Thursday, 28 April 2011

Tarte Tatin

Recipe Number Twenty Nine:  Page 263.

The baking bug must well and truly have hit me over the Easter weekend. On our last day visiting my family I decided to fatten them up with another recipe, this time with an apple and pastry delight. In my mind I felt this tarte tatin was a low fat option. It contains lots of apples, which make you feel very virtuous, and only a thin piece of pastry. I reckon it contains less than half the fat of an apple pie.

I had mentioned to Mum earlier that I might make this and, as she loves anything remotely appley, she kindly went and purchased some nine inch sandwich tins which Mary Berry said I would need.

I started the recipe rather late and was feeling tired but it looked such a simple recipe I didn't feel too daunted. I started off by making the pastry. I only needed a tablespoon of icing sugar to sweeten the pastry and not much butter either. This confirmed to me that it was a low fat dessert. It was a very simple and easy pastry to make and, as a bonus, not sticky. I wrapped my soft pastry in some cling film and then popped it into the fridge for half an hour.

I preheated the oven and then started work on the laborious task of peeling and coring six apples - yawn! I have to admit that I didn't take much care cutting the apples into neat slices! I went to get my lemon and then realised I had forgotten to add it to my list. It was late and Easter Monday so the shop would be shut. I found a squeezy lemon in the kitchen cupboard so squirted that over the apple slices instead. Not the same, I know, but better than nothing!

I melted some more butter in a saucepan; ah, the fat is beginning to mount up a bit! Next, I added some Demerara sugar. Once melted, I could pour them into a sandwich tin. I measured the tin just to check I had picked up the new one. It was just 8 inches. Mum had a search and it was the tin she had just bought. She was so indignant that the tin had been labelled incorrectly! We found a nine inch spring form tin and in the end I decided to use that as it was the right size.

I poured the melted butter and sugar into the said cake tin and placed the slices of apples on top. I took the chilled pastry out of the fridge and rolled it out on the worktop. It was easy to work with, but the circle of pastry turned out to be a little thinner than I would have expected. This was placed on top of the apples. I trimmed off the excess and into the oven it went.

While it was cooking, I went to annoy, ahem, I mean talk to Neil who was busy drawing. I think he was glad when I noticed the smell of burning and had to scurry off to investigate!! The kitchen was full of smoke, argh!! Mum and I looked inside the oven and saw that all the butter, sugar and apple juice was frantically dripping out of the cake tin base and onto the tray that fortunately was underneath catching the syrupy drips. I opened the oven door and even more smoke came out. Of course it set off the smoke alarm. Mum opened windows while Neil and I stood under the alarm manically fanning books to try to clear the smoke. Our little boy somehow managed to sleep through all the commotion!

Anyway, I managed to cook the tarte tatin and it did look edible. Sadly the juices had all dripped out of the tin, so we did not have syrupy caramel on top of the apples as Mary Berry suggests. I very much wish I had just used the eight inch tin; it really wouldn't have made any difference at all. I should have realised that using a spring form tin was a bad idea, as it would be bound to leak. Oh well, hindsight is a wonderful thing! I shall know another time.
Shame it was missing the syrupy caramel!
We ate the dessert with custard and it was very nice, even without the caramel syrup. Mum said it was her favourite. It did taste like a lighter version of apple pie. I would certainly make this again, but in the correct tin!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Anzac Biscuits

Recipe Number Twenty Eight:  Page 225.

Over ten years ago Neil travelled around New Zealand and Australia and made some great friends along the way. I am often told stories of his great adventure and almost feel as though I was there with them all! I looked up when Anzac Day is this year and found out it is on Monday 25th April. As New Zealand and Australia are a day ahead I am making them on the 24th! These were made with Neil and his friends in mind.

Getting back to the biscuits! First of all I had to melt my softened butter. I thought it a bit odd that I had to melt my softened butter; what is the point of it being soft if you are going to melt it anyway?!  I was delighted to see that I only needed a tablespoon of golden syrup. This made it easier to measure. My mum had the amount of granulated sugar which I required, but it was of the 'light' variety. I don't know why they bother getting 'light' sugar after all the cake they have consumed this weekend! When I came to adding it to my saucepan of melting butter I found it didn't dissolve very easily. I wonder if that was due to it having sweeteners in it.  As I had only made flapjacks last week I could see the similarities between the two. However, the Anzac biscuits have less butter and syrup and contain flour, unlike the flapjacks. The last two things to be added to the saucepan were the desiccated coconut and oats. I was most pleased to see that I didn't need any other bowls to make these biscuits, this means less washing up, huge bonus!

I placed heaped teaspoonfuls of mixture onto my greased trays. I had to make them in batches as what seemed like a relatively small amount of mixture went a long way. I never managed to make 45 biscuits out of it as Mary Berry suggests, just 33! The biscuits spread out quickly in the oven and were very thin. Once cooked they reminded me of the Florentines I made a few weeks ago. If I were patient and left the biscuits to cool for a few minutes then they came off the trays easily. 

The biscuits turned out to be very crunchy and hard. They tasted buttery and had a subtle taste of coconut. They are nothing like the Anzac biscuits Neil has made in the past, which were more like a chewy flapjack. He adds bicarbonate of soda; I think that makes the difference. I personally prefer the chew of Neil's Anzac biscuits to the crunch of mine. However, that is just my personal preference! They are being snaffled very quickly at my parents' house and I have been told they are very moreish. Neil has eaten most of them!
Lots of Anzac biscuits!
Happy Easter to you all. I hope you are enjoying a lovely long weekend. A happy Anzac Day to all New Zealanders and Australians; I hope you are enjoying your tasty biscuits! 

Thank you very much to everyone who is taking the time to read my blog. I hope you are enjoying my ramblings! Please check out my Facebook page for regular updates and find out in advance what I shall be making.

Easter Simnel Cake

Recipe Number Twenty Seven:  Page 146.

I have been looking forward to making this special Easter cake for several weeks. The picture of the cake in Mary Berry's book looks delicious and rather pretty. This is my first fruit cake of the challenge; I usually only make fruit cake once a year for Christmas! The recipe is torn out of a magazine and is rather worn. Every year I lose it and have to hunt the house for it. You would think I might have put it somewhere safe!

I was delighted to see the cake included glacé cherries; in my opinion it's not a fruit cake without their presence. I had the sticky job of cutting them into quarters and washing and drying them. I am still not sure if washing them stops them sinking, especially in a heavily fruited cake such as this. I realised that I had forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge. I had been getting so much better at remembering - a little relapse! I put the rock hard butter onto the sunny window sill and got on with adding all the other ingredients to my bowl. I had to grate two lemons - oh the joy! I think Mum's grater is a bit shaper than mine, as it didn't take as long as it usually does. Adding the mixed spice nearly spelled disaster. I tried to shake the spice out of its jar and onto my teaspoon, but only a tiny amount ended up on my spoon; the rest went into the bowl. So, I took the lid completely off and shook the jar again. Thankfully, I had moved away from the bowl and was holding the spoon over a plate so, when the whole contents of the jar suddenly fell out, it had somewhere to land!! After scraping the mixed spice off the plate, I checked on the butter. It had taken mere minutes to soften. I wish I could rely on this all year round! Once I had thoroughly mixed all of my cake ingredients together, I put half of the batter into my waiting cake tin and then rolled out some marzipan.

If you have read last week's entry, you will know that buying marzipan was a very wise decision. I don't see the point in making your own as you can buy such good quality. Why add unnecessary stress to your life? As I rolled out the marzipan, I marvelled at how effortless it was to work with. I had a nice circle rolled within several minutes. I placed this circle on top of the cake mixture in the tin and then placed the remainder of the cake mixture on top. Into the oven it went, for two and a half hours. As I was visiting my parents, I took the opportunity of lounging around and eating a delicious lunch while my mum washed up and my sister entertained my baby. Life is good! 

After the two and a half hours I rolled my body off the sofa and checked on my cake. It appeared to be cooked through. After I had let it cool for ten minutes, I tipped it out and noticed that it had dipped very slightly in the middle. As the beach was calling to me I didn't let it worry me as I headed out through the door! 

Once home and feeling a little overheated, I just had to roll out another marzipan circle and also eleven marzipan balls and place them on top of the cake. I made a criss cross pattern on the top of the marzipan and then brushed it with beaten egg. I needed to put the finished cake under the grill to give it a golden colour. My mum put the grill on for me and told me I had to keep the door shut as much as possible. I gave it about 20 seconds and then checked on the cake; it was still anaemic. I checked again after another 20 seconds and the cake was slightly scorched, so annoying!  It was hard to keep an eye on it through the oven door. Oh well, not the end of the world I know, but I wanted it to look perfect! 

My family had been commenting all afternoon how appetizing the cake looked, so I bowed to the pressure and cut the cake. It was a bit difficult to cut as it was so moist. I could really taste the lemon and the marzipan. It was fairly easy to make but, because of the decoration and the layer of marzipan in the middle, it gives the illusion of being more complicated than it actually is. It was quite delicious – even if I say so myself and I think by the comments everyone agreed!
Left under the grill a bit too long, whoops!

Hot Cross Buns

Recipe Number 26:  Page 336.

Good Friday seems like the most appropriate time to make hot cross buns, not that you should ever need an excuse to make them! I will quite happily tuck into one from the bakery all year round. I kid myself that they are a relatively healthy treat as they contain a small amount of fat! I have never   made them before, due to the fact that I can buy such delicious buns fresh from the bakery. 

As I stayed with my family over Easter, it took me a few minutes to acclimatise myself to another kitchen. My mum had to help me find some of the things I would need and then I was left to get on with the job in hand. The first part was lovely and easy; measure the flour, sugar and spices into a bowl along with the all important yeast. I melted some butter and heated up the milk and water. I was so worried about getting the temperature right in case it affected the rising of the dough. I am used to testing my son's formula milk on my wrist and I found myself following this procedure!  The butter, combined milk and water are added to the flour. An egg, currants and mixed peel are added last of all. We couldn't get a tub of mixed peel at the shop, so I spent quite some time picking the required amount out of a bag of mixed fruit! I mixed everything together, finding the dough to be a little on the dry side and I really didn't need much flour at all on the worktop to knead the dough. I had to spend ten minutes kneading. As it was such a lovely hot day, and I had also made the mistake of wearing black, I was sweltering hot even before a minute had passed. It didn't take long for the slightly dry dough to transform into a smooth and elastic ball, the only issue being that  the currants kept escaping as I kneaded! Neil appeared as I was about to cross the finishing line; he felt the need to have a go! Maybe men feel that kneading dough is one of the more masculine jobs in baking?! The now very elastic dough went into an oiled bowl and I had to leave it for an hour and a half to rise. As the sun had certainly put its hat on all I needed to do was put the bowl in front of the window and very quickly the dough had doubled in size.

When working the dough for the second time, I found it even easier to deal with; it was most relaxing.  The next job was the fun part, shaping the dough into buns. The recipe was for 12 but Neil said I had to make a baker's dozen! I laid the buns out onto two baking trays, leaving plenty of room for them to rise and spread. This time they had to go into the airing cupboard for half an hour as the sun had gone in. Mary Berry gives the ingredients needed for shortcrust pastry if you want to give the buns the traditional cross. I felt I had to do this; to me it wouldn't be a hot cross bun without them.  So, while the buns were rising, I rubbed together some butter and flour. It felt way too soft and squidgy to me. I checked the ingredients; I had used double the amount of butter. I tutted to myself as I threw it away and started again. This time I managed to follow the instructions correctly! I added just a tiny bit of water, worked it together to form the pastry and rolled it out. I am delighted to announce that, after a lot of pointing and whispering, Mum finally had to give in to the shame and bought a rolling pin! So this time I didn't have to resort to using a milk bottle, hooray!

Once the buns had risen, I placed strips of pastry across each bun to form a cross and then off they went to the oven. I couldn't believe how quickly they cooked. I barely had time to make the sugar syrup. Straight out of the oven and straight on with the syrup. They looked great, the crosses and sticky syrup really made them look the part. The only problem came when cutting the buns in half as the crosses fell apart. 
Mmmmm fresh from the oven!
I received such lovely comments about these hot cross buns. Neil told me they were the best he had ever tasted and my dad said they were far nicer than the ones from the bakery. 

They took quite a time to make, but I am so pleased with them. The texture and flavour were spot on, perfect!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Battenburg Cake

Recipe Number Twenty Five:  Page 54

I think I chose this mainly due to the picture of Mary Berry's Battenburg in the Baking Bible. It looks very attractive and tasty, obviously a great combination!

I have made one before. It was very fiddly, and the almond paste/marzipan was a disaster. However, I thought that as this is a Mary Berry recipe I should be in with a chance of a more successful result.

After my last bad experience with marzipan, I was a little anxious about making some more. I felt I should try out her recipe once so I could say how I got on. The recipe at the back of the book was for over double what I needed for my Battenburg, so I had to halve the ingredients. I was very worried about this, as maths has never been a strong point with me! But I worked it out in my head and on a calculator and confirmed it with Neil. I sieved the rock hard icing sugar into a bowl. The box had been open for ages, but Neil said it was wasteful to throw it away! I added the ground almonds; a whole egg and a few drops of almond extract and then stirred it into a paste. Fortunately I re-checked the recipe and saw that I also needed caster sugar. I hoped the addition of caster sugar would make it less paste like; it did not! How on earth was I supposed to knead this sticky substance? I sieved more icing sugar onto the worktop and gave it a go, but it was hopeless! Nevertheless, I wrapped it in cling film and stored it in the fridge until needed. Maybe that would firm it up. I could but hope.

Now for the cake. This was much easier, phew! Everything went into a bowl and was beaten until smooth. I placed half of the cake mixture into one side of my square tin, leaving the remainder in my bowl. I tentatively added a few drops of red food colouring. I was worried that I would add too much and end up with blood red instead of pretty pastel pink. When I was happy with the colour, I added the pink cake mixture alongside the plain cake batter. I made the join as neat as I could then I placed my multi-coloured cake into the oven.

The cake didn't rise that much, but I don't think it is meant to get that big. I left the cake to cool. Once cold I could get on with the fun, but scary part! I cut the cake into four equal strips and stuck them together using warmed apricot jam. I went to the fridge and collected my still squidgy paste! Even though I sensed it was a waste of time, I still tried to roll out the marzipan. It was no use; it stuck fast to the worktop and rolling pin. I was so cross! Neil was upstairs getting our little boy ready for bed. I called up the stairs that it wasn't working. He said not to throw the paste away, he would have a go. So we switched roles and, as I was tucking our little one into his cot, I could hear a few sighs and some laughter! Intrigued, I came down the stairs to find Neil in a right old mess. The cake had some paste stuck to one of its sides, but the rest was glued to the worktop. Neil said he had admitted defeat and very kindly went to the shop to see if he could buy marzipan. He came back with more icing sugar; our village shop does not sell such luxuries as marzipan. I warned him that if he just added icing sugar it would be way too sweet, but he thought he could at least make the cake look presentable. I saw the determined glint in his eyes, so I left him to it. Half a bag of icing sugar later and Neil proudly held aloft the finished Battenburg, tah dah! Oh! I hadn't arranged the strips of cake correctly; the whole chequerboard effect wasn’t happening, whoops! That's what I get for trying to cook our dinner at the same time. Yet again I had been distracted! The cake was OK, but the marzipan wasn't quite edible!  Neil and I both agree that you either need more time to spend on it or be a fairly experienced baker to achieve a really good result. I doubt that I shall want to make it again but, had I had some ready made marzipan, it may well have gone better. Anyway, Mr Kipling does exceedingly good Battenburg!

hmmmm.....something doesn't look quite right with this cake!!
A BIG thank you to everyone who has put such lovely comments on my Facebook Page, so nice to know people are reading and enjoying my blog!!!  Your support means a lot  :-)

Rock Cakes

Recipe Number Twenty Four:  Page 332.

I used to make rock cakes quite often; I suppose they were a bit of a speciality. I used a recipe out of Mary Berry's previous book (Mary Berry Cooks Cakes), to which I added glace cherries. I think they make them even yummier. They definitely seemed to be a favourite amongst family and friends. However, due to moving house and then having a baby, I haven't really baked much until recently; it was therefore nice to revisit these old friends.

I had thought this recipe would be exactly the same as the one in Mary Berry's other book, but I was surprised to find that there were some differences. The main one was that, in the Baking Bible, she uses butter instead of soft margarine. I wondered if it would make any noticeable difference to the finished result; only one way to find out!

I measured the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and rubbed in the butter. I felt a little sad as I added the dried fruit to the mixture; I had not added the cherries as I normally would have done, as I wanted to keep true to the recipe. All that was left to do was to mix in the milk and egg. Although the mixture combined really well, it was very dry. Mary Berry says to add a bit more milk if this is the case, so I took the milk back out of the fridge, leaving pretty doughy fingerprints on the fridge door and all over the milk bottle! I poured in just enough to make the mixture a little sticky. I put heaped spoonfuls onto my baking tray and sprinkled with Demerara sugar. Into the oven they went. After just 15 minutes my little rock cakes were cooked.

How can you not like rock cakes?!!

Neil and I tried half a rock cake each once they were cool enough to eat. Neil didn't look that keen, it has to be said!! He said they were a little dry and he preferred the ones I used to make. After telling him there was no need to look so horrified, I took a bite. Well, I have to admit it; they are quite dry and not as nice as the ones I used to bake. I wonder if it's all down to using butter, maybe the glace cherries help moisten the rock cakes. Having said all that, there is nothing wrong with them, they are still very decent rock cakes! However, maybe Mary Berry’s other recipe is more to our liking and we did miss the cherries.

Fast Flapjacks

Recipe Number Twenty Three:  Page 191.

I haven't had a flapjack in years. I cannot imagine why not as I am quite partial to their chewy gooeyness! I have tried making them once or twice before but I have not bothered for some time as they have always turned out rock hard. A sense of unease comes over me as I attempt to bite into one. Will I crack a tooth?!

At the beginning of this particular recipe, Mary Berry does say to take care not to over bake them, as they can become hard. Wise words! I do tend to get distracted and things can get a bit too golden brown.

I felt quite proud of myself when I started to make the flapjacks as I remembered a useful tip from a friend, Dan. He suggested a few weeks ago that I should measure golden syrup straight into a saucepan on top of my scales, rather than into a bowl. This would mean that I wouldn't get so sticky and it should also make the measuring more accurate. I had checked in my Baking Bible to see how much golden syrup I needed. Wow, 225g seemed a heck of a lot but I knew I had just enough left in the tin. I poured 180g of syrup into the saucepan and started to panic. I didn't seem to have much left, so I spent ages scraping around the tin with a spoon, making sure I could get it all out. I then went and checked the amount again. Oh dear, I actually only needed 75g! All the other ingredients weighed over 200g and I had read it wrong, whoops! I had to laugh. I went and told Neil what a silly thing I had just done; funnily enough he did not look surprised! Tutting to myself, I put back the golden syrup that I didn't need and then dropped the golden syrup lid onto the floor. Of course it landed syrup side down!

Anyway, after that fiasco, I carried on with the apparently 'fast' flapjacks! It is such a simple and easy recipe as all that you have to do is melt butter, sugar and golden syrup and stir in the oats. Turn the oaty mixture into a tin and pop into the oven, simple!

Mary Berry says to cook for about 35 minutes. After her warning not to overcook the flapjack, I was really careful to keep checking on it. Maybe I should invest in a timer?! After the allotted time was up, the flapjack was a lovely golden colour and looked delicious. After it had been cooling for ten minutes, I marked the flapjack into 15 squares. Mary Berry says to make 24, but they would have been a bit small for me!

The finished flapjacks tasted good and buttery, maybe a little bit too buttery. I had to wash my hands after eating one as my hands felt oily! They were perhaps a bit too hard, but were chewy. This was a vast improvement on my previous attempts. I loved making these and will certainly make them again. If I hadn't of made a hash of weighing the golden syrup, they would indeed have been fast flapjacks!

Recipe Variation: Chocolate Chip Flapjacks

A chocolate flapjack, what's not to like?!! Simply adding 100g of chocolate chips might not seem like much of a variation but I thought it was a brilliant one. I couldn't wait!

I followed the instructions as for the original recipe. The chocolate chips were to be added before pouring the buttery mixture into the tin. It would of helped if I'd been paying attention. I was too busy talking (nothing unusual there) and forgot to add them. I ended up mixing in the chocolate chips while the flapjack mixture was in the traybake tin. Also, I failed to notice that I should of left the mixture to cool before adding the chocolate. Of course they melted when I stirred them in - whoops!!

I paid more attention whilst the flapjack cooked. I wanted them to be chewy and soft. My teeth aren't too keen on rock hard flapjacks! Thankfully I didn't overcook this batch and they were just as I'd hoped. Shame the chocolate chips melted but it wasn't the end of the world. I was really pleased with the flapjacks as they were so chewy and chocolatey. As with the previous recipe I was alarmed by the oilness - I dread to think what they've done to my arteries!!
Recipe Variation:  Muesli Flapjacks

I was a bit worried about making these flapjacks as the two I'd made previously were on the oily side. I wasn't keen on adding another layer of fat to my ever expanding hips! Of course my greed got the better of me and I was soon grabbing the packet of butter from the fridge and getting started.

The variation for this recipe was to deduct around half of the porridge oats and replace with muesli. Mary advises to use your favourite muesli but as we rarely eat it we went for the cheapest variety! There is also the option to add extra raisins. I love raisins so added in a generous amount; sampling a few as I went!

I could then carry on with the simple recipe and it wasn't long before the flapjack was ready to go into the oven. After the suggested thirty five minutes my flapjack was cooked through but I was worried it might be a little over done. I needn't of worried as when marking it into squares I realised that it was very squidgy. Also, I was horrified to see that the flapjack was sat in a puddle of oil - YUCK!!

These were my favourite of the three flapjacks as I really liked the fruity addition of raisins. They were lovely and chewy, I just wish they weren't so oily! 
Oily but tasty flapjack!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Fork Biscuits

Recipe Number Twenty Two:  Page 195.

After spending so long baking the gingerbread and chocolate cake I have to say I was relieved to see that I only needed three ingredients to make these little biscuits, so hopefully they wouldn't take long. I washed the beaters of my electric whisk for what felt like the hundredth time! All I had to do was beat the butter until soft and add sugar and flour. It took a while for me to work the combined ingredients into a dough with my hands. Even though my hands were uncharacteristically nice and warm, bits of dough kept breaking off. Eventually I had a more manageable dough, so I could divide it into sixteen pieces. The sixteen pieces seemed very small but, as the flour is self-raising, they would spread in the oven. Once on a greased baking tray, I could flatten each little biscuit with a fork. Even though I had dipped the fork in water first, when I pressed down fairly hard the biscuits cracked and bits fell off, so it took some time to get them to look half decent! After this I was fairly happy and I put the tray of biscuits into the heated oven.

I was disappointed to look through the oven door and see that the biscuits had not only spread but flattened. The fork marks had completely disappeared on all but a very few.

Once out of the oven I immediately tried to pick the biscuits off the tray using a pallet knife. I shouldn't have done this as they immediately broke in two! I reluctantly left the rest to cool for five minutes before trying again and, this time, they came off as good as gold. 
Taste a lot better than they look!!

Do not be fooled by the simplicity of these little biscuits. I cannot stop eating them! They are one of the most moreish things I have ever tasted. I think I have eaten three today and it isn't even lunchtime! To think how proud I was yesterday to see that I had managed to lose a few pounds. Well, after all the food I have consumed, I think I may have put it back on plus a bit more for good measure!
Varitation: Chocolate Fork Biscuits.

I always feel nervous when making chocolate biscuits. It is hard to know when a biscuit is perfectly cooked and even harder when the biscuit is already a deep shade of brown!! The thought of chocolate spurred me on and I just had to hope I wouldn't end up with a pile of charcoal!

After beating the sugar into the butter I was to add the flour. For this variation I was to deduct a small amount and replace with cocoa powder. I'd forgotten how messy these biscuits are to make. I had to bring the mixture together with my hands and form into a soft dough. My hands soon matched the colour of the dough! Now it was time to roll into sixteen walnut sized balls. Mine were all shapes and sizes. As it would only be us eating the biscuits I didn't let it worry me!

I left the biscuits to cook for just over fifteen minutes and then went to check on them. They were still very soft but I remembered that they harden as they cool. I decided to risk it and place onto a wire rack. The last thing I wanted to do was over cook them. Soon the biscuits were ready to sample. As with the original recipe I found them irresistible. They melted in my mouth and had a crumbly texture. The chocolate flavour was much in evidence and satisfied my cravings!

A wonderful recipe for when you wish to rustle up a simple and tasty treat.
Nom nom nom!

Variation: Orange Fork Biscuits

The second variation for Mary's fork biscuits. An orange flavoured biscuit sounded promising and I was very much looking forward to sampling one or six!!

It was a roasting hot day so I thought it best to wait until early evening before turning on the oven and starting to bake. I wasn't sure if it was the heat or my usual scatter brain that caused me to keep going back to the book to check the recipe. Just as I'd finally remembered how much butter I needed to weigh, I found myself distracted. Two young girls were riding horses up the field behind our house. I was amused to see that the smaller of the two horses was in no mood to follow directions. It trotted sideways through the middle of the barley crop! Thankfully they soon travelled out of sight so I could carry on with the task at hand. These biscuits were in danger of being forgotten!

After beating the butter for a short while I beat in the sugar a little at a time. Mary instructs us to add the zest of an orange at this point. My orange was very juicy so I became worried that the zest would add too much moisture to the mixture. Now it was time to beat in the flour. Due to the heat and the orange the mixture soon came together to form a soft dough. It was easy to divide up into balls then to flatten with a wet fork.

The biscuits smelt delightful as they cooked. The kitchen was filled with a gorgeous orangey scent; it really did feel like Summer was here! Once the biscuits were out of the oven, and had cooled for a few moments, I dived in for a taste. The orange flavour jumped out and bounced on my taste buds. It really packed a punch! What a gorgeous flavoursome biscuit. Perfect treat for a warm Summer evening.

Divine Chocolate Birthday Cake

Recipe Number Twenty One:  Page 133

The title of this cake says it all. My birthday is just around the corner and it’s chocolate; what better treat could I bake to celebrate?

I needed six eggs for the cake. I don't think I have ever baked anything that contains that many before! I had to separate five of them, which is a nerve wracking job; I didn't want to get a trace of egg yolk in the bowl of egg whites. I added a lot of sugar into the bowl of egg yolks, and gave them a good whisk. Next, is the best part, melting the chocolate! I used a good quality Green & Blacks chocolate. I needed several bars and, of course, I had to have a taste to make sure the quality was up to scratch! I melted the chocolate and added a tiny quantity of instant coffee granules.

As I waited for the heavenly chocolate mixture to cool, I whisked up the egg whites. All I can say is hallelujah to the electric whisk. I do not have triceps of steel so I am very grateful I no longer have to whisk by hand! After just a couple of minutes the gloopy egg whites were transformed to a white mousse. It was very easy to imagine it was whipped double cream, but I think if I had licked out the bowl, I would have been sorely disappointed!

I poured the chocolate mixture into the bowl of egg yolks along with quite a large quantity of ground almonds and stirred it all together. The egg whites were then carefully folded in; I wanted to keep the combined mixture as light and fluffy as possible. That was the cake done, so into the prepared tin it went and then into the warmth of the oven.

When the cake had cooked for the required 50 minutes, out of the oven it came. I noticed that the top of the cake was perhaps a little overdone; the surface had also cracked somewhat! But never mind, that is what icing is for, to hide any sins! It is a good job I love chocolate as several more bars are used for the icing. This time some butter is added, just to make sure there's enough fat to give chest pains!! I let the icing cool while I brushed some melted apricot jam all over my now cold cake. Hopefully it would help to moisten the apparently dry surface. Before I poured the icing over the cake, I put a baking tray underneath the wire rack on which the cake was sitting. This is a good suggestion from Mary Berry as the icing is very runny and a lot drips off the cake, a little treat for later!! It took a good few hours for the chocolate icing to set, probably due to it being such a warm day. 
What a birthday treat!

Neil and I tried some of the cake after dinner. We were so stuffed, we shared a large slice between us. I needn't have worried as the cake was far from dry, but the top had a slight crunch to it! As there is no flour in the cake the texture is quite dense. The chocolate icing is delicious, so rich and chocolaty. This is perfect for a chocoholic’s birthday, but not for the faint hearted, I would suggest serving it in thin slices. I think I may have to do a few laps of the park tomorrow to make up for eating this!

Classic Sticky Gingerbread

Recipe Number Twenty:  Page 82.

If felt odd baking gingerbread on a sunny afternoon. I imagine eating it in front of the fire, tea in one hand; sticky gingerbread in the other.

I started by adding butter and sugar to a saucepan, letting them melt whilst I got in a mess with golden syrup and black treacle, both having escaped down the sides of their tins. When we see an army of ants marching towards our kitchen cupboards, I'll know why!

Whilst the butter and sugar mixture cooled, I put flour into a mixing bowl and measured in the ground ginger; four teaspoons seemed a lot! I beat together the milk and eggs in a separate bowl and added it together with the melted mixture to the flour. The combined ingredients came close to the top of my large mixing bowl and I feared it might overflow as I beat it all together. Next to pour the dark, sweet smelling mixture into my prepared traybake and into the oven it went.

The oven was on a low temperature, a blessing on a hot day! 50 minutes later, out came my gingery cake. I was surprised it was light brown as it had quite a lot of black treacle in it. As I inverted the cake onto a wire rack, it almost bounced out of the tin. Such was its hurry a corner fell off; therefore it had to be eaten! I gave some to my husband Neil, who couldn't taste the ginger, only the treacle. Obviously for some four teaspoons of ginger is not enough! I wish I had turned the cake over to cool as the top is the sticky side and it stuck fast to the wire rack. It was almost impossible to pick a piece up without peeling off the top of the cake, most annoying!

The cake was incredibly light and moist. The next morning it tasted much more gingery! It definitely improves with keeping, if you can resist it!

Now that's what I call sticky gingerbread!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Banoffi Pie

Recipe Number 19:  Page 349.

I have had Banoffi pie type desserts before, but never the real thing. The reason I decided on making it was due to the fact that we had guests to help us eat it! Glancing down the list of ingredients, the first word that sprang to mind was heart-attack! I felt it only fair that we should share out some of the cholesterol.

The first thing I had to do was crush up some ginger biscuits in a bag. Thankfully, we own a rolling pin, so I didn't have to use a pair of scissors like I did for the cheesecake I made several weeks ago! Ginger biscuits are stubborn little things, really difficult to break up, so there were a few lumps amongst the crumble. As with a cheesecake, the crumbs are mixed with melted butter and pressed into a tin. For this Banoffi pie I needed a 9 inch deep, loose-bottomed fluted flan tin, a lot to ask for out of a tin! Flicking through Mary Berry's Baking Bible I can't believe the variety of tins and tin sizes I am required to use. I shall have to see if I can borrow some, otherwise this challenge is going to cost a fortune!

Nothing is mentioned about leaving the base to set, so I cracked on with the toffee filling. I have already warned you this is not a low fat dessert and not something to eat if you are in need of losing a few pounds. I was alarmed when I saw that I needed TWO cans of condensed milk along with butter and sugar! I heated the sickly mixture in a saucepan over a low heat. Mary Berry says to stir continuously with a flat-ended spoon (never knew such a thing existed) until the mixture thickens, but to be careful as it burns easily. It took longer than the suggested five minutes for my toffee to thicken, but yes, it did burn onto the pan, deep joy! I promise I stirred the whole time and for once did not get distracted. Little black pieces were merrily dancing on top of the simmering mixture. Typical, I thought! I decided to sieve the toffee into the biscuit base; it worked and got rid of the burnt lumps, phew! I made the mistake of dipping my finger into the left over toffee in the pan, ooowwwww, my goodness did it hurt! I shouldn't have let my greediness get the better of me and left it to cool; I'm not even a big fan of condensed milk anyway! I left it to set before I whipped up the double cream. Yes, I did say double cream! I took a step back and looked with horror at the state of the kitchen. Melted chocolate smeared the worktop, a sink of dirty washing up water, saucepan filled with congealed toffee, a bowl with the remains of my carrot cake icing. At this point, my long suffering husband appeared. He selflessly licked out several bowls, started washing up and then made sandwiches for tea. I am truly blessed!

The last job which remained was to whip the double cream. Thank goodness for an electric whisk. It would have taken forever without one. Once the cream held its shape, I piled it onto the half made Banoffi pie. I cut up a banana and dipped the slices in lemon juice. A great tip from Mary Berry, the lemon stops the banana from discolouring. The slices were put on top as decoration. I used a bit of the chocolate that I had left over from making the Florentines; yes I had resisted eating it, and grated it over the top, pretty!

My goodness, this pie was rich - definitely not one for the faint hearted! It was enjoyed, but I think we all wished we had taken a smaller slice! I would only advise making this if you have enough people with whom to share it!! Neil took some leftovers to work today; it seems to be the favourite!

Hard not to be tempted!

I had a lovely day baking, but it did take over four hours and my legs were tired. Perhaps all the standing up whilst cooking, will have burnt off all the thousands of calories I consumed.

I enjoyed my first Mother's Day doing what I do best - eating! 

I also want to say a big thank you to everyone who has 'liked' my Facebook Page Rising To The Berry and I can't believe how many people looked at this blog last week!  Thanks so much :-)


Recipe Number 18:  Page 216.

My mother-in-law loves dark chocolate, so I thought the combination of nuts, candied peel and the chocolate would go down rather well as a gift. I couldn't wait to give these Florentines a try, but a few days before, I'd read reports of other bakers saying what a pain they are to remove from the lined baking trays. One even commented that she had ended up eating little pieces of greaseproof paper as she just couldn't peel it all off! I doubted this would make such a nice gift if it meant greaseproof paper had to be added to your diet. Mary Berry mentions at the beginning of the recipe that baking parchment (this is slightly different to greaseproof paper) makes it easier to remove the biscuits from the trays, but you can use a greased tray.

So, with some trepidation, I started to make the Florentines. At least I needn't use a mixing bowl as everything is just put in a saucepan. Butter and, for a change, Demerara sugar - oh and of course I can't forget the golden syrup. This time I couldn’t use my tip of pouring boiling water over a spoon to measure it. I had to weigh it. It was a bit of a pain scraping the gooey syrup out of the measuring scales into the saucepan, but I got there in the end! Once the butter had melted I could take the pan off the heat and add all the nuts. I cheated with the chopped almonds and used some flaked ones I already had; it saved a bit of time using them instead of chopping them up. I stirred in a little flour and the candied peel. I was also told to add four cherries, a very precise amount, but I didn't really notice them in the finished result!

Next came the scary part. I decided to test out which was better, using greaseproof paper (I didn't have any baking parchment) or just greasing a tray. I carefully placed a teaspoonful of mixture, spaced well apart, onto the differently prepared trays. It didn't seem enough mixture to make a biscuit, but I made myself leave it as it was! Into the oven they went. They certainly spread out a fair distance. Mary Berry says just to leave the Florentines on the greased baking tray a few moments before moving onto a wire rack. I would say I had to leave mine about four minutes before I could pick them up without the biscuits falling apart. Also, when they are just out of the oven, you can shape them a bit with a pallet knife, to get a neater shape. If you have a wide spaced wire rack, be careful as they can fold through the spaces and fall apart; this is most upsetting! As for the ones on the greaseproof paper, I didn't leave them until they were cool like I was told, I got impatient! They came off easily and I noticed they didn't spread as much or lose their shape as the Florentines on the greased tray.

As for the next part, that was a little tricky. Melting the chocolate, easy enough, adding onto the Florentines, fiddly! My Florentines were very delicate and had tiny little holes in them, so the chocolate I carefully applied to the underside of the biscuit came through the tiny holes. It looked as though I had sprinkled the surface with chocolate chips - not quite what I'd had in mind! The chocolate took hours to set so, if I make them again, I shall need to bear that in mind.

I am pleased with these special biscuits. They taste really good. The dark chocolate and the orange in the candied peel make a great combination and you also have the nuts to give flavour and crispness. All in all, yum! 
Chocolate Chip Florentines!

Carrot Cake

Recipe Number 17: Page 58.

My favourite cake has to be the carrot cake. For me a good carrot cake has to be moist, light, have a delicious cream cheese icing and, above all else, be carroty! So I was really looking forward to trying out Mary Berry's recipe. Scanning through the list of ingredients, I was a little disappointed to see bananas were included. I have made a few carrot cakes in my time and always preferred them without bananas, as I think they tend to overpower the carrot.

As it was Mothering Sunday, we had asked Neil's parents and brother to come round for tea. The invitation would have extended to my family, had a hundred miles and The Solent not separated us!

To get back to the cake, I greased my deep cake tin and placed the flour, butter and sugar into my mixer. I dug out my bag of carrots from the fridge (yes I keep them in the fridge) and put three of the fattest carrots into my weighing scales. They were way too heavy. In the end I rather surprisingly needed slightly less than two of my skinniest (after they had been topped, tailed and peeled)! So not as carroty as I might of hoped. I started to grate the carrot into my mixing bowl using the 'tiny hole’ side of the grater. After noticing that I was just creating a pulp, I quickly changed over to the 'coarse' side!

I had brought a small bag of chopped walnuts, hoping to save time. Pah! No such luck, the pieces were practically halves, so I had to break them up by hand. I spent ages trying to pick off the papery husk, but in the end I got bored and threw the lot in! Thankfully, I didn't have to worry about butter as oil is used instead. All I had to do was measure and pour in. Last of all. I added the mashed banana. Earlier, having peeled them, I had weighed the bananas just out of interest. They were twice the weight of the carrots. It appeared to me that I was baking a banana cake rather than a carrot one!

As I added the cake mixture into what I had previously thought to be deep cake tin, I realised that I didn't have enough room, uh – oh! I had to leave room for the cake to rise, so I took out about two tablespoons of cake mixture. I anxiously watched the cake rise in the oven, praying that it wouldn't spill out of the tin. Good job I had omitted those two tablespoons, as the cake rose up very quickly and I believe it would have spilled over and thus spelled disaster!! Obviously my tin is not as deep as I had previously thought.

After the cake came out of the oven, I let it cool in the tin for about ten minutes before inverting it onto a wire rack. When I went to do so, I noticed the cake had sunk back down and was now level with the top of the tin. However, when tested, the cake appeared to be well cooked.

This recipe requires a lot of washing up. I had to wash up my mixing bowl and whisks so that I could make the cream cheese icing, groan! But I quickly cheered up as I was chuffed I'd not been fooled by the fact that oil is used in the cake, I had read ahead and seen I would need softened butter in the icing. I congratulated myself on having carefully read the recipe first – something I have tended not to do – however, pride often comes before a fall. I quickly realised that I should have sifted the icing sugar before adding it in – tsk! That’s what comes from talking too much and not concentrating on the job in hand. I still can’t believe I didn’t think to sift it – a rookie mistake!

Using the electric whisk, I whisked the mixture for quite some time to try to get rid of the tiny pieces of icing sugar! I carefully smoothed the combined mixture on top of my cake and added some walnut halves as decoration. I was pleased with the way it looked and I think it went down well with everyone. The cake was moist but maybe not as light as I would have liked. I could taste a hint of carrot, but the bananas were more obvious. So a lovely carrot cake, but maybe not for you if you are not a lover of bananas!
I'm quite proud of my carrot cake!