Monday, 30 April 2012


Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety:  Page 276.

I have such fond memories of making profiteroles. In my youth I went through a phase of conjuring up a batch whenever family visited for birthday teas. They always went down well and I loved making them. Choux pastry has always been my favourite pastry to make. There is no messy rubbing in and, of course, there isn't a rolling pin in sight. Best of all I don't have to deal with the horror of trying to line a tin with crumbling pastry!

As we had friends visiting in the afternoon it seemed a perfect occasion to have another go at profiteroles. It had been many years since I'd tried them, but I had made chocolate éclairs a few months earlier. They are essentially the same thing, just a different shape!!

For a change, our house didn't resemble a rubbish tip and was just mildly untidy! I whizzed round quickly with the vacuum cleaner, much to my little boy’s delight. As he enjoys watching, I'm hoping he will soon want to take over the job! It was nearly time for his nap, so I quickly shoved his toys into the drawers of his little cabinet. I turned momentarily to pick something up off the floor. I heard a “Ta-da!” and turned just in time to witness Isaac pull a drawer from his cabinet and proudly empty the entire contents onto the floor. Time for bed!

Once Isaac was tucked up in bed, Neil took over the tidying duties whilst I got on with making the profiteroles. Instead of reaching for my mixing bowl, I rooted around in the kitchen cupboard and brought out a small saucepan. I gathered up the butter from the fridge and placed a bag of flour and a sieve to one side. As I weighed the butter into the pan I realised yet another reason to make choux pastry; it doesn't contain much butter! I measured water into the pan and then placed it over the heat. I warmed it gently until the butter had melted, then I could bring the oily mixture to the boil. As soon as it reached a steady bubbling boil I whisked it off the heat and sifted in the plain flour. Mary says to beat until the mixture forms a soft ball. This happened almost immediately. I gave it a good old beating for a minute back on the hob, then turned off the heat and left the ball of silky smooth dough to cool a little. Neil made a cup of tea and I gladly used the time to sit back and enjoy it. By the time I trotted back into the kitchen, the dough had lost its wisps of steam and had cooled considerably.

Now was the time to add a couple of eggs, but first I needed to give them a light beating. Mary suggests adding the beaten egg to the thick paste a little at a time. Ha! The eggs were having none of it. Half the amount leaped straight from the bowl and into the saucepan. I let out an involuntary yelp and whisked the mixture like crazy. It seemed to survive, so I chucked in the rest! Another bout of frantic whisking and my mixture was suitably smooth and shiny.

Next came the dreaded part of piping the paste onto the awaiting baking trays. In the past I simply spooned the mixture onto the trays, but I decided to follow Mary's instructions - against my better judgement! I looked in the kitchen drawer for my piping bags and found that they had fallen down the back of the unit. I should have asked Neil for assistance as he has much longer arms, but I stubbornly persevered. I reached an inch too far and an almighty pain spread through my neck and shoulder – ouch! At least I managed to grab the piping bags!

With sore hunched shoulders I soldiered on and piped mounds of pastry onto the baking trays. They seemed rather small, but I remembered that they spread and puff up when cooking. I put the trays into the hot oven for ten minutes. Neil dished up some tomato soup and I tucked in whilst I waited. Halfway though I realised that I needed to turn the oven down, so I dashed back into the kitchen still clutching a slice of bread!!! Once the oven was turned down the profiteroles needed to cook for another ten minutes. This gave me time to polish off the rest of my lunch.

Soggy éclairs or profiteroles are a pet hate of mine. After the total twenty minutes cooking time I wasn't happy that mine were thoroughly cooked through, so I left them in the oven a little longer. I then followed Mary's suggestion for super crisp pastry. When the profiteroles were out of the oven I spilt them to allow the steam to escape. Quick as a flash I popped them back in the oven to crisp up for another five or so minutes. The cooked pastry was a lovely golden colour and appeared to be perfectly cooked through. They were rather fragile, so I had to be careful when arranging them onto a wire rack to cool; alas, there were a few casualties!

By this time our friends had arrived and Isaac was up and about taking great delight in showing off!! While everyone played, I quickly finished off the profiteroles. I poured a great deal of double cream into a bowl and used my electric whisk to thicken it up. As I didn't want the pastry to go soggy I decided to make the chocolate icing before filling the profiteroles with the cream.

I broke up a surprisingly small amount of plain chocolate. Of course I couldn't resist breaking off a few extra pieces to nibble on while I worked! I'm a strong believer in cook’s perks! The amount of butter required was again very small. Apart from the cream filling, maybe profiteroles aren't so bad for you! I put the chocolate, butter and a few tablespoons of water in a small glass bowl and set it over a pan of simmering water. There was such a small amount of chocolate that I'd expected it to give in to the heat within a few minutes. This was not the case; it took such a long time and I felt as though I was melting more rapidly myself.

Finally I was able to turn off the heat and sieve in a small amount of icing sugar. Following a recent clear out of my kitchen cupboard, three unopened boxes of icing sugar were found. As the boxes are taking up a lot of space I wish I'd needed more!! I quickly beat some in and soon had a wonderfully smooth sauce. I left the bowl over the pan of warm water while I filled the profiteroles with cream. I wanted to keep it warm so that it didn't set.

The nozzle I used to pipe the cream was rather pathetic and it blocked solid immediately! I had to give up and cut it free from the restraints of the bag. I couldn't be bothered to start again with another bag and nozzle, so I piped straight from the large gaping hole. It was very messy and I was constantly wiping my hands with copious quantities of kitchen towel. Once the cream had been used up, I dunked the profiteroles into the chocolate sauce to give a lovely thick coating. They looked good enough to eat!!!!

I didn't have the patience to let the chocolate icing set completely and I was soon dishing it up onto plates for all of us. As we'd already eaten large slices of key lime pie (Mary’s recipe of course), we stuck to two each! I was really pleased with the profiteroles; they were lovely and crisp and not at all soggy. The cream and chocolate were a heavenly combination. The pastry on its own isn't highly exciting. However, put the three all together and you're on to an easy winner!! Our guests said they really enjoyed both offerings; all the plates were wiped clean! Sadly profiteroles do not keep well and, within an hour or so, the remainder were already becoming soggy. I gathered up a few along with some key lime pie and made a delivery to my friend who lives a few doors down. Neil and I purposely had a light evening meal so that we could finish off the rest of the goodies. We had to sit very still for some time afterwards!! It was worth it though!
Two for me and one for baby!! ;-)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Death by Chocolate Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Nine:  Page 95.

Not the most cheerful of recipe titles. I wondered if I should write my Will before trying a slice of this seriously rich chocolate cake. Scanning through the list of ingredients, it didn't appear to be life threatening. Alas, my mind was changed when I reached the chocolate icing section. This contains a pound of plain chocolate and nearly a whole packet of butter, GOOD GRIEF! It seemed that if I wished to indulge in a slice I may have to suffer some consequences, such as weight gain and quite possibly cardiac arrest!

I awoke to yet another wet and miserable day. We're certainly getting our April showers this year! Due to the dire weather there would be no trip to the swings with my little boy. Instead, we visited our neighbour and Isaac enjoyed playing with his little friend Molly. We gave the children fruit whilst we ate chocolate cake!! I very much doubt if it was a good idea for me to eat chocolate cake twice in one day. However, I am weak willed and couldn't say no! We ended up staying a little longer than intended as I had forgotten my door key and Neil was out shopping – whoops. Neil starts a new office job on Monday, so I'll have to get used to locking the front door when I go out!

I had first to hunt for my deep sandwich tins. This had me searching in almost every room, including our bedroom. I eventually found them where I had started, buried in the murky depths of an overflowing kitchen drawer. Trying to avoid wasting any more time, I quickly smeared butter around the base and sides of the tins and lazily threw in pre-cut greaseproof paper. My mother-in-law had kindly given this to me; she knows how I hate lining tins!

I weighed plain flour and a few tablespoonfuls of cocoa powder into a bowl along with a little bicarbonate of soda and baking powder. I was surprised by the seemingly small amount of cocoa powder; the cake might not be as chocolaty as I had previously thought. I found another bowl and sifted in the dry ingredients. Things were sweetened up considerably when I poured in the caster sugar. I mixed this in, and then made a well in the centre to allow room for the wet ingredients. First of all a few tablespoonfuls of golden syrup tumbled into the bowl, swiftly followed by the beaten eggs. I needed my measuring jug for the next part; I had a lot of sunflower oil to measure. I was intrigued that Mary should use oil instead of butter. I'm more used to using it in carrot cakes! I required the same quantity of milk. The liquid had already flooded over the sides of the deep well. After the milk was added the dry ingredients almost completely vanished from view! As the mixture was so liquid there was no need for an electric whisk, I could easily beat it with a wooden spoon. I was so worried about the consistency; it really was seriously runny. I was relieved to read that the mixture should be poured into the awaiting tins. It was too drippy to spoon in!

The cakes needed to cook in the oven for around thirty-five minutes. When I checked on mine after thirty I could see that they were still a long way from being cooked through. They ended up requiring almost fifty minutes. After a few minutes cooling in the tins, I turned them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. I couldn't help noticing a strange smell. I called Neil over to have a sniff. He said they smelt vaguely of scampi. This wasn't very reassuring! I began to wonder if the oil I'd used had been open for too long. Maybe I should have bought a new bottle! Thankfully, as a saving grace, the sponges looked light and chocolaty.

Now it was time to make the heart-stoppingly rich icing. It really was very straightforward. I broke up many packets worth of value plain chocolate. Neil refused to pay top whack for so much chocolate! 1 lb of the finest quality would have cost a fortune and, as the cake wasn't for a special occasion, it didn't seem worth the expense. I melted the cheap but cheerful chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Not unsurprisingly it took an eternity to melt such a large amount. Finally I could take it from the heat and add the butter. I cut it into cubes to help it on its way. I was meant to leave it to melt into the chocolate, but I couldn't resist offering it a few pokes!
Once my silky smooth icing was ready, I gingerly sliced each sponge in half horizontally so that I was left with four layers. Some were a little uneven, so I was forced to level them off and then scoff the cast offs. This gave me a chance to taste the sponge on its own, without the addition of the icing. I could taste the chocolate but only vaguely. I was very glad to discover that it didn't taste of scampi, but it did have a slight chemically taste! I wasn't sure if this was due to the sunflower oil or perhaps the bicarbonate of soda. I have to say that I was more than happy with the texture of this cake. It was so light it almost melted in my mouth!

I sandwiched the four layers of cake together with a good helping of chocolate icing, then placed the slightly leaning stack of cake on a wire rack which was balanced on top of a baking tray. This would catch the drips of runny icing. I'm pleased to say that it did its job and only a few drips managed to find their way onto the kitchen worktop! It wasn't easy smoothing the icing over the sides of the cake; I just couldn't make it look tidy and smooth. I left the icing to set, which didn't take long, and then it was time for yet more chocolate. I grated some more plain over the top but, as it was the same colour as the cake, it didn't make much of an impact. Fortunately the grated white chocolate made things a bit more exciting.

It took some time to cut a slice of cake as it was so deep and I just had to hope for the best when transferring it onto a plate. I grabbed a fork and gathered up a good helping to sample. The richness of the chocolate icing certainly made up for the weak flavour in the cake. It really was very chocolaty indeed. It also did an excellent job of hiding the slightly strange flavour within the sponge – I could no longer taste it! As with most chocolate cakes the flavours improved the following day, so it really is worth making it a day ahead for a special occasion.

I was expecting to absolutely love this cake and terrified that I wouldn't be able to resist it. Although chocolate is probably my most favourite flavour of cake, this was just a bit too much for me. There is rich and there is RICH! It is a great cake for the serious chocoholics amongst us. However, it is not for the faint hearted!
Apologies for the rubbish photo. It was such a dark day :-(

Monday, 23 April 2012

American Apple & Apricot Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Eight:  Page 50.

Mary professes in the recipe header that this particular cake has been a favourite with her family for many years. Surely if Mary and her family enjoy it so much it has to be extra special and extra yummy! When reading through the recipe I noticed that it was almost an exact replica of the Strawberry Dessert Cake I'd made a few weeks previously. I can't say it had been one of the most successful recipes, but that was mainly down to my dislike of cooked strawberries. At least this time they'd be substituted for apple and apricots.

Rather annoyingly, on the day I planned to bake I awoke with a nasty headache and could barely open my eyes. Thankfully, after the morning had passed, it eased off and became much more bearable. I hate to get behind with the challenge, so I decided to soldier on and bake the cake! I took my time laying out my mixing bowl, collecting spoons and gathering up ingredients. I felt sure all would be well as long as I didn't make any sudden movements!

I greased and lined a large deep tin and turned on the oven to a low heat. The self-raising flour was the first ingredient into the mixing bowl. This was swiftly followed by a tiny amount of baking powder and a worryingly large quantity of sugar. I dread to think what this challenge is doing to my insides!!! I located the eggs and plucked two from the box. I couldn't bring myself to use the egg with feathers still attached. I'm a farmer’s granddaughter, so really shouldn't be so squeamish!!

Next it was time to begin my hunt for the elusive almond extract. I had to abandon my promise to take things gently. I climbed upon a chair to check the treacle stained and flour dusted shelves. My hopes were cruelly raised when I came across two bottles of vanilla essence masquerading as almond extract. Eventually my fingertips struck gold; triumphantly I climbed down from the chair clutching my treasure!!

Once the few drops of almond extract had been included I could turn my attention to the butter. Rather unusually it needed to be melted. I did this in the microwave as I couldn't be bothered to dig out a saucepan! I forgot that our microwave is permanently set to the highest setting. I obviously should have reduced the setting as it wasn't long before the eruptions started! I galloped to the source of the action and quickly opened the door. Thankfully only a very thin film of butter covered the roof of the microwave! I thought it might be a good idea to let the melted butter cool down a little before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

Meanwhile I peeled and sliced up one good sized cooking apple. As there was just the one to deal with, the process didn't take long at all. Soon I was moving on to the dried apricots. I've mentioned before that I'm not overly enthusiastic about dried apricots. Mary appears to love them; when she uses them she goes the whole hog so I'm forced to chop up a mountain. A tedious job! However, on this occasion, Mary has reined in as I only required one large handful. Snipping up the apricots with a sharp pair of scissors took next to no time – hooray!

By now the butter was no longer scalding hot and was ready to be added to the bowl of waiting ingredients. I mixed it together and then beat it with a balloon whisk. I didn't think I would need my electric whisk as the mixture was so smooth and loose in consistency. However, my weak arm was aching after the suggested minute! Finally I could tip in the thickly chopped apple slices and snipped apricots. I gently stirred in the fruit and poured it into the awaiting tin. The mixture looked a little lost in the deep tin. I hoped it would rise! I placed the cake into the oven and headed back to the living room to the very welcome comfort of the sofa.

The cake took just over an hour to cook through. It is always hard to judge a fruited cake, especially when the fruit is fresh. The cake had started to come away from the edges and was firm to the touch, so I just had to hope that all was well beneath the surface! I left it to cool in the tin for a few minutes and then attempted to turn it out onto a wire rack. This was easier said than done! The cake welded itself to the base of the tin and, when it finally loosened its grip, a large chunk of cake broke off. Grrr!

Mary mentions that this cake is best served warm, so I didn't want to leave it too long to try a piece. I made the mistake of mentioning the word cake in earshot of my little boy; he was soon hopefully repeating the word over and OVER again! Finally I gave in and cut a small slice for Isaac. The apple inside was still very hot, so I distracted my cake loving toddler with a game of car crashing!

Eventually we all managed to have a slice of warm apple and apricot cake. It tasted lovely but I think the apples were the key to its success. They made a reasonably plain cake much more exciting. The sponge had a firm and crusty surface but was light inside. It was unsurprisingly very sweet! As mentioned by others on my Facebook page, this cake isn't as tasty once cold. It is most definitely at its best served warm. When cold the cake becomes a little dry. I think we will have to reheat the remainder and enjoy it with custard – yum!
Grab the custard!

Coburg Buns

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Seven:  Page 334.

These little buns have been included in my Facebook Poll on several occasions and each time only received one or two votes. I couldn't help taking pity on the poor things! Perhaps they never won due to the recipe title giving so little away. I'd certainly never heard of them before! A photograph accompanies the recipe and the little buns look rather pretty. Mary uses brioche tins to give a lovely shape. I very much doubt that they'd look half as good if baked in a plain cupcake pan.

A few months previously I had looked for a set of the suggested twelve mini brioche tins. I went to my favourite cookware shop and spent some time searching the numerous shelves. Eventually I found a few brioche tins in the required size. I took a large gulp when I saw the price! I didn't wish to spend a fortune on something I may never use again! Thankfully I came across a silicone version. It held six moulds in the one piece of silicone and, what's more, it cost the same as just one brioche tin – success! I've heard mixed results on silicone bakeware so I wondered how I'd get on with it.
I was excited finally to put my bargain to the test. I extracted it from the kitchen drawer with glee. I tried to pull off the cardboard packaging stuck to the top of the silicone mould only to find it had been fastened on with thick plastic grips. I pulled with all my might but I couldn't get the plastic off. Neil even tried with a pair of pliers but it wasn't budging. I tore the cardboard off and hoped the plastic would survive the heat of the oven – I didn't hold out much hope!

I sprinkled a few flaked almonds into the base of each mould and turned the oven on to pre-heat. I weighed the self-raising flour into a bowl then grabbed a teaspoon to measure out the baking powder and multiple spices. I required a little mixed spice, ground ginger and ground cinnamon. It seemed like a lot of spice for these small buns. I felt as though I was adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that! I'd remembered to leave the butter out of the fridge, so it was suitably soft when I cut off a modest amount and added it to the mixing bowl. When cracking in the egg, half of the shell also jumped into the bowl. As the shell was so large I easily managed to pick it out from the bowl but it was a messy business. I thought it strange that there was no sugar in this recipe but instead just one tablespoon of golden syrup. These buns were sounding more and more virtuous by the second! Last of all I poured in a small amount of milk. Mary says to beat the mixture for two minutes or until well blended and smooth. I used my electric whisk and, in under a minute, my thick mixture was beautifully smooth. However, I carried on for the full two minutes. I'm glad I did as the mixture loosened up and became less stiff.

I'd been under the impression that the moulds were small. However, as I added the mixture, I found that I didn't have enough to fill them. As I had to make two batches it made it more difficult to judge. I put them into the oven and hoped for the best. The cooking time was a suggested fifteen minutes, so I sat down in the living room to enjoy the unusual peace. My little boy was having his afternoon nap and Neil had popped to the shops. I enjoyed the bliss of absolute silence for all of five minutes before a neighbour started drilling, hey ho!!

When the time was up I went to the kitchen to see if the buns were ready. A gorgeous waft of spices escaped the oven as I opened the door. Sadly my joy was short-lived. When I caught sight of my buns I saw that they had barely bothered to rise and were very pale in colour; it was a poor effort! I put them back into the oven for another five minutes, but there was no change so I gave up and turned them out onto a wire rack to cool. The lack of rise made me check my Baking Bible to see if I had missed a vital ingredient; I was horrified to see that I had!! I'd forgotten the sugar, not what I'd expected! Fortunately all was not completely lost as I still had half of the mixture left. I measured in half the total amount of sugar and gave it a good mix.

This time I wanted to put a bit more mixture into each mould and see if I could make them a little bigger to show off their pretty shape. This meant that I could only make four more. This batch took twenty minutes in the oven and they were cooked to perfection. I tried a sample of each. The first batch was not very tasty, not unsurprisingly!! The larger buns were much more palatable! They were full of warming spice and the texture was a cross between a scone and a rock cake. They were light in texture but a little dry. They were a perfectly tasty little bun, but nothing to get excited about! On a happy note, I'm delighted to report that the plastic grips melted just enough for them to be easily removed – hurrah!!
Little ones and big ones. Neither are very easy on the eye!!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Deep Treacle Tart

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Six:  Page 272.

This recipe easily won the vote on my Facebook Poll; obviously we can't resist a helping of treacle tart. I haven't attempted this popular dessert before, so I was surprised to discover that breadcrumbs play such a key role. I would never have guessed!

My little boy was spending the morning with his grandparents and Neil was attending yet another interview. I had the house all to myself! I took the opportunity to potter around with my hair stuck up on end and stayed wrapped in my dressing gown for as long as possible. I looked through a few books and did a minimal amount of tidying. The peace was heaven for a while but I soon found myself missing Isaac's constant chatter!!

The rain was still persistently falling when I started baking. Through the kitchen window I watched a soggy blackbird repeatedly shake the water from its feathers. I feared it was fighting a losing battle! I felt glad to be inside in the dry, while turning on the oven certainly helped to warm things up. I admit that I wasn't looking forward to the first task. I do not enjoy making pastry! It is not the process itself but the rolling out. It always seems to go wrong, the dough falls apart and the end result looks untidy. I find it very stressful!!

To make the dough I measured some plain flour into my mixing bowl and then rubbed in some chilled butter. My cold butter was rock hard and it took an age for it to rub into the flour. I was terrified that I had over worked it. Mary says to pour in two tablespoons of cold water. I tried to combine all the ingredients together to form a firm dough but it was impossible. The mixture was very dry and I required almost double the suggested amount of water. Once I had managed to form the dough into a ball, I wrapped it in cling film to rest in the fridge for twenty minutes. At this point Neil and Isaac arrived home. Isaac offered me a smile and a cheery ‘Hello!’ before heading straight over to the fridge to play with his magnets. No cuddle for Mummy!!

It was soon time to take the chilled dough from the fridge and face the dreaded rolling out. Instead of using flour on the worktop I simply placed the ball of dough on a sheet of greaseproof paper. The rolling out process wasn't as painful as I had feared. Despite a few cracks I managed to transfer it to the flan tin with only a few minor repairs necessary. Now it was time to make the filling. I was quite excited about using my blender to make breadcrumbs! I'd never tried it before and very much hoped that it would work. I was instructed to use fresh bread but I wasn't sure if I should use the crusts or not. I expect I could have put them to use but, as I wasn't sure, I decided to cut them off. I shoved a few slices of bread into my blender and quickly discovered that I'd overloaded the poor machine. It transpired that I had to work my way through over half a loaf one slice at time. A little tedious, but it didn't take too long. I loved making the breadcrumbs (I'm easily pleased) and felt tempted to carry on and make more! I think I will always have a large stock in the freezer from now on. In fact the blended crusts are already in there waiting to be used!

As the word treacle is in the title of the recipe I half expected to crack open a tin of black treacle. However, I was of course to use golden syrup and lots of it too. I weighed the sticky substance into my largest saucepan and warmed it gently on the hob. I quickly grabbed two large lemons, grated the zest and collected their juice. This tart was going to be very lemony as well as treacly. Into the warm golden syrup I tipped the enormous mountain of breadcrumbs along with the zest and juice. Mary says to add more breadcrumbs if the mixture appears too runny. Apparently it can depend on whether you use white or brown bread. I used white and my mixture appeared to be just right. It was thick without any excess liquid. I tipped it into the awaiting pastry case. I was surprised that I hadn't needed to blind bake the case first; I hoped and prayed that my tart didn't end up with the dreaded soggy bottom!

I placed the tin onto a pre-heated tray in the hot oven. It had to cook for ten minutes at a reasonably high temperature and then be turned down for the remaining cooking time. After the full forty minutes in the oven I thought it should be ready and cooked through. The pastry may have looked a little anaemic but the filling was in danger of burning. I left it to cool in the tin for half an hour but I couldn't wait any longer than that; I was dying to try a piece!

The tart sliced well but was thinner than I had expected. On further inspection I was delighted to see that the base of the tart was not in the least bit soggy, hurrah! I did wonder if the pastry was a bit too thin. I never know how thick or thin it should be and I rarely get it right! The filling tasted strongly of both treacle and lemon which made for a heavenly combination. The texture was vaguely chewy and sticky. Later on in the evening we thought we should try a slice cold. This was purely for research purposes of course! The filling had become a little chewier; while I thought the lemon flavour was perhaps a little stronger. I preferred it cold while Neil preferred it warm!

I had great fun making this deep treacle tart. It was fairly easy and simple to make and it really did taste quite delicious. This is one to add to my make again list. It's really just another excuse to make breadcrumbs!!!!
A bit of a pale tart and shame about the reflection on the plate!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Cheese & Celery Crown Loaf

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Five:  Page 288.

Bread is one of my most favourite things. I find it especially irresistible when fresh from the oven. Arm me with butter and a knife and I could easily consume the entire loaf. It really is unfortunate that celery is one of my least favourite things! I can manage a small amount cooked and combined with plenty of other ingredients, but I certainly can't face it on its own. Suffice to say that I was deeply troubled by this recipe as celery was obviously a key ingredient! Mary mentions that this bread is well suited to accompanying soup. I thought this to be the best option; maybe a richly flavoured soup would make the bitter celery palatable. I could only hope!

Neil was attending interviews in the morning; I thought this bread along with some soup would offer a warming welcome home. I just needed to keep my little boy entertained before I made a start. I pushed him around in a battered old box which has already been stuck back together several times. I then read stories and we crashed numerous trucks against the wall. When nap time finally arrived I was tempted to see if I could squeeze into the cot too. I was worn out! Mary's promise that this crown loaf is quick to make spurred me on. As it doesn't contain any yeast, no kneading or rising is necessary. I was in two minds. On one side of the coin I was concerned that the bread would turn out heavy without yeast; on the other side I couldn't help but be won over by the simplicity and speed of the recipe.

After turning on the oven and greasing a deep round tin I moved on to measuring a large quantity of self -raising flour into a bowl. Despite the lack of yeast, for some reason I had still expected to use strong bread flour. For a change I'd remembered to leave the butter out of the fridge to soften, so the knife slid through it with ease. Compared to the amount of flour, the quantity of butter was tiny. It took next to no time to rub the two together, so I was soon ready to chop up the dreaded celery. I had forgotten how stringy it is. I spent ages pulling off the fine threads. Also, perhaps it might have been a better idea to prepare it before I'd stuck my hands into the flour and butter. The moisture from the celery combined with the dough on my fingers formed a paste. I suppose I should have washed my hands first. However, I'm a lazy cook!!!

A few weeks ago I developed a sneezing fit whilst baking and it happened again during this recipe, but this time it was MUCH worse. At my last count I was up to 16 sneezes! I had to move away from the chopped celery; I must be allergic to it!

Once I had recovered from my exhausting ordeal I could get on with grating the large volume of mature cheddar cheese. I had a mountain of cheese by the time I had finished; it was a job to fit it into the bowl. I collected a clove of garlic, peeled and crushed it as instructed. I must admit that I rarely add garlic to my cooking. This is not because I dislike it but because I forget to add it. We're always finding long forgotten bulbs of sprouting garlic dotted around the kitchen!

Now that the three savoury ingredients had been added to the floury mixture, I gave them a quick mix together. Stirring up the celery set off the sneezes again, so I stepped away, collected the milk from the fridge and measured six tablespoonfuls into a glass. Neil had just bought a massive six pint bottle of milk so my weak arm shook as I poured it into the spoon. My Baking Bible was almost drowned in a cascade of milk and the worktop was covered in numerous little puddles! I hoped I'd managed to get the right amount into the glass. I added more liquid in the form of an egg. I beat them together and poured them into the mixing bowl. I tried to bring all of the ingredients together to form a soft dough, I tried for quite some time but I had to give in and add a few more splashes of milk. I wouldn't be surprised if my initial measurement had not been accurate! Finally I had success and ended up with a green speckled lump of soft dough.

I divided the dough up into twelve balls. Mary mentions that they should be of equal size, but I couldn't be bothered to weigh them. Surely there is more to life?!! I placed the uneven balls of dough into the cake tin. There were large spaces between them but I hoped they'd spread in the oven and slot together. As if there wasn't enough cheese contained in this crown loaf, I had to sprinkle more over the top. I'm sure that at this point I felt my arteries slam shut! I placed the tin into the hot oven and hoped for the best. I worked my way through a large amount of washing up while I waited and I enjoyed the scent of cheesy bread!

Neil walked through the door just as the ring of bread exited the oven. I think he was more pleased to see his lunch than to see his wife! I let the golden bread cool a little on the wire rack while I heated up a generous amount of tomato soup. A few minutes later and we were sitting at the table ready to tuck in to our warming lunch. I couldn't help thinking that my crown loaf resembled a batch of dumplings!

I tentatively took a bite! To my relief and surprise I couldn't taste the celery. All I could taste was cheese. I wondered if this was due to the fact that I had used a strong mature cheese; perhaps it was a bit overpowering. I found it hard to believe that I was eating bread. In my mind it was a savoury scone. In fact it tasted exactly like a cheese scone! Neil enjoyed the crown loaf and ate quite a bit, but it wasn't something he would necessarily want again! I have to agree that this cheese and celery crown loaf was super quick and very easy to make. I just don't think it should be in the bread section of this recipe book!

Orange Drop Scones

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Four:  Page 327.

As I creep ever closer to the end of this challenge the choice is becoming increasingly limited. I am running out of recipes! I spent ages flicking through the butter smudged pages of my Baking Bible. After a busy few days I felt keen to find something quick and easy to prepare. Finally I settled on this straightforward recipe for Orange Drop Scones and, as luck would have it, we already had all the required ingredients. There was no need to make a special trip to the shops, yay!

Before I made the drop scones we spent the morning visiting a working mill. It was a delightful setting. We watched peacocks strutting their stuff outside the coffee shop and we tried to feed the over fed fish and ducks! Isaac was mesmerised by the revolving water wheel and was repeatedly drawn back to it. It was certainly the highlight of the outing! After a while the rain began to fall; this signalled that it was time to head back to the shelter of the car.

Once back at my parents’ house a reviving mug of tea was required. I hoped it would help to recharge my batteries. Eventually I managed to heave myself from the comfort of the sofa and pottered into the kitchen. My first job was to grate the zest from the two oranges. It turned out that they were both past their best and very squidgy. When I came to extracting the juice the flesh turned into a pulp! I poured the suspect juice into a measuring jug and topped it up to the required amount with milk. Orange juice combined with milk doesn't look very appetising; it appeared that I was trying to concoct a batch of penicillin!!!

The next task was to find a mixing bowl, weigh in some self-raising flour and then tip in the mushy orange zest. I weighed out a fairly small quantity of caster sugar before reaching for a wooden spoon. I needed to make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and drop in a single egg. Next it was the turn of the combined orangey milk. During the passing minutes it had developed a curdled appearance; I just about managed to control my gag reflex as I poured half into the bowl!! Using the wooden spoon I gave the mixture a good beating. It was very lumpy, so I had to resort to the assistance of a balloon whisk. This did the trick. Mary says, once the mixture is smooth, to beat in enough of the remaining orangey milk to create a thick creamy consistency. My mixture remained resolutely thick and I had to add a few extra drops of milk.

I set a large frying pan onto the hob and greased it with a thin layer of oil. When the pan was nice and hot I collected dessertspoonfuls of mixture and then dropped them into the pan. Quickly, tiny little bubbles appeared on the surface of each drop scone. This signalled that it was time to flip them over. This proved to be either easy-peasy or extremely fiddly. Three or four managed to fold in half and some stuck to the pan but, for the most part, they behaved beautifully!

Mary makes it perfectly clear that these little scones are to be eaten as soon as they have exited the pan. I tried my best not to dawdle! I served several onto a plate and quickly heaped golden syrup on top. It is suggested that butter should also be included but I didn't think it would be necessary. My mum had the first batch while I got on with making the second. As I brought in a plate of slightly burnt scones for my sister, my mum was quick to tell me how much she had enjoyed hers; apparently they were utterly delicious! Neil and Dad had the next batches and then it was my turn. Mine lasted all of about ten seconds. They were much too easy to eat! They were light and fluffy in texture and the orange flavour really shone through. The uncooked mixture may not have looked very tasty but the scones themselves were wonderful. I had hoped that they might have risen more whilst cooking, but all in all I was pleased with the outcome. Isaac really enjoyed his little scone, so I feel sure that I shall be making them again soon!
They might not look very exciting but they were very moreish!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Hot Chocolate Soufflés

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Three:  Page 366.

Just the very word soufflé is surely enough to strike fear into any novice baker. It certainly sent a shiver down my spine! I'd never contemplated making one before. However, this recipe had to be completed. I love hot chocolate, so the title made it sound very tempting while the photograph in the Baking Bible looked fantastic. Maybe the finished result would be worth the anxiety – I certainly hoped so!

Mary says that either four small soufflé dishes or one large dish can be used. I imagined that four would look prettier than one gigantic dessert, but alas it wasn't to be. After a long search in my favourite cookware shop I had to settle on a large dish; there was no sign of anything smaller.

Before I headed into my parents' kitchen to make a start I warned my family that the air might soon turn a deep shade of blue, so they might like to avoid the kitchen for a while!! I really felt as though I was off to walk the plank! I knew that I would have to concentrate with this recipe. I was careful to make sure that I had all my ingredients at hand and I tried to take my time working through the instructions. I read it aloud to make sure that it sank in!

For the recipe I required not one but two saucepans. I set them both on the hob ready to play their part. I broke up the chocolate and placed it into a saucepan. This was a painful task as the chocolate was so thick and difficult to break! I carefully measured in a few tablespoonfuls of water and then moved on to the milk. I poured half a pint into a measuring jug. From this I took two tablespoonfuls which I put into the pan. I needed to heat the mixture until the chocolate melted. However, I couldn't leave it to its own devices as it had to be stirred continuously. It really lived up to its title as it really did look just like hot chocolate. I felt tempted to siphon some off and have a few sips! It looked and smelt delicious.

Once the chocolate had melted I was ready to move on to the next stage. I poured in the remaining milk and kept stirring until it reached boiling point. It looked very watery. I could just imagine extracting a puffed up soufflé from the oven, diving in with a spoon and discovering a runny mess lying beneath the surface!

I required the use of the second saucepan for the next stage of the recipe. I followed the instructions, added a moderate amount of butter to the saucepan and turned on the heat. Once the butter had melted I moved on to tipping in the same quantity of plain flour. As I stirred the buttery paste for the suggested two minutes I felt on familiar ground. I often find myself whipping up a white sauce for meals and I was following the same process. As long as I didn't add any cheese I should be alright!! When the two minutes were up I was to take the pan from the heat and stir in the hot chocolate milk. I expected the mixture to develop a multitude of lumps. However, surprisingly it remained fairly smooth and was easy to combine. I just needed to re-heat the rich chocolaty mixture and bring it back to the boil. It was soon suitably thick and ready to the receive a few drops of vanilla extract. Next it had to be left to cool. I hadn't anticipated how long this would take! I paced the floor waiting for the temperature to drop but it took an eternity. Every time I checked it was still piping hot. How could it take so long when my dinner can turn stone cold in minutes?! After what appeared to be a very VERY long time, the mixture was finally cold. I have to admit that by now I'd lost interest in this soufflé!!

I retrieved a mixing bowl from the cupboard and then set about separating four eggs. I collected the whites in the clean bowl and beat the yolks, one at a time, into the cold chocolate sauce. Mary's next instruction is to sprinkle caster sugar over the surface. She doesn't mention stirring it in! The whites were not to be forgotten, as the next task was to whisk them until stiff but not dry. As I carefully folded the fluffy whites into the chocolate mixture it also took care of the sugar. Soon everything was combined and ready to make its way into the soufflé dish. I carefully placed the full dish into the oven on a preheated oven sheet. It would take forty minutes to cook; I couldn't resist checking on it every few minutes to see if it was rising!

After about twenty minutes my soufflé erupted! It became clear that I had created a monster! It had a craggy surface and had risen at least an inch above the rim of the dish. Watching it grow was all very exciting, but I had to make arrangements for its exit from the oven. I was sure that it would collapse within seconds, so everything had to be ready and waiting. I needed to dust the top of the soufflé with icing sugar, so I collected it from the cupboard and placed it on the worktop along with the all important sieve. Perhaps most importantly of all, the camera was turned on and dangling from my neck. With it fastened to me I couldn't misplace it at the crucial moment. I am forever putting things down and forgetting where I've put them!!

I glanced at the clock; it was time – eeeek! I slipped on the oven mitts, flung open the oven door and hastily grabbed the dish from the oven. I galloped at high speed across the kitchen to place it on the awaiting tea towel. I half heartedly dusted the icing sugar over the top of the soufflé and then quickly clicked away with the camera. Even in those fleeting few seconds the soufflé had started to make its descent. It was quite upsetting witnessing its fall from glory!!! If I had made this for a dinner party I would barely have had time to sprint to the dining room, 'throw' it on the table and splutter a quick “ta da” before it sunk!

Through this challenge I've learnt that looks really aren't everything! Sometimes the most plain cakes or uninspiring desserts are the most delicious. This soufflé may well taste fantastic despite its sagging appearance. I pushed a spoon through the cracked crust of the soufflé and discovered a silky smooth chocolate mousse underneath. I was delighted to find that it was perfectly cooked all the way through – phew! For the first time I found Mary's portion sizes to be too generous! There really was too much for four people, especially as it was so rich. The flavour was intensely chocolaty and the texture was smooth. I am used to eating chilled mousses, so I felt a little perturbed to eat it hot. It was a very pleasant dessert but there was too much of it and even I struggled to polish it off! 
My Soufflé Monster!

A sinking feeling!
Recipe Variation: Coffee Soufflés

I must admit that I didn't approach this recipe with much enthusiasm. I hadn't been particularly keen on the hot chocolate version so didn't have high hopes! I really like coffee cakes etc but wasn't sure how it would work in a soufflé.

Instead of adding chocolate along with a little water I used a few tablespoonfuls of coffee essence in their place. I could then work my way through the instructions as before.

I found my second attempt at a soufflé much easier. I wasn't scared of it!!!! Thankfully the coffee soufflé rose up in the oven nicely. Once it had been whisked from the oven I quickly dusted over some icing sugar before taking the all important picture. After a few seconds it began to sink but it didn't seem to descend as quickly as the chocolate one!

I preferred this coffee soufflé as it wasn't too sickly. Even so, I couldn't manage all of my portion as I still found it a little rich. Isaac spied my leftovers and was soon begging for a helping. I really didn't think he'd like the coffee flavour but he loved it! Neil was also a fan and he polished off pretty much the whole soufflé! 
Starting to sink!!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter Biscuits

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty Two:  Page 224.

As it was Easter weekend I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to make these biscuits. Unfortunately I didn't get to make them on Easter Sunday as I had planned as I did not have the required currants. When checking my parents' food cupboard a few days earlier, I'd mistaken a packet of raisins for currants! I had to wait until the following day when I knew the shops would be re-opening their doors.

The day didn't start off showing much promise. It was persistently raining and my poor mum was in bed with a nasty virus. I hoped that a batch of home made biscuits might help to brighten the day! I usually find that a spot of baking helps to cheer the soul.

I was certainly off to a good start as the butter had been left on the kitchen worktop overnight and was suitably soft. When I added the caster sugar I only required the assistance of a wooden spoon to beat it together. Working with such soft butter was something of a novelty as I rarely remember to take it out of the fridge! It really made life a great deal easier. Once the combined butter and sugar had become light and fluffy I was ready to beat in a single egg yolk. I had discarded the egg white before my brain had a chance to engage. As I watched it trickle down the plug hole I remembered that I needed the whites later for the glaze. Whoops! It was lucky that I had some eggs left, so it wasn't the end of the world! The next job was to weigh the plain flour and spices. As I attempted to sieve the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl I developed a sneezing fit. I'm not sure if it was due to the whiff of the spices or the dust from the flour, but I had to stop and step away from the bowl. I counted seven sneezes, not a personal record but impressive all the same!

Once recovered from the exhausting sneezing marathon, I moved on to adding the small amount of chopped mixed peel and the all important currants. I stirred the dried fruit into the relatively dry mixture and then brought it together with a little milk. To create the required soft dough I found that I needed the full quantity of milk. The resulting dough was lovely and soft and also manageable to work with. It did stick a little to the worktop when I rolled it out, but nothing an extra dusting of flour couldn't sort out. Mary says to roll out to a thickness of a quarter of an inch. I was sure to measure the thickness of the dough as I usually end up with biscuits that are either too thick or too thin; I never get it just right. I was worried that my dough was too thick, but carried on regardless and cut out circles using a fluted cutter. Mary says to use a two and half inch cutter or make the biscuits larger if desired. My circles of dough measured three inches across and, after cutting out six biscuits, I had already used up half my dough. It was obvious that I wasn't going to make anywhere near the suggested 24 biscuits! After this, I rolled the dough a little thinner and managed a grand total of 14!

I placed two trays of biscuits into the pre heated oven. While they cooked for just under ten minutes I had time to crack another egg and place the white into a glass ready for use. For the second time I retrieved the caster sugar from the kitchen cupboard. The little pastry brush I found had perhaps seen better days, but I felt sure that it would do the job! I whipped one tray from the oven and, as quickly as I could, brushed over the egg white before sprinkling with a little caster sugar. Despite it only taking around a minute to complete my mission, when I returned the tray to the oven for another few minutes the second tray of biscuits looked burnt. Oh dear! I went ahead and glazed and sugared them anyway but made sure that I put them back in the oven on the lower shelf.

Despite spending four minutes in a very hot enclosed space the sugar on top of the biscuits remained unchanged. I couldn't understand why it hadn't melted! I quickly slid the cooked biscuits from the trays and onto a wire rack to cool. The thicker biscuits definitely appeared to come off best as their thinner friends were a little too brown for my liking!

Half an hour later and I was armed with a cup of tea in one hand and a biscuit in the other. I'd gone for the thicker variety; it made for a delicious mouthful! It was crisp and crumbly with a gorgeous kick of spice. I'm not a huge fan of mixed peel but I felt that it really had its place here. Again, I'm not overly fond of currants but they suited a delicate biscuit such as this. I liked how easy these biscuits were to make. They went from mixing bowl to plate nice and quickly, which was a definite bonus!

When presented with these pretty Easter biscuits you can't help feeling a little lifted. I hope that the scent of baking wafted up to my mum's bedroom and helped lift her spirits. I'm on strict instructions to save some for when she is feeling better. She would hate to miss out! 
My super-sized Easter biscuits!

Chocolate Crispies

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty One:  Page 243.

I have hazy memories of making chocolate crispies as a small child. In fact I suspect most of us have made them either with family or at school. I was really looking forward to making them with my little boy and continuing the tradition!

I'd been holding back this recipe for Easter as I thought the recipe rather lent itself to Easter egg nests. On the Saturday Neil and I went into town to get a bit of shopping. I should have realised that trying to find mini eggs the day before Easter Sunday would be near impossible. Trust me to leave things to the last minute! We hunted high and low in a supermarket and had to admit defeat. Trudging home, we popped into a newsagent and struck gold. Not only did they sell the elusive mini eggs but they were also on special offer, yipeeeee!

The following day was of course Easter Sunday. After gorging myself on chocolate eggs BEFORE breakfast and attending church with my mum and sister, it was time to get baking - not that there was much baking involved with these chocolate crispies. All I had to do was melt a terrifyingly large quantity of plain chocolate with a relatively small amount of butter and golden syrup. I was delighted to add the three ingredients straight into a saucepan. It was much quicker than heating it over a pan of simmering water.

I occasionally stirred the chocolaty mixture; it didn't take long to melt and become silky smooth. I turned off the heat and set about weighing out some cornflakes and shredded wheat. Mary says to use cornflakes but I wanted to try some of each. I hoped the shredded wheat might help my crispies take on a more nest like form!!

I took the two bowls of cereal into the living room and set them out on the table. Mum had set out Isaac's very own mixing bowl and spatula; he was wearing his Thomas the Tank Engine apron, all ready for action! As soon as the cornflakes were on the table his little hands dived straight in. He busily scrunched them up with his fingers; pieces were soon flying all over the place! He wasn't fussed about the shredded wheat, so I set about crumbling them up into fine pieces. I poured the melted chocolate mixture into two bowls and we added cornflakes to one and shredded wheat to the other. The chocolate was already starting to set and it was a struggle working in the breakfast cereals.

As Isaac is still a few months from his second birthday he didn't grasp the concept of using a spoon to stir the mixture; he wanted to use his hands. It is after all much more fun! However, this isn't great when the mixture is still fairly hot and the last thing you want is burnt fingers! One minute I was telling him to stick his hands into the cornflakes and the next I was telling him to be careful. The poor child was getting mixed messages. I couldn't help wondering if he was a little young to be making Easter egg nests, but we had started so we had better finish!

After a serious amount of elbow grease on my part, the cornflakes and shredded wheat were finally encased in chocolate. It was time to place spoonfuls into the paper cases. This should have been an easy task, but Isaac had other ideas; he had developed a paper case obsession! We were using cases of various colours. Isaac enjoyed picking one up at a time, announcing the colour and then banishing it to the floor! Each time I picked up a case and placed it on the table it would immediately disappear! Eventually I successfully managed to fill some paper cases with chocolate crispies and Neil made a few nests too. His nests were obviously for a large bird such as a seagull; they were enormous!

I managed to regain Isaac's interest when it was time to add the mini eggs. I opened the packet and offered him one to try. Tentatively he placed a little chocolate egg into his mouth. He'd never eaten one before but, due to a general disinterest in chocolate, I wasn't sure he'd like it. A few seconds later his little hand reached back into the packet and he quickly shovelled another egg into his mouth. I tried to get him to place some into the nests. However, he wasn't sure about that idea! As quickly as I was adding eggs to nests he was pinching them. The birds obviously hatched and flew very quickly from our nests judging by their sparsity! In the end I had to take them away and place them out of Isaac's sight. It was clear that he liked mini eggs VERY much!

I placed the nests into the fridge to set as suggested and, half an hour or so later, I gave one a try. They were lovely and crunchy and of course very chocolaty. Personally I'm not overly keen on plain or dark chocolate, so these were a bit rich for me. In fact I think they are possibly too rich for small children.

I had a lot of fun making these chocolate crispies with Isaac. I am certainly looking forward to making them with him next year. By then I think he'll be able to get more involved. I'm not sure if he will ever resist pinching the mini eggs though!! 
A must for Easter!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Continental Cheesecake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighty:  Page 378.

I haven't made a cheesecake for a while, so I was very much looking forward to trying this recipe. The title was a little unusual. However, judging by the list of ingredients, it would be a delicious baked cheesecake topped with summer fruits and cream. I'd be sure to gain a stone after eating a slice, but it sounded as though it might be worth it!

As we were staying with my parents, it seemed a perfect opportunity to make a large cheesecake such as this. Mary mentions that it should serve twelve. I find Mary's portion sizes to be tiny and hardly enough for a sparrow. I suspected that it would more likely serve six or eight!

Isaac spent the morning playing with his doting granny and this gave me a chance to get on and make the cheesecake. The first job was to grease and line the base of a ten inch tin. I had brought my suitably sized flan tin as I didn't have a round cake tin large enough. I hoped that it would do the job just as well!

After lining the base of the tin with greaseproof paper, I moved on to making the buttery biscuit base. I melted a modest amount of butter in a saucepan and then weighed out the digestive biscuits. As with all of Mary's cheesecake recipes the base was going to be thin. I only required seven biscuits; it seemed such a tiny amount! However, this meant that it took mere moments to beat them into submission with a rolling pin! By this time the lump of butter had melted, so I could add a little Demerara sugar and the biscuit crumbs before mixing it all together. The mixture looked delicious and it was hard to resist eating it straight from the saucepan! I tipped the biscuity mixture into the lined flan tin and pressed it into all the corners. Thankfully there was just enough to cover the base neatly.

While the base was setting I moved on to making the cheesecake. It soon became clear that this wasn't going to be a five minute job! I tipped some softened butter into a large mixing bowl and then measured in the caster sugar. Wow – what a terrifyingly large amount! I'd better book an appointment with the dentist straight away! After the mountain of sugar, in went the ricotta cheese. Rather annoyingly I used two entire tubs and just a teeny tiny amount from a third. I weighed a relatively small quantity of plain flour into the mixing bowl and then went on the hunt for two lemons. Not only would I need the grated zest, but the recipe also required their juice. This was going to be a seriously lemony cheesecake – just how I like it!

We had almost a dozen eggs at home so I decided to bring them with us. It would have been wasteful not to use them. I hoped they had survived the two and a half hour drive and the hour on the ferry. Cautiously I opened the egg box and peered inside. Phew, all was intact! I separated the required four eggs. The yolks were added to the other ingredients while the whites went into a clean bowl. They would soon be put to good use. Now it was time to give the ingredients a good beating. Mary says to beat until smooth. I had a few stubborn pieces of butter which repeatedly avoided the beaters. In the end I decided that I didn't mind one or two lumps!

By now the mixture was over half way up the sides of the large mixing bowl, but I still hadn't finished. In yet another bowl I needed to whip up some cream. As Mum's second bowl was holding the egg whites I wasn't sure what to use. I ended up attempting to whisk it in a measuring jug with a balloon whisk! I struggled on for what felt like ages until I gave in and asked Neil for help. My poor wrist was killing me! He kindly came to my rescue and it was soon at the required lightly whipped stage. This meant that it was ready to be folded into the cream cheese mixture. As I took a step back, I managed to knock the balloon whisk from the overcrowded worktop. It bounced off my jumper and skidded down the length of my trousers. I was covered in cream. Funny how my parents' dog suddenly took an interest in me!!

Of course the egg whites could not be forgotten. I was glad that whisking the egg whites would be my last job. Well, for now at least! I really wasn't sure if I would have room in the bowl for the stiff egg whites; it was already fit to burst! To be honest I was a little heavy handed when folding them in. I wasn't particularly worried about losing some of the volume as there was no way it was all going to fit into the flan tin.

In the end I had enough mixture left to contemplate making another cheesecake! I decided to make one for my sister and her husband. I used a much smaller but deeper tin. I made up half the amount of biscuit base and then tipped the remaining cheesecake on top. The tin had a fixed base so it wouldn't make an attractive exit but I doubted that they would mind, as long as it tasted good!

I placed both cheesecakes into the oven. As they were smaller I deducted some of the cooking time and kept a close eye on them. The larger of the two browned quite quickly on top and set quicker as the tin was fairly shallow. After just over an hour I turned off the oven and left them to cool with the door shut. An hour or so later I extracted the cooled cheesecakes and placed them onto plates. I was amazed when the smaller of the two easily exited from its tin!

To be perfectly honest I was getting a bit fed up with these cheesecakes as I still needed to prepare the fruit and cream topping! I sliced some fat strawberries in half and used almost a whole punnet of raspberries. I placed both into a large mixing bowl and then moved my attention to the punnet of blackberries. Mary does make other suggestions of what other summer fruits can be used. However three different fruits seemed plenty, especially when they are so expensive! I put the blackberries into a saucepan along with a little water. Once they had softened and released their juices I took them from the heat. To thicken the blackberry juice I mixed a small amount of arrowroot with some more water and then added the mix to the heated berries. With a few more minutes on the hob the mixture had thickened up and I had to let it cool before I could move onto the next stage. I used this time to whip up the double cream. This time I used my common sense and let the electric whisk take the strain! The thick cream could then be spooned into a piping bag to await further attention.

Finally the blackberries were cool and I could tip them into the bowl of strawberries and raspberries and carefully mix together. I heaped spoonfuls of fruit on to the top of each cheesecake, paying particular attention to the larger of the two. I left a little space around the edge so that I had room to pipe the cream. Hooray, I was finished! I felt tempted to pop a few party poppers and light a few sparklers to celebrate the occasion!!!

The cheesecake was still a little warm when I cut a slice. I was surprised when the slice came out intact! The biscuit base was gorgeously buttery and the filling was creamy but at the same time as light as air. The fruit that prettily decorated the top was perhaps a little tart, but I thought everything combined beautifully. It certainly went down well with my family. My sister was very excited to have a whole cheesecake to take home! I do love a cheesecake, but I think I prefer the simpler varieties. This really is something to make for a special occasion or for someone you REALLY love!! 
This didn't last too long!

Monday, 2 April 2012

English Muffins

Recipe Number One Hundred & Seventy Nine:  Page 283.

I've never made English muffins before so I wasn't too sure what to expect. The list of ingredients looked fairly straightforward. However, I was surprised that the muffins would be cooked in a frying pan rather than in an oven. Mary says that these old-fashioned muffins are best pulled apart and eaten warm with lashings of butter. This made my tummy rumble and my mouth water. I just needed a bowl of tomato soup to accompany the muffins and I'd be in heaven!

I intended to make a start on the muffins an hour before lunch, but things never go to plan when you have a toddler to entertain! Of course, playing games with my little boy was a welcome distraction. However, it meant that I didn't get into the kitchen until he was having his nap. I was starving by the time I took my largest mixing bowl from the cupboard and grabbed the bread flour and yeast from the shelves. It was clear that things were not going to go my way when I discovered that I'd weighed the flour out in millilitres instead of grams. I felt pretty sure that they'd work out the same, but I thought I should double check the amount; as it turned out all was well. After adding the yeast, a little sugar and salt, I could move on to warming the milk.

I placed the large quantity of milk into the microwave to heat. Each time I checked, it felt stone cold until suddenly it was red hot!! This meant I had to stand the jug in cold water until the milk felt tepid. If too hot it would no doubt kill off the yeast, which would not be good! As I stirred the milk into the flour the resulting mixture appeared to be very liquid but, after sticking my hands in and bringing it together, it turned into a perfectly smooth and elastic dough. It required minimal flour on the worktop to prevent it sticking. I gave it a quick knead and then it was time to roll it out. With each roll of my rolling pin the dough sprang neatly back, but I got there in the end!

Although I have plenty of fluted round cutters in various diameters, I could not find a plain edged one. I desperately hunted through each messy kitchen drawer and stood on a wobbly chair to make sure that there weren't any lurking on top of the kitchen shelves. Neil climbed up to have a look too, but all he found were cobwebs and dusty out of date sweeteners! I ended up turning over the fluted cutter and using the plain side. It didn't cut all the way through the dough but it at least gave me an outline to cut with a knife. I wonder if the fluted indentations embedded into the palm of my hand will fade with time?!

Once the muffins had all been cut to size, I placed them onto a well floured baking tray and then sprinkled them with a small amount of semolina. As I sealed up the packet I managed to smear a sticky black substance all over my jumper. The packet had been sitting on top of a leaking tin of treacle, nice! I lightly covered over the tray of muffins, and then went on the lookout for somewhere warm. Thankfully, the sun had come out and was casting rays of warmth across the armchair in the living room. That would do nicely. I just had to wait an hour for them to rise. My tummy was grumbling loudly and I was dying to eat something. I resisted, as I wanted to wait and enjoy the muffins with a big bowl of soup. The wait had better be worth it!!

After an hour of hungrily pacing the floor it was time to cook the muffins. They had spent their time wisely and had puffed up in the heat of the sun. I quickly wiped some oil over the base of the frying pan and turned on the hob. I was a little concerned about cooking the muffins in a frying pan rather than in the oven. I thought that an oven would be more reliable. I hadn't accounted for how long it would take to cook each batch of muffins. I could fit in four at a time and they needed to cook for seven minutes EACH side, my tummy was by now complaining very loudly indeed.

It was a little disconcerting not hearing any sort of sizzle or crackle coming from the pan; I hoped that the muffins were cooking! After a few minutes they puffed up a little but, apart from browning on the top and bottom, they remained anaemically pale elsewhere!

As the second batch cooked I couldn't resist pulling apart a muffin cooling on the wire rack. I spread on a very generous amount of butter and, within seconds, it had melted and dripped onto the plate. I tucked into one half and Neil scoffed the other. Oh my goodness it went down well! My half was gone in two large bites!! It was utterly delicious. However, we restrained ourselves from eating any more until I had cooked all the batches. I heated the soup and busied myself splitting muffins and spreading on too much butter.

I honestly don't think food has ever been eaten quicker! In less than ten minutes Neil and I had wolfed down three muffins and a huge bowl of soup each, oink oink!! I am now a lover of English Muffins. As the muffins were still warm, they did seem perhaps a little doughy. However, I liked that. I found them rather comforting! Soup really was the perfect accompaniment.

If only I hadn't been so hungry and eaten the muffins all so quickly. I had shot my bolt and had to sit still for some time afterwards. It was worth it though!!
Might not look pretty but they taste delicious!! :-)

Sultana Malt Loaves

Recipe Number One Hundred & Seventy Eight:  Page 301.

Some years ago I went through a malt loaf craze; I ate it almost every single day! I was forever on some sort of diet and considered malt loaves to be a low fat treat. However, the fact that I ate four or five slices a day could explain why I rarely lost any weight!

It never occurred to me that I could make my own malt loaves, so I'd regularly buy it pre-cut from the shop. If I attempted to slice it myself it would become so squashed that a slice would be little bigger than a postage stamp! In time, I came across a recipe for malt loaf in an old and unused baking book. The recipe proved to be so much nicer than the shop bought variety; it was delicious. In the end I ate so many malt loaves that I sickened myself and I have not touched one for years! I was a little concerned about trying Mary's recipe. Would it restart my addiction?!

After turning on the oven and setting it to a low heat I dug out my loaf liners. I have just one 1lb loaf tin and this recipe requires two. I decided to use my 2lb tin for the second malt loaf. To fill the gap at the end of the tin I simply shoved in a ball of foil! I would end up with a fatter loaf but I could hardly see that being an issue!

It suddenly dawned on me that I should have had some cold tea ready for this cake; I had forgotten, whoops! I quickly boiled some water and threw a teabag into a measuring jug. The tea needed to be cold before I could use it, so I thought I might as well throw teabags into mugs too! Neil and I could sit and enjoy a cuppa while I waited. It seemed to take ages for the tea in the jug to lose its heat. Funny how my own cups of tea seem to go cold instantly!

Finally the jug of tea was stone cold and I could head back to the kitchen to make the cake. First of all I weighed the plain flour, along with a small quantity of bicarbonate of soda and baking powder. Next, I stirred in the all important sultanas. Instead of saving the remaining sultanas for another recipe, I couldn't resist picking at them. Soon I'd scoffed all the leftovers! Before starting this recipe I hadn't realised that I would need to heat the sugar, malt extract and treacle in a saucepan. One day I might just learn to read the entire recipe through first. I wasn't very happy at the prospect of extra washing up, but my spirits were soon lifted when I saw that I'd be making use of Demerara sugar. I rarely get to use this grainy sugar unless it's for sprinkling over rock cakes or biscuits. Finally it would get a chance to play a leading role!

After adding the small amount of Demerara sugar to the saucepan I moved on to the malt extract. I had forgotten how runny and sticky malt extract is; I was soon smothered! As I measured it in to the pan, thin ribbons of sugary syrup stretched from the saucepan to the side of the jar – it looked like an intricate spider’s web. I collected the sticky tin of treacle from the shelf and grabbed a tablespoon from a drawer. Thankfully, measuring out just one tablespoonful of treacle was pretty easy to deal with and I didn't encounter any more mess! Whilst the thick dark mixture heated on the hob, I broke two eggs into a bowl and quickly beat them together with a fork. Mary doesn't mention that the hot malty mixture should be left to cool before adding to the flour, so I went ahead and poured it straight in, praying that it wouldn't make the flour go lumpy. To avoid a possible scrambled egg situation I added the cold tea before pouring in the beaten eggs!!

Once all the ingredients were in the bowl I could mix it all together with my wooden spoon. Thankfully the flour did not go lumpy and the mixture was soon perfectly smooth. Not only was it smooth but it was also VERY runny; it was almost like water!! Mary says to pour rather than spoon the mixture into the tins, so this reassured me that it was supposed to be runny! Unfortunately not all the mixture found its way into the tins; a good quantity dripped merrily onto the worktop! Finally I was able to slide both tins into the oven.

The loaves would take about an hour to cook. I checked on the cakes after half an hour and saw that they had barely risen. After the hour was up, I was delighted to find that the loaves were perfectly cooked through. I left them to cool in the tin for the suggested ten minutes and then turned them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

I was very good and resisted having a slice until the following day. Mary insists that the malt loaves are best left for a few days before eating. The following day the surface of the loaves became shiny and sticky, just like gingerbread. Unlike a shop bought malt loaf, I found it easy to slice and it kept its shape beautifully. I am afraid I am once more addicted! I had three slices one after the other. It had a gorgeous malty flavour and the sultanas sweetened each bite. The loaf was moist and very slightly chewy. Neil tried some shortly after me and he is now also addicted. He can't stop going back for more. We may have to fight for the last piece. I have the sharpest elbows!
Sticky Malt Loaf - quick, grab the butter!