Friday, 29 June 2012

Sourdough starter

I have started a science experiment in my very own kitchen. I have finally gotten around to the alchemy that is creating my own sourdough bread.

I do not know why it has taken me so long. All you need is flour and water, two things I always have!

Sourdough bread does not use packet yeast, instead it uses natural yeasts in the environment, this is why we have to be patient when making sourdough, it requires a little bit of time and love for these yeasts to get to work and grow, but we are promised that we will be rewarded in the end.

To make sourdough you first need to create your starter. You can use whatever bread flour you like but a proportion of some sort of wholemeal flour will help get your starter going as they contain more natural yeast.

You will need 100g of flour in total, I used 50g strong white bread flour, 25g of wholemeal bread flour and 25g spelt flour.

You then simply mix 100ml of warm water into the flour until it has the texture of thick paint. Cover the bowl and leave in a warmish, draught free place, the kitchen is fine. And then we wait!
My starter ready to go, grow little yeast, grow!
We are waiting for bubbles to appear on the surface, a sign the yeast is activated. This can take 2-24 hours. Mine took about 12 but did not get its initial 'feed' until after 24 ish because I was at work. I must confess I was so excited at the appearance of small bubbles on the surface that I forgot to take a photo!

The starter then needs feeding, add 100g more flour and enough warm water to take it back to the thick paint consistency. You can use all white bread flour at this point, I added 50g of white and 50g of wholemeal. Cover and leave for another 24 hours. 
Bubbles 12 hours after its feed
After the 24 hours are up, remove half the starter and add another 100g of flour and enough warm water to take it back to the thick paint consistency.

Every 24 hours repeat the removal of half the starter followed by the addition of another 100g of flour and warm water.

The starter must be kept on the go for at least a week or up to about 10 days. After this we are allowed to bake bread with it!

So check back in a week and I will let you know how the bread turns out and how to store your matured starter.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Fruit and nut flapjacks

Ah flapjacks, they start off so well don't they? You fill a bowl chock full of things that are good for you, oats, fruit, nuts etc. You then diligently turn and fill a pan with butter, syrup and sugar! However we must not lose sight of the fact that all the good stuff is still there!

Yes I am justifying to myself that these are an excellent energy boosting snack and perfect before dance rehearsals.

They are super quick and simple to mix up and a batch can be in the oven within 10 minutes.

These flapjacks are a bit of a hotch potch of things I had to use up in the cupboard, but I love love love the finished result. Peanuts will definitely be making a welcome reappearance in flapjacks again.

Fruit and nut flapjacks

makes 16

175g oats
35g chopped pecans
40g halved peanuts
70g dried cranberries
70g currants
140g butter
25g golden syrup
125g light brown sugar
teaspoon vanilla paste (optional)

Grease and line a suitable tin with baking parchment, I lined my brownie tin. Preheat the oven to 160C/FAN 140C.

Put the oats, nuts and fruit into a bowl. Gently heat the butter, sugar and golden syrup until melted. Mix into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. Tip the flapjack mixture into the prepared tin, level and lightly press down with the back of a spoon. 
Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until lightly golden.
Leave to cool in the pan, when cool remove and cut into squares. 
These flapjacks keep in an airtight tin very well, and are robust enough to transport to work for an afternoon snack.
The vanilla in this is completely optional but I like the subtle hint of it in my flapjack. The total weight of fruit and  nuts in this recipe is 215g, as long as you keep to roughly this weight you could ring the changes with as many fruit and nut combos as you can think of! 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Viennese fingers with Victoria plum jam and Vanilla filling

For this months alpha bake challenge the random letter generator picked 'V'. Initially the brain goes into panic 'V', 'V'? But nothing beginning with V. Once you have told your brain off and are calm again you begin to realise just how much does begin with V.

And then of course the problem is deciding what to make. I really wanted to make a Victoria plum tart, but it is June and the plums will not be in season till September. So that was that idea done. Then it hit me, I could have my Victoria plums, not in tart form, but in the form of Jam!

I have also been wanting to make Viennese biscuits for ages but have never quite got round to it. Now is definitely the perfect time. Finally I decided to go for the triple whammy and add vanilla into the mix.

And here we have it, my entry for this months alpha bake, Viennese fingers with Victoria plum jam and Vanilla filling!

Alpha bakes is a monthly blogging challenge hosted, in turn, by Caroline from Caroline makes and Ros from the more than occasional baker. This month the host is Ros, anyone can join in, pop over to their blogs for all the rules and this months letter!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

White chocolate and pecan blondies

Ugh. I like what I do, really I do, but you know those days where everything just goes wrong? And it just gets worse and worse and spreads into your everyday life until you cannot walk down the street without falling off the kerb? Yep, that was my day yesterday. Never mind this set of lovelies was going to combine into baking magic and hopefully cheer me right up.

Why are my eggs in a jug? I dropped the egg box, three eggs had to be salvaged immediately, Told you it was one of those days.

I have never made blondies before and looking at recipes they seem to be split into two camps. Those that use melted white chocolate and those that use just brown sugar to flavour them. I do not know which camp is 'right', if any, but I went with the chocolate camp.

I did tweak the recipe though, I lowered the sugar a little as I thought that they would be very sweet already. I also stole ideas from the brown sugar camp and used some light brown sugar instead of all caster sugar.

White chocolate and pecan blondies (adapted from hummingbird bakery)

150g white chocolate
125g butter
100g caster sugar
30g light brown sugar
2 eggs
200g plain flour
100g shelled pecan nuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 170C/150 FAN and grease and line a brownie tin.

Place a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Place the butter and chocolate into the bowl and leave to melt.

Stir the sugars into the melted mixture until well combined. The mixture will look curdled and split at this point, do not panic, all will be well. Add the eggs and beat quickly, the mixture should come back together. 

Add the flour and chopped nuts and stir until all the flour is incorporated and the the nuts are evenly dispersed. 

Pour into prepared brownie tin and level. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes.

Leave to cool in the tin before removing and cutting into squares. 

A few notes. I used a tin with pretty much the same overall measurements as the recipe and found the blondies to be quite shallow. First of all this affected the coking time in my oven, I took them out after 22 minutes. Make sure you keep an eye on them. They are rich so shallow is not necessarily a problem but I do like that fudgy centre bit you get in deep brownies. I may up the recipe by half when I make them again. Clearly the number of blondies you get depends on how large you cut them! 

I think these are amazing. It took a lot of self restraint not to sit and eat the entire tin. M likes them but is not overly keen on pecans so I need to think of some variations. I was wondering about salted peanuts to combat the sweetness? We shall see.  

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Pineapple and coconut cupcakes

The sun has finally come out! Time for some sunny baking to accompany it.

This is a slightly tweaked recipe from the hummingbird bakery cookbook. The tweaks did not alter the amount of ingredients so I was very surprised at the amount of batter I got. I have normally found that when a hummingbird recipe says makes 12 cupcakes it means 14-16! I halved this recipe to make 6 but honestly think I would have been better making 4. I do not think it is my liners as I have not had this issue with other cupcake recipes. Just something to bear in mind if you make these, they will either be smaller, or you will end up with less then you expect.

The cakes themselves are light and fluffy, their size appears to be totally down to amount of batter, they have not sunk and become dense and heavy, quite the opposite. The pineapple and coconut combo helps keep them really moist. They have a subtle background coconut flavour and the pineapple is a nice contrast. The frosting is lovely and light. I would personally love to pack a little more coconut flavour into the frosting, but adding too much more coconut milk is going to alter the consistency too much I fear. 

Definitely a cupcake I will be making again, I just will not be halving the recipe next time!

Pineapple and coconut cupcake (adapted from hummingbird bakery)

makes 12

80g plain flour
40g self raising flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
140g caster sugar
40g butter
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
120ml coconut milk
1 egg
180g crushed pineapple, drained

250 icing sugar
80g butter
40ml coconut milk
dessicated coconut to decorate.

Preheat the oven to 170C/150F and line a cupcake tin with cases.

Add the flours, baking powder, sugar and butter to a bowl. Beat until the mix comes together and looks 'sandy'.

Add the coconut milk and vanilla paste and beat until the mixture comes together. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. 

Finally stir in just over half the pineapple.

Put a little pineapple into the bottom of each case. Top with batter until each case is 2/3 full. Bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden and springy when lightly pressed. 

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

When the cupcakes are fully cool, they can be frosted. Beat the butter and icing sugar until they start to come together, add the coconut milk and continue to beat for ~5 minutes until very light and white in colour. Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes and sprinkle with dessicated coconut. 

p.s. I promise to try very hard to not mention the weather in my next post, this is in danger of becoming some sort of British weather blog.

p.p.s I will of course have to mention the weather if we get a blizzard mid june...

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Cheesy buttermilk scones

I lamented about the weather in my last post, I am STILL lamenting. I am not necessarily asking for a heatwave, just dry would be a start. Anyway enough complaining, all you really need to know is that the weather prompted a craving for comforting warm food, soup and cheese scones fitted the bill perfectly.

I had buttermilk to use up from a beyond disastrous attempt at red velvet cupcakes. And I mean disastrous, I do not mean they were not red enough, I do not mean they were not moist enough, and I do not mean that the frosting was runny, these are what other people on the internet mean when they say they turned out disastrous. Mine did not cook, at all. The top formed a vague thin crust but underneath it just kept bubbling and bubbling but never baking, it 'boiled' (for want of a better word) so much that the mix escaped the liners and covered my cupcake tin. It looked like a scene from Alien. More on the disaster in another post, as yes they will make an appearance on here, but, hopefully, only once I know what went wrong. A before and after post, if you will.

Anyway I have digressed, weather horrible, buttermilk to use up, cheese scones the answer.

Cheesy buttermilk scones

makes between 6-12 depending on cutter size

150g self raising flour
1 1/2/ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt,
pinch of cayenne
75g of cheese
1/2 beaten egg
65ml buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp oil

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C FAN. 

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the egg buttermilk and oil together and add to the bowl of dry ingredients.

Bring the mix together into a dough, adding a splash more milk if it is too dry. 

On a floured surface pat the dough to ~1/2cm thick. Fold in half and pat lightly. Cut out as many scones as possible. re-pat out the trimmings to use all the dough up. 

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. 

Best enjoyed warm with butter, or as an accompaniment to soup.

They are fine warmed through the next day. When I make them again I think I will add 1 tbsp of parmesan in with the dry ingredients to really ramp up the cheese favour.


Friday, 15 June 2012

Puff pastry

I while back I went on a pasty course, very fun, though I did have pastry overload for a while!

As part of the course we made puff pastry, it is actually very easy, it takes a little care and time but not as much as I had been led to believe.

We baked half of our pastry and assembled mille feuille on the day. The rest we brought home. I kept it in the fridge and a few days later when I could once again face pastry I  used it to make a venison pie.

I have to admit, I was very proud of my puff pastry, it had lots of light layers and tasted absolutely divine.
Look at the layers!
I am not saying I will never buy shop puff pastry again, but with a little careful planning and when I have the time I will definitely be making it again in the future.

Sorry there are no pictures yet of the pastry as it is made, only the final products. I will add them as soon as I make pastry again.

Puff pastry

225g plain flour
pinch of salt
30g lard
85-135ml ice cold water
150g unsalted butter, remove from fridge ten minutes before baking

Sift the flour with the salt into a large bowl. Cut the lard into small cubes and rub in with your fingertips. Nb. If you are a vegetarian you can use cold butter in place of the lard.

Add just over half the water and mix with a knife to form a soft, but not sticky, dough, adding more water if it is a little dry. Use the fingers of one hand to bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 20-30 minutes.

Dust the work surface with a little flour and roll in dough into a long rectangle, making it twice as long as it is wide, make sure you keep the edges nice and square, this is important. 

In the middle of your rectangle of dough roll out two inch wide 'ears' ~ 5cm in length.

Wrap the butter in greaseproof paper and tap, using a rolling pin, into a flattened block, the same width as the pastry and about a third long. Put the butter in the middle of the pastry and fold the ears aver it. Bring the top half of the pastry to cover the butter and then the bottom of half of the pastry up to cover the pastry that covers the butter. Like folding a letter into 3. Turn the pastry 90 degrees, so it is like a book with the spine on the left.

Tap the pastry with the rolling pin to flatten the butter a little and then roll out until the pastry is 3 times long as it is wide. Again always ensure the corners a kept square (you can pull them into shape). Fold evenly in 3 again, bring the top over and then the bottom. Always brush excess flour off the pastry as you fold it. Turn 90 degrees before rolling and folding again.

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill for 15 minutes. Roll and fold the pastry twice more, remember to turn 90 degrees before rolling and start with the 'spine' on your left. Chill for another 15 minutes and then roll and fold a final time. 

The pastry is then ready for use. It will keep in the fridge for a few days and can also be frozen.

Mille feuilles 

For 3 rather large mille feuille I used half of the pastry outlined above.

Preheat the  oven to 220C/200C FAN.

On a floured surface roll the pastry into a thin rectangle ~30 by 20cm. Place on a baking sheet and prick all over with a fork, chill for ~ 15 minutes.

Bake in the oven till golden, between 15-20 minutes. When done remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

Once cool trim the edges to form a perfect rectangle. Cut the pastry into 3 equal strips and then cut these strips into 3. Reserve the best looking 3 for the tops!

You can now assemble your mille feuilles with whatever takes your fancy. In the class we used lightly whipped cream and jam. Cream, jam and fresh fruit would also be lovely. I think cream and lemon curd with blueberries would be a good future combination to try. You can also top them with glace icing. Let you imagination run wild!

I kept the remainder of my pastry in the fridge for 3 days and then used it to top a venison pie.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Cinder toffee biscuits

It may be true that these little biscuits are better suited to autumn, with thoughts of wrapping up warm, crunching through leaves and bonfires. It may also be true that June calls out for fruity seasonal delights suited to warm clear days.

But this is Scotland, its June yes, but it is grey, miserable and raining. I just do not have the heart for summery baking, and so cinder toffee biscuits it is.

I have never made cinder toffee before but it is surprisingly easy. If you like crunchies you will love these biscuits. Crunchy biscuits with a chocolate centre, topped with chocolate and homemade cinder toffee, these lovlies are enough to cheer up any rainy day.

Cinder toffee biscuits (adapted very slightly form Miranda Gore Browne, Biscuit)

For the biscuit

150g butter
50g caster sugar
50g brown sugar
15g golden syrup
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
240g plain flour
75g chopped milk chocolate
75g milk chocolate

For the cinder toffee

70g caster sugar
10g golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180/160 FAN, and line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan until just boiling then take off the heat. Mix the milk and bicarbonate of soda together and stir into the pan. 

Weigh the flour into a separate bowl and add the melted mix to the flour, stiring with a wooden spoon until combined.

Roll the mixture into 20 balls and flatten each one to a disc.

Add a little of the chopped chocolate.

Reseal into a ball and put seam side down onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to fully cool. 

To make the cinder toffee first line a shallow baking tray with baking paper and put by the hob. Melt the sugar and golden syrup together in a pan and allow to boil, cook for 2 minutes or so until golden. 

Add the bicarbonate of soda and stir well, the mixture will bubble up. Very quickly pour into the prepared tray. Allow to cool, about 15 minutes, and then snap into pieces.

Once the biscuits are cool, melt the remaining chocolate and spread a teaspoonful on top of each biscuit. Sprinkle with the cinder toffee.

Keep any remaining cinder toffee in a sealed container.

These are delicious and I dare you to try and stop at just one!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Peanut and salted caramel cupcakes - Cupcake book club

This months book for the cupcake book club was Rosie Hopkins sweet shop of dreams. I loved the book, especially as it is set in two different time periods. The only downside of the book is that I had constant pick and mix cravings!

Deciding on a cupcake to make was a little harder, I was not going to make a liquorice or aniseed flavoured one that's for sure. The book does talk about peanut brittle and soft caramels a lot and so I combined the two to come up with my cupcake.

I made a peanut butter cupcake with a salted caramel centre. I topped it with salted caramel buttercream and homemade peanut brittle.

Slight confession, I did not make my own caramel. I used dulce de leche from a jar, heated it in a bowl over simmering water and added in sea salt until I decided the caramel had been salted enough. It was delicious and I had already stickyed up enough pans making the brittle.

Confession number two, the first time I made the brittle I did not let the caramel get quite hot enough and decided to put it BACK on the heat AFTER I had added the butter. I did not end up with brittle. More of a fudgy/tablet thing with peanuts in, still, someone who shall remain nameless is polishing it off so its not all bad. My second brittle was much better!

Peanut and salted caramel cupcakes

makes 12

For the brittle

90g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
25ml water
65g peanuts (I used salted)
10g butter
2g baking powder

For the cupcakes

75g butter
130g peanut butter (I used crunchy)
100g caster sugar 
75g brown sugar 
1 tsp vanilla paste 
2 eggs 
120g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder 
60ml milk 

dulce de leche (about 2/3s of a jar)
sea salt 

For the frosting

80g butter
250g butter
2 tablespoons milk
reserved caramel

Peanut brittle

Have everything weighed out ready before you start and butter a baking sheet.

Put the sugar, golden syrup and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Once boiling add the peanuts, keep boiling, stirring frequently until a sugar thermometer reads 150C. If, like me, you do not have a sugar thermometer drop a little of the caramel into cold water, it is ready when it forms very hard, brittle strands. 

Take of the heat and immediately stir in the butter and baking powder. Tip onto your prepared sheet and leave to cool.

Once cool snap into pieces. 

Peanut and salted caramel cupcakes

Line a cupcake/muffin tin with liners and preheat the oven to 180C/160C FAN.

Cream the butter, peanut butter, sugars and vanilla paste together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl in-between.

Mix the flour with the baking powder and add a third of it to the butter mix. Mix utill combined then add a third of the milk and mix until combined. Continue this way until all the flour and milk has been incorporated.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until golden and springy.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling sort out the caramel. Place a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and add the dulce de leche to the bowl. Heat gently and add a little sea salt. Stir to dissolve and incorporate the salt. Taste. Add a little more salt a pinch at a time. When the caramel is salted to your liking, stop.

Set the caramel aside to cool.

When the cakes are fully cold, make a little hollow in each one, reserving the cone.

Fill the hole you have just created with the (cooled) salted caramel. Pop the cone back in, trimming it to fit. 

For the frosting, beat the butter and sugar until it comes together (yes I know, the icing sugar will go everywhere). Add the milk a tablespoon at a time and continue beating until very light and fluffy. Beat in the caramel a spoonful at a time until it is incorporated and the frosting tastes enough of caramel for your liking.

Top the cupcakes with the frosting, I used a palette knife, and a piece of the brittle.  Enjoy.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Banana and peanut cookies

Phew, busy busy week, such a back log of things to post. I will start with these cookies.

Once a banana gets a few freckles, that is it, I cannot eat it. I had two that did not pass my test and so I left them in a corner to become super ripe. When the time came to bake with them I did not want banana bread (a rarity, even I was surprised at myself) so I decided to make a banana cookie.

I was also super tired and so packed the cookie with lots of energy giving ingredients. Bananas. Obviously. Tennis players are always eating them. Peanuts, nuts are packed full of energy. And oats, lots of slow release energy goodness in these. Yes I know I am trying to make the cookies sound good for you. Which they are, they are good for the soul.

Now I know these are banana and peanut cookies but I did not buy peanuts, oops. So I put in reeces peanut butter chips instead. These are nice and I would put them in again, but as the cookie is a soft one I would also add chopped peanuts for a nice texture contrast.

These cookies are quick to make and have a nice strong banana flavour, the peanut really works well with the banana, its a fab combination.

Banana and peanut cookies

makes around 24

150g softened butter
175g light brown sugar
tsp vanilla paste
1 egg
2 very ripe bananas mashed
150g plain flour
250g oats
peanut butter chips and/or chopped peanuts 50g in total

Preheat the oven to 170C/150C FAN, and butter and flour two baking sheets

Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg followed by the banana.

Mashed banana, perhaps not the prettiest...
Add the flour and mix to combine. Finally stir in the oats and peanut chips. 

Drop rounded tablespoons of the mix onto the baking sheet, leaving a gap between them to allow for spreading. Press the rounds down slightly and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Leave to cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

These cookies are a different take on the classic banana bread and are fabulous straight from the oven but they will keep in a tin for at least 3 days (I do not know if they last longer, they did not survive past day 3...)