Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Simple Shortbread Cookies and the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

This year, whilst mindlessly flicking through Twitter, my attention was drawn to this - the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

Of course, I signed up immediately and spent the next few weeks constantly plotting what kind of utterly mind-blowing cookie I could come up with.

My workmates came up with all kinds of wacky suggestions, some of which we actually experimented with, but, in the end, it was all too complicated and I plumped for something a bit more classic - I'm sure my cookie giftees were relieved!

Shortbread seemed practical for posting - it lasts well and is delicious. The addition of sour cherries and almonds seemed kind of festive to me - also, sour cherries are kind of unbelievable - they taste quite a lot like tangfastics :)

Sour Cherry and Almond Shortbread

Ingredients:

- Butter (at room temperature)
- Caster sugar
- Plain flour (I like the superfine stuff)
- Ground almonds
- Pinch of salt
- Dried sour cherries
- Blanched almonds

Method:

- Preheat the oven to about 150.
- Mix together the butter, sugar, ground almonds, flour and salt - I did this in an electric mixer - you can also use a wooden spoon or your hands. Don't overmix - just do enough to make sure that everything is properly combined.
- Gently mix in the sour cherries and almonds (I kept the almonds whole - I like the great big chunks in the cookies - but there would be no harm in chopping them up a bit if you preferred).
- Roll the whole lot out into a big sausage, wrap it in greaseproof paper and stick it in the fridge for at least half an hour (overnight is totally fine).
- When you're ready to bake the cookies, take the dough-sausage out of the fridge,  chop it into (fattish) rounds and arrange on a lined baking sheet. They don't spread much, but worth leaving a bit of space between them just in case.
- Stick them in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. They won't colour much and might look undercooked (always the way with shortbread), but you just have to believe.
- Take them out of the oven and cool on wire racks.

Super easy, no?

You can decorate them with drizzled white and dark chocolate if you want, or try to make pretty icing patterns on them for extra bakewelliness, but I chose to leave mine plain - I like them better than way.




The best part about the Cookie Swap was that I also received THREE batches of delicious cookies from three other lovely bloggers - I'll update on those later.

Happy baking, everyone!


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Birthday Cake

I haven't written anything here for several hundred years (again), so here's a quick something that I did a couple of weeks ago.

For a few months now, I have been occasionally volunteering for a very very lovely charity called Free Cakes For Kids in Hackney, which is the local branch of a small national charity which provides cakes (mostly birthday cakes) to children who wouldn't otherwise get them - local bakers bake things and deliver them to schools, nurseries etc - all very simple.

It seems a small thing, but for most of us (certainly for me), birthday cakes and parties as a child were genuinely formative events, and there are few of mine that I don't remember extremely clearly*.
It is a sad fact that, actually, birthday cakes are expensive (in cash and time terms) to produce or provide, and there are people for whom they are an unaffordable luxury.
For someone like me, who obsessively bakes unnecessary things and is always on the lookout for new cake victims, this is really a pretty obvious collaboration.

My most recent cake was for a fifth birthday party and had a Rainbow Dash (nope - I didn't know either) brief.

Rainbow Dash, as it turns out, is one of the new breed of My Little Ponies (pretty sure they didn't have names when I used to have them), as husband discovered during extensive "research" through the medium of YouTube (thus becoming a member of a slightly odd new social group).

Anyway, since she is a rainbow character, a rainbow cake seemed like the way to go.
I toyed with the idea of making a sugarpaste pony or piping her onto the top, but, honestly, life is too short, and I figured that, if it was MY fifth birthday, I'd probably prefer a Rainbow Dash that I could actually keep afterwards, in any case.
I was also tempted to cut out the middle of the cake and fill it with (rainbow themed, obviously) skittles or similar, so that they would all come pouring out when it was cut, but, as I had to deliver first thing in the morning, I was a bit worried about leaving them in there overnight in case the colour ran and made some kind of unholy sludgy mess, so I wimped out. I still quite fancy this for another time.

So - here's how it all went down (I wrote this recipe out, fairly hurriedly, for the FCFK website - I hope it makes sense)...

Ingredients:
6 eggs
Weight of the eggs in butter (or margarine), caster sugar and self raising flour
Vanilla extract (for the cake)
Pinch of salt
Rainbow coloured gel food colours (I used red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple – no indigo – I’m not totally sure I know what indigo even is) – these are fantastic – much better than the liquid colours of my youth – unbelievably strong colours even when baked.
Jam
250g block of butter
650g icing sugar
Vanilla extract (for the icing)

Edible lustre sprays in pearl and sky blue (optional)

Method:
I made the cake in three batches (mainly because I only have one set of sandwich cake tins and one oven).
-       *Weigh two eggs and preheat the oven to 180 (165 fan).
-       Weight the same amount of butter (margarine) and sugar into a bowl and add a splodge of vanilla extract. Cream this until it goes white and fluffy (I did it with a stand mixer, but a hand whisk or wooden spoon is also totally viable).
-       Measure out (separately) the same weight of flour and add the pinch of salt.
-       Add the two eggs to the butter/sugar mix gradually and beat in (not too much, just till it’s all combined well).
-       If the egg/butter/sugar mix starts to look a bit curdled, just chuck in a little handful of the flour between egg additions.
-       Chuck in the flour and fold it in to the mix – keep it quick and only fold until combined – don’t overmix.
-       Split this mixture in half and colour each half with one of your rainbow colours.
-       Stick these two coloured batters into your sandwich tins and stick in the oven for about 15 minutes till they are cooked – they will be fairly thin cakes – this is a good thing – you are going to end up with six layers, after all.
-       When the cakes are cool enough, turn them out onto racks and leave to cool completely.



-       Frantically wash your bowls and tins and start again from * with the next two colours until you have six lovely layers.
-       When all your cakes are cooked, level them off as necessary (it matters more with more layers – you don’t want a Leaning Tower of Pisa cake for this one) and layer them up on a board with jam in between to stick them together nicely.



-       Refrigerate while you make the icing (for an hour at least).
-       To make the icing, stick the butter (at room temperature) and icing sugar into a bowl and beat (slowly at first – icing sugar is messy stuff) until all incorporated (it might be a bit crumby – that is fine at this stage). Again – you can do this by hand if you’re feeling strong, but icing is where those stand mixers really come into their own.
-       Add a good splodge of vanilla and possibly a splash of milk if things are looking a bit dry and beat frantically until it’s lovely and fluffy – it takes about 5 minutes in the stand mixer – probably more by hand.
-       Use up to half the icing to crumb coat your cake, making a nice smooth layer and locking all the crumbs in – it’s fine if it doesn’t look nice – it just needs to give a good base.
-       Refrigerate the whole thing overnight (or at least for a couple of hours) for the icing to set and chill.
-       The next day, spread the rest of the icing over the crumb coat – this time, make it as beautiful as you can!
-       I decorated the whole thing by spraying the icing all over with pearlescent lustre and then using stencils (cut of old bits of paper) to make clouds and spraying with blue. This is obviously optional, but I thought that since Rainbow Dash is a proper flutter pony, she’d probably quite like a sky background and it makes the cake a little bit interesting on the outside as well as being a rainbow inside.


-       Finally, I stuck my Rainbow Dash figure on top (she’s just plastic – I contemplated icing her on, but thought that, if it was my birthday, I’d probably prefer something I could actually keep afterwards) and chucked a couple of packets of Skittles round the cake to reemphasise the rainbow theme.
-       Et voila – Rainbow Dash rainbow cake! Obviously these are at their best when they’re actually sliced and you get the whole rainbow effect, but I didn’t get to see that here (it always looks awesome, though).


(This is a previous, not so neat, sideways, but seven layered example).





*We had a LOT of good birthday cakes - pianos, trains, swimming pools, castles - you name it. Mainly down to hard work from my mum, dad and granny, and in no small part, thanks to the magic of the (slightly odd, but also awesome) Australian Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Book.
There must be photos of loads of them - some time I'll try to find and post them.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Bakeoff Bakealong: Week 2: Bread

So - week 2 - English muffins. Or just "muffins", as they were called when we used to eat them growing up.

I'm on holiday this week, so my kitchen setup is a little more, well, "basic" than usual.
Don't worry, though, I'm not going to regale you with tales of baking on the boat-based primus stove or anything, though I'm pleased to report that I DO still know how to light it - always a challenge from year to year.

I made these muffins today, despite the fact that it's only me here and that I'm going home tomorrow - always the sensible one.




They were pretty easy, as it turned out, and obviously a fairly robust recipe, since I left the dough to prove for about 5 hours longer than necessary (I got trapped out by an unexpected rain shower - the kitchen is pretty cold - I reckon it didn't overprove *that* much) and I didn't have a griddle. Or a heavy based frying pan. Or any cutters. Or all of the right ingredients. Oh - or any remotely accurate scales.



Still - they look pretty good, I'd say, despite the lack of roundness. And they taste muffiny. I know this, having eaten one or two*.


Rustic. I think that's the word.

 

[EDIT] This morning, I bacon-and-egg-ed them up in the style of Maccy D... I think you'll agree that this is extremely pleasing.



I watched week three in the garden on my laptop yesterday - iles flottant it is, I guess - those are going to be DIFFICULT to get into work in the morning :)

Also - just for a bit of extra holiday vibe - there were some amazing rainbows here yesterday - I honestly don't think I've ever seen one so bright.




* A big big lot.



Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Bakeoff Bakealong: Week 1: Cake

I thought it might be fun to bake along with this season of the Great British Bake Off (or #GBBO, as it's "colloquially" known).

Who knows how far I'll get (hopefully a little further, as I'm looking forward to the muffins), but here's last week's technical bake - passion fruit and lemon style angel food cake.


It's a proper fatless American sponge - no butter or egg yolks - and it came out much better than I was expecting - actually quite moist as well as being fluffy.

I'm going to take it to work in the morning and force feed it to my colleagues - I shall report back on the results.

I obviously didn't have the right kind of tin and my only ring cake tin was much too small, so I just stuck a tumbler in the middle of my usual 10 inch loose bottomed tin.

There were two bonuses to this recipe. The first is that there's loads of lovely lemon curd left (probably for some kind of regatta cake later in the week) and the second is that it turns out that passion fruit is delicious :)

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Everything But The Duck

It was my birthday last weekend (or possibly the one before), so husband and I went to Duck and Waffle and ate (and drank) everything.

It was awesome. We ordered a million things and mysteriously acquired some bonus extra things too (one of many reasons to love D&W) - we basically waddled out at the end - probably just as well we don't have birthdays more than once a year.

Here is a selection of pictures of what went down...

Pretty drinks in the (lovely lovely air conditioned) bar.


Crispy pigs' ears - like slightly chewier pork scratching a covered with magic dust. I knew these were good. Husband got to enjoy the revelatory experience of eating them for the first time.


Dates wrapped in bacon - I think I'd call these Devils on Horseback.
I don't like dried fruit mostly. I love these.


Octopus - I'm pretty sure this remains my favourite thing at D&W (and possibly in the World). Just delicious. Those crispy capers! Mmmmm...


Raw fish selection. Scallops, halibut and tuna. So pretty. So tasty. We *might* have eaten one of the scallops prior to photographing.


Beetroot with goat cheese and what are, to all intents and purposes, hunks of crunchie bar. I've wanted to order this before, but never managed it. It was very sweet. Husband did not love. I liked it quite a lot, but think I might have it for pudding next time...


Ox cheek doughnut. I deliberately didn't order this, as I thought husband would turn his nose up at it (and it we had been a bit sweet for my taste last time), but it arrived as a tasty bonus. It was much better than last time - really nice and spicy. And husband LOVED it. His (savoury) dish of the day, I think.


And puddings. We ordered torrejas to share - basically delicious maple caramelly apples with golden toast (made of brioche) and cinnamon ice cream. It was everything we dreamed it would be - husband was smitten. I'm definitely going to try to recreate this one at home!


And a bonus dessert (in case we hadn't eaten enough already) or vanilla baked alaska. With strawberry sauce and lurid green mint oil. 
I liked this both because it tasted good AND because it looked a bit like an alien.


And the sunset through the window. Most spectacular restaurant setting ever.


AND in case that wasn't enough birthday fun for one year, on the way home, there was A KITTEN ON THE TRAIN.


Best day ever.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Steak

I am officially the worst blogger ever.

In case anyone still occasionally stumbles upon the blog, here is a picture of my steak/salad dinner last night - featuring delicious aged rump from the nice people at the Ginger Pig...


I also made pastrami and tangfastic ice cream (two separate things - that would NOT be a nice combination) at the weekend, but haven't photographed them, so you'll just have to use your imaginations.

And last week, we went out in Camden with my parents, and I ate this splendidly smiley-faced pudding.
I assume it MUST have been deliberate - I don't think you could accidentally smiley so very obviously.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Garlic Gluttony

A little while ago, I had a bit of a garlic glut.
Not a real glut, I guess - it's not as though my personal garlic farm had been ridiculously productive or anything - more just a spate of overenthusiastic buying - gluttony as opposed to gluttery, if you will.


Now, I'm a pretty keen eater of garlic, but even I would find it difficult to work more than a couple of heads a day into our dinner, so I needed a solution.

I racked my brains and managed to dredge up from some of the darker recesses that garlic is both nice and also pretty when one confits it, so that's what I did.

I peeled about a million cloves and poached them really gently in olive oil (with a bit of basil, salt and peppercorns) and then stuck them in a sterilised jar.

Et voila - confit garlic.

It obviously lasted about three and a half minutes before I ate it all.