Monday, 25 August 2014

Pistachio, Chocolate and Orange Macarons

There are some flavour combinations that I regard as sacred. Cheese and chutney, for instance. Chocolate and orange. Or chocolate and chilli. Or chocolate and...OK, I admit it, I'm a chocoholic and believe there is very little that doesn't go with the brown stuff.

Rarely is it that I hit upon a three-way flavour combination that just cannot be argued with. Chocolate, orange and pistachio is one of these, evidenced by my orange and pistachio biscuits from just over a year ago, which came liberally drizzled with dark chocolate.

When I come across a holy trinity of flavours like chocolate, orange and pistachio, I want to use it again and again. So when I had a load of orange-flavoured chocolate ganache to use up from last week's baking, pistachio was the obvious solution. And I already had ground almonds and eggs at my disposal - so macarons were equally obvious.

This was the result:

As you may or may not know, macarons and I have a chequered past. My first macarons were hideous, a blot upon humanity's forays into French patisserie, and I retain the blog post only as a warning to myself and others.

A warning of what, I'm not sure. But it took me a while to get macarons right and I still have the occasional macaron hiccup every now and then. In fact, I tried to make another batch of lemon and cardamom before these ones and there were a fair few disasters.

Not only did I scald my thigh by tipping a whole pan of boiling water over it whilst making lemon curd, but the damn stuff then refused to set (this has never happened to me before) and the sorry debacle ended in me scraping ruined macarons into the bin (pausing to paw a few into my mouth along the way) and shouting about what a waste of time and effort it was.

But I'm happy to say the pistachio macarons came out fine. So here's the recipe, which will make about 12-16 macarons, depending on size:

You will need:

For the macarons:
green food colouring, or blue and yellow (preferably paste or gel colouring)
50g egg whites
60g ground almonds (plus a little extra)
33g caster sugar
90g icing sugar
greased and lined baking sheet

For the ganache:
100g chocolate
100ml cream
zest of one orange
1 tsp orange flavouring or orange liqueur such as Cointreau

To decorate:
50g dark chocolate
handful finely chopped pistachio nuts

1. Set the cream and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, adding the orange flavouring or liqueur and zest. The water must not touch the bottom of the bowl, or the chocolate will seize up.

2. Keep an eye on the chocolate and cream and stir every now and then. Take it off the heat when the chocolate and cream are combined and the mixture is thick and glossy. Set aside to cool.

3. Sift the ground almonds and icing sugar through a fine sieve. You may need a blender to blitz any ground almond that won't go through, or some extra ground almonds.

4. Beat the egg whites to very stiff peaks, adding the caster sugar bit by bit as you go along. The mixture should be stiff enough so you can hold the bowl upside down without any falling out.

5. Add the food colouring - if using gel you will need to use a lot less than when using liquid. Fold in the almond and icing sugar with a spatula. It may be controversial for me to say this - but you are looking to lose some of the air when doing this - you want a mixture that ribbons off a spatula. You need to retain some though, so don't beat all hell out of it.

6. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag and pipe equal sized circles onto a greased and lined baking sheet. I find that piping from one point and letting it spread a little works better than circling with the piping bag. But bear in mind the mixture will spread so space your blobs well apart. I'd say at least 2-3cm. Some of my macarons ran into each other during this bake.

7. Leave the macarons to set for at least 30 minutes until they are dry to the touch. Preheat the oven to 180C whilst waiting and then bake for 8-10 minutes until risen. Your macarons shouldn't brown. Yes, shut up, I know some of mine have, but I have a difficult oven.

8. Leave the macaron shells to cool until removing careful with a spatula or similar. Match shells up with similar sized and shaped shells.

9. Decorate some of the half shells by drizzling over chocolate and sprinkling with chopped pistachios, or dipping in chocolate and then into the pistachios. Then spoon the cooled, but not set, ganache onto half of the half shells and use it to stick the other halves on top.

Macarons for all the family.

With macarons I find the best way to avoid hiccups is to be patient, be precise with your ingredients and don't try to take shortcuts like trying to fit too many macarons onto a baking sheet and having them run into each other.

And try to avoid chucking boiling water over yourself. It hurts.



Great British Bake Along: Plaited Tricolore Wreath

This week, I once again decided to take my cue from the dear old Great British Bake Off, making something that ties in with the week's theme.

This time I went straight for the showstopper and made a filled loaf. And who better to go to for inspiration than the man, the legend, the silver fox - Paul Hollywood himself?

So I opened 'Bread', the book that I consider Paul's seminal work and stopped on the page entitled Savoury Brioche Couronne.

But, this being me, I thought I knew better than Paul. For a start, I was going to leave the parma ham out, being pescetarian (don't start, just don't). And I'm sick of making brioche, so I decided to make a much simpler bread as the vessel for my filling.

Then I looked at the picture of Paul's couronne and I said: "It's not very pretty, is it Paul?"

I talk to Paul a lot. But only in my head, since he took out the restraining order.

Said picture of the offending bread is found below - for your convenience.

Anyway, the upshot of my imaginary conversation with Paul was that I decided to make a four-strand plaited loaf of a kind. But I still wanted the effect of the ingredients spilling out of the bread and I still wanted the visually pleasing effect of a wreath.

Of course, plaiting four strands of bread which have fillings spilling out of them is a little harder than just twisting two strands together.

So the result was this:



Without further ado, here is the recipe for my Plaited Tricolore Wreath. As you can see, this makes a pretty big loaf - it's covered a whole dinner plate here and is hanging off the edges. So it would probably make a pretty good centrepiece to a family lunch or casual dinner party.

You will need:
a BIG baking tray, lined
understanding housemates/family and a large workspace

For the dough:
500g strong white bread flour
340ml water
7g sachet easy bake yeast
1½ tbsp olive oil
10g salt
a beaten egg, to glaze

For the filling:
1 jar sundried tomato pesto (I used at least half a jar)
2 handfuls of basil leaves, torn
3-4 balls of mozzarella, well drained of the water that comes in packets

1. Put the flour in a bowl and add the yeast and salt to opposite sides of the bowl. Mix in the olive oil and water (you may not need to use all of it) and knead in the bowl until it comes together into a soft dough.

2. Turn out on a well-floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until pliable and very very stretchy - you should be able to quite easily stretch this dough thin enough to see daylight through it without it breaking. Put in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm, then leave for 1-1½ hours until doubled in size.

3. Without knocking back, slice dough in half and put one half aside. Using a well-floured large work surface, roll out the other half into a large rectangle. Spread with sundried tomato pesto, but not quite to the edges, as this will make a mess later. Sprinkle over half the mozzarella and basil.

4. Wet your thumb and use it to tack down the nearest long edge so that it sticks to the work surface. Then, grasping the far edge of the dough and rolling towards you, roll the dough into a fat, tight sausage. Roll until the seam disappears as much as possible.

5. Repeat the process that begins at step 3 with the other half of the dough. Then slice both sausages down the middle lengthwise, exposing the filling. You should now have four strands. Take one end of a strand and stick it down to the work surface. Stick the same end of each of the other strands down on top of it.

6. Now comes the potentially messy bit. Number the strands 1-4 in your head. Take strand 1 and cross it over strand 3. Strand 1 has now become strand 3, strand 2 has become strand 1 and so on. Take strand 4 and cross it over strand 2. Repeat until all the strands are used up.

7. Still operating with the utmost care and delicacy (or, if you're me, mauling the bread all directions whilst making mewling noises of distress), take both ends of the bread and manoeuvre it into a circle, pressing the ends together. Lift it onto the greased and lined baking tray - you may need help. If you're using a silicone baking mat, like I was, it might help to slide that under the wreath and then lift the whole thing onto the baking tray.

8. Wrap the tray in clingfilm, or ideally, put the tray inside something like a bin bag, with plenty of room for the bread to prove. Put something in the middle of the wreath, to stop the hole closing as it proves. Don't, like me, make the mistake of using a ball of foil, because the melting mozzarella will find its way around it as it bakes and will stick to it. Leave for 1-1½ hours until doubled in size, preheating the oven to 200C sometime before the bread has finished proving.

9. Brush the wreath with the beaten egg, taking care not to let the egg run down too far and stick it to the baking tray - the cheese will do that for you. Bake for 30-45 minutes until the bread is risen, golden brown and makes a hollow noise when tapped. Also check for a soggy bottom.

Eat your heart out, Mr Hollywood:

I'll be sure to add on a nice cross section when I cut into the bread later. And then hopefully my colleagues will help me polish it off at work tomorrow.

Edit: Here, as promised, is a picture of the cross section of my bread. I like the marbling effect, the bread itself was soft but cooked through and there are none of the gaping holes caused by excess water that often plague filled loaves.

Next week on GBBO, desserts! How exciting. I may be visiting a house-warming party on Saturday night so I daresay they'd appreciate me bringing a nice baked offering.

Until then, happy baking,


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Great British Bake Along: Hazelnut and Chocolate Orange-filled Biscuits

I am sure you are all watching the Great British Bake Off as religiously as I am, tuning in to BBC One each Wednesday at 8pm to see Mary and Paul crush the dreams of amateur bakers like biscuits under buffaloes.

The standard is incredibly high this year - I can't help but think that I've missed my chance to be on the Bake Off, so I'll have to settle for continuing to surreptitiously stalk Paul around BBC studios (see my post from April 2013) and food shows.

This week was biscuits, which inspired me to get my bake on and make some biscuits myself. I had some hazelnuts left over from my Nutella cupcakes, so I decided to incorporate them in the recipe.

So I flicked through a recipe book, heavily adapted a recipe and these were the end result:

They're almost like a grown up version of these, which you'll probably remember if, like me, you grew up in the 90s:

Although of course my biscuits are much superior and flavoured with hazelnut and orange. 

If you bake much, you'll probably sometimes use ground almonds, either completely or partially replacing the flour in the recipe. You can use nearly any kind of nut in the same way, but you need to be aware of the oils in the nuts. For instance, the recipe I adapted this from originally used ground almonds, but as the ground hazelnuts seemed oilier to me than the almonds, I mixed in the egg yolks one by one, seeing how they affected the biscuit dough.

In the end I used one less egg yolk than the original recipe and I think I made the right call. The biscuits were still rich, but also crisp and had a good snap in them, as Mary would say.

You will need a blender if you want to use hazelnuts - if you don't have some maybe just use ground almonds.

This makes between 12-15 biscuits, but some of mine had an accident. I'd advise you don't try to lift the biscuits off your baking sheets by lifting the greaseproof paper they're on, because you may well tip them onto the floor:

You will need:

For the biscuits:
100g hazelnuts (blanched if possible, but I'll show you how to skin them)
1 tbsp baking powder (but only if the hazelnuts aren't blanched)
200g plain flour
80g icing sugar
125g butter, cut into cubes
2 large egg yolks
2 lined baking sheets
biscuit cutters - preferably 1 round with crimped edges and 1 much smaller heart, star or similarly exciting shape 

For the ganache filling:
200g dark chocolate
200ml double cream
zest of one orange
2 tsp orange flavouring or liqueur such as Cointreau

1. If your hazelnuts aren't blanched, boil a pan of water and add the baking powder when it comes to the boil. The water will fizz up - add the hazelnuts quickly and boil for 3-4 minutes.

2. Drain the water and rub the hazelnuts with a piece of kitchen towel to remove the skins. I had the help of Mike, my glamorous assistant and housemate, to do this and it still took ages so I really would recommend you get blanched hazelnuts if possible.  

3. Put the hazelnuts, icing sugar and flour in a blender and process until the hazelnuts resemble coarse grains of sand. Tip into a large mixing bowl and use your fingertips to rub the butter into the mixture.

4. Add the egg yolks to the mixture and work in with your hands until the dough is firm enough to be rolled into a ball. Flatten slightly, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, set the cream and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, adding the orange flavouring or liqueur and zest. The water mus not touch the bottom of the bowl, or the chocolate will seize up.

6. Keep an eye on the chocolate and cream and stir every now and then. Take it off the heat when the chocolate and cream are combined and the mixture is thick and glossy. Set aside to cool.

7. Preheat the oven to 180C and use a clean, well-floured work surface roll out the dough to the thickness of a pound coin. Use the round cutter to cut out as many biscuits as possible and put them on the baking sheets - you may have to slide a knife under them to be able to lift them. Once they are on the sheets cut hearts or other shapes into the centre of half of the biscuits and, using the cut out hearts and other offcuts, roll out dough again and cut more biscuits until the dough is all used up. Chill for 15 minutes in the fridge.

8. Put the biscuits in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly coloured. Leave to cool.

9. When the biscuits are cool and the ganache is starting to set, spread ganache on the biscuits that don't have holes in using a knife or the back of a spoon. Then put a biscuit with a heart shaped hole on top of each and press together lightly. Leave until the ganache sets properly, then eat!

You could serve these with a little piped swirl of whipped cream and a whole hazelnut on the top. You could even (forgive me, Mary and Paul), use squirty cream, but I certainly didn't and I shudder to think of that abomination sitting on my lovely, delicately flavoured biccies.

I hope my colleagues will enjoy these on Monday, or those that I and my housemates haven't yet scoffed. They were very appreciative of my crumble bars last week.

Happy baking,


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Go Nuts for Nutella Cupcakes

This is just a quick blog to show you the results of my first dip into the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, which I believe I received for my last birthday.

Birthdays are always very exciting for me, but this year I was faced with a number of moral dilemmas, such as: when should I start lying about my age? Should I start using anti-ageing cream yet? Is it ethical to continue not to wear foundation at the age of 23 and blithely inflict my naked face on unsuspecting members of the public?

Someone obviously knew I was going to find turning 23 hard, because they bought me this book, which contains recipes that just make everything better.

As a child, Nutella for breakfast was one of the best things about going abroad, because it's somehow more acceptable in the rest of Europe than it is in Britain. I have no idea why this is.

So these cupcakes, packed with gooey Nutella, are a real treat and make me feel about 10 again. They should probably be enjoyed only occasionally (they are very rich) and with a good cup of tea.

You will need:

For the cakes:
100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
40g butter
120ml milk, semi skimmed or whole
1 egg
120g chocolate and hazelnut spread (such as Nutella, although I hasten to add other brands of spread are available)
a 12-hole cupcake tray, lined with paper cases

For the topping:
250g icing sugar
80g butter
25ml milk
80g hazelnut and chocolate spread
36 whole hazelnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 170 C and beat the butter and caster sugar together until light and fluffy.

2. Beat in the milk and sugar, adding a little of the flour and cocoa to stop the mixture curdling.

3. Beat in the rest of the flour, cocoa and baking powder. 

4. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake for 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, beat together the icing sugar and butter for the topping.

6. Beat in the milk and Nutella and mix until evenly coloured throughout.

7. When the cupcakes are well risen and smelling chocolatey, take them out of the oven and leave to cool. Once cooled, use a sharp knife to cut out a small section of each.

8. Put a little dollop of Nutella into each hole.

9. Spread the frosting over the cupcakes with the back of a spoon and top each with 3 hazelnuts.

And you're done. If, like me, you are someone who occasionally needs chocolate like they need oxygen, these cakes are for you.

Enjoy responsibly. I will not be held to account for your cake headache if you eat 3 of these on the trot.

Thanks to the good people at the Hummingbird Bakery for this great recipe.

Until next time,


Blackberry and Apple Crumble, Jam and Bars

I have just done so much baking that I kind of want to lie down in a dark room, cry for a prolonged period and never bake again.

However, it is Bake Off season, so do to something of that kind would be high treason against Mary Bezza and the silver fox (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood), so instead I shall regale you with my tales of a weekend very heavy on baking.

Due to the wonder that is global warming, blackberry season is upon us already. So two of my housemates and I decided this weekend would be a great opportunity for a picnic/blackberry picking expedition.

We bought a load of goodies from Sainsbury's, Matt baked some apple and cheese bread, I baked cupcakes, Mike contributed cider, we loaded up my picnic hamper and set off for a local park.

I had strategically packed many of our foodstuffs into tupperwares, so after a picnic accompanied by lashings of homemade lemonade and cider and a bit of frisbee, we found a patch of brambles and started picking.

It was an idyllic afternoon, despite our hands getting completely ripped to shreds by briars, the boys getting bitten by insects and me having to go for not one but two "alfresco" toilet breaks behind trees.

We brought back around 3kg of blackberries - so all in all a very successful afternoon's foraging.


But what was I going to do with all the blackberries? We froze about 1kg, but we didn't have room to store any more without the berries going bad. Jam was one option - but we already had a half eaten jar of damson jam I made last year in the fridge, so I didn't want to make more than one jar.

There was only one option - crumble. Pretty much the easiest baked dessert ever - tasty stewed fruit topped in a buttery crunchy crumb mixture. Amazing.

I've never measured out the ingredients for a crumble before, so this was quite difficult and I hope you appreciate the effort I went to. I learnt to make crumble watching my mum do it, so I've always make crumble by eye. This time I measured out what I thought looked right and it turned out pretty good - in fact "the best crumble I've ever tasted" according to my housemate Matt.

So here it is - will serve around 6 normal people or 4 very greedy people:

You will need:

For the filling:
2 sliced Bramley apples or other cooking apple variety
600g blackberries
150g caster sugar

For the topping:
250g plain flour
150g butter, cubed
75g caster sugar

1. Put aside a large handful of the blackberries and put the rest of the fruit in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Mix in the caster sugar and cook over a medium heat until the slices of apple are soft. 

2. Put the fruit in a fairly deep baking dish and scatter over the blackberries you set aside earlier. Preheat the oven to around 200 C.

3. Put the flour, butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour and sugar, making a crumb-like mixture. Spread evenly over the fruit and bake for around 30-45 minutes until the topping is golden brown and fruit juice is bubbling up around the edges. Serve with single cream.

For a little added flavour or texture you could mix cinnamon, oats or granulated sugar into the topping.

I know you're already speechless with gratitude at me bestowing this crumble recipe on you. But wait. I'm not done yet. After all, I still had over 1kg of blackberries left and no more freezer space. 

So I did make jam. It's an essential skill that goes with baking - that's why Mary and Paul are always torturing their bakers by getting them to make jam.

A lot of people have problems with jam not setting. It's all about pectin and setting temperature - if you're using a low-pectin fruit like blackberries you'll have to add something like apple, which has high levels of pectin. You also will need to heat the jam to around 104 C to ensure it sets, so you may need a jam or sugar thermometer.

I call this "Bramble Patch Jam" and I made up the recipe all by myself and tested it today. It's pretty good.

You will need:

1kg blackberries
1 Bramley apple, grated
400g sugar
juice of 1 lemon 
1 jam or sugar thermometer
a sterilised jam jar (you can sterilise jars by putting them in the dishwasher or boiling them but be careful not to scald yourself!)

1. Strain the blackberries through a sieve, forcing them through with the back of a spoon so that only the seeds and skins are left in the sieve. Add the ingredients to a large pan and bring to the boil.
2. Boil the fruit for a good 15-20 minutes, skimming off any froth and bringing the temperature up until it reaches 104 C.

3. Putting a funnel in the mouth of the jam jar and being very very careful (that jam is HOT) pick up the pan and pour the jam into the jar.
4. Put a small disc of greaseproof paper on top of the jam whilst still hot and seal tightly.

If you manage to seal the jam so it's airtight, it should last for months like this, even if you don't have such a pretty cover on it.

This must be it, you're thinking. The gifted, beautiful Ellie is going to wrap up this blog post and leave us, bereft, until her next post. 

WOAH THERE. I'm not done with you get, buddy. This last recipe is inspired by crumble and completely fabricated by me. But I'm pleased with the results.

I call these "Crumble Bars" - two layers of buttery, crumbly pastry sandwiched together with my Bramble Patch Jam:

You will need:

250g butter 
500g plain flour
75g caster sugar
half a jar of "Bramble Patch Jam"

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C and rub the butter, flour and caster sugar together with your fingertips to make a crumbly mixture.

2. Press half the mixture into the bottom of a lined, greased baking tin and spread with the jam. Don't spread it right to the edges or it will ooze out while the bars are baking.

3. Spread the rest of the crumbly mixture over the top and press down lightly to firm it up.

4. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour before leaving to cool and cutting into squares of crumbly deliciousness.

And that is, I'm afraid, really is the end of my blackberry adventure, for now at least.

Goodbye for now, don't forget to watch the Great British Bake Off at 8pm on Wednesday aaaand keep baking.