Wednesday 27 May 2009

Daring Bakers May 2009 Challenge: Strudel Dough

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

The challenge this month was to make our own strudel dough which is basically filo pastry, a paper thin dough which was filled with fruit, nuts and spices before being rolled and baking into a yummy strudel. We were also provided with the recipe for an apple filling but as this was optional, I decided to create my own using apples, plums and ground almonds.

Creating the dough itself was surprisingly easy but the skill involved with rolling and stretching it out into a see-through thinness is something of an art form requiring a large work space and a well floured tablecloth! As I had neither of these things I decided instead to divide the dough into 8 pieces and make individual strudels instead.

I tried my best at getting the dough as thin as possible without it tearing, although a few holes did appear. Thankfully these disappeared as the layers were rolled over each other. My individual strudels turned out well and were lovely and crisp, although next time I might try making the dough longer to create a few more outer flakey layers. The apple and plum filling was soft without being mushy and mingled with the mixed spice and almonds well. I served mine with some cinnamon ice cream (sadly not home made) which was the perfect accompaniment, and providing an enjoyable hot with cold mouthfeel.

Thanks Linda and Courtney for such a fun challenge. Click here to see other Daring Bakers Strudels.

Strudel Dough
(Recipe from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers)
200g strong plain flour
1/8 tsp salt
105 ml water, plus more if needed
2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
½ tsp cider vinegar

Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a jug. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.
Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the dough with clingfilm. Allow to stand for at least 30-90 minutes (longer is better).
(It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm) for the next stage).
Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.
The dough has become too large to hold, put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.
(I made individual strudels so cut the dough into 8 pieces before stretching which made it a lot easier to work with).

For the apple strudel filling
(Recipe from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers)
2 tbsp golden rum
45g raisins
¼ tsp cinnamon
80g caster sugar
115g unsalted butter, melted, divided
100g fresh bread crumbs
60g coarsely chopped walnuts
900g tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.
Heat 3 tbsp of the butter in a large pan over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Make the strudel dough as described above.
Spread about 3 tbsp of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands. Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches/8cm from the short edge of the dough in a 6 inch/15cm wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.
Fold the short end of the dough over the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best eaten on the day it is baked.

For the apple plum & almond filling
4 tbsp ground almonds
2 Bramley apples
4 plums
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp mixed spice
60g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Make the strudel dough as described above.
Mix the sugar and the mixed spice together in a small bowl. Melt the butter and stir in the almond extract.
Peel, core and finely dice the apples and cut the plums into similar sized pieces.
Divide the strudel dough into 8 pieces. Dust a clean tea towel with flour and roll and stretch each one out into a rectangle shape, making it as thin as you can. Use your fingers and back of your hands to gently stretch it thin.
Brush a little melted butter on top of the rectangle of dough. Scatter over half a tablespoon of ground almonds.
Arrange a line of apple and plum across the width of the dough. Use about quarter of an apple and half a plum for each individual strudel.
Scatter over two teaspoons of spiced sugar over the fruit. Fold the top edge of the dough over the fruit and then fold in the sides – like you would if making a spring roll. Roll up into a sausage shape, using the tea towel to help you if needed.
Place on the baking tray and brush with the melted butter.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until crisp and golden brown in colour.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving with custard of ice cream. (I used cinnamon ice cream)
Makes 8 individual strudels.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

The Cake Slice May 09: Mile High Devils Food Cake

Another month has passed and its time for another delicious serving of a triple layer cake. This month the Cake Slice Bakers voted for a Devils Food Cake with a fluffy brown sugar frosting, a decision that was joyfully received in my household. I had been planning on making half the recipe but when I told them what the cake was they begged me to bake the full one and who am I to refuse?

A devils food cake is a deep, dark and slightly dense cocoa rich chocolate cake with either a light or dark icing. It’s quite unusual in that it uses a lot of water in the mix which helps make it moist and a little dense in texture. I had never made a full devils food cake before so was eager to try it. The only alteration I made was to reduce the sugar in the cake batter as it seemed to call for far too much compared to the rest of the ingredients. I’m glad I did as it turned out perfectly sweet enough, especially when topped with mounds of sweet fluffy frosting.

We had a choice of two frostings this time. A brown sugar 7 minute frosting or a brown sugar buttercream. I decided to go with the 7 minute frosting as it sounded lighter as it’s made using mostly egg whites which are whipped into a fluffy meringue using a hot brown sugar syrup. It reminded me distinctly of marshmallows with a slight caramel hint – delicious. The recipe made an enormous amount of frosting and I had lots leftover which we ate with some apple pie to get success.

When icing, the cake looked a bit bland on its own so I peaked the frosting into little peaks and then dusted it lightly with cocoa powder. I loved how the peaks around the sides caught a light dusting. It also hints at what might be lurking beneath that pale creamy mountain of frosting is a dark rich chocolate cake. The contrast in colour and texture when you cut a slice is fantastic. The cake is quite dense and wonderfully fudgy with a soft fine crumb that was slightly truffle like.

Its height and deep cocoa flavour meant small slices were sufficient, but the fluffy frosting prevented it from being too intense. However, if you wanted to go for a chocolate overload I bet it would make a wickedly rich and decadent dessert if you replaced the frosting with a chocolate ganache. Click here to see other Cake Slice Bakers cakes.

Mile High Devils Food Cake
(Recipe by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes)
100g cocoa powder
280ml hot water
600g light soft brown sugar (I only used 400g)
240g plain flour
80g cornflour
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp salt
225g soft butter
3 eggs
1½ tsp vanilla extract
165ml cold water

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line three 8inch/20cm sandwich tins.
Measure out the hot water in a jug and whisk in the cocoa powder. Set aside to cool.
Gently mix together the sugar, flour, cornflour, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Add the butter and cocoa mixture and beat well with an electric mixer for around 2 minutes until smooth and well combined.
In another jug, measure out the cold water and then whisk in the eggs and vanilla.
While mixing the cake batter, beat in the egg mixture in three stages, making sure everything is well incorporated.
Divide the batter between the three cake tins (I found a ladle helped divide it up equally).
Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the cakes are starting to come away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and leaving to cool completely before filling and covering with your choice of frosting.

Brown Sugar 7 Minute Frosting
6 egg whites
300g light soft brown sugar
80g liquid glucose or corn syrup
2 tbsp water
½ tsp cream of tartar

Place the egg whites in a very large bowl and set to one side.
In a small saucepan combine the sugar, glucose syrup and water. Bring the mixture to the boil over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and allow to boil until it reaches 116C (softball stage) on a sugar thermometer. Then remove from the heat.
Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat until its starting to foam but not yet form peaks.
While still whisking the egg whites, carefully drizzle in the hot syrup in a thin yet steady stream. Do not pour over the beaters or else you will create spun sugar!
Continue to beat until all the syrup is incorporated and shiny stiff peaks have formed. Beat for a further minute and then use immediately to sandwich the cakes together and cover the outside.
It makes a LOT of frosting so you can be very generous with it. Best eaten within 1-2 days.
Makes one triple layer 8inch/20cm cake.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Soothing Honey Lemon & Ginger Oat Cookies

I have had two of my final year exams this week and so have been feeling a little frazzled. I didn’t think I was feeling that nervous about them but I dreamt that our tutors asked us to go in a day early for a talk and they sprung the exam on us and I was screaming ‘no, I’m not ready!’ and then while doing the exam (still in my dream) I dreamt I was feeling stressed so decided to light a cigarette to calm my nerves and ended up setting my paper on fire! – I don’t even smoke – never have and never will, so I think my brain was just trying to torment me with nasty scenarios. Thankfully my exams have gone ok so far. As always seems to happen the topic I knew well and hoped would turn up as a question didn’t, but there have been no disasters yet - *knocks on table.*

So how does this fit into cookies? Well I had the urge to do some weekend baking and remembered how honey and lemon is always so soothing when you have a cold so decided to incorporate it into a cookie to see if it would sooth my nerves. I decided to adapt my favourite oat cookie recipe and added some glace and ground ginger for an extra enhancing boost.

The cookies turned out really well. They were lovely and fat with a golden crackly surface and a soft and tender inside. The lemon and ginger really shone through and complemented each other well and the honey was delicately lingering in the background. I love how plump and substantial they are, a really comforting cooking – I’m feeling better already.

Soothing Honey Lemon & Ginger Oat Cookies
150g butter
100g light soft brown sugar
50g/ 1½ tbsp clear honey
1 egg
170g rolled porridge oats
160g plain flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp ground ginger
25g glace ginger

Preheat oven to 190C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Cream the butter together with the sugar and honey until light and fluffy.
Grate in the lemon zest and finely chop the glace ginger and add to the bowl along with the vanilla, ground ginger, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Beat well until combined.
Add the oats and flour and beat together until all incorporated.
Use a tablespoon to scoop mounds of the dough into your hands and roll them into a ball. Flatten then slightly using the palm of your hand and place on the baking tray. Leave a 2 inch/5cm gap between each one to allow for spreading.
Bake in the oven for 12-14 minutes until they are golden brown in colour.
Cool on sheet for only 1 minute before transferring to a rack with the help of a palette knife. Do not prod them as they will stay soft until cool.
Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.Makes 12-14 cookies

Saturday 16 May 2009

Mornflake Oats Giveaway Winners!

I am pleased to announce that the winners of the Mornflake Oats giveaway are commenter’s 1 and 8 as selected by a random number generator.

Commenter 1mrspao who said: “Oh - that's a wonderful prize. I love oaty flakes”
Commenter 8Sam who said: “The oatbran flakes sound really nice, I'll look out for those next time I go shopping!”

Congratulations both of you! If you could please email me your address I will get your prizes sent out to you.

Monday 11 May 2009

Mornflake Oats Product Review & A Giveaway

The Lea family and creators of the Mornflake brand have been producing a wide assortment of oats and oat based cereals since 1675. This year they celebrate their 333rd birthday and are marking the occasion by launching some new exciting oaty ranges including muesli, granola, flakes and sprinkles. Being a huge oat and breakfast lover myself I was thrilled when they asked if I would like to try some of their new products. I eagerly accepted the offer and it wasn’t long before I had a large box of oat based goodies sitting in my kitchen. The thing that struck me first was the colours and designs used on the packaging. The sandy earthy colours and oat grain design really made it look fresh and natural and shows they are moving with the times despite being such an old traditional company.

They sent me some traditional oats including a bag of Superfast Oats, a box of Mornflake Superfast Oats with 20% added wheat bran and a box of porridge oat sachets – perfect for breakfast on the go. These would be great for making a bowl of breakfast porridge or a base for your own homemade flapjacks or cookies. I made porridge with the Superfast Oats with added wheat bran and it made a lovely creamy porridge while the added bran gave it a slight wheaty flavour and aroma that was very comforting with a drizzle of honey.

Next were two boxes of Mornflake Oatbran Flakes, one original and the other containing a mix of berries. I had never seen these before; they are made with 40% oatbran as apposed to wheat bran and I found the flakes to be thin and delicate but with a nice crunch and a slightly sweet grainy flavour – a sort of cross between a cornflake and a branflake. I really liked the addition of the freeze dried strawberries, raspberries and cherries which added a good fruity flavour and a nice texture contrast.

There were also two yummy looking boxes of Mornflake Extra Crispy Muesli and I am told there are four varieties available. I received the traditional Swiss style muesli with apple and a date, fig & apple variety. I was so happy when I read they both contained dried apple as I love this in muesli and yet not many companies offer it. Pouring out a bowlful I was very impressed with the generous amount of whole fruit and nuts included in the mix. I tried the date, fig & apple variety and found along with the named fruits it also contained a mix of seeds, raisins, flaked coconut and whole almonds and hazelnuts. These were all nestled amongst different wholegrain flakes including oat, rye, barley and wheat so there is no chance of getting bored with this muesli! I loved the variety of textures and flavours and it had a great toasty natural flavour. It also contains no added sugar, replying on the wide assortment of fruit for natural sweetness which worked well.

The product that most intrigued me was a tall cylinder of Mornflake Oatbran Sprinkles made from 100% oatbran. The product is designed to be used like an oversized salt shaker with a slider on the top which uncovers little holes from which to shake your oatbran sprinkles, which resemble very finely ground oats. The idea is that you do use it like a sort of condiment on your food by shaking a few sprinkles over your morning cereal, on top of salads or into smoothies. You can also use it to make a very smooth kind of porridge, add it to a bread or muffin mix or as a bulking agent in homemade burgers. You can even use it instead of breadcrumbs for coating pieces of chicken or fish before cooking. Oatbran is very high in fibre (15g per 100g) and I think the sprinkles idea is a great easy way of boosting your fibre intake, which in turn results in a whole range of other health benefits.

But what exactly is oatbran? Well, oatbran is the oater layer of the oat grain and is a high natural source of soluble fibre called beta-glucan. Research has shown that high soluble fibre beta-glucan foods, such as oatbran, have been proved to help reduce cholesterol (as part of a healthy diet) by binding to the cholesterol on its way through the digestive system and removing it from the body. Oats are also considered to have a low GI (Glycemic Index) meaning they release their energy gradually, resulting in a slower rise and fall of blood sugar levels allowing you to feel fuller and more alert for longer. So it seems you can’t go wrong with a morning bowlful of oats, and even if you are not a traditional porridge lover – there are now many tasty ways to get your daily oat intake.

Click here to visit their site for more information.

Giveaway – Your Chance to Win!
Now is your chance to share in the oaty goodness. To help celebrate their 333rd birthday, Mornflake have generously offered to send two of my lucky readers a box packed full of a selection of their new oaty products. All you have to do is leave a comment on the blog from now until Friday 12pm Midnight of 15th May09. Unfortunately its open to the UK only, so please put (UK) in brackets at the end of your comment if you live in the UK and would like a chance to win. Two winners will be randomly selected and notified on Saturday 16th May. Good Luck!

Thursday 7 May 2009

Lemon & Poppy Seed Biscotti

While sitting at my desk trying to revise I got the urge for some cookies to munch on. Soft and chewy chocolate cookies and all well and good but I was in the mood for something crisp and crunchy. The kind of cookie that I could nibble at and would creating a light scattering of crumbs that I could chase across the plate with my finger, and I immediately decided on biscotti.

I had a rummage around my cupboards and unearthed a pack of poppy seeds and decided that lemon and poppy seed would be the flavour for my biscotti. Traditional Italian biscotti are very hard and brittle and require dipping into a drink of some kind before eating, but American style biscotti use a little butter in the dough which results in a more tender biscuit that are suitable for eating on their own without fear of chipping a tooth but still hold up well if dipped in a hot drink – the best of both worlds.

A lemony fragrance filled my kitchen as these baked, a smell that always gets my mouth watering. Once baked, the poppy seeds contributed a subtle crunch and a slightly smoky tea-like flavour that went well with the zesty lemon. The good thing about biscotti is that they keep for several weeks and I now have a small stash of them sitting in a tupperware box on my desk and whenever I get a bit fed up with revision, I take a break, get a drink and enjoy nibbling on a biscotti or two.

Biscotti are also perfect for sending as a gift through the post as they won’t go stale before they get to the recipient and are sturdy enough to avoid turning up as a bag of crumbs.

Lemon & Poppy Seed Biscotti
(Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour Company)
80g butter
125g caster sugar
265g plain flour
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking powder
1½ tbsp poppy seeds
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and finely grated zest of the lemon together until smooth.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. It may look slightly curdled but this is ok.
Sift over the flour and add the poppy seeds and baking powder. Mix until a thick but sticky dough is formed.
Divide the dough in half and shape/press each half into a thin log shape (about 20cm x 5cm) and lay far apart on the baking tray. Wet your fingers with water to help you shape the dough without it sticking to your fingers.
Bake in the oven for 22-25 minutes until lightly golden brown and crusty on top.
Remove from the oven and either spritz with water or lay a damp clean tea towel or wet kitchen roll over the top to prevent the biscotti crust from going crisp and brittle.
Reduce the oven to 165C.
Leave for 5 minutes to allow to cool slightly and the top to soften before cutting into 1cm thick slices using a serrated bread knife.
Stand the slices back on the baking tray and bake for 12 minutes before rotating the tray and baking for a further 5 minutes.
Remove the biscotti from the oven and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container. They will keep well for several weeks. Enjoy dipped into a hot drink, crumbled over ice-cream, as an accompaniment to a fruit fool or on their own.
Makes around 30-35 biscotti.