Saturday, 27 December 2014

Honeyed Apple and Almond Kugelhopf

I know, it's been a while. I've been busy with Christmas and all the eating and drinking that goes along with it.

Especially the eating. Trust me, there is very little I want to do less right now than write my baking blog.

Like last year, I didn't have much time off work before Christmas. I finished work at around 2pm on Christmas Eve, with just enough time to go for a quick drink with colleagues before heading to my parents' house in Surrey.

So to ease the pain of us poor souls who had to work right up to the time when Santa was readying his sleigh, I made a apple and cinnamon kugelhopf (or gugelhupf in Germany, I believe) for the office.

This gave me a welcome opportunity to road test my bundt tin, which I bought in Lidl a while ago. It worked marvellously. This was also the first time I made a yeast leavened cake and it was lovely, so well done me.

The only problem was, this being a yeast leavened cake, I had to get the thing to rise before baking it. In my very cold house in South West London.

But, as my good friend Taylor Swift would say: "bakers gonna bake bake bake bake bake". So I found a solution to my yeast problem. Don't think I don't know that you're sniggering about " yeast problem ". Get your mind OUT of the gutter.

I sat on the sofa, with my cling-filmed bundt tin containing the cake batter in my lap and wrapped myself in blankets, creating a kind of tent over the tin. The trapped heat from my body warmed the batter and it rose. Where there's a will, there's a way. I did feel a bit like a giant chicken incubating her eggs, but that couldn't be helped.

This is closely based on a recipe by Luis Troyano, a finalist on this year's Great British Bake Off and a baker I admire very much.

You will need:
60g unsalted butter (for greasing)
85g softened unsalted butter (to go in the dough)
60g ground almonds
200ml full fat milk
25ml water
400g plain flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
grated zest of 2 lemons
12g fast action/easy bake dried yeast
2 large eggs
2 green apples, peeled and diced
75g sultanas
a bundt tin (circular tin with a bit in the middle to make a ring-shaped cake)

Topping (optional):
50g butter
good glug of brandy
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
240g honey
1 tsp lemon juice
2 green apples, peeled, cored and cut into rings
50g flaked, toasted almonds

1. Grease the tin well with butter, getting it into all the corners. Put the ground almonds in the tin and turn the tin to ensure all the sides of it are completely coated in ground almonds.

2. Cream together the caster sugar and softened butter, then add the flour, cinnamon, salt, lemon zest and yeast. Don't add the salt and yeast together as salt kills yeast.

3. Warm the milk with the water until it reaches about 45C (if you don't have a thermometer it should be about halfway to boiling point). Add the milk and eggs to the other mixture and if you have a standing mixer, put on the paddle attachment and mix for 5 minutes at medium speed. If not, beating the mixture with a wooden spoon for 5-10 minutes should achieve the same effect. You're looking for a sticky, stretchy batter - about halfway between a bread dough and cake mixture.

4. Fold in the green apples and sultanas and pour the mixture into the greased tin. Tap the tin (not too sharply) on a hard surface to get the batter into all the corners. Cover the tin in cling-film and put it somewhere warm for 70 minutes, 25C is an ideal temperature.

5. Preheat the oven to 190C. The kugelhopf is ready for the oven when the batter has risen almost to the top of the tin.

6. Bake the kugelhopf for 35-40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. While it is baking, add all the ingredients for the topping save for the apples and almonds to a large frying pan and bring to the boil. Add the apples and reduce the heat to produce a gentle simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes, turning the apples often until they have softened and the liquid thickened a little.

7. When the cake is finished baking, leave it to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then upturn the tin and shake it gently until the cake slides out. Pierce the top of the cake a few times and pour over half the liquid from the apples. Arrange the apples in a circle on top of the kugelhopf and drizzle with the remaining liquid, then scatter with the toasted flaked almonds.


Disclaimer: Taylor Swift is not my close friend, I merely admire her from afar. Unfortunately, she is yet to write any baking-based lyrics.

To my knowledge.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Mini Cranberry and Orange Panettones

I love a slice of panettone at Christmas - dusted liberally with icing sugar and accompanied by a cup of tea it's light enough to be the perfect follow up to a heavy meal.

So when I was invited to an international Christmas meal, I thought panettone would be perfect. Only this being me, I wanted to do a twist on the classic panettone by replacing the raisins and sultanas in a normal panettone with cranberries and orange peel.

And I kinda shrunk it too:

I've said it before, I'll say it again: small is cute. And I'm not just saying that because I'm slightly under average height and therefore have a vested interest in extolling the virtues in all things small. It's also a lot easier to serve a panettone if it already comes in individual servings.

If you have a standing mixer or a handheld mixer with a dough hook you will want to use it for this because it's a very moist dough and quite hard to knead by hand. If you are kneading by hand you will need to flour your hands very well to deal with this sticky mixture!

You will need:

400g strong white bread flour
7g salt
40g caster sugar
10g fast-action dried yeast
120ml lukewarm milk (semi-skimmed or full fat)
4 eggs, whisked
100g unsalted butter, softened
grated zest of 2 oranges
juice of ½ an orange
100g mixed candied peel
100g dried cranberries
100g flaked almonds
greaseproof paper 
12-hole muffin tray

For the topping:
2 egg whites
25g caster sugar plus extra for dusting
25g ground almonds
50g flaked almonds 

1. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt and sugar on one side and the yeast on the other side.

2. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the milk, eggs and butter and mix. If you're using the standing mixer, mix on slow speed for 3 minutes before ramping it up to medium for 4 minutes. If you're kneading by hand, beat in the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon until a dough starts to form and then get your hands involved. Tip the dough into a bowl and cover with clingfilm then leave to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

3. When the dough has risen, knock it back by pushing down with your knuckles and knead in the orange juice, orange zest, candied peel, cranberries and flaked almonds. 

4. Cut out 24 squares of greaseproof paper about 8cm by 8cm and lay one across each of the holes in the muffin tray, then lay another on top at an angle to the first. Divide the dough into 12 portions and put one in each of the muffin holes. Wrap in clingfilm or tie inside a large bag and leave to rise for about 2-3 hours until doubled in size.

5. While the panettones are proving, preheat the oven to 200C. When they have risen, bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the egg whites, caster sugar and ground almonds for the topping together. Take the panettones out the oven, brush the topping across them and sprinkle with the flaked almonds and a little more caster sugar. Lower the oven setting to 180C and cover the panettones with foil if you think they are browning a little too much and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes.

6. When the panettones are golden brown, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

They don't resemble the traditional panettone, but I think they're lovely. And there's something about the greaseproof paper wrapping which is quite nice - simple but elegant.

Happy baking,


Monday, 8 December 2014

Mince Pies and Snowflake Biscuits

I haven't blogged in nearly a month and I'm sorry about that. But now I am breaking forth from my brief baking hiatus to bring you Christmassy delights.

Aren't you delighted? Shut up, you are.

I love Christmas, but this year I'm working right up until Christmas Eve, so I used my remaining annual leave to take a week off at the beginning of December and held a little winter soireé for assorted friends.

It was lovely. I lit all the candles, sprinkled snowflake confetti over the dining table, personalised everyone's wine glasses with their name on a gift tag and served mulled cider (and spiced apple juice for the non-drinkers).

I also served smoked salmon paté, filo mince pies and snowflake biscuits. Here are the filo mince pies and biscuits:

First I'll give you the recipe for the snowflake biscuits. This is a simply magnificent recipe - I've used it for years and it always gives me at least twice the amount of biscuits I'm intending to make. This time I made 60.

Let me tell you, icing 60 biscuits with snowflakes is not a task to be undertaken lightly.

Now, I was baking these at my parents' house. There are several problems associated with baking at my parents' house:

1. They never have the necessary ingredients;
2. They are poorly equipped for high quality baking on an industrial scale;
3. The equipment that they do have is without fail either broken or lost.

Let me give you a couple of examples. When I decided to weigh my ingredients, I discovered that the electronic scales had run out of battery power. So I had to use these:

At least they can't run out of battery. 

Then, I discovered that the biscuit cutters were missing, presumed lost. This was a great shame, as we have several lovely Christmas-themed cutters in the shape of Christmas trees, stars, bells and the 3 kings (don't ask).

I called my mum's mobile, but it was, predictably, switched off. So I called her office, but she wasn't available and her business support team seemed very confused when I told them the biscuit cutters were missing and could they get her to email me and tell me where they were.

It might not have helped that I didn't tell them who I was, so they probably thought I was a local madwoman.

In the end I had to borrow a circular biscuit cutter from a friend and ice snowflakes on the biscuits. Without further ado:

You will need:
285g plain flour
170g butter
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla essence
biscuit cutters
a lined baking sheet
grazest of one lemon
285g caster sugar
1 piping bag with a fine nozzle

To decorate:
250g icing sugar
juice of one lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Beat in the egg, egg yolk and lemon zest. Add the flour and mix in with a spoon until a dough starts to form, then knead together until you have a smooth dough.

3. Roll out the dough to about 3mm thick and cut out as many biscuits as you can, placing them on the baking sheet. Knead together the offcuts and roll them out again.

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes until very lightly browned.

5. Leave the biscuits to cool. Beat together the icing sugar and lemon juice until runny enough to pipe but stiff enough to keep its shape. You may not have to use all the lemon juice. Once the biscuits are cooled, pipe snowflake shapes on the biscuits and leave to set.

Now for the filo mince pies. These are very easy and quick to make - providing you don't make the filo pastry yourself.

I'll tell you a secret - no one in their right mind makes filo pastry themselves. I know they make contestants do it on the Great British Bake Off. But even Mary and Paul don't make filo themselves. Do you own Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds book? If you do, flick through to his "Hollywood's Temptation" (a salmon and filo pie) and cast your eye over the ingredients list. HE USES READY-MADE FILO.  So should you.

I make my own mincemeat - but don't feel you have to. If you want to, I loosely (very loosely) based mine on Delia's recipe, which is available online. If you don't, jars of mincemeat are not expensive. If you're vegetarian, like me, check the mincemeat is you-friendly. I make mine with vegetable suet.

You will need:

250g mincemeat
1 packet of filo pastry sheets
melted butter and pastry brush or sprayable cooking oil
24-hole mini-muffin tray, greased

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and cut the filo sheets into 8 x 8cm squares. Place one square in each mini-muffin hole, grease with melted butter or spritz with cooking oil. Place another on top at an angle on top and grease again.

2. Place a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in each pastry case.

3. Fold down the corners of the second pastry layer and grease to secure them.

4. Place a final pastry layer on top and grease once more. Bake for 10 minutes until light golden brown in colour.

5. Serve dusted with icing sugar.

I have one final recipe for you - traditional mince pies, which I made the morning after my soireé to use up the remaining mincemeat. This recipe makes 12.

You will need:
175g plain flour
75g butter
pinch of salt
cold water
250g mincemeat
2.5 inch round pastry cutter
3 inch round pastry cutter
12-hole muffin tray

1. Rub the flour, butter and salt together with your fingertips in a large bowl.

2. Add enough water to be able to mix and then knead the ingredients into a smooth dough.

3. Roll out the dough to around 3mm thick and cut out 12 3 inch circles and put into a muffin tray, pressing in with a lump of excess pastry. Add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat.

4. Cut out 12 circles of pastry with the 2.5 inch cutter and place on top of the mincemeat, then crimp together the edges of the pastry with your fingers or a fork. Prick the top of each pie with a fork. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and serve dusted with icing sugar.

That's it for now, but there'll be more to come soon, I promise (almost).

Tata for now,


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Goat's Cheese and Sweet Onion Tart with Thyme

I have finally succeeded in making something savoury and, in an unfortunate turn of events for my colleagues, something I was unwilling to share.

For a while now I've been intending to make a tonne of food at the weekend so that all my food for the week ahead is sorted. Like many people who work full time, I get home most nights feeling like a limp piece of spaghetti - tired, floppy and useless. It's all too easy to collapse on the sofa with a plate of cheese and crackers and the obligatory glass of wine.

And forget about making lunch the night before. That's why I can be found trawling Waitrose most mornings and shelling out for what I will admit is very good food.

But this weekend I dragged myself out of bed on Sunday to make one of my favourite recipes, tart au chevre, or, for the non-French speaker, goat's cheese tart.

I've made this a couple of times - it's a Nigel Slater recipe and I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, the first time I made it was a disaster of the highest order. After blind-baking the pastry case I accidentally threw it in the bin (don't ask, just don't ask) and my then-boyfriend came downstairs, hoping dinner was nearly ready, only to find me having a full-on toddler-style tantrum, drumming my fists on the floor.

However, this time it went perfectly - I actually made three tarts, the one pictured above, a smaller version of that and then a version replacing the onions with a couple of handfuls of spinach.

I'll give you Nigel's original version with one small twist - I replaced creme fraiche in his recipe with Greek yoghurt. No particular reason - I've always done it that way and I like it.

You will need:

For the pastry case:
200g plain flour
100g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
a little milk

For the filling:
400g sweet white onions, sliced very thinly
25g butter
2tsp thyme leaves
2 eggs
200g good quality unflavoured Greek yoghurt
100ml semi-skimmed milk
180g moist and crumbly goat's cheese
22cm tart tin with a removable base, at least 3.5cm deep, greased with butter

1. Put the flour and butter into a bowl and rub them together with your fingertips until a crumbly mixture is formed.

2. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and pour in the egg yolk and a splash of milk. Mix together until a loose mixture starts to form and then knead until it forms a dough. Use as little milk as possible, as it will make the tart shrink in the tin as it bakes.

3. Flour a clean surface and roll out the dough, then use it to line the tin. Push it into the corners with a lump of excess dough - if you use your fingers you may break through the pastry. Trim off any overhanging pastry. Put the pastry into the fridge for 20 minutes and preheat the oven to 200C.

4. While the pastry is chilling, take the butter for the filling and put it in a pan over a medium heat. When it has melted, add the thinly sliced onions and thyme and turn the heat down low. Gently fry the onions for about 20 minutes until very soft but not coloured.

5. When the pastry has chilled for 20 minutes, take it out of the fridge and line the tin with foil over the pastry, weighing it down with uncooked rice, dried beans or ceramic baking beans if you have them (it's a strongly held belief of mine that no one does).

6. Bake the tart for 20 minutes and then carefully remove the foil and beans/rice. Put the cooked onions in the pastry case.

7. Beat together the yoghurt, milk, eggs and seasoning and pour over the onions. Crumble the goat's cheese over the top and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes until almost completely set but still with a small wobble in the middle.

8. Eat while warm. Will also freeze well.

I really would advise you to use a tin of the size Nigel directs you to, otherwise you will have to make three tarts to use up all the filling and then sit up the kitchen table barking: "TARTS, TARTS, LOVELY TARTS" while trying to decide which one to take to work for lunch.

Yes, that is precisely what I did on Sunday.

And just in case you're interested, I took the larger goat's cheese and onion tart. The smaller one and the spinach tart are still in the freezer - so that's my lunch sorted for another week.

Au revoir,


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Bitcoin Shortbread Biscuits

So I know I said I was going to do something savoury for my next bake. But this Wednesday night I was forced to do an emergency bake, when a friend sprung a surprise on me.

I knew that Billy, my former colleague and erstwhile deputy editor of Retail Banker International, was leaving his job for pastures new. But I didn't know when and so was surprised to receive an email on Wednesday evening saying that Friday was the big day and would I like to come to his leaving drinks.

He signed off this email by saying "I checked out your baking blog the other day. Made me hungry".

So now, obviously, I had to bake something. But what? I had less than half a block of butter, a little plain flour and some light brown soft sugar - nothing else. And I had only two evenings to prepare baked treats, so I wouldn't have time to buy a load of ingredients.

Luckily, there is one thing that requires only butter, sugar and plain flour. The humble shortbread biscuit. Usually I would use caster sugar, but I thought the soft brown sugar actually gave the biscuit a good crisp texture.

Shortbread is probably one of the least demanding bakes in terms of both ingredients and technique. It's the kind of thing a celebrity chef would refer to as being made with "staple ingredients that everyone has in their kitchen".
I hate it when chefs say this because:

1. If you cook/bake a lot you will inevitably use a lot of these ingredients and so constantly run out of them;

2. It makes them sound terribly snobby because it implies that if you don't have a never-ending supply of these staple ingredients you are a not a fully functioning human being;

3. They are always referring to things like shittake mushrooms, pink peppercorns and fresh white breadcrumbs as staple ingredients and THEY'RE NOT, THEY'RE NOT.

Nevertheless, flour, butter and sugar are very useful things to have and I had to adjust this recipe because I had not enough of any of those things. But I'll give you a recipe for a full batch, which can make around 20-24 biscuits depending on how thick you cut them.

A theme for the biscuits was much easier to settle on - Billy has a long-standing fascination with and affection for the virtual currency Bitcoin, which although it has no physical form is usually depicted as a capital "B" in a serif font with two lines through it. For more on this digital currency and my last Bitcoin-themed bake go here. Or you could just google "Bitcoin" but then you won't see my Bitcoin cake.

You will need:

For the biscuits:
250g plain flour
175g unsalted butter, cut into rough cubes.
75g light brown soft sugar
a lined baking sheet
a 2 inch round biscuit cutter

To decorate:
100g white chocolate
25-50g icing sugar, sifted

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Take the butter, sugar and flour and rub it together with your fingertips to make a crumbly mixture. Quick tip - if your butter is too cold to be rubbed in, put it in a bowl of lukewarm water for a few minutes before fishing it out and shaking off the water.

 2. Knead the crumbly mixture until it forms a smooth, pliable dough - but not for too long or it will be rubbery once baked.

3. Roll out the ball to the desired thickness, then cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter and place them on a lined baking sheet.

3. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown, then leave to cool a little on the sheet then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. While the biscuits cool, melt the white chocolate over a bowl of barely simmering water and then beat in enough icing sugar to make the mixture a little stiffer and more easily piped - I find white chocolate with its low melting point is too runny and difficult to pipe otherwise.

5. Pipe your desired decoration on the biscuits and leave to set. I also added a little gold edible glitter.

You're done! Unfortunately these cannot be used as actual currency, but you can eat them, which is rather more satisfactory.

Next time it WILL be savoury, I almost promise.

Yours Begrudgingly,