Friday 29 February 2008

Daring Bakers February Challenge - Pain Francais

Pain Francais or French bread was this months challenge and was selected by joint hosts Mary from The Sour Dough and Sara from I Like To Cook.

Baking some French bread might not sound like much of a challenge at first but don’t be fooled, French bread actually requires a lot of time, patience and skill. The general process turned out to be quite straightforward but it was putting those process into action that was the challenging part. The recipe instructions alone were 12 pages long – yes 12 pages and they had condensed it for us!! I don’t think I have ever made a recipe with so many stages. This was partly down to the in depth detail of the recipe and also thanks Mary and Sara who had added their own helped hints and tips along the way. These proved most helped – thanks girls.

The dough is very wet and sticky to work with, keeping it on the move proved the best way to deal with it and its stickiness becomes more manageable as time goes on. The bread goes through 3-4 rises which take in total nearly 10 hours, so this is not the kind of bread to make in a hurry – but with a little time and patience its really worth the wait. The end bread had a thin crisp golden brown crust and an airy centre that had just the right amount of chew to it. French bread likes hot humid atmospheres and this is achieved by giving the bread a sauna as it bakes by throwing in a mug full of water into the base of the oven and then slamming the door shut, trapping the hot steam inside. Just remember to stand back when you next open the oven door or you will get a face full of steam too.

We were given the choice of what style/shape of French bread we wanted to bake from the list below. The recipe would allow us to make:
3 - baguettes (24” x 2”) or batards (16” x 3”) or
6 – short loaves, ficelles, 12 – 16” x 2” or
3 – round loaves, boules, 7 – 8” in diameter or
12 – round or oval rolls, petits pains or
1 – large round or oval loaf, pain de menage or miche; pain boulot

I opted for 2 short loaves (ficelles) and 8 petits pains.
The petits pains turned out very cute and were perfect for dipping into soup, but my favourites were the ficelles which looked (to me) more traditional and how I always imagine French bread to look. They also had a higher chewy inside to crust ratio than the petits pains which I liked. Thanks Mary and Sara for the challenge it was a lot of and has given me a great respect for professional French bread bakers and the work and time involved in producing such a wonderful bread.

Please visit Mary and Sara’s blogs for the recipe and don’t forget to visit the blogroll to read about fellow Darking Bakers breads.

Saturday 23 February 2008

Mango & Lime Cake

Mango and lime is a flavour combination I have been wanting to transfer to a cake for a very long time. At first I couldn’t decide if I wanted lime or mango flavoured cake, then what sort of icing, whether or not it should have a filling etc. In the end I went for a fresh mango cake with lime icing. My next problem was making a cake batter that could handle the addition of a pureed mango without going sloppy. I was surprised to find that there are very few cake recipes that use more than just a few tablespoons of pureed mango in them. After reading many recipes I went with one from an Australian Women’s Weekly magazine that used peaches and adapted it to my needs.

I intended the icing to be an Italian buttercream but after adding the juice from two limes it went (unsurprisingly) sloppy and although it tasted lovely it was no good for icing. I added some double cream, as I know this naturally thickens in the presence of acid, and it became the perfect consistency for piping. I was actually really pleased with the icing as it was zesty and creamy, yet a lot lighter than if I had used just cream thanks to the airy meringue base. The cake itself was quite dense in texture but not heavy and stayed wonderfully moist from the mango puree. I think it’s important to ensure your mango is sweet and ripe before you use it as the flavour is quite delicate. I took it into work for the Monday Munchers where it received great feedback. One girl had three slices within about 4 hours and said it was her favourite to date.

Mango & Lime Cake
(Recipe adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Magazine)
For the Cake
170g mango puree – flesh of 1 large mango
280g caster sugar
250g butter
4 eggs
275g self raising flour

For the Icing
1 egg white
85g caster sugar
Juice of 2 limes
Zest of 2 limes
165ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease an 8inch/20cm deep round cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
Prepare the mango by cutting off the ‘cheeks’ and then scoring the flesh in a square checked pattern down to the skin. Push the flesh up and cut the cubes of flesh from the skin.
Place the mango into a food processor or liquidiser and process until smooth. Then set to one side.
Cream and butter and sugar together until lift and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well between each one.
Stir in the mango puree and then scatter the flour over the surface of the batter. Fold the flour in using a large spoon or spatula until no clumps remain.
Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 1hour 25 minutes. (After the first 40 minutes, cover the cake with foil to prevent it from over browning and bake for a further 45 minutes.)
Remove from the oven and check if a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing from the tin and placing on a wire wrack until cold.
Meanwhile, prepare the icing. Place the egg white and sugar into a large glass bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water.
Beat the egg white and sugar continuously for around 5-8 minutes until it becomes thick, white and doubled in volume.
Remove the bowl from the pan and slowly beat in the butter in small cubes. Then continue to whisk until cool.
Grate the rind off the two limes and set to one side. Then add the juice of both limes and half the zest to the icing. It will deflate slightly and go soft as this point but this is ok.
Pour in the double cream and whisk until thickened and at soft peak stage.
Pipe or spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake and scatter the remaining half of the lime zest over the top. Store in the fridge until required.
Serves 10-12

Monday 18 February 2008

A MeMe About Me

Elle of Feeding my Enthusiasms has tagged me for a Meme.

Select five people to tag - mine are:
1) A Slice of Cherry Pie – Julia
2) Chunterings – Carolyn
3) A Sweet Tart – Pixie
4) Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried - Naomi
5) Green Gourmet Giraffe - Johanna

Next, send them an e-mail or let them know by commenting on their blog that they have been tagged. They are then encouraged to select 5 different bloggers and to tag them.Here are the things to blog about and my answers:

What were you doing 10 years ago?
10 years ago I was in the final year of prep school and feeling quite grown up to be one of the oldest in the school. The next term I became the youngest in the high school and felt very small and overwhelmed.

What were you doing 1 year ago?
I was in my second year of university and had just secured my placement job for September. This left me feeling thrilled at having got a job and also terrified about a year doing a ‘real’ job. I was also beginning to revise for my summer exams.

Five snacks you enjoy:
1) Apples – there is something so satisfying about biting into a crisp fresh apple. The crunch sound as you bite into it and the sweet refreshing juice that fills your mouth.
2) Dried fruit – prunes, apricots, mango and apples in particular. I love there intense flavour and sticky chewiness.
3) A slice of fresh bread, either a soft chewy white with jam or nutella or a dense flavoursome rye with cream cheese. Mmmmm
4) Cake and lots of it. I have yet to find a cake I do not like, although carrot cake is a particular favourite.
5) Rice crackers with seaweed or spices – I love there saltiness and crunchiness.

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
1) Buy a nice, but not over the top house and design by dream kitchen with walk in pantry, big oven, double fridge, lots of space and kitchen gadgets galore.
2) Set up my own little cake and bake shop – a dream I someday hope to make a reality.
3) Visit some foodie countries and samples different cuisines and cultures.
4) Give some of it to my family to do with as they wished
5) Buy copious amounts of kitchen gadgets.

Five bad habits:
1) Putting off things I don’t want to do, telling myself I will do them tomorrow.
2) Eating too many cakes or cookies after baking them – just to make sure they are ok.
3) Being lazy with the washing up – sometimes it sits there for 2-3 days before I do it all in one go – yes I know I’m awful!
4) Not keeping in regular contact with old friends.
5) Adding recipes to my ‘must try’ pile and then not making them for months, if not years.

Five things you like doing:
1) Baking - what a surprise!
2) Reading/buying cookery books – surprise number two!
3) Browsing round kitchen shops, I could spend hours getting lost in these.
4) Going for a walk in new places – I love exploring new places, wandering what’s round the next corner or clump of rocks. A light breeze, beautiful scenery and only the sheep for company.
5) Blogging and reading other food blogs – they are such a source of inspiration and allow you to dip into other cultures and learn about foods I might not otherwise have known existed.

Five things you would never wear again:
1) A pair of shocking pink silk trousers – they were a birthday present from a relative and I wore them to a school disco and remember feeling embarrassed even then.
2) A set of Barbie hair ties when I was too old for Barbie and ashamed to be wearing them – I remember tucking my hair into the back of my jumper and hoping no one would see.
3) A pair of scarlet shiny sandals with about a 1inch heal. They were my first set of heals when I was about 9 and I remember feeling so grown up in them and wanting to wear them everywhere.
4) A red net tutu, a red and silver knitted poncho and a set of red fairy wings. My friends and I decided to dress up as different coloured fairies on the last day of sixth form. We thought it was cool at the time but looking at the photos now I can’t believe I ever stepped outside my bedroom door, let along the house looking like that.
5) A pink, bright blue and lime green T-shirt in a floral pattern. Truly truly awful.

Five favorite toys:
1) My laptop – I would be lost without it
2) My camera – I still don’t understand how they work but I love how they can capture a moment in time and allow you to look back to times and places which otherwise might be forgotten.
3) The oven – not a toy as such but without it I would be a very unhappy person
4) My little KA car – its given me independence, warmth and an extra hour at home in the evenings compared to catching the bus.
5) My baking tins and moulds

Saturday 16 February 2008

Celebrating Apple & Spice with Spiced Apple Cake

It’s my blogs first birthday and what better way to celebrate a year of Apple & Spice than with a Spiced Apple Cake!

I can’t believe its been a whole year since my first cautious steps into blogging. I can still remember the thrill of that first comment – learning that someone had actually read what I had written. My enjoyment of blogging has continued to grow and I have YOU, the readers and fellow bloggers to thank for that. You have given me great friendship, encouragement, valued feedback and welcomed me into a new culinary community. So thank you and if you feel like joining in the celebration you can bake an apple cake or simply eat an apple – I’ll be happy either way.

Spiced Apple Cake
This cake is fantastically moist as it uses 3 large apples in the batter, some pureed and some diced, resulting in little pockets of appley goodness. I used cooking apples which ensured a prominent apple flavour while the accompanying mix of sugar and spices kept it sweet and flavoursome. A scattering of chopped walnuts provided a nice contrast to the soft apple. The surface of the cake cracked slightly when baking but it turned out beautifully flat and golden brown.
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp nutmeg
120g butter
100g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
1 Bramley apple
55g walnuts

For the apple puree
2 Bramley apples
150ml water
100g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease an 8-9 inch spring form pan and line the base with greaseproof paper.
Start by preparing the apple puree. Peel and core the two cooking apples and dice into small chunks.
Place in a pan with the water and cook until softened and breaking down.
Mash the apple with a potato masher until you have a smoothish puree. Add the caster sugar and stir in well.
Allow to cook for 5 minute more and then remove from the heat and allow to cool while you prepare the cake batter.
For the cake, beat the butter and soft brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating them in well.
Peel and core and last cooking apple and either coarsely grate or finely dice it. Add to the egg mixture (don’t worry if it curdles) along with the cooled apple puree.
Scatter the flour, baking powder, bicarb and spices over the surface of the batter and fold into the mixture.
Chop the walnuts and stir though the apple batter. Give everything a quick beat to ensure its all incorporated and then pour it into the prepared tin.
Bake for 50-55 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch.
Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before releasing from the tin and leaving to cool.
Serve warm or cold for afternoon tea. Ice cream, cream or custard turn it into a delicious dessert.

Monday 11 February 2008

Double Heart Chocolate Cakes

As its Valentines Day this week I wanted to make a heart inspired treat for the Monday Munchers in honour of the occasion. I decided to make small heart cakes with the help of my fantastic heart shaped silicon muffin mould. I knew I was going to make them chocolate flavoured and I wanted to top them with some kind of heart decoration but I was unsure what to do. I went trawling through online cake dec shops for inspiration and found a heart shaped chocolate mould; two days later it landed on my doormat.

Even though I was planning to make dark chocolate cakes, I still wanted to include some red into the equation. I hit upon the idea of dying a little white chocolate red and streaking it over the chocolate moulds before filling them with white chocolate. I was unsure if it would work but I was really pleased with how they turned out, more pink than red, but they definitely stood out against the dark chocolate background.

The cakes were quick and simple to produce and were adored at work, although they did receive a few of groans from some of the men who had forgotten Valentines Day was so close. (I feel I should be thanked really or else they might have had some angry wives and girlfriends on their hands.) A small word of advice though, don’t be tempted to remove the cakes from the mould until they are almost completely cold. I tried, and my first one turned out more of a molehill than a heart – they are very fragile when warm.

If you don’t have a heart shaped mould you could always make cupcakes or bake a sheet of sponge and then stamp hearts out using a cookie cutter.

Double Heart Chocolate Cakes
For the cake

115g self raising flour
115g caster sugar
115g margarine
2 eggs
½ tsp baking powder
70g dark chocolate

For the icing
100g dark chocolate
20g butter
½ tbsp honey or golden syrup

For the chocolate hearts
100g white chocolate
40g extra white chocolate
Red food dye

To make the chocolate hearts
Melt the 40g of white chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds.
When molten, add 2 drops of red food dye and stir to produce a pretty pink colour.
Transfer the melted pink chocolate into a piping bag fitted with a small plain piping nozzle and pipe zigzag streaks across your chocolate mould. Allow to dry in the air for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the remaining 100g of white chocolate.
Then pipe or spoon the chocolate over the set pink chocolate zigzags and set aside to harden. (I left mine overnight)
Don’t be tempted to put them in the fridge to speed up the process as this can cause the chocolate to ‘bloom’ (have white speckled patches) due to the temperature change.
When completely set, tap out and store in an airtight container until required.

To make the cakes
Preheat the oven to 170C
Weight out all the ingredients, expect the chocolate, into a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy.
Melt the dark chocolate and then quickly beat into the cake batter. The batter will become quite thick as the chocolate firms up, but don’t try to thin down with milk as the batter becomes soft once in the oven and the chocolate softens.
Spoon tablespoons of the batter into a prepared mould or muffin cases.
Bake in the oven o 15-18 minutes until risen and springy to the touch.
Allow to cool before removing from the tin.

To make the icing
Melt the chocolate, butter and honey or syrup in a small saucepan over a gently heat until molten.
Stir until amalgamated and then leave to cool for 5-10 minutes until it forms a spreadable consistency.
Then spread the cooled cakes with the icing and top with a chocolate heart.
Makes 12 cakes

This is also my entry to Zorra’s Valentines Day event.

Update: The round-up is now up - Part 1 and Part 2

Saturday 9 February 2008

Red Pepper Black Bean Dip

I made this for a quick dinner last week when I got home hungry and tired and all I wanted to do was sit on the sofa with some comfort food. I really fancied beans on toast but a quick hunt revealed no baked beans, so I decided to improvise and created this warm red pepper beany dip.

I cooked the beans briefly to help them soften up as I wanted to mash them with a potato masher to reduce the amount of washing up. I also added a spoonful of peanut butter, which I admit sounds a little odd, but in my mind I was making a sort of houmous and the peanut butter was the stand in for tahini. I added a roasted skinned red pepper from a jar and a few sun dried tomatoes for flavour. Then it was just mash mash mash and in 10-15 minutes dinner was ready.

The dip was surprisingly creamy and I really enjoyed eating it while it was still slightly warm. The peanut butter added a slight nuttiness that worked well with the beans without tasting odd. I chose to eat it with some florets of broccoli, carrot sticks and chili flavour plantain crisps, which are those banana chip looking discs in the picture. I had never had plantain crisps before but I spotted them at the shops and my curiosity got the better of me. They came in two flavours, plain and chili and I chose the chili and boy did they pack a punch, but they were perfect for dipping.

The leftover beany dip was great the following day spread onto a tortilla with some crisp lettuce, salad and grated cheese. (Sorry for the quality of the pictures but it was dark and I was hungry.

Red Pepper Black Bean Dip

1 can black eyed beans
1 roasted, skinned red pepper from a jar
1 tbsp sun dried tomato paste
½ tbsp smooth peanut butter
1 tbsp olive oil
150ml water
Assorted crudités for dipping

Drain and rinse the beans and place into a sauce pan along with the water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes until the beans are soft.
Remove the beans from the heat. Add the red pepper, tomato paste, oil and peanut butter.
Mash everything together using a potato masher until relatively smooth, but a few lumps remain.
Spoon into a serving dish and serve with as assortment of vegetable sticks, crisps and bread for dipping.
Store any leftovers in the fridge.
Makes around 1 cup.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Blueberry Frangipane Tart

Over the weekend I was having a sort through my freezer and found some frozen blueberries and a block of pastry and decided to use them to make a tart for the Monday Munchers.

An almond frangipane was my tart of choice, for not only do blueberry and almonds go well together but the tart is also easy to make and does not need refrigerating meaning it could sit happily on the desk at work.

The tart came together in a very short time. I used the blueberries from frozen and loved how they created little pools of inky purple in the batter as they thawed, baked and bubbled. I added a layer of jam under the fruit and frangipane (I used the rhubarb and plum jam I made the day before but any jam would work well.) It has the duel purpose of adding flavour but also helps to seal the pastry and prevents it from going soggy. The frangipane was soft and moist with a wonderful almond flavour that worked well with the blueberries, themselves having intensified in flavour during baking.

The tart was well received at work and made a nice change from the usual cakes or cookies I take in. I am sure you could use any kind of fresh or frozen berry in place of the blueberries and even flavour the frangipane too, chocolate or orange springs to mind but have fun and experiment.

Blueberry Frangipane Tart

250g shortcrust pastry (homemade or shop bought)
100g frozen blueberries
100g butter
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g ground almonds
½ tsp almond essence
3 tbsp jam of your choice (I used my rhubarb and plum jam)

Preheat the oven to 200C and place a baking tray into the oven to heat up.
Roll out the pastry until around 4 mm thick. Line a 23cm round tart tin with the pastry and set to one side.
Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Then add the eggs, beating well until incorporated.
Stir in the ground almonds and the almond essence.
Spread your jam of choice over the base of the pastry case. Scatter over the frozen blueberries and drop spoonfuls of the frangipane mixture over the top and spread gently to form a smooth surface.
Place the tart tin onto the hot baking tray and bake for 10 minutes before reducing the oven temperature to 160C and continuing to bake for a further 20-25 minutes until the tart is slightly puffed and golden brown.
Brush the surface of the tart with a little warmed apricot jam and leave to cool before removing from the tin and serving.
Serves 8 - 12

Sunday 3 February 2008

Plum & Rhubarb Jam

What do you do when you have an excess of fruit? Make pies? Crumbles? Freeze it? Give it away? I make jam. I usually always make my own jam as I believe you simply cannot but as good a jam as homemade, no matter how expensive. I admit you can get some nicely flavoured ones, but on the whole I generally find they are too sweet and can start to crystalise a month after opening. I like to taste and see the fruit in my jam and be able to identify the fruits by its taste. Plus there is something satisfying about making your own jam, it’s very traditional and the aroma of a steaming pot of bubbling fruit is one I associate with my mum and grandmother.

Anywho, I came home on Friday with a mountain of plumbs and some seasonal rhubarb (it was local Yorkshire rhubarb too) that was left over from a project at work and set about jamming. I always like to add lemon juice when making jam as not only does it aid the gelling process but I think it helps enhance the flavour of the fruit. I also work on a ratio of two parts fruit to one part sugar, as I think using equal quantities of fruit and sugar is unnecessary unless you want a really thickly set jam. I also decided to add some brown sugar along with the usual white as brown sugar has a caramel taste to it that tastes sweeter than white sugar, meaning you need less of it to achieve the same level of sweetness.

I considered adding a bit of chopped stem ginger or vanilla into the mix, as these both go well with rhubarb, but in the end I decided to leave it simple. (Strawberry and rhubarb make a delicious combination in the summer.)

The jam was easy to make and I was able to potter around tidying up while it happily bubbled away. I love its pretty pink colour and how you can see the fine strands of rhubarb in the finished jam.

Plum & Rhubarb Jam

1.1kg plums
400g rhubarb
Juice of 1 lemon
150ml water
250g soft brown sugar
500g granulated sugar

Wash the plums and rhubarb and cut into 2cm chunks. Place into a large pan along with the lemon juice and water.
Place the lid slightly ajar and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to cook for 15minutes, stirring every so often to prevent the fruit from sticking to the base of the pan.
After 15minutes the fruit should be soft, broken down and pink in colour. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the sugars. Continue to stir for 5 minutes to ensure the sugar is well incorporated and has not sunk to the bottom of the pan.
Leave to cook for 40-45 minutes stirring every so often.
Meanwhile place 6 jam jars and their lids onto a baking tray and place in a cold oven. Then heat the oven to 120C to sterilise the jars. The oven must be cold when you put them in otherwise you run the risk of them shattering.
When the jam begins to look thickened and glossy, place a spoonful onto a saucer and place in the fridge for a couple of minutes. Then run your finger through the jam on the saucer and if it crinkles then the jam is ready.
Remove from the heat and ladle into the hot jars. Immediately screw on the lids with the help of rubber gloves. As the hot jam cools in the sealed jar it will form a vacuum and seal the jar. You will often here a ‘pop’ as the seal indent in the top of the lids is sucked back in.
Store in a cool dark place and once opened, keep in the fridge.
Makes 5-6 jars.