Friday, 25 December 2009

Friday, 11 December 2009

Meringue Christmas Tree Cookies

Well they're not really cookies as such, but you can pick them up with one hand and eat them so 'cookies' will do for me.

Start off by preheating the oven to 100C (80C for fan assisted) and beat four egg whites until stiff peaks form. I used a stand mixer but you could use an electric whisk or even do it by hand if you're feeling energetic.

Once the eggs are stiffly beaten, whisk in 250g caster sugar and beat until the meringue is glossy.

Next put the meringue mixture into a piping bag (it really is easier to do these in a piping bag rather than trying to spoon it onto the tray and make a tree shape).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat and pipe Christmas tree shapes by zigzagging back and forth.

You can pipe these really close together because meringues don't spread.

Now pop the tray in the oven and basically forget about them for two hours. It doesn't really matter what size you make the trees, it'll still take about two hours.

Once they're ready take the tray out of the oven and lift the trees straight off to cool down. They actually only take about ten minutes to cool so you can spend the time getting your decorations together.

Yes, there is a sneaky snowman up in the top left corner:)

We used blue and pink icing 'tinsel' on our trees, but you could use anything really. Dip them in chocolate (but wait til it cools a fair bit), cover in sprinkles add a shake of edible glitter or sandwich two together with fresh cream and strawberry jam in the middle, anything goes really with meringue.

And enjoy them.

With 20/20 hindsight, I should have been making these all year. You can freeze them undecorated, they keep for months and months in the freezer and they're a great way to use up any eggs that are close to their best before date because old eggs make better meringue than fresh.

I should plan ahead more next year.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

A Quick Q & A

Just popping in to brush away the cobwebs, don't mind me.

I had a little plunder through my analytics today for the first time in months probably and I noticed that quite a few people find this little kitchen of mine by asking questions that I've yet to answer.

So I'll get right down to it...

"Why does my Victoria Sandwich Cake break at the edges"

The most likely reason is that it is sticking to the cake pan. I use a recipe I found on Recipezaar which is just one part solid vegetable fat or shortening, one part vegetable oil and two parts plain flour (you can replace the flour with cocoa for a chocolate cake). Beat these three ingredients together and store in an airtight container, it keeps for eons in the fridge so you can make big batches and you just use it to grease your cake pans. Superglue couldn't stick to this stuff.

The other thing that will cause a cake to crumble is not enough egg in the recipe. You really need egg to make a good cake and I always use this simple recipe to make sure that there is exactly the right amount of egg in my cakes every single time.

But in the end if your cake tastes great nobody is going to care if it looks a little shabby round the edges. Your going to eat your cake, not frame it.

"Boiling potatoes in their jackets"

Yes you can, in fact it's about the only fool proof way to boil floury potatoes like British Queens without ending up with a pot of potato soup. Don't prick them or anything like that, but do start them off in cold water and bring it up to the boil with the potatoes already in the pot. This way the potatoes cook evenly the whole way through and you don't wind up with perfectly cooked innards and watery edges. Invest in a good potato ricer and you can even make mashed potatoes and the ricer reserves all of the skins which you can just discard. All of the goodness and none of those icky brown bits that kids will wrinkle their noses at.

You'll also thank yourself for buying that potato ricer when you're making banana bread and wrist deep in 20 mashed bananas because "they were on sale".

"Cake overflow, will it ruin the cake"

Not a chance. I've done it often enough myself.

When it has happened to me and if it's a plain cake (purely for the sake of having a cake in the house) I tend to get it out of the pan and spread jam over the top while it's still warm and then sprinkle coconut over the jam. I remember it from school dinners when I was a kid and my love it when they get a slice of 'cake gone wrong' and a pouring of custard over the top.

If your plan was to decorate the cake, I've had some success in just trimming away what is overlapping the edges of the cake pan, the same way you would trim excess pastry away from a pie dish and leave the top of the cake as intact as possible. The more of the cake's crust you remove the more structural integrity it will lose and there's a good chance that the weight of any icing or frosting will make the cake collapse.

"Can I make a pavlova without an oven"

Now this I genuinely don't know. At least I've never heard of anyone making a pavlova without an oven.

What I know you can do without an oven is make Italian meringue. The ingredients are exactly the same as for normal meringue. The difference is that you start off with the four egg whites in you mixer or if you're using a handheld whisk have them ready to go and forming firm peaks before going any further.

What you then want to do is put 500g of white sugar and 100ml of water in a heavy based pot and boil the sugar until it reaches 115C (240F) it will just barely be changing colour at that stage and then all the while whisking the egg whites add the sugar to the egg whites in a thin steady stream and you have meringue. You can pile it up and colour the outside with a blow lamp for a brulee like crust or float a couple of spoonfuls on top of hot chocolate.

"if pavlova cools too quickly"

I'm about the least patient person I know and while a pavlova that is left in the oven until it is completely cold (even if it takes four incredibly long hours) is the best pavlova in my opinion, the only difference I've noticed in whipping it out of the oven after about 15 minutes cooling time is that it sometimes cracks a lot more (hey, its not like it's going where it's going completely unscathed any way) and the inside is more mallowy than the chewy almost toffee like centre that allowing it to cool in the oven gives you. Not a bad thing in my book. If you need it quickly, get it out of the oven.

"How to store pavlova"

Freeze it. Pavlova bases freeze perfectly. Well, actually that's something of a lie, they don't really freeze they just get very cold and sit there in the freezer and I swear you could lift it out and be eating it in 10 minutes. You can leave them in there for months as well, no harm will come to them and it means you can have a few sitting ready to go so that you don't have to worry about taking them out of the oven early and cooling too quickly.

"Using chocolate chips in baking"

Don't!!!!! I mean it, don't even go there. I mean what are we talking about really to be able to use lovely, good chocolate that you've chopped yourself? Two minutes. Two minutes and you don't have to use icky chocolate that's full of stabilisers and rarely tastes anything like real chocolate, big bags of chocolate chips wouldn't look too much like chocolate chips if it weren't for all the additives.

And then you can kiss goodbye to the two minutes you saved on making the cookies when you have to spend ten scraping the kids off the ceiling or coaxing them off the top of a wardrobe where they're rocking back and forth going "fehumana humana humana".

The less additives the better if you ask me.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Raspberry and Coconut Breakfast Bars

My poor husband has been badly in need of a breakfast now that the cooler mornings are rolling in, but unfortunately he's just not the kind of person that can stomach eating at 7.00am.

So I needed something that I could send him out the door with in the morning, something that would hold together well in a lunchbox and more importantly something that I could throw together once or twice a week and not have to worry about sorting something out from scratch each morning.

These breakfast bars are perfect for the job.

They hold together perfectly and because they're dense and almost a little fudgy you don't need much to send you on your way during the day. They're not too sweet either which is perfect for my husband because he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth.

They're also the simplest and quickest bars ever to throw together and they keep really well in an airtight container.

You will need;

4 cups of rolled porridge oats, the quick cook variety.
1 cup coconut (I used dessicated and shredded is fine too)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup melted butter
1 cup warm jam (in this case raspberry)

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F or 160C fan assisted).

I measured out my butter and jam into a microwaveable dish and heated it for a minute to melt everything. I keep my jam in the fridge, but if you don't then you don't really need to worry about warming it, as long as you can mix it into the oats.

Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix until completely combined. This doesn't take long at all.

Press the mixture into a well greased (and lined if you prefer) 9 x 13 inch pan (10 x 12, a couple of 8 x 8's whatever you happen to have on hand) and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, the bars will be golden in colour and the jammy bits will have darkened slightly. Allow the bars to cool in the pan for 20-30 minutes before turning out and cutting with a sharp knife. I cut this batch into 15 bars, although I think cutting into 18 will still give a good sized bar. One of these is plenty for Chloe and I although Robert will happily munch through two at a time.

One the bars are completely cool, store them in an airtight container and use for breakfasts and lunches through the week, repeat as necessary.

I've tried these so far with raspberry jam and orange marmalade and both work really well. I think blackberry or bramble jelly would also work really well in these bars although if were to use strawberry I may cut the sugar down to 2/3 or 3/4 cup to help balance the sweetness.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Gingerbread with Lemon Icing

You just have to have gingerbread at this time of year, don't you? Now I'm talking about gingerbread cake here rather than gingerbread biscuits.

The cake is very easy to make, although I will admit that it does leave a few more dirty dishes than my usual cakes (ie one bowl and a cake tin), for this one you will also need a good heavy pot, you can do it with a lighter one too, but you will have to stand over it and stir constantly to avoid it catching on the bottom.

For this cake you will need;

150g butter
125g dark brown sugar
200g golden syrup
200g treacle (don't worry if these two aren't exact, its near impossible to weigh while pouring it from the tin)
1tsp grated fresh ginger
1tsp ground ginger (dried)
2tsp ground cinnamon
250ml milk
2 eggs, beaten
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
300g plain flour

Preheat your oven to 170C (150C for fan assisted).

Sieve the plain flour and bicarb into a large bowl;

Put the butter, sugar, syrup, treacle and spices into your heaviest pot and melt over a low/medium heat, stirring to make sure the sugars don't catch on the bottom of the pot, if they do catch dump it and start again because the finished cake will just taste burnt even from the smallest catch.

Once melted, remove from the heat for a minute or two. It should look thick and glossy, like melted chocolate;

Add the milk to the sugar mixture first to cool it and then add the beaten eggs, while stirring.

Then just pour this mixture into the bowl along with the flour and bicarb and mix well to combine. Pour the mixture into a well greased (and lined if you prefer) large cake tin. The one pictured below is a 12 inch tin.

Put the cake immediately into the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Test the cake after 45 minutes. It will be ready when moist crumbs stick to the skewer when testing. It is a very moist cake. Invert the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.

I always use wooden skewers, so you may have less sticking to a metal skewer but the crumbs should look something like this.

Once the cake has completely cooled, mix up a quick batch of lemon icing using;

200g icing sugar
1-2tbls lemon juice

make an incredibly light and free flowing icing sugar which accepts a little more liquid than other brands like McKinney's or Tate & Lyle which are a often a lot more compacted (and in my mind already contain a little moisture because they're packed in paper rather than plastic). Start off by adding just 1 tablespoon, you want the icing quite thick but still spreadable, add as much as another tablespoon of lemon juice if needed. I find it depends on the brand, SilverspoonSilverspoon is always my very first choice when it comes to baking for all sugars.

Spread the lemon icing across the top of the cake and (if you can contain yourself) although to set somewhat before serving.

**Update - Since baking this cake I have baked it again, except this time I divided the batter into two 1 pound loaf tins and baked them for 35-40 minutes. I didn't ice the cakes and instead served them thickly sliced and spread with good butter. I really enjoyed the gingerbread loaves as did the rest of the family and I'll be making them this way a lot more often, perhaps with a little less milk and a little bit of grated raw apples added to the batter. I'll let you know how that one works out.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Strawberry Pavlova

Because when you think about it you can always whip this up, pull the curtains, turn on the travel channel and pretend the sun is shining.

Pavlova is pretty easy to make. If you've tried before without success though chances are you need to up the amount of sugar in the recipe and always remember to leave the pavlova in the oven to cool, yes it takes ages, but it just isn't the same otherwise.

Start off by preheating your oven to 180C and lining a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a sheet of silpat, whichever you have handy. Foil, greaseproof paper or just greasing the tray don't work very well for pavlova. I use a large round pizza sheet for mine, but nobody ever said pavlova had to be round so if all you have is a regular square or rectangular sheet, go with that.

Next gather your ingredients together. You will need;

4 large egg whites
250g caster sugar (you can use unrefined caster which adds a slight caramel taste)
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a carton of double or whipping cream (I know that's a bit obscure but whatever happens to be available in roughly a half pint carton will do the trick)
fruit to top (in this case strawberry)

Now, I haven't taken photos of every step because it would just look like a load of photos of a bowl of white fluff...

Start off with just the egg white in a clean bowl. It really needs to be clean and free of any oil, to be sure pour a little lemon juice or white vinegar onto a clean cloth or paper towel and wipe the inside of the bowl.

Beat the egg white on high speed until they are stiff, you can test them by tipping the bowl upside down over your head if you like.

Next, with the egg whites still beating, add the sugar about a quarter at a time.

This is where it's handy to have a big mixer. Walk away. Yep, that's right walk away and leave it beating. Its quite easy to assume that once the sugar is incorporated into the egg white that it's finished, but you need to leave it beating until you can take a pinch of the mixture between your fingers, rub it and not feel any sugar. Trust me if you try to stand there and watch the machine, you'll get bored, impatient and end up moving on too quickly.

Once all the sugar has dissolved into the egg whites, add the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and beat it again for another minute.

Once you've done all that, the mixture will look soft and shiny.

Next take your lined tray and pile the pavlova mixture into the centre then spread it out into a rough circle. You don't have to be particularly delicate with pavlova in the way that you do with a souffle, just make sure to leave a couple of inches around the outside of the pavlova because these things can grow a fair bit in the oven.

Place the pavlova in the preheated oven and as soon as you close the door, turn the temperature down to 150C. Bake the pavlova at 150c for 1 hour 15 minutes. Once the pavlova is baked, turn the oven on, leave the door closed and walk away.

See what I mean about growing. After a couple of hours the pavlova should be cool (or very nearly at least) and you can remove it from the oven.

To serve invert the pavlova onto a plate. This way you have the light crispy shell on the bottom and outside edges, a bit like a pie shell, but the soft, chewy, mallow bit is in the middle. You can see from the photo below that once you have inverted the pavlova there is usually a crater in what is now the top.

Which is perfect for filling with whipped cream and strawberries.

I usually don't bother to sweeten the cream, but you can do so easily enough by adding a teaspoon or two of icing sugar when you're whipping the cream.

A couple of good variations for pavlova are;

Mashed bananas beaten into the whipped cream, pile it in the centre and top with chopped nuts and finally drizzle with melted dark chocolate. The good thing about this one is that it will cost you about the same amount of money to make all year round whereas a punnet of (crap, spongy, tasteless) strawberries in winter can set you back as much as £10.

You can also replace the caster sugar with golden caster and add 2 tbls of treacle to the pavlova mixture before baking. Once cooled, top the pavlova with hot chopped apples sauteed in a little butter, brown sugar and cinnamon before drizzling with cold cream for another gorgeous winter dessert that tastes a little bit like the toffee apples your granny used to make, but you haven't quite managed the knack of yet.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Coffee Cupcakes

This is my daughter's favourite cake in the whole world. When the weather is miserable, as it is today we make cake and these are her first choice each and every time.

I should start off by explaining that I recently realised that in the US a coffee cake is a cake eaten with coffee and that it could be a plain sponge cake, a flavoured cake such as cinnamon flop or even something like crumb cake whereas here in the UK a coffee cake is a cake flavoured with coffee traditionally a sandwich cake with coffee flavoured butter cream and topped with chocolate vermicelli.

These cupcakes are a variation of that recipe

Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and gather your ingredients;

Start off with a two egg simple sponge recipe, weigh the eggs and add the same weight of sugar, butter and self raising flour. Add to that 1 tbls espresso or any strong coffee and 1/2 tsp baking powder.

Put all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and beat for a few minutes until pale and fluffy.

Line a muffin tin and divide the batter between 12 liners then bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes.

Transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack and leave to cool completely before frosting.

Place 3 oz butter and 6 oz icing sugar in a large bowl and beat until creamy, add to that 1 tsp strong coffee and beat again until well combined.

Top the cupcakes with the frosting in which ever way you find easiest. I tend to put it in a bag and pipe it on, or if you prefer you can spoon it on or turn the cupcakes upside down and dip them in the frosting.

I topped these cupcakes with chocolate curls instead of the chocolate vermicelli because I just like the look of the little curls on top.

And this would be a 4 year old sized bite, rather than a mummy sized bite.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Ultimate Chocolate Brownies

No frills, spills, faff or frosting just deep, dark, fudgy, chocolate goodness.

Now, I'm not actually allowed to make brownies any more unless I make enough to go around so this recipe makes a lot of brownies but its pretty easy to cut the recipe down if you're trying to be good. Honestly though, I would and probably could eat this entire batch myself. I'm not saying I'm going, just that I could. Besides if you're going to fall off the wagon anyway, sure you might as well jump.

Start off by preheating your oven to 180C (350F) or 160C if your oven is fan assisted, then gather together your ingredients.

375g dark chocolate
375g butter (unsalted if you have it but if you don't just omit the salt in this recipe)
500g caster sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt (only if using unsalted butter)

Start by putting the butter and chocolate into a heavy based pan and put over a low heat to start melting.

Like so...

While that gets going put the sugar, eggs and vanilla into a large bowl (bigger than the one I started with).

Beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla until combined but you don't need to go light and fluffy with brownies just make sure its all mixed together.

Your chocolate and butter should be pretty much melted by now. I tend to turn off the heat when there are still a few lumps and just swirl it in the pan until they melt. Allow the chocolate and butter to cool slightly, it doesn't exactly need to be cold or even room temperature, just bear in mind that if its too hot you will cook the eggs and you don't want to do that.

Once the chocolate has cooled a little start by drizzling the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture whilst whisking the eggs, once you've added about half the chocolate this way you can start to just glug it in there, but still keep whisking.

Next add your flour and salt (if using) and use the whisk again to get it mixed in. Brownies aren't like muffins you do need to make sure the mixture is smooth.

Now for the pan. We like our brownies tall around here so I use a 10 x10 inch pan for them, although for regular depth brownies stick to the 13 x 9 inch pan. Line the pan first with foil or parchment paper and then pour the brownie batter into the pan.

brownies and 40 minutes for If you use the 10 x 13 inch pan bake the brownies for 25 - 40 minutes. I know that sounds like a huge gap in times but 25 minutes will give you gooey brownies, 30-35 minutes for fudgycakey brownies, to each there own and all that.

Because I used the 10 x 10 my brownies took 1 hr 10 mins for fudgy, shave about 10-15 off this for gooey and add the same amount of time for cakey ones. See, simple as!

Let the brownies cool in the pan (I know) for about half an hour before turning them out. If you went for gooey brownies I would suggest leaving them to cool completely in the pan as there's a certain amount of "setting" involved in the really gooey ones and you don't want to risk them falling apart, or worse still a steam burn while trying to get them out of the pan.

Once the brownies have cooled, cut them into as many pieces as you like, bite sized pieces, big flat slabs whatever takes your fancy.

Dust them with a little icing sugar to get across the idea of the craggy surface on top in the photographs although the icing sugar is completely unnecessary:)

Open mouth, cram in entire brownie, lather, rinse, repeat.


Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Raspberry and Lemon Oat Bars

These bars were inspired by MTM's recipe for Scotch Squares. You should definitely give the original recipe a try as well as this one.

My only real reason for fiddling with the recipe at all was because a) the hubs likes to grab one of these for breakfast in the morning and he has something against eating chocolate for breakfast (yes you heard me right MTM has chocolate in her recipe, but if you go there now without reading this one first I'll know) and b) I originally made them with crushed raspberries just because I had a mountain of them in the freezer after a mammoth berry picking session.

Firstly you'll need to preheat your oven to 180C (350F and gather together your ingredients which are;

1 cup melted butter
1/2 brown sugar (I tend to cut this down to about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup plain flour
2 1/2 cups of rolled oats (the regular porridge oat variety are perfect)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup of good raspberry jam

Reserve half a cup of oats and set to one side along with the raspberry jam.

Place all remaining ingredients into a large bowl and combine using a spoon or spatula. You don't need an electric beater for this as it's very light and quick work.

Once you have all of ingredients combined, take half a cup of the mixture and put in a separate bowl along with the reserved half cup of rolled oats and use a fork or your hands to combine. This will give you a crumblier mixture than the first.

Place the original oat mixture into a lined and greased 9 X13 pan (mine is actually about 8 X 12 but it all comes out in the wash) .

Press the oat mixture down quite firmly, making sure the mixture is pretty even and the corners are well filled (they're the best bit).

Next take the half cup of raspberry jam and spread it over the surface of the oat mixture. If, like me, you keep your jam in the fridge then stick it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to loosen it up.

Once the jam has been spread out, take the bowl of crumbly oat mixture and sprinkle it over the top of the jam. This actually works out easier to do if you grab a handful at a time and rub it between the palms of your hands over the top of the pan. It gives a more even coating that way.

You'll notice that I've also sprinkled over a few tbls of coconut just because I can't stop myself from adding coconut to everything at the minute. You don't need to add this and this was my first attempt at adding it in there, but it did turn out pretty damn good.

Then place the pan into your preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and the jam has deepened in colour.

Remove the pan from the oven and leave to cool for about 20 minutes in the pan before scoring into roughly 2 inch squares. Leave (if you can) to cool completely in the pan before serving.

These bars are lovely, light and a little crumbly but they do stand up quite well to the lunch box test.

I may try replacing a small amount of the sugar with golden syrup next time which would make for a sturdier bar and if I have any success with this I'll let you know.

I'd be pretty confident that these would be just as good using strawberry jam or apple sauce in place of the raspberry, or even (nominess) bramble jelly, oh I wish I'd had bramble jelly. Next time!

I'd love to hear any other variations on this recipe that have worked for you. Its such a good base for just about anything.

Thanks MTM for the original inspiration.