Rough Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is the sort of recipe that requires a lot of time. It’s tremendously satisfying when it all goes right, but it does need a good two days where you’re quite happy to potter around the kitchen with a rolling pin.
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Right now I barely have time to cook dinner, let alone make anything as complex as pastry by hand – but I do have a recipe saved up for you for that rainy day weekend when nothing else but homemade puff pastry will do. It’s not the traditional method (which is the one that requires 2 whole days); this recipe will only take up a few hours of your time, but it is still a fab recipe. The layers don’t rise quite as beautifully as traditional puff, but you still get a very impressive rise, along with meltingly flaky texture. Not healthy in the slightest.
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When I made this pastry, I froze half of it away, and with the rest I made some sweet almond puff pastry straws. I’m still tinkering with the recipe (think almond croissant flavours) to get it perfect, but you’ll be sure to see it when I do.
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Rough Puff Pastry
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Roughly translated from Pierre Hermé’s Les Larousse des Desserts
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  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g very cold unsalted butter
  • 5g table salt
  • 150ml very cold water

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl, then to this, small pieces of butter. Rub it in roughly as though making a crumble but stop halfway when there are still lumps of butter in the mixture. Add the water little by little, and bind the pastry together into a rough-looking ball of dough. Wrap up in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Once the pastry has rested long enough, lightly flour a worksurface, and roll it out into a rectangle three times as long as it is wide. Fold it into three like a letter, which forms the first “fold”. Let the dough rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

After resting, turn it 90˚, roll it out into a rectangle the same size as before, and fold the second time. Continue, until the dough has had a total of 3 folds, with a 30 minute rest in the fridge between each fold. Keep the dough in the fridge until it is ready to use.

Cinnamon Bun Cake

Weekends are precious time. There is nothing more blissful than wallowing around in bed for an extra hour (or three) and pottering around the kitchen. I’ve tidied up the baking cupboard, and there’s a batch of cinnamon buns on the go.

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There’s something rather amazing about obtaining such a fragrant spice from the bark of trees. When you’re not using it in the infamous cinnamon challenge, its comforting properties are unparallelled. It’s almost as good as chocolate. Perhaps some would argue it’s better. Just think – you’ve had a bad day at work, it’s been sheeting down with rain, you’re wet, cold and miserable – but awaiting you is a gently warm, soft baked round of fragrant spice.

I’ve based this bun cake on Signe Johansen’s recipe for scandinavian cinnamon buns. After baking, you even be a little more indulgent by adding a drizzle of icing, or a crackly glaze. The dough is so easy to use that I am considering adapting it for Chelsea Buns next time, or even some Christmassy themed ones in the coming months?

Cinnamon Bun Cake

Makes 9 buns

For the dough

  • 165ml milk
  • 50g butter
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 200g strong white flour
  • 84g wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5g yeast
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1 egg

For the cinnamon filling

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 70g butter
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

Infuse the milk by warming it gently with the cinnamon stick, then add in the butter and let it melt. Set to one side and allow to cool. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Mix the flours, salt, yeast and sugar together. Beat the egg in a bowl. Into the bowl of dry ingredients, mix in 2/3 egg. The remaining 1/3 save for glazing. Add the cooled milk in after the egg, mixing until combined into a soft sticky dough. Leave this in a covered bowl in a warm place to prove until doubled in size.

Make your cinnamon filling by combining the butter, sugar and cinnamon together into a paste.

Line a large cake tin with baking paper. It will catch any lost filling, and also stops the base of your buns from browning too fast.

Take the proved dough, and roll out into a large rectangle. Spread the cinnamon filling over the dough evenly, then roll the dough up along the longest side like a swiss roll. Cut into 1 inch wide pieces, and lay them out in a large cake tin, with space for spreading between each bun. Cover and allow to prove again, until the dough no longer springs back when you press a finger against it.

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Preheat the oven to 200˚C then pop the buns in, and bake for around 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180˚C and bake for a further 10 minutes until done. Whip them out of the oven, and serve them whilst still warm.

“That Little Black” Chocolate Cake

Apologies for readers of this blog, yesterday I accidentally published an unfinished post for next week. If you haven’t seen it already, then expect something something nice, and full of spice!

Meanwhile, here’s another cake to tide you over. Here is the baking equivalent of fashion’s Little Black Dress.

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The LBC (Little Black Cake) is the perfect dinner party dessert. It needs to be both decadent and delicious, certain to please the crowd, and easy to whip up on the day with minimal fuss.

My LBC is Sophie Dahl’s gorgeous flourless chocolate cake*

It’s not the only flourless chocolate cake out there, but it’s certainly a good ‘un. One of these days I will also get round to making Ottolenghi’s version, which has similar ratios of ingredients, but utilises a completely different method to create a multi-textured marvel.

Sophie Dahl’s cake is pretty straightforward. Apart from a food processor, you don’t need much in the way of fancy gadgetry. The cake itself does a fair amount of oven gymnastics, ballooning up and then sinking gracefully down again on cooling.

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The crater that forms is the perfect receptacle for a generous filling of créme fraîche and fruit.  I found that the top got slightly burnt due to the length of time the cake needed in the oven, although it doesn’t hinder the rich chocolate flavour at all. You can try covering the cake with foil 30 minutes into baking to prevent this from happening.

Flavourwise, it’s pure chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Yet the texture is so light and moussey, it stops the cake getting too rich or cloying, so you could definitely fit in a piece after dinner.

Maybe even two.

* This cake is also known by the affectionate epithet of Cowpat Cake in the family. You can see why.

Sticky Syrup Cake

There’s a lot to be said for going back to sweet and simple treats. I had a craving for the syrup sponge of my ye olde primary school days (far off in the last millenium – errk) and thought I would give it a go.

I have adapted this honey cake to incorporate the sticky sweetness that is golden syrup. The texture is moist and fluffy, and it definitely improves with keeping, so you can wrap it up in foil and wow yourself 3 days later. I took it into work, and there was barely a trace of a sticky crumb left by lunchtime.

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Sticky Syrup Cake

  • 225g butter
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 250g golden syrup, and 2 tbsp extra
  • 3 large eggs
  • 300g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 150˚C. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together in a pan until liquid, then turn the heat up and boil for one minute. Allow to cool almost completely, then beat in the eggs. Sift over the flour, then fold it into the cake mixture. Butter a 20cm cake tin, and line the bottom with 2 tbsp golden syrup, spread to fill the corners. Dollop the cake batter on top of this. Bake for approximately 50 mins to 1 hour, covering the top with foil 30 minutes into baking to prevent it from burning.

Creamy Mushroom Risotto

A very blustery run today, although the sun was out which never fails to cheer me up. I’m finding my usual route getting a bit slippery and slidey, and there are still some fallen trees from the St Jude’s storm, so it’s a bit of an obstacle course at times!

Today’s recipe is going to be very seasonal, with a warming creamy mushroom risotto. Yesterday I went out for dinner with A, and he had a mushroom soup that was very good. Suffice to say that today I got a craving for fungi.

Risotto is just right for this time of year – starchy, creamy and yet not wholly unvirtuous. I cooked it in the later hours of the afternoon listening to the radio. It gets very dark these days, so apologies for the poor photo!

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Creamy Mushroom Risotto

Adapted from BBC Food

  • 1 tsbp dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 squeeze garlic puree
  • 225g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 350g arborio rice
  • 150ml white wine
  • 2 tsp vegetable stock powder (I use Marigold bouillon)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • knob of butter
  • freshy grated parmesan to serve

Soak the porcini mushrooms in a litre of boiling hot water for 10 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, but save the soaking water. Add the stock powder to it. This will form your stock for the risotto. Simmer the stock in a pan over a low heat to keep it hot.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Fry over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the chestnut mushrooms and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the rice and coat in the oil. Pour in the wine a little at a time, stirring, until the liquid has been absorbed. Add the stock, a ladelful at a time, simmering and stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed. Keep adding stock this way until the rice has plumped up and become tender.

Chop up the soaked porcini mushrooms and stir into the risotto, along with the parsley, butter and salt and pepper. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan, and a sprig of fresh parsley to garnish.

Coffee and Walnut Cake

A ye olde staple of the English afternoon tea table, as a child this cake filled me with disgust (walnuts, blergh, coffee, blergh!) Yet as I grew older, so too did I grow to appreciate, and enjoy the delights of this traditional sandwich cake.

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Based on the failproof victoria sponge method of making cakes, it is a recipe I go back to again, and again. I didn’t have quite enough caster sugar in the cupboard, but made do and found that it worked perfectly well, so I would be quite happy to continue doing that in future.

If you like your coffee black and strong, then do not stint here. Use the strongest black coffee you can brew.

Surprisingly my cake here contains no coffee at all! The flavouring is from Camp coffee essence, a tall brown bottle hidden away in the supermarket sugar aisle, which is actually made from chicory, and harks back to wartimes of making-do with what you had. It’s really easy to use straight from the bottle, and gives quite a gently-rounded coffee flavour. I enjoy it in the cake, but the flavour isn’t strong enough in the icing, so next time I’ll be using a shot of coffee in the buttercream.

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Coffee and Walnut Cake

For the cake:

  • 120g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 120g spreadable butter (it is easy to use and the added vegetable oil keeps the cake moist)
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp Camp coffee essence
  • handful of toasted walnuts, chopped

For the icing:

  • 65g unsalted butter
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp Camp coffee essence
  • handful of toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line two 15cm cake tins.  Sift the flour and baking powder together. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then whisk in the eggs, one by one. Whisk in the coffee essence, and fold in the flour and baking powder.  Mix in the walnuts, then add a spoonful of milk if it is too stiff, and divide between the two cake tins. Bake for around 18 minutes until risen and springy.

Let the cakes cool, and then make the icing. Beat the butter together with icing sugar, and loosen with milk and add 1 tbsp coffee essence to flavour. Beat well until fluffy and aerated. Spread 1/3 of the buttercream between the two layers, and the remaining 2/3 on top. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts to finish.