Puh….

I’ve scanned through the last ten blog entries and noticed that I said a few times I would blog more… and I didn’t. I guess my life is busier than I thought or I am lazier than I thought.

I have been baking though… quite a bit. I baked my first ever Christmas cake in November last year… even though I don’t like raisins and sultanas. I used dried apricots instead. And morello cherries. And dried cranberries. I added glace lemon and orange peel and candied ginger. I soaked all the dried fruits together with orange and lemon zest in brandy and the juice of the citrus fruits for about three days before I finally made my cake batter. I also added nuts to my cake but I cannot remember which ones… Hazelnuts? Almonds? Walnuts? No idea.

The cake took about three hours to bake and when it came out the entire kitchen smelled of mixed spice and cinnamon. Just wonderful!

I read that I had to feed the cake once a week with brandy and I must have gotten carried away with the feed… when we cut the cake on Christmas Day it was more gooey than cakelike but my saving grace was that it tasted delicious. Especially with ice cream.

xmas cake

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Sweet foods as main course?

I remember from my childhood that we often had sweet things as a main dish for lunch. Like semolina pudding with sugar and cinnamon on top. Or yeast dumplings (Dampfnudeln) baked in milk in the oven until they have risen and have a nice crusty top. Usually served with vanilla custard and berries, like red currants or raspberries. Or cold sweet soup, which is made out of berries and served with zwieback. I never questioned if this was a normal thing to serve for lunch or dinner or if it was odd. Well, when I suggested to make yeast dumplings for dinner a couple of days ago my other half rejected the idea saying it was very odd, like we skipped the main course and went straight to dessert.

Sigh.

Yesterday lunch time I had such a craving for something sweet that I decided to make Nigella’s Doughnut French Toast. I had sour dough bread and rye bread at home and thought, why not use both and see which one tastes better.

Oh. My. God. The rye bread was definitely better than the sour dough bread. It added another flavour dimension to it… it’s difficult to describe, it tasted darker and richer… just good. So so good.

The doughnut french toast is so easy to make (I used vanilla sugar and cinnamon) and is the best fix for when you need something sweet that also fills you up and keeps you going. Serve it with some fresh fruit (I had strawberries at home which I threw into my little food chopper) and it counts as your five a day 😉

Fancy cake or muffin toppers

I came across this fabulous tutorial on how to make some marbled chocolate decoration, really easy to make and impressive to look at so I decided I try it out!

Once I had the hang of it I made all sorts of shapes.

For the chocolate muffins I used my trusted recipe from The Pink Whisk, which works every time. If you use this recipe for cupcakes and you don’t overload your cases you get 24 cupcakes out of the batter. In case you make these delicious muffins, you get 12 out of them and have a few spoonfuls left to eat.  It tastes divine just on its own. Very much like chocolate mousse!

 

Peanut Butter Crispy Bars

Peanut Butter Crispy Bars as seen on Unique Sweets (channel 262 on Sky) and based on the Cooking Channel TV recipe (because I forgot to print out the recipe from The Galley Gourmet).

I made some slight changes to the recipe and I changed the quantities of the original recipe because I used a big baking tray and not just a little 8×8 square tin.  I also weighed most of my stuff, so here is the recipe how I made it:

For the crispy layer:

1 bag Organic Puffed Rice Cereal

170g caster sugar

About 6tbsp golden syrup

125g salted butter, melted

For the peanut butter layer:

2 bars of milk chocolate (I used Tesco Luxury Britannia Milk Chocolate 150g), coarsely chopped

½ bar of Green & Black Organic Cooking Chocolate (72% cocoa), coarsely chopped

2 jars smooth peanut butter (340g jars)

For the chocolate layer:

1.5 bars of Green & Black Organic Cooking Chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 dollop of golden syrup

125g salted butter

For the crispy crust layer: Put the cereal in a large bowl and set aside. Line your baking tray with baking paper. If you cut it bigger you will have two “handles” to lift the finished crispy bar in one go out of your baking tray.

Into a small saucepan, pour 150 ml water. Gently add the sugar and golden syrup and use a small wooden spoon to stir the mixture until just combined. Put a candy thermometer in the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, 235 degrees F. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and pour the mixture over the cereal. Working quickly,  stir until the cereal is thoroughly coated, and then pour it into the prepared pan. Using your hands, press the mixture into the bottom of the pan (do not press up the sides). Let the crust cool to room temperature while you make the next layer.

For the milk chocolate peanut butter layer: In a glass bowl, stir together the chocolate and the peanut butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for about 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the cooled crispy crust layer. Put the pan in the refrigerator until the top layer hardens, about an hour.

For the chocolate icing: In a large glass bowl, combine the chocolate, golden syrup and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the chilled milk chocolate peanut butter layer and spread into an even layer. Put the pan in the refrigerator until the topping hardens, about an hour.

Cut into squares and serve. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, covered tightly, for up to 4 days.

The longer you leave them the softer the rice crispies get but it still tastes absolutely moorish!

Zesty lemon roses

It was my birthday recently and I got everything I wanted. I didn’t have a single present that I didn’t like or wondered on how earth I could make it disappear (break it, lose it, give it to someone else)!
My sister Christine gave me wonderful baking presents: a silikone mould with six roses, a silikone brush (I have a conventional that seems to have a tendency to lose its hairs in cakes and on roasts) and a decorating squeeze bottle. The silikone mould came with a small recipe booklet (three recipes in six different languages) and the first receipe I tried turned out to be such a success that I’ve made it countless times since. I used the recipe as a basis, it was too buttery for my taste, so here’s my version:

For a silicon mould with six roses you will need:

a small knob of butter
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup of icing sugar
1 cup of fine cake flour
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of two lemons
squeeze of 1/2 lemon

Preheat your oven to 170C, Gasmark 4

Melt the small knob of butter in the microwave and brush your moulds with it so the cakes won’t stick to them later! Mix icing sugar with lemon zest, lemon juice and oil. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and whisk smooth. Slowly add the flour and mix thoroughly. Spoon the dough into the moulds (they should be about 2/3 full). Bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. Check that they are all baked through by inserting a toothpick into the cake(s). If there isn’t anything sticking to it then they are ready!
Let the cakes cool in the moulds for 10 minutes then take them out. You can then either
– Spoon lemon syrup over the roses
– Dust the lemon roses with some icing sugar
– Inject lemon syrup into the cakes by using a syringe
– Ice the cakes by mixing some lemon juice with icing sugar and spreading the icing evenly over the roses.
Lemon syrup is easily made by cooking the same amount of sugar with the same amount of lemon juice until the syrup is all clear. Careful when you take it off the stove, sugar syrup stays very very hot for a long time.

I don’t recommend the icing version actually because you can’t see the rose pattern otherwise, I simply piped lemon syrup around the rose pattern and about an hour later I dusted the cakes with icing sugar.

Zesty Flapjacks

Based on a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Ingredients:

2 oranges
200g dried sour cherries
200g golden syrup (about 8 tbsp)
400g unsalted butter
200g soft brown sugar
Zest and juice of a lemon
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
500g jumbo oats
200g plain flour
100g pine nuts
100g flaked almonds
2 tbsp chopped hazelnuts
About half a tsp of ground Allspice

I’ve never made flapjacks before, all I knew was that some are made with raisins and some aren’t. The recipe above did have raisins in it, which I changed to dried sour cherries because I really don’t like raisins. I also added some Allspice to it and I split the weight of the pine nuts between flaked almonds and pine nuts and added a couple of tablespoons of chopped hazelnuts to it for extra crunch. The recipe is for a large sheet pan and I got 16 flapjacks out of it. The original recipe calls for Gas Mark 3 and 25-30 minutes. My oven has a mind of its own, so after 35 minutes I upped the temperature and all in all the flapjacks were in for almost 50 minutes.
Here’s how to make them:
Preheat the oven to 170°c/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23cm square baking tin with a scrap of butter and line the base with baking parchment.
Grate the zest from the oranges and one lemon into a large saucepan. Squeeze the juice from the orange and put this in a small saucepan with the sour cherries. Bring to a gentle simmer. Remove the pan from the heat but leave it in a warm place for the sour cherries to plump up in the orange juice.
Add the golden syrup to the large saucepan containing the orange zest. Add the butter, brown sugar and lemon juice. Heat very gently, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
Mix the oats, flour and nuts. Pour the oat mixture into the saucepan containing the melted butter mixture and add the sour cherries, along with any juice left in the pan. Mix everything very thoroughly (otherwise it can taste slightly floury). 
Spread the mixture out in the lined tin. Bake for 25–30 minutes or until golden brown. Leave for a few minutes, then mark the flapjack into squares with a knife. Leave to cool and set.
At first I was a bit unsure… they tasted ever so slightly floury so next time I make them I will use less flour. I was also thinking about brushing one side of them with dark chocolate just to add another flavour to it.
They were very well received by everyone and a lot of people commented on how the orange zest seemed to “make them”!

I’ve eaten well in the last few weeks…

… I’ve just not blogged about it. Here are a few dishes I made recently:
Roasted pork belly with butternut squash and potato mash with broccoli – which was definitely a highlight!
I sat the pork belly on a bed of sliced onions and sliced apples, lightly sprinkled with some sugar. The onions and apples caramelised with the fat that oozed out of the pork belly and tasted divine. The pork belly had a fantastic crackling (aided by lots of sea salt flakes!), crisp but not chewy. The only reason I used butternut squash in my mash was that I had it in the fridge for weeks and it needed to go. But oh, what a good decision to mash it in with my potatoes! Add some butter and at least half a teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg and the mash will be melting away in your mouth.
Rosemary sausages on roasted tomatoes with mashed potatoes
So simple, so easy and so utterly delicious. All you need are cocktail tomatoes, enough to fill a lasagna dish with it. Then mix olive oil with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and spoon most of it over the tomatoes. Prick your sausages all round and put on top of the tomatoes. Spoon the rest of the balsamic mix over the sausages. Sprinkle all with freshly chopped rosemary. Put in the oven for about half an hour/ 45 minutes or so until your sausages are brown (I turned mine after about 20 minutes). Serve with (mashed) potatoes.
Slow cooked beef with sun dried tomatoes
This recipe is loosely based on Parker’s Beef Stew Recipe, I throw in whatever I have in the fridge and what I feel like that day. Do marinate the beef in red wine, garlic and bay leaves overnight, I think that’s absolutely vital for the success of the recipe. I added fresh cocktail tomatoes and lots of sun dried tomatoes and lots of Worcester Sauce as I like the vinegary taste of it. It reminds me of my mum’s Sauerbraten.
Last night we had leftovers. Sauteed potatoes, poached eggs, bacon and I added some gherkins and pickled green chillies to it. And ketchup. Can’t have bacon without ketchup.

The Great British Bake Off

Last week was the final of the Great British Bake Off on BBC2 and my two favourite people, Edd and Ruth, made it into the final. Over the series I went from wanting Ruth to be the winner then to Edd being the winner and then back to Ruth but in reality it didn’t matter to me that much who was going to win, they were both outstanding with their baking skills and both just so nice (it was Edd who won it in the end). I was sad that Miranda didn’t make it into the final, her cupcakes were absolutely perfect and contrary to what Paul Hollywood said about cupcakes not being “fancy” enough, sorry, but if I ordered an afternoon tea at the Ritz I’d expect cupcakes. We do have the year 2010 after all and cupcakes have made headlines for quite a number of years now and are still all the rage. (I despise the whoopie cake, it’s simply too big and too messy and too ugly to look at).
I thought it was quite shabby from Paul to put off Miranda even before he saw or tasted one of her cupcakes. I felt he wanted to make sure that Edd made it into the final; ever since Edd baked the perfect bread Paul wanted him to win.  At least that was my impression.
I loved watching this series and I hope there will be another one next year. I’ve only recently started baking and am no where near these people with my baking skills but it has inspired me to bake more at home so I baked two lemon cakes over the weekend; one for my friend Paul, who celebrated his birthday on Saturday and who says, my lemon drizzle cake is his favourite one and then I baked another one yesterday morning after my friend Fay complained that the last three times she’s seen me I had baked cakes for someone else but her!
The recipe I use is from Barefoot Contessa and it’s actually a lemon yogurt cake and I’ve made this cake so often, I can make it in my sleep. I slightly changed the recipe however, I add 1 tsp of lemon essence and half a cup of lemon juice to my cake dough and when the cake comes out of the oven I glaze it first with lemon sugar syrup and about half an hour later I frost it with a lemon icing (icing sugar, lemon zest and juice and some normal sugar for the extra crunch).

Whenever I take the cake out of its form I am worried that it might be too moist. The cake I baked for Fay yesterday turned out to be one of the best ones so far… fluffy, moist and wonderful lemony!  

Rhubarb tart with vanilla icecream

I love rhubarb. I love it in sweet things like cakes or tarts or crumbles and I love it in savoury dishes, too. Since it was Sunday yesterday and we had such a nice day I thought I make some dessert for Jono and myself.

Simple and quick and all you need is

A roll of puff pastry
about 250g. rhubarb
2-3 tbsp. caster sugar

Keep the trimmings from the rhubarb, put them into a small pot and add a tiny little bit of water and 2tbsp caster sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice

1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon

good vanilla icecream

Roll out the puff pastry and prick it all over with a fork. Cut four rectangles and put them on to a non-stick or heavy baking tray, spacing them out well. Cut the rhubarb into 11cm lengths and lay them on top of the puff pastry as close together as you can, leaving a rim of about half a cm around.

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Sprinkle the caster sugar evenly over the rhubarb and bake the tarts for about 15-20 minutes until the pastry is crisp (this depends on your oven. My tarts were in for almost 45 minutes, but then, my oven is very temperamental!)The rhubarb should not colour at all!

Meanwhile put the rhubarb trimmings in a pan along with the sugar and simmer it together for 8-10 minutes, stirring every so often. Strain the liquid through a fine meshed sieve, pushing all the liquid through with the back of a spoon Boil this liquid until it has reduced by about half and has begun to thicken. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Take the tarts out of the oven, finely dust with some ground cinnamon, place a dollop or two of really good vanilla icecream onto each tart and finally spoon some of the rhubarb syrup over. It didn’t take us too long to devour the tarts! They tasted great!