Friday, 30 January 2015

Baked Chocolate Mousse with Ginger Biscuit Base and Lime Cream

Are you a chocoholic?

I am. Every now and then there comes a moment, whether it's a hangover, a 4pm energy crash at work or a low point in my love life (don't laugh, I had a love life once) where I need chocolate with every fibre of my being.

And I mean NEED. Woe betide anyone who gets between me and chocolate when this happens. Nothing else will cut it at these times.

Luckily, this hasn't been one of those weeks. So far. But when a friend invited me round for a girls' night in on Friday, with vegetarian lasagne, prosecco and Netflix, I just knew I had to make a dessert worthy of the occasion.

I went to my Hummingbird Bakery recipe book for inspiration and lost myself for a while in pictures of cakes so chocolatey I could scarcely believe the bakers there get through the week without at least one major coronary incident.

At first I was going to make a baked chocolate cheesecake, but then Elena pointed out she didn't like cheesecake. So instead I decided on chocolate mousse. But as you know, only baked products end up on here, so I did a bit of research and discovered that there is such a thing as a baked chocolate mousse.

I found a basic recipe and then added a gingernut biscuit base and some lime cream for added flavour factor. Here it is:

You know you want this recipe. Come on, give it a try. Also, if you have a gluten free diet, leave the biscuit base off and it's the perfect cake substitute.

You will need:
300g dark chocolate
250g butter, diced
200g packet of gingernuts (or plain digestives if you don't like gingernuts)
6 eggs
55g caster sugar
300ml cream
juice and zest of 2 limes
mint leaves, to decorate
icing sugar, to decorate

1. Seal the biscuits in a sandwich bag and hit repeatedly with a rolling pin until biscuits are crushed to fine crumbs, then pour into a bowl. Preheat the oven to 180C.

2. Melt 100g of the butter over a low heat in a saucepan. Mix into the biscuit crumbs and press into the bottom of a well greased 8 inch cake tin.

3. Melt the chocolate and the remaining butter in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. When completely melted, turn off the heat and leave to cool a little.

4. Carefully separate the eggs, setting aside the whites. Beat together the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale, then fold into the chocolate.

5. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.

6. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and pour into the prepared tin.

7. Bake for 20 minutes until well risen, then cool in the tin before placing in the fridge to chill. In the meantime, add the lime juice and zest to the cream and whip to soft peaks. I managed to overwhip my cream. I always do.

Serve dusted liberally with icing sugar and decorated with mint leaves and a splodge of lime cream.

Can I just assure you, this is every bit as good as it looks. Silky smooth, rich and so chocolatey.

If there's such a thing as death by chocolate, this is double homicide.



Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hot Buttered Crumpets

It pains me to admit that I haven't yet mastered this recipe. After all, what is more quintessentially English than a hot, buttered crumpet? Even Dickens was always wittering on about them. Mind you, he was good at wittering on in general, it wasn't specific to baked goods.

And let's face it, crumpets are amazing. I used to have them with butter and Marmite spread on top (other yeast-based spreads are available) and leave them just long enough so it soaked through the honeycombed structure. Then I'd squeeze them to make the Marmite/butter mixture ooze out the top. I'm not sure why, but then I've always been easily amused. Now I usually have them with a little spinach and a poached egg perched on top - mainly because as a frequent runner and a vegetarian I need my protein and iron.

That is why I wish I could tell you this recipe was foolproof. But it most definitely isn't, because I tested it on a fool (myself) and I'm at a loss to what made some of attempts work and some of them fail miserably.

So all I can really do is offer you the original recipe, along with some of my observations on it. It's a Paul Hollywood recipe and will make 10-12 crumpets.

You will need:

175g strong white bread flour
175g plain flour
14g fast acting yeast
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml lukewarm water
350ml milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
sunflower oil for cooking and greasing
2-4 non stick baking rings

1. Put the flours and yeast in a bowl together.

2. Warm the milk in a pan, adding the sugar. Do not let it boil, just warm through. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the milk, drawing the flour in with a wooden spoon and then mixing until it forms a dough.

3. Put the dough in a bowl and cover it in clingfilm. Leave it until it has doubled in size and then sunk back a little, about an hour.

4. When the dough has sunk back, mix the bicarbonate of soda with 150ml of the warm water and the salt. Beat into the dough, adding more water if needed, until it forms a thick batter that drops from the spoon. Recover the batter and leave for 20 minutes.

5. Heat a griddle or large frying pan on a low-medium and lightly grease both the pan and the rings. Put a ring on the pan and ladle enough batter in to fill about two thirds of the tin.

6. Bubbles will form in the batter and rise to the surface as the crumpet cooks - pop them with a sharp knife. When the bottom of the crumpet is browned and the top is set, which should take 6-8 minutes, flip it with a couple of spatulas. The bubbles should have stopped filling with batter and stayed open instead. Cook for a couple of minutes upside down until the top is golden brown.

7. Slide the cooked crumpet out of the ring and leave to cool, then return the ring to the pan and refill with batter. You may want to rest the pan for a couple of minutes between batches or it will get so hot that the bottoms of the crumpets burn before the tops set.

Either serve the crumpets straight away or leave them to cool and toast later. Enjoy with plenty of butter and the additional toppings of your choice.

Make sure the pan is thoroughly heated before you begin trying to cook your crumpets. I found that if the pan was not hot enough, bubbles did not form in the crumpets.

However, even if your crumpets don't have holes in, I'm sure they'll be delicious. Mine certainly were.



Thursday, 15 January 2015

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Cookies

I've been thinking about gluten free baking.

Don't panic, I'm not about to go on some crazy gluten-free diet. I strongly believe that such things should be left to those who actually have a gluten intolerance.

But my housemate is one of those people. So, having planned to follow a recipe that doesn't use much flour anyway, I thought "why don't I try making this gluten free?"

I did this by substitung the flour with oats, which I ground to a flour-like consistency. The recipe used oats anyway, so I didn't have to buy any extra ingredients and the result was indistinguishable from when I've used wheat flour - still buttery, rich and delicious.

Now for the science. Apparently a great deal of coeliacs think they cannot eat oats. This is because oats contain a protein similar to gluten, known as avenin.

But my research indicates the actual percentage of coeliacs who cannot tolerate avenin is between about 1-5%. When I say "my research" I mean that I asked Google, rather than giving 100 coliacs a bowl of porridge and seeing how many puked.

If you or anyone you are baking for has a severe intolerance or allergy to gluten, you may want to check that the oats you are using were grown and processed in a way that ensures they did not come into contact with wheat. I understand the Nairns brand is pretty good for this. The same goes for the chocolate chips - make sure they were manufactured in a gluten-free environment.

This recipe makes around 20 cookies, which will keep for a couple of days if stored in an airtight tin. I seriously don't expect them to hang around that long though.

You will need:
130g porridge oats
75g oats, ground to a flour-like consistency using a blender or coffee grinder
125g butter, softened
100g light brown soft sugar
35g caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and beat together the sugars and butter until light and fluffy in consistency.

2. Add the egg and beat well to combine.

3. Fold in the ground oats and bicarbonate of soda.

4. Fold in the whole oats and chocolate chips.

5. Drop heaped teaspoons of the mixture onto a lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart to prevent them from sticking together.

6. Bake for 12 minutes until golden and leave to cool on the tray for 5 minutes.

7. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Best cookies ever and a recipe where gluten-free need not mean awesome-free.



Sunday, 11 January 2015

Hungarian Potato Bread

I know what you're going to say - potato bread? Isn't that soggy and dense? Also, double carbs? I thought you were trying to lose weight, girl? Why not just have a chip butty?

Well stop right there. I researched potato bread before making it and it turns out it's higher in protein and fibre than wheat bread and therefore can be beneficial if you're trying to lose weight. I'm also always trying to build more protein into my diet naturally because I run quite a lot and lift weights a bit.

Also, despite not really rising much at the proving stage, this bread was surprisingly light and springy. I found the crust a but hard and overbaked, so next time I would wrap the top of the bread in foil 30-45 minutes into the baking process. Otherwise I had no problems with the recipe and the finished result tastes great.

You will need:

500g potato, chopped and peeled
375g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 sachet fast active yeast

1. Cover the potatoes with water and bring to the boil, then simmer until tender. Drain the potatoes, reserving 275ml of the cooking water for use later. Mash the potatoes well.

2. Put the flour in a large bowl and add the yeast and salt to opposite sides of the bowl. Also add the caraway seeds.

3. Make a well in the middle and add a little of the potato water, then add the potato, beating in and adding the water gradually until it comes together into a sticky dough. You may not have to use all the water.

4. When the dough starts to come together, flour your hands and s clean work surface well, tip the dough out and knead for 10 minutes until smooth, shiny and stretchy.

5. Put the dough in a clean bowl and cover with cling film then leave for 2 hours in a warm place until doubled in size.

6. Knock back the dough by flouring your hands and punching the air out of it, folding it in on itself until there are no air bubbles.

6. Shape the dough by using floured palms to rotate it on a well-floured worktop, exerting slight downwards pressure as you do so. This is called chafing. Chafe the dough for 5 minutes before lifting it and putting it on a large, flour dusted baking tray. Preheat the oven to 220C and leave the bread covered to prove for 30 minutes.

7. Once the dough has risen again (it will not quite double this time because of the weight of the potato) dust it liberally with flour and put in the oven for an hour. If you notice the crust darkening before an hour is up, cover the top of the bread in foil, leaving the base uncovered because we don't want any soggy bottoms!

8. Take the bread out of the oven when the crust is golden brown and crisp and leave to cool before serving.

And there you have it: high fibre, high protein bread to aid your post-exercise recovery. I enjoyed a couple of slices toasted with a little honey after my Sunday morning run.



Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Toasted Oat and Chocolate Meringues

Last weekend I paid a visit to my parents' house in Surrey. While there, I found a bowl of egg whites in the fridge.

They were actually leftover from me making custard to go in a trifle over Christmas and surprise surprise, my parents hadn't done anything with them, despite mother making vague comments about meringue.

I decided it was a perfect opportunity to whip up a meringue (and a blog post), which is exactly what I did. I baked my meringue flat, broke it up and used it in an Eton mess, but there are a number if things you could do with meringues. You could pipe them in decorative swirls using a piping bag and star-shaped nozzle. You could make tiny meringues and sandwich them together with a little bit of chocolate on the flat sides.

I'm also a fan of adding things to meringues - a dash of colour, a sprinkling of chopped nuts on top or a few streaks of melted chocolate. So I folded toasted porridge oats and dark chocolate into my meringue for added flavour and texture. 

This recipe made enough meringue for one full-sized Eton mess and three small ones:

You will need:
340g caster sugar
4 egg whites
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
100g porridge oats

1. Preheat the oven to 140C and spread a baking sheet with the porridge oats. 

2. Once the oven has preheated, put the oats in and toast them for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 130C. Put the egg whites in a large, clean bowl and whisk until they reach stiff peaks, adding the caster sugar gradually as you do.

3. While whipping the meringue, put the chocolate into a bowl above a barely simmering pan of water until melted. Fold the oats into the meringue, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the meringues if you are piping them decoratively. Add the chocolate and fold it in partially so that the meringue mixture is streaked with chocolate.

4. Pipe or spread the meringue onto a lined baking sheet and bake for 2 hours.

5. After 2 hours, turn off the oven but leave the meringue in the cooling oven for as long as possible - it will continue cooking in the residual heat.

There you have it - a way to use up leftover egg whites. If you just want to make a normal meringue you can omit the chocolate and oats and you'll have the beginnings of a decent dessert with just two ingredients. Toss a bit of fruit and cream on and you've got a pavlova. Or maul the meringue beforehand and you've got an Eton mess.

I took my dessert to a poker night and beat all my friends. I like to think it was because they were distracted by my divine dessert.

It was most likely luck, actually, I'm terrible at poker.

Bye bye now,


Sunday, 4 January 2015

Butternut Squash, Courgette and Feta Pie

Hello again.

This week I have a savoury bake for you, praise Mary (Mary Berry, that is). After Christmas I'm afraid I was sick to the back teeth of sweet treats and craving savoury food.

So instead of making an all-singing, all-dancing, cake bedecked in bunting and fireworks for the New Year's Eve party I tripped off to on Wednesday, I took a pie.

It wasn't any old pie. It was a beautiful pie.

As you can see I cut mint leaves out of pastry to decorate it and egg-washed it til it shone. It was filled with a mashed butternut squash, feta, mint and shallot mixture that was topped with a layer of grated courgette.

Then someone (mentioning no names, you know who you are) picked up the pie with both hands and bit into it. I was so distressed I forgot to take a picture of the cross section and could only stand rooted to the spot, gibbering the same rude word repeatedly.

So let that be a lesson to you - keep your baked creations away from drunks, they will not treat them with the respect they deserve.

Now, two baking points. The more experienced among you may have noticed from the textured experience of the pie crust that there is in fact some wholemeal flour in the hot water crust pastry that I used.

I would love to say this was by design but in fact I just ran out of plain white flour. If you want to use some wholemeal flour in your pastry mix feel free but let me sound a note of caution. I found it made the pastry more difficult to work and this is not really what you want with hot water pastry, which becomes harder to work as it cools.

Secondly, there was a flaw in my pie, which is that the grated courgette was not quite dry enough and made a soggy patch in the pastry. When using grated courgette in a pie you really do need to squeeze it for all you're worth to get as much moisture out as possible. Or you'll get a soggy bottom.

On the pie, that is.

Will serve six to eight people, depending on how hungry they are.

You will need:
315g plain white flour
70g strong white bread flour
125g butter
140ml water
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt

For the filling:
100-150ml water
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
8 shallots, finely chopped
2 large courgettes
200g feta
handful of mint, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
a knob of butter

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Wash and coarsely grate the courgettes. Place in a colander, sprinkle well with salt and leave over a sink.

2. Melt the butter for the filling over a medium heat and add the butternut squash and shallots, turning over with a wooden spoon to ensure they get well coated in the butter.

3. Add 100-150ml of water, turn the heat up and cover. Simmer 10-15 minutes until tender, then drain off any excess water and mash. Season to taste, crumble in the feta and add the mint, then mix and set aside.

4. Squeeze the courgette between your hands to get as much moisture out as possible. When you've squeezed them as much as you can and you feel you simply can't get any more moisture out...squeeze them again, you wuss. Put a couple of sheets of kitchen towel on a large plate, spread the courgette out on it and place another two sheets on top to further dry out the courgette.

5. Rub together the flours and 55g of the butter for the pastry in a large bowl with your fingertips to create a crumbly mixture. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a pan and then add the water and bring to the boil.

6. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the hot water and butter and beat until it begins to come together and then, once it's cool enough to handle, knead into a ball.

7. Cut two thirds of the pastry off and cover the rest in foil to keep it warm. Working as fast as you can, roll out the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin and line the tin. Tip in the butternut squash mixture, then flatten down and top with the courgette.

8. Roll out the remaining pastry to just over the size of the base of the tin. Put it on top of the pie and, egg washing the edges, crimp them together by pushing with a finger from each side. Cut two slits in the top and egg wash.

9. Put the pie in the oven for 30 minutes. If you want to decorate it, cut out decorations from any remaining pastry. After the 30 minutes, take the pie out, egg wash the top again and add any decorations, then egg wash them as well to secure them to the pie. Turn the oven down to C and bake for another hour and a half until golden brown, shiny and hot.

10. Serve the pie on a large plate, with pomegranate seeds and flaked almonds scattered around it.

This week I want to thank Luis Troyano of the Great British Bake Off for retweeting my blog post last week and everyone else who favourited or retweeted it afterwards. You guys are the reason that I still cling to the hope that one day someone with more money than sense will give me a book deal.

NB: For an example of an all-singing, all-dancing cake see my New Year's post 2013. Yeah, OK, I was exaggerating about the bunting and fireworks.

Yours Begrudgingly,