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.

Photo taken without the magical SLR

A caveat. I am not a food blogger who pretends that everything has always turned out perfectly. I’m pretty lucky, but sometimes things don’t pan out quite the way I wanted. Chicken kiev, one of the most delicious dishes in the history of the world, is also one quite difficult to get right. So, alas, I failed to get that satisfying spurt of garlic butter when cutting in to this kiev, instead getting a sort of garlicky crust, which was nice, but not as good as hoped. However, I think I’ve figured out where I went wrong, so this recipe is an improved version from the photographed one.

Chicken kiev (serves 2)

2 chicken breasts (choose large ones if possible)
6 cloves of garlic, smushed
100 g room temp butter
1 slice worth of breadcrumbs
eggwash

Make the garlic butter by mashing the garlic into the butter at length. Then, and this is the crucial bit, chill the butter back into solidity for half an hour. Butterfly the chicken breasts. Put a good dollop of butter in the middle, then fold the chicken back over it. Coat in the egg wash, then in the breadcrumbs. Chill again for about 15 mins. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, gas 5. They should be golden brown and hot all the way through. Keep your fingers crossed, then cut in to!

On my travels last year I ate a lot of different and exciting food, fruit I’d never seen before, rice paper in dozens of different incarnations, peanut sauces, secret recipes and food from barrels in the street. Amok was one of my favourite dishes, a mild Cambodian curry with coconut milk steamed in a banana leaf. I decided to see what would happen if I tried to make my own back in rainy North London, and it turned out pretty well. I’m not sure it was quite as good as eating it sitting outside under the Cambodian stars in Siem Reap, but it came a pretty good second.

I didn’t have time to locate banana leaves, so I used cabbage leaves, held together with cocktail sticks and hope.

Amok (MiMi Aye’s, also used by Gordon Ramsay)

Amok curry paste

2 tbspn dried chilli  flakes
6 cloves garlic
1 red onion, diced
1 tsp turmeric powder
4 sticks of lemongrass
2 inch piece of galangal, peeled (they sell it at Morrisons)
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
6 kaffir lime leaves or the zest of a lime
1 tbsp shrimp paste

Amok

400g of hake/sustainable white fish
Can of coconut milk
1 tbsp palm or brown sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 eggs
2 large banana leaves, or cabbage leaves

Blend the curry paste ingredients together. Fry for 1 minute in some vegetable oil or groundnut oil. Add the coconut milk, sugar and fish sauce. Simmer for a few minutes, then leave to cool.

Remove the fish skin from the fish and set aside. Cut the fish into small pieces. Add the eggs to the coconut milk mixture and beat slightly so the yolks are dispersed. Add the fish pieces.

Now for the challenge. Put the cabbage bowls into your steamer (I used a colander over a pan of boiling water). Ladle in the amok mixture as high as it’ll take. Steam for 25-30 minutes, or until the mixture has just set.

Flour and salt the fish skin bits and fry for a few minutes until brown. Use as a garnish. Serve the amok with rice.

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!

Image

Sticking with the egg theme for one more blog, this post is the realisation of a long held dream.  I first tried out real scotch eggs in a gastro pub in Archway, North London, and it was a revelation of deliciousness.  The egg yolk still liquid, the pork carefully seasoned, the breadcrumbs wholemeal, it’s basically gentrification in a nutshell.  Or a pork shell.  But if you don’t mind your working class snacks poshed up, Scotch eggs are an easy thing to do, and won’t fail to impress the lucky people you share them with.

Scotch eggs (makes 6)

450 g sausagemeat
6 eggs
seasoning
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of mixed dried herbs
1 tspn cornflour
About 2 slices worth of breadcrumbs
1 eggwash
A hell of a lot of groundnut oil

Boil the eggs.  Now, I don’t know if you’re one of these mislead people who think this is easy, but if so, you’re about to learn it’s not.  The eggs continue to cook when deep frying later, so if you want a soft yolk you have to be careful.  I cooked them for too long, about 6 minutes, so I’d suggest 4-5 minutes is optimal.

Cool and peel the eggs.  Mix the herbs, mustard and cornflour into the sausagemeat and give it a good seasoning.  Cover the boiled egg in the sausagemeat, making sure there aren’t any holes – and remember sausage shrinks when cooked so you need to cover it pretty thickly to make sure you don’t get patchy scotch eggs.

Dip your sausage coated egg in the eggwash and then into the bowl of breadcrumbs, making sure it’s well covered.  Refrigderate for 15 minutes.

Unless you’ve got a deep fat frier, fill a saucepan with groundnut oil – I used the best part of two bottles.  Vegetable oil will do.  Heat until bubbling round the edges, then in go the eggs.  Make sure you turn them a few times to make sure they are cooked all over and crispy.  Fry for about 10 minutes.

Happy Easter!  I hope you’re celebrating with far too much chocolate and the triumphant breaking of your lenten fasts.  I gave up TV for lent this year, it went quite well but I’m disappointed now that so much of the TV I missed while away was so rubbish – Titanic being a good example of overhyped TV ‘events’.

I decided to make Simnel cake this year even though we never usually have it, because I thought it would be a good challenge.  When I looked at the recipes, it seemed fairly straightforward, so I added another level of difficulty – home made marzipan.  It turned out pretty well, mostly because I discovered the Caked Crusader’s blog which had excellent recipes and explanations.

Light fruit cake (Caked Crusader’s)

340g mixed dried fruit
100g Demerara sugar
150ml black tea
110g unsalted butter
170g self raising flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten

Put the fruit, sugar, butter and tea in a pot and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.  Leave to cool.  Preheat the oven to gas 3.  Mix the flour and spices together, then add the eggs and the cooled fruit mixture.  Spoon into a 20 cm tin (preferably lined, because I couldn’t be bothered and ended up with a stuck cake).  Sprinkle some more sugar over the top, and bake for 25 minutes then turn down to gas 2, baking for about 30 minutes more.

Marzipan (Caked Crusader’s)

230g ground almonds
115g icing sugar
115g caster sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 eggs, separated

Mix the sugars and almonds together, then add the egg yolks and almond extract.  Then gradually add the whites until you get a stiff dough – you may not need all the egg white.

It’s quite difficult to roll out, but with plenty of icing sugar and a bit of cheeky patching you should be ok.  When you’ve ‘iced’ the cake, with 11 balls for 11 apostles (or with chocolate eggs, whichever you prefer!), put it until the grill for a few minutes to brown the marzipan a little.

Easter is nearly here.  My favourite pseudo-Christian holiday, because it’s much less stressful than Christmas but still involves lots of good food.  Last year, as I headed off travelling round South East Asia, my mum tucked a bag full of Easter eggs and sweets in my backpack, to be opened on Easter Sunday.  I ate them in the morning in a hostel in Tokyo, one of the weirder experiences of the trip.  Sadly, hot cross buns don’t really keep so I didn’t get one of those, but they are definitely one of the things I love most about Easter, so this year I tried my hand at making my own. It did take a while, because you have to prove them, but well worth it.

Hot Cross buns (Felicity Cloake’s ‘perfect’ recipe)

200ml milk, plus a little more for glazing
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
Pinch of saffron
20g yeast
50g golden caster sugar, plus extra to glaze
450g strong white flour
100g butter
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
3 eggs
150g currants
50g mixed peel
3 tbsp plain flour

Infuse the milk with the cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and saffron, for an hour.  Sieve, then mix in the yeast and a tablespoon of sugar and leave to rise (about 15 mins).  Put the flour into another bowl and grate the butter into it, then rub in.  Add the ginger, sugar and salt.  Make a well in the middle and add in the milk-yeast mix, then add two eggs, beaten.  It should make a sticky dough, which you should knead for 10 minutes before putting aside to prove for 2 hours (mine were ready after 1, so keep an eye on it).  Push out onto a floured surface and add the fruit, kneading for a bit to make sure it all spreads out.  Seperate into small balls, cover and put aside to double in size.  Mix together flour and water to make a paste.  Egg wash the buns then pipe (or teaspoon) crosses onto them (this is much more difficult than you think!  Don’t worry if they look like they were put on by a child).  Bake for 20 mins at gas 6/200 degrees c.  Whilst they’re cooking, mix 1 tbspoon boiling water with 1 tbspoon of caster suager to make a glaze.  Brush the glaze onto the buns with a pastry brush as they come out of the oven.