Monthly Archives: January 2013

How to make your own jaffa cakes

Inside. Luscious. The perspective makes these look giant, they are in fact the same size as regular jaffa cakes. And that’s a three year old holding one.

I bake, not only because I love cakes ‘n’ stuff and I prefer home made, but I bake when I need to feel safe. I find baking immensely therapeutic. The fact that I’m quite skilled at it is helpful because when I’m, say, grappling with a difficult deadline, as if it were a salt water crocodile (and we know how slippy they can be)  I have a need to achieve.  I have an almost pathological need to achieve. Something. Anything.

And when that something happens to result in baking a good biscuit, just baked into a chewy crispness, with hidden little bullets of chocolate. Or a fluffy, jolly cake, heavy with a mascarpone frosting stained red with raspberries, so large that you have to dislocate your jaw to get a slice in…well where’s the fucking harm in that.

When the news makes me feel like the world is too big, baking reminds me that the gentle stirring (or sometimes, vigorous whisking) of a few fine ingredients, can come together to make something good.

This is how I found myself making jaffa cakes.

Jaffa cakes. I don’t even really like jaffa cakes. But they seemed tricky enough to take my mind off all the bad news.

This recipe is from Jamie magazine. They weren’t tricky at all, but they did result in something so excellent and delicious and authentic (similar enough to shop bought ones to not alienate fans, different enough from to entice the not so keen) I had to keep eating them to make sure.

You need:

1 egg
50g caster sugar
65g self raising (I never sift flour but I guess you should)
butter for greasing
250g marmalade
100g 70% cocoa chocolate, chopped
Finely grated zest of half an orange
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
 (the original recipe also asks for a tablespoon of water to use when melting the chocolate) but I didn’t use it and never use water in when melting chocolate).

You need a jam tart tin or shallow ‘bun’ tin with 12 holes. Grease this well, I also dusted it with flour (not from the 65g!)

Oven to 200C.

You do:

Okay so whisk the egg and sugar together, using an electric mixer if you have one (don’t sweat if you haven’t, you think sponge cakes were never made before the advent of the electric mixer?) if not by hand. Get those biceps and triceps working. Beat until the colour has lightened and the mixture has thickened. I’ll admit this is a a hell of a lot easier with an electric mixer.

Now stir in the flour by hand.

This is so easy isn’t it?

Now dollop about a tablespoon of the mixture into each hole, evenly. So if you get it wrong you’ll need to go round and nick a bit from the moulds that have too much.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 mins. Be careful: you want them lightly golden.

When done turn out and let cool. When cool slice in half horizontally. Are you seeing these jaffas taking shape?

Hopefully you’re the sort of person who reads recipes through before embarking on making something. And therefore you’ll know that whilst the cakes are cooling, put the marmalade in a pan, on the stove. I didn’t use the whole 250g but if you have any left over, once cool, you can put it back in the jar.

The sponge cakes fresh out of the oven.

So, heat the marmalade until it’s melted and stirrable and all one big thing and not little clumps of marmalade skulking round the pan, like nervous teenagers circling each other at a party, and then take off the heat and leave to cool. You can leave it for a good 20-30 mins, perhaps more and in fact it’s easier to use when it’s cooler. You could sieve out the peel in the marmalade but come on! Butch up and leave it in. I did and it was delicious.

Note the bit with a slice off? I ate it. Couldn’t wait.

Now. Take a teaspoon of the marmalade and dollop it in the centre of each sponge.

Melt the chocolate, with the orange zest and oil (oil not essential but gives a nice gloss), in a bowl over a pan of water. When melted, spoon over each marmalade covered sponge. What I did was put the cooling rack over a baking tray to catch any drips (ahem, I took it away for the photo below for better contrast), and then pick up each sponge and spoon the chocolate over, spreading it delicatedly with the back of the spoon – you don’t want to compromise the blobs of marmalade – then putting each back on the rack over the tray to catch any drips. And there were hardly any drips. I guess you could be more slap happy and just spoon the chocolate over each sponge whilst they’re sat on the rack and let the chocolate drip gaily.

Just one left to do.

But I think that’s more wasteful.

I ate at least six of these waiting for the chocolate to set. My youngest went potty for them. My eldest doesn’t like jaffa cakes and wasn’t convinced by these.

Make them and tell me what you think.

Chorizo, courgette gnocchi

The picture in Easy Living
 
My version. This is why professional photographers are used.

Gnocchi – aka potato dumplings – are big in northern Italy. My paternal grandmother, from Parma, used to make them and I would help her by swooshing them along the prongs of a fork, which is how you get the pattern on them if you make them at home. She made it look so easy so of course I thought it was easy.

It isn’t. I don’t try to make them now as it’s so dependent on things like ambient temperature, how much water the potatoes take up. Well that’s how I’ve found it anyway. Hard and with unpredictable results. So gnocchi is not something I try to make.

I got the recipe from Easy Living magazine. It’s here.

I used Del’Ugo fresh gnocchetti * – only 350g instead of the 500g asked for which I thought was a bit TOO MUCH. I would also, next time, add a third courgette if you’re making it for three people. At first the julienned courgette looked like lots, but it renders down nicely and I like my veg.

This dish is so easy but so delicious. I thoroughly recommend it.

*It’s been pointed out to me that these particular gnocchetti don’t contain potato but wheat! So be careful in case this matters to you. I bought them cos they had a higher than average protein content.

Eclairs

The best compliment I got was from a nine year old girl (not mine) who said “these are like real eclairs”

Here is a confession. I really am not that into eclairs. I know people who go cuckoo for them. Not me. I’m not overly a fan of choux (unless in a Paris Brest), nor whipped cream. Basically, eclairs aren’t piggy enough for me.

The first time I made choux pastry I was very young, about eleven and it was in HE. No-one told me it was difficult so I didn’t sweat over the choux pastry and I made the most amazing profiteroles. (Equally, no-one told me puff pastry was difficult and I used to make a great puff pastry.)

As I got older, and everyone went on about how hard choux pastry is, well that, coupled with my slight meh-ness towards them…meant I didn’t really try.

My children love eclairs so I decided to give them a go. They were easy. So easy I was expecting the sky to fall in.

I’d love to hear how you customise them.

The recipe for choux is pretty standard:

125ml water
50g butter
75g plain flour
3 medium eggs (at room temperature, this is important)
pinch of salt (I think this is key, choux is pretty tasteless, but the salt adds something).

The filling

I just used double cream, about 300ml, whipped up with a spoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of icing sugar. Or try delicious white chocolate cream, which is what I use as a default filling these days.

The topping

I used 150g 70% cocoa chocolate and a teaspoon of vegetable oil, melted in a bowl, over a pan of boiling water. Then manually just dipped the eclair tops in and set them down on a cooling rack. Hardly any drips..

Obviously with both filling and topping you can change it. Next time I’m going to try something a bit more adventurous.

You also need a piping bag and plain nozzle of about 1cm diameter. A baking tray and some baking parchment.

Oven to 180C.

Put the water and butter in a sauce pan and cook over a high heat. Stir until butter is melted and bring to the boil. When this happens, lower the heat and add in the flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. For me this happened almost immediately.

Remove from the heat. Now. Some recipes say to let the mixture cool and then add the eggs. I can only tell you how I did it which was to add the eggs straight away to the mixture, once in the electric mixer bowl.

So. Put the butter/water dough in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment and add the eggs one at a time.

This is the important bit. After you’ve added the first egg, the mixture must be absolutely smooth before you add the next egg. At first the mixture seems to curdle, more so if your butter/water dough is hot and the eggs are very cold. It will look like scrambled eggs. You will want to cry.

Don’t. And don’t panic. Keep mixing. It will eventually blend together and go smooth. Honestly mine took a good five-ten minutes during which I started to panic and think “why the hell did I not LISTEN to everyone who told me choux pastry was so hard.” Keep the faith. Keep mixing. It will smooth out. Then, add the next egg and mix until smooth and then the next one. I added the salt with the third egg. No idea why just did.

The mixture is ready when you lift the whisk and it leaves ribbon marks – indentations in other words.

Put into the piping bag. I find it useful to a) use a clip to secure the top of the icing bag – just above the nozzle – so that the mixture can’t ooze out. By clip I mean like those Klip-it things you use to keep food in a plastic bag fresh. b) put the bag in a tall glass and fold the top of the bag over so you can spoon the mixture in. Obviously when you are ready to pipe, you take the Klip-it off.

This mixture pipes really beautifully, so pipe eclair shapes (or profiterole shapes) onto the tray, leave a good gap as they do grow.

Put in the oven. I cooked mine for 30 mins and they were perfect, dry and crispy. My patisserie expert said that’s how high quality eclairs should be – kinda dry and not soggy like shop bought ones. You can’t really overcook eclairs (well, actually you can but you know…). I cooked some profiteroles another time and gave them 35 minutes and they were fine.

Don’t be tempted to open the oven at all if possible and certainly not before about 25 minutes.

They should be puffed and golden. Mine were almost empty inside. There was no need to dry them out inside as some recipes suggest, by placing them back in an oven.

I just cut them lengthways when they were completely cool and did the topping first (put the topped eclairs in the fridge for five mins to make the topping set if you’re in a hurry), then I added the cream with another piping bag (I was piping bag mad by this stage).

They all got eaten that day. And when I served them the second time round, because I had some salted caramel left, I added a dollop of that in too. I am salted caramel crazy though.

The reason I’m writing about these is that they were so easy and the return to effort ratio so madly unbalanced in favour of the return part, that I did wonder why I had left it so long.

Update on 6th March 2013. I thought it might be useful to have some troubleshooting here.

There are a couple of key important bits in making eclairs. The bit in the saucepan, with the flour and the butter/water…make sure you really dry this mixture out. By that I mean, even when it starts to come off the sides, keep going for a minute longer. The more you dry it out now, the more eggs you will be able to add (more on this later). The more eggs you can add, the more the eclairs will rise.

What do you mean, the more eggs I can add? Don’t you say three eggs?

Yes, yes I do. But here’s the other thing. I make this all the time with three eggs but mine are medium (in fact I’ve altered the recipe above to say this). Eggs differ in size, although it’s usually the amount of white in an egg that differs between the different sizes. So if you were to crack open a medium and extra large egg, the real difference is in the white, not the yoke.

Anyway, when you’re at the adding the eggs stage, if you’re new to this, I’d whisk up the third egg before adding it and then add it a bit at a time. What you want is a mixture that’s thick. Don’t be afraid to give it a really good whisking, don’t stop just the moment you think it’s done. You want the mixture to be able to stand in stiff peaks. If it’s not thick enough at this stage, it won’t get any thicker at the piping them out stage. So when you stop whisking you need to be absolutely sure it’s thick enough, otherwise,  you pipe it the eclairs will spread.

If you add too much egg, then the mixture might get too sloppy which is why I recommend adding it in stages if you’re new to this.

Should I cool down the butter/water/flour mixture before putting it in the mixer?

Almost every recipe tells you to do this, to cool it down otherwise it will cook the eggs.

I don’t. I know, madness, but I’ve tried it both ways and for whatever reason I’ve found that if I add this to the mixer and add the eggs straight after the sauce pan stage, my eclairs rise more. Yes you do need to beat the first egg in for much longer and it will go through a scrambled egg phase. Try it whichever way you want and see how you go. I’m fairly brave with patisserie making so I like to fly by the seat of my pants. You may want to go more slowly. Both are fine approaches.

If you’d like more ideas about what to fill them with, other than cream: chocolate ganache filling recipe here; white chocolate cream filling here (this is YUM). And not long after I originally wrote this I stopped cutting the eclairs in half and instead using a piping nozzle to fill them.

Gingerbread porridge

I have just come off deadline for a hideously complicated piece about mackerel. The research on anything to do with fish quotas is almost enough to drive me to a drug habit (JOKING). So I’m indulging myself with something blissfully easy to write about, something comforting, that I hope you will find useful.

Porridge. We all know how healthy it is. Rich in fibre, lowers your cholesterol, makes you strong and gives you a glow etc.

However.

I am always STARVING five minutes after eating it and I have a bit of a guilt trip going over porridge in that I feel it should be made with steel cut pinhead oatmeal and stirred for one hundred hours and eaten with almost nothing, bar a grimace.

I do lighten up occasionally and use jumbo oats and semi skimmed milk and water and cook it on the hob with my spurtle (NEVER NEVER NEVER in the microwave) and then flood it with sliced fruit and maple syrup, but in my Catholic guilt-ridden heart, I know I am sinning.

Thus I hardly eat porridge which is stupid. Like not letting yourself buy cut up fruit because you should cut it up yourself and therefore never eating fruit (not relevant to me but you know what I mean).

This morning, as I was wafting round Waitrose and taking my commission for my mackerel piece and slightly panicking as I do before I start to write any piece (I can’t do it I CAN’T DO IT), I spied something. Dorset Cereals Gingerbread Porridge. In the packet are premeasured and sealed daily sachets (so wasteful!). It had stuff added to it to make it tasty (so indulgent!) and it recommended you do it in the microwave (shocking!).

I hadn’t had breakfast.
I’d had to dig the car out of the snow that morning.
I had been coerced into buying my child Smarties (I don’t buy Nestle products usually).
I had a hideously difficult piece to write on mackerel.
So I bought it.

I came home and made it – in the microwave – and ate it with a dollop of nut butter (to up the protein) and it was DELICIOUS. I am still going on it six hours later (bar the handful of nuts and an apple that I ate an hour ago but that was more out of deadline avoidance than hunger).

Am now going to eat this every day. Every day.

Rice pudding with salted caramel syrup

Donna Hay’s chilled rice pudding with caramel. ©donna hay

Rice pudding isn’t something I grew up liking. My mother made it, although hers was more of a rice pudding cake – you could cut big slices of it. It was perfectly nice but not for me.

Then one day I discovered this rice pudding, which was all creamy and vanillay and slow cooked and I was hooked. (The recipe for the actual rice pudding is in the article, the article however refers to oat pudding and I do realise that…)

I am a big fan of Donna Hay. I get her magazine whenever I can find it, and even though she often talks about winter recipes when it’s summer here in the UK (she’s Australian), it’s beautiful and her recipes are amazing. And unlike Martha Stewart Living, the recipes are converted to metric: it’s not all a cup of this or a stick of that.

Anyway. Here is her recipe for Chilled Rice Pudding with Caramel. A few notes.

It’s a helluva lot of milk and cream. I think you could probably get away with not adding the extra lot of cream and milk you add when you take it off the heat. See how you feel. Or add less. I added the full amount and it makes for a very wet and loose pudding.

Delicious, but you can’t really cut into it with a spoon and leave an indentation, as seen in her picture above.

Two: I didn’t use dulce de leche. I use my own secret recipe for salted caramel and I just poured it on ever so slightly warm, I didn’t loosen it with more cream like the recipe suggests, as by that stage, I was starting to fear for my heart.

Even though it’s a chilled pudding, it’s immensely comforting. Here is a picture of my version:

Every day sourdough baking

A gratuitous picture of a loaf of sourdough, baked this morning

I get asked, a lot, if sourdough bread is hard to make. I am tempted to say “really hard” to make myself look clever but the truth is, it isn’t.

Sourdough seems uniquely complicated amongst bread baking. I don’t know if it’s purposely shrouded in mystery. I know that it took me about two years to finally get down to it, to be brave enough to try, as it seemed magical and mystical. It is, but it isn’t difficult. The hardest thing about sourdough baking is being mentally ready.

Because once you have a good starter going, sourdough baking is almost bomb proof.

I bake sourdough about three times a week. Mostly I bake this bread, which is half wholemeal and half white.

Although I only bake half of the amount in that recipe, so 500g of flour, 200g levain (starter), 333g of water and I’ve got the salt down to just one teaspoon.

I divide the dough up to prove over two baton shaped bannetons so I have bread for two bakes. The bread in the picture above was proved in one of those bannetons.

It’s easy. The hard bit with sourdough, in terms of faff, has always been the starting off of it. Once I’ve weighed it out and refreshed the starter I know I need to be relatively close for the first three kneads (ten mins apart) and not too far for the one that requires a 30 minute rest. But after that I can do the school run or go out or do whatever. If I know I’m not going to be back in time – be really ages – then I put it in the fridge, and when I get back, simply bring it back to room temperature and take up where I left off.

You could never do that with bread with commercial yeast, because the yeast would get exhausted.

I’ve had a sourdough loaf going over three days.

Various people have said to me that they want to try sourdough baking. Instead of abstemious resolutions that make you feel miserable (isn’t January miserable enough?) try a resolution that will make you feel really good. With a good loaf you always have a meal. And when everyone else is out panic buying because it might snow, you can be smug knowing that with your starter, some flour, water and salt you can turn those tins of stock-piled baked beans into something really glorious.

Ice grippers for your shoes

The walk to school.

I have, once before in this blog, lamented the loss of the apres ski boots I bought when I was 14. They were by a Canadian make called Blondi (or something like that) that were the most amazing boots for the snow and the ice that I’d ever come across.

They had what seemed like a sticky rubber sole and for years I thought I had imagined this.

But I hadn’t.

There is indeed something called ‘sticky rubber’ which is used on snow boots.

Anyway, the boots are now long dead although they lasted about 20 years. But I contemplated buying a replacement until I saw that really good apres ski boots cost about £150 and for only occasional use, that seemed a bit luxurious when I had my Ecco boots and my sheepskin boots.

But my research led me to ice grips that you slip onto your boots or shoes. They are really good to keep in a bag when the weather gets like this. They slip relatively easily onto footwear, are good quality and are nice and grippy on ice. But, on normal pavements they can make you feel very unstable so if you’re walking on and off icy surfaces do be aware of this and decide whether you want to have them on or off.

I got mine in December (because I am ORGANISED) and they cost £3.19, now they’ve gone up a bit according to what size you want. Still cheap though and useful to have.

I am a size 37/4.5 and the medium fitted me perfectly.