Tag Archives: baking

Perfecting my choux buns

24 Nov

Taking a holiday on lockdown is a strange old thing isn’t it?

I’m off all week this week, but staying at home (obviously). I feel as though I really need the ‘break’, I’m limping towards the end of the year. But what would a lockdown break look like? What would recharge me?

A series of personal challenges, that’s what. And no, not physical challenges – while that might be good for me, that is very much not my style. And not something I would look forward to.

I reveal my other challenges in a previous post, but this weekend’s was to make choux buns. I’ve made choux pastry once years ago, and all I recall is thinking that this was not something worth repeating – why have flabby, flat, soft pastry when you could have shortcrust instead?

Also, most of my memories of choux pastry aren’t that brilliant to be honest – back in the 70s they seemed like they’d be a terribly exotic dessert, but without fail they always disappointed: a bowl of slightly soggy, soft pastry shells, with questionable creamy stuff inside and a far too sweet chocolate sauce on top. No, I was a knickerbockerglory girl in the 70s.

In my quest to bake a decent choux bun I checked various recipes from my cookbook collection and they all seemed easy, and very similar, so I picked one and got going yesterday.

And it was all going so well, water and butter heated up, flour chucked in and beaten into the hot water to make a paste. Then eggs in, pre-beaten, so I could add just the right quantity of egg to get the right consistency.

But this is where it all went so badly wrong. I quickly ended up with a really liquid batter, and there was no way I could put dollops of batter on a baking tray to cook. I didn’t give up though, and dribbled some onto baking trays, on dampened baking parchment and put them in a very hot oven.

As expected, they came out as choux pancakes.

So I did what I do, and set to working out what had gone wrong and what I had to do differently to get something resembling more of a choux BUN.

(As an aside, the hens absolutely LOVED the choux pancakes, so if ever you have what appears to be a kitchen disaster, just remember that it may be the perfect snack, just not for you).

Anyway, today I made my second batch of choux pastry – and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really take much care over it, getting it half made and then stopping to enjoy a cup of coffee over the Sunday Papers before finishing it. And it appears that this is the best way to approach choux pastry, be off-hand with it, pretend you don’t really care. Ignore it for a while. It’ll come good.

Given that I’m not wild about a regular profiterole I filled my fluffy, light pastry shells with two different fillings: dark chocolate mousse for one lot and cinnamon apple cream for the second lot. I’m pretty happy with these choices, one being rich and decadent, the other tangy and fruity, but still with billowy creaminess.

My top tips for anyone attempting choux pastry for the first time:

  1. Do it!
  2. Use the 2:1:1:2 ratio, but add a wee bit extra flour (this will make sense soon)
  3. Don’t use an enormous pan
  4. Beat the flour, water, butter paste over the heat for a minute or so, till it’s glossy
  5. Let this paste cool for a while before even thinking about beating in the eggs
  6. Make them on the day you want to eat them, they become soggy and flabby if you keep them in an airtight container overnight
  7. Just do it!

Choux Pastry

  • 100ml water
  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 100g eggs (2 eggs)

Before you start doing anything, look at the ratios of the different ingredients. This is the 2:1:1:2 ratio. Twice as much (by weight) of each of water and eggs as there is of butter and flour.

Now we’ve got that sorted, here’s how to make your perfect choux buns.

  1. Put the water in a wee heavy based saucepan, and cut the chunks of butter into it, and place on a medium heat
  2. Weigh the flour out, and then add just a wee bit more (I think the choux pastry works better with the 2112 ratio just slightly out of kilter, with a smidgin extra flour)
  3. When the butter has melted and the water is just simmering, skoosh all the flour into the pan on top of the hot water-butter and BEAT with a wooden spoon (some people suggest you should place the flour on a folded piece of paper, to make a chute so the flour skooshes nice and fast into the water-butter, but I don’t think this is really necessary)
  4. Now, keep beating for about a minute, still over the heat though turned down a wee bit, till the dough seems glossy and is all coming together in the pan.
  5. Leave the pan to one side and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee now
  6. Pootle about on social media, or pick up a project you’re half way through (for me it’s that amazing mustard coloured cardigan with ALL the cables), or just read a book, or the paper. Whatever distract yourself for 20 minutes or so. You probably want to turn your oven on sometime during this wee break, so it’s hot enough when you come to cook your buns.
  7. Now go back to the kitchen and beat 2 eggs. Don’t bother weighing them, because you are going to do the rest of this by using your senses…
  8. Pour a wee bit of the beaten egg into the dough, and BEAT with your wooden spoon till it’s nicely incorporated; then add another dollop of egg and BEAT again. You’re going to keep doing this till you’ve got the right consistency. You might need all the egg, or you might have a wee bit left over at the end.
  9. You know you’ve got the right consistency when you pick your wooden spoon up, straight, out of the batter, and a sort of V-shaped bit of batter sticks to the bottom of the spoon, without dropping off. If it all drops off, ooopsie, you’ve added too much egg. Another way to check is to poke and stroke the batter – you want to see a wee trough where your finger made a trench in the batter. Basically it needs to hold its own, but kinda only just.
  10. Prepare your baking sheet: line it with a piece of baking parchment, then put it under the tap to get all wet. Pour of the actual water, just leaving a few droplets and a sort of sense of wetness. This helps provide the steamy heat the choux pastry loves in the oven.
  11. Now you can either spoon dollops of batter onto the baking sheet, or you can go all fancy and put it in a piping bag. Whichever you do, if you see wee sticky out pointy bits press them down with a wet finger (otherwise they will burn before the rest is cooked).
  12. Pop them in the oven, for about 15-20 minutes. Some suggest you should take them out a couple of minutes before they are ready (but once they are firm) and use a skewer or a sharp knife to make a wee hole in each bun, to allow the steam out, and to ensure they cook nicely inside. I’d say this is optional, so don’t stress if you forget to do it.
  13. Once they are out, move them to a wire rack to cool. If you haven’t poked a wee hole in them already, do it now so the steam can escape.

Fillings

You can fill these with anything soft and moussy really. The traditional (and possibly slightly old-fashioned) filling is plain whipped cream. And nice as that is, I think we can do better, don’t you. Some suggestions are:

  • Just before serving, pop a spoonful of your favourite ice cream inside each bun and sprinkle with something scrunchy, like chopped toasted nuts or sesame seeds
  • Lightly whip some cream with mascarpone and then fold through some stewed berries, or a fruit coulis
  • Make a quick chocolate mousse. OK, unlikely to be quick because you’ll have to melt the chocolate and then cool in the fridge (but you have time to make this while you’re taking that ‘break’ from the choux pastry-making). For an easy mousse: melt 6oz dark chocolate, cool slightly and then beat in 3 eggs yolks. Whip the 3 egg whites to soft peaks, and stir a big dollop of them into the choc mix. Now carefully fold the rest of the egg white in and leave to set in the fridge. Eat it by the spoonful, or spoon great big dollops of it into each bun. And if you want to go BIG, drizzle melted chocolate over the tops
  • Spread a wee bit of apple cinnamon jelly inside each bun, then fill with cream/mascarpone
  • Fold salted caramel sauce through whipped cream. I don’t have a recipe for salted caramel sauce to hand, but I’m sure you can find one.
  • Fold lemon curd through whipped cream, or a cream/mascarpone mix. That zingy zestiness will be so good. And I happen to have a recipe for lemon curd.
  • Or if you want to go decidedly grown up, check out what liqueurs you’ve got stashed at the back of your drinks cabinet… fold some through your whipped cream. And then think what would go with it… some fresh raspberries with chambord; with frangelico cream dip the tops in chocolate and sprinkle over chopped toasted hazelnuts… but over to you. Now you can make choux buns, you can fill them whatever takes your fancy.

Not in the mood for choux buns? That’s ok, there’s lots of other things you could try your had at here.

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.

 

 

 

The greatest thing since sliced bread…

1 Jun

Freshly baked home made bread

Freshly baked home made bread

Bread. I love the stuff. But it’s the real stuff that I love, the sourdough, the slowly-risen loaf. It doesn’t seem right that commercially produced highly processed loaves, made by the intensive Chorleywood process can even be called by the same name. They just are not the same thing. So, the greatest thing sliced bread is…. unsliced bread. Naturally.

Rant over. Probably.

Bread. When I think of eating bread, I think of friends, of sharing it, of tearing off great chunks and dipping it into olive oil & balsamic vinegar, of making slices of toast and spreading them with butter and marmite. And sometimes peanut butter too. Of my father, sitting at the head of the table, and cutting the bread, then spearing the slice on the point of the bread knife to pass it to your plate.

And all this sharing with friends is appropriate: the word companion literally means ‘with bread’ from the Latin ‘com’ (with) and ‘panis’ (bread).

I’ve been a baker for years, but most of my baking was biscuits and cakes and scones and traybakes, basically things without yeast. And then we started using the bread machine. Unlike many bread machiners, we used it 3 or 4 times a week, and with a bit of trial and error, and the purchase of some super-tasty stoneground flour, we started making really amazing loaves. I occasionally made a loaf by hand, but not so often.

I bought lots of books, made sourdough starters, killed sourdough starters when I forgot to do anything with them. And replaced the bread machine, three times. (Yes, we used it so much we wore it out).

And then I bought the best bread baking book: James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. He writes easily. Or perhaps he doesn’t, but it reads easily. His explanations make sense, and help you understand why you are carrying out each process. And he starts you off with the easiest bread in the world – it needs no kneading. It takes up so little of your time to make it. And it tastes delicious.

I’ve adapted it slightly, to make use of my sourdough starter, which gives it a wee bit extra flavour and chewiness, which I like.

A few things before we start:

  • this recipe requires NO kneading. It is easy peasy. You have no excuses not to make it
  • buy a set of digital scales. They aren’t terribly expensive but they will repay you every time you use them, and quite possibly will change the way you bake (in that you can weight things directly into any bowl or pan, rather than into the bowl provided with the weighing scales)
  • use the biggest bowl you own; if you don’t have a really big bowl, consider buying one
  • procure a shower cap – the ones you get free from hotels are fine, in fact perfect. Using this, and re-using it over and over again, is much more sensible (and easy) than using cling film

After proving, ready to bake

After proving, ready to bake

There are other things you might want to buy if you really get the bread-baking bug, but wait a while to see if you get it or not. Otherwise you’re going to end up with an unused proving basket in your cupboard, which will just annoy you (instead of giving you these lovely ‘flour rings’ on a loaf).

The best white bread (and it’s easy)

  • 500g strong white flour (I use a stoneground from Bacheldre Mill, it’s lovely and comes in big 16kg bags if you get the bug!)
  • 10g salt (see why you need digital scales)
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 330g tepid water
  • a good dollop of sourdough starter (about 50g)
  1. Put the flour in a big bowl
  2. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl
  3. And the salt on the other
  4. Keeping them on their own sides of the bowl, mix them in with your fingers and then make a slight well in the middle
  5. Pour in the water, and add the big dollop of sourdough starter
  6. Now, using your hand like a paddle, mix all the ingredients together, until they are all combined
  7. Cover the bowl (with a shower cap if you have one, with cling film if you don’t) and leave it for about half an hour
  8. Go off and do something for a while; I recommend watering your tomatoes in the greenhouse, if you have any. Or reading the magazine section of the Sunday paper
  9. Now, take the shower cap off the bowl. Wet your hand under a tap, and keeping your hand a bit like a paddle, put your hand under one side of the dough and scoop it up, folding the dough over itself.
  10. Twist the bowl a quarter of the way around and do this again. Repeat several times, going all around the bowl, and round again. You should notice that the dough feels much smoother, slightly silkier than it did half an hour ago.
  11. OK, once  you’ve got it back in a nice wee lump in the middle of the bowl, pop the shower cap on again and leave it for a couple of hours at room temperature.
  12. Just get on with your life, and ignore the dough.. it’ll do its doughy thing quite happily without your interference or worry.
  13. This time you’re going to need a wee bit of flour and either a proving basket (if you’ve got the bug) or your baking tray. Prepare the proving basket / baking tray by dusting it with flour. Dust your table or board with flour too.
  14. Now scoop the dough out of the big bowl onto the floury surface. You’ll see that there are lots of bubbles within the dough and that it feels a bit like a balloon full of water, sort of squishy, but not really squishable.
  15. Try to work relatively quickly with the dough… Make it into a sort of brick shape, and then pull it at each end and fold those ends over into the middle, and squish it down a bit. It might be a sort of round-ish shape now. Squish it in the middle and pull it at the ends to make an oblong brick again. And pull those ends out and over into the middle again to make a round. Do this another couple of times if you want, or not if you’re bored by now.
  16. Place your dough on the baking tray (or into the proving basket) – either make it a nice round ball shape, or a sort of oblong.
  17. And walk away and leave it, for an hour or two, depending how warm your room is (the warmer the room, the less time it should be left). The dough is now ‘proving’ which just means that it is rising again – the wee bubbles in the dough are expanding and the gluten in the flour is nice and elastic now, so it’s stretching, and holding those bubbles in place. You want the loaf to almost double in size, but don’t fret if it hasn’t
  18. Heat your oven to GM7 / 425F / 220C. And when I say heat it, I mean switch your oven on a good 10 minutes before you pop the loaf in the oven, to make sure the bread goes into a properly hot oven. If you want a scrummy crust, put a dish of water in the bottom of the oven, to create some steam.
  19. Before you put the bread in the oven, cut a slash in it, which will allow it to stretch as it rises again in the oven. For a round, you can just do a cross on the top, and for an oblong try a long cut down the middle and then diagonal cuts on each side, like a leaf, or a feather. The cut doesn’t need to be deep, just cut through the skin of the dough.
  20. Bake for about 40 mins.
  21. Place on a baking tray once it’s cooked, and try not to slice it and eat it till it’s cool.

Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Top tips

  1. Complete up to stage 11 in the evening, and then pop the dough in the fridge with its shower cap on. It will be quite happy overnight in the fridge instead of 2 hours at room temperature. The next morning, start from step 13.
  2. If you have a proving basket, use a really liberal dusting of flour before you leave the dough to prove in it. Once it’s proved, turn it out onto the prepared baking tray, and slash its top and pop in the oven.
  3. Use semolina or polenta instead of flour on the baking tray
  4. Increase the volume of sourdough starter, and reduce the water slightly
  5. Don’t worry about timings at all – if it’s left for 4 hours instead of 2 it will probably be fine

Want to see more recipes? What about making some lemon curd to spread on your home made bread? Or imagine how good it would be with home made chicken liver pate?

All my recipes are here: SheWolfInTheValley.

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.

 

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.

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