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.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Marvelously Moustachioed Millionaire's Shortbread

Dear All,

It is Movember this month, I have been doing my part by growing my leg hair. But that's a bit gross, and I need to shave them to go out on Saturday. So I also decided to bake some moustachioed biscuits, or 'cookies' to my American colleagues.

Shortbread is a marvelous thing. Done properly, it's buttery, soft and crumbly, with neat little rows of pinpricks all over its golden brown surface. It's also ridiculously easy, as it uses only three ingredients, ingredients even the most lacklustre baker should have in their kitchen: butter, caster sugar and plain flour.

You start shortbread by putting all the ingredients in a bowl and rubbing the butter into the sugar and flour with your fingertips, just as you would to make a crumble topping. This is an essential baking/pastry skill that is used in many recipes. If, as every good pastry chef should, you have cold hands, soften the butter by leaving it in a bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes. This is a tip from Mary Berry that you can see here.

I made my shortbread slightly differently to the usual method, because I was cutting it into circle shapes for my moustachioed faces. I also had to roll my shortbread out slightly thinner than I would have liked to, because I needed to make enough for all my class at uni, and I didn't use the condensed milk method to make caramel because I already had some of the other kind of caramel, which I just mixed with cream.

You will need:

For the shortbread:
250g plain flour
75g caster sugar
175g butter (in small cubes)
For the caramel:
100g butter or margarine
100g light muscavado
2 x 397g cans condensed milk
For the topping:
200g white chocolate
200g milk chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Put the shortbread ingredients in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips until the butter is distributed evenly throughout and the mixture resembles a crumble topping. If you don't know what a crumble topping looks like, go away. I can't be friends with you anymore.
2. If you want the shortbread in bars (much easier) press the crumbly mixture into a greased baking tin, leaving it about 1 cm thick. Otherwise knead it into a dough and roll out, then use a biscuit cutter to achieve desired shapes.

3. Prick the shortbread all over with a fork. As you can see, I started doing this very very neatly and then got bored and just poked them willy-nilly with a fork. Put in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown.

4. While the shortbread is baking, put all the caramel ingredients in a pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat down to a simmer, stirring continuously until it thickens slightly. If you are making bars, pour over the shortbread when it comes out the oven. If not, wait until the shortbread is cool and the caramel is cool enough to spread over shortbread with a knife. Leave to set.

5. For the topping, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a barely simmering pan of water. If you're making bars, pour over the cold caramel. If not, this is where it gets slightly tricky. Do not try and dip your shortbread in the chocolate (more on this later), but instead drop a spoonful on top of a biscuit and use a combination of tilting the biscuit and spreading with a knife to ensure even coverage. Cover half the biscuits in milk chocolate, and the other half in white chocolate. If you want to do moustaches, put the remaining chocolate in piping bags, snip the tip of the bag off, leaving about a 3 mm hole. Then, pipe white moustaches onto the milk chocolate and milk ones onto the white chocolate. Leave to set.

6. Eat!

Now, one of the reasons I style myself the begrudging baker"  is because I like to think of myself as an intrepid baker, who plunges fearlessly into recipes and makes the mistakes, so you don't have to. So, some important notes for this recipe:

Don't try to dip the biscuits in the chocolate to cover them, because the caramel will melt into the chocolate and make it go all lumpy. And then, like me, you will have to drive to Co-op at 9.30 pm and the only white chocolate they have will be chocolate coins. And you will have to stand there in the kitchen unwrapping chocolate coins like a numpty.

Don't put the chocolate on the caramel when either of them are still really hot, because you will just make a sloppy mess.

Ensure you have a paper bag/cake box to take the biscuits to uni before you bake, or you will have to go to Waitrose and steal bags from their bakery. Which is not classy.

That is all.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Macaroons Take II

So, despite me being less than satisfied with them, everyone else seemed pretty happy with my Halloween macaroons. Especially Charlie, who took a great deal of pleasure in poking hers. No, I'm not sure why either.

On Halloween itself, we went to a networking event after a long day of shorthand. I was very tired, I was the only person who had turned up to uni wearing a costume (a cat suit and ears) and there was a table full of free wine with my name on it. I don't remember much except I fell over on the way TO the pub, I asked a barman for his number and I sent an ill-advised text...

I woke up in the morning in a reflective mood - translation: with the mopey kind of hangover. I decided that good as wine is, she is a cruel mistress. So I'm going to run away and bake instead of getting drunk, and live in a castle made of diabetes and regret.

So I decided to try macaroons again. I did some reading up on the internet, and decided to try the Italian meringue method. I used this recipe by Pierre Hermés. It didn't really work, my macaroons aren't shiny and meringue like, they're more cakey, and they don't have feet. But at least they came off the baking sheet without disintegrating. And tasted good.
I adapted the recipe above and made chocolate macaroons filled with the chilli and lime ganache I made in my last blog post, and then made peppermint macaroons with dark chocolate ganache. I've already given you the recipe for the chilli and lime ganaches, and I made the chocolate shells according to Pierre Hermés' recipe, so I'll give you the peppermint one. So, if you want to make macaroons that aren't quite right, follow this recipe:

For the shells:

100g icing sugar
100g ground almonds 
40g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
73g egg whites
100g granulated sugar
2.5 tbsp water
1 tsp green food colouring
1 tsp peppermint flavouring

For the ganache,

160g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
180ml double cream
1 tbsp butter

1. For the ganache, melt the chocolate, butter and cream together in a ceramic bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. When the chocolate and butter has melted stir together until the ganache is all of a uniform colour and consistency.

 2. Sieve the ground almonds and icing sugar together in a bowl.
3. Split the egg whites into two halves. Add the flavouring and colouring to one and add to the almonds and icing sugar. There is no need to stir.
4. Begin whisking the other egg whites in a clean metal bowl. When they start to near soft peaks, begin heating the granulated sugar and water in a pan with a sugar thermometer.
5. When the egg whites reach soft peaks and the sugar syrup reaches 118C, add the syrup to the egg whites,  beating all the time.
6. When the mixture returns to soft peaks and looks glossy, pour it on top of the almonds and icing sugar mixture.
7. Fold the mixtures together until of a smooth consistency. Then spoon into an icing bag.

8. Pipe 3-4cm circles  2cm apart onto two baking sheets lined with baking parchment. Preheat oven to 180C. Tap the baking sheets sharply on the work surface to knock out air bubbles, then leave for 30 minutes.
9. Bake for 12-15 minutes. As you can see, mine have started to colour around the edges, so they were probably in too long.
10. Spread the ganache on half the shell halves, then sandwich them to the other halves.

And now, Charlie pokes a macaroon:

Until my next bake,