Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Baking

Hello folks.

I have been busy in the run up to Christmas. Very busy indeed. On Friday the 21st, which I believe was the winter solstice, and was also the day on which the world conspicuously failed to end, I held a dinner party.

I made griddled polenta with blue cheese on a bed of rocket, a butternut squash and courgette pie with mint and lemon dressed carrots and greek yoghurt, chocolate bread and butter pudding with vanilla semifreddo and caramel decorations and mincemeat filo parcels. 5 people eschewed the blue cheese, I was so stressed I had two bellinis before I served the polenta and somehow contrived to trip over the heel of my shoe (which was on my foot) with my other foot, I forgot to dress the carrots with lemon and burnt the poo (this is a family-friendly blog) out of the filo parcels. But as everyone ate nearly everything (except the cremated filo parcels), I didn't cry from stress and no one vomited up their food I declared the evening a success.

I had also had enough red wine to be very contented, as Elena filled my glass every time I looked away.

Whilst preparing on Friday, although I was already trying to do several things at once, I decided the need for canap├ęs provided me with the perfect opportunity to learn how to make rough puff pastry. I made palmiers, which are those little curly French pastries. They can be sweet or savoury, and the recipe below makes more than 20. Oh yeah and I didn't measure the amount of filling I used. Cos I'm badass.

Pesto and Parmesan Palmiers

You will need:

150g plain flour
150g butter
90ml water
½ tsp salt
Parmesan or other grated hard cheese

1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and add the butter in chunks. Rub the butter in loosely, not into fine crumbs like a crumble mixture but so lumps of butter are still visible.

2. Add the water bit by bit, stirring until the mixture forms a dough. Add more water if needed (but you shouldn't need to). Once the mixture comes together roll it into a ball and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
3. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out to a rectangle about 20x50cm. The butter should be visible in streaks in the dough.

4. Fold the top third of the dough down and the bottom third up as pictured below. 
5. Roll out again, fold again and return to the fridge for 20 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 180C. Repeat step 5, then the dough is ready to be rolled out and used. Roll out the dough and spread generously with pesto and sprinkle with cheese.

7. Roll up the bottom half of the pastry tightly towards the middle. When you reach the middle repeat with the other half. Your pastry should look like this:
8. Slice off each end of the pastry and then slice into 1cm thick slices. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes or until flaky and golden.
9. If you are blogging about them, do not, as I did, forget to take a picture of your palmiers before they get scoffed.

I would like to show you the mincemeat filo parcels recipe but as I mentioned I burnt the poop out of them, and I also did not make the filo myself (bite me, Paul).

So instead I shall show you what I made for Christmas Day pudding. As you may remember from my last post my family Christmas features only a token Christmas pudding, which we set fire to, duly applaud and then fling in the bin. And then proceed to beat out the ensuing flames. So I am in charge of the alternative pudding. And this year we have this delightful tart, which I made for a friend's birthday earlier in the year. I discovered this recipe, by a fellow online chef, whilst looking for a recipe to use up orange curd, but I have altered it slightly. And here is my version:

Dark Chocolate and Orange Curd Tart

You will need:

2 large oranges
500ml water
170g caster sugar
95g ground almonds
175g flour
115g butter
65g dark chocolate
165ml double cream
200g orange curd (you can make your own but I only make orange or lemon curd to use up spare egg yolks)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Slice the oranges into ½ cm slices, slicing them across so you get a cross-section of the inside of the orange, not the other way, as I managed to do with one of them. Put the water and sugar in a large shallow pan and bring to the boil. Add the orange slices and continue to boil for 10 minutes, turning the slices after 5 minutes. Then lower the heat and simmer for about another 30 minutes.
2. Lower the heat and simmer for about another 30 minutes. You want to continue simmering until the liquid in the pan is nearly gone and the slices are translucent and sticky. They should look like this:
3. Put the almonds and flour into a bowl. Melt the butter and pour it over the dry ingredients.

4. Stir the mixture until it starts to come together. Then pour the crumbly mixture into a tart tin and press firmly down to form the base of the tart. Put the base in the oven for about 20 minutes until it starts to colour and smells delicious.

5. While the base is baking, put the cream and chocolate in a bowl over a barely simmering pan of water, stirring occasionally until fully combined. 
6. When the tart base has cooled enough to not melt the orange curd, spread it on the base.
7. When the chocolate ganache has cooled, pour that onto the orange curd. Be careful not to mix up the orange curd and chocolate layer and spread evenly to the very edges of the tart. Then add the orange slices to the tart.
8. Chill the tart until set.

The person who posted the original recipe recommended you served it with thyme-infused cream. To make this you will need:

150ml double cream
5 sprigs thyme

1. Put the thyme and cream in a pan on a low to medium heat.
2. Bring to the boil then strain through a sieve and chill until ready to serve tart.

So there you are, my Christmas bakes. Enjoy!

Until later, Elflings.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmas Cupcakes

So this week, I decided to make Christmas-themed cupcakes as a parting gift to my coursemates. I like to think they will miss me and my baking over the holidays, although as it is nearly Christmas, they probably don't need my help to put on weight.

Here are my beautiful creations, although unfortunately the photos are not beautiful as I forgot to charge my camera and had to use my phone:

Here we have double chocolate Christmas pudding cupcakes, peppermint and chocolate Christmas tree cupcakes and vanilla and white chocolate candy cane cupcakes. These cupcakes are pretty stunning looking, and so easy to do. They'd make great party food. The decoration, I am proud to say, was all of my own invention. I was particularly proud of using icing sugar on the Christmas trees to represent snow.

I made these cupcakes in ridiculously small batches, but it's much easier to make them in bigger batches. You can freeze cupcakes as long as you freeze the cupcakes and buttercream separately. Do NOT refrigerate either. They will not like it.

To find my buttercream recipe, go here. This recipe makes about enough buttercream icing to cover 24 cupcakes. I promise I will do one on this blog soon. Maybe. You will see that the icing I used here was pretty brightly coloured. This means you will need to use a fair amount of colouring. Use paste NOT liquid colouring. Seriously, this is important. If you find that the colouring makes the icing lose its consistency, add more icing sugar gradually and continue beating, it should regain the consistency you want.  

By the way, the Christmas pudding cupcakes are not actually Christmas pudding flavoured. This is because I hate Christmas pudding. In my house we set fire to the pudding, all clap, and then throw it in the bin. Although we generally wait for the flames to go out first.

Christmas Pudding and Christmas Tree Cupcakes - makes 12 of each

You will need:

To decorate:
half a batch of buttercream made as above (but without vanilla flavouring)
100g dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
300ml double cream

For the cakes:
25g cocoa
225g butter
200g flour
225g caster sugar
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. 
2. Beat the eggs in one at a time. The mixture will look like sick. Don't worry. It's supposed to.
3. Sift the flour and cocoa into the mixture and fold in gently. 

 4. Distribute the mixture between 24 cupcake cases.
5. Bake for 12-15 minutes until cupcakes are risen and tops spring back when lightly pressed. 

6. While the cupcakes are baking, put a ceramic/glass bowl on top of a saucepan of barely simmering water. Break the dark chocolate into pieces and add 200ml of cream, then melt the two together until completely combined. Take off the heat and put aside. Repeat the process with the white chocolate and remaining cream. 
8. When both the cupcakes and the ganache have cooled, cover half the cupcakes in the dark chocolate ganache, spreading the ganache with a knife. 
9. Drop a teaspoon of the white chocolate ganache on top of each chocolate covered cupcake and tease it the desired shape. Which is basically a splodge.
10. To decorate the remaining cupcakes, colour the buttercream green and flavour it with peppermint. Spread the cupcakes with buttercream, spreading upwards to create a vaguely conical shape. Then take a cocktail stick and create a shaggy texture by drawing little grooves in the buttercream all over. Dust with icing sugar just before serving. 

Candy Cane Cupcakes - makes 12

You will need:

To decorate:
half a batch of buttercream made as above
50g white chocolate
100ml double cream

For the cakes:
115g butter
115g flour
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
½ tbsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. 
2. Beat the eggs in one at a time. 
3. Sift the flour and cocoa into the mixture and fold in gently. 
4. Distribute the mixture between 24 cupcake cases.
5. Bake for 12-15 minutes until cupcakes are risen and tops spring back when lightly pressed. 

6. While the cakes are baking, put a ceramic/glass bowl on top of a saucepan of barely simmering water. Break the chocolate into pieces and add the cream, then melt the two together until completely combined. Take off the heat and put aside.
7. Split the buttercream into two equal parts and colour half of it red. Put each colour in an icing bag with a star shaped nozzle.
8. When both the cakes and the ganache have cooled, cut the tops off the cakes so that they are flat. Spread  each cake with ganache. Pipe 6 evenly spaced splodges of one of the icing colours around each cake. Then repeat with the other colour. 
9. Scoff.

If, unlike me, your kind parents have not bought you cupcake toppers, you could make your own candy canes by rolling red and white sugarpaste into lines and then twisting them together. If you are good at cutting precise shapes you could probably cut out tiny holly leaves out of green sugarpaste and roll little berries out of red to top the Christmas pudding cakes. And you could decorate the trees with stars or edible silver balls.

I also make gingerbread decorations from my friend Charlie's recipe this week. If you're making decorations rather than gingerbread for eating, roll the dough thin and make a hole in each gingerbread before baking, allowing for shrinkage whilst baking. Make small shapes as heavy gingerbreads will break and once cooled, thread a length of red ribbon through the hole of each gingerbread to hang it by. 

Merry Christmas everyone! More to follow before then.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Eight-strand Plaited Loaf

Or as I like to think of it, Octopus Bread! Yeah, so, this weekend we had no bread and I thought this was an excellent opportunity to try out a loaf that was one of the technical challenges in this year's Bake Off; Paul Hollywood's Eight-strand Plaited Loaf. And here it is:

Look at it there, all shiny and brown and glossy. Not quite as good looking as one of Paul's, but pretty damn sexy. This recipe makes a soft, chewy bread with a crisp crust. It's a fairly simple bread, made with the most basic of ingredients: yeast, salt, water and olive oil. But there's a reason why it was used as the technical challenge for bread week on the Bake Off. You're thinking: 'It's just a plait. Plaiting's easy, right?'

WRONG. Plaiting eight strands is very hard, especially when you are plaiting with eight strands of dough, which are prone to stick to each other, stretch thin in places (making for an uneven plait), remain stubbornly unstretchable in others and become tough once baked if overworked. I had to painstakingly undo my plait at one point and start again.

So, if you haven't been too put off by my dire warnings, here is the recipe, which I have purloined from BBC Food:

You will need:

500g strong white bread flour (with extra for dusting)
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
10g salt
340ml water
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 egg, beaten

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure than you put the salt and yeast in separately, or the salt will kill the yeast.

2. Add the olive oil and ¾ of the water, mixing with a spoon or spatula and adding the rest of the water as needed until the mixture forms a soft, sticky dough.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead with floured hands until silky, smooth and elastic. This should take about 10 minutes. I actually used my hands instead of my mixer this time. Wouldn't Paul be proud?

4. Oil a mixing bowl and put the dough in it. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour to double in size.

5. Put the dough back on the floured surface and knock it back by kneading. Then split into 8 equal parts. Roll out each part to a strand about 40cm long and stick one end of all the strands together by pressing dough onto work surface until it sticks.
 6. Now here comes the tricky part. Number the strands one to eight in your mind. Every time a strand moves it will assume the number of the position it has moved to. For example, in the picture below, strand 8 has gone under strand 7 and over strand 1. It is now strand 1. Follow this sequence: place 8 under 7 and over 1. Place 8 over 5. Place 2 under 3 and over 8. Place 1 over 4. Place 7 under 6 and over 1. Repeat every step (excluding the first), until all the dough is braided.
7. When all the dough is plaited, tuck both ends of the loaf under to give it a tidy finish and place on a floured baking tray.
8. Leave in a warm place for an hour to prove. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 5. Once the dough has proved, brush it with the beaten egg and put in the oven.

9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is crisp and the loaf makes a hollow sound when tapped on the base. Eureka! Bread!

Do you believe in me yet, Paul? *cries silently*

Ciao, bakelings.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cinnamon Toast

This week I baked Cinnamon Raisin Bread:

You know you want it.

Some of you may know that since my birthday this year, I have been baking my own bread. This is because my parents gave me a Kenwood mixer with a dough hook, which means I can knead bread without getting flour all over myself, the work surfaces, the walls and the floor. Also I am lazy, and kneading bread by hand is hard work.

Anyway I've had a bit of a bread-making hiatus recently, what with uni and such. Bread is a rather time-consuming form of baking. It is also a precise art - add the yeast and the salt together, or put the yeast in water that is a few degrees too hot and after rising you are greeted by a cold, stiff, unrisen lump of dough glaring balefully back at you from the mixing bowl. Glaring figuratively. As I've said before, if your bread has eyes, you're doing it wrong.

But if you can crack bread, the rewards far outweigh the disappointments. There is no smell quite like bread baking in the oven, as a house-guest nothing quite beats presenting someone with a freshly baked loaf with a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine. And it's usually pretty cheap too, although that is certainly never a motivation for me. Honest.

So when my friend and ex-housemate Elena said she really fancied a cinnamon bun, I jumped at the chance to bake her a cinnamon and raisin loaf - not quite the same, but still pretty good. So here is the recipe I used, from Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno's Bread.

You will need:
90g dark brown (muscavado) sugar - I had to use demerara, it worked fine
200ml milk
2 tsp dried yeast
500g strong white bread flour (I only had brown but it made the bread crustier than I would have liked)
1½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
150g raisins (a nice variation might be half sultanas half raisins, or a mix of dried apple and raisins)
egg glaze, made with 1 egg yolk and 1 tbsp water

1. Take 100ml of the milk. Heat a third to boiling temperature and add to the other two thirds - it should be lukewarm. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve and add yeast. Cover and leave for 5 minutes until yeast is frothing then stir with a non-metal spoon.

2. Mix the flour, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, yeasted milk and butter. 

3. Mix in the flour, adding the remaining milk as needed to form a moist, sticky dough. 

4. When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth, soft and supple. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a Kenwood mixer, add the dough hook attachment and knead for 5-10 minutes, it probably won't need as long as if you were kneading by hand.

5. Put the dough in a clean bowl (I tend to just put it back in the mixing bowl, without cleaning it, but what do I know?) Cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size for 1-1½ hours.

6. Grease a loaf tin with butter. Knock back the dough by pressing down on it with your fist and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

7. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to form a 20cm x 30cm rectangle. Sprinkle with the raisins, pressing them down gently into the dough (I didn't do this and some fell out while we were toasting the bread, so make sure you do).

8. Roll up the dough as if it were a Swiss roll. Pinch the seam to seal and fold the edges under, also pinching them to seal. Place in the loaf tin seam side down and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove for 30-45 minutes until risen 1cm over the top of the loaf tin. You'll want to preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6 during this period.

9. Brush the loaf with the egg glaze and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180C/gas 4 and bake for another 30 minutes until dark shiny and hollow sounding when tapped underneath. Turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool.

And then just slice it open and slather it in butter:

If I had pressed the raisins in I think I would have ended up with a neat spiral of raisins instead of two fat commas of raisins. But not bad, considering I substituted two ingredients. And it tasted pretty good too. Elena was very appreciative. 

I'm considering cupcakes, cake, brownies or another sweet bread for my next bake. Any suggestions welcome - I'm looking at you, MA Journalism students.