Peonies and Pottering

What I have been up to this weekend…

P1060605

P1060592

A trip to Waitrose for baking goodies and peonies. The checkout lady was quite horrified at how much butter, chocolate and cream I bought and said consolingly “At least you’re still slim so you can eat it all. For now.”

P1060600

I put my peonies in pride of place, and got down to some sweet, simple baking. 

I did an experiment a few weeks ago on Tesco Value products and the results were so horrible, I’ve been fleeing to Waitrose ever since. I’ll write a future post on what happened, but I still have quite a wide variety of ingredients I am trying to use up. Currently, I am putting them to one side, and playing about with nice and expensive butter and flour instead.

Snobbery aside, I really do think better ingredients produce better cakes. I whipped up one of the lightest, fluffiest, most tasty victoria sponges I’ve done in a while, and it really went down a real treat. The only downside is all the fresh cream in this cake means it has to be stored in the fridge or it goes off very quickly.

DSC_0362

Mmm, definitely could help myself to another slice.

Advertisements

Homemade HobNobs

My current first world problem woes:

I choked on a fly that flew/blew into my mouth as I was running. I then inadvertently swallowed it. Gross.

No matter how many times I sign up for their loyalty scheme, Anthropologie will not give me free online delivery, sob sob

I’m too much of a technological dinosaur to figure out how to work my new laptop after my old one died after six years solid service. Every time I press the touchpad, STRANGE THINGS happen.

Besides that, life is pretty good. I baked homemade HobNobs, and am pootling around getting ready for holiday time, hooray!

P1060433

Much as I like richly packed chocolate-chip cookies, and slabs of gooey brownie, there’s something just so endearing about very simple, plain recipes from ancient home baking books. They’re tried and tested, they taste delicious, and you can most definitely eat quite a lot in one sitting.

This homemade HobNob recipe is from the ye ancient archives of MoneySavingExpert.com, oh yes. You can find it here.

P1060436

They’re not exactly like the mass-produced original, but they’re singing from the same hymn sheet –  packed full of rolled oats, buttery, chewy and crunchy all at once. I’ve used margarine with them before, and they were delicious, but salted butter is the best.

The HobNobs turn out looking different every time I bake them, but they always taste fantastic – like a small flapjack-themed party in your mouth. This time I have a feeling that this time they finally look the way they ought to, i.e. like biscuits, and not hockey pucks or lace doilies.

P1060432

If you can’t resist a bit of tinkering, I think replacing some of the oats with dessicated coconut would be a good shout, and I’ve done a version where I threw in some chopped white chocolate and cranberries, mmmm. Now I’m off to paint my nails and hopefully not screw them up. The last time I was so tired I fell asleep waiting for them to dry. Messy.

Very Good Chocolate Chip Cookies

Why are the simplest bakes sometimes the most difficult? For instance, let’s take chocolate chip cookies. It seems like it should be simple. However, despite having dozens of favourite recipes for all kinds of other cookies, chocolate-chip nirvana still escapes my tenacious grasp.

P1060429

I’ve spent years trying to figure it out. Trawling through the heavy masses of internet cookie wisdom, trying all kind of tricks and techniques. Baking immediately, to baking after resting the dough for 24 hours. Brown sugar versus caster sugar. Strong flour, spelt flour, rice flour, cornflour. English, French, Danish butter. Salted or unsalted?

P1060419
Heston Blumenthal’s recipe has been on my radar for a long time. It differs from most other chocolate chip cookie recipes by Heston’s trademark uber-precise instructions, and the added step of making your own golden syrup chocolate chips.  

P1060418 - Version 2

I baked them, and found they were good cookies, with a perfect texture. Crisp exteriors and desirably chewy centre.

However, they’re faffy. Making your own chocolate chips takes ages. You make a ganache, freeze it into useable firmness, and chop it into squares. When you want cookies now, waiting a couple of hours for the ganache to freeze solid is a bit of a test in delayed gratification. I found the chocolate ganache nuggets didn’t seem to add much to the finished cookies either. Finding little hard nuggets of chocolate is one my favourite parts of cookie-chomping, and chocolate ganache stays unexcitingly soft at room temperature.

I thought the ingredients could do with a bit of tinkering too. The cookies were a bit too sweet, and I needed a glass of water after polishing one off. So of course, I baked them again, tweaking the original recipe to my own tastes, reducing the sugar and replacing the fancy homemade chocolate chips with ordinary chopped up chocolate.

P1060422

They were just glorious. Fresh out of the oven with golden crispy edges and a soft, dense middle rich with melted chocolate chips. No need for chilling, or special ingredients – just lovely cookies when you want them.

My sweet tooth seems to be fading as I age, or these are just very sweet cookies. I reduced the quantity of sugar from 260g to 200g, but I think I could probably push it down further to 160g without any loss of flavour.

I ended up with an awful lot of cookies after these experiments, so took a big batch into work. They got scarfed down in about an hour. I went to check on their progress and was stunned to see that nothing remained but a crumpled foil wrapper and the cake tin lid hanging sideways off the counter. Always a good sign, although slightly alarming how voracious everybody’s appetites were.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Heston Blumenthal at Home

Makes 12

  • 115g salted butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 egg
  • 220g plain flour (I used a mixture of plain flour and spelt flour)
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp instant coffee powder
  • 125g milk/dark chocolate, chopped into chips

Preheat the oven to 190˚C. Prepare 2 baking trays.

Beat the butter and sugar together until combined, then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla extract.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and coffee powder together. Add to the rest of the ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. Stir in the milk chocolate chips. Scoop into 12 balls, then bake for 8-10 minutes until golden around the edges. Leave to rest for a few minutes before transferring onto a cooling rack.

How to bake a wedding cake…?

Now, not a sign of my impending nuptials, but those of my friends, who have requested that I bake their wedding cake! How exciting/scary/responsible is that? Once my initial euphoria died down, I started getting down to some serious thinking. I’ve got plenty of time to get started, as the wedding is more likely to take place in 2017, but I’ve never made or decorated anything on so epic a scale before. It’s really quite terrifying!

P1060254

There are so many factors to consider in the making of a wedding cake. The logistics of it are mindblogging. The cake has to be made in advance, in order for it to be decorated, then transported many miles to the wedding venue. Then it has to arrive immaculate, be assembled without toppling over, and somehow through all of that, the cake still has to be tasty inside? So I thought I would have a trial run at one tier. Forward planning or what?

P1060231

I went for Peggy Porschen’s chocolate cake, cut it into four layers, and filled with vanilla buttercream. To test the ability of the cake to withstand days of sitting around, I baked it to real time, and only cut it open on day 5 after baking.

P1060221

I was excited to find out whether the cake had retained the freshness of a newly baked cake or whether it had gone dry and stale. Happily it was still moist although I cut into again the next day to find it had dried out quite a lot.

P1060291

The cake was also disgustingly sweet! I think it’s because the buttercream to cake ratio is so high, and the cake itself is also brushed with sugar syrup. Although four layers is pretty, two layers of cake and one layer of buttercream will provide a much nicer ratio of buttercream to cake.

P1060285

The next stage to consider is how many tiers will be required. It’s a fairly big wedding so I may bake up to 4 tiers in total. That’s a lot of cake! It’s also important to consider that my friends may also want some variety in there too. Other options could include a victoria sponge layer, traditional fruit cake, and carrot cake. I haven’t cracked red velvet cake to include that in my repertoire yet, plus I’m nervous about using cream cheese/mascarpone-based icing on a cake that will have to sit around for so long in early summer. Ahh, the million possibilities! Anybody else baked a wedding cake before? Any great tips to share?

Banana, Salted Caramel and Milk Chocolate Cake

I fancy that the majority of my bakes result from this “Waste Not Want Not” attitude I have towards leftover ingredients from other recipes. Whether it’s these almond slices, or these gorgeous brownies, I love that little bubble of satisfaction I get from using up leftovers, getting my creative side into gear, and getting something delicious out of it too!

So this cake was an invention which was purely a means to use up some leftover Stork, and a third of a jar of salted caramel leftover from these decadent brownies. I took them into work, and it was one of the most popular things I have ever baked!

P1060164

Banana and Caramel are a beautiful pairing, and with a sprinkling of milk chocolate thrown in the mix too, it’s a perfect sliced into lunchbox-ready squares, wrapped in foil. As with all bananary-bakes, it just gets better with time too.

Banana, Salted Caramel, and Milk Chocolate Traybake

  • 180g soft margarine/softened butter
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs (I was trying to use up a leftover egg white, so I used 2 eggs, 1 egg white, and a splash of milk)
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 190g self-raising flour (I used cake flour)
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1/3 jar salted caramel
  • milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. I then stuck my unpeeled banana into the oven at this point – apparently it is a good way to enhance the banana-ry flavour when they aren’t super ripe yet.

Beat the margarine/butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Then whisk in the eggs, one by one, with a spoonful of flour if it looks like it is starting to curdle. Then sift in the remaining flour and bicarbonate of soda, and mix together to form a cohesive batter. Fold in the mashed banana.

Tip the batter into a prepared cake tin, smooth flat, then dollop small spoonfuls of caramel over the surface, and swirl into the mixture with a knife. Sprinkle milk chocolate chips over the surface and then put into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean.