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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Cookie-Dough Truffles


I've always been one for licking the bowl and tasting (as all good chefs should) along the way, even when there is raw egg involved it doesn't seem to stop me. (I know I probably shouldn't but it hasn't harmed so far!) 


In my personal opinion, I think it's one of the best things about baking! Ever since I was little, I would always sneak a bit of pastry mixture out of the bowl when my Grandma wasn't looking, to be honest, pastry mixture isn't even one of the tastiest things to have when compared to some chocolate cake batter but still, there is something rather satisfying about it. 

Eating raw cookie dough is one of those things (as you can imagine) that appeals to me - massively! So the idea of making them into a truffle filling is just genius. This time there's no egg involved, completely safe. 



I have made them once before a year or two back, I probably made them a bit too big in hindsight because you only really need a couple, anything more and they become sickly due to their sheer indulgence. 


So this time, I tried adapting a different recipe and shaped them slightly smaller. I think I mastered the chocolate dipping stage this time.  I started off with a skewer, dunking them into a cooled, deep bowl of melted chocolate, but soon, after a few sunken mishaps which involved losing the ball in what seemed like a pool of chocolate, I realised that this just wasn't going to work. Sigh!


I resorted to my fingers ( I know all you master chocolatiers will roll your eyes and sneer but I don't care), I'm not ashamed to say it - it worked perfectly fine and  to lick my chocolatey hands afterwards was an added bonus too! So feel free to use your hands, no one here is judging you on your chocolatier skills...


The white chocolate drizzle is optional but I think it gives them a more decorative look, if you're not feeling the white, why not go for dark chocolate instead, get creative and pipe individual letters when lined up to spell out a message if it's a gift for someone or do cute little hearts for a loved one. 



Cookie- Dough Truffles


This recipe was adapted from I Heart Nap Time.


Ingredients


Makes about 23 truffles

100g butter, softened
80g soft light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
160g plain flour
100g milk chocolate chips
200g milk chocolate (for coating)
40g white chocolate (optional) 

Method


Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract then once all combined and light and fluffy, add the flour and chocolate chips. Stir until thoroughly blended. 

Make 1 inch balls with the cookie dough and place onto the prepared baking tray. Place the tray with the cookie dough balls into the freezer to firm up for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile melt the chocolate for coating, either in a bowl in the microwave on a low setting or over a pan of simmering water. Make sure you melt or pour the melted chocolate into a deep bowl so it makes it easier to coat the balls. Leave the chocolate to cool.

Once the cookie dough balls have firmed up, dip them into the melted chocolate, you could use a fork, skewer or just use your fingers like I did if you don't mind getting messy. Tap off any excess chocolate and place back onto the lined baking tray. Once all truffles are coated melt the white chocolate (optional) and pour into a small piping bag with a tiny hole cut/small nozzle. Pipe a desired pattern onto the truffles and then place into the fridge to set completely. Store the truffles in the fridge.  

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Will you be queuing up for so-called “Trendy Toast”? I certainly won't be.

Well it has been a busy week for me, I went to University College Birmingham on Saturday to explore what they had to offer on their 'Food product and innovation' course and it sounds right up my street!! I was very impressed with their new food laboratories, kitchens, sensory  and photography suites... food styling here we come. 

Which then explains why I haven't had much time for cooking  this week, so I thought what perfect timing to share with you my article that I submitted to The Guild Of Food Writers Write It - Young Food Writer Of The Year Competition. 

I am very pleased to say that I was awarded a highly commended by the judges- Tim Hayward, food writer and broadcaster; Nicola Graimes, food writer and author; and Karen Barnes, Editor of delicious. magazine. It was an improvement on last year when I didn't get anything so yeaahhh!! I also received some lovely comments from the judges as well which has given me confidence to keep going and improve even more with my food writing.....

Critics say ‘Hipster toast is the new cronut’ but is this just another whim that will drag on and on… I’m looking to you the cupcake?


Back in the day, our school lunchbox faced the harsh reality of factory-manufactured white sliced Warburton’s overwhelmed with that all-so-sickly sweet, strawberry jam (because our parents thought we actually enjoyed it) so you will never believe me when I say this 1960’s staple is next in the firing line to undergo a gourmet reinvention. 

I think it’s safe to say that most of us tend to lack imagination when it comes to breakfast time, and as for me, well, as a child I was no exception; continuously waking up to a bowl of cold and uninspiring cereal, most likely with a side of strawberry or chocolate milk if I was lucky. 

Of course, there was the alternative of toast – but toast seemed dull, monotonous and merely uninteresting - to my 6 year old self.  My palette was accustomed to all things sweet and bland, hence it was never an option for me, independently, to become brave and adventurous; no certainly not so early in the morning, especially when it was a struggle to keep my eyelids open. 

Much to my parent’s dismay, I tended to reject unfamiliar foods on the first few mouthfuls, but sugar was always that one notable exception to my “food neophobia.” Anything from Cookie Crisp to Golden Nuggets; I was unwittingly allowed bowlfuls to kick start my day, each with its sugar equivalent to a ‘gasp’-worthy 4 chocolate biscuits. 

At the time, why would I have ever questioned the choice between something that tasted as if I’d eaten a whole bag of sweetness, as opposed to a plain slice of white toast with a thin veneer of insipid margarine? Because for my parents to accept that sugar-loaded jam is OK, but butter isn’t, is of course, hypocritical. 

But, later on in life, the lightbulb abruptly sparked an ignition in my sugar-fuelled brain as I realised how utterly comforting toast could be. After years, and yet more years, of chewing on that contrived cotton wool-like bread; the bookends to those unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons,) equally processed cheese Kraft singles, you can probably see why the artisanal bread-making phenomenon was a miracle in my eyes. 

With the emergence of a new wave of local, independent operations reviving bakery craft skills and techniques, I was instantly gripped by the aroma of freshly-baked bread, the soft moist interior of a hand-crafted loaf with its nutty, crunchy crust. I suddenly appreciated the efforts of a baker who mixed, fermented, moulded and baked their own loaves each and every day. Light and delicate or deep and rustic, fabricating a whole host of flavours and textures, that’s what real bread should be like. Then along came the flavoured associates: sun-dried tomato, nuts, garlic, Mediterranean herbs and cheeses. Time to wave goodbye Warburton’s. 

Image from chocolateandzucchini.com
At last. An epiphany. I could now fully understand how toast can be salvation. Suddenly I’d be home, back from a late night out of hard partying and all I’d crave there and then in my pyjamas was a crusty end of a baguette – toasted and smothered with salted butter, of course never margarine. Melting and sumptuously naughty, my ultimate of comfort foods. It can be embellished with any amount of delicious spreads, and is very supportive of eggs, or melted cheese. Forget pies. Forget soups.  Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.
 
So, as I recently walked along my high street and spotted one of the many stylish, ‘hipster’ cafés tempting passing trade with a sign promising delights like toasted sourdough with gooseberry and vanilla jam, of course, I was instantly drawn in. Only to be misled amidst the rest of the queuing customers that I had to pay a whopping £3.50 for a single slice. But, although I’d made my mind up that it was clearly way overpriced, especially given that an entire malt loaf can be bought from the farmer’s market for the exact same amount, I, like my other fellow queuing companions, found it all too easy to be manipulated and deceived into re-thinking what is an adequate price for a slice of toast? This ‘special’ walnut and rye toast with manuka honey and kumquat marmalade? (That’s a Chinese orange.) 

I shamefully gave in. I fell right into the hands of those money-making trend setters. Tricked into later discovering that I had to ‘self-toast’, I was appointed to what seemed like a pretentious communal table upon which my toaster was sat - all part of the ostensible satisfactory experience. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I thought the whole point of eating at a café was for the sole purpose of getting somebody else to make it for you. I suppose you could argue that this is just a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with our trend-infatuated food culture. Or you could just go along with it all, be forever pulled under that silk-like blanket of double-think and hand over your hard-earned cash time and time again, for what is simply a basic plate of food. Food that has been superficially labelled with gourmet fame so it can therefore be triple even quadruple the price of what it is actually worth. 


Really, all I want at the end of the day is to simply stay at home and eat my salvation toast with my creamy, salted butter in the cosiness of my own pyjamas. Not to be told that I am in on the latest trend. I know. I don’t care. It’s just toast. It’s all it ever will be. And when it all burns to dust, I’ll carry on eating it, no matter what. 


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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Cranberry, White Chocolate and Orange Cake


Oven update: still no closer to getting one :(


Meanwhile, I managed to bake this wonderful cake for my mum's birthday courtesy of my friend Ellen and her oven (well her parent's oven - theoretically speaking), anyhow, this cake was a last minute decision but a great one... if I don't say so myself!


I've never really used dried cranberries as the main 'star of the show' ingredient in anything before and I have to say me and mum were pleasantly surprised at how plump and flavoursome they were. The cranberries worked brilliantly - more so than glace cherries, gasp I know!! 









The tartness of cranberries works well with the sweetness of white chocolate and the little hint of zesty orange at the end to just perk it up a bit more.  (Excuse my chipped nail polish!)

If you're used to making cakes the english way like I am, then you probably will find creating a crumb-like consistency a bit cuckoo - like your making some weird pastry/crumble. But it actually makes for a lovely light textured cake that you don't get by the creaming/all in one method that us brits are used to. 

I suppose there is something a little festive about this cake but it goes down equally well on a warm, sunny summer day too!

Cranberry, White Chocolate and Orange Cake


Recipe adapted from 'The Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home Book'

Ingredients


For the sponge:
140g butter, softened 
420g plain flour
400g caster sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
520ml milk
4 eggs
120g dried cranberries 
zest of 1 orange

For the frosting:
60g white chocolate
500g icing sugar
160g butter, softened 
50ml milk

For the decoration:
20g dried cranberries
white chocolate curls
orange zest

Method


Preheat the oven to 170°C/ 325°F/ gas 3. Grease and line 3 x 20cm/8 inch cake tins. In a bowl mix the flour, caster sugar and baking powder together and then add in the butter and keep mixing until it forms a breadcrumb consistency. 

Pour the milk and eggs into a jug and whisk together, then slowly pour and mix into the crumb mixture until you have a nice smooth batter. Then stir in the cranberries and orange zest. Spoon the batter equally amongst the 3 prepared cake tins and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean and springs back to touch. 

To make the frosting, melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave on a low heat. Beat together the butter and icing sugar with an electric whisk or freestanding mixer and gradually pour in the milk  to make a smooth, light and fluffy frosting. Then once your white chocolate is melted and cooled slightly, add to the frosting and continue to beat well for a few minutes until all evenly combined. 

To assemble the cake, generously spoon on lots of frosting onto the first cake layer and repeat until you have sandwiched each layer together. Finish with a good amount on top and decorate with more cranberries, orange zest and chill some more white chocolate in the fridge and use a sharp (non -serrated) knife to scrape across the smooth side of the chocolate to create little curls/shavings. Enjoy! This cake keeps well in an air-tight container for several days. 



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Friday, 5 June 2015

Goats Cheese, Garlic, Parma Ham and Thyme Couronne

When it comes to savoury bakes I immediately turn to bread. I'd seen Paul Hollywood make a sweet version of this couronne (crown) with mincemeat and marzipan on The Great British Bake Off Christmas Masterclass and it just looked so fun and inviting to make, with the cutting and twisting (it's really quite easy) but looks impressive enough to be straight out of an artisan bakery. 

So I've mixed it up a bit by using Paul's enriched dough recipe but instead filling it with all my favorites! 

There's this technique that I do (which I mention in the method) called tacking. Tacking is where you simply push the edges of one of the long sides onto your work surface, using your fingers so that the edge is temporarily 'stuck'. This helps to seal the edge when you have rolled it up into a log. 

Ingredients


For the couronne:
250g strong white bread flour
5g salt
8g instant yeast
50g unsalted butter, softened 
135ml whole milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the filling:
3 garlic cloves
130g goats cheese (rind on)
90g parma ham
a large handful of fresh thyme leaves
black pepper

Method


For the couronne, tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, then add the salt and the yeast. Add the butter, milk and egg and stir the mixture with your fingers until it comes together as a dough. Continue mixing until the sides of the bowl are clean and the dough is soft. (It will be very sticky.)

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-6 minutes, or until the dough has stopped feeling sticky and has a smooth, silky exterior. Equally, you could do this all in a free standing mixer with the dough hook attachment, just bring it togther and then leave on a low speed to knead for 5-6 minutes.

Return the dough to the bowl, cover with cling film and set aside to prove in a warm room for at least 30 minutes and up to one hour.

Now prepare your filling, peel and grate your garlic to a paste consistency. Then crumble up the goats cheese into small pieces with your hands. Finely chop up the thyme leaves and add a good grind of black pepper.  

Preheat your oven to 210°C / 425°F/ Gas 7. 

Once the dough has risen, flour your work surface and rolling pin and turn out the dough onto the worktop. Without knocking it back, roll out the dough into a rectangle 33x25cm/13x10in in size.Turn the dough rectangle so that the long edge is facing you. Spread the garlic paste over the dough, next scatter the goats cheese over and then place the parma ham on. Finally sprinkle with the chopped thyme and black pepper. 



Tack one of the long edges to your worktop (see my notes above). Roll the dough tightly like a Swiss roll, then cut the roll in half lengthways, all the way through. Twist the two lengths of dough together in a spiral using your hands at either end, then join the ends to form a ring.

Flour your baking tray then place the couronne onto it and set aside to prove again for a further 30-60 minutes, or until the dough springs back quickly when lightly prodded.

Bake the proved couronne for 20-25 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Nice served hot or cold, but best eaten on the day.
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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Milk chocolate and salted caramel pots


You don't realise how much you rely on your oven until it stops working. 


I'm currently in that very situation. Cue shiny new oven! (With a light as well...oh yeah, get in.) You may be thinking what?! You haven't had an oven light all this time? - the answer is no, I have been deprived of such a luxury, and I've had to put up with one side which was far hotter than the other for years and had to risk my cakes sinking in the middle just so that I could dive in and turn them halfway through. Dramatic!


But hopefully that will all be solved shortly, until then all I have is the stove to work with...this is where I have to improvise. 

That's why I decided to make these milk chocolate pots, mousse-like, but so much easier and straightforward, it involves no eggs whatsoever and I thought there was something wonderfully, humble about the fact that it's milk chocolate rather than the posh darker associate. 

I actually prefer milk chocolate to something which is incredibly bitter. Children will enjoy making and eating these pots, especially finding the salted caramel layer hidden beneath  as an extra little surprise!! If you're having a party, you could make these ahead of time and simply keep them in the fridge till needs to be. 



I decided on making it look a bit kitsch as that's just me! So piped some extra cheeky whipped cream on top (as if there's not enough all ready?!) and then finished with a strawberry. If I was going all out kitsch then cherries would be the way forward...only I didn't have them so another little improvisation - you could use cherries, or even raspberries, just anything soft, sweet and sour seasonal fruit. 

Hopefully my next post will be the first bake from the new oven....

Note: 
-Don't over whip the cream for the mousse, just stop at very very soft peaks.
 
-When melting the chocolate leave aside to cool for 5 minutes. It doesn't need to be completely cold because when folding it into the cream it will instantly set if stone cold and go lumpy which we don't want. If this does happen, don't worry! Just melt a few more squares of chocolate and fold that in but please don't notoriously keep beating it,  it will still taste nice anyway. 

Milk Chocolate and Salted Caramel Pots


Ingredients:

Serves 7-9 depending on pot size

For the mousse

270g good-quality milk chocolate
500ml double cream
50g caster sugar

For the salted caramel sauce

125g caster sugar
70ml double cream
25g unsalted butter
½ teaspoon fleur de sel (flaky sea salt - not table salt)

To serve

Strawberries, raspberries or cherries
150 - 200ml double cream, whipped
50g good quality milk chocolate (kept in the fridge)

Method


Break the chocolate for the mousse into a large, heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water, make sure that the water doesn't touch the base of the bowl and leave it to melt. Once smooth, take off the heat and put aside to cool for just around 5 minutes. No need to put it in the fridge.

Whilst the chocolate is cooling, whip the cream and sugar until you get very soft peaks. Then pour in the melted chocolate and fold very gently until just combined, don't over whisk it.

Next make the caramel sauce, place the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Put on a low-medium heat and leave to dissolve the sugar, don't stir it whatever you do but you can shake the pan. Once the sugar has dissolved turn up the heat and stay with it don't leave, keep it there for 4-5 minutes or until the sugar syrup starts to turn a light pale golden straw colour, it's now done and you can take it off the heat.

The syrup will be extremely hot so be careful not to get it on your skin, quickly put the butter and cream into the pan and stir until melted. Sprinkle the salt into the caramel and stir. 

Now your ready to assemble, firstly pour about a tablespoon of the caramel sauce into the bottom of your pot, little cup, glasses or dishes and then place them in the fridge for a few minutes. Then pipe or carefully spoon the chocolate mousse into the pots. Finish with a blob of whipped cream and fruit of your choice. Place into the fridge to chill for a couple of hours before you serve it.

Just before serving scrape the chilled chocolate with a knife, peeler or grate it like I did and sprinkle some over each pot. 

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