill again.
  8. Cut into bars. You should be able to get 24 bars in total.

If you want to see other recipes you’ll find them all listed here.

 

 

 

Buttery butteries

26 Oct

I was away on business for 10 days, and when I got back the Captain had re-discovered butteries. They weren’t quite as he remembered them, not as flaky. Or buttery I suspect. But then they had been bought from one of the cheaper supermarkets, you know one of the ones with an i, an l and a d in its name.

We pondered how they might be made, and I thought it would probably involve a yeast dough, and some butter and/or lard and a lot of folding and rolling. And it turns out I was right. So, making butteries is the perfect Sunday activity. There’s not much to do, but you have to do it in short bursts of activity over a long period of time. To put it another way, you can read your Sunday papers, and every three quarters of an hour or so you have to go into the kitchen for 5 minutes. Easy peasy.

But not really a recommended activity if you are trying to stick to a low carb diet.

Butteries

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 1Tbsp sugar (I used golden caster, because it’s what’s in the cupboard)
  • 1 TBsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 400ml tepid water
  • 250g butter, at room temperature
  • 125g lard, at room temperature

Yup, you read that right, there is 375g of fat to the 500g of flour. This is NOT a healthy product.

  1. First of all, make the yeasted dough, by mixing the first 5 ingredients in a bowl, and then kneading the soft dough for about 10 minutes. It’s a squishy, wet dough, so I kneaded it with both hands, pulling the dough upwards from the work surface and then slapping it back down again. You’re aiming to stretch the dough, helping the gluten do its funky thing.
  2. Once you’ve done your 10 minute dough-y workout, pop the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover it with some clingfilm, or a hotel showercap if you have one, and leave it in a warm place to prove for about an hour – you want it to double in size.
  3. While the dough is doing its doubling thing, you need to get back into the kitchen and pop the lard and butter into a bowl. If your kitchen is freezy cold, then chuck it into the microwave for a minute or two at 30% power to soften it, otherwise the next stage will be nearly impossible.
  4. Using electric beaters, beat the butter and lard together till it’s combined and soft and feels a bit like Mr Whippy ice cream.
  5. The next stage is to combine the buttery mixture and the dough – but you want to create layers, so you’re not going to just whack it all in together, you need to roll and spread and fold and chill. And repeat. But let me explain in better detail.
  6. Take the dough out of the bowl and give it a very quick knead, just to bring it all together in a soft doughy ball. Place it on a floured surface and roll it, as best you can, into a rectangle. You’ll find it keeps springing back and it’s tricky to get a rectangle of much size, but try as best you can. Then spread about a third of the buttery mix onto two thirds of the rectangle
  7. Fold the unbutterd third of the dough over onto the middle third, and then fold the buttered third over on top. Press the short edges together lightly, wrap the dough in greaseproof paper and pop it into the fridge.
  8. Go read the papers for about 45 minutes
  9. Take the dough out of the fridge, and pop it back on a floured surface. Use a rolling pin and press it sequentially along the block of dough, in one direction and then the other. (this is so that you don’t end up smooshing all the butter towards one end of the block) Then roll it lightly in the traditional manner to create a rectangle again. Spread it with the second third of the buttery mix again; again just covering two thirds of the rectangle. Fold in the same way as before. Squish the edges together again and, yes, you guessed it, wrap it in greaseproof and pop it in the fridge.
  10. Read more of the paper.
  11. Do more of the pressing, rolling, spreading, folding routine.
  12. There, have you done with all the butter?
  13. Feel free to cool in the fridge again, especially if your kitchen is toasty warm.
  14. Roll out the dough, and cut into 16 pieces. Roll each individual piece out a wee bit
  15. Leave the uncooked butteries in a warm place for about 45 minutes, and read the paper again
  16. Turn your oven on to 200C or GM6
  17. Put your butteries in the oven for around 15 – 20 minutes, until they are golden brown and cooked through
  18. Cool on a wire rack, with some kitchen paper on it, to absorb some of the excessive buttery goodness.

If you’re lucky, your butteries won’t be sitting in a pool of fat when you take them out of the oven. I wasn’t so lucky, but that’s why I’m telling you to pinch the edges after each fold. I didn’t do that. Also, I hadn’t spread the first layer thinly enough. But anyway, despite not having brilliant lamination and having lots of butter melting out of the butteries, they are quite scrumptious.  And very easy, just time consuming, to make.

Caraway biscuits

13 Oct

Yesterday I made my own sort of a borscht. A beetroot soup, lightly flavoured with caraway seeds. It reminded me how much I love not only beetroots, but also caraway and this morning I woke with a hankering to make caraway biscuits.

Caraway seeds

Caraway seeds

You can learn a lot when you have a short obsession on a particular flavour. I imagine my childhood self leafing through recipe books (and failing to find anything I wanted, so making something up myself) and perhaps moving on to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and then getting so distracted with whatever else was on the same page, or something else related that it suggested I look at that the biscuits never got made. It’s all so much easier now, with a laptop and a warm fire. And even Radio 2 on in the background (I give up on Radio 4 after GQT on a Sunday). I also now have the sort of library of cookbooks and thanks to the wonder that is Eat Your Books I know that in my books there are 53 recipes which use caraway seeds, including poppy and caraway crackers and caraway vodka, both of which I will be trying soon.

You could find out everything you never wanted to know about caraway with a few quick searches too, but since I’ve done it already, I’ll share some of my findings with you.

Caraway is good for flatulence. When I say it’s good for flatulence I mean that it is reputedly good for the relief of severe flatulence. Anne Boleyn knew this and secured her place in Henry VIII’s heart by feeding him caraway comfits. That didn’t turn out so well in the end though, so don’t feel obliged to feed caraway to stinky partners.

Caraway seeds aren’t actually seeds; they are fruits.

Caraway is perhaps a flavour most associated with northern Europe, with southern Germany and Austria and with Scandinavia. The German word for caraway is Kummel, which I know better as a drink. German rye bread is heavily flavoured with caraway.

Many countries don’t have their own word for caraway, and simply call it ‘German cumin’, so if you see reference to caraway in any Middle Eastern or Asian cookbooks it is quite likely that it is an error in translation and its cumin that is needed.

So, that’s the educational bit over. Now you want the biscuits don’t you?

Caraway seed biscuits

Caraway seed biscuits

Then biscuits you shall have, but before I get to the recipe I should tell you another snippet of information: Caraway Biscuits are also known as Goosnargh Cakes. Goosnargh (pronounced Gooznar) is a small town in Lancashire, almost subsumed into Preston now where they have a tradition of making these caraway shortcake biscuits. They also feed caraway seeds to chickens and ducks to produce the Goosnargh Chicken and the Goosnargh Duck.

But the biscuits. There are a few versions online, but basically the Goosnargh Cake or caraway biscuits is a buttery shortcake biscuit with caraway and coriander seeds. Use a basic 3:2:1 recipe (3 parts flour, to 2 parts butter, to 1 part sugar) and you’ll be fine.

Goosnargh Cake

Pre-heat oven to GM5. Prepare a baking tray – either by buttering it and sprinkling it with flour, or by lining it with greaseproof paper. 

  • 8oz softened butter
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 12oz plain flour
  • 2 TBsp caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  1. Cream together the butter and sugar, till fluffy
  2. Grind the caraway and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar
  3. Sift together the flour and the ground seeds
  4. Fold the spiced flour into the creamed butter and sugar and bring together to form a stiff dough
  5. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 cm thickness and cut into rounds. Place on baking tray
  6. Pop into the fridge for at least 30 minutes
  7. Sprinkle with caster sugar
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes – you don’t want them to turn colour much at all, although a light golden brown will be fine
  9. Move to a wire rack to cool, but sprinkle with a mix of caster sugar and caraway seeds while they are still hot.

Lovely with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Goosnargh Cakes

Goosnargh Cakes

Aside

Another chocolatey cakey thingie

6 Oct

Inspiration comes from many places.

Today it came from a special offer at my local supermarket: they were selling off nearly out-of-date buttermilk so I popped a carton into my trolley. I’d thought they would become scones, or perhaps muffins.

And several years ago that is probably exactly what would have happened. But thanks to the fabulous eatyourbooks website I can type in an ingredient and find all the recipes in all my cookbooks which use that ingredient. Yes, isn’t that amazing? Isn’t technology just genius.

So then it became a toss-up between Chocolate Spice Gingerbread, from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes Unwrapped or Sticky Chocolate Loaf from Ottolenghi. In the end the Chocolate Spice Gingerbread won, if only because I found that cookbook first. That gingerbread is ridiculously easy to make, and there was enough buttermilk left over to make Darina Allan’s White Soda Scones too. Now, how easy are they? Just flour, salt, bicarb of soda and some buttermilk all mixed lightly together and then cut out into scone shapes. They puff up beautifully, but have more of a bready texture than a light scone texture, which is fine once you know that’s what to expect.

The chocolate gingerbread led me to another recipe which had to be tried: Lemon Drizzle Choc Chunk Cake, combining the sharpness of the lemon with the depth of bitter dark chocolate. Possibly a bit like those Thorntons lemon chocolates which I absolutely love.  I think it’ll work. We’ll find out in about an hour.

And, having bought a couple of punnets of damsons again yesterday I’d intended to make Damson Cheese. And then came across Sweet Pickled Damsons. I love the combination of sweet and sharp, so the pickling vinegar has been spiced and is now cooling down; the damsons have been picked over to make sure all the goopy ones are discarded and we’ll finish them off and pop them in jars later.

Would it be rude not to give you the chocolate spiced gingerbread recipe? I think so. It smells divine, and I suspect will keep well, if given the chance, which seems unlikely.

Chocolate Spiced Gingerbread

Adapted from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes Unwrapped, which was a Christmas gift from my brother and his family Christmas 2006 (according to the inscription inside, I don’t have that good a memory!).

Grease and line a deep 7″ square cake tin. Or a round one. I used a bigger round one, so ended up with a shallower cake shaped gingerbread. Just as tasty though.

Preheat your oven to 160C / 325F / GM3.

  • 125g / 4oz unsalted butter
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (feel free to use a chilli chocolate, or Maya Gold with orange – I just used plain)
  • 75g / 3oz dark muscovado sugar
  • 4 TBsp treacle
  • 150ml / 1/4 pint buttermilk
  • 125g / 4oz ready-to-eat prunes
  • 175g / 6oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Cut the butter into chunks and pop it into a heavy based pan.
  2. Add the chocolate, sugar, treacle and buttermilk
  3. Heat gently until the ingredients have melted and then set aside to cool slightly
  4. Snip the prunes into small pieces – scissors are the easiest way to do this
  5. Sift the flour, bicarb of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl (this is the bowl you will use to make the batter, so make sure it’s big enough to take all the ingredients)
  6. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon
  7. Add the beaten egg, and beat again
  8. Fold in the prunes
  9. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface of the mixture
  10. Bake for around 50 minutes
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cook in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely
  12. Wrap in greaseproof paper and keep in an airtight tin.

It’ll be even better tomorrow. Or even the next day, and unlike many cakes will keep for a week if you haven’t eaten it all.

This would be perfect for a bonfire party. Or with hot chocolate in front of the fire after a vigorous, rigorous walk, kicking Autumn leaves.

I suspect it can take some messing about with the flavours too – perhaps add a wee hint of ground cloves, or star anise or cardamom? And why not some nuggets of crystallised ginger for a wee extra kick? If you were being fancy you could probably cut it into wee bite-sized pieces and drizzle lemon icing on them for sweet canapes or as part of an afternoon tea.

Talking of drizzling lemon, I’m off to make that lemon drizzle cake with chocolate chunks in it now.

Thanks Mr Hollywood

21 Apr

I made bread today.

White cob loaf

White cob loaf

I make bread 2 or 3 times a week, but it’s usually in a breadmaker. I’m pretty good at making bread maker bread into something very tasty. The trick is (as ever) to start with the best ingredients. And when your ingredients are just flour, oil and water (ok and some yeast, milk powder, sugar and salt) you want to make sure you have the best flour you can find.

Stoneground flour with added seeds is my flour of choice, from Bacheldre Mill. I know, it seems ridiculous to buy flour from Wales, and cause it to be shipped up to the Clyde Valley. But it’s delicious. And I don’t necessarily like to promote amazon, but you can subscribe to Bacheldre Mill flour on amazon and get it automatically delivered to you as often as you want, and for about the same price as you’d pay at your local supermarket for an inferior mass-produced product.

One of the things I discovered early on is that you need about 20% more water than you expect when you are using stoneground flour. I don’t know why. You just do. Trust me on this.

Anyway, as I said, today I made bread. By hand, not in the breadmaker. And not a sourdough. I’ll come back to sourdough, perhaps in the summer, but for now I’m afraid I’ve killed my starter, so more sourdough will just have to wait till I can be bothered nurturing a jar of gloop again.

This morning I was inspired by that lovely Mr Hollywood. You know, him with the gorgeous twinkly blue eyes, and the assertive kneading hands. And the knowledge, held within his hands as much as his brain, on how to bake. As someone who has loved baking all my life, I appreciate what that lovely Mr Hollywood has to offer. OK, as a warm blooded woman I appreciate what that Mr Hollywood has to offer!

My mother sent me the free Hollywood Bakes booklets she’d got in the weekend Telegraph, and it seemed sensible to start at the beginning, with a white cob loaf. But I’m not very good at following recipes to the letter, and I don’t have weighing scales which enable me to weigh 10g of yeast, so my white cob loaf is I guess a Valley Variation of Mr Hollywood’s recipe.

But it works.

It works brilliantly.

I will be making this bread again. And again. So should you.

White cob loaf

  • 500g strong white flour, preferably stoneground
  • 2tsp instant yeast, plus a wee bit more
  • 1 lge tsp Maldon sea salt
  • about 30g softened butter
  • 350ml tepid water
  1. Tip the flour into a very large mixing bowl. If you have one of those really big wide mixing bowls, that is what you should use
  2. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other
  3. Add the butter and 3/4 water in the middle and start mixing it around with your fingers, using them like a paddle
  4. You’re aiming to incorporate all of the flour into the doughy mixture around your fingers – you may need to add all of the water, but perhaps not, depending on your flour. Or the where the moon is in its cycle. Or the equinox. Or if you live next door to a witch. Bread is fickle like that.
  5. When the dough has come together and is soft (not too stiff, and not too soggy, although soggy is better than stiff in this instance) clean the inside of the bowl with the dough.
  6. Coat your work surface with a little olive oil (or whatever unflavoured oil) and tip the dough onto it.
  7. Knead for around 5-10 minutes until the dough seems to form a soft smooth skin, and it all feels softer and silky to the touch
  8. Oil a large bowl and place the dough in there, cover with cling film. Or a shower cap if you’ve been away in a hotel recently and have taken the free shower cap with you
  9. Leave to rise in a warm place, if you have one.
  10. Wait
  11. Go and do other things
  12. Do some more
  13. Once it has doubled in size you can get going again.
  14. Line a baking tray with parchment, or butter it with a leftover butter paper
  15. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball by repeatedly folding it inwards with your hand. Once all the air is knocked out of it and the dough is smooth, form it into a round, smooth cob (dome) shape
  16. Put the dough on the prepared baking sheet and leave to prove for about an hour. If you can, cover it, but you don’t want anything that will touch the surface of the dough or it might rip the skin off the dough when you remove it
  17. When it’s nearly ready, pre-heat your oven to 450F / 230C / GM8.
  18. Once the dough has doubled in size again test to see if it springs back quickly if you prod it gently with a finger. If it does, you’re ready. If not, leave it a bit longer. Or cry.
  19. Fill a roasting tray half full with water and place it in the bottom of your hot hot hot oven
  20. Dust the dough with some flour and the slash its top deeply with a knife. Don’t be scared, just do it.
  21. Pop your bread in the oven and bake for 30 mins, or until it’s cooked through and sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
  22. Cool on a wire rack

Eat with unsalted butter. Or cheese and pickle. Or ham. Or really with anything you want. It will be delicious.

Mr Hollywood's white cob loaf

Mr Hollywood’s white cob loaf

The dough, ready to rise for a few hours

The dough, ready to rise for a few hours

A lightly floured surface, ready for the dough

A lightly floured surface, ready for the dough

A perfect pillow of dough

A perfect pillow of dough

After 30mins in a hot hot hot oven it should look a bit like this

After 30mins in a hot hot hot oven it should look a bit like this

 

 

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