Sunday 29 June 2008

Strawberries in the bag....

Well, it's the middle of Wimbledon fortnight (not that I follow tennis) so what could be more fitting than a strawberry recipe? Strawberries and white chocolate are the ingredients 'In the bag' at a slice of cherry pie. I have a quick confession to make, well two actually. Firstly I'm not a massive fan of strawberries - don't get me wrong, they're delicious but if you gave me a choice of strawberries or raspberries I'd pick raspberries every time. It's the same with white and dark chocolate. White I can take or leave, but I love dark. Anyway, my second confession is that these strawberries came from a supermarket (sorry, I don't know any local places round here...) and that even though there were some from Staffordshire available, I picked the ones from Scotland, much futher away from me. Well, the Staffordshire ones looked grotty, squishy and on the turn, whereas you can see from the picture above how glorious these Scottish ones were. Yum!

I was in a baking mood today and so I decided to experiment with the muffin recipe I've been using a lot lately (I've posted before about blueberry muffins and there should be another post in a bit about a few more muffins!). I doubled the amounts given in the blueberry recipe, but instead of using 200ml milk, I weighed 100g strawberries and pureed them using my stick blender. I then added them to the oil and made up the volume required with milk (so used about 100ml of milk). You can see the mixture of strawberry puree, oil and milk in the picture above.

After I'd added the eggs and mixed the colour was somewhat diluted:
Anyway, without further ramblings here is the recipe:
Strawberry and white chocolate muffins
100g strawberries, pureed to give 100ml
170ml sunflower oil
100ml milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g self raising flour, sifted
scant tsp baking powder
170g caster sugar
70g white chocolate, chopped into little chunks
100g strawberries, chopped into smallish pieces

Preheat oven to gas 6/200C/400F. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. Mix together the strawberry puree, milk, oil and eggs. Whisk to break up and mix the eggs. Sift together the flour, baking powder and sugar. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix to combine. Remember that lumps are ok, (good even) in a muffin batter, you just don't want any flour pockets. Tip in the chopped chocolate and strawberries and mix in. Fill the muffin cases and put in the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Mine were done in just under 25 minutes I think, because a couple of them started to catch on the top. Revel in the glorious smell of strawberry jam filling your kitchen (so hard to resist).
They weren't as peaked as I would have liked, but looked quite good all the same. I particularly like the way you can see a little bit of strawberry peeking out of the muffin.

Saturday 28 June 2008

Flowers and chocolates

I mentioned in this post that I shouldn't really have been blogging as I was supposed to be revising. Well, last Monday I had a viva and the results of my exams were published and I was absolutely thrilled to have passed my MSc. I still have to finish writing up the project part of it and hand that in, but the exams were a major stress for me and I'm really glad they're over. Luckily it doesn't seem that blogging and baking instead of revising (!!!) did me too much harm, and I did better than I expected.
My MSc is part of my job, and my colleagues were very pleased that I'd done well, hence the absolutely gorgeous gerbera in the photo above. I love gerbera, but would never buy myself one, so I was very surprised and pleased to find that one of my bosses had bought me this. I also love sunflowers and roses - flowers that are bold and really make an impact are fabulous. Having said that, I also love freesia and many others too. Although I don't tend to buy flowers for myself, I'm lucky that J quite often brings me flowers when she visits, and in return I try and take flowers for her too!

The other part of my present was this lovely box of Green and Black's miniatures. I adore dark chocolate and eat it pretty much every day. It turns out that my boss also loves dark chocolate, but has more expensive taste than me! This was pretty much the perfect present for a chocoholic like me, who also happens to be allergic to nuts (d'oh!) as there are only two little bars that I'll have to pass on to friends. As a slight aside, the other generally safe collection for nut allergic chocoholics tend to be mint chocolates, like Bendicks. Manufacturers don't seem to mix nuts and mint. Luckily I love mint too!
So yippee for passing exams and I'll enjoy eating these little bars!

Saturday 21 June 2008

Butter Whirls

I bought a piping bag and nozzles ages ago, partly intending to attempt to replicate the 'Sex and the City' Magnolia Bakery style cupcake frosting that I keep seeing on people's blogs. I tried using said nozzles when I made the buttercream frosting for the red velvet cupcakes, but rather than looking like an elegant swirl of luscious frosting, my attempts ended up looking rather more like something a dog would do..... hence why the only picture of the finished article has a rather flat layer of buttercream on it. I know it doesn't make any difference to the taste, but I was aiming for something rather different aesthetically! I came to the conclusion that my buttercream was slightly too stiff and predominantly that the nozzle was too small. So in the manner of Homer Simpson (If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing) I gave up. For a while.

I then spotted (and subsequently bought!) a set of nozzles from lakeland limited. These are much bigger than the other ones, which I've realised are probably for writing icing and the rope effect you seem to see on Wedding cakes (which I'm not likely to be attempting in the near future), and hopefully more suited to piping buttercream. Anyway, in the meantime I was too impatient to make cakes and then ice them, so decided to go for a biscuit mixture that I could pipe, to practice the skills of stopping and starting neatly and trying to make the shape you want with the unwieldy mixture coming out of the nozzle (much harder than it should be!).

So, butter whirls it was then. This recipe is from the Dairy Book of Home Cookery. My mum has had a copy of this for longer than I can remember (and possibly before I was born) and I managed to get a more recently published version. (I actually prefer her version because mine is full of useless microwave instructions for parts of a recipe like melting butter, cooking veg etc that are either easier or quicker to do in a different way, plus I don't have a microwave.) Anyway, it's full of useful recipes for basic things that I don't seem to have in the rest of my plethora of cookery books, things like how to calculate how long to cook a joint of beef/pork for, or a variety of different jam recipes, or how to make fudge, coconut ice and other sweets etc which just aren't fashionable enough to be in celebrity chef cookbooks. This is illustrated perfectly by the biscuit chapter which has lots of classics in it. So...

Butter Whirls
Makes 16-18

175g butter

50g icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

175g flour

8 or 9 glace cherries


Preheat oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Cream butter with sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in flour. Transfer mixture to a piping bag fitted with nozzle of your choice (see later). Pipe 16-18 flat whirls onto a greased baking sheets. Put half a cherry on each one. Bake for 20 minutes or until pale gold. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, otherwise they will be too soft to transfer to a wire cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

I think it's important to use real butter for these, as it's the predominant flavour. I sometimes use Stork (margarine) when baking cakes, especially if there are lots of other flavours in the cake such as ginger/spices etc. (or I've forgotten to take butter out of the fridge to soften) but not in recipes where the flavour really comes through.

I made the recipe twice, having been impressed by just how delicious these were - crumbly and buttery and crunchy in the nicest possible way. The photo above is from the first time round. I subsequently tried a number of different nozzles, and came to the conclusion that the one I picked the first time round was the best!

I thought as I was piping these that the ridges here were too thin and would burn quickly. And I was right, these had to be taken out earlier than the others, and the ridges just collapsed during baking.
This nozzle is just too fat, it was quite difficult to get the mixture to move where I wanted it to go. Perhaps better for larger items or mashed potato.

This was the second best nozzle, and gave quite well shaped ridges to the final biscuit.

The best results were definitely using the star nozzle above. Outright winner! And I'll leave you with a plate containing one of each. Yum.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Blueberry Muffins

Isn't that colour amazing! I had some blueberries languishing in the fridge, asking to be rescued and made into something delicious. I'd seen this recipe for blueberry muffins on Rosie's blog, Rosie bakes a 'peace' of cake, and fancied doing something similar. I didn't want loads of muffins, so a recipe making six appealed.
I tweaked the recipe slightly to suit what I had available, so here it is:

Blueberry Muffins

150g Plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
85g sugar
85ml sunflower oil
1 large egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
100ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
90g blueberries

Preheat the oven to 200C, 400F or Gas mark 6. Line a muffin tin with 6 paper cases. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl (I don't normally bother with sifting, but it's apparently important for muffins to help get air into the mixture as they only get a quick stir later on) and add the sugar.
Measure the sunflower oil, milk and vanilla extract in a measuring jug, break the egg in and whisk just to break up the egg and combine the liquid ingredients. The oil will break into droplets and if left, the mixture will separate again with the oil on top, but it doesn't matter. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Try and do this with as few strokes as possible to avoid overworking the batter (this makes for heavy muffins) and when it looks almost all combined, ie there are no dry floury bits, add the blueberries and mix through briefly. Don't worry about lumps, the batter should look lumpy.
Spoon into the prepared muffin cases, mine were almost full to the brim and place in the oven.
Cook for 25-30 minutes, but check after 25 in case your oven is a bit hotter than mine. I checked at 25 and decided they needed 5 minutes more.

There's no action shot, because I couldn't bring myself to take a photo of my lunch at work, but let me assure you they were really delicious. The texture of the cakey part was perfect - light and moist. I have to admit that had I had more blueberries I would have put them in, so Rosie is right to specify more! I'm never sure about blueberries though, and the ones I bought certainly didn't have an amazing flavour. I think next time (and there probably will be a next time!) I'll try raspberries (which I adore) and perhaps lemon zest instead of the vanilla. Oh the possibilities. I might also try self raising flour and knock the baking powder down or out as I found they left a slight fuzz behind the teeth that I sometimes find with baking powder. Not sure why though!

I'll leave you with a final picture of a perfectly peaked and risen muffin, the best I've made yet!

Monday 9 June 2008

Red Velvet Cupcakes

One of the best things about the internet is being able to look at the cooking pages in all of the national newspapers without having to buy them - cheapskate, moi? - never!!! Anyway, when I saw a recipe for red velvet cupcakes in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago the recipe really appealled to my sense of adventure, well, actually more to my sense of disbelief - a whole tablespoon of red food colouring - really??? I tend to be more of a natural/organic/wholesome type of girl really. So I had to try the recipe.

Well, the mixture really was red, as the photo below shows:

The cakes were quite easy to make, but the recipe specifies cupcake cases, which I took to mean smaller 'bun' or 'cake' cases. I think I should have used muffin cases. As it was, it didn't matter too much because the only tray I have is a muffin tray, so the mixture didn't overflow out of the cases and collapse, it overflowed and was supported by the muffin tin. Hence the sort of souffle floating effect.
I didn't do a cream cheese frosting, just a vanilla buttercream - note to self, do not start making buttercream with an electric whisk, use a fork first to start incorporating the icing sugar, unless you particularly enjoy breathing icing sugar!!! I attempted to pipe the mixture, but I think my piping nozzle was too small and the buttercream a little stiff so I gave up in favour of just smoothing the icing on.
The final effect was ok, but not quite the stunner I was hoping for.

Taste verdict: novelty value of red cake went down well, although no-one had ever heard of red velvet cake at work. Colleagues couldn't really taste the cocoa in the mixture, but they were generally well received. I didn't get a picture of the insides as they were all eaten, which speaks for itself really.


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