Saturday, 25 October 2014

Italian Chestnut Cake

On my return from Spain, I went for a walk in the woods with my parents, followed by a very fine pub lunch.

While we were ambling through the trees, I came to notice that the leaves underfoot were littered with that most autumnal of things, the sweet chestnut. I began to pick up these prickly objects, shell them and stuff my pockets with them.

I love sweet chestnuts, so by the time I was finished, with some help from my parents, my hoody pouch was hanging low with its tasty burden and the pockets of my jeans were bulging. I looked like I had some kind of odd deformity. Like piles or something.

The next night, I roasted some of my chestnuts and scattered them over a salad of figs and blue cheese on a bed of wilted spinach. It was fit for the queen I believe myself to be.

Why didn't I just stop there?

But instead, I spent interminable hours scoring and then roasting chestnuts. Peeling, chopping and roasting them again. Blitzing them in a blender and sieving them to remove any lumps.

And I made this:

This is castagnaccio, an Italian 'cake' make with chestnut flour, water, raisins, rosemary and pinenuts.

I say 'cake' but it's actually quite a savoury flavour and not a cakey texture at all. Although chestnuts are naturally sweet, there was no sugar, fat or eggs added and these are the very ingredients that give cake its usual qualities.

Still, it's nice to try something different and once you have the chestnut flour it is simplicity itself to make.

However, making chestnut flour is not something to be taken lightly. I am not exaggerating when I say it took me several hours over several days. I have included instructions on how to produce the damned stuff, but if you can possibly obtain it by any other means for pity's sake do! It won't be easy - the health food store I thought would stock it didn't and Sainsbury's was sadly lacking too.

You may be wondering what the attraction of this cake is if it's so difficult to get chestnut flour. I'll tell you: it's gluten-free, vegan, high in protein, contains no added sugar and the only added fat is a bare teaspoon of olive oil. So if you are afflicted by coeliac's disease or worse, veganism (joking, vegans! Sort of...) this is a treat for you that needn't trouble your tummy or your conscience.

If you have got chestnut flour rather than chestnuts, start from stage 4 of the recipe.

You will need:

250g chestnut flour (or far, far more chestnuts than you think you need)
400-600ml water
1 tsp olive oil
20-30 rosemary needles
75g raisins
50g pine nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Score the chestnuts in a deep cross at the top and peel the shell away slightly - this will make the chestnut easier to peel later. Throw away any nuts where you see signs of discolouration or mould - they will contain maggots. Roast for 30 minutes.

2. Peel the chestnuts, taking off both the tough outer shell and inner skin.

3. Roughly chop the chestnuts and return to the oven on a low heat to dry out. When the chopped nuts are dried out (but not burnt!) blitz them on a high setting in a blender or food processor and pass through a sieve. Preheat the oven to 200C

4. Mix the flour with the water a little at a time, aiming for a consistency that falls off the spoon but is not watery or sloppy. Add the raisins, pine nuts, and olive oil and pour into a greased and lined tin - the batter should be about 1cm thick.

5. Scatter the rosemary needles over the top of the cake and bake for 30-40 minutes until the batter is set and cracks appear in it.

6. Remove from the oven and serve.

I showed a picture of the finished castagnaccio to an Italian friend called Giulia and she said it looked exactly as it should - although as you can see it's caught a little on the sides. To avoid this you'll want to use a smaller tin than I did. You can see the castagnaccio is nearly as big as a dinner plate so just be sure to use a much smaller tin.

The cake will keep for a few days wrapped in foil but may dry out a little. Sometimes the Italians eat it spread with ricotta apparently.




Wednesday, 22 October 2014

What I Did On My Holidays: Andalusian Cookery Class

Regular readers (and people that I actually know in real life) will know that I recently went on holiday to Spain, specifically Andalusia.

We stayed in a small family-run eco-hotel called El Geco Verde in the Antiplano de Granada region - a mountainous, rocky region that produces a great deal of olive oil and almonds. 

While I didn't do any baking during my holiday, my mother and I did in fact spend a morning learning how to cook some of the typical dishes of the region under the tutelage of a local woman called Felli and with our hostess for the week, Ilaria, translating.

That's Ilaria on the left and Felli on the right.

So Mother Chambers and I prepared an array of Andalusian delights, while Father Chambers amused himself by biking up and down hills in the surrounding area.

We made tortilla espaƱola, a lovely thick soup called maimones and arroz con leche (cold rice pudding), although I have tweaked the recipe for that before giving it to you - we found it a little too sweet.

So today I am taking a break from the usual baking to give you recipes to make these Spanish foods. Not my usual style, but think of it as a bonus - I got a lovely holiday, now you're getting some lovely recipes to make up for my absence over that week.

This will make a Spanish omelette about the size of a large dinner plate and enough maimones for 4. When we were cooking, we kept the olive oil from frying the potatoes and onion for the omelette and used it for the maimones, so it was already flavoursome. One thing I would say with the omelette is that you will need a good non-stick pan. Or it will stick and disintegrate.

First lets make the omelette.

You will need:
5 potatoes
8 eggs
½ onion
2 tsp salt
A lot of olive oil

1. Peel the potatoes and then slice very thinly - you can even use the peeler to slice the potato. Also slice the onion into thin strips. At the same time, heat up a large frying pan on the hob and only add the oil once the pan itself is hot. You will need enough oil to almost cover the potato and onion.

2. When the oil is smoking, add the potatoes and onions to the pan and turn the heat down as low as it goes. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to turn the potatoes and onions every few minutes so they do not stick or brown too much.

3. Beat the eggs and salt together in a bowl until the eggs are of an even colour and consistency. I'm aware there are only 6 eggs in the picture below - that's because Felli decided later that we needed more.

4. When the potatoes and onions are tender and just starting to brown a tiny bit, take them off the heat and add to the eggs, stirring together.

5. Drain off most of the oil and put it aside, leaving about 3 tbsp to stop the omelette from sticking. Return the heat to medium and then, when the oil is hot, put the egg mixture in, turn the heat back down and move the eggs and potato around constantly as if scrambling eggs. 

6. When the mixture looks like very wet scrambled eggs (see below picture) flatten it out in the pan and stop moving it around. Just use the spatula or a palette knife to fold the edges over towards the middle every few seconds - this gives the omelette its rounded edge.

7. When there is almost no liquid egg left on the surface of the omelette, get a large plate and place it top down on top of the pan. Flip the pan so the omelette is on the plate, return the pan to the heat and gently ease it back into the pan to cook the other side. 

8. Cook the omelette on the other side for about 2 minutes, then take it off the heat but leave in the pan for a further 5 minutes before turning out onto a plate.

So now your main course, the omelette, is ready. Lets move onto the starter. You can of course start cooking the maimones from the minute you drain the oil off the potatoes and onions, as that's the oil you're going to use.

You will need:
2 potatoes roughly chopped
half a dried red pepper roughly chopped
300g oyster mushrooms, torn into large strips
1 green pepper, diced
1 quarter of an onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 peeled and chopped tomato 
2 tsp sweet paprika
4tbsp semolina flour
1l water
2tsp salt

1. Fry the potatoes and the dried red pepper together in the oil drained off from the potatoes and onions for the omelette.

2. When the potatoes are starting to become tender and are golden brown, add the paprika, tomatoes, onion, pepper, garlic, mushrooms and salt.

3. When the vegetables are cooked through and have released their moisture, add the semolina flour and stir well to coat them in it. Then add the water. 

4. Simmer the maimones until it is thick and you can no longer taste the semolina flour.

Now for pudding. If the weather is hot, you will want to make this first and chill it so that it is cold before the rest of the meal is ready. If you're in Britain in late October, as I am right now, you will probably not want to let it cool before you wolf it down.

You will need:

200g quick cook long grain rice (if you can't get quick cook then cook rice for 10 minutes in boiling water before draining and adding to the milk)
1 litre of milk
100g light brown soft sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
grated zest of one lemon
1 whole nutmeg

1. Put the milk, lemon zest and cinnamon sticks in a pan and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the rice and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring almost constantly as the rice starts cooking to avoid it sticking.

3. When the rice is cooked though and opaque and the milk has reduced down to a creamy mixture, remove from the heat and quickly add the sugar, stirring until it dissolves. Carefully fish out the cinnamon stick - preferably using kitchen tongs or similar so you do not scald yourself.

4. Ladle the rice into glasses or pudding bowls. Grate a light dusting of nutmeg over each.

5. Either serve immediately or chill in the fridge.

Your Spanish banquet is complete:

So there you go, Spanish delicacies with which you can impress your friends, family, colleagues, enemies, pets...

Adios, amigos,


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Great British Bake-Along: Almond and Honey Milk Buns

So the Great British Bake Off is over for another year. Paul, Mary, Mel and Sue have been put back into storage for another year, the Bake Off tent has been dismantled and a new champion has been crowned.

We can probably expect Nancy's first book out any day now. Well done that woman - she was quietly competent all the way through the competition and obviously has an encyclopaedic knowledge of baking.

So this is my final bake following the Great British Bake Off. The signature bake was Viennoiserie, so I decided to make some milk breads, or "petit pan au lait" as the French call them.

I've topped the bun with chopped almonds and honey that I brought all the way from the Antiplano de Granada region in Spain. These buns are sweet and soft with barely a crust to speak of and the almond adds a lovely crunch.

This recipe makes 5 buns.

You will need:

For the dough:
250g strong white bread flour
30g granulated sugar
115g butter, softened and diced
115ml milk
7g sachet of easy bake yeast
1 beaten egg
1tsp salt

For the glaze:
1 beaten egg
3tbsp runny honey
50g chopped almonds

1. Add the flour to a bowl and add the yeast to one side and the salt and sugar to the other side of the bowl.

2. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the milk and egg, then mix with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together. Knead in the butter or, if using a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment, put it on the medium speed setting and mix until the dough is glossy, soft and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. When you've kneaded the dough you should be able to stretch the dough very thin without it breaking. Put in a greased bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.

3. When the dough has risen, knock it back by pressing down on it with your knuckles and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

4. Tip the dough out onto a well floured surface and flatten it out with your palms to squeeze out any air bubbles.

5. Roll up the dough and pinch the seam together with your fingertips, then roll back and forth until it forms a baguette shape.

6. Cut the dough into 5 equal pieces and shape them into round rolls by cupping your hand around each piece and rolling around against the work surface until it forms a smooth, round ball. Put on a greased baking sheet, spacing the balls apart so they don't stick together when baking and leave to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220C in the mean time. When the dough has risen, snip two cuts in the top of each roll, forming a cross.

7. Glaze the rolls with the beaten egg and fill the gaps with the chopped almonds. Bake for 15 minutes until well risen and golden but still quite pale on the bottom. While the rolls are still hot from the oven, brush them with the runny honey. Leave to cool.

So now the Bake Off is over, it will be back to experimenting with my own recipes and trying new things. Personally I can't wait - I've already got big plans for Halloween and a couple of blog posts I've been meaning to write for a while.

Happy baking,


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Great British Bake Along: Chocolate and Raspberry Mousse Entremets

So last weekend I told you that this week was French patisserie on the Bake Off and I had no idea what to do.

Well luckily, inspiration struck. I watched the trailers and saw that the bakers were making entremets.

I wouldn't have known what an entremet was if it hit me in the face (although that would be delicious), so I asked Google. The impression I got was that there are layered cakes including some kind of filling, often a mousse and a sleek, shiny coating of chocolate.

So that is exactly what I made.

Or attempted to make. What I actually made was mostly a mess. I think the most heart-rending moment was when I carefully picked out the prettiest looking cake with the intention of giving it to my parents and painstakingly cleared a space in the freezer before placing it in there on a plate. Only for the plate to fall out of the freezer and smash on the floor, smearing my cake on the floor.

I stood there, torn between crying and pawing it off our filthy floor into my mouth. Luckily common sense and stoicism prevailed, so I did neither, just wiped it up and chose another cake for my parents.

Here's what the finished product looked like:

I feel like this is a good time to say I am really really tired of this self-imposed bake-along challenge. Yes, I've produced some pretty cool stuff, but baking is not feeling all too fun at the moment.

Anyway, I don't want to bring anyone down, so I'll leave it at saying I have to take a break from baking soon - I am actually currently in Spain so am having a break right now. I don't think the Spanish eco-hotel I'm staying in will take too kindly to me barging into the kitchen and shouting IT'S BAKING TIME.

So here's the recipe. It will make between 4 and 5 entremets, depending on how many you drop on the floor.

Apologies for the lack of pictures to go with the instructions for the marzipan roses – there are countless YouTube tutorials out there if you need to see it done.

You will need:

For the sponge layers:
250g softened butter
250g caster sugar
200g self-raising flour
4 eggs, beaten
50g cocoa
a large biscuit cutter of your chosen shape - I used a heart shaped cutter
2 large rectangular baking trays, greased and lined

For the raspberry mousse:
225g raspberries
500ml double cream
70g icing sugar
1 packet of powdered vege-gel or gelatine
1 piping bag or icing syringe

For the chocolate glacage:
35g cocoa powder
80ml water
65ml double cream
1 packet of powdered vege-gel or gelatine
90g granulated sugar
20ml water

For the lime jelly:
juice of 3 limes
zest of 1 lime
125g caster sugar

To decorate:
either fresh raspberries and grated chocolate
or 200g marzipan and pink and green gel food colourings

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Weigh out the cocoa and flour for the sponge, mix in a bowl and set aside. Cream together the butter and sugar for the sponge until light and fluffy.

2. Beat in the egg a bit at a time, adding a tbsp of the flour and cocoa mixture every time you do so – this ensures the mixture does not curdle. Sift in the rest of the flour and cocoa and fold in gently with a large metal or plastic spoon or spatula.

3. Split the mixture between the two baking trays, using the spatula or back of the spoon to spread it flat, about ½ a cm thick. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

4. Use your biscuit cutter to cut as many shapes out of the sponge as possible.

5. Make the raspberry mousse by simmering the raspberries, icing sugar and gelatine in a saucepan over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and out base of saucepan in cold water to cool mixture rapidly.

6. Whip cream to stiff peaks and when raspberry mixture is lukewarm, fold it in. Leave to set until it is the consistency of set custard then spoon into piping bag or icing syringe.

7. Put one layer of sponge into biscuit cutter and push to the bottom. Pipe a layer of raspberry mousse over the sponge and then even it up with a knife. Put another layer of sponge on top and repeat, then place a final layer of sponge on top and carefully lift off biscuit cutter.

8. Repeat step 7 until all the sponge layers are used up, then use the remaining raspberry mousse to cover the sides and tops of the cakes and put in the freezer.

9. Make the lime jelly by putting the juice, zest, sugar and gelatine in a saucepan and bringing to the boil, then simmering for 10 minutes and pouring out onto a sheet of baking paper. Leave to set for at least 2-3 hours.

10. When the cakes are frozen solid make the glacage. Mix the packet of powdered gelatine with the 20ml water. In a saucepan, mix the cocoa and 80ml water to make a smooth paste then add the cream and sugar and bring mixture to the boil. Pour into a heatproof jug, leave to cool for 10 minutes then add the gelatine and mix.

11. Leave the glacage for 30-45 minutes, stirring every now and then to stop it from forming a skin. If you have a thermometer then 30C is the ideal temperature – if not leave it until it feels lukewarm.

12. Remove the cakes from the freezer and set them on a wire rack over a baking tray to catch the drips. Pour over the glacage evenly, then remove the baking tray (resting the rack on something else to catch drips), pour the glacage in the baking tray back into the jug and repeat until used up. Leave to set.

13. When glacage is set, see if the jelly has set. If it is solid, use the biscuit cutter to cut out a slice to place on top of each entremet. If it is still runny pipe it over the entremets, again using a baking tray and wire rack to catch drips. Leave to set.

14. Decorate with fresh raspberries and grated chocolate or make marzipan roses. Knead pink food colouring into two thirds of the marzipan and green into the remaining marzipan. Gel food colouring is a lot stronger than liquid so dip the very end of a cocktail stick in and wipe it on the marzipan then knead the colour in and add more if needed.

15. Roll out the pink marzipan and cut out 10 circles of 1cm across. Place them in a semi-circle, with one edge overlapping the previous circle then roll them up loosely so they form a kind of cone. Pinch together the thin end of the cone.

16. Fold out the edges of the outermost circles and move inwards – your marzipan cone should be beginning to resemble a rose. If you think it needs more petals then mould more around the rose you have made. Cut off the end of the cone so the rose can sit flat. Roll out the green marzipan and use it to make leaves to mould around your roses.

There you have it – not perfect but not an abject failure either. My jelly didn’t set too well, which has affected the finish a little but my parents ate one and assured me it tasted lovely. I didn’t eat a finished entremets, but I did lick all the component parts off my fingers at one point or another and they did all taste pretty damn good.

Tomorrow it is the final of GBBO and I probably won’t be able to watch it here in Spain. I can promise you I will be very violent towards anyone who so much as breathes a word of a hint as to who the winner is.

You’ve been warned.

Au revoir,