Archives for category: Sweets

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Brandy snaps are the sort of thing you read about in novels that you pick up on a rainy (snowy) day for comfort when everything seems bleak. I’ve never known exactly what they are, though, but I was given for Christmas a recipe book full of vintage-y recipes, and the picture made them look effortlessly impressive, which is always what I go for in a recipe. Needless to say, they weren’t effortless, mainly due to my incurable habit of starting new things approximately half an hour before I’m supposed to be going out, and recklessly promising myself to walk everywhere. But they are impressive, and delicious.

Brandy snaps

4oz butter
4 oz Demerara sugar
4oz golden syrup
1 tspn ground ginger
4 oz plain flour
1 tspn lemon juice

double cream

Melt the syrup, sugar, ginger and butter together until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in the flour and lemon juice. The mixture is amazingly sticky. Then put about 5 teaspoons at a time onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes at 200 degrees – be careful not to burn them, because they burn easily. When you get them out, leave them for a minute or two on the sheet to cool and solidify, then, with a palette knife, lift them off and curl them around the handle of a wooden spoon. They are really easy to bend in this state, but harden quickly, so small batches is best. Then whip the cream and pipe into the middle of the snaps. Be warned, these don’t last long before they get soft, a day at the most, so eat quickly. Not that you need telling to do that, obviously.

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Happy New Year! If you’re anything like me you’ll have had quite enough of the succession of brown foodstuffs that you’ve eaten over the last couple of weeks and be dying for a change. However, on New Year’s Day I was once again called upon to make the pudding for the family gathering, so I submitted to once last lot of zesting to make this lovely shortbread, courtesy of Abel and Cole.

I altered the recipe by adding in the juice of the zested clementine, because I had trouble getting the dough to come together, especially with the threat not to over-knead echoing in my ears.

150g butter, soft75g caster sugar
150g plain flour
75g cornflour
zest of one clementine
.5 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
pinch ground ginger
extra sugar and cinnamon for dusting
The juice of the clementine if the mixture looks too dry

Beat the butter, then add in the sugar, zest and spices. Sift the flour and cornflour into the mixture and stir until it comes together, using your hands if necessary, but don’t over-knead. Roll out the dough on a well floured surface. You can either press it into a lined circular baking tray, or use cutters to make new year themed shapes. Bake for 20 minutes at gas 3 until lightly coloured, then dust with extra sugar and cinnamon.

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I spent most of Christmas this year sitting in a chair, while my limbs remembered what it was like to not be on the move all the time. As I’m living with my grandmother, whose house is the traditional venue for the Christmas feasting, I ended up doing far more of the Christmas tasks than I usually do this year, the ham, the cake, the pudding, the mince pies, the blinis, the trifle, the sauces and the brandy butter. While the ham in coca cola was, frankly, a triumph, I think the Creole Christmas cake was a credible success as well, given that several self-confessed Christmas Cake haters admitted to enjoying this cake. Possibly something to do with the week’s worth of soaking in four different types of alcohol. That and the fact it’s Delia’s recipe, of course.

Creole Christmas cake

To soak

3 tbpns rum
3 tbspns brandy
3 tbspns port
1.5 tspns Angostura bitters
.5 tspn ground cinnamon
.5 tspn ground nutmeg
.5 tspn ground cloves
.5 tspn salt
1.5 tspns vanilla extract
1 tspn vanilla extract
2 oz glace cherries, chopped up
1 level tablespoon molasses sugar
1 lb raisins
4 oz pitted prunes, chopped up
8 oz currants

Cake:
9 oz self-raising flour
9 oz demerara sugar
9 oz butter, at room temp
5 large eggs

Soak all the pre-soak ingredients for one week before you want to make the cake. Store in a airtight container, in the fridge. When you’re ready to make the cake, sift the flour with the sugar and beat in the sugar, then the eggs. Then add the dried fruit mixture and mix thoroughly Place into a lined baking tin about 9 inches across and bake at gas mark one for three hours without opening the door. After the three hours have passed, over the top with a layer of baking parchment and bake for another hour. Cool and wrap in baking parchment. If you leave it for up to a month, it apparently improves, but if you are as time strapped as me, eating it the next day or two will be fine.

 

Clearly a shared 20th and 54th birthday call for cake based extravagance, but I have to say I didn’t realise quite how much I’d be taking on with this cake. It took 4 hours altogether, from start to finish, and 14 eggs. It went down well though, and looks lovely, so it was probably worth it.

The fraisier cake calls for a light sponge made by heating the eggs and sugar together while whisking. If you’re feeling lazy, however, I’d imagine it would work pretty well with plain Victoria. I followed Mary Berry’s recipe to the end, all 34 steps, except I left the lemons out, because that’s just how I roll. I had my doubts about her creme patissiere recipe because I think using cornflour is cheating, really. I also had to make 2 cakes, instead of splitting one, because my original cake didn’t rise that well.

Fraisier cake

Cake:
350g caster sugar
8 eggs
350g self-raising flour
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Creme patissiere
I would use this recipe, if you prefer a cornflour free version

Plus a basic lemon syrup made with the juice of one lemon and 75g of caster sugar, and 4 tablespoons of water.

Plus marzipan

Plus strawberries

Heat the eggs and sugar in a bowl over a simmering pan of water, and whisk until doubled in size and golden coloured. Then remove from the heat and sift in the flour, stirring with a metal spoon. Add the melted butter, and pour into a loose bottomed cake tin. Bake for 30 minutes.

Make the creme patissiere as per my previous recipe, given above. Then chill for 30 minutes.

After you’ve cooled the cakes, line the tin with cling film and lower the cake into the tin and press down. Brush with the lemon syrup. Halve about 15 strawberries and put round the edge like a crown, cut side out. Then fill the middle of the cake with creme, and pipe in between each strawberry to the top. Put some strawberry halves in the centre to raise the cake, then cover the whole lot with creme – you should have none left. Place the second cake on top and push down. Brush all over with the remaining syrup, then place a marzipan circle on top, and dust with icing sugar.

I made chocolate letters to decorate the top, which is remarkably easy, just drizzle chocolate in the desired shape over some baking parchment and leave to dry.

Fair warning: don’t tell people how many eggs its got in til they’ve already eaten it.

This one is a result of my realisation that eclairs always look a bit rubbish, actually, because the wonky line of chocolate fondant on the top to me screams amateur. So in order to get around that, I made mine circular, in a way that, I accept, does look a lot like a profiterole. But profiteroles are always disappointing too, because who would choose plain old whipped cream over chocolate flavoured creme patissiere? Sso the marraige of the two could hardly be better. Plus it’s a bit show-offy, ideal for entertaining friends. Choux pastry is actually by far the easiest pastry I’ve ever made, and tastes indistinguishable from the real thing.

Choux pastry

60g/2.5 oz strong plain flour
1 teaspn caster sugar
5 fluid oz water
50/2 oz butter, cubed
2 large eggs, beaten

Melt the butter in the water on the stove, then turn off the heat. Tip the flour and the sugar into the water in one quick movement, beating with an electric mixer at the same time. Then, when the mixture has coalesced and leaves the side of the pan clean, add the beaten eggs slowly, a bit at a time, beating the mixture as you add. The mixture will be a bit gloopy and a bit shiny. Run a greased baking sheet under a tap then shake off the excess water – this provides steam to help the buns rise. Measure out the mixture into teaspoon amounts. Bake at gas 6 for 10 minutes, then turn it up to 7 for another 15 until golden brown and not stodgy. Pierce them to let excess steam out and cool.

Creme patissiere (from Nigella’s Domestic Goddess)

125 ml milk
125 double cream
1 tspn vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
50g caster sugar
15g plain flour

Warm the milk and cream together until boiling, then leave to cool for 10 minutes. Whisk yolks and sugar together, then beat the flour in. Add the milk to the sugar mixture and heat gently until it thickens, which it will, astoundingly.  At this point I added in some melted chocolate, about half a bar. A good tip from Nigella is, rather than refridgerating, put a wetted piece of greaseproof paper over it to prevent it forming a skin.

Assembly

Get the old piping bag out again, and, slicing the profiti-clairs down the middle, pipe in a decent amount of the pastry cream. Cover with more melted chocolate and devour

 

Whilst working at the lovely LRB shop over the last few weeks, a mini British Bake off was staged in our very own tiny kitchen. Well, sort of.  My friend Ranya is training to be a pastry chef, and, not one to be discouraged by healthy competition, I took up the gauntlet not ever really thrown to me. On my last day I brought these in, but Ranya raised me salted caramel brownies, which were delish. Fortunately we didn’t have any irritatingly serious judges to mark our work, just appreciative colleagues, so we got off without coming to blows.

Anyway, I’ve been planning to make these for absolutely ages, and they were far easier than I expected, although time consuming. I used ready made puff, again, some partially defrosted raspberries from the freezer and some sweetened cream.

Mille feuille

1x packet ready made puff

Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle. Prick with a fork all over then place in the oven at gas 5  on a baking sheet, with another baking sheet ontop, to make sure it doesn’t rise too much. If you don’t have a heavy baking sheet, put a ceramic baking dish on top. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.  Leave to cool

Sweet cream

Whisk 150ml double cream with an electric whisk until it forms soft peaks. Then add 2 tbspns caster sugar and a couple of drops of vanilla essence. Whisk into stiff peaks.

Assembly

With a serrated knife, cut the puff pastry sheet into smaller rectangles, all of equal size. Discard the misshapen bits round the edges. I used three levels of puff to two of raspberry, but how you do it is up to you. Pipe cream blobs onto the first layer, then top with strawberry, followed by a small dab of cream to stick the pastry on top. Continue for the next two layers.

Ideally serve immediately. You can use the same method and filling for larger mille feuille, but only if you have less greedy colleagues than I.

No SLR 😦

Hello faithful readers – I’ve been neglecting you of late. Working for my living. However, I’ve been baking loads, and I made these for my friend who is obsessed with all things Scandinavian. They were relatively simple – especially with the addition of a bread machine to do the kneading thing for me – and very delicious, warm out of the oven, they did that filling the house with the smell of cinnamon thing.  Perfect for the non existent summer we’re having.

Bread machine cinnamon buns

120ml milk
120ml water
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
375g plain flour
2 1/4 teaspoons dried active baking yeast
4 tablespoons caster sugar
1 egg
3 tablespoons softened butter
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons caster sugar
A handful of sultanas/raisins

Heat the milk, water and butter together until warm. Put the flour, salt, yeast, sugar, egg and milk mixture into the bread machine and select the ‘dough’ option – if you don’t have one, mix together in a bowl and knead for 15 minutes, then leave to prove for an hour. Get it out, and flour your surface extensively – the dough will be very sticky – roll into a rectangle. Add the cinnamon to the sugar in a bowl and spread the melted butter on your dough. Cover with the cinnamon mixture, then roll up the dough into a sausage. Using a sharp knife or one of those food choppers, cut into 2 cm pieces. Place these cut side down onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Icing optional…

 

Years ago, the summer before I went to university, I went to Turkey with my family on holiday. I was nervous about going to university, and worried, as every woman is at some point in her life, by my post-A levels weight. It wasn’t the first time I’d tried baklava, but it was definitely a formative experience nonetheless. I think I ate a piece of baklava after nearly every meal, and in Turkey they don’t skimp on the portions. Nevertheless, I came back from that holiday thinner than I’d ever been, a good lesson for life that denial never gives you anything, but regular injections of sugar will solve all one’s problems (I think regular swimming and no snacks also contributed).

I was a bit worried about trying these, but I used a BBC food recipe, which often simplify things for the complete cooking idiot, so it turned out pretty well in the end. One warning – make sure you add ALL the sugar syrup. It seems like a hell of a lot, but trust me, the baklava will absorb it, and you need it to get that tooth aching sweetness.

Baklava

18 sheets ready made filo pastry (I’m not apologising for that. Have you seen how thin it is?! I don’t have the upper arm strength)
8oz butter
8oz mixture of walnuts and pistachios, chopped to within an inch of their lives
2 tbspn granulated sugar
1 tspn ground cardamon
12 oz granulated sugar
300ml water
1 tbspn lemon juice

Preheat the oven to gas 4. Grease a baking tray thoroughly. Melt the butter. Lay 10 filo pastry sheets on top of each other and brush each one with butter. Mix together 2 tbspn sugar, cardamon and nut mixture, and spread over the pastry sheets. Then add the rest of the sheets, brushing each with butter until all the butter is used. Mark a criss-cross pattern in the top layers with a knife.

Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown and puffy. Leave to cool. Make the sugar syrup by dissolving the 12 oz sugar in water with the lemon juice. It should take about 20 minutes, and look golden brown, but it won’t be immediately obvious it’s syrup. Taste it. Pour the syrup into the grooves in the baklava, and keep going until it’s all used up. Do it! Then you have to leave it for a day or so to soak up the liquid.

yes, it’s on a chair. it was that sort of party

It was my grandad’s 80th birthday last week, and on Sunday we had a big party at my grandparent’s house with 40 family members in attendance, most of whom I hadn’t seen for several years. It’s a bit worrying when you stop being the one adults say “haven’t you grown!” to and start being the one who says it. Anyway, I made this tart to impress my long lost relations, to make up for my lack of a job to impress them with. It’s an unemployment tart, if you will. And the best thing is, it’s very easy to do, just pastry and milk and sugar.

Pastry case:

125g unsalted butter, cubed
500g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
180g plain flour, sifted

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg and stir until smooth. Add the flour and bring together with your hands, taking care not to overwork. Rest in the fridge for twenty minutes. Then roll out and put into your tart tin (a difficult procedure). Fork some holes into it (especially if, like me, you had to use some self raising flour as the plain had run out) Blind bake for 12-15 minutes.

Creme patissiere

500ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
20g cornflour

Heat the milk with the vanilla. Mix the egg yolks and the sugar together, then slowly pour in a stream of milk, stirring constantly, until incorporated. You may need the cornflour to help it thicken. Heat gently, stirring with a whisk, until thick – which takes about 20 minutes.

Assembly

Put your creme into your tart case, and place whatever variety of fruit you’ve got ontop in a vaguely aesthetically pleasing manner. I glazed mine with some hot water and sugar mix, but this is optional.

Now, anyone who’s seen me lately will know I’ve been going on about work-life balance, job satisfaction and the beauty of physical tasks a lot.  The theory is that working with your hands is good for you, and working in an office (let alone at a meaningless job) is not.  Several people I know are thinking about switching jobs to more physical ones, whether it be dental technician, baker or primary school teacher.  It’s all about feeling like at the end of every day you’ve achieved something and gone home feeling fulfilled, and I’m not sure that office work ever gives you that feeling.  Cooking, for me, is pretty much the only thing that makes me feel positive at the moment (unemployment sucks) and I only wish I had the guts to give it all up and retrain as a baker.

This preamble is leading somewhere, I promise.   A few weeks ago I was given a Kilner jar full of flour and chocolate chips, from Scarlet Bakes.  The idea is to give them as gifts, I guess, so that people can experience the joys of making their own biscuits, without any of the ‘hassle’ of weighing out the ingredients.  I think these things are stupid.  Of all the tasks in cooking, weighing the ingredients is hardly the most difficult.  (To be fair I think these particular mixes are designed for children.  Still, it’s never too early to teach proper baking) What about the mixing, the baking knowledge that comes hard won with numerous silly kitchen mistakes?  But I thought it would be interesting for this blog to give it a go.  I think that Tesco is readying themselves to bring out a similar line.  Plus, I’m not going to lie, I wanted that Kilner jar for a better purpose.

So, the verdict.  The ‘recipe’ calls for only 75g of butter, an alarmingly small amount I’d say, and one which in fact did not yield the ‘batter’ promised.  I added some milk, but a baking novice would presumably not know to do that.  The cookie mixture didn’t taste nice.  The cookies came out of the oven looking pretty similar to how they went in.  And they didn’t taste great, not terrible but not amazing either.  My dad said they tasted like Tesco’s, not something I want said about my baking ever again.

But the worst feeling was that of having cheated, which didn’t yield the satisfaction that I usually get from making anything that I’ve weighed out myself.  I’m vindicated, thank goodness, it would have been awful if they’d turned out better!