Category Archives: School fete

How to make your own salted caramel wagon wheels

What I want to know is, when did this blog become almost exclusively about food? I used to write about coffee machines, and fridges ‘n’ stuff. I think it’s partly to do with laziness, greed and also that as I get more serious in my day job, I want to write about things that comfort and soothe.

This is my excuse for writing about Wagon Wheels a week before Christmas when I have at least twenty-three other things to be doing.

I never liked original Wagon Wheels. So this wasn’t about trying to recreate something I loved, but in more, ahem, nutritious format. This is entirely about being seduced by a picture in a Donna Hay magazine in which she makes them. I hesitated before posting the recipe. These are, by no stretch of the imagination, good for you. They use Fluff – jarred, spreadable marshmallow – which contains corn syrup which is really really bad for you. So you must ASSURE me that you will only make these once a year.

These biscuits are, however, really fun. They are not difficult to make, and can be made in stages. The trickiest bit, I found, was the dipping them in chocolate. There is no easy way to do this and you end up making a great big mess. I made the biscuits differently to how Donna recommended – she uses three tiers and smaller biscuits. In an attempt to recreate a more authentic WW look I went for two tiers and larger.

Big mistake. They end up being quite a biscuit. I’d say probably 500 calories a piece. Which isn’t good. I definitely wouldn’t serve these if Gwyneth were coming round to tea. When I first made them I stored them in the fridge which was a mistake as they go kinda crispy and I didn’t like them so much (so perhaps not a mistake after all). After a few hours out of the fridge and stored in a biscuit jar, they were just perfect. Strangely addictive. People I gave them to started making weird, primal noises. They started telling me they loved me.

Be warned.

Don’t go fooling yourself you will only take one bite of these and not eat the whole thing. So make them small. And make them when you have lots of people coming round so you’re not left alone with them. I made a few changes: I substituted salted caramel for jam as I had a jar of caramel that my friend Helen had made for me and everyone preferred them to the jam version (I made a few with jam to try).

And I used about 2/3rds 34% cocoa chocolate and to 1/3rd 70% cocoa chocolate to coat them instead of doing half of them with white chocolate and half with plain as Donna Hay suggested. I actually think I’d slip into a diabetic coma if I made these with white chocolate.

Anyway, enough chat, here is the recipe as I did them, and the low down.

170g unsalted, softened butter

160g icing sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 teaspoons of honey

1 egg

335g plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

A jar of Fluff – marshmallow spread in a jar

Either a jar of blackberry jam/jelly or salted caramel (I say jelly as that’s all I could fine, not because I’ve gone American)

About 200g high cocoa content milk chocolate (I used Green and Blacks, which is 34%)

100g 70% cocoa chocolate (I always use Waitrose Continental)

Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in an electric mixer (I used the whisk attachment) and beat for 5-7 minutes. Imagine doing this by hand?! Scrape down the sides and then add the honey and egg and beat again for a bit until combined.

Now add the flour, bicarb and baking powder and beat on a low speed until combined – just a minute or so. Flatten the dough into a disc. It will be very soft. Put in cling film and put it in the fridge for about an hour (longer is fine). It should be firm before you start to roll it out.

Now, preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Roll the dough out bit by bit between two pieces of baking parchment until about 5mm thick. This is a very soft dough so after a few rollings out it will be hard to handle so put it back in the fridge if need be.

Cut circles of 5cm. I did larger but as I said, I think that was a mistake as I ended up with a really calorific biscuit!

Place on baking trays – they don’t spread out much so you can go quite close together but not too close. About 1cm is fine.

Bake for just a scant 4-5 minutes, until the edges are just tinged with a golden brownness. Take out of the oven and leave to cool completely. You will need to cook these in batches.

When the biscuits are completely cool it’s just a case of assembling them, then dipping. So, spread one biscuit with the salted caramel, one with fluff and sandwich together. Don’t be too mean with the filling but don’t go mad either. When they are all sandwiched together put in the fridge to firm up for a bit whilst you melt the chocolate in a bowl, atop a saucepan of boiling water.

When melted, dip the biscuits in the chocolate. If there’s an easy, non-messy way to do this, I haven’t discovered it yet. I tried painting the biscuits with chocolate and that worked but left brush marks. After several goes I discovered the best thing to do was coat the edges then dip quickly one side then another. If you end up with bald patches where your fingers were then you can remedy by just spreading a bit over with the back of a spoon. Leave to drip for a few seconds over the chocolate bowl, then leave to set on a rack. Be careful though. If you do like I did one time and put it straight in the fridge, the chocolate will set around the bars of the cooling rack and you will end up with half a wagon wheel when you prise it off.

This is no bad thing in a way, as you immediately lower the calorific value, but it makes a mess. So be aware this can happen.

Do leave them to set in the fridge at some point, then you can store them in a biscuit jar in a cool place, preferably at someone else’s house.

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Stollen

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Stollen was, like panettone and panforte, one of those things that appeared at Christmas that really wasn’t very nice. Of course, that was back in the days before I realised you could make, almost, anything yourself (I’ve still not been brave enough to try panettone, because to make it properly takes three days and involves hanging it upside down).

My friend Lisa Durbin, posted some pictures of the stollen she was making and they looked so delicious, I asked and she passed on her recipe. And yesterday, really quite late in the day, I decided to give it a go.

I have a few notes to add, which is that the marzipan stipulated seemed a bit mean to me to begin with, so for one of the loaves I doubled the amount from 50g for each loaf to 100g. As I was doing this, my partner walked into the kitchen and he reminded me that, actually, with marzipan in cooking more is not necessarily a good thing. So, suitably chastened, I went back to Lisa’s recommendation of 50g for each loaf for the others. I haven’t tasted the turbo marzipan one yet but the one with ‘just’ 50g held out his theory and Lisa’s recipe.

After making this stollen, ahem, a couple of times, I’ve settled on 75g per stollen as perfect for me.

I found 45mins too long in my oven. I cooked mine for 25 mins.

This stollen really doesn’t keep. If you don’t freeze it EAT IT on day of purchase. It won’t be so good again after that.

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I also didn’t roll mine out on a floured surface, instead rolling out between two sheets of Magic Carpet type stuff (reusable baking parchment). It’s up to you if you make your  loaves more stout and thick or long and thin. Experiment.  As per picture above, you’ll see mine are quite flat.

I ate half of one, about 20mins out of the oven, whilst watching Masters of Sex. So the two things are now, indelibly, etched in my mind. At that temperature, just warm, the stollen are frangible and seriously delicious. If you can eat it at this temperature, at least once, do so.

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Otherwise they are really not difficult to make (although if I give you one as a present then, yes, of course they are really difficult) and you get four loaves so it’s a good result vs effort. You could easily freeze some Lisa tells me (before you add the icing sugar) for another day. Or just eat them all in a stollen frenzy. You can also leave them for the final prove (the one that takes 45 mins in Lisa’s recipe) overnight in the oven, waking up to freshly cooked stollen (well, for YOU to wake up to freshly baked stollen, someone else had to get up first to bake it, but the idea is there, yes?)

ImageChristmas 2014. I made these mini this year, just cutting bits of the dough off, and rolling it with my fingers around some marzipan. Worked really well and I got about 20 mini loaves out of it. I cooked the mini ones for 15 minutes.

IMG_0388(You’ll note one is missing, it’s very important to test the merchandise before selling.)

 

Hugh’s ten minute cookies

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I don’t know why I haven’t posted this recipe before. Its is the most made biscuit recipe in our house and the most loved. I prefer these biscuits with nuts added, too (macadamia, hazelnuts or almonds, lightly toasted, lend themselves particularly nicely, I think) but although my children go mad for nuts as a separate snack, they prefer these biscuits with just chocolate chunks added.

I do confess, here, to having packets of ready made chocolate chunks in the cupboard, because chopping chocolate is one of my least favourite things. But if you like really big chunks of chocolate, or are really precious about the sort of chocolate you use (as I am for presque everything else) then best to choppahoppa the chocolate yourself. However, I get a rather perverse pleasure from snipping open a packet of chocolate chunks and just chucking them in.

The added bonus these cookies have is that you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften to room temperature – you melt it – before you can start mixing, so these really are super quick to make. They’re still biscuits. Not broccoli, but at least you know they’ve not got hydrogenated fats in them or other crap.

I’ve adapted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s original recipe by upping the chocolate needed (he originally asked for 100g, but I like a chunk or a chip in at least every second bite) and I add at least half wholemeal plain flour. I’ve made these with all wholemeal flour and you really can’t notice, it just lends a certain, lovely, nuttiness. But in order not to get too worthy, the best approach is probably half and half, which is what the recipe asks for here.

So this is what you need:

125g unsalted butter

100g granulated or caster sugar *

75g soft, light, brown sugar *

1 egg

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

150g of plain flour in total. I use 75g white and 75g wholemeal

(I have also made these with 50g white, 50g wholemeal and 50g ground oats and they were delicious)

half a teaspoons of baking powder

A pinch of sea salt

150g chocolate (I use half white, half plain)

[If so wish, 100g toasted macadamia/hazels/almonds]

Preheat the oven to 190C (I use fan on 175 I have to say)

Gently melt the butter. You really do want to be gentle and take it off just as soon as it’s melted. If gets too hot then let it cool slightly before using it. Otherwise the chocolate will melt before you even get the mixture into the oven.

Put the butter into a mixing bowl and to it, add the two types of sugar. Mix together. Now add the egg and teaspoons of vanilla essence. Now mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. When all well blended gently stir through the chocolate chips (and nuts if using).

Onto lined with baking paper biscuit trays, put a tablespoon of mixture per biscuit. I sometimes make these giant, and sometimes make them small. So see how you feel. Leave good space in between. I get about six onto my baking tray when I go large with these. I couldn’t possibly tell you how many these make exactly, since I vary the sizes and often a number of them get eaten before they’re completely cooled, but I’d say about 14-18. As a rough guide.

Bake for 7-9 minutes. If you like them crispy then bake for longer. I like mine chewy so take them out after seven and leave them to cool on the tray for a bit (or slide carefully – baking sheet and all – onto a cooling rack).

That’s it. Now all I need is a really nice cookie jar.

* I like to experiment with cutting down the amount of sugar in things. Sometimes you just can’t though because something magical goes on with certain proportions of sugar/butter/flour. But. I have made these with just 100g of sugar – 50g granulated/caster and 50g of soft brown – and they are delicious and, I think, plenty sweet enough. The consistency changes slightly though. Give it a go and see what you think.

note:  you don’t have to bake these all at once. The mixture will keep for a good few days in the fridge and you can put spoonfuls onto a baking tray and have fresh cookies on the table in minutes. That way you can have freshly baked over more days.

I add a substantial amount of nuts to this mixture for when I make them for grown ups. Roasted, chopped, almonds and hazelnuts work best. I also put the mixture in the fridge as this gives me thicker, squidgier biscuits which I like.

I now have a nice cookie jar.

Blueberry traybake

Saturday night I went out, quite unchaperoned, to a dinner. It’s funny, when you’re part of a couple, how easy it becomes to turn invitations down or accept them, perennially as part of a couple. Even if one of you can go. on Saturday, we didn’t have a babysitter and it only dawned on me after we’d turned it down that actually, one of us could go. I bagsied me and asked if me being solo would throw out numbers. It wouldn’t so I went. Although it’s more common to turn up unescorted (when you’re part of a long-standing couple) in London, here in the country it can cause eye brows to be raised. I gave my friend Kate a lift and we were introduced as “not a couple” thus quite ruining the introduction I had mischievously planned.

I brought, as a gift for my lovely hostess, Mary, a bottle of wine and one of my giant After Eight mints. I love being able to make my own after eights, not least because it gets me round my Nestle boycott. My children love my after eight mint, they call it ‘mint cake’ and were most put out that I was taking one out of the house.

I had a superb evening. Mary is a great cook with a great kitchen garden, who had channeled the spirit of Ottolenghi for the entire meal. But as I was driving, I didn’t drink. I never drink and drive. I might, at most, have a ‘finger of wine’ at the very beginning of an evening but mostly I don’t even do that. I would hate to have an accident and wonder if that thimbleful of wine had caused it.

But I did get home at 2am and woke up five hours later feeling hungover, although I wasn’t – just tired. By 5pm I was absolutely craving cramming something majorly carb-heavy into my mouth so I found a tile-sized piece of this cake in the freezer, defrosted it in the microwave, whipped up an approximation of the original frosting, using mascarpone, yoghurt, lemon zest, vanilla extract and icing sugar and piled it high on top. I ate it like a snake eats a small mammal, pausing for mere seconds, with head tilted back, as I fed it down my throat. Glorious.

Of course I felt sick immediately afterwards.

This is a Bill Granger recipe from Waitrose magazine. It appeared last summer. I made it and it was so good. I love a cream cheese frosting. But my children aren’t super keen and this makes quite a lot so when I make it I freeze the excess (without the frosting) and it freezes really well. If you think you will be freezing it remember to only make half/part of the frosting. Anyway here is the recipe.

For the cake

180g unsalted butter, softened

210ml sour cream

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

330g caster sugar

2 teaspoons of lemon zest

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

3 eggs

250g blueberries

375g plain flour

One and a half teaspoons of baking powder

For the frosting

250g cream cheese

100g unsalted butter

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

250g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Take a tin of about 23cm by 33cm and line in baking paper. Mix the sour cream with the bicarb and set aside for five mins.

Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy then add the lemon zest and vanilla. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time then add the sour cream mixture.

Put the blueberries in another bowl and toss with a bit of the flour. Mix the rest of the flour and baking powder into the cake mixture and fold in until just mixed. Now add the blueberries and gently stir through. Spoon into the tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. A tester should come out clean the top will be a rich golden brown.

Leave it to cool then prepare the frosting by beating all the ingredients together with a fork or electric mixture. Spread over the top of the cake and go in head first.

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Hot cross buns, and Easter baking

I have never made hot cross buns, but always wanted to. A few weeks ago, I spied a recipe in Waitrose magazine for Brandy-spiced hot cross buns (on the cover of the March issue if you fancy picking up a copy). The recipe is by someone called Lily Vanilli, I must confess I’ve never heard of her but will certainly look out for her things from now on as these turned out amazingly well. My partner gave a little whimper as he ate one, warm from the oven, split and buttered.

Lily Vanilli says to soak the sultanas overnight. I did, but if you don’t have time, leaving them for a few hours will I’m sure be fine.

No recipe on the Waitrose site so I can’t link to it.

I found it made 12 buns.

for the brandy spiced sultanas

225g sultanas (I ran out and used some raisins in there too, fine)

100ml of brandy (I didn’t have brandy so used half marsala and half orange vodka)

1 star anise

quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon

quarter of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

Zest of one orange

2 tablespoons of plain flour

for the buns

600g white strong bread flour

50g caster sugar

7g sachet of easy blend yeast

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon of salt

70g soft dried figs

70g soft dried apricots

250ml whole milk

80g unsalted butter

1 egg

for the crosses

50g strong white flour

60ml of water

a piping bag and a very fine, writing nozzle. I used one that was a bit too thick and ran out so some of my buns – shock horror – were uncrossed. Vanilli puts hearts on them but I’m Catholic and you know..

for the glaze

3 tablespoons of apricot jam, and you really do need 3 good tablespoons, nothing worse than a dull bun

1 teaspoon of brandy, don’t sweat it if you don’t have this

1 tablespoon of water

The very first thing to do is put the sultanas to soak. So put those ingredients: ie the sultanas, spices, zest etc, except the 2 tablespoons of flour, all together in a bowl and leave overnight or for a good few hours.

Then, when ready to start baking, strain the sultanas. Discard the liquid and the star anise; although personally I don’t see why you can’t DRINK IT the liquid. It’ll be very alcoholic though so you know, not before the school run or before the social worker calls.

Now scatter on the two tablespoons of flour and mix around. This soaks up any excess juice.

Put the milk and butter on and heat gently until the butter has melted, stir around. You need to get this to lukewarm, not hot so you may need to set it aside to cool a bit. Don’t let it get cold either. Ooh the pressure (it’s fine don’t worry).

Get a large bowl, put the strained sultanas in it and now add the flour, sugar, yeast, nutmeg, salt, figs and apricots. Mix it around, thinking of Easter eggs and having a lovely weekend.

When the milk is lukewarm, whisk in the egg and then add this milk, butter, egg mixture to your sultana, flour etc mixture. Mix it around until you get a dough.

Give it a little knead on an oiled board. Leave it for ten minutes. Give it a little knead, leave it for ten minutes, give it a little knead, leave it for ten minutes. The timings are important (Vanilli just kneads for ten minutes flat out, I don’t do this) as you’re dealing with commercial yeast. Now knead for one last time and leave it for about an hour.

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Here’s a pic of the dough just before I shaped it.

Now, either gently knead it again and shape it into buns and cook it (more on this in a mo) or shape it into buns and do as I do, put it in the fridge to prove overnight. I took it out for a few hours before hand to bring to room temperature, but only because the youngest woke me up at 4am. Otherwise I had every intention of just putting them straight in the oven.

If you don’t prove overnight in the fridge, shape them into buns and place onto a greased baking tray. I got 12 out of them, it figures that you can make these fuckers as big or as small as you like. And then leave until doubled in size. God they always say this don’t they, but who remembers what size they were in the first place? I always leave for longer than 45 mins as I live in the country and it’s cold here. So use your common sense. 45 mins, an hour, maybe longer. As I said, academic as I did them in the fridge overnight with two hours to get to room temperature.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 220C, mix together the 50g of flour and the 60ml of water and pipe a cross onto the buns.

Cook for ten mins at 220 then lower to 200 for another 10 mins. Whilst they’re cooking, mix together the jam and water and brandy.

When out of oven, immediately brush the tops with the jam mixture to make a lovely glossy top.

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Here they are glistening in the morning sunshine. I really had no idea they would be so good. These are the best hot cross buns I’ve ever eaten. I hope you enjoy them! Happy Easter.

If you fancy something a bit more continental this Easter, try panettone tea cakes or colomba. Or even torrone!

Freezing note: These freeze really well. The only note I’d add is that the ‘cross’ part doesn’t survive freezing too well, it goes hard. So if you do plan to freeze these, don’t decorate the ones you plan to freeze. If you freeze excess ones and they have decoration crosses on them, then be aware of this. We ended up picking our crosses off (sorry God). The rest of the bun was still delicious!

Jam tarts for a Monday

My jam tarts. The orange ones are apricot jam, the darker yellow ones are the Duchy Originals lemon curd, the bright yellow the Waitrose lemon curd.

As I look at the list of things I’ve written about on here recently, I see it’s a lot of food stuff.

And here’s more.

Jam tarts. I don’t often eat them, because the shop bought ones are like cheap jam spread on layers of newspaper. But they seem so easy to make. Except the last time I made them, they were a disaster. It’s too long ago now to remember what happened.

On Thursday I was looking through my recipe books, deliberating what to cook for Sunday lunch (I menu plan in a fierce way, this keeps spending under control and I can also make sure we have a good balance of food during the week in terms of ‘have we eaten enough fish?’ etc. You can hate me if you want, but I AM that organised).

I skimmed through Jamie Oliver’s Best of British and found a recipe for jam tarts that didn’t just say “shop bought pastry, jam”, so I tried them.

They were delicious, a bit superior in fact. The pastry is chewy. Jamie says to use all different coloured jams, and I’m sure that’s a great idea if you like a rainbow effect on the serving plate (he does indeed call them “Rainbow Jam Tarts“, p. 178 of Jamie’s Best of British). But I found that, in reality, some are more popular than others.

And let’s face it, no-one likes a green jam tart.

My children really liked the apricot jam ones. Me and their father shoved down the lemon curd ones as if we were trying to hide evidence.

A word about lemon curd. I used the Duchy Originals one and the Waitrose own make. No comparison. The former was vastly superior, a darker colour (more natural looking), a far nicer taste: rounded and subtle, the Waitrose one was too sharp, ringing that “I’ve got lemons in me” bell a little too shrilly. The curds also acted differently in cooking. The Waitrose one exploded out of the tarts, the Duchy one was all well behaved and stayed put.

This made 24 tarts for me:

Pastry

250g plain flour
250g icing sugar (try not to think about how much sugar that is)
125g unsalted butter
pinch of sea salt
1 large egg
The rind of a lemon or an orange, I used orange
A splash of milk

For the filling you will need a heaped tablespoon of your favourite jams or curds.

You need a jam tart tin, which is to say one of those shallow 12-hole tins. Not a deep one like you’d use for muffins or cupcakes. The sort you’d probably make mince pies in.

I greased mine very lightly.

Now, put the flour, sugar, salt and butter into a food processor and pulse until like breadcrumbs. Although in truth because there’s so little butter to dry ingredients, this will look more like what it is: lots of flour and sugar, rather than breadcrumbs. Crack in the egg, grate in the zest and pulse again, adding just enough milk to bring it all together. You’ll have a soft dough, flecked with zest.

Rest it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or until you’re ready to use it later.

Now preheat the oven to 180. Dust a surface with some flour, roll out the pastry to about 0.5cm thick (don’t make it too thin or they will collapse when cooked as they’ll be too thin to take the weight of the filling) and cut with a fluted cutter to a size bigger than the holes in the bun-tray. Place each circle in, gently push down.

Then add tablespoons of the jam/curd in: about one heaped tablespoon per tart. Don’t overfill but don’t be mean with it either. About half a cm below the top of the pastry shell should do it. Now, gently  spread the jam/curd around so it lies flat and fills the shell. Don’t just leave it in a blob as fell off the spoon as it won’t spread out whilst cooking, the pastry rises to fill the gaps and you’ll end up with something less than perfect looking.

This won’t do.

Put into the oven (you may need to cook in batches if you only have one tray, but that’s okay cos the pastry can sit in the fridge for a day or two). Cook for 12-15 minutes. You want the tarts golden round the edges.

Leave in their tray for a few minutes before prising out. Mine came out quite easily although the ones with the lemon curd were the hardest to take out. The ones with the Waitrose lemon curd in were the hardest of all and broke up quite easily (I am never again buying this lemon curd).

If it interests you, these are also really easy for children to make. I didn’t let mine near it as it was my self-soothing project.

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.