Monday 26 November 2007

Daring Bakers: One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four

Yes it’s that time once again, time for another Daring Bakers Event. In case you hadn’t already guessed, this month’s challenge included potatoes! Four to be exact.

Tanna from ‘My Kitchen in Half Cups’ was this months host and she selected Tender Potato Bread from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I wholeheartedly agree with the title, you certainly had to develop an ‘art’ for dealing with this bread, talk about sticky.

It was rather nice to have a challenge involving a baked savoury good as all my others have been sweet so far. I have never made potato bread before either and so was looking forward to it and yet I also found this daunting, especially since I had heard from other bakers that the dough was a bit hard to work with. It got to two days before the publication date and I knew I had to just knuckle down and do it, and what I lot of fun I had.

I was rather startled by how sloppy the potato base was, before adding any flour, but after adding the first of many mountains of flour, it did begin to resemble more of a dough. When it cam to turning the dough out onto the work surface, we were instructed to kneed it and work in additional flour. At this point I would have had more luck kneading a cake dough. It was so soft and sticky. I added more and more flour and it slowly transformed into a mountain of smooth stretchy dough. With relief I left it to prove and began to remove sticky mashed potatoes for all around my kitchen.

After proving, the dough is divided in half, one half was turned into a large loaf and the remaining half we were free to choose between making rolls or focaccia. We were also allowed to ‘unleash the Daring Baker within’ by flavouring or filling the dough as we saw fit.

For my loaf, I pressed it out into a rectangle and then spread it with a layer of rocket and pine nut pesto, before rolling up and placing in the loaf tin, proving and then baking.

With the remaining dough I chose to make focaccia and incorporated sun dried tomato pesto and olives into the dough, which also tinted it a lovely orange colour.

I was thrilled with the results. The loaf rose well and developed a lovely thin and crisp golden brown top with the swirl of pesto just peaking through. The bread felt quite heavy when I lifted it from the tin but was lovely and springy when pressed. Upon slicing, the dough is dotted with air holes and is extremely moist and soft in texture. It still retains a slightly sticky mouthfeel which reminded me strongly of gnocchi, not surprising really, considering they contain the same ingredients of potato and flour. The swirls of pesto make an attractive finish and add a wonderful flavour without the need of any additional toppings. It was a great accompaniment to a big bowl of lunchtime soup the following day.

The focaccia too turned out well, with a light crispy surface and a moist fluffy interior. The sun dried tomatoes added pretty orange streaks throughout the dough, although, I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t really taste them. The olives however gave strong bursts of musky saltiness whenever I bit into one. I think it would be great split in half and turned into a fancy cheese on toast.
I really enjoyed this months challenge and I loved how individual and unique the potato made the breads, so different from normal. I now just have the challenge of cleaning my entire kitchen. I seem to have got splodges of mashed potato and gluey fingerprints over every available work surface, still it wouldn’t be half so much fun if I didn’t get to make so much mess along the way.

Visit Tanna’s blog for the recipe and don’t forget to check out what the other Daring Bakers have created.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Berry Good Jam

Last week I had been working on a project involving berries at work; when it came to the end of the week we had to clean out the fridges and the remaining berries were just going to be thrown away. I couldn’t let this happen, so I rescued them and brought them home with me. I munched a few but realised I still had too many to eat before they turned bad and so I did what I always do when I have too much fruit around – I turned it into yummy scrummy jam.

I love making my own jam, one because it lets you control the sugar level as I like to taste the fruit in my jam rather than just a sugary gel with a hint of fruit and two, because it lets you add whatever flavours take your fancy.

It’s always best to add a fruit containing a high amount of pectin when making jam, as it’s pectin which helps the jam form a gel and set. This is especially important when reducing the sugar content as the more sugar you use the easier it will set. You can also buy special ‘jam/preserving sugar’ which has added pectin but I don’t often bother. I usually like to add the zest and juice of a lemon to my jams, as I find not only does this add pectin but it also contributes a freshness and highlights the flavour of the fruit without being too obvious. However, as I reached for a lemon, my hand strayed and I picked up a lime instead. Hmmm… berries and lime, not a combination I had tried before but I decided to give it a whirl.

The resulting jam tastes amazing, I am so pleased I added lime instead of lemon. It really accentuates all the flavours of the berries and adds its own zestniness. Which isn’t obviously lime but really stands out as its own individual flavour rather than merging into the other flavours. I’ve never had a jam quite like it. Spread on top of a boring piece of morning toast, its zinginess and triple berry hit really packs a punch and helps wake me up in the mornings. It also makes wonderful peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I love its deep moody purple colour too, must be all those blueberries.

Triple Berry & Lime Jam

450g blueberries
380g raspberries
380g strawberries
500g granulated sugar
4 tbsp water
Zest and juice of 1 lime

Remove the stalks from the strawberries and place all the ingredients, except the sugar, into a very large pan and place over a high heat.
Bring to the boil and allow to bubble so that the fruits break down and go mushy.
When the fruit are very soft, mash them roughly with a potato masher to aid the breaking down process. You still want some large lumps of fruit to remain though.
Allow to bubble for 5 minutes more and then pour over the sugar and stir until dissolved.
Reduce the heat until the jam is at a rapid simmer rather than bubbling furiously and leave to thicken and reduce for around an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Skim off any scum that may have formed whilst boiling.
Meanwhile, place some clean jam jars and lids into the oven and heat it until just over 100C to sterilise the jars.
Test if the jam has reached setting consistency by spooning a small amount onto a plate and placing into the fridge for 5 minutes to cool. Then run your finger through the jam and if it ripples, then it’s ready. If not, then allow to continue cooking for a further 15 minutes before testing again. Continue until your jam is ready.
Remove the jam from the heat and the jars from the oven. While both are still hot, ladle the jam into the jars and quickly screw on the lids using a tea-towel or rubber gloves to protect your fingers. (If jarred when still very hot the steam will be trapped inside the jar, creating a vacuum that seals the jar, the indented popper on the top of the lids will even pop out again as though the jar had never been opened.)
Label and store until required. Once opened, store in the refrigerator.

Makes 4 large jars.

Thursday 22 November 2007

Chocolate Soft Centers

These are yummy, rich, chocolaty cookies that comprise of a light soft dough encasing a morsel of chocolate. When still warm from the oven, the chocolate in the centre is molten, gooey and gorgeous. After cooling, the chocolate turns truffly rather than returning to its solid state, meaning you have a wonderfully indulgent cookie whatever state they are eaten.

I decided to make these for the Monday Munchers at work as it had been a while since I had given them anything chocolaty. They were very much enjoyed, especially when they discovered that the chocolate returned to molten gooeyness when heated gently in the microwave for a few seconds.

You can make them with either white, milk or dark chocolate, although I personally think that dark or milk chocolate works best. I have also used a small blob of marzipan in the centers before, which give a fantastic chocolate almond flavour. However, although the centers were soft, they were not quite as indulgent as chocolate.

Chocolate Soft Centers
200g butter
200g light soft brown sugar
1 egg
350g plain flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
100g block milk or dark chocolate, between 35% - 60% depending on your taste.

Preheat the oven to 190C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and set to one side.
Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and beat well until incorporated.
Sift over the flour and cocoa powder and mix together using a spatula until the mixture begins to form a dough. Then use your hands to form a ball.
Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 20-30minutes to firm up.
Divide the dough roughly in half, making one half slightly bigger than the other.
Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the smaller half of the dough until 4mm thick and cut out 4cm rounds.
Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets.
Cut the dark chocolate into small pieces and place a piece of chocolate onto the top of each dough circle.
Roll out the larger half of the dough and cut out 5cm rounds. Place the bigger dough circles on top of the chocolate bottoms and press the edges together to form a mould encasing the chocolate.
Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes until slightly crackled and firm.
Allow to cool on the baking trays for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool.
Eat whilst still warm for a rich melting gooey chocolate center or allow to cool for a more truffly center.
Makes around 30 cookies

Saturday 17 November 2007

Autumnal Lentil Soup

It’s been really cold and frosty here this week and I really wanted some comforting veg soup. I used some of my favourite autumn veg and it produced a lovely thick, creamy and flavoursome soup that really hit the spot.

I usually like to add beans to my soup to help thicken it, but this time I decided instead, to add lentils after pureeing it in order to add a bit more texture and interest. This worked really well and I liked how it added more body and substance to the soup without the need for bread. When adding the diced veg to the pot, I felt it still needed something more. I had a quick rummage around and decided to add an apple into the mix. This turned out to be a fantastic addition and gave the soup a wonderful sweetness (not dissimilar to butternut squash) which worked well with the thyme and complemented all the root veg so so well. I will definitely be adding more apples to my soup in future.

Autumnal Lentil Soup
1 large onion
1 small swede
1 large potato
3 large carrots
3 pints vegetable stock
1 large eating apple (I used Jonangold)
400g tin Puy lentils
Fresh thyme
Knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil

Put the butter and oil into a very large pan and heat gently so that the butter melts and begins to bubble.
Quickly peel and slice the onion and carrots and add to the pan along with lots of fresh thyme. Give it a quick stir and then cover the pan with a lid so that the onion sweat in the steam.
While they sweat, peel and dice the potato and onion, followed by the apple, but leave the skin on.
Add to the pan, stir to coat everything in the buttery juices and replace the lid and simmer for a further 10minutes.
Add the vegetable stock to the pan and stir well to ensure no veg is stuck to the base of the pan. Replace the lid and simmer for 30 minutes until the veg is soft.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blending until smooth.
Drain the lentils from their can and add to the pureed soup. Return the soup to the heat and stir until the lentils are fully heated through.
Divide into bowls and enjoy.
Serves 6-8

Update: I have had people ask what a Swede is. A Swede is a large Brassica, a tubular root vegetable that is a bit like a turnip, but sweeter. Its other names include “Yellow Turnip” and “Rutabaga.”

Thursday 15 November 2007

Homemade Fruity Christmas Mincemeat

Whenever someone mentions the word ‘mincemeat’ to you I expect your first thought is of a spicy fruity concoction, closely followed by mince pies. Although this is correct, I expect few people imagine (or even know) that mincemeat used to contain real minced up meat – hence its name.

The recipe originated in England some 500 years ago as an alternative method of preserving meat rather than salting or smoking it. Mince pies made with real meat are less sweet and denser than the more modern fruit only version and were traditionally eaten as part of a main course with more meat than fruit being included into the recipe. In the 17th century as fruits and spices began to be more widely available, they began to be included more than the meat. As the dish got sweeter accordingly, the meat was lost altogether from the pies and they were transformed into the sweet treats we now recognise and love today. You can still buy traditional meat mincemeat, but more from specialist shops and delis than from supermarkets as there is not a high demand for it.

I chose to make the sweeter meat free alternative, so I suppose really I should rename them fruitmince pies. Hehe I quite like that. The recipe I used was from Delia Smith, although I made a few adjustments by replacing the mixed peel in the recipe with dried cranberries and apricots as I thought this would give a better more festive appearance and flavour. The recipe is also a little unique in its own right, as most recipes tell you to just mix the fruits and then pack them raw, into jars. However, this one instructs you to mix all the fruits together and leave over night to blend and develop before baking the mixture in a very low oven for a few hours to allow the suet to melt and everything to mix and mingle together. You then douse it in alcohol and seal into jars. Although this might sound a little odd, when you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Think of when you make a rich fruit cake, you leave the fruit to soak overnight in alcohol, and it develops and smells good, but just think how wonderful it smells after being slowly baked for a few hours. The smells and flavour then develop to a whole new level, especially when left to mature for a few weeks before eating. I tasted a little of mine before jarring it and it tasted amazing, much better than shop bought with can often be overly sharp or bitter. This was bursting with fruity flavours, full of warming spices, sweet plump fruits, a great zestiness form the fresh lemons and oranges with a slight nutty flavour. The ruby red cranberries, apple and apricots were a lovely contrast to the darker more traditional fruits. I can’t wait to see what it tastes like in a few weeks time.

Homemade Christmas Fruitmince

450g Bramley apples
225g shredded suet (I used vegetable suet)
350g raisins
225g sultanas
225g currants
115g dried cranberries
115g dried apricots
350g light soft brown sugar
Zest and juice from 2 oranges
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
30g slivered almonds
30g hazelnuts
4 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
6 tbsp Brandy

You will also need 5-6 jam jars.

Peel, core and finely dice the apples. Add to a very large bowl with the rest of the fruits, chopping the apricots into small pieces using a pair of scissors.
Zest the lemons and oranges into the bowl and then cut in half and add all the juice too.
Sprinkle over the sugar, spices, almonds and suet. Chop the hazelnuts into coarse pieces and add to the bowl.
Give everything a good stir together, ensuring the juice and sugar are evenly distributed over the fruits.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to sit for 12-24 hours in a cool place.
The next day, preheat the oven to 120C and set your oven shelves to the lowest part fo the oven.
Transfer all fruit mix into a large ovenproof/casserole dish, cover with a lid and place into the oven for three hours.
Remove from the oven, and place your jam jars in the oven to sterilise.
Stir the fruitmince for a few minutes to cool slightly and to ensure the melted suet and sugar evenly coat all the fruit.
Add the Brandy and stir well.
Remove the jars from the oven, immediately fill them with the fruitmince and screw on the lids.
Allow to cool before storing in a cool dark place for several weeks before using.

Makes around 2.75kg or 6lb of fruitmince

Saturday 10 November 2007

Overload of Blueberries = Cake

This cake is absolutely delicious and is literally bursting with blueberries. The blueberries along with the addition of yoghurt in the batter produce an incredibly moist and tender cake. The cake also contains two types of nut, some in the form of almond marzipan, used in the batter, and the other as crush hazelnuts which are sprinkled over the surface of the cake to give a nutty crunchy topping. What more could you want from a cake?

Last weekend, as ever, the urge to bake got the better of me and as I had a whole tub of blueberries from work, I went in search of a recipe to accommodate them. I found (and used) a great sounding recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini which required plenty of blueberries. However, I also tweaked it a bit by adding marzipan and hazelnuts into the equation and reduced the sugar slightly to compensate for the added marzipan. The result is fantastic, moist cake, juicy blueberries, little pockets of marzipan and a nutty topping. It was perfect to share with the rest of my family for afternoon tea, as I had gone home for the weekend. It’s definitely one I will make over and over again.

Blueberry Overload Cake

200g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
115g butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
240ml plain natural yoghurt
400g blueberries
65g natural marzipan

For the topping
1½ tbsp light soft brown sugar
2½ tbsp finely chopped hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 22cm 9inch spring form tin.
Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs on at a time, beating well between each one. Chop the marzipan into small squares and fold into the batter along with the vanilla and yoghurt.
Sift over the flour, bicarb and baking powder and fold in well, turning the bowl as you go until just combined.
Place half of the batter into the cake tin and then cover the surface with half of the blueberries.
Spread the remaining half of batter evenly over the blueberries and top with the leftover berries.
Scatter over the chopped hazelnuts and sprinkle on the brown sugar.
Bake between 1hr – 1hr 15minutes until springy and a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. (It will be wet if you hit a blueberry).
Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing from the in and allowing to cool before serving.
Tastes great eaten on its own, with crème fraiche or slightly warm with ice cream.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Starry Firework Cupcakes

It was Bonfire night here in the UK on Monday and as this is also the day that I take treats into work for the Monday Munchers I wanted it to be a themed treat. I remembered reading about a cake that had sugar sprinkles/strands folded into the cake batter just before baking to result in multi coloured streaks throughout the cake. This sounded ideal and I decided to give it a shot.

You must be very quick with the folding in of the coloured strands otherwise the colour starts to leech off them and gets lost into the surrounding batter. I know this as my last few spoonfuls of batter was dotted with little pools of red and green dye. I chose to bake cupcakes rather than a big cake as these are more portable and easy to share around. I was pleased with the results as the sugar dissolved into the cake but streaks of colour remained, speckling the sponge. I iced each one with a little glace icing (it was rather thin as I ran out of icing sugar) and decorated the tops of each one with tiny sugar stars.

From the outside they look just like ordinary cupcakes but biting into them reveals their speckled interior. I liked how the stars represent a starry night and then when you bite into them they reveal an explosion of coloured streaks to resemble fireworks. I bit of a long shot I know, but I had fun with it.

Starry Firework Cupcakes
110g self raising flour
110g butter or margarine
110g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 tbsp sugar strands
Icing sugar and sugar stars to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a tin with 12 fairy cake cases.
Place all of the cake ingredients (expect the sugar strands) into a bowl and beat together with an electric mixer until pale, smooth and fluffy.
Quickly stir in the sugar strands using a spatula and divide the mixture between the paper cases.
Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes until risen, springy and golden brown.
Remove the cakes from the tin and allow to cool on a wire wrack.
Make some glace icing by dissolving some icing sugar in a very small amount of water.
Spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake and scatter over a array of multi coloured sugar stars.
Makes 12 cupcakes