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.