Category Archives: Cooking
I got it into my head that I wanted to have a bash at making some choux pastry.
The original plan was for prefitoroles, but then I thought…why make life easy? Why not have a go at some classic chocolate eclairs?
Why not indeed.
I melted some butter in some water (what?)
Before adding flour, some sugar and a pinch of salt
I beat the flour into the wet mix until it formed a ball of dough…only it didn’t really form a ball. It formed a paste and in my
stupidness naiveness, I thought that this would be ok. I then let the paste cook off for a couple of minutes, giving it a bash with the spatula now and again.
If it looks like this…it’s wrong.
I removed the mixture from the heat before adding and beating in eggs. The first egg was a double yolker – WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? – so then I was a bit confused about how many more eggs I should add, plus it was chicken twins, PLUS the yolks are important, but so are whites so OH GOD THIS IS NIGHTMARE.
I landed on the side of adding less eggs, so I only beat in two more.
Instead of thinking at this point “This dough looks a bit sloppy, I should probably stop adding liquids” I beat in another egg. Which left me with this:
Let’s skim over the fact that I actually tried to shove this mixture into a piping bag and make some desparate eclair shape.
So I added some more flour to the mixture to make it more dough-like. I vacillated between putting the dough over the heat and cooking out the flour and doing something weird to the eggs, or keeping the dough cool and not fucking it all up completely. A mixture of the two seemed like the worst possible option, so of course, this was the route I took.
I managed to get a somewhat dough like substance, and piped some strips onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.
Right. If you’ve followed this so far and are thinking…”Oh, it’ll be OK” then you really need to read the rest of my blog. It certainly WON’T be OK, and it certainly WILL make me swear a lot. So you might want to bail out at this point if you are of a sensitive nature.
Baked the fuckers. The fuckers didn’t rise, the fuckers didn’t brown, the fuckers were fucked.
They were as flat as pitta bread once cooled. There was no way they could be split in half and stuffed with cream.
So, I’ve paid good money for cream and butter and chocolate. I’m not prepared to let the ingredients go to waste, and so I start again. Mum told me that she’d tried to make choux pastry for a dinner party back in the ’70’s three times before she succeeded. She said this while giggling behind her hands.
Butter and water. BOIL THE BASTARDS.
2ND EGG IN
Into a piping bag with a nozzle. In retrospect I would leave the nozzle off and pipe straight from the bag.
PIPE THE STUFF
I whipped the cream
And then got on with the chocolate glaze.
So, I decided to half the glaze and only make enough eclairs for 4 of us – I can freeze four of the pastries.
Half the chocolate into a saucepan with some water, and then I forgot that I was halving the recipe so I shoved the full amount of icing sugar and cocoa power into a bowl and, well..
A drop of water sorted that out.
I halved the buns. There were three types.
And the ugly
The buns were cut in half, and piped with whipped cream
And then I topped them with the chocolate icing
Here we go with an ostentaciouis picture
They are delicious though.
You can find the recipe I used here.
I haven’t made bread by hand since I left school, *mumble, mumble* years ago. I seem to remember really hating the kneading part of the process and I think I made a couple of brick like loaves before I gave up on the whole idea, and bought a bread maker.
The thing is that recently, I have fallen in love with the Hairy Bikers and have been watching their latest series on BBC2, Bakeaction, avidly. They’re so lovely and friendly and, *sigh*. I think they remind me a bit of my Dad’s friends when I was growing up. I find them very comforting.
On the german leg of their trip these two lovelies made some potato bread, and whether it was the carby imaginings of a fed up dieter, or whether it was just the fact that loaf looked chewy and tasty and keeps for a couple of days, I was set on a course of mixing, kneading, proving, shaping, proving, baking and finally gorging.
To start, I boiled some potatoes and once they were soft, I drained them, reserving some of the starchy water, and mashed them up with some vegetable oil.
Once the potato water had cooled down to a hand hot temperature, I added the dried yeast and sugar and left it in a warm place until it frothed.
I added the warm, bubbling yeast to the warm oily mash (*drool* God, I really need to sort myself out a love life at some point in the future – this level of sensuality should not be confined to fucking FOOD INGREDIENTS) and mixed them well before adding the flour slowly and gently bringing all of the ingredients together with my hands. *cough*
Once I had a ball of dough I started the kneading process, the bit I was dreading the most. I really enjoyed it! Feeling the dough change from a sticky lump of ingredients to a cohesive, elastic, springy ball of dough was really gratifying.
So once I’d kneaded for 10 minutes I lightly greased a bowl and some cling film (I use an Olive Oil spray to make it a bit easier. Not that it’s hard to grease a bowl and some cling film, but I thought you might appreciate the tip) and left the dough to prove in a warm spot for an hour.
Once the dough had doubled in size, I knocked it back
– just because I’m hard, like to make sure that the bread doesn’t have great big massive bubbles in it, and then gazed upon the beauty of it.
I stretched out the dough into a square which was *technical* about a half a thumb deep.
And then folded the two long sides up towards one another, pinched together, and placed on a lightly greased and floured baking tray (I USED THAT OLIVE OIL SPRAY TO GREASE THE TRAY – It’s a tip, you can take it or leave it) to prove for another half an hour – hour, in a warm place. I went for the little sun trap in the corner of the kitchen.
Before baking, slash the dough and sprinkle some flour, before shaking some black onion seeds across the top of the loaf.
I had preheated the oven and so shoved my bread in and baked for 35 minutes.
Now, I know you’re not meant to open the oven too often and blah blah, but I turned the loaf once during cooking time. It needed turning or I would have ended up with half the crust being burnt and the other half being aneamic. It worked for me, but I was using this first loaf as an experiment! I was feeling all
arrogant brave, and luckily for me, it worked out ok.
The difference is entirely down to leaving the loaf to prove for longer on the second prove.
Anyway, after leaving the loaf to cool for a terribly irritating amount of time filled with “can we cut it now mum?” “”what harm could it do, if we cut it now, it won’t hurt”, “It must be time”
I cut the loaf, and buttered it.
To me, as Born Again Baker this whole process is just, well it’s enriching to me in some way. Urgh, I know that sounds ridiculously stupid and wanky and sentimental, but honestly? A bit of flour, a sachet of yeast, sugar, salt and potatoes can make a loaf that has persuaded Tom to have breakfast before school, that’s a pretty amazing loaf of bread.
However, I don’t get on well with bread and should be leaving it alone. I’ve eaten at least half of everything I’ve made thus far.
We’re two loaves down here, I’m scared.
For the recipe – BEWARE!! – Check out the link at the start of this post.
Pray for me…
I gave up smoking two weeks ago. I’ve been a veritable shedload of laughs in 2012 – I’ve either been doped out of my brain on codeine or snarling and snapping like a <insert something funny here>
To make it up to my poor beleagured boys I made them an American feast on Saturday night and the piece de resistance was a Hummingbird Bakery Chocolate Pecan Pie for dessert.
So, pastry making? Again? Really?
YES. REALLY. I had high hopes as I welcomed a new addition to my kitchen in the form of Kitty.
I followed the recipe – once again using softened (and therefore room temperature) butter for the pastry. I’m sure this isn’t right you know?, and I’m positive it’s the reason my results are so crappy (sorry for the spoiler – although if you hadn’t guessed that the pastry was a disaster then I urge you to stop and have a look around the blog; it’s kind of my “thing”)
Actually, I’m going to be honest – the reason the pastry didn’t turn out too well is probably less to do with the temperature of the butter and more to do with my inate clumsiness.
So, gathered the ingredients, blah blah and then added the flour and butter to Kitty and mixed to a fine breadcrumb consistency before adding sugar and and egg. I carried on mixing on a slow speed until a ball of dough formed.
I worked really quickly this time just gently pushing the ball together into a nice ball and covering in cling film before resting in the fridge for 30 minutes.
After resting, I ran my hands under a cold tap to get them all nice and frigid – just so the pastry didn’t get upset at being touched by “human temperatured” hands and quickly, and gently rolled out the ball.
I used the old trick of flipping one end of the pastry around the rolling pin to make it easy to place into the tart tin.
As you can see the pastry is lovely and “short” which should mean it bakes to a lovely buttery and crumbly texture.
I managed to get the pastry into the tin with clean efficiency,
and was feeling very proud of myself. The only thing left to do was to trim the edges of the pastry from the tin and VOILA! I would have not only barely handled the pastry but also shown that pastry can be made with the minimum of effort.
What I did though was pick up the tart tin and put my hand right through the base of the loose bottom.
I’m sure that some of my readers are starting t think “Oh, man! She’s definitely making this stuff up now. No one can be this incompetent” But I swear on my eyes that I am, actually this incompetent.
The air in the kitchen turned a violent shade of purple for a few minutes and the distant sound of hammering could be heard from the boys’ bedroom as they battened down the hatches.
I scraped the pastry up – inventing a few new swears as I did so – formed it into a ball, rolled it out and tried again.
This time I managed to get the stuff into the tart tin, pricked (with vigour), and trimmed with no further disasters but I must admit that I wasn’t quite as gentle as I could have been. (Understatement). The case then went into the fridge to rest for another 30 minutes.
I blindbaked the case, as per the recipe, for 10 minutes with baking beads and 10 minutes without. This was nowhere near long enough as the pastry still looked “sweaty” and so I gave it another 5 minutes.
I set the pastry case aside to cool and got on with making the filling.
To make the caramel which holds the pecans together, I melted butter, brown sugar and golden syrup over a low heat.
and when melted and cool I added this sweet brown mix to some lightly beaten eggs.
I poured roughly chopped pecans and chocolate chips into the pastry case, added the caramel mixture and decorated with whole pecans.
After about an hour in the oven, the pie should be cooked through with a very slight wobble in the centre of the pie. I left the pie to cool down before wrangling it out of the tin.
As I took the base of the tin from the bottom of the pie I noticed that the pastry wasn’t quite cooked through – I am finding this to be a consistent and very irritating problem with the recipes in the Hummingbird book. Of course, each oven is different and the cooking times in recipes are just guidelines but it’s really infuriating to realise that had I cooked the pastry for an extra 15 minutes during the blind bake I wouldn’t have had to try and squeeze the pie BACK into the tin to return it to the oven for additional cooking. Which of course just resulted in the topping losing some of it’s velvetty texture and basically just irritating the shit out if me.
Anyway – the pie was finally cooked, and cooled and slices were cut.
The boys loved it, I’m not too sure (but to be honest I’m still in quite a lot of pain in my mouth so only had a small taste) but one thing I do know for sure, the pastry is crap.
I’m going to beat you, pastry nemesis, oh yes I will – one of these days.
The tree is starting to droop. Hoovering up the needles is an hourly chore but it’s still not over! Oh no.
The spectre of New Year’s Eve hangs over me yet and we’re all feeling a bit like this:
If, like me, you have no plans then a quick meal that you can prepare in advance and just leave alone until serving time – with some killer puddings to see the new year in – is just the job.
I’m here to give you my menu for this this NYE.
I am going to be serving my Greek Lamb with Orzo. This is a stew with the pasta added in at the final stages of cooking and fills the house with the warming scent of an array of spices and herbs and tastes just bloody fab.
You’ll need *takes deep breath*:
A splash of olive oil
Stewing Lamb (not too lean, you need some good streaks of fat)
2 carrots (or one big bastard) Sliced in half, lengthways
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 carton of creamed tomatoes (or passata)
2 Cloves of garlic
Dried Thyme and Oregano
Cinnamon, ground and a stick
Fresh oregano, rosemary and mint
Got all that? Sounds complicated and a bit of a pain in the arse? It’s not, honestly.
Chop your lamb up into bit size pieces
and brown in the olive oil in a heavy based large casserole pan (you might need to do this in batches depending on how many you are cooking for).
While you are sealing the lamb, roughly chop the onion and peel the garlic (I’ve specified a couple of cloves but you can decide how much you want to add – it’s up to you) before blitzing to a pulp in a food processor.
Remove the browned lamb from the pan and add the oniony pulp to the fat and gently cook until soft.
Add the spices and herbs (I’ve not given amounts as I do just tend to throw “an amount” in, with the exception of the ground cloves – I’m not terribly keen on cloves so only ever add 1/4 teaspoon) and continue frying for a couple of minutes.
Replace the lamb into the pan (and the juices which will have accumulated in the dish) and add the tomatoes (tinned, passata and a squeeze of tomato purree) stock (about a pint), a glug of wine, the carrots and the fresh herbs. Bring to the boil and then place on the lowest possible heat and leave to bubble away gently for 2-3 hours (or longer).
SO, while the lamb is cooking you can get on with making some dessert.
I ummed and ahhed over which recipe to prepare, One Jug Chocolate Brownies or Ice Cream Cake and plumped for the ice cream cake as it’s stupidly easy and has a party feel to it.
And now, I will ask for a moment of bowed heads and silence as I have some sad news to impart. This will be the final recipe in which Ken, the Kenwood Chef mixer will make an appearance. At the grand old age of 34 (we think) he has finally shuffled from his mortal coil. Which is a bit strange actually as the problem does appear to be with a spring inside him which has finally rusted to the point of no return.
Farewell Ken. You did us proud. *Bravely holds back tears*
Line a springform cake tin with clingfilm, making sure that you have enough to cover the cake at the top.
Leave your ice cream (I went for vanilla, but you could use chocolate I suppose, or cookie dough, or raspberry ripple, or anything at all!) out of the freezer to soften a little, meanwhile take a rolling pin to some bourbon biscuits and smash them into small chunks.
Add your ice cream to your *sobs* mixer.
And add the bourbon biscuits, chocolate drops (I used both milk and white) and honey roasted nuts before mixing. (Keep back about a third of the biscuits and a few chocolate chips for decorating later)
Smash up a crunchie bar and add that to the mix (reserving a third of the honeycomb)
Pour the “batter” into your prepared cake tin and smooth the top a little with a spatula.
Wrap the overhanging cling film over the top of the cake and place into the freezer until five minutes before you’re ready to serve.
When you are ready, take the ice cream and chuck the reserved biscuits, crunchie bar and chocolate chips over the cake (and I’d definitely throw some sparklers on the top for some New Year’s Eve glitter and POP!)
For the full recipe (and also some details about hot butterscotch and chocolate sauces to go with this beauty) check out here
Back to the lamb. After a few hours of gentle simmering the lamb should be soft and the sauce a little bit thicker.
At this point I usually turn the oven onto a low heat (gas mark 2) and add a couple of handfuls of Orzo before giving the stew a final stir and putting the pan, lid on, into the oven to cook for 30 minutes – or until the pasta is cooked.
Make a quick mix of feta cheese, fresh chopped mint and oregano to sprinkle on the top of the stew.
Serve with green beans and broccoli. I sometimes make some garlic and rosemary roasted new potatoes, but these aren’t really necessary as the pasta in the stew provides the carby bulk.
I wish you all a Happy 2012, may your year be full of parties and happy times!
I’m not going to start this post by waxing lyrically about my mum. Suffice it to say that she is an amazing mother, grandmother, friend and all round good egg. I love her more than cake.
My mum and I are united in our appreciation of floral flavours. We both get pretty excited at a box of rose and violet creams and so I wanted to bake her a cake for birthday with a pinkily rose taste.
Luckily enough, my favourite cake book has just such an offering.
So here we go with yet another Hummingbird Bakery cake.
I whipped up a plain sponge and added rose water and some pink food colouring to the wet ingredients before adding them to the dry mixture
After adding the wet ingredients to the dry I added a couple more drops of pink food colouring and poured the batter into two 8 inch tins.
So, I baked the cakes for 25 minutes and after testing they seemed to be cooked.
So what went wrong? Sadly I haven’t the tiniest clue.
We’re now into damage limitation and this disaster is going to need some serious buttercream icing, the problem being that Mum is not the greatest fan of icing and sweet sweet cakes, so I’m somewhat limited.
I made a small batch of buttercream adding some more rose water to compliment the cake and also added some pink food colouring…
and tried desperately to salvage the birthday cake.
I slathered one of the cakes with one third of the icing…
before getting on with icing the whole cake and decorating with sugar paste flowers
We sang Happy Birthday and sliced the thing up.
So there you are – It tasted OK, but I wouldn’t rush to bake it again to be honest…
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MUM!
enjoy your cake
Let’s get back to some baking shall we?
Recently one of my friends invited me to celebrate his birthday at a pub. The invitation was pretty short notice but I decided the best gift I could give him (apart from the macaroni cheese in my man vs food post – which, incidentally, he’s been nagging me for ever since he read it) would be some cakes. *Cheap*
A week before the invitation, I’d bought some mini Lindt Lindor chocolates – God, I love them – and so I thought I’d try and make a cupcake with a lindor chocolate in the centre.
Chocolate cakes would be too rich, so a vanilla batter would be the best option. No icing on them either as I needed to put them in a cake tin and I also believed that the sweet in the centre would be sweet enough.
I popped the chocolates into the freezer for an hour – to prevent them from melting the second they hit the hot oven – and then realised that I didn’t have enough chocolates for each cupcake. Never fear! There’s always a stray box of chocolates in the Partyspanner household (it’s my secret shame) so I dug out a half empty box of mint chocolates and broke them in half before shoving the lot in the freezer.
I whipped up a vanilla batter
And double lined my muffin trays with jaunty cases before adding the batter to each case, adding a chocolate and then “topping up” the cases until they were 3/4 full.
Into the oven for..er, I think it was about 20 minutes and they came out looking (and smelling) pretty good.
I just HAD to try one to see how they turned out
SHIT! The chocolate had sunk to the bottom of the cake. The sponge was tasty though (and the mint had infused through the cake while baking which was interesting). I decided to take the risk and after letting the cakes cool completely, I placed them into a tin and took them to the pub.
At the pub we all had a few drinks, toasted the birthday boy, and I opened the tin. People started eating the cakes and I suddenly heard my name being bandied about with the phrase “hash cakes”. At first I thought they must be saying “smashing cakes” until someone actually asked me what was on the bottom of the cakes. Confused, I looked at the empty case in the someone’s hands and saw:
Gah! All of the chocolates had sunk – DAMN THEIR EYES – and so I had basically served up plain vanilla sponges with encrusted chocolate cupcake cases. Genius.
Ah well, the cakes soaked up a little bit of the alcohol at any rate.
I have a confession to make. I hate Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mincemeat – mainly because I don’t like raisins, sultanas, glace cherries and mixed peel. ick.
This year, we are having lots of lovely people to us for Christmas day and so I thought I’d better make a traditional pudding.
Stir up Sunday, which falls on the last Sunday in November before Advent, is the day when we’re all supposed to scuttle into our kitchens and prepare our cakes and puddings to give them plenty of time to mature into dark, sticky sweets and making them this far in advance also means that they can be fed with brandy or rum for a good few weeks before the big day.
The night before making my pud, I put a pound coin into some coca-cola over night to give it a good clean.
I’ve never made a christmas pud before so I had a good look through my recipe books, and online, before plumping for a fairly basic recipe – with a couple of my own personal tweaks.
I macerated the dried fruits, substituting a little of the
horrible raisins for horrible glace cherries, in my Christmas Pudding Rum, and a splash of Cointreau.
and left it to stew in it’s own juices for an hour or so. I then zested an orange and lemon using my amazing new gadget.
Yep, I’ve got yet another new helper in the kitchen and it is awesome! It fits onto your knuckles and as you gently rub away at the skin of the fruit it grates it very finely giving you perfect zest in a little box with no mess or aggravation.
I couldn’t be bothered to grate the apple shown in the ingredients photo, so for that reason, it’s out.
I added the zest, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice), suet, sugar and plain flour to the marinated fruit, popped the cleaned coin into the mixture and stirred it up!
Traditionally each member of the family, starting with the youngest, gets to have a stir of the mixture and make a wish.
Tom was out so he didn’t get a wish. I guess I should be grateful or I might have been melted and unable, therefore, to write this post.
I prepared circles of foil to fit onto the top of the basins and large circles (a good few inches wider than the circumference of the bowls)of greaseproof paper before packing the mixture into two bowls. (Lucky Nana might be getting one of these)
The next bit – the tying of the paper onto the basins was a total nightmare. The full basins were awkward, the string kept sliding off the slippery surface of the greaseproof paper and it was frustrating, until I called for help and finally managed to secure the bloody things.
The puddings need to steam now for 5-6 hours. I KNOW! That’s bloody MAD! FIVE TO SIX HOURS and then they have to be steamed again on Christmas day for a further 2-3 hours. It’s not even bloody NICE and it takes eight hours to cook and – let’s face it – a month to mature.
Waste. Of. Time.
Unless you like Christmas pudding that is, in which case, I expect it all sounds very reasonable.
I placed one pudding into a steamer pan, and the other into a large saucepan with an inverted saucer on the bottom, and boiling water poured to 3/4 of the way up the bowl and left them to it.
The noise of it! The water bubbling and boiling, the lids ticking, the steam escaping! My kitchen sounded like some sort of steampunk dream.
After the first couple of hours had passed (and condensation dripped from every window pane) it suddenly started to smell a lot like Christmas in the Spanner home.
It’s very important to keep a close eye on the water levels. I let the steamer pan boil dry twice and only noticed when the bubbling from the kitchen had changed from a low bubbling sound to a high pitched crackly screech.
After five and a half hours, and just as Antiques Roadshow started it’s comforting theme tune, I removed the puddings and left them to cool.
Once they were cold I replaced the foil and paper for fresh, before stashing in a dark cupboard.
For the recipe have a look here – if you started this weekend I’m sure it would be fine.