Lemon Semolina Syrup Cakes

I’d dithered and hesitated about purchasing Ottolenghi’s Sweet. After all, to say I have enough baking books would be an understatement.

Of course, I eventually caved in.

Sweet is filled with pages and pages filled with delicious and intriguing variations, but first, I was going to make these gorgeously syrup-drenched lemon cakes. I couldn’t resist – their zingy citrus freshness bringing a much-needed pop of sunshine into the dreary almost-Spring months.

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I had a bit of a life crisis at the start of this year. I’m at a bit of a crossroads in my career, and not sure which direction I’m headed in anymore. So while I’m trying to make sense of that, I’ve returned to the familiar realms of what was has always been my comforting little corner of the internet, and back to pottering around in the kitchen as my form of therapy.

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The tart slices of lemon add a lovely mouth-wateringly sour note that contrasts deliciously with the sweet, syrup-soaked fluffy sponge. It adds that slightly unique element that makes them so much more exciting than your average lemon cake. Also no need for any icing, so that is another thumbs up in my book! The cakes do look a bit washed out in the photos thanks to the artificial light but I don’t really get a chance to snap pictures in natural light at this time of year so just imagine how vibrantly delicious they look and smell.

Recipe is in Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. Can’t wait to try my next recipe out – I’ve got my eye on the custard and rhubarb yo-yos and the pineapple tarts…

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Kouign Amann

I had heard about these Breton pastries several years ago, but they looked so unassuming and complicated to make I confess I put the thought of them to the back of my mind. Then A’s brother picked up a selection of goodies from Dominique Ansel including their infamous DKA. After tasting that I was absolutely sold.

This pastry packs a serious taste-bomb that only the luxuriant use of butter, sugar and flour can bring about.

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In fact, let’s ignore the flour because it is merely a vehicle for packing in as much butter and sugar as possible after all. Kouign Amann might not be photogenic, but they are deeeelicious.

The problem was that then the craving for more set in. I sadly don’t have a surfeit of French patisseries round here (read: none) so if I was going to get delicious buttery sugary pastries it was going to have to be done at home.

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I looked at a couple of recipes for reference. First, Paul Hollywood‘s version, as seen on GBBO. Then, Christophe Felder’s method in his baking bible, Patisserie. Finally I had a look at David Lebovitz’s post (from waaaay back in 2005! How time flies…)

The Paul Hollywood and Christophe Felder recipes used similar proportions of flour to butter, yeast and liquid, but the Felder version used an incredible 300g sugar compared with Hollywood’s more modest 100g. David Lebovitz’s recipe used considerably less butter at more of a 2:1 ratio of flour:butter compared with the almost 1:1 ratios of the Hollywood and Felder recipes.

In the end, I went with the Felder recipe. There were a lot of French food blogs that had tried it, with glowing feedback, plus he is a French pastry chef so he must know his stuff, right?

For the most part, the techniques are familiar and if you’ve made puff pastry from scratch it’s mostly the same process. However, there were points at which I felt uncertain about whether it was going to work out. For example, my laminated dough started to peel apart in layers when I was shaping it for the tin, and I only used up around a quarter of the sugar. Into the oven they went, and I watched their rise, suspicious, certain it would only end in catastrophe, and with me scraping caramel off the sides of the oven.

The first crisp, delicate pastry-shattering mouthful dispelled all doubts.

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I think that they rank as one of the most delicious baked goods I have ever made. Really not photogenic at all, but so, so tasty.

Kouign Amann

Somewhat adapted from the Christophe Felder recipe in his book, Patisserie

  • 275g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 200g butter + 10g butter
  • 165g water
  • 75-100g caster sugar

Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and add the salt and yeast.

Melt 10g butter and allow to cool. Add the melted butter and water to the mixing bowl and knead for 2-3 minutes until a smooth elastic dough is formed. Pat into a square, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Put the remaining butter inside a folded square of baking paper and flatten with a rolling pin until you have a square of butter around 3-4mm thick.

After 1 hour has elapsed, roll the chilled dough into a rectangle the same width as the butter square, but twice as long. Place the butter square in the middle and wrap the pastry around it, pinching to seal the edges so no butter is visible.

Turn 90˚ and roll out into a rectangle. Fold into three like a letter. Turn 90˚ again, roll out again and fold. Cover with clingfilm and chill for another hour.

Take the dough out, and sprinkle all over with caster sugar. Roll out again sprinkle with sugar, and fold. Turn, sprinkle with sugar, roll out again, and sprinkle with sugar and fold.

Now roll the pastry out until it is around 4mm thick and cut into 12 equal sized squares. Dust each square liberally with sugar, and pinch the edges together into the middle. Place the kouign amann in a muffin tray, cover with clingfilm, and leave to prove for around 45 mins – 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and bake the kouign amann for around 20-25 minutes, cover with foil if they look like they are starting to catch. Turn out immediately upside down onto a cooling rack or they will stick in the tin. Tuck in while they are fresh but don’t burn your tongue!