Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Very Begrudging Christmas

Merry Christmas bakelings!

I love Christmas. Always have. Sure, there may have been a time in my teenage years when I pretended like I didn't. What you have to remember is that Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time, whereas teenagers are full of angst, so the two don't always mix. But inside I was still loving it.

The one thing about Christmas I'm not wild about is the desserts. To my mind, a really decadent pudding should be sinfully chocolately and dangerously alcoholic, not a kind of bowling ball made of dried fruit. In my house, we tend to set fire to the Christmas pudding, applaud dutifully, and then chuck it in the bin.

After all, isn't beating out the flames from an overly hastily discarded Christmas pudding all part of the fun?

I'm joking of course. We wait for it to go out first. But given my feelings about Christmas pudding, you can probably guess my reaction when my parents asked me to make a Dundee cake. After all, like a Christmas cake, the Dundee cake is heavy on what I dislike about a Christmas pudding - full of dried fruit, heavy, dense and heavily spiced.

This was, then, a bake I rather begrudged. So I sought out a recipe that claims to be lighter than a usual Dundee cake. And I also attempted to compensate for the dried fruit with a great deal of whisky. So much whisky in fact, that you can smell it without even getting close to the cake. That's the only kinda Dundee cake I'm going to contemplate eating.

You can bake this cake much later than a classic Christmas cake, but I would do it at least a week in advance so you can fit in a couple of feeds. Here is my finished cake:

And without further ado, here is Delia Smith's recipe for Dundee cake, plus the glaze I used:

You will need:

For the cake:
175g currants
175g sultanas
110g glacé cherries, well rinsed, patted dry and halved
75g mixed candied peel
a generous 3 tbsp scotch whisky, plus extra to feed
150g butter
150g soft brown sugar
3 medium eggs
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
a little milk (only if necessary)
2 tbsp ground almonds
grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
110g whole blanched almonds
an 8 inch cake tin, greased and lined

To glaze:
1 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp whisky

1. Soak the currants, sultanas, glacé cherries and peel in the 3 tbsp whisky overnight.

2. When you are ready to bake the cake, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3/170C and cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl.

3. Beat the eggs in one at a time and then sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold in gently. The mixture should be soft and drop from the spoon - if it seems stiff add a little milk.

4. Carefully fold in the ground almonds, rind and whisky-soaked fruit, then spoon gently into the tin and level with the back of a spoon.
5. Arrange the almonds in concentric circles, placing them gently on the cake rather than pressing them in.

6. Bake for 2-2 and a half hours until firm and springy to the touch. Let the cake cool in the tin for 30 minutes before cooling it on a wire rack.
7. When it is completely cool, wrap the cake twice in greaseproof paper and put back in the tin, then feed by piercing small holes in the cake with a cocktail stick and sprinkling it with whisky.

8. Leave the cake in an airtight tin until the night before needed, when you should feed it again.
9. Glaze the cake by straining the apricot jam through a sieve and then warming gently in a pan with the whisky over a low heat until melted. Then set aside til cool. When cooled, brush the whole cake with the glaze and if desired, wrap a ribbon around the cake.

This second recipe has more of my own input. I've made a cranberry streussel cake for the last few years, but this year I had a lot of mincemeat left over from my filo mince pies (that's a bake for another day, kids), so I thought 'Why not a mincemeat streussel?'

Why not indeed. You can buy mincemeat to make this, or make your own. I am afraid I am pretty slapdash with my mincemeat. I tend to fling in any ingredients I can find, with the only essentials being raisins or sultanas, booze and vegetable suet (I'm a veggie).

You will need:

For the mincemeat:
450g dried mixed fruit (raisins, sultanas etc)
a tart, firm cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
50g flaked or finely chopped blanched almonds
110g dark muscovado sugar
50g shredded vegetable suet
1 tsp each of freshly grated nutmeg and ground cinnamon
grated rind of 1 orange or lemon
100ml liqueur of some kind - I used whisky but brandy or sherry is more traditional

For the pastry:
350g butter
75g caster sugar
45ml olive oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 medium egg
500g plain flour
1 and a half tsp
pinch of salt
an 8 inch spring-form tin, greased and floured

1.  To make the mincemeat, stir all the ingredients together in a large bowl and leave, covered, for two days. If you are not going to use it immediately, store in clean (preferably sterilised) jars.
2. To make the dough, cream together the butter and sugar.

3. Beat in the olive oil, egg and vanilla.

4. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix together until the mixture forms a rough dough. Knead into a ball and wrap tightly in clingfilm, then put in the freezer for 2 hours.

5. Cut the ball in half (using a knife dipped in boiling water if it is very hard) and then grate one half into the tin and use fingers to distribute in an even layer.
6. Spoon the mincemeat into the tin (you may not have to use all of it) and spread into an even layer that does not quite touch the sides of the tin - it will ooze out if you spread it to the very edges.

7. Grate the rest of the dough on top evenly and press down very gently. Bake for about 1-1 and a half hours until firm but still quite pale.
8. Serve cut into wedges and with creme fraiche or cream to cut through the richness of the streussel.

I haven't tried the Dundee cake yet, but as it reeks of whisky, I'll give it a whirl. Surely nothing so booze-soaked can be bad, right?

Anyway, the streussel is good and a great alternative to making individual mince pies. You could also make it in a rectangular baking tin and make it as a traybake.

All that remains is for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Eat, drink and be merry, but it might be best to stop when it hurts. At least for ten minutes or so.

The Begrudging Baker

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Well I do, if it means I get to eat things like this. Millionaire's shortbread - a buttery, crumbly shortbread base layered with smooth sticky caramel and topped with a thick layer of dark chocolate and feathered white chocolate. Calorie counters, look away NOW.

This shortbread is a wonderful thing. I made a batch last weekend and took it into work. Everyone had a piece...and then the deputy editor ate another three when my back was turned. Let that stand testament to how good this recipe is; when it comes to baking, gluttony is the highest form of flattery.

This recipe is really easy, if you can get the hang of making caramel and it can be made to look really pretty too. I apologise for the photos - flash always makes food look slightly lacklustre, but I made this in the evening, so leaving flash off wasn't really an option.

You will need:

For the shortbread:
250g plain flour
175g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
pinch of salt

For the caramel topping:
300g granulated sugar
60ml water
120ml single cream

For the chocolate:
300g dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
a piping bag
a cocktail stick

1. Grease and line a large, reasonably deep baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.
2. Put all the dry shortbread ingredients into a large bowl. Cube the butter and rub into the flour and sugar with your fingertips to form a crumbly mixture. Press the crumbs into the baking sheet.
3.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until light golden in colour.
4. While the shortbread base is baking, put the granulated sugar and water for caramel in a small pan over a high heat. You may stir before the sugar has dissolved, but not afterwards, or the mixture will crystallise. Heat the sugar syrup until it turns golden brown in colour - it will also smell AMAZING.
5. Once the caramel is golden brown, take it off the heat and pour in the cream whilst stirring vigorously. Careful - it will spit. 
6. Once the shortbread base is out of the oven, pour the caramel over the top and leave to set. Shake the baking tin from side to side to ensure the caramel is even. Set aside.
7. Break up the dark chocolate and set it in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water to melt, stirring occasionally to ensure it does not stick or burn. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. 
8. Let the caramel set a little then pour the chocolate over the caramel, as evenly as possible. You can use a knife or spatula to spread, but careful not to penetrate the caramel layer. Shake the baking tin from side to side to ensure the chocolate is even.
9. Quickly, before the dark chocolate starts to set, break the white chocolate up and put it in a non-metallic bowl. Give it a few 30 second blasts in the microwave, stirring after each time until it is fully melted. Spoon into the piping bag.
10. Pipe parallel lines one way across the dark chocolate. Use a cocktail stick to feather the white chocolate, first one way, then the other. Leave to set before cutting into small squares - I find a pizza cutter dipped in hot water works well. 

I'm dribbling just looking at it.

Until next time bakelings,


Friday, 1 November 2013

Kooky Spooky Skeleton Cookies

Who loves Halloween? But of course you do! What other occasion offers you the chance to eat sweets til you're sick, drink alcohol, dress up like a prat, demand sweets from strangers, play practical jokes on unsuspecting members of the public and make a godawful mess carving pumpkins?

Sadly, I'm too old to dress up and demand sweets from strangers without them calling the police, so I did not go trick and treating. But you're never too old for gingerbread men, so I decided to make these delicious biscuits with a bit of a twist.

After all, why go out and bully your neighbours for sweets when you could have endless fun making and icing 40 gingerbread men? And believe me, it feels endless after the first couple of hours. The recipe I based mine on was supposed to make 20, but it made 40, because I like my gingerbread men thin and crisp. So if you're going to roll your dough thin as well, then use half quantities for 20 biscuits.

You will need:

For the dough:
350g plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
125g butter
175g light brown soft sugar
1 egg
3 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped
3 tbsp of syrup from the stem ginger jar
a gingerbread man biscuit cutter

For the decoration:
125g icing sugar
3 tsp of lemon juice
a piping bag

1. Mix the flour and ginger together in a large bowl.
2. Add the butter in cubes and rub in with your fingertips to make crumbs.
3. Add the egg, syrup, sugar and chopped stem ginger and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a dough.
4. With floured hands and on a floured work surface, roll out the dough (with a floured rolling pin) to desired thickness (I think this is a matter of personal preference).
5. Cut out the gingerbread men, kneading any offcuts back together and rolling out again. Bake on a lined baking sheet for 7.5-15 minutes at 180C, depending on thickness until an even brown colour.
6. While the biscuits cool, beat together the icing sugar and lemon into a smooth consistency. Spoon into a piping bag and cut a tiny bit off the end - enough so the icing comes out smoothly but you can still do some pretty delicate piping.
7. When the biscuits have cooled, pipe little skeletons onto the biscuits, as pictured below:
8. Voila, spooky skeleton gingerbread men!

The great thing about these is that even if Halloween is too spooky for you, you'll love these, because being able to bite off their heads and eat them really takes the fear out of ghouls and ghosties. And they do taste pretty amazing.

I would like to pretend that all the biscuits were as beautifully iced as those above, but after the first 20 I got bored, so by the last 5 or so they were just series of blobs.

Enjoy, my little creatures of the night.


Monday, 14 October 2013

Cinnamon Buns

I love cinnamon. I put it in biscuits, banana bread, porridge and, less conventionally, chillis and tagines. But one of the best places you can find cinnamon is at the heart of a tightly coiled, buttery bun. A bun packed with sultanas and with the soft torn sides that come from baking a batch that expand and stick together.

 Wipe that dribble off your chin, it's baking time.

This recipe is a bit of a mish-mash. I based it on Paul Hollywood's Chelsea bun recipe from my GBBO book, but used bits of this recipe too.

One of the great things about bread and buns is that because a whole lot of the process happens before it goes anywhere near the oven, you can often freeze it and then just leave it in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before baking - voila, fresh buns in half an hour. I've got a batch of 8 in my freezer right now. I'm going to get them out the freezer Thursday and bake them fresh for Friday.

I used a cinnamon stick this time because Sainsbury's was inexplicably out of ground cinnamon. It worked really well, but I found I had to use 4 tsp to make the filling taste of cinnamon. So maybe you should add the cinnamon to taste.

You will need:

For the dough:
500g strong white bread flour
50g light brown soft sugar
1 tsp salt
1 x 7g packet of fast action yeast
300ml milk
40g softened butter
1 egg
vegetable oil

For the filling:
75g butter
75g soft brown sugar (I used light this time, but I think another time I'd use dark)
4tsp freshly ground cinnamon stick or 2 tsp ground cinnamon
200g sultanas 
zest of 1 orange

To finish:
juice of 1 orange
50g caster sugar
a little runny water icing (2 tsp water to 5 tsp icing sugar) to drizzle across the buns - this is optional

1. Soak the sultanas for the filling in the orange juice for the finishing glaze. Mix the flour, salt and sugar for the dough in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the yeast.
 2. Put the milk and butter in a pan over a low heat until the butter melts. Add to the dry ingredients with the egg and stir until it comes together as a soft, sticky dough.
3. Tip the mixture out onto a well floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes until elastic and no longer sticky. Wash the mixing bowl and brush with the vegetable oil. Put the dough in and turn it over a few times to make sure it is well-oiled. Cover tightly with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for an hour and a half to rise.
6. Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down to its original size and knead it a little (gently!) to squeeze some of the air bubbles out.
7. Roll out the dough to a rectangle about 40cm long and half a cm thick. Take the sultanas out of the orange juice and set both aside. Beat together all the other ingredients for the filling and spread evenly across the dough. Sprinkle the sultanas across the dough and press down into the dough.
8. Stick one of the long sides of the dough to the work surface by pressing it down hard with your thumb. Take the other half and pull it towards you, then roll it up, pulling a little each time to ensure a tight roll. Once the dough is all rolled up, cut across into about 10 pieces each 4cm wide. Place cut side down on a buttered baking tray, spaced evenly apart and cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes.

9. While the buns are proving, preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden brown.
10. Heat the orange juice and caster sugar in a pan until sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 2 minutes and remove from heat. Glaze the buns with the orange syrup and then drizzle with the water icing.

I want to tell you to eat these warm, but if you burn your tongue and sue me, I will be sad. But just look at them, so soft, so cinnamony, so fruity, so sweet. You know you want to...

Ta-ta bakelings,


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Canadian Maple Syrup and Pecan Cookies

I know, I know, it's been far too long. I'M SORRY. But I've been really busy, with my new (ish) full time job as a financial journalist. I cannot apologise enough, so I will just bombard you with pictures of cake:

Quite impressive, if I may say so myself. And I may, and I do. But I'm afraid I'm not going to give you the recipe for this, mainly because someone's already done it:

Mine is slightly different in that I made chocolate chip sponge and used a white chocolate and rice crispy mixture to made the head and neck of the dragon and I understand that rice crispy treats include marshmallow (I've never made them). Also my dragon doesn't breathe fire, because:

Instead, I'm going to give you the recipe for my very tasty Canadian inspired maple syrup and pecan cookies.

So, I went on a business trip to Canada. And in my goody bag, courtesy of the government of Ontario, I found a bottle of maple syrup:

So I decided to put it to good use and make cookies for the office (they did send me to Canada, after all).

And the results were very good.

You will need:
225g butter
220g soft brown sugar
an egg
100ml maple syrup
2 tsp baking soda
350g flour
50g roughly chopped pecans
a little granulated sugar to sprinkle

1. Beat together the brown sugar and butter to a light fluffy consistency

2. Beat in the egg and maple syrup.
3. Sift in the flour, baking soda and mix in the nuts.
4. Roll into golf-ball sized balls (use an ice-cream scoop if you have one) and put on a baking tray. Flatten with a spatula and bake for 10-15 minutes at 175 degrees C/gas 4.
5. Cool on a wire rack and eat while good and squidgy. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Orange and Pistachio Biscuits

I made up this recipe earlier today, and it may already be my new favourite biscuit recipe! It's a really good combination of flavours, and as rich and buttery as shortbread should be, but the texture is added to with the crunch of the nuts and slight chewiness of the orange zest.

This is another video blog, but I'll just write out some quick instructions so you don't have to keep replaying the video if you want to make them.

Here's the video:

And here are the instructions:

You will need:
250g plain flour
75g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter
60g roughly chopped pistachios
50g dark chocolate
grated zest of one large orange
dash of Cointreau

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Rub the butter into the flour and sugar with your fingertips in a large bowl.
2. Add the zest and nuts and mix through, then add the Cointreau and knead the mixture into a ball.
3. Roll out the ball to half a cm thickness, then cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter and place them on a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.
4. In the meantime, melt 50g dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Let cool a little and then spoon into a piping bag.
5. Take out the biscuits and allow them to cool on a wire rack.
6. When the biscuits are cool, drizzle them with the dark chocolate.
7. Devour.


Friday, 26 July 2013

Lavender and White Chocolate Macarons

I've got a treat for you. Today, you are going to witness... first ever video blog! Exciting, isn't it? I decided that to broaden my skills as a journalist I should start video blogging. So here it is, please be gentle as it's my first one. And I apologise for any mumbling, bad lighting and for sticking my tongue out when I'm concentrating.

To make the shells for this, just use this recipe, omitting the cardamom and lemon curd and colouring the mixture purple rather than yellow.

And here's a picture of the finished macarons:

Ta-ta bakelings, be good.


Monday, 8 July 2013

Macaron Wars VI: Return of the Pastry

Yes, that's right, I've cracked macarons. By which, ironically, I mean that my macarons did NOT crack. Neither were they porous, neither did they have holes in. They even had feet. They looked kinda like this:

Aren't they beautiful? And the secret to macarons was waiting for me all along in this book, which I saw out of the corner of my eye in Bookham library.

I have a lot to thank this lady for, because she taught me that macarons are actually pretty easy. Yeah, I said it. All that banging the trays on the work surface like you see on GBBO? Not necessary. Folding the mixture oh-so-carefully to preserve every tiniest air bubble? No. Aging the egg whites? Please.

All you need to do is follow a few simple steps, be precise with your ingredients and you can make macarons like the French. And then, and this is the exciting bit, you can start experimenting. I already have, and the process below is the result of one of my experiments. But as I haven't perfected that recipe yet, I'll give you the ingredients to a different macaron - lemon and cardamom. This recipe makes 12-16 depending on size.

You will need:

For the shells:
1 tsp freshly ground cardamom (that means you grind it yourself, lazy)
50g egg whites
33g caster sugar
60g ground almonds (any other nut will also work if its finely ground enough. I've already tried coconut)
90 icing sugar
a dash of yellow paste colouring
a disposable piping bag
lined baking tray

For the filling:
lemon curd - if you care to make your own I used this recipe but I only made half, that was more than enough, and I converted all the ingredients into grams because CUPS MAKE ELLIE ANGRY

1. Sift the icing sugar and almonds together into a bowl, using a medium sieve. Any pieces of almond that won't go through, chuck them out and replace them with some that will.

2. Beat the egg whites in a very clean bowl, adding the caster sugar gradually until they reach stiff peaks. You'll want to add the colouring at some point during this process.
3. Mix the egg whites into the dry ingredients using a spatula or large metal spoon. You don't need to be too careful about folding the mixture to keep the air in. I know this will sound strange if you're an experienced meringue maker but bear with.
 4. You now need to use a spatula to press down on the mixture, squashing it against the bottom of the bowl to squash the air out until the mixture is smooth and ribbons off the spatula. This will definitely take no longer than 5 minutes.
5. Put the mixture in a piping bag and use a clean spatula to push the mixture down towards the tip of the piping bag. Then twist the piping bag above the mixture to stop the mixture from coming out the top and snip the tip off, leaving a 1cm wide hole.

6. Pipe rounds of about 3cm onto the lined baking tray and then leave at least 30 minutes to set until they are dry to the touch. If you like you can decorate them with seeds, finely crushed nuts or cocoa powder before they set. While they set preheat the oven to 160C for a fan oven, 170-180C for a non-fan oven.
  7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 10-12 minutes but set a timer for 8 minutes and check then - they may not need any more baking. When cooked leave to cool on the baking tray then scrape off carefully with a palette knife or flat spatula.
8. Match up the discs to ones of equal size and either pipe or spoon the filling onto half of the discs, then place its partner on top, using a circular motion so that the filling squashes enticingly just out of the shell.
9. Ta-dah!
As you can see, those experimental ones (they happen to be mojito flavoured in case you're interested) didn't turn out quite as pretty as the others. They are very pretty.
As you can see, you can also decorate them with drizzles of chocolate, dipping in melted chocolate or using my old favourite, edible glitter.

Ta-ta for now,

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Pistachio and Pecan Salambos

I've been meaning to put this recipe up for a while, but I've been busy looking for a job, doing placements and generally failing to get on the career ladder.

I made these choux pastry bun things for a house party I was going to. I'd planned to get up early in the morning and fill them with cream then. But to cut a long story short, I was deprived of my car very early that morning and had to get a lift into uni with my dad at ridiculous o clock in the morning.

So at 8 in the morning I was standing in Kingston with a bag on my shoulder containing 50 balls of choux pastry, 2 boxes of cream and no idea how to transfer the cream into the pastry. If I had been at home I would have used an icing bag or my icing syringe to get the cream into the pastry, but as it was I ended up standing in a friend's kitchen clumsily ripping my beautiful pastry balls in half and spooning cream into them.

I also discovered that they do not travel well. The caramel melted a bit and got really sticky. And I severely hurt my shoulders carrying my pastry around.

But all this not withstanding, choux pastry is fun and tasty. So you should try making it. I'll give you the recipe for the pecan salambos with coffee flavoured cream, since that was my own invention, whereas the recipe for pistachio salambos with orange flavoured cream is in the Bake Off recipe book.

You will need:

For the pastry:
100g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
75g unsalted butter
3 large beaten eggs

For the topping:
25g finely chopped pecans
175g caster sugar
gold edible glitter

For the filling:
250ml double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp coffee liqueur (the recipe said 1 tsp but that's hardly worth it)
1 piping bag and 2 baking trays lined with baking paper

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Sift the flour onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and set aside until needed. Put the salt, water and butter in a pan and heat gently until the butter has completely melted. Quickly bring the mixture to the boil and tip in the flour all in one go.
2. Take the pan off the heat and beat very hard and fast with a wooden spoon until it turns into a smooth dough. Put the pan back on a low heat and beat more slowly until it begins to come away from the sides of the pan in a smooth glossy ball.
3. Cool until barely warm and then add the eggs gradually, mixing with an electric mixer. Add enough egg to make a shiny dough that is stiff enough to pipe. Spoon into the piping bag and cut off the tip of the bag, to leave a 2cm opening. Pipe mounds about 4cm across and 3cm high on the lined baking sheets, spacing them well apart to allow for spreading. Bake for 25 minutes.

4. Turn the oven down to 180C/gas 4, quickly open and close the oven door (to get rid of steam) then bake for another 5 minutes until crisp and golden.
5. Take from the oven and make a small hole in each choux ball to let the steam out and put back in oven for 5 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
6. For the topping, have the nuts ready and spread out on a plate. Make the caramel by gently heating the sugar with 3 tbsp of water. Swirl the sugar and water to combine but don't stir, it will make the caramel crystallise.

7. When the caramel turns a deep brown and smells of, well, caramel, turn the heat off. Dip the balls in the hot caramel (keeping your fingers well clear!) and then into the nuts. Leave to set on a wire rack and sprinkle with edible glitter.
 8. To make the filling whip double cream, icing sugar and liqueur together until they reach stiff peaks. Spoon into the piping bag and pipe cream into each ball through the steam hole, or split the balls in half and pipe or spoon in.
9. Serve as soon as possible.

And I had enough leftover pastry dough to make these rather inelegant eclairs:

Ta-ta for now bakelings,