Sunday 30 November 2008

Random pictures

Rainbow chard in my garden. Apparently frost doesn't kill it!

A completely random picture - I loved the way this drop was just about to fall off as the frost was melting this morning.

Monday 24 November 2008

Chocolate and ginger parkin biscuits

A desire to combine homemade biscuits with lots of my favourite flavours - spice, chocolate and ginger (a combination made in heaven) meant that when I was browsing Dan Lepard's forums and saw this recipe from a couple of weeks ago in the Guardian newspaper it shouted at me to make it pronto. And so I did. (I have to admit a weakness for chocolate ginger biscuits - these ones to be precise -scroll down to the chocolate ginger biscuits, they're delicious and bizarrely nicer cold from the fridge). I thought it'd be better to make my own and perhaps save a few pence! I followed the recipe quite closely, and have reproduced it below to allow you to enjoy these rather delicious biscuits too.

As you can see, mine didn't quite turn out like the photo on the Guardian website, but they were great anyway! I substituted 75g crystallised stem ginger for the stem ginger in syrup that he specifies and made the method quicker - what can I say, I'm lazy and pouring the melted butter and treacle onto the rest of the ingredients was easier than adding stuff stepwise. It might account for why my biscuits look slightly different to his, it might not!

Chocolate ginger parkin biscuits
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp black treacle
75g crystallised ginger, diced small (the original recipe states 100g stem ginger)
125g light soft brown sugar
75g rolled oats
100g plain flour
25g cocoa
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mixed spice
100g dark chocolate, chopped

-Preheat the oven to 160C /325F/gas mark 3.
-Melt the butter and treacle in a pan, remove from the heat
-Weigh all remaining ingredients into a bowl (recipe says to sift flour but I'm lazy!)
-Pour melted butter and treacle onto dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly until well incorporated and no dry bits of flour remain.
-Roll into balls the size of an unshelled walnut and press these down a little on to a baking tray lined with nonstick baking paper, spaced 3-4cm apart.
-Bake for about 20 minutes, until barely firm.
-Remove, leave for five minutes - they're quite fragile - then slide the paper with the biscuits on to a rack to firm up.

NB You will need two baking trays. Because he doesn't specify how many it will make, I didn't know how much space they would take and I only have one large flat baking tray. The round biscuits you see at the top of the post were made on this tray. The square biscuit below started out life as a round ball, but the small tray I baked these on meant they didn't have enough space and essentially formed one gigantic biscuit. Yum! but I cut it up into squares. I made 27 biscuits in total.

One other point is that it's very difficult to tell when they're done. They go in dark brown and come out...... dark brown. Mine were in about 25 minutes and were still soft when they came out. They firmed up on cooling.

These were truly delicious biscuits. The oats added a nice texture - they were chewy all the way through and the treacle added a slight hint of bitterness and depth of flavour. Because there are lots of different components each bite is different - hot from a piece of ginger, smooth from a piece of chocolate, dark and spicy. Really addictive.

I took some into work, where they were received very well indeed, disappeared rapidly and got very favourable comments. Everyone loves a good chewy biscuit with their tea or coffee.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Wholemeal bagels

Nothing very exciting today I'm afraid. I decided to make bagels again, using exactly the same recipe as last time, but making a couple of little changes. I substituted 1/4 of the flour for wholemeal strong flour (so 300g extra strong white bread flour + 100g strong wholemeal flour), reduced the sugar from 2 tbsp to 1 tbsp (it turned out to be about 11g) and reduced the salt a little as well. In the first batch I made 6, as stated in the recipe, but decided they were quite big and tried for 8 the next time. There just wasn't quite enough when they were the smaller size, but then I'm greedy, so 8 might be ok for you. So I made 6 of these wholemeal ones and I'm going to stick to that size from now.
The only other thing I did was to use a smaller pan for poaching them in. The first time, I used my enormous stock pot, but could still only fit two bagels in and so I decided that in the interests of boiling less water and using less malt extract, I'd use a smaller pan. This worked fine - and I reckon that using a smaller volume of water means I only need 1 tbsp of malt extract, which makes them cheaper too! It does seem a shame really, that you use the malt extract (obviously a necessary part of the recipe, but not the cheapest or easiest to get hold of) and then just pour it down the drain once you've poached them!

And a gratuitous picture of the innards, showing the lovely dense texture and chewy crumb. I don't think the changes I made had an adverse effect on the bagels, and I'd do them wholemeal again. I don't think I'd go totally wholemeal - think they'd be a bit heavy, but a 50/50 mix white/wholemeal might work.

Friday 14 November 2008

Wholemeal spelt bread

Well, I have to say that this is a more aesthetically pleasing attempt than my last loaf of bread! I saw some really good looking wholemeal spelt rolls over at Katie's blog, Apple and Spice and it spurred me into action. Spelt is a variety of wheat, but has been less intensively bred and developed than the modern wheat varieties which provide the vast majority of flour available in the shops. (It is also said to be easier to digest and some people with intolerance to normal bread can tolerate spelt bread more easily - DISCLAIMER: I have no medical knowledge and refuse to be responsible if you decide to try spelt flour knowing that you have a wheat intolerance!) I started out fully intending to make rolls, but then events conspired against me and I decided that not only was a loaf easier to work with, but it also fits into the freezer much more neatly than round rolls. So a loaf was born.
Having decided that a loaf was the way forward, I thought I'd better stick with a tried and trusted recipe for the wholemeal bread I quite often make. Anyone reading this blog for a while will know I'm a fan of Dan Lepard, and it was his recipe and methods of working the dough that I decided to base mine on for this loaf. Instead of pummelling the bread for ten exhausting (yes, I am that lazy!) minutes followed by a rise, a knock back and second rise, Dan advocates using three short kneads and leaving the dough to rest for 10 minutes inbetween. Sometimes this is a complete pain (when you're trying to knead bread and do the ironing at the same time for example - not good to have bits of bread welding themselves to your clean clothes) but most of the time I find some other kitchen task to be doing at the same time, making cupcakes more often than not, so the time goes quickly and I don't mind it. He explains his technique here, far more succintly than I will ever be able to, so it's well worth reading.
This is the recipe I based mine on; wholemeal bread. I have to admit though, I'm pretty lax with the timings. 10 minutes often stretches into 15 or even 20 depending on what other crises I may be having with things not cooking in the right time (Raisin buttermilk cake, you were the culprit this time!) or how distracted I get by other things. The recipe seems pretty forgiving though.
The changes I made were ditching the sugar and butter (because I'm lazy and I couldn't be bothered to melt the butter and mix it through) which are supposed to add to the texture and keeping qualities I think. And I also inadvertently added rather too much salt. I think I was confused between halving the recipe I'd seen on Apple and Spice and following Dan's recipe. I have a feeling I ended up with 2 tsp salt. Which was too much, even for my salt loving tastebuds. Well, when I say too much I mean I could distinguish that the bread tasted salted when I bit into it, it hasn't stopped me from devouring the rest of the loaf! So salt to your taste, I like 1tsp per 450g flour. Either that or I didn't make a mistake and spelt is slightly salty. Which I doubt somehow, but I'll be more careful in the measuring next time and find out for certain.

As I said before, I was struggling for oven space and time and the bread overproofed massively. So I just pushed it back, rerolled it and let it rise again so that it was ready for the oven at a more convenient time. I think this is perhaps why you can see the 'roll' of the dough so clearly.

It doesn't really taste much different from the normal wholemeal bread I make (apart from being saltier!) so I'm not sure I'd bother with spelt flour again, I think normal wholemeal flour is fine. Perhaps I need to try a different brand of spelt flour. But anyway, the bread is great, make it and enjoy! (Homemade bread makes the best toast..... need I say more).

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Ginger spice cupcakes with lemon icing

Beneath the purity of the white icing and the perfect white flowers lurks a heart of darkness - ginger cake, warming and spicy. The weather is most definitely dictating what I feel like cooking at the moment. It's cold and blustery and hours at a time are spent with rain splashing on the windows. It seems as good a reason as any to make some warming cupcakes. These have a bonus feelgood factor - as well as being delicious, the whole house is filled with the fragrant spices as they cook - it makes it very difficult to wait for them to cool down once they're out of the oven, but I managed!

The recipe is another from the Caked Crusader's blog (seem to have been getting a lot of my inspiration from there recently!) but from a little while back. May this year in fact. Hmm, must get round to making bookmarked recipes more quickly in future! The recipe appealed because for the disorganised baker it doesn't require you to have soft butter as you melt it anyway. This is good news for me because I invariably forget to allow enough time for butter to come to room temperature, especially in winter (and I have a cold kitchen too). I decided on a lemon icing because the fresh flavour of lemon really complements the spicy ginger cake.
Anyway, onto the recipe:
Ginger spice cupcakes with lemon icing
1 egg
120ml milk (whole or semi skimmed)
90g plain flour
30g self raising flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon mixed spice
80g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter
100g black treacle
25g golden syrup
For the icing:
200g icing sugar
juice of 1 lemon (plus a couple of tsp of hot water depending on how juicy your lemon is)
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.
- Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases.
- Place the butter, treacle and golden syrup in a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir constantly until the butter has melted, don't do what I did and forget about it until it hissed angrily and threatened to boil.
- Whisk together the milk and egg then add the ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and caster sugar. Make sure your butter etc is melted and ready to add before whisking in the flours and bicarbonate of soda.
- Pour the warm butter mix into the flour mixture and stir. At first it will seem incredibly runny but keep stirring and you will feel it thicken.
- Spoon the mix into the paper cases. I found this easiest by pouring the mixture into a measuring jug and then using that to fill the cases - yes, it's more washing up, but so much quicker and easier and tidier (otherwise I'd have mixture all over the kitchen as it dripped about). Divide the mixture between the cases but bear in mind that the mixture rises quite a bit.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- Leave to cool on a wire rack.

When cool, make the icing by adding the lemon juice to the icing sugar. If the mixture seems too stiff, add a couple of tsps of hot (boiled) water but go carefully. I wanted the mixture quite stiff so it would sit on top of the cakes rather than run all over the place. It helped that my cakes didn't rise as much as the CC's cakes, and gave quite a good flat surface for icing. So don't despair if your cakes aren't reaching for the skies!

A picture of the deliciously dark interior of the cupcake. The cake itself was really light, but deliciously spicy. It reminded me slightly of McVities Jamaican Ginger cake, either that or parkin, so I suppose it was a hybrid of both their flavours. (I used to love Jamaican Ginger cake warmed in the microwave with golden syrup and bananas on it, served with Bird's custard - heaven!). A really really good cake, to be thoroughly recommended, especially when you want the flavour of parkin and autumn but don't want to wait all that time for parkin to cook!

Went down well at work too - some good compliments and a request for the recipe, so thanks, Caked Crusader.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Food for the Fireworks

I went up to visit J yesterday as we wanted to go to the firework display together. It's becoming a tradition for us, this is the third year we've watched them together. The weather has been rubbish the past couple of days and yesterday evening was no exception - windy and cold. That's ok in moderation, it adds to the atmosphere of the firework display and we decided to have something warming and hearty before we went out. Meal of choice, mushroom risotto. We both like this and it seems appropriate and autumnal for a windy day. Plus, both J and I have a sweet tooth and love puddings and as J said, risotto is essentially savoury rice pudding! (I tend to make my risotto more on the soft than 'al dente' side. Yes, this probably makes it less authentic but I really don't care - it's my dinner after all!)

Mushroom risotto (serves 2)
I don't so much follow a recipe for this, just add what seems about right.
Pour boiling water over a small handful of dried porcini mushrooms (about 5-10g) and leave to rehydrate for 15 minutes or so. Soften a finely chopped onion in a glug of olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add chopped mushrooms of your choice (I used two large open portabella mushrooms plus a handful of brown chestnut ones that wanted using up) and turn the heat up high to draw out the water from the mushrooms and brown them a little. Add risotto rice (I used 150g for the two of us) and stir for a couple of minutes to coat in oil. Add a good glug of dry sherry and allow to evaporate. Add the mushroom soaking liquid plus the chopped up rehydrated mushrooms. Don't add the gritty bit of soaking liquid at the bottom of the bowl! Make up 1/2 litre of vegetable stock (I used Marigold bouillon powder) and add gradually to the risotto, allowing it to dry out a bit between additions. Don't have the heat high enough to boil the rice, it needs to be a bit slower than that. Keep stirring. Yes it may be slightly tedious (although I quite enjoy it, and it warms you up nicely!) but the end result is well worth it. The stock will probably take about 25 minutes to add. Test a grain of rice to see if it's done. It should be slightly 'al dente' but I like mine soft, so I keep going until it's lovely and soft and gungy!!! Season with black pepper and salt (if you want, I don't bother with salt as the mushrooms are tasty anyway and the bouillon powder is salty) to taste and stir in a big load of grated parmesan. Serve straight away.

We had it with a lovely green salad prepared by J; lettuce, spinach and avocado with a vinaigrette dressing, which offsets the rich risotto perfectly and adds a bit of crunch.

In the end we decided it was raining too much to go out and see the fireworks, but all was not lost because J has a fabulous view of the fireworks from one of the upper floor windows at the back of her house, so we watched in comfort there! And propping the window open slightly meant that we could hear the fireworks banging and get a little bit of a draught to simulate being out in the open. No substitute for actually being there but better than being drenched or missing them entirely. And opening the window meant I could attempt to take photos of the fireworks. I think they've come out rather well, considering that we were quite a long way from the display!

Happy bonfire night!!!

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Buttermilk raisin cake

Well, I have to admit that I'm slightly lost for words about this cake. Not really so great given that I'm trying to blog about it! I first saw the recipe and pictures a couple of weeks ago on the Caked Crusader's blog, where she describes it as one of her all time favourite cakes. I suppose that must be partly what drew me to it, because raisins are one of those things I can take or leave and they seem to be the whole point of this cake, plus how can someone campaigning for the cause of cake be wrong?!? And I was intrigued by the use of buttermilk - I've always wondered what it did to the texture and taste of a cake. So the decision was made, for better or worse, to make the cake.
The circumstances weren't ideal - I wanted it in and out of the oven before I attempted to roast my very first whole chicken (about which I was slightly nervous - baking I can do, cooking not so much!!) so I was on a pretty tight timescale. But I forged ahead regardless.
This is a big cake. Really big. I suppose I should have guessed that it might not cook in the specified time, and in fact, mine took 1hr 45 minutes in total, where it was supposed to take 1hr to 1hr15. When I tested earlier there was definitely raw batter on the skewer. Repeatedly. So I left it in until it was done. Unfortunately this means that the crust is thicker than I would have liked and is slightly burnt. I was also worried that the cake would be really dry, having been in the oven for that long.(At this point I should admit to being a bit of a control freak and perfectionist - I hate it when things don't go to plan and at one point I considered just giving up and chucking the whole lot in the bin. Fortunately I came to my senses and realised just how much I'd spent on ingredients for the cake!)
On the plus side, it was easy to put together. I followed the CC's recipe exactly (apart from running out of raisins and having to put in 260g rather than 320g) so I won't reproduce the recipe here, you can hop over to the CC's blog (you should do that anyway because it's a fab blog!).
So, after having complained for the whole post about it, was it worth it in the end??? Well, surprisingly, the answer is a quite resounding YES!!!! I took some for J to try and we both agreed that it's a really delicious cake. My fears about it being dry were unfounded (yes, the very edge is a little dry and burnt, but can easily be cut off) because it's moist and tasty, and the raisins are really moist and sweet. I can't explain it very well, but the cake had a flavour that neither of us could identify and in the end put down to the buttermilk. But it was a gorgeous flavour! The only thing I can do is recommend you try this cake for yourself. I'd make it again, but perhaps use a 9" square tin rather than an 8" tin or try adjusting the recipe to make a smaller quantity.
You'll have to forgive the photographs of this one, I was tired and it was dark and I was cross that the recipe had taken so long that I just wanted to get it cut up and into the freezer. If I get a chance, I'll try and get a better picture to post. However, there are 14 more pieces still in there as I post this, so plenty to be enjoyed yet.... I think it could be good with custard as a pudding. Mind you, I think most things are good with custard!

Sunday 2 November 2008


I've been meaning to try making my own bagels for a while, and a recent holiday (where I ate them for breakfast most days!) brought the idea to the forefront of my mind again. I don't quite know what it is about them that I love the most, but probably the chewiness of the crumb and the sticky, chewy crust that is slightly sweet. I'm not going to pretend I'm any sort of expert about bagels at all, so if you want some background on them, I suggest going to Wikipedia because as usual with Wikipedia, there's loads of info there. My first thought when looking for a recipe was to go to Pixie's blog, You say tomato, I say tomato because I remembered seeing a recipe for NY bagels there but when I looked more closely, it's in cups, which I dislike working with. So, when in doubt, I fall back on my trusted Dan Lepard forum, and sure enough, there was a recipe for bagels which sounded good.

I won't reproduce the recipe here, but they really weren't difficult to make. I have made bagels only once before, when I was lucky enough to go on a day-long bread making course at an artisan bakery in Kendal (I'd love to go back too - he makes the most amazing breads). The 'recipe' (and it's in inverted commas here because there was no weighing or measuring of ingredients there) was great, but unreproducible for me because it used a sourdough starter. I'd love to manage to make a viable sourdough starter, but my last attempt smelled like acetone (nail varnish remover) and grew mould so I never used it. Anyway, the point I was going to make was.... the baker who was leading the course said that the best bagels are made with very strong flour because it has a very high gluten content. I couldn't get hold of the stuff he used commercially, and made do with the Canadian Very Strong bread flour from Waitrose. I don't know if this contributed to the success of these bagels, but they were really, really great!
Here they are after dividing the dough into six and leaving to prove.
Shaped and poached, ready for the oven. I tried a different technique for shaping two of them which didn't work quite so well, which is why two of them are a funny shape and all irregular. Do as Dan says and just push your finger through them to make the hole, don't try anything funny like I did!

This is the malt extract that I used. I bought it from a small, independent health food shop, I'm not sure if it's available in supermarkets. A quick word of warning though. I didn't read the label properly and didn't refrigerate the first jar I bought after opening. Mistake!!! I grew this lovely little fluffy bit of mould. So that was a wasted jar of malt extract then. I've refrigerated this jar, and suggest you do the same!
Mmmmm, mouldy!!!

So after the dodgy picture of mould, I invite you to take a look at the delicious dense interior of my yummy bagels. I think this is just what bagels should be like (it is cut in half ready for me to make sandwiches) and you can see the lovely shiny crust from the poaching. Bagels are often cooked with toppings such as poppy or sesame seeds, which you could easily add after the poaching step. I just wanted mine plain and simple. One of the classic fillings for bagels has to be cream cheese and smoked salmon, but for the thrifty/fish hating among you, my favourite filling is cream cheese with a grinding of black pepper. What's your favourite filling?

And a final gratuitous shot of my cooked bagels cooling down on a wire rack. These were fabulous, and I'm sorry they're all gone now. Definitely on the 'to make again pronto' list. I suggest you do the same!


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