Monday, 29 August 2011

Baked Alaska

Recipe Number Eighty Two:  Page 369.

Some years ago I tried to make a baked alaska. there is only one way to describe the end result – dreadful! I can't remember what recipe I used, but I ended up with a runny mess. My dad, who will usually eat anything, tried a mouthful and quickly declared that he couldn't eat any more! As we were staying with my parents over the weekend, I felt that I had to try a baked alaska again and see if this time my dad could manage more than one spoonful!!

Those who have read my earlier entries may have seen that I can't seem to make a successful swiss roll. Looking at this recipe, I saw that the sponge base of the baked alaska is essentially a swiss roll. This filled me with dread. I have to admit that I didn't have high hopes for this recipe and now I could see myself falling at the first hurdle! Nevertheless, I made a start. I added eggs and sugar to the mixing bowl and whisked them together on high speed for quite some time. I made sure the mixture was thick enough to leave a trail when I lifted the whisk out. I then carefully folded in a small amount of flour; it was important not to over mix. Now I could turn the frothy mixture into my sandwich tin and then into the oven. While the sponge cooked, I went and watched my little boy showing off to my mum and sister; it was obviously very important for them to know how good he was at wriggling and bouncing!

Once the sponge base was out of the oven it took next to no time to cool down. Mary says to place the sponge base onto an oven-proof serving dish. Mum and I hunted for something suitable but it was to no avail; the base was nine inches and there just wasn't anything big enough. Mum placed some greaseproof paper onto her biggest oven tray; it would have to do! In the instructions I should have put the ice-cream onto the sponge and then put it into the freezer while I made the meringue. I couldn't do this as the oven tray was way too big to fit into the freezer, so I decided to make the meringue first. I placed the egg whites into a bowl and whipped them up with the electric whisk. Once the egg whites were stiff, I spooned in the sugar a teaspoon at a time. This took some time, but eventually my meringue was thick and glossy. Now that the meringue was ready and waiting, I sprinkled some strawberries over the sponge base before placing the ice cream over the top. Working super speedily, I piled the meringue over the ice cream and the sponge. I was so worried about the ice cream melting! I quite literally threw some flaked almonds over the meringue for decoration. I went to place the baked alaska into the hot oven but it wouldn't fit; I had to lower the oven shelf. I should have thought about that first, whoops! 

Finally the alaska was in the oven. It seemed odd putting ice-cream into a very hot oven! After only about four minutes I hurriedly pulled the baked alaska out of the oven. I can't get my head round how normally a meringue gets cooked for hours but on this occasion it is considered cooked in under five minutes! Using the overhanging greaseproof paper, I carefully and nervously manoeuvred the baked alaska from the oven tray to a large plate. I didn't dare try to remove the paper from underneath, so it didn't look that presentable! My sister helped take the all important pictures and found me bowls and spoons so it would make things quicker, I was paranoid that I would serve up a runny mess like last time. It wasn't easy dishing up the baked alaska, but no where near as bad as I'd expected. The ice-cream rather amazingly hadn't melted and the meringue wasn't mushy. Dare I hope for a success?! I had a taste and was very pleasantly surprised; the base was light, the ice cream was still cold and the meringue was crisp on the outside and mousse like inside. Dad ate every last mouth full and thought it very nice, hooray! Mum, bless her heart, over did it and couldn't move for some time! I am so chuffed that I managed to make a successful baked alaska! I should mention that it is for those with a very sweet tooth! I felt an urgent need to brush my teeth after finishing my slice!
Please excuse the greaseproof paper!!! :-)

Coffee and Walnut Sponge Cake

Recipe Number Eighty One:  Page 51.

I had been fancying a coffee cake all week, so choosing this particular recipe took next to no time. When I was younger I used to loathe coffee cake but now it is one of my favourites. It just shows how tastes change.

I was feeling very tired by the time I got round to baking this particular cake. The day before we were up at 5.30am so that we could catch an early boat to the Isle of Wight. It was my sister's hen night that evening, so it was very late by the time my head hit the pillow! I hoped this cake would be worth using up what little energy I had left!

As we were staying with my parents, I had to take a few minutes to acclimatise myself to a different kitchen. I spent a lot of time calling out to my mum, asking where the sieve or electric whisk was! When it came to adding the butter and sugar I was pleased that I didn't need much of either. In fact I also didn't require much flour or eggs; this was obviously going to be a fairly small sponge. I had to add in a modest quantity of chopped walnuts and a tablespoon of coffee essence. I made the mistake of licking the spoon after adding the coffee essence; blah, disgusting! When all of the ingredients were added to my mum's huge mixing bowl, I could get on and beat everything together using the electric whisk. It did take some time before the mixture was smooth. I am not sure why this was, but I hoped I hadn't over mixed. I shared the mixture between the sandwich tins and placed them into the preheated oven. I left them to cook while I collapsed in a heap and tried to stay awake! When I checked on the cakes, 25 minutes later, I was rather disappointed as they hadn’t risen very well. I wondered if this was due to my over mixing. The cakes were ready nearly ten minutes before they were meant to be, so I am pleased that I checked when I did. I tipped the rather flat cakes onto a wire rack to cool while I made up the butter cream.

The butter cream was nice and straightforward. I needed a lot of icing sugar but only a small amount of butter in comparison. I was worried that the icing would be way too dry but as I also had to add a tiny amount of milk and coffee essence, I felt reassured that this would be enough to make a soft mixture. I whisked everything together and, sure enough, I soon had a light and smooth butter cream. Once the cakes were cold I could sandwich them together with half of the butter cream. I could spread it thickly and I still had enough to cover the top of the cake quite generously. After smoothing the icing over the top of the cake, the final finishing touch was to decorate with some walnut halves.

I took a step back to admire my little cake. I really was rather pleased with it. I loved the colours of the dark brown sponge and the light caramel colour of the butter cream. The walnut halves made the cake look particularly pretty. I did find the sponge a little tricky to cut. I think this was mainly due to the walnuts in the cake and maybe also because it was very moist. Neil isn't normally that fussed by coffee cake, so I was surprised when he said he really liked it. He thought it light and liked the combination of coffee and walnuts. My mum is a real connoisseur of coffee and walnut cake, so I was delighted when she gave it the thumbs up; she couldn't leave it at one slice! This cake was so quick and easy to make. It didn't really require much effort on my part, so I am very glad I found the energy to make it. I certainly slept well that night!
A seriously yummy cake!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Focaccia Bread with Onion and Balsamic Topping

Recipe Number Eighty:  Page 294

This recipe won the vote on my Facebook page yesterday; I sense that something savoury is seen as a welcome change. Savoury recipes are few and far between in the Baking Bible. I would imagine around ninety five per cent are sweet – much to my dentist’s delight! Although this was my first attempt at making a focaccia, I have had a long love affair with Marks and Spencer’s roasted vegetable focaccia slice! With this in mind, I was very keen to get cracking with this recipe. I hoped mine would be just as tasty.

In a moment of weakness I decided to start making this whilst my14 month old boy was on the loose. I thought it would be nice for him to see me making up the bread dough, but he was too busy getting into mischief to give two hoots what Mummy was doing! I had one beady eye on Isaac while the other was trying to follow the recipe!

I added the strong flour to my large mixing bowl, followed by semolina. It seemed a little odd adding semolina. I would never have thought of using it in bread. It just shows how much I am learning! Next was the surprisingly difficult task of locating a sachet of yeast. Neil had mentioned that there was in fact a whole box of yeast sachets. I hunted high and low but no sign of the stuff. As I am a little vertically challenged I needed the help of a chair. With the extra height advantage, I found just one loose, dusty packet of yeast hiding on a top shelf, hallelujah! The yeast (which was still in date) went into the bowl, swiftly followed by a little bit of olive oil and some warm water. Now all of my ingredients were in the bowl, I was ready to mix them all together. The dough was so easy to work with. It came together in moments and I was able to place it on my worktop and knead it, only requiring a light dusting of flour. Unfortunately, I had to abandon my kneading half way through as Isaac had opened a drawer and was merrily pulling things out! I picked him up with doughy hands and distracted him with a cornflake box! Once I was able to complete my kneading, I placed the perfectly smooth dough into a well oiled bowl, covered it over with Clingfilm and put it somewhere warm to rise. Meanwhile, I got on with making the onion topping.

Thankfully, Neil was by now home and able to look after the little rascal, so I got on with the topping in almost peace! I hate slicing up onions; it is a smelly job and it always ends in tears! It is funny as, although I hate chopping them, I adore eating them. With streaming red eyes I added the relatively thinly sliced onions to the frying pan along with a glug of oil. I put the lid on and left them to cook for around 20 minutes over a low heat. When the onions were all lovely and soft I poured in a tiny amount of balsamic vinegar and sugar and stir-fried for several more minutes before turning off the heat. I left the lid off the saucepan to allow the onions to cool down and went to retrieve my dough from its warm place. I had a bit of a shock when I saw the dough– it was HUGE! It was most satisfying knocking it down and watching the air puff out of it! I really enjoyed kneading it again, but my arms did ache a little by the time I'd finished. I rolled the dough out into a large rectangle and placed it onto a lined baking tray. By now the onions were cold, so I was able to spread the sticky onions on top. The dough needed to prove again for another half an hour before it went into the oven to be cooked. This time I had to put the baking tray inside a plastic bag; easier said than done! I preheated the oven while I waited for the dough to rise. The dough had almost doubled in size by the time it went into the oven; it already looked good enough to eat! While the focaccia cooked, I dashed upstairs and gave the bathroom a quick scrub; I didn't have long so it was a rushed job! I raced back down the stairs and found that the focaccia was a little over done around the edges, but it still looked pretty good. I heated up some tomato soup and then presented Neil with the fruits of my labour. He couldn't get over the sheer size of the focaccia! I cut the enormous bread in half and we shared a half between us. Oh my goodness me, it was lovely! I wolfed my share down and I couldn't resist having some more! I had been worried that the bread hadn't cooked through in the middle but I shouldn't have as it was just right. The topping was heavenly. The combination of onions and balsamic vinegar is surely unbeatable? No doubt I will make this again - no need to buy focaccia any more!
My rather large Focaccia!
Yummy with a bowl of soup :-)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake

Recipe Number Seventy Nine:  Page 186.

I have to admit that in my mind a ginger cake is more suited to a chilly winter’s day than a hot, sticky summer one. However, I had been fancying a ginger cake for a while, but I found it particularly difficult to choose a recipe. There are quite a few ginger cake variations throughout the Baking Bible so I was spoilt for choice. A picture accompanies this particular recipe, thus giving it an unfair advantage to those without and this was enough to twist my arm!

We needed to do a bit of shopping late afternoon, so I made a start just after lunch. I measured the flour, butter, baking powder and some spices into a bowl. I hate measuring out treacle as it is so sticky that I find it difficult to get an accurate measurement. Mary offers a very useful tip; weigh the treacle over the top of the sugar. I followed this advice and it worked really well. Only a tiny bit of treacle stuck to the bowl, yay! The calm was short lived as, when I came to add the milk, it appeared that we only had a dibble left. I was convinced I was going to have to gallop to the shop; I made a silent but desperate plea! Someone out there must have taken pity on me as I had exactly the amount required. Neil, though, was a bit miffed when he went to make a cup of tea! I added several eggs to the bowl and then, last of all, I retrieved the jar of stem ginger from the shelf and fished out a couple of slippery bulbs. With the first bulb of stem ginger I meticulously chopped it into tiny little pieces. The second bulb I was a little less fussy and by the third, well, the pieces were of various shapes and sizes!! The electric whisk was then put into action. At first I was worried as the whisking wasn't getting rid of the lumps. I eventually realised that these lumps were never going to go away as they were pieces of stem ginger! I poured the gingery cake mixture into my traybake tin and placed it in the oven. It cooked for just over half an hour and smelt heavenly!

I left the cake to cool on a wire rack while we drove into town. We had a quick look at the market show which was being held in the square. We visited the judging tent. Neil decided his tomatoes were better than the ones that had won third prize and I thought some of the cakes on display looked a bit dry (a bit harsh, I know)! Maybe I'll have a go next year with a Mary Berry cake. After a spot of shopping we travelled back home, feeling overheated and with much lighter pockets! After a sit down and a cup of tea I thought I had better get on and ice the cake.

I didn't need much icing sugar. This was just as well as I hate sifting the stuff. I re-opened the jar of stem ginger as I needed to use a few tablespoons of syrup for the icing. The resulting icing was very thick so I added a tiny bit more syrup. This did the trick and I could pour it over the cake. I was a little concerned as I barely had enough icing to cover the cake. I cut up yet more bulbs of stem ginger and sprinkled the pieces over the surface. It did make the cake look quite pretty. However, I was starting to worry how strong the ginger flavour was going to be as there was quite a lot of it! I recently found a great tip on another blog; to avoid getting cake crumbs in your icing, pour hot water over your sharp knife before making each slice (remember to wipe the knife in between). I found this really worked well. It did take longer, but I think it is worth it if you want to make neat slices. I was very keen to try this cake. I hoped it would live up to my expectations! I was really happy when I took a bite; the cake was very light and moist. The taste of ginger and treacle was quite strong but in a good way! I feel the icing is extremely important as it offers a refreshing, light sweetness, which I think is needed to cut through the strong flavours. All in all, an easy to make and easy to eat traybake. Delicious!
Very moreish!

Glazed Lemon Tart

Recipe Number Seventy Eight:  Page 264.

The reason for trying my hand at making a lemon tart was the 'Great British Bake Off', which is currently being aired on BBC 2. At the end of the last episode, it stated that the following week’s challenge would focus on pastry. I thought it would be fun to see how my efforts compared. Making pastry is not something that comes naturally; it certainly puts me well out of my comfort zone! I find this particular pastry, páte sucrée (sweet pastry) very temperamental and fiddly. I had a strong feeling that the next few hours could prove to be stressful!

I waited until my son's lunchtime nap so that I could give the pastry my full attention. I measured some flour into my mixing bowl and then rubbed in the butter. At this point Neil passed me a hot cup of tea. I decided to resist taking a sip in case it made my hands warm and thus ruined the pastry. I was taking no chances!! The next job was to stir in some sugar before I came to separate a few eggs. I stirred the yolks into the flour mixture; the whites were not needed so I put them to one side, while I contemplated what to do with them! At first the combined ingredients mostly stuck to my fingers, but very quickly the mixture came together and formed a smooth ball of dough. I retrieved a roll of cling-film from a drawer and wrapped the dough before placing it in the fridge. I decided to whisk up the unwanted egg whites, add some sugar and, hey presto, I'd made meringues! I popped them into the oven and felt quite chuffed that I had made two things out of my ingredients!

At this point I decided that it might be a good idea to read through the whole recipe. No, I still haven't learnt! Mary gives the option of adding sliced lemons to the top of the tart; I intended to do this as it sounded rather appealing. Unfortunately I hadn't noticed that the lemon slices needed to be soaked for at least two hours before I could use them, uh-oh!! I sprung into action and measured some sugar and water into a saucepan and heated it until boiling. I quickly sliced two lemons, they were supposed to be thinly sliced - well some were thinner than others! I picked out any pips and then popped the lemons into the hot syrup. When pouring the lemon slices along with the syrup into a bowl to soak, some of the hot syrup dripped onto to the newly cleaned floor!! By this time the pastry had been in the fridge for the required half hour. I lightly floured my worktop and placed my flan tin near me so that I could check the size. I started to roll the chilled pastry out; it didn't take long before it had glued itself to the worktop, grrr! This meant I had to start again. This time I made sure that I turned the pastry after each roll of the rolling pin. It worked, and soon the pastry was big enough to go inside the tin. I VERY carefully lifted the pastry from the worktop with my rolling pin. I unrolled the pastry over the flan tin and, although one side and the base slotted neatly into place, one side broke apart. I could have cried! I was going to take the pastry out and start again, but decided just to patch it up with bits of pastry. I spent ages doing this as I did not want any gaps or holes. Finally, I had something that didn't look too bad. I pricked the base of the pastry with a fork before placing it in the fridge. I quickly gulped down my now stone cold tea before starting on the filling.

I needed yet more eggs for the filling, but this time all of the egg was used. I was surprised to be adding ground almonds but, as I adore almonds, it was a pleasant surprise! I poured in some sugar and double cream; I could tell this tart was going to be rich. Now I could move on to adding the all important lemons. I had to grate the zest from four lemons; my right arm really ached by the time I had finished! I added the zest and also some lemon juice to the almondy mixture, and then poured it into the chilled pastry case. I anxiously placed the lemon tart into the oven. It looked OK, but I couldn't help worrying about the patched up pastry! The tart cooked for just over 30 minutes. The pastry did burn a little around the edges but, apart from that, I was pleased as the filling had set and I couldn't see any leakages. I let it cool for around half an hour before adding the decoration. Mary says the drained lemon slices should overlap. Well, I must have used two particularly small lemons as I barely had enough to cover the tart! I heated up some sieved apricot jam and then brushed it generously over the top of the lemon slices and tart. Adding the decoration definitely made it look more special. I felt quite proud of it! I cut a huge slice for the photo; Neil and I shared the slice between us. Neil particularly liked the pastry that I had been so worried about; he thought it nice and crisp. The filling was creamy and the taste of almonds was particularly noticeable. We were both surprised by how subtle the lemon was, considering how many I had used! Although the sliced lemons on top made the tart look pretty, we thought the flavour was a little overwhelming, so ended up removing them!! This lemon tart did take a long time to make and I spent over half an hour washing everything up. If this was made for a special occasion, the effort would be well worth it.

If you don't like lemons - maybe not the one for you....

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Date and Chocolate Loaf

Recipe Number Seventy Seven:  Page 107.

It would appear that I am not the only person consumed by chocolate as this recipe was chosen by those who follow my Facebook page. It was something of a runaway winner; I can only presume the promise of chocolate was all too tempting for some!

I have come across this recipe a fair few times whilst flicking through my now well thumbed Baking Bible. To be honest, the thought of using dates had troubled me. When I was a child I remember we'd buy them for my granddad. In my naivety I assumed that only old people ate them! It was with some reluctance that I headed into a health food shop to buy some pitted dates. My reluctance deepened further when I saw the price. Ouch! I then had a search for some Brazil nuts as they were also needed. I took a very sharp intake of breath when I saw how pricey they were. What an expensive cake this was turning out to be.

The following day I was very keen to get into the kitchen to bake this intriguing loaf. This may have been due to watching the fantastic 'Great British Bake Off' the previous evening. I couldn't help but feel inspired to bake after watching it! I eagerly made a start at 9.30am. I know, I still can't believe I started that early! First of all I needed to deal with the dates. I cut each date into roughly three pieces. This took a while as they are not the easiest thing to slice. In hindsight I think I should have used scissors. Once this laborious task was complete, I poured some boiling water over the dates and left them to soak for around half an hour. While they were soaking, I popped some chocolate and a tiny amount of butter into a bowl and set it over a pan of simmering water. I know of a lot of people who melt their chocolate in a microwave but I have never dared to try. I was brought up with Mary's books, so have always done it her way and I think for me it is the safest option! I left the melted chocolate to cool off a little and weighed out the Brazil nuts. I needed a fair amount, almost the whole packet. Even though they were already chopped (to buy them whole would've been more expensive), the pieces were larger than I liked so I chopped them up a bit more. I am not that fussed by nuts but, by a happy coincidence, Brazils are my favourite!

After all this preparation, I could now move on to making the cake batter. First of all I tipped some flour and sugar into a bowl. I also needed some bicarbonate of soda. I always get a bit excited when I get to use this as I very rarely require it! I poured some milk into a measuring jug and then beat in an egg; I added this mixture to the dry ingredients and whisked it all together until it was nice and smooth. Stirring in the prepared ingredients was the next step. I tipped in the dates and their soaking liquid (that doesn't sound pleasant). Most of the Brazil nuts were also added but I needed to keep back a little for decoration. The last thing to be included was the yummy melted chocolate. When everything had been stirred together, I became concerned as the mixture was rather runny. I double checked the list of ingredients in the book but I couldn't see that I'd made a mistake. When the mixture was in the loaf tin I sprinkled over the reserved Brazil nuts and some Demerara sugar. I put the cake into the oven, shut the door and hoped for the best.

Mary suggests a cooking time of around one hour and 15 minutes. After 20 minutes I couldn't help but take a peek through the oven door. I couldn't believe how much the cake had risen; it was massive! I prayed that it wouldn't sink once out of the oven. When the cake had been cooking for an hour, I decided to follow Mary's advice and place some foil over the top of the cake as it was starting to look a little over cooked. In the end the cake had the full cooking time. Once the cake was cold I could cut a slice to go with my lunch. I found it really tricky to cut as the loaf had risen so much and had an uneven top! The end piece was a bit overdone and dry, but the chocolate flavour was divine. I felt FORCED to cut another slice to make a fair judgement! This slice was so much better, the top had a gorgeous crunch from the nuts and the cake was lovely and moist. The dates gave a slight toffee flavour, while the Brazil nuts were a real feature in this cake; there were a lot of them! Neil nearly fainted from shock when he got home and a cup of tea and two slices of cake were laid out ready for him, I think he wondered what I had been up to! He seemed to really enjoy the cake but he did mention that the Brazil nuts were a little overwhelming. Apart from that he thought it was a lovely moist chocolatey cake. I wouldn't say that this cake has totally cured my aversion to dates, but I'm wondering if eating cakes which contain them is the way forward?!
Think you have to like nuts to like this cake!!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Double Orange Cake

Recipe Number Seventy Six:  Page 73.

I seem to have spent rather a lot of time recently grating the zest off lemons. I fear I have somewhat neglected its fruity cousin, the orange! There do not appear to be many recipes that require the use of oranges; most seem to favour the lemon. When I saw this recipe I felt I was left with little choice. It was the turn of the orange; I just hoped it would taste as good as it sounded!

I managed to make an earlier start on this cake, I was quite amazed to look at the clock and see that it was only 2pm! But, of course, something happened to distract my attention! Neil noticed a creature trotting along the field of corn behind our house, so I had to go and investigate. We couldn't work out what it was, so out came the binoculars and we recognised that it was a young fox. Of course I became in engrossed in watching its every move and gave Neil a running commentary. I became quite excited when it lay down!! After 20 minutes of watching a fox not do much at all, I went back to my cake making!

First of all I had to put the rather solid butter in the microwave for a quick blast of heat, as I'd completely forgotten to leave it out to soften. I then placed the now rather runny butter into my mixing bowl and added to it the sugar and flour. I had to beat the eggs before adding them to the bowl. I am still not sure why sometimes I have to beat the eggs first, but I am sure there must be a very good reason! I poured the beaten eggs in to join the rest of the ingredients and then retrieved an orange from the fruit bowl. The zest grated off the orange very easily and, unlike a lemon, it didn't sting! However, I found it hard to squeeze the juice from the orange due to the fact that it was so mushy. Some of the pulp ended up in the bowl too! I used my electric whisk to beat everything together for a minute or two until the mixture was smooth and well blended. I tipped the cake batter into my eight inch deep cake tin. I have to say that this particular tin is the one that I've used the most so far for this challenge. I am glad I forked out for a better quality tin! I placed the cake tin in the oven and meanwhile tried to get my little one to have his milk. He wasn't keen on this idea and, after feeling around the inside of his mouth, I discovered the root of the problem - his first molar! So, by the time I got back downstairs, the cake had been in the oven an extra five minutes. I hardly dared to look at the cake as I peered inside the oven. However, thankfully, it was cooked to perfection. Hooray!

I turned the cake out of the tin and left it to cool on a wire rack. Once it was cold, I heated up some apricot jam and then brushed it over the top of the cake. This really is a great way of stopping cake crumbs getting into icing. Speaking of icing, I needed to make some up using icing sugar and the juice of half an orange. The orange I chose happened to be particularly un-juicy; when mixed with the icing sugar it formed a VERY thick paste. Mary says to pour it onto the cake. Well, that was never going to happen. I added a little more juice which of course made it a little too runny, but at least it could be poured! In hindsight I should have let the jam cool down a bit more before adding the icing. Also, it really was a bit too runny; it just glided straight over the sides and dripped onto the worktop! Not much I could do to stem the tide, the dripping was at quite a frantic pace!! Oh well, I left what little icing there was to set and then, using my zester, I shredded the zest from the orange and sprinkled some on top. This made it look a bit more appetising!

Mary mentions in the header to this recipe that it is a lovely, light sponge cake and I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is the lightest cake I have yet made and my favourite so far from the Baking Bible. The flavour is fresh and very orangey, but most of all it is the lightness of the sponge that won me over. Yes, the icing doesn't look perfect, but its sweetness complements the cake perfectly. It was so easy to make; only the icing was a tiny bit problematic. Next time I shall use a juicier orange! Isaac, our little boy, had a tiny bit and the look on his face said it all – I think it made up for the toothache!
My favourite so far...

Mini Jammy Cakes

Recipe Number Seventy Five:  Page 245.

Before I could make these cakes, I needed to visit the shop and see if I could get hold of some blackcurrant jam. I didn't feel very confident and imagined I would have to make do with some strawberry or raspberry instead. I scanned the shelves and nearly punched the air when I saw not one but two choices of blackcurrant jam – I am easily pleased! I walked home with a spring in my step. I had intended to crack on and make these little cakes on my return, but I needed to entertain my little one as Neil was busy plastering a wall. In the end I waited until our son was in bed before commencing the baking. However, I then realised that I had better feed my poor husband! I made up a veggie stew. When it was bubbling away on the hob I could finally get my wooden spoon out!

I tipped the flour into a bowl and then added a small amount of mixed spice. Even though it was a tiny quantity, it still looked a lot sitting on top of the flour. However, I had used my measuring spoons, so I knew it must be right. I rubbed some butter into the flour. I didn't need very much at all. This pleased me greatly as I am beginning to worry about what this challenge is doing to my poor heart! Once the mixture resembled a bowl of breadcrumbs I stirred in some sugar. Again I didn't need as much as I expected. In my eyes this recipe was shaping up to be a low fat treat. I broke an egg into a small glass and beat it with a fork. It took quite a bit of beating as the yolk wasn't keen on being broken; it was rather stubborn! To the egg I added a few tablespoons of milk and in the process managed to smear butter over most of the milk bottle. I always forget to measure the milk out before I get sticky hands. I poured the combined egg and milk into the mixing bowl to join the other ingredients and mixed everything together. Mary says the resulting dough should be stiff, which mine certainly was. Once I started to divide the dough up and roll it into small balls I was grateful the dough was stiff, otherwise it would have been impossible to handle. My wooden spoon became multi purposed as I used the handle to poke holes into each of the balls of dough. I think the warmth of my hands had made the dough a little sticky, as it soon started to stick to the handle. I ended up using the tip of a finger to make holes. I found this worked better, but was a messy business. I grabbed the jar of jam and also a measuring spoon. I only needed about a quarter of a teaspoon of jam. I wanted to get it right, otherwise I feared I'd probably overfill them and the jam would spill out and weld itself onto the baking trays! I had a very red forefinger by the time I had finished filling all the holes with jam! The final touch was to sprinkle with sugar and then both trays of jammy cakes could go into the oven.

While they were cooking I went up to the bathroom to freshen up before dinner. I looked into the mirror and recoiled in horror. I had what appeared to be a nasty gash above my left eyebrow. I prodded my head and very quickly discovered it wasn't blood; it was of course jam! I am often amazed by my own blondness!! When I got back downstairs I quickly took the cakes out of the oven and placed them straight onto wire racks to cool. They looked like another minute or two wouldn't have hurt, but I was worried I would forget about them whilst we tucked into our meal. We spent quite a while eating and chatting, so by the time we came to trying a jammy cake they were almost stone cold. This was a shame as Mary states that they are best served warm. The outside of the cakes was surprisingly crunchy and sweet. The texture does remind me of a rock cake and I happen to love rock cakes! We both thought they could have done with just a little more jam, but I would be worried about adding more in case it spilled out. I could taste a hint of mixed spice, so thankfully the amount I'd added must have been right!

These mini jammy cakes are in the child section of the Baking Bible so are not really made with adults in mind. I am still a child at heart, so they appealed to me and I could really imagine them laid out at a child's party. Also, as they do not contain much butter, I wouldn't worry too much about these been gobbled down by little ones, while surely the jam is part of their five a day?! These cakes were very easy to make and quite good fun too. I expect children would have great fun making them and only need a little help from mummy or daddy!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe Number Seventy Four:  Page 198.

It appears that I am not the only lover of all things chocolate as this recipe was chosen by the lovely people who follow my Facebook page. As the first word in this recipe title is chocolate, you can't help but develop high hopes! I looked forward to making these cookies all day; I even found myself daydreaming about them at the baby singing group! After singing my little heart out, I went to buy some chocolate chips as I wasn't sure if I would have enough. I pushed my son's very squeaky pushchair up and down the aisles searching for this elusive but important ingredient. I couldn't find it anywhere. I remembered that Mary does mention in the recipe header that you can use plain orange chocolate cut into chunks for a more grown up flavour, so I bought a small bar plus a few totally unnecessary items before squeaking my way out of the shop.

I was determined to get these cookies made before Neil got home from work. I thought I would have another go at being a domestic goddess; all other attempts have failed miserably! I greased some baking trays and set to work. I didn't need too much butter, so these cookies could almost be classed as healthy. I popped the butter into a bowl and added some sugar and again I didn't need as much as I imagined I would. I was pleased to be using muscovado sugar. I find it gives a richer flavour and I always love to use it. I couldn't be bothered to get my electric whisk out, so I used a wooden spoon to blend together the butter and sugar. I soon started to wish I had softened the butter a bit more as it was hard going on my poor wrist! Eventually the butter and sugar were well blended so I could move on to the next part of adding in some beaten egg. Mary says to add the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. It was rather tricky adding it a little at a time; the egg very much wanted to make its entrance to the mixing bowl all at once!! The combined mixture was not very appealing to look at. I won't comment on what it resembled! I retrieved the flour from the heaving kitchen shelf, knocking off an opened packet of currants as I did so. After sweeping up the runaway currants I could get back to adding the flour to the mixing bowl. It took a bit of mixing before it all came together. At first I was worried that there was too much flour but I needn't have been concerned as it transformed itself into a thick, creamy mixture. All that was left was to add in the chocolate chips. I weighed them out and, as I had feared, I didn't have anywhere near enough. This might have something to do with the fact that I can't stop pinching a couple most days – whoops! Thankfully this wasn't a problem as I had bought the bar of chocolate. I threw in the chocolate chips and then cut the bar into small chunks, added them into the bowl and gave the mixture a good old stir.

I spooned heaped teaspoonfuls of mixture onto my baking trays, making sure that I left plenty of room for spreadage. The cooking time was fairly short and Mary says to watch the cookies like a hawk, as they can turn dark brown very quickly. Well, this warning was enough to keep me peering through the oven door. I have to say watching things cook isn't one of the most exciting activities! I am glad I was resolute in my cookie watch as none of them ended up burnt - phew! I was really pleased with them, but they hadn't spread as much as I thought they might, so I probably could have fitted more on the trays. I think I left them to cool a little too long on the baking trays as they were a bit tricky to remove. They should have been left for just a minute or two and then transferred to wire racks to cool, but I got distracted by my little boy. He kept sticking his finger in my ear. He was having such fun and I didn't have the heart to stop him!!

By the time Neil was home the cookies were fresh from the oven and ready for a taste along with the obligatory cup of tea. We both really liked these cookies; they were sweet and slightly chewy and, of course, little bites of chocolate are always going to be a winner. They are dangerously moreish though; I can't stop eating them. What I especially love about these cookies is that they are so quick and easy to make. They really were a pleasure to bake. They also helped me feel like a domestic goddess, be it only fleetingly!

I always seem to take pics of biscuits in this tin!! :-)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Lemon Meringue Pie

Recipe Number Seventy Three:  Page 361.

When pondering this recipe I realised that, not only have I never made a lemon meringue pie before, but I have never actually eaten one – shocking I know! I never was that keen on meringue that is until I started making them for this challenge; I am quite a fan now.

Mary's recipe is a bit different to what I was expecting as she doesn't use shortcrust pastry but uses a biscuit base. As I have never eaten lemon meringue pie, I wasn't sure if this was a good or bad thing. However, I did know that this way would be easier and quicker, which was definitely a good thing! I had a value packet of digestives for the base. I weighed out what I needed and ate one or two, purely for quality control purposes, and I can confirm they are just as good as Mcvitites! I put the digestives into a bag and bashed them with a rolling pin until I had a bag of biscuit crumbs. Melting some butter was the next job. I didn't need as much as I thought I would. I tipped the crumbs into the saucepan of melted butter and gave it a good stir. Then I located my 8 inch deep flan tin and pressed in the buttery biscuit crumbs. I left the base to set in the tin whilst I had a much needed sit down!

Twenty minutes later I hauled myself back into the kitchen and moved on to making the lemony filling. As I have mentioned before, I am not a lover of condensed milk; I personally find it to be too sickly sweet. I reluctantly poured the condensed milk into a mixing bowl and then found another bowl for the egg whites to go into - lots of bowls equals lots of washing up! I separated the eggs, put the egg yolks in with the condensed milk and the whites in the previously empty bowl. Now I was ready to add the very important lemons. I needed three of them, which seemed rather a lot. I can't say I really enjoyed grating the rind off the lemons. As always, the juice managed to seek out a tiny cut on my finger, of which until that moment I had been blissfully unaware! I squeezed the juice from all three of the lemons. After I had done this, I remembered that I'd read that giving the lemon a short sharp blast in the microwave before juicing will help get more juice out of the lemon. Oh well, maybe next time! I poured the lemon juice through a strainer to join the condensed milk and egg yolks. The mixture appeared thick. But, as I stirred, I found it was actually rather runny. Mary says that this is perfectly normal. It is caused by the combination of condensed milk and lemon juice. The mixture soon thickened after a short burst of whisking. I poured the very lemony filling over the biscuit base and smoothed it out. I couldn’t resist a lick of the spoon afterwards. It did taste exactly like lemon curd; it was yummy!

I turned the oven to a moderate temperature and started work on the meringue. This was easy enough; I whisked up the egg whites and then added in some caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time. When I say it was easy, it doesn’t mean it wasn't boring. I felt tempted just to chuck all the sugar in at once, but I managed to restrain myself! Soon the meringue was stiff and glossy and ready to be piled on top of the lemon filling. I didn't want the surface to be too neat, so I swirled the meringue with the back of my spoon. I put the flan tin into the oven and then anxiously hovered in the kitchen waiting for the lemon meringue to cook; it only needed around 15 – 20 minutes in the oven. After 15 minutes the meringue was light brown so I decided to take it out to avoid it scorching, I was terrified it might burn. Once it was out of the oven and cooling down I asked Neil what he thought. He said it could have done with a couple more minutes - typical!! After the suggested 30 minutes of cooling, I cut into the lemon meringue pie and was amazed that it didn't all fall apart! Neil and I shared a slice and both enjoyed it. Neil, who has had lemon meringue pie before, said it tasted exactly as it should. I, who have never tried one before, thought it very tasty. I loved the base; it reminded me of a cheesecake. The lemon filling was like eating a luxurious lemon curd; it was heavenly! The meringue was sweet and marshmallowy. We tried another bit once it was cold, I preferred it cold as the meringue had firmed up and was a little chewier. Thank goodness Neil took the remainder into work, or I think I would have ended up picking at it all day! Due to the biscuit base, I found this very easy to make, but the washing up did accumulate! A huge thank you to Neil who very kindly washed it all up after seeing how tired I was; he is definitely a keeper!
Fresh from oven


Quick Granary Rolls

Recipe Number Seventy Two:  Page 284

I'd intended to make these rolls last weekend but our food delivery was cancelled and I was left without the rather crucial granary flour. Thankfully, our food was finally delivered this week so I was able to get on with my roll making!

The recipe looked fairly straightforward, which pleased me greatly as I was somewhat lacking in energy. First of all, I measured out an equal quantity of strong white flour and granary flour. I rubbed a small amount of butter into the flour and then found a large measuring jug to measure out some water and milk. The recipe stated that I needed 450ml each of water and milk. I stirred the two together and heated the mix in the microwave until it felt tepid. I had to add this to the flour mixture in a continuous stream whilst blending it together. At this critical moment my mobile phone rang. It took me a while to register that this was my phone as it rarely rings! My hands were a sticky doughy mess so Neil picked up the phone and held it to my ear!! It was my mum. It is my sister's wedding soon and they wanted to know what size pageboy outfit to get for my little boy. I quickly answered the question and made my excuses. My mum seemed to find my predicament rather amusing!! In that short space of time I had lost my concentration. When I looked down at my bowl I realised I was stirring a runny paste! Honestly, it was awful!! As I had been using my hands to stir it all together, they were completely gunged up with this dire concoction! Neil came to my rescue. He tipped in more flour as I was in such a mess. He alternated with the flours and I estimate he must have added a further 350g or so of flour before it was at the right consistency for me to be able to knead it! Finally I was able to tip the by now huge ball of dough onto my floured worktop and give it a good knead. I was amazed that it soon turned into a smooth and elastic dough. I separated it into 12 enormous rolls and placed them onto several greased baking trays. The airing cupboard isn't that warm and it was quite a cool day. I turned the oven on to its lowest setting and left the rolls on top of the oven to prove. To be honest, I really didn't think they would do anything! But, an hour later, I was surprised and delighted to see that the rolls had almost doubled in size.

I glazed the rolls with milk as Mary suggests in her recipe header. She also mentions that you can sprinkle some cracked wheat over the rolls just before baking. I was tempted to go and pick some corn from the field behind our house, but a lot of dogs roam through it and this put me off! I popped the milk glazed rolls into the oven. They only needed about 15 minutes before they were ready. I was really pleased with the look of the rolls; they certainly looked the part. But, judging by the weight of the trays, I was worried the rolls were going to be too heavy and hit our stomachs much as a brick would!

I am so pleased that I persevered with these rolls. I needn't have worried; they weren't heavy at all. Funny, when I was a child I hated granary bread, as I didn't like the bits. However, now I am older, I seek it out! I loved the crunch the granary flour gave these rolls, but I was worried about my fillings! The rolls were light in texture and had a slightly nutty rustic flavour. I will have to make these again, but I will be contacting the publishers as the quantity of fluid I feel isn't right. I asked Neil to check all the amounts to make sure I hadn't read it wrong, but he agreed with what I thought. I will keep you posted!
Turned out well in the end!!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Crunchy Top Lemon Cake

Recipe Number Seventy One:  Page 72.

I had help choosing this recipe from the lovely people who follow this challenge on Facebook. It is getting tricky choosing what to make; I hate making decisions! I gave a choice of three recipes and this won the vote. To be honest I can't say I am that surprised. Lemon drizzle cake is so popular, is there anyone who doesn't like it?!

I thought I had all the ingredients I would need, but when I checked my caster sugar, I saw I only had a little bit left in the container. My in-laws who were visiting said they would get some from the shop. Sadly the shop didn't have any in stock, but they did bring us back some broccoli and plums, every cloud..............! By the time I came to make the cake that afternoon I was considering making do with granulated sugar. However, not one to be defeated, I got a dining chair and had a good old rummage on top of the fridge. Yes, I have now moved some of my stock to the fridge; my shelves are overflowing with ingredients due to all this baking!! I was glad I bothered to heave myself up onto the rickety chair, as I found a small amount of caster sugar. It was just enough, yippeeee!

It was such a hot day that the butter softened almost as soon as it exited the fridge, another bonus of summer. I added the sugar, butter and flour to my mixing bowl. I also needed several eggs. I thought it odd that the eggs should be beaten first; surely it wouldn't matter as everything was going to get beaten together anyway? But I did as I was told! Adding the milk was a little tricky. My wrist shook as I poured it from an almost full six pint bottle. It was very heavy and a little extra milk splashed into the mixing bowl, whoops! Last of all was, of course, the all important lemon zest. The smell of lemon on a very hot day is pleasantly refreshing. Once all of the ingredients were in the mixing bowl, I beat everything together for precisely two minutes, well give or take a few seconds! I then spooned the rather thick mixture into my deep round cake tin and popped the tin into the oven.

I don't think baking is such a good idea when the sun has got his hat on and it is roasting hot! I was keen for the cooking time to hurry up as the oven was pumping out even more heat and was cooking me too! While I waited, I made the crunchy topping which just consisted of the juice of the lemon (I was delighted to be using both the juice and zest) and some sugar. I could have used granulated or caster; I went for granulated as I like the extra crunch. I mixed the two together and got rather sticky in the process. Finally it was time to get the tin out of the oven and now I could spread the lemon paste over the top of the cake whilst it was still hot. My cake had risen so well, some of the lemon and sugar mixture dripped off the cake and onto the oven hob, which I had just cleaned, sob! Reluctantly I left the lemon drizzle to cool in the tin. After about an hour, I could resist no more and tipped the slightly warm, sticky cake out onto a plate. Mary says a softened cake can sink in the middle. Mine sunk only a tiny bit so I didn't have to follow her suggestion of cutting the centre out and filling with fruit and whipped cream, but nevertheless that did sound delicious!

Neil and I thought this cake was a big success. Not only was it easy peasy to make, it tasted great too. It was unbelievably light and so lemony. The crunchy topping was sugary with the promised crunch; it reminded me of how you can't eat a doughnut without licking your lips! I really don't see how you can go wrong with this cake!
Can't beat a lemon drizzle!
Don't forget to follow this challenge on Facebook, to help me choose what to bake on a Wednesday. I will put a choice of three recipes on Facebook each Tuesday, please vote for what you want me to make; the poll will close at 7pm Tuesday evening (UK time). Thanks for all of your support :-)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Glazed Fruit Tartlets

 Recipe Number Seventy:  Page 265.

I have been looking forward to making these all week. They sound so good; crisp light pastry, a dollop of cream with fresh fruit on top, yummy!

As our food delivery hadn't arrived as planned I needed to get some more butter for this recipe. I trudged over to the shop, feeling annoyed that our shopping hadn't been delivered. I ended up buying a bar of chocolate to cheer myself up. It was so warm that it had melted by the time I returned home. I was baking hot and smothered in thunder bugs; my mood was not improved!

I started off by making the sweet pastry. I rubbed the butter into the plain flour until the mixture resembled fine breadcrumbs. Even though the pastry is meant to be sweet, I was surprised by how little sugar was required. Last of all I needed to add some egg yolks. One of the shells broke badly so I ended up holding the egg in my hand and letting the white drain through my fingers into the sink, yeuck!! I mixed the egg yolks into the rest of the ingredients and kneaded it all together until the dough was smooth. I wrapped the dough in Clingfilm and popped it into the fridge for half an hour. When I took the dough out of the fridge it still felt a little soft, but even so I carried on! I unwrapped the dough and dusted the worktop and rolling pin with flour. As I started to roll it out it stuck fast to the worktop. It became obvious that the dough hadn't chilled enough; it was completely unmanageable. I peeled the dough off of the worktop, wrapped it up again and put it into the fridge for another half an hour. I wondered if the fridge thermostat was too warm, so I set it to a cooler temperature. When I came to roll the dough out again, I found it a lot easier to work with; it was a much happier experience!! I cut out the 12 rounds with a fluted cutter and placed the circles into my patty tin. Next I had to locate my baking beans. I had bought some a few months ago knowing I would need them at some point during this challenge. I thought they had been stored away in a cupboard where we put things we are not sure what to do with! I hunted high, I hunted low, but could not find them. As a last resort I looked in the kitchen drawers, not expecting to find them. That would surely be too obvious! But, low and behold, there they were! I couldn't believe that they had actually ended up where they should be – how bad is that!! I put a small piece of baking parchment into each of the tarts followed by a small handful of baking beans. Then they were ready for the oven.

I left the tarts to cook for 15 minutes and I am glad I didn't leave them any longer as they were starting to go a little bit brown around the edges. I left them to cool for a few minutes and then I removed the paper and baking beans before leaving them to cool on a wire rack. Now for the filling of double cream! I whisked it up until it formed soft peaks. Mary says just to spoon a little into each tart, but I wanted to use up my tub of cream so I put quite a bit in each. I also licked the cream off the beaters and from the bowl; this was a mistake, as I soon felt rather ill. I had been so chuffed that morning when I'd weighed myself. I had nearly fallen off the scales in shock when I had seen that I'd lost 2lbs!!! Somehow I think that surprise weight loss was short-lived! I had a mixture of fruit, kiwi fruit, strawberries and raspberries; I sliced up what I could and placed them on top of the cream. The last job was to heat up some apricot jam to brush over the fruit as a glaze. I should have used redcurrant jelly for the red fruits but I couldn't find any, so had to make do with apricot jam for all the tartlets. I was really pleased with the finished result; they looked so pretty. I think I overdid the cream and should have used more fruit instead, but hey ho!

The pastry was light and crisp; a shame some were overcooked. The cream and fruit on top was delicious. I think Neil quite liked them as he must have eaten five in one evening. As I had eaten so much cream beforehand I stuck to the two! These tartlets would make such an impressive but simple dessert for a special occasion. I would certainly make them again, but perhaps on a cooler day!
Pretty colours :-)

Oat Rounds

Recipe Number Sixty Nine:  Page 208.

I was not planning to make oat rounds on this particular occasion; I was supposed to be making easy granary rolls! Alas, my rolls were not destined to be. Our food shopping was due to be delivered at the weekend and I'd ordered granary flour for the rolls. A few hours before the delivery was due, I found an email to say they'd had to cancel the order and were sorry for any inconvenience caused. I was very annoyed until I read that they were giving us a £25 voucher off our next order; I almost forgave them!! However, this still posed a problem as our village shop doesn't sell granary flour so I quickly had to change my plans. These oat rounds didn't need many ingredients and looked simple to make, so they took the place of the rolls!

First of all I measured butter and a fairly small amount of sugar into a bowl and beat them together until the mixture became creamy. As it was such a warm day the butter was really soft, so I could use a wooden spoon instead of my electric whisk. I added in the oats along with a little flour and worked them in. The combined mixture was thick and oaty; it looked good enough to eat already. I was a bit worried about rolling it out as the mixture was so sticky. I lightly dusted the worktop and rolling pin with flour and started to roll out the gooey mixture. I had to use quite a lot of flour as the dough kept glueing itself onto the worktop and also onto the rolling pin. However, with perseverance and gritted teeth I managed to cut out the biscuits and get them onto the baking trays, hooray!

Now to get them into the oven. I had already heated the oven, but I'd forgotten to take out the large roasting tin which lives in it! I thought I had better get my oven glove, but my body decided to ignore my brain, and I found myself attempting to pull the tray from the oven with my bare hand, OUCH!!!! Why, oh why did I not follow my brain's instruction and put on a flipping oven glove!! I had lost heat from the oven so I had to let it heat up again. While I waited, I stood holding an ice cube between my thumb and forefinger; it worked a treat!

Finally the biscuits could go into the oven and they cooked for almost 20 minutes. When I checked on them a few were a bit singed, but on the whole they looked good. Mary Berry mentions on the recipe header that these oat rounds are first cousin to the digestive biscuit, with added oats. I have to agree, they are indeed very similar to a digestive biscuit, of which I am a big fan. As they contain oats they are very moreish and one or two just isn't enough. The biscuits are not exciting to look at nor is the flavour particularly overwhelming. They are, however, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee and Neil can vouch that they are good dunking biscuits and apparently hold their shape well! They are easy to make apart from the rolling out issue. To be fair, though, it was a hot day so that can't have helped!
Full of oaty goodness!