Sunday 27 February 2011

A beginner's sourdough ....sourd'oh?

Joanna and Celia are my sourdough gurus. I can only aspire to produce the kind of loaves they seem to turn out effortlessly. However, I'm sure that there must have been bumps along the road, and I can't expect to achieve the perfection I'm seeking first time round. Yep, that's me making excuses for what is to follow!

I only really started baking my own bread a couple of years ago and I'm now quite proud of the yeasted loaves that I can make. There are certainly more successes than failures now. Progress is necessarily slow - there is only me eating the bread I make, and even though I have it for morning and lunch that only equates to about 1 1/2 loaves a week - so it takes a while to eat my mistakes. Unless of course I decide to start feeding the local bird life with the less successful attempts. I haven't resorted to this yet, but I might still.... when the freezer bursts!

Before feeding

I started a sourdough culture a while ago and have been carefully nurturing it (actually, that's not entirely true - of late I've been rather less careful with it, only feeding every couple of days rather than every day religiously) with some lovely flour and bottled water. In fact, my starter might dine (in relative terms) better than I on occasion.

After feeding

I've made a couple of loaves with this starter, more in upcoming posts, but this is one that is perhaps the least visually attractive. After reading Celia's post on the basic proportions that she uses for her sourdough I decided that I would give it a try. As a sourdough novice I decided that although large holes in my bread are desirable, being able to handle the dough is rather more desirable at this stage. After all, if I can't handle it, I can't get it into the oven either can I!

So following Celia's proportions for a 60% hydration loaf I used the following:

150g starter (75g water, 75g strong white flour, 25g mature starter left overnight to do it's thing)
500g strong white flour
215g bottled water (plus I added a bit extra as the dough seemed too dry - perhaps I should have stuck with it... see later)
20g olive oil
12g salt (should have been a little less but my hand slipped!)

I mixed the water into the starter until there were no obvious lumps left, and then added the flour, olive oil and salt and mixed well (in my KitchenAid stand mixer) to form a dough. It seemed a little too dry so I added more water and continued to mix for a bit. I then transfered it to a pyrex bowl and left it for probably most of the day. Six hours perhaps. My house isn't all that hot, so in order to cosset the dough, I made up a warm hot water bottle and wrapped it in a (spare, unused!) duvet to keep warm. I'm glad I did because I don't think it would have done anything at all otherwise! Growth seemed to be minimal, but I started thinking that I would run out of time, so pressed on. The dough seemed soft and I didn't think it'd be able to hold it's own weight after shaping, so I dumped it rather unceremoniously after minimal kneading into a 2lb/900g loaf tin. It rose, slowly. It never reached the top of the tin, so after a little muttering about unresponsive yeast I decided to cut my losses and bake it.

Gas 7 for about ten minutes, with steam, then reduced to gas 6 for about another 35-45 minutes (I didn't make a note of this, I wasn't holding out much hope for this loaf) until the base sounded hollow. Cooled on a wire rack.

As I say, I wasn't really expecting much from this loaf, in fact, I thought it would be a suitable candidate for helping to build a house. Just goes to show how little I know! The texture is fairly tight and firm, with small, but fairly evenly distributed bubbles. (Limited) success! From what Celia said about this formula, small bubbles are to be expected, so I think my starter succeeded! Because the loaf never rose above the edge of the tin, I didn't think to flour it or slash it before baking, and to me, it looks like my loaf is sticking it's tongue out at me in return for the lack of care and attention!

The scent of the bread is rather more acidic than the taste, but the loaf is noticeably more acidic than the yeasted breads I make. I don't recall ever buying a sourdough loaf (I wasn't really interested in sourdough bread before I started making my own bread) or even eating sourdough bread when out and about, so I don't really have a frame of reference here. Should the crumb be very firm? This isn't anything like yeasted bread crumb (which tends to be relatively soft) but is almost hard (not in an unpleasant way, just by comparison). Do you tend to find that the aroma of a sourdough is more acidic than the taste?

Anyway, thank you Celia, I'm enjoying this loaf for my sandwiches, and small holes are perfect for that purpose - I don't want all my filling dropping into my lap as I eat! Who knows where my next sourdough adventure will take me!

Thursday 24 February 2011


A Wordle inspired by Joanna and Sue, and created using my tags. I can see myself spending wasting hours on this! Such fun, I'm going to have more of a play with it soon....

Wholemeal orange chocolate scones

These are largely inspired by Choclette's recent (well, fairly recent!) chocolate scones here. Rooting around in the fridge I discovered that I had yet another tub of half fat creme fraiche that needed to be used as soon as possible. See also here and here (will I never learn - apparently not given that I know there's another tub of the stuff in the fridge as I type). Since scones are often made with buttermilk, an acidic liquid, I reckoned that I could use my creme fraiche for the same purpose. I liked Choclette's idea of adding chocolate to scones and her idea of using partly wholemeal flour and I also found some candied peel in need of using so I created a recipe to suit my needs.

Wholemeal orange chocolate scones
150g self raising flour
150g wholemeal self raising flour
50g butter
35g caster sugar (plus extra demerara for sprinkling on the tops)
40g dark chocolate with candied orange peel, broken into tiny pieces
35g candied peel, snipped finely with scissors
200ml low fat creme fraiche (I used Yeo Valley) plus some water to slacken

- Preheat the oven to gas 6 1/2/210 C. Line a baking tray with parchment.
- Mix the flours in a large bowl and rub in the butter. Mix in the sugar.
- Mix in the chopped peel and chocolate.
- Pour in the creme fraiche and a few tablespoons of water to get the creme fraiche to a more buttermilk like consistency. I'm afraid I just did this by eye and added a little more water until the dough felt a little sticky.
- Bring the dough together and tip onto a floured work surface. Pat out not too thinly and cut out your scones. I used a 2"/5cm cutter and got about 17.
- Dampen the surfaces of the scones with a little milk or water and sprinkle with demerara sugar.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy, preferably warm with butter.

The creme fraiche worked well enough in these, but to be honest, they weren't my favourite recent bake. I'm not sure why I'm not that enamoured of them, the scones were light and fluffy, if a little on the shallow side (my fault for patting out too thinly I think). I think that the chocolate and orange flavours didn't quite go with the wholemeal flour but I can't put my finger on quite why. My colleagues didn't seem to mind though, and these went quickly.
Edited to add: these are nice, it's just that they're not my favourite - lots of other people liked them....

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Lemon and Turkish Delight Disaster Cake

I've had rose flavours on the brain recently. That's what happens when I dig in cupboards and unearth different bottles - they get left out on the side and every time I see them I wonder how else I can use them. Such was the way with the rosewater bottle. However, it didn't actually make it into this cake, rather provided the inspiration. The other factors were a surfeit of eggs that I needed to use, plus a box of (whisper it, Christmas) Turkish delight that I stumbled across when doing a little light tidying. Well, it wasn't even tidying really, I was just moving things around. Tidying implies that the place looks, well, tidier after you've finished. Mine doesn't - things have just moved round a bit. Anyway, back to the Turkish delight. The box I found was rose and lemon flavoured (they usually are round here...) and having made rose flavoured things recently, I opted to enhance the lemon flavours this time round. Plus I had lemons in the fridge already!

This was a midweek bake, so I chose my bundt tin because I always think that bundt tins give cakes that look good whether you decorate them beautifully or not, and I knew I wouldn't have much time to decorate my cake. I think this was a mistake given the advantage of 20/20 hindsight....

I decided to chop my Turkish delight into little pieces (each of the original pieces was snipped into 8 and dusted with more icing sugar to prevent it all clumping together in the cake) and mix it through the cake batter. I was slightly concerned (rightly so...) that the heavy Turkish delight pieces would sink a little, so spread some of the batter into the greased tin before mixing the Turkish delight through the rest of the batter and spreading that on. Hmm, well that idea failed spectacularly. All of the TD sank like a bomb to the bottom of the tin and stuck there. Like superglue, or perhaps those annoying kind of labels that just won't come off your book/plate/shoe or something else very sticky. Once cooked and cooled the cake eventually (with much levering and prising out) came out of the tin with a crater like top, devoid of any TD. However, I scraped all the Turkish delight off the tin and pressed it back on though - I will be triumphant!

I won't give the exact method for this because I can't imagine that I want to do this again, but the cake was good so I'm going to note down the amounts I used, for future reference.

Lemon Turkish Disaster Cake
175g softened butter
200g caster sugar
200g self raising flour
3 large eggs
grated zest 1 unwaxed/organic lemon
175g Turkish delight, chopped small

- Preheat oven to gas 4/180C. Grease your bundt tin.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, flour and lemon zest and beat again until well combined.
- Fold in the TD and spoon into the baking tin. Bake for 35-40 minutes until risen and golden.
- Remove and allow to cool until you can handle the tin.
- Remove from tin. This is where it all goes wrong, and where this method will stop.....

You can see the damage in the photo above - the cake really had well and truly stuck in some places and it was heartrending to see it ripped when it finally dropped out of the tin. However, I was sure it would taste good and not wanting to waste an entire cake I took it into work anyway. Was the taste a disaster? Nope! Actually quite a successful cake. The cake was moist, light and lemony and the turkish delight on the top provided a nice contrasting chewy texture. I think that had I not admitted to people that this had almost been a complete disaster they wouldn't have known or said anything! Needless to say, it was all eaten.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Forever Nigella 2 - Seduced by Chocolate

When Sarah announced that this month's Forever Nigella theme was Chocolate I was so pleased - I may well not use my (many) Nigella books nearly as much as I should, but chocolate recipes are the one thing that I do make from them! So why am I so last minute posting this one? I wanted to challenge myself and make a chocolate recipe that I haven't made before from one of my books, but in the end time and good intentions ran away from me, and I ended up making one of my old favourites. Not that the recipe is any the less for it being one of my favourites.

I made Nigella's Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes, but put my own slight spin on them. I remember clearly the first time I made them - my parents were hosting a little party/gathering for a number of neighbours and I made these cupcakes, using cherry jam and decorating them with melted chocolate and a piece of Cadbury's chocolate flake. This must be almost 15 years ago now. All the children at the party took a cupcake, ripped off and consumed the flake, picked the melted (and now set) chocolate off the top and abandoned the cake. Either as crumbs squelched into the carpet or behind a half drunk glass of juice, or in a pot plant. You get the picture. My teenaged self was so disappointed - these were special cupcakes, they weren't just bog standard sponge cake mix, and I really wanted them to be appreciated. I have now learnt that you must pick your audience if you want appreciation. It is not worth making a special effort for, or expecting feedback from children. By all means make something delicious, but make it easy and don't be upset if your efforts are all in vain!

Moving on a number of years and with the deadline for this challenge looming these cupcakes popped happily into my head. The recipe is given on Nigella's site, here and they really are an absolute doddle to throw together, yet taste special enough to be worthy of a special occasion. I followed the recipe as stated, apart from using raspberry conserve rather than cherry, and using only 250g rather than 300g - I wanted to save some for the icing I had in mind. Mine took a couple of minutes extra to be cooked. Instead of the ganache icing specified I decided to make a jam/icing sugar mixture. To frost 12 cupcakes generously, you'll need 75g jam and 150g icing sugar, plus a little water to slacken the mixture. I think I must have been subliminally influenced by the challenge badge for this one, my icing is a rather delicious shade of pink!

Decorate with chocolate shavings, or not as you prefer. These are lovely - the recipe is a winner and never fails me. I'll have to update with taste comments, but need to submit this now!

Friday 18 February 2011

Spiced Berry Cupcakes

Helen at Fuss Free Flavours posted these delicious looking cupcakes recently. I thought they looked really delicious and decided that I would reproduce them - after all, what is the point of reading other people's delicious recipes if you don't occasionally make them! Sadly I didn't have a free sample of Pixley Berries delicious sounding cordial to use in the making of these cupcakes, but reading Helen's post reminded me that last time J was visiting she left a bottle of Spiced Berry Cordial, produced by Bottlegreen.

It's a rather delicious cordial - J has been enjoying it hot (as helpfully suggested on the bottle!) as a substitute for coffee - perfect for just before bed when you want a warming drink but don't want to be awake for half the night from the after effects of caffeine! You can see from their website that they've got a wide range of cordials - there are lots of interesting sounding flavours there like Strawberry & Elderflower or Ginger & Lemongrass - I must try some of the others too!
Anyway, this is the bottle I had to hand, so this is what I used. And to great effect too! I followed the recipe almost exactly so won't reproduce it here and it worked very nicely with a few more minutes baking time (thank you Helen), producing very light, moist cupcakes with a subtle hint of the spiced cordial. This was nicely complemented by the buttercream icing - rich and buttery with a stronger hit of spiced berry cordial. I think that I must try using more cordials in my cooking. Do you have any novel uses for cordials in cooking or baking? Are there any recipes I must try that use a cordial as an ingredient?

Colleagues enjoyed these - the spice of the berry cordial was definitely noticeable, and commented upon by a couple of people. I think this flavour would be good around Christmas time too.

As an aside, as I was making the buttercream and adding the cordial, the buttercream seemed to become grainy and look split. I rectified this by adding more icing sugar, which worked well, but I'm mystified as to why it happened in the first place. I've never really had buttercream split on me before!

And I suppose I should say... with thanks to J for providing the cordial. Don't worry, I haven't used your whole bottle, I'll give the rest back later!

Thursday 17 February 2011

Romantic Rose Hearts

Mmm, I know, I'm late for Valentines Day. I guess you won't really be interested in making Valentines day cupcakes now, but I'm going to post them anyway because there's nothing to say that you can't surprise your loved one on a different day of the year - after all, love doesn't just happen on one day of the year. And you never know if they think you've forgotten Valentine's day and then turn up with a plate of these the reaction might be even more positive. And anyway, I'm not waiting a year to post them!

Romantic Rose Hearts
55g butter, softened
110g golden caster sugar
1 large egg
75g self raising flour
65g plain flour
1 tsp rosewater
60ml semi skimmed milk, at room temperature

125g icing sugar for the icing

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line the edges of a silicone heart mould with 8 holes as best you can - I just put a strip of parchment around the vertical sides.
- Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Add the egg and beat well to mix.
- Add some of the flour, beat to combine, add some milk, beat to combine and repeat until all milk and flour are added.
- Add the rosewater and mix in.
- Divide the mixture between the holes of the mould.
- Bake for 25 minutes until well risen and golden.
- Allow to cool until you can handle the mould then really gently try and release the cupcakes. I always struggle here, but just try the best I can!

Make the glace icing - mix 125g icing sugar with about 2tsp rosewater and a little extra water as required to make a thick icing. Pour/drizzle over your cooled cupcakes.

Share with your loved one (or in my case, grateful colleagues!).

I was really pleased with the way these rose and peaked - bursting hearts of love (hmm....!). The recipe is adapted from the Primrose Bakery recipe book and I like using this proportion of ingredients - the egg doesn't tend to curdle when it's added (I usually manage to curdle most of my cake mixtures) and the mixture of plain and self raising flour gives a substantial cupcake.

The rose flavour is fairly subtle, especially in the cake, and builds as you keep eating.

As an aside - does anyone else have trouble with silicone moulds? I thought the point of them was that they were non-stick. As you can see, mine really aren't. I would have really struggled to release the cupcakes if I hadn't put a piece of parchment around the edges. As it was I lost a fair amount of the base of some of the cakes, and they really did stick. This mould has been used a few times - so neither new nor old. Any ideas?

Saturday 12 February 2011

Carrot cake with orange icing

A good moist lightly spicy carrot cake seems just the thing to make to brighten up a dull winter's afternoon. I have made Delia Smith's Low fat carrot cake before, here, and this one is acually very similar, just using slightly different proportions.

I made it a while ago, and from memory I followed the recipe (which can be found here) pretty closely. I recall substituting mixed spice for the cinnamon - I feel that cinnamon is sometimes overused - it has its place, but mixed spice gives a more complex flavour that I enjoy more in this type of cake. And looking at my photographs I'm not sure that I made it in a 7" square tin, I might have used an 8" square and reduced the cooking time a bit - my cake looks much flatter than the one pictured. I don't think you need as much icing sugar as listed if you only want to make a drizzle type topping - mine covered the cake easily, which didn't really matter - I suppose I could have made it thicker if I'd only wanted a drizzle effect.

I really enjoyed this one - I can almost kid myself that it's healthy with oil rather than butter and all that veg.... Anyway, colleagues enjoyed it and one of them remarked on the use of mixed spice rather than cinnamon, which pleased me greatly! I think that on balance I prefer this cake to Delia's version. Although Delia's is lovely, a couple of times I've made it, it has been bordering on wet rather than just moist, which I found unpleasant. This one is lighter but still moist whilst still containing plenty of carrot and raisins. Yum, perfect with a cup of coffee.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Chocolate honeycomb 'brownies'

I don't make brownies very often, but when my latest issue (March 2011) of BBC Good Food arrived in the post I flicked through it as usual and these caught my eye. They are part of a fairly new series in the magazine called 'Junior Cook' - recipes made by children submitted to the magazine and these are called 'Alex's mega brownies'. I can't find the recipe online yet, but when it appears I'll try and remember to link to it, but the original recipe has got a milk chocolate and cream cheese topping too, which I didn't fancy making.

I've called them 'brownies' in inverted commas because they aren't as fudgy and gooey as most people like their brownies, but instead are a rich, fairly dense shallow cake type bake. But none the worse for that! It's just that I don't want people to get the wrong idea about how these turned out for me. I was actually quite sceptical about the recipe before I started because the instructions clearly say a 20cm square brownie tin and then the picture is a rather obviously rectangular cake. It does sometimes make me wonder whether all of the recipes are triple tested to the word, as they claim.

I had a packet of Belgian milk chocolate coated honeycomb that I wanted to use up - yum, chocolate coated honeycomb! I thought that it would add an interesting texture to the brownies so I added this and then a few white chocolate chips too, as I had an open packet of those. Do you like the spotty decoration? J gave me some stencils for Christmas so I thought I'd try them out to break up the monotonous brown-ness!

So here is the recipe with my (minor) modifications:

Chocolate honeycomb brownies
100g softened butter
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
75g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp milk
100g chocolate coated honeycomb
about 30g white chocolate chips (I wouldn't bother with these next time)

- Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4 and line a 20cm square brownie tin with baking parchment.
- Beat the butter and sugar together then add the eggs one by one.
- Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder then add the milk.
- Mix everything together then stir in the chocolate honeycomb.
- Spoon into the tin and level the top.
- Bake for 30 minutes (mine took 40) until the top is set, then cool completely.


I will definitely be making these again. Although they're not the fudgy gooey sort of brownies a lot of people look for in a brownie recipe, they appealed to me greatly. They were slightly chewy and chocolatey and I really think that the addition of the chocolate coated honeycomb was inspired. I didn't really know how (or if!) it would work, but I really, really loved it. The pieces stayed together (I don't know if this was because they were coated in chocolate before they went in, because I've been wondering about making my own honeycomb and using that, but am concerned that without a protective chocolate coating it will all just dissolve into the brownie mixture during baking) and there was a delicious caramelly, honeycomb flavour that worked really well with the brownies. The textural contrast was fab too - it was delicious biting into a bit of chewy honeycomb after the softness of the brownie, and I love the way the honeycomb gets stuck in your teeth! I wouldn't bother adding the white chocolate chips again though, they didn't really add anything flavour or texture wise.

Friday 4 February 2011

Cornish Fairings

I was browsing the Guardian Life and Style homepage recently, and happened to see a link in the margin of the page to a column Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had written recently on biscuit recipes. He has a column every Saturday and this was from just the weekend before last. I vaguely remember J mentioning the jam thumbprint biscuits to me and thinking that they sounded like a good idea (I have lakes of jam round here - I love making it more than I love eating it. Well, that's not quite true - I love eating it too, but just eat at a slower rate than I make it....)

Anyway, I reckon I don't make biscuits often enough, so I happily clicked on the link to see what was in store for me. Well, all of the biscuits recipes look pretty delicious to me, so I decided to start with the easiest (and the one that doesn't call for eggs or separating eggs), making a mental note to go back for the others later. I'm also extremely happy to find that I can eat all of these - it's so rare for biscuit recipes not to contain nuts in some form (and yes, I'm aware that there's a peanut butter biscuit recipe there - and although peanut allergy can be extremely severe and I would never, ever give any nut to someone nut allergic without finding out directly from them what exactly they are allergic to, peanuts are part of the legume family, not the nut family and I'm not allergic to them :-))

These were easy to make - just up my street, and they smelled so delicious whilst they were baking - warm and buttery and spicy. I'm glad that the instructions said to take them out after ten minutes - to bang them and get them to spread and crackle, because I found that mine were completely cooked after ten minutes! I would have been very upset to have burnt them all, so the timings didn't work for my oven at all. As you can see though, mine have spread and crackled beautifully without needing to be banged halfway through cooking.

I was a little concerned when making them as the dough seemed very buttery and oily - some of the melted butter escaped from the biscuits as I was making them, but luckily this doesn't seem to have affected the final outcome at all. I made 21 biscuits from the mixture, using my 1tsp measuring spoon as a scoop, and gettting rounded scoops with it. The biscuits are buttery and slightly spicy and utterly delicious. The texture is both crisp and still slightly chewy in the middle - in the way that all the best homemade biscuits are, and something that shop bought biscuits just cannot do.

I would definitely make these again.... but perhaps I should make some of those other recipes first and see what I'm missing out on there first...

Thursday 3 February 2011

Chocolate Squash Mud Cake

Chocolate squash mud cake, not squashed chocolate mud cake. Do not be confused for these are very different things! And yes, it is once again apparent that my photography skills are not really up to scratch. This is a pity because this is a rather delicious cake, and had my presentation of it been better, I think you would have been more likely to make it. I admire the many food bloggers who manage to take such beautiful photos of brown cakes, making them look inviting and delicious. I'm going to rely on your trust - you'll just have to believe me when I say that this cake tastes better than I've made it look!

The recipe is originally a Dan Lepard (he strikes again!) one and another success to add to the list. The Guardian version, Pumpkin Chocolate Mud Cake can be found here, and as you can tell from the name of the post I used Butternut Squash rather than pumpkin, the former being rather more easily available and in a more convenient size! I dealt with the obvious nut problem by directly substituting raisins - yum! But I'm sure that for nut lovers out there, the specified pecans would be fabulous - adding a crunch to this deliciously dense cake. I have to admit that my palate isn't sophisticated enough to be able to tell that this cake contained butternut squash, but I don't really mind. All I know is that it was a particularly delicious chocolate cake, and that's good enough for me!

Do you see what I mean about it being unattractive? Ignore the picture (I nearly didn't add it, but then thought that this blog is about truth if nothing else and this picture is the truth - you need to know that it doesn't have to look perfect to taste great!) and make the recipe. You can pretty it up with the recommended icing but I didn't bother. My colleagues loved this one - it went very quickly - after all, who can resist chocolate cake!


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