Wednesday 28 October 2009

Fresh from the oven - Edible bread bowls and focaccia

A while ago, Jules over at Domestic Goddess in Training mentioned that the baking group she is part of were looking for new members. I have started to really enjoy making my own bread, as followers of this blog will realise by now! but I wanted something to push me out of my comfort zone (T take note!) and joining a baking group seemed like a good way to do it so I jumped at the chance! I am now a member of Fresh from the Oven.

My first challenge was hosted by Corry of Bake It Off and was to make edible bread bowls, based on a recipe by Richard Bertinet and published in his book 'Dough'. I actually have this book, and have opened it and admired the lovely photography and creative ideas many times but had only baked once from it (a plain white loaf if I recall correctly), so I was really pleased to get another chance using a different recipe. Edible bread bowls sound like a nice idea, but I wasn't honestly sure how well I could get them to work, and my fears were well founded. The dough came together well, and was easy to work. I have a confession to make though, I'm afraid that I have tried Richard Bertinet's method of working dough in the past and found it messy with the dough being sticky and difficult to work, and I didn't find that the dough became smooth and pliable, remaining obstinately sticky when I tried in spite of watching the very helpful DVD that came with the book (and can be found here online - he is making a sweet dough in the video, but the technique is applicable to all dough) so I defaulted to my chosen Dan Lepard technique for the dough, which worked perfectly.

I had difficulty in shaping the dough around the bowls and found that the edge ended up significantly thicker than the base, which is annoying if you're planning to pour soup into it - the base needs to be strong and thick, not thin and weak! I think that resting the dough for a little after knocking the air out of it might help for the future. So my bowls were never graced with soup, I have to admit that I broke them up and used them as chunky croutons, which worked really well! The other problem I encountered was that the insides of the bowl were very pale in comparison to the exterior, as you can see by comparing the photos above and below. I'm not really sure how to recify this though.

I'm sure other people will have made much more successful attempts at this great idea than me though, so check out the round up over at the Fresh From The Oven blog for better pictures and more inspiration.

However, one of the benefits of owning this lovely book was that I could look at the original recipe. The book is divided into four main sections, covering four doughs - white, olive (used for this challenge), brown and rye. At the start of each section is an inspiring double page photographic spread of all the breads Bertinet will show you how to make with that particular dough. In the olive dough section are tempting delights such as pizza, pancetta and mixed olive bread and ciabatta, along with one of my favourites, rock salt and rosemary focaccia. How could I resist using some of my dough to make one of these lovely breads? Well, I couldn't and it was much more successful than the bread bowls!

I used dried rosemary I as find fresh tends to burn, and I thouroughly enjoyed this focaccia. The texture of the dough was superb - moist and tender and just slightly chewy, just the way I like my focaccia. A perfect accompaniment to a risotto or a lovely bowl of soup - enjoy!

Friday 23 October 2009

Stone fruit yogurt cake

You will note that the title of this post is in fact not quite true.... raspberries obviously not being a stone fruit! However, the premise of Dan Lepard's recipe is to use up nectarines, plums or peaches past their best. I had the nectarines but I also had raspberries which were threatening to go off if I didn't use them up quickly. Hence the combination of raspberry and nectarine here. I feel that it's following the spirit of the recipe so hopefully Dan won't mind this variation! I also had the necessary Greek yogurt for this recipe languishing in the fridge, so when this recipe was published at the end of September (find the original article here on the Guardian website), it pushed it's way past everything else on the 'to bake' list and ended up at the top. And I'm so glad that it did! This is a stunner, both visually and in terms of taste. I love the way the fruit is on the top of the cake when you flip it over all juicy and inviting.

It's a little while since I made it, but from what I remember, I followed the recipe pretty closely. I omitted the lemon zest as I wanted the flavour of the fruit to come through (and I didn't have three lemons, and even if I had had the lemons I was in a lazy mood that didn't run to zesting three lemons..... sorry!). I used two or three nectarines (rubbish memory) and about 100g raspberries - the amount of fruit just covered the base of the tin, which seemed right to me. I also used demerara sugar to sprinkle over the fruit rather than caster, just because I seem to have an excess of demerara sugar at the moment.

I wondered about Dan's instruction to line the tin with foil, and just lined mine with baking parchement as usual. I understood the instruction once the cake was cooked and some of the caramelly syrup formed by the fruit juice and sugar had escaped onto the bottom of my oven..... ah well, it was only a little escape and didn't affect the cake!

The cake had a beautiful gentle peak when it was cooked, which was fine, but when it came to turning the cake onto a cooling rack, the peak meant that the base of the cake started to come apart. I quickly transferred the cake to my cupped hand and struggled to get the lipped plate you see in the pictures out of the cupboard one-handed to hold the cake and prevent the base cracking open. Luckily I succeeded (no mean feat when you're holding hot cake in one hand and attempting to wrestle a plate from the bottom of a heavy pile of plates!) and the cake didn't crack or break.

I was really pleased with the way this cake turned out - a perfect peach melba cake! The yogurt in the mixture added a beautiful smooth richness to the cake, without being over-rich as I have occasionally found soured cream to be and I will certainly be making this cake again. In fact, there's more yogurt in the fridge this very moment. I think this would be perfect with some chopped fresh peach or nectarine and either a spoonful of the greek yogurt or a little drizzle of cream.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake

I have been admiring the rather delicious looking cakes being baked by the Cake Slice Bakers group over the past twelve months and sort of wishing that I could join in, but at the same time being thankful that I didn't need to buy a third cake tin for the third layer that many of the cakes made by the group required. The book last year was Sky High Irresistible Layer Cakes. (Or indeed, transporting the resulting delicious confection to work - nigh on impossible on a bus!) However, when Katie over at Apple and Spice (you really have to check out her blog - her cakes are amazing and really inspired me to want to join this group!) mentioned that the group was opening up the membership to new members a while ago, I decided that it was now or never and in I jumped!

The book that the group is baking from this year is 'Southern Cakes - sweet and irresistible recipes for everyday celebrations' by Nancie McDermott. This is the South of the USA, not the south coast of the UK! so a note for UK (and other non-US) readers is in order about this month's recipe - coffee cake in the USA doesn't necessarily contain coffee in any way, shape or form, but is merely used to identify a cake which is consumed with coffee. Confusing no? So I haven't left out any ingredients from this recipe......

So my first recipe as a Cake Slice Baker was unfortunately one I can't actually eat unless I sub a fairly key ingredient. I therefore present Cinnamon-Cashew Coffee Cake! I really wanted to give this cake a taste and pecans and me don't mix, but luckily I can still eat cashews, so I could still get the crunchy texture the recipe is asking for. This cake was very easy to put together, which is good news as I'd left making it until the last moment through disorganisation. I decided, along with quite a few other members of the group, to make a half recipe, and baked mine for the same length of time in a 6.5x9.5" baking tin, which worked perfectly well.

I amended some of the quantities slightly - cutting down a little on the cinnamon as I'm not the world's greatest fan of cinnamon and I also converted the recipe from cups to grams. I've therefore given the recipe below so that readers who prefer metric measurements don't have to convert their own. I couldn't find a conversion for a cup of nuts though, so I guesstimated and serendipidously had about 100g nuts left in the packet, which seemed about right. I also replaced the specified all-purpose flour and baking powder with self raising flour because I prefer to use this.

Cinnamon-Raisin filling
150g light muscovado sugar
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
1 scant tbsp cinnamon (original recipe states 3 tbsp for the full recipe, these quantities are for half)
110g raisins
100g cashews (or pecans if you can have them!), coarsley chopped
85g butter, melted

Coffee cake (without any coffee...... can you tell how much this confuses me!!!)
220g self raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
120ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
110g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 egg

I didn't read the instructions properly and combined all of my filling ingredients together, which I wasn't supposed to do, but I can't see that it would have made much difference. Like many others, I found the batter very sticky indeed, and it was difficult to spread around the tin, but as in my recent plum oat slice, using slightly under half of the mixture for the first layer was a good move and made spreading the remaining layer over the top a little easier. Because there were two raisin/nut layers it didn't really matter if the top layer didn't quite reach the edges in some places.

So how did it taste? Well, it disappeared in record time at work, so there must be something right about it! It smelled lovely whilst it was baking, filling the house with a warming cinnamon-y scent, just right for the autumn weather we've been having round here. The cinnamon flavour was quite strong and the texture of the cake was lovely and soft, a great contrast to the crunchy, chewy nutty raisin layer. The nuts weren't as crunchy as I was expecting, but then I've never had a cake with nuts in it before so I'm not sure if it's normal for the nuts to be quite soft rather than crispy. I suppose that might just be a feature of cashews and that pecans might be crunchier - who knows!!! I really enjoyed the cake though - it was lovely to hit a little pocket of sweet sugar - and there were plenty of them dotted throughout the cake.

Thanks for a great first recipe - I've looked through the book and am really looking forward to making more from it over the next year! Don't forget to check out the other Cake Slice Bakers posts here at the blogroll.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Failsafe bread two ways - simple white and wholemeal apricot

Simple white loaf
Not such an attractive picture as this one, but the picture that Dan provided for this bread was so stunning that I just had to try and make it. The article contains lots of helpful tips to make your breadmaking failsafe, so I really recommend reading it, here on the Guardian website.

So, back to the bread. I was quite pleased with the way my loaf came out - not as visually stunning as Dan's, but good all the same. Unfortunately I think I may have added a little too much water to the dough because when it came to proving the dough, it was happily expanding sideways into a flying saucer - not really what I wanted at all. So I quickly reshaped the dough into a more acceptable form and stuck it in the oven straightaway. I'm sure this is breaking some important bread-making rule, but this dough does seem pretty failsafe. I think this accounts for the large holes I had in the crumb, especially near to the edge of the loaf.

It was pleasant enough to eat, especially given the rapid method used to make it, but I wasn't quite sure about the texture - it seemed almost bouncy - I can't think of a different way to describe it. I'm not sure if this was just my flour though - I'll try a different brand next time.

You can see that the texture is slightly uneven with some holes, especially around the edges.

Good for lunch though, or for toast - yum!

Wholemeal apricot loaf
This was actually the first loaf I made according to the recipe's principles, and I was so impressed with it that I went on to make the white loaf above and have subsequently remade it too - it makes fabulous toast with lots of butter for breakfast, or a great lunch paired with cream cheese.

I thought it came out beautifully, with the gorgeous crack down the centre opening right up, and the colour was helped by the proportion of wholemeal flour I added to the recipe, along with the tray of boiling water put into the oven as Dan suggests. I don't quite know what inspired me to combine dried apricots with wholemeal flour, or even to try putting dried apricots into bread at all, but I'm really glad that I did, because this is a great loaf. I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with dried apricots - ate them a lot as a child, but recently I need to be in the right mood to enjoy them, and don't usually want more than one or two at a time if they're 'au naturel' but I'd bought some naturally coloured apricots on offer and wanted to use them. I thought wholemeal flour would be a good partner, but didn't want to go totally wholemeal, so just used 1/4 wholemeal bread flour and 3/4 white bread flour. I added 150g dried apricots to the loaf the first time, and then about 85g the second time (finishing up the same packet!) and prefer the loaf with the larger amount. This is rapidly becoming my favourite breakfast bread, thanks Dan!!!

Thursday 15 October 2009

Plum Oat Squares

Well, still here and still blogging. I'm being held up not by a lack of things to blog about, but by my disorganisation - I have lots of things to blog and insufficient pictures of them. So you'll have to use your imagination for this one I'm afraid. I wanted to take a picture of the inside after cooking, but forgot and now they're all gone. I'd make them again, but the list of recipes on my 'to bake' list is growing rapidly and I don't want to rebake these just yet! I'll try and be more organised next time!

The nights are drawing in rapidly and I went to work and came home in the dark for the first time a couple of days ago. Autumn is definitely here and with it come the apples, plums, pears, parsnips, leeks, pumpkins, squash and all the bounty of harvest time. I wanted to make the most of some lovely plums I had picked up at the greengrocer, I think they may have been Marjorie Seedlings, not the hard unyielding type imported from South Africa all year round, but luscious, juicy English plums in their proper season.

Plum and oat seem like natural partners to me, think of warming plum crumble with an oaty topping and you'll see what I mean (plums and almonds also spring to mind, but not for me I'm afraid!) so this recipe from Delia Smith really appealed. I've made it before (pre-blogging, many, many years ago) with apples, so I knew that it'd be really good (and let's face it, most of Delias recipes are really good, the most recent 'Cheat' series excepted....). I'm not a huge cinnamon fan, but if you are, go ahead and add it in!

Plum oat squares
450g fresh plums (although I only had about 350g)
5oz/150g porridge oats
10oz/275g plain flour (Delia specifies wholemeal, but I didn't have it)
1 tsp salt (which I omitted as I used salted butter)
8oz/225g butter
4oz/110g light muscovado sugar

- Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6/400F. Grease and line an 8inch/20cm square tin with parchment paper (as seen below).
- Prepare your plums - wash, cut in half, remove the stone and slice fairly finely. Set aside.
- Melt the butter with the sugar gently until the butter has melted. Stir in the oats and flour until well mixed.
- Take 1/3 of this mixture (Delia says 1/2, but if I take 1/2 at this stage, I find I haven't got enough mixture to cover the fruit later on) and spread it over the base of your tin. It won't be a very thick layer, so just keep moving it about until the base is covered.
- Spread the plums evenly over the oaty base.
- Cover the plums with the remaining oaty mixture. I dollop it on in small amounts, dotted around because if you dump it all in the middle, it's really difficult to spread it out. This is where it's handy to have 2/3 of the mixture left to ensure that all the fruit is covered.
- Place in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or a little longer if you want it really crispy. It's very forgiving - I think I left mine in for 45 minutes and it isn't in the slightest bit burnt.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before cutting. Allow to cool completely in the tin.

I really love this recipe - the oaty cakey bit is chewier than a flapjack and really moist and delicious, with a lovely contrast from the soft, juicy plums in the middle. Yum, yum, yum! Disappeared pretty quickly at work too, hence being unable to get a photo of the innards of the slice - trust me, it's great! A lovely autumnal way of using plums, I think I'll try apples next time. Not sure whether cookers or eaters would be better though - what do you think???

Sunday 4 October 2009

Black pepper rye bread

Not the best photos I realise, but I couldn't find a better way of getting a picture of this rather delicious loaf. Another recipe from Dan Lepard, and made to wide praise (here on his forums). The combination of coffee and black pepper intruiged me and the picture of the loaf in the Guardian looked so inviting that I just had to make this, despite having a dislike of coffee. After checking with Sue over at Mainly Baking that the coffee flavour wasn't too pronounced when she made the loaf I went ahead.

I checked the forum for any comments and discovered that some people had found the mixture quite dry, so I was careful to take my hot rye mixture off as soon as it boiled. Even so I found the mixture stiff and added some more warm water to it, probably about 50ml in total. It's perhaps just that I'm not as used to working with a dough where you're mixing the additional flour into a cooked paste rather than adding the liquid to the dry ingredients. Other than this, I followed the recipe exactly, the only change being that I omitted the fennel/anise flavour - I'm not sure that I'm keen on these flavours and it was going to be a lot of bread to eat if I wasn't keen on it! I'll try those flavours elsewhere and if I like them, will add them next time.

It's not the most perfect shape in the world, but I quite like the fact that it's individual - after all, I've made it, not bought it! And I'm not going to be sharing any of it either ;-)

I was really pleased with the interior of the loaf - it was very moist in a pleasant way with an even textured crumb and a beautiful colour - not the usual slightly offputting grey of rye, but with a brown hue from the coffee. I couldn't taste the coffee at all, which is perfect for me - I don't actually like coffee and so making this loaf was a bit of a gamble, but one that paid off. The pepper is very noticeable, to the extent that after a few bites you find yourself reaching for a drink to cool the mouth (but this is coming from someone with no heat tolerance at all - I never eat chilli-hot food, even mild level, so if you're a chilli lover I'm sure you'll hardly notice the heat at all!).

Perfect slathered with cream cheese for lunch - and no need to add pepper to the top!

Thursday 1 October 2009

Sweet and simple bakes - St Clements Drizzle Cake

Another delicious recipe this month for the Sweet and simple bakes group. This one was easy to whip up but the taste is utterly scrummy. I have a fondness for lemon drizzle cake and was keen to try the same thing but with a mixture of orange and lemon juice. I think on this occasion that the lemon slightly outshone the orange - I find that orange in baking can be a very subtle flavour, but the result was still great. I made the recipe pretty much to the letter, except that rather than use granulated sugar for a crunchy topping I used icing sugar, which I dissolved in the juice of the orange and lemon to make a syrup to pour over the cake. (As in this recipe I make for lemon syrup loaf cake, from Nigella.) I made sure that I had lots of holes in the cake for the syrup to penetrate and this resulted in a deliciously moist cake. You can see in the pictures that the edges of the cake are sodden with syrup, and this is one cake where the end pieces (normally with a tendency to dryness) become the favourite as all the excess syrup dribbles down the edge of the cake as it is bathing in syrup in the tin as it cools.

This disappeared rapidly at work - testimony to the popularity of lemony flavours at work. Sweet and lemony and utterly gorgeous - I defy you not to want to make this cake. You can find the recipe over at the sweet and simple bakes recipe blog and check out everyone else's cakes over at the round-up on the sweet and simple bakes blog. Thanks to Maria and Rosie for providing such a great bake.


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