Sunday, 31 August 2008

My Kingdom for a pair of choux (buns)!

Bit of a manic Sunday, had promised myself to complete a challenge set by the Daring Bakers, and August's task has been "chocolate eclairs" - a brilliant choice, who doesn't love good choux? As it's my first Daring Baker challenge as newbie member, I wasn't going to miss out, pastry being my nemesis but thankfully choux buns are pretty foolproof.
So even if you're a bit of a pastry-phobe like me, give this a go, it's much more straightforward than other traditional pastries and so flatmate and her other half happened to be in when I made these and we managed to scoff ALL that I made (which was admittedly a small batch). A confession though: I didn't have time to make the filling, so I cheated by picking up vanilla custard from my local supermarket and cheekily adulterating it with some passionfruit pulp....mmm! Naughty to cheat, but in the broad scheme of things, better to enjoy these babies rather than forego the challenge! 

  • 125g whole milk
  • 125g water
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 140g plain flour
  • 5 large eggs
Bring the milk/water/butter up to the boil, making sure to melt the butter completely before boiling the water.

Sift the flour with sugar and salt and add this to the boiling liquid whilst turning the heat off, immediately stir the mixture like a mad woman (!) for ca. 20 sec until the mixture is thick, gloopy and comes off the sides.

Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then add the eggs in increments until the mixture reaches a smooth, dropping consistency. 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Get a baking tray out and line with silicone paper. As my piping bags are MIA, I simply spooned dollops of mixture on the sheet and smoothed them with a wet finger so there were no spiky bits. So you have choux buns, not eclairs :-)

Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes. It's VERY important NOT to open the oven door for at least 20 minutes as this will lead to deflation of the choux (or at least it has done in my experience)...when they look puffed up and golden, take the baking sheet out of the oven, pierce the underneath of each choux bun with a skewer and place them upside down back on the baking sheet and back into the oven to dry out for 5-10 minutes.

When the choux are dried out, allow them to cool whilst preparing the filling and chocolate glaze. In my case, as I was rushed for time, I made the following glaze:
  • 100g plain chocolate
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tsp golden syrup
  • 1-2 tsp water
Place all of this in a heatproof bowl over a pan with simmering water and allow to met until a smooth glaze is formed. This will require tasting, so dip your fingers in, but no double-dipping :-)

For the filling, I simply added the pulp of 1 1/2 passionfruit to the vanilla custard and improvised with a plastic food bag to create a rather slapdash piping bag to squirt the filling into the choux buns. A bit messy but that's part of the fun of making this...

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Bread, sweet bread

Like George Costanza in the sitcom 'Seinfeld', I too like a good sandwich. It's an abomination the stuff you get in supermarkets, delis and 'sandwich' joints around London. Seriously. The city is pining for a good sandwich. Why is there such a paucity of good sandwiches? I blame the bread. And too much mayo, plus over/under-seasoned fillings. Truly awful. Don't go out for a sandwich in London. New Yorkers are still kings of the sandwich. Actually, so are Scandinavians ;-)

In fact, constructing sandwiches was how I got into food and cooking in general. I won't go into detail, in order to spare my otherwise wonderful and adored Mother any blushes, but the sandwiches being shipped off in my satchel on weekday mornings were, well, rather Anglo-Saxon in their quality. Mama J is not a morning person at the best of times, so it must've been a complete bore making sandwiches for her demanding daughter, and sadly her otherwise excellent culinary skills were lacking in the sandwich department. Tant pis, in hindsight I suspect this was a cunning ploy to get me interested in food, as I had an incentive to make my own school lunch. Establishing that the bread was crucial, I then investigated our bread options. Not three-day old fibrous mountain bread, which sucked the moisture out of your mouth, but good, fresh wholemeal bread, or a German-style Landbrot with a hint of rye. Norway, thankfully, has a great culture of bakeries, and German-style Konditoreis which sell freshly baked bread on a daily basis. And not bread that's been treated with all sorts of preservatives and is full of sugar, salt and e-numbers, but real, wholesome, fresh bread.

Of course, allowing me to wrest control of sandwich-making was a pandora's box, as I subsequently demanded to join in the grocery shopping, and insisted on the type of bread, fillings and various crunchy salad/veggie options we purchased. As a result, Mama J claims our weekly grocery bill went stratospheric, but at least we all started eating much better lunches!

Recently I penned a short feature on bread-making which you can read all about if you click on the link above. It was an introduction to breadmaking, with a 'quick' bread recipe for Irish soda bread. This is bread made with baking soda, and not yeast, thus rendering it an easy and quick bread recipe for sandwich fans...The perfect partner for Irish soda bread? Torn between good cheese and smoked salmon, I'd have to go for the latter. Here's what I would do for an extra-fancy, brain-boosting (all that fish!) sandwich
  • Couple of slices of freshly baked soda bread, buttered!
  • 100g smoked salmon
  • couple of pickled, sweet beetroots
  • zingy horseradish mixed with a dollop of fromage frais or quark
  • finely chopped onion
  • a few leaves, such as parsley, chervil or dill
  • capers (optional...make sure they're not too vinegary or salty, in fact perhaps best to leave them out)
As this is meant to be Scandinavian in spirit, start by making an open-top sandwich. None of this squishing the filling between thick slices of bread.

Mix your horseradish with the fromage frais/quark and spread this on the soda bread, then place your chopped onion on top, followed by the salmon slices, and then add a few pieces of pickled beetroot. If you want to garnish it with greenery this is the opportune moment. Otherwise, scoff away and rejoice in art of a good sandwich.

P.S. Admittedly the bagel is also a good foil for smoked salmon, and the best place in London for this is the brilliant Brick Lane Beigel Bakery. Don't try making your own bagels, I once did and it only ended in tears... 

Monday, 25 August 2008

It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that zing!

Perhaps Scandilicious should be re-named the 'Passionfruit' blog, as this dark, wrinkly fruit has been at the forefront of all my recent thoughts on baking. Which means all my thoughts generally. Not terribly exciting ones admittedly, but thoughts which nonetheless result in playing around with my favourite fruit on a bank holiday Monday evening. Does this mean I need to get out more? Probably. I'd like to think it's yet another successful experiment baking with passionfruit - this time with the addition of orange, and my Mother is visiting tomorrow so I've taken care of afternoon tea - bonus! Not to mention midnight scoffing later this evening ;-) By the by, these muffins are dedicated to my most fabulous former flatmate Nina - currently rusticated to Beijing - ni hao Nina, aka fellow passionfruit fan...

Passionfruit Muffins with Orange and Oats (or what's left over in your cupboard/fridge with a bit of zing)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g porridge oats (gives a good texture)
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 100g melted butter
  • 180ml Quark (this was in my fridge, but use milk/yoghurt if you don't have any)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 passionfruit
  • 2 oranges - zest & juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180ºC. Lightly oil 6 jumbo muffin tins, or 12 regular ones

In a large bowl, sift all the dry ingredients and stir through to distribute the raising agents. Add the orange zest then add all the liquid ingredients, stirring through with a large metal spoon, careful not to overfold or the muffins will be tough. Scoop mixture into muffin tray

Bake on centre shelf of the oven for 25 mins (regular size) 35-40 mins for the larger ones. These muffins come out light and fluffy, and predictably taste rather good with a cup of good olde English tea - see, I'm becoming more Anglo-Saxon by the day....

Monday, 18 August 2008

Lemon Poppyseed Cake...with a dollop of Quark and "rips" (norwegian for redcurrants)

Sundays are meant to be relaxing. A time to recalibrate, catch up with family or friends, walk the dog, go to the cinema, an exhibition, or even shopping (my least-favourite activity in the world - seriously). These are things perfectly sane people do on a Sunday, however I decided to do a stock-take of my kitchen cupboard as various items such as jars of pesto and bags of sugar kept falling on my head every time the cupboard door was ajar. Infuriating to say the least, and I'm easily ired, so I spent a couple of serene hours listening to Magic FM, whilst scrubbing the inside of the cupboard, re-organising all the jars of pesto and bags of sugar and then suddenly it occurred to me that I am in possession of far too much food. The mission for Sunday? Use up the remnants of the following: poppyseeds, ground almonds, polenta (uncooked), couple of lemons, etc. There's so much brown sugar in my cupboard that later this week will see a cornucopia of cookies, ginger cake and brown sugar oat & apricot muffins in the scandilicious kitchen...Oh, and I wrote down all the items in the cupboard which will go up as the official cupbopard stock-list on the inside of the door. Clearly I need to get out more. 

This lemony cake is akin to an American-style cornbread, which needs something like quark, or greek yoghurt to go with it (or lashings of butter if you're so inclined). If by chance you're feeling peckish on a Sunday, this is an extremely easy wheat-free cake to throw together - gluten-free, though not dairy-free as you'll see, especially with the extra dollop of quark on the side as evinced in the photo, one step at a time folks... 

  • 180g polenta (cornmeal)
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 100g melted butter
  • 100g Quark
  • 2 eggs
  • zest & juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
You'll need to lightly oil a 20cm round cake tin. Preheat oven to 180ºC

Place all the dry ingredients into a medium bowl and blend together to distribute the raising agents 

In a small bowl, using a fork mix the eggs with the quark and zest & juice of lemon. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add this to the well, blending in with the melted butter, until the mix is even. Spoon into cake tin and bake on the centre shelf for 45 minutes...

Serve with a dollop of either quark or fromage frais. For a more indulgent treat serve with creme fraiche or vanilla-whipped cream...I also squeezed the juice of one more lemon on top of the cake for a bit of zinginess!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Recession-busting Raspberry & Almond Muffins

High summer has just passed its peak, and we're being buffeted by autumnal gusts of wind, the occasional drizzle - or indeed downpour as I write - of rain. Not to mention gloomy economic news. The evenings are cooler, but I love the fact that fresh air is breezing through my window at night, as opposed to the humid, warm air of weeks gone by. Historically, I've always been a fan of summer - months spent in the sun, by the sea, and plenty of opportunity for grazing on berries and yummy fresh beans and peas and other seasonal gems. This year's buzz word for a trendy holiday? A "staycation" which is an abomination of the English language, but kinda sums up the mood of the nation - stay at home this August, and reap the benefits of, well, the rain. Instead of gloom and doom, I'm embracing the imminent arrival of autumn. It's less frenzied, everyone's returning to work or school, but the highlight for me has to be the colours - soft and warm and pleasing to the eye. There's nothing like a walk through one of London's parks in September and October - and I can't wait for plums, in all their shades from yellow to purple, to be fully in season. Not to mention indigo blueberries, tart apples and sweet juicy pears. Bring on autumn I say!

So this recipe is a swansong for summer's princess of red berries: a muffin speckled with the last of British raspberries, fragrant orange zest and lovely ground almonds - with a helping hand from some yogurt too. The method? Couldn't be easier, so no excuses, get baking!

Makes 6-8 jumbo muffins or 12-14 regular ones. These freeze like a charm...
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g melted butter
  • 125g plain flour
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • juice and zest of two small oranges
  • 75ml yoghurt - milk will do fine, just happened to have yogurt to hand...
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 150g raspberries - reckon chopped dried apricots would work too (a la the great birthday cake my flatmate made last week!)

Preheat oven 190ºC, and line the muffin tins with parchment paper or lightly oil each cup
Put all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the eggs, melted butter, yogurt, and stir through, then add the raspberries, scoop into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes (longer for larger muffins, add 10 mins extra)

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A brief baking hiatus...

Been a somewhat manic week, between birthday celebrations, helping out two fellow Leiths alumni making samples for their company's debut at the London Fine Food Fair (ooh la la!), dinner parties, research on features I'm writing (and what a backlog of features...), which really begs the question: when's a girl got time to bake? My flatmate made a super-duper lemon almond cake, replete with juicy apricots and tangy lemon icing for my big day, thereby saving me baking, erm, a cake for myself. My Mother, saint though she is, happily relinquished that duty long ago. Will try and poach the recipe off said flatmate, or as I now to refer to her, baking-goddess, because it was a mighty delicious treat and a perfect way to start one's birthday on a hot August Monday morning ;-) 

Plenty of baking experiments in the coming days so watch this space...

Friday, 1 August 2008

Something to please chocoholics and passionfruit-obsessives alike!

Following Wednesday's feature on passionfruit and its many virtues, here's an addendum: throw the pulp & seeds from a passionfruit in with your brownie mix. Or anything with chocolate for that matter, provided the chocolate is dark as the tartness of passionfruit exposes the sweetness of milk chocolate, whereas it marries happily with the bitterness of dark chocolate. Have a super-duper weekend!

The recipe from today:
  • 200g butter
  • 5 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 150g 72% chocolate - I used Green & Black's cooking chocolate
  • 320g caster sugar
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 30g ground almonds
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 passionfruit
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 180ºC, line a 20x30cm cake tin with baking parchment

In a medium saucepan, bring 3cm of water to a simmer, and place a large heatproof mixing bowl (pyrex is good) on top of the saucepan. Turn off the heat, then add butter, chocolate and cocoa powder to the mixing bowl. Allow this to melt, stirring occasionally, while you weigh the other ingredients. In a small bowl, break up the eggs with a fork and set aside. When the chocolate and butter has melted and looks smooth, take the large mixing bowl off the saucepan and allow to cool for a minute or two before adding the ground almonds, sugar, vanilla, eggs and finally the flour. Fold everything through and pour into the prepared cake tin. 

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-35 minutes. Keep an eye on the brownies - insert a skewer to see if the mix is cooked. If some wet batter still comes out, put the brownies back in the oven for another 5-8 minutes. Don't overbake them otherwise the brownies will be dry and cake-like :-)