Starting out with Sourdough

Alternative title: I tried to make posh bread and it WORKED!

Unlike cakes and biscuits, bread is a beast I have been reluctant to master. The mysteries of kneading, proving and baking seemed too complex and unattainable for my domestic skills. The flavourless rocks I produced as a result didn’t encourage further attempts at improving my skills.

Yet there is something so special about a homemade loaf. So delicious when it is fresh out of the oven, smeared with a cold lick of butter. Over the last decade, I have really noticed sourdough in particular taking off in the UK. For instance, I doubt you’ll find many places doing avocado toast and not using sourdough.

So I thought I’d tackle a) my fear of bread-baking and b) my curiosity about sourdough, and booked in for a beginner’s Sourdough class at the famous Bread Ahead Bakery. The fresh baked loaves were quite possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.   I couldn’t wait to get home, nuture my own little sourdough starter into fruition, and start baking.

The internet seems to suggest making a sourdough starter culture is an incredibly complex art, but I don’t think that’s really the case at all. In the class, we measured out equal quantitites of flour and water, mashed it together, and that was it. After diligently feeding my starter with equal amounts of flour and water each day for a week, it was bubbly, rising to the top of the jar, and pretty much good to go.

I wasn’t convinced the loaf was going to work out, but I was determined to give it a go. So into a bowl went flour, salt, water and starter. I left it overnight in the fridge, then took it out, tried to shape it, and left it to rise in a colander (apparently a good substitute for a banneton) until it looked like a cellulitic thigh. As the flabby-looking specimen plopped into its cast iron receptable, I peered at it very doubtfully before shoving it in the oven, but to my great astonishment, 30 minutes later, out came an actual loaf of bread!

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It tasted great, and the crumb structure was probably the best I had ever gotten out of a loaf of bread! It also made delicious bacon sandwiches several days later.

Since this loaf, I’ve made several more, and there has been a slow but steady improvement. There were 2 flops along the way where I deflated one loaf by shaping it too vigorously, and another instance where the bread was far too underbaked, but otherwise it’s been surprisingly successful, and I’m so excited to have a new type of baking to play with. Just got to remember to keep the starter alive…

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Rhubarb and Custard Viennese Whirls

With all this unfeasibly cold and snowy weather, I’ve not only gone baking crazy – I’ve gone viennese whirl crazy. Not content with making one or two batches of viennese whirls, I’ve made at least eight. Each batch just had something slightly wrong that I wanted to improve on. So I just made more, and more and more. Oh the shame.

Observations after making hundreds of viennese whirls:

  1. The butter needs to be practically melted if you are to have a hope in heaven of piping anything out
  2. Guernsey butter produces a flipping lovely viennese whirl
  3. Otherwise, don’t forget to add a pinch of salt to unsalted butter and that all-important vanilla extract
  4. Don’t overmix your biscuit dough or it has a tendency to spread in the oven. However, mix it well enough that it doesn’t fall apart into a handful of crumbs.
  5. Resting the piped dough in a cool place for around 30 minutes before baking is an excellent way to ensure they keep their shape
  6.  Leave the biscuits to chill out for a few hours before trying to sandwich them or they break up into a sad mess

Most of these viennese whirls were wonderfully classic vanilla buttercream and jam affairs, which I’ve posted about before but I’d also recently made some roasted rhubarb and custard yo-yos from Ottolenghi’s Sweet and fancied doing a little riff on that (and also had a surplus of rhubarb puree, more on that later).

To do this, I took my usual recipe, replaced the cornflour with custard powder, and threw in a bit of extra vanilla extract. With the buttercream, I added in a little roasted rhubarb puree and a splash of lemon juice instead of vanilla extract.

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Now the original buttercream from Ottolenghi’s Sweet was frustratingly difficult to get right. The recipe seems to be based on something that would have been practical if it had made 5 times the quantity of biscuits, but had been scaled down for the home cook. For instance, it asks you to roast the tinest amount of fresh rhubarb, then blend it into a puree. Practically, this didn’t work as my stick blender couldn’t cope with the tiny quantity. So, I ended up roasting several sticks of rhubarb and making a larger batch of puree instead.

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It’s quite hard to get a good balance of rhubarb flavour, and good textural consistency for the buttercream itself. Add too much rhubarb puree, and the icing curdles, but don’t add enough and the flavour just isn’t really there.

I was a bit impatient after baking these, and in my hastiness to sandwich them, they were still a bit too delicate and started to crumble around the edges. I don’t think they turned out too badly though!

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Next time as well as leaving the biscuits for a bit longer to firm up, I’d consider upping the rhubarb flavour by adding a small dollop of fresh rhubarb compote before sandwiching the biscuits. Even though I love a good classic, I think this new combination has the promise to be just as delightful, with the tartness from the rhubarb and lemon juice adding an extra dimension to the original buttery sweetness. Do give it a whirl!

Rhubarb and Custard Viennese Whirls

Makes 6-8 whirls

For the biscuits:

  • 125g salted butter
  • 125g plain flour
  • 25g icing sugar
  • 25g custard powder

For the buttercream:

  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 120g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp roasted rhubarb puree

Make the roasted rhubarb puree first by cutting fresh rhubarb into chunks, then spreading out onto a baking tray, and roast in the oven at 180˚C for around 20 minutes til soft. Leave to cool then blitz into a puree.

Make the biscuits. Soften the butter til almost melted. Sift together the dry ingredients, then gradually beat them into the softened butter to form a soft dough. Transfer to a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle, and pipe whirls onto a baking tray. Leave to sit for around 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 170˚C. Bake the biscuits for around 20 minutes or until golden on the edges. At this point, I went out into the garden and made a very tiny snowman. A has named it Steve.

Leave biscuits to cool.

Make the buttercream by beating the butter and icing sugar together until fluffy, then adding the lemon juice, and a little rhubarb puree until it is pink and fluffy. Transfer into a piping bag, and pipe a circle of buttercream onto one biscuits, then sandwich with another. Repeat with the other biscuits.

Rhubarb Crumble

I have the most hideous cold at the moment. A mountain of tissues has built up beside me on the sofa. I’m trying to contemplate whether to battle with the Beast from the East and go out for a run, or just let it be.

Yesterday evening, before my taste-buds completely died, I baked a really lovely rhubarb crumble, which is actually just the kind of thing you want to eat when it’s minus degrees outside.

Rhubarb is a relatively new discovery for me. I was always highly suspicious of its vegetable-but-used-in-desserts nature. Then last summer, I picked some at the PYO Farm because it looked like it’d make a fun mini umbrella, and finished by guilt-buying it. It made a fabulous crumble and I was sold.

However, summer rhubarb is not the most photogenic shade of green, so when the pink forced rhubarb flooded the shops in January, I impetuously bought loads.

Crumble is always a good way of using up large amounts of fruit, and this one is a really pretty pink colour, and mouth-puckeringly tart. I adapted my usual fruit crumble recipe a little, mainly by switching the sugar for caster sugar, and throwing in some ginger instead of cinnamon. It might sound weird, but I’m just entranced at how pink rhubarb at this time of year is. It seems like some miracle of nature. Much like the Beast from the East, but much prettier, and less prone to causing national chaos.

I would have taken a photo, but at that point it was in a bowl covered in custard, and looked distinctly unappetising. Hopefully I’ll make it again soon and pop in a pic, but it was just too good not to share the recipe.

Rhubarb Crumble

For the crumble:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 100g salted butter

For the fruit filling:

  • 5-6 large sticks of rhubarb, chopped into chunks
  • juice for 1/2 lemon
  • around 50g caster sugar (adjust to taste, we like things quite tart chez nous)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsbp cornflour

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. For the crumble, mix flour and sugar together, then rub in the butter till it looks like breadcrumbs.

In a ovenproof dish, mix the rhubarb chunks, lemon juice, sugar, ginger and cornflour, then sprinkle the crumble on top. Pop it in the oven and bake for around 40 minutes until the top is golden and the rhubarb bubblingly juicily away. Eat with lashings of custard.

 

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…

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!

 

Look what I got for 2018…

It’s very exciting!

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I can’t believe how long I’ve been lusting/dreaming/salivating over one of these. It actually feels surreal that this is in my kitchen. A was slightly perturbed when I unpackaged it and started lovingly stroking the shiny yellow enamel. My preciousssss…

In terms of colour, I was really stuck between pistachio and majestic yellow. The pistachio had originally seemed more of a classic “me” colour, but then A said he didn’t like it, and once the yellow popped into my head I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so there we go.

The kitchen is pretty teeny, so there isn’t a lot of counter space for the KitchenAid, but we’ve just about managed to find a corner. And even though I haven’t had it long yet, I’ve made brownies, 3 batches of pastry, and some bread dough in it already. I can’t wait to try making a cake, and I think it will really come into its own when making sticky enriched bread doughs that sound a nightmare to roll out by hand. I’ll hopefully be keeping you posted!

 

Keeping it Classic with Sausage Rolls

I’m settling into that soporific period that is the period between Christmas and New Year.

There is a carpet of shed pine needles scattered around the living room. Christmas cards cluster in every available space. The chocolate and biscuit boxes have been torn through and mostly eaten (just the horrible ones left, looking at you, the pink Roses/Quality Street).

Most of all, I’m looking forward to settling down for a week ahead of Christmas TV, plenty of gluttony and hibernating under my duvet for more hours than could be possible. It’s also the perfect time of year to make puff pastry – that time consuming process of attempting to disguise as many packets of butter into flour as possible. It’s probably thanks to a fortunate combination of general seasonal greed, cold kitchen and free time.

Whatever they say on TV/in cookery books, I don’t think anything rivals sausage rolls made with proper homemade puff pastry.

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I love the process of rolling out the butter and flour, folding over the course of the day, and turning something craggy and impossible-looking into smooth, beautiful sheets, that magically rise to form crisp pillows of delicious pastry.

Nowadays I use the Ottolenghi rough puff pastry recipe, which uses less butter than many other classic puff pastry recipes, but still produces a really fabulous lamination. It is also one of the only ones where I’ve managed to bake it with NO butter leakage at all.

Right, off to watch some more Christmas TV and pop a few more of these in my mouth. Happy New Year all!

Classic Sausage Rolls 

  • 500g puff pastry
  • 500g sausagemeat (I usually buy it pre-seasoned and add a little extra ground pepper)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 220ºC.

Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin. Lay the sausagemeat in a line down the pastry, maybe two depending on the shape of your rolled out pastry.

Wrap the pastry around the sausagemeat to form a roll. Brush a little beaten egg on the edge and trim the excess pastry away with a sharp knife. Seal by pressing the tines of a fork firmly along the edge.

Cut the pastry roll into 1 inch long pieces, and lay on a baking tray, well spaced apart. Stab the top of each sausage roll twice with the fork, then brush the tops with beaten egg. Place the tray into the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 200˚C.

Bake for around 25 minutes until golden and puffed up. Leave on the tray for a few minutes, then transfer onto a cooling rack. Best eaten warm out of the oven but you can eat them cold, or pop them back in for a few minutes to reheat them the next day.

I’ve posted about other variations that you can peruse here:

Pork and Mustard Sausage Rolls

Chorizo and Pepper Sausage Rolls

 

 

Times are a changin’

I haven’t really got a bake to share today. Just touching base, after a really long time, once again.

Today I’ve been feeling nostalgic. It feels a crazily long time since I first started blogging back in 2011. This blog emerged in 2012, but only after lots of playing around with blogger and wordpress, and trying to think up catchy names that kept changing in my head.

It feels in many ways like the world has become a more unkind place – especially with all the events of the last two years and the impact that they’ll have on the future. I want to try to be more positive about the future and what it will bring.

It’s one of the reasons I still love to read blogs – how people are pottering around, baking, crafting and making, thinking and living life. I’m glad to see there are still some stalwarts from this time posting away, and I love to read these more intimate homely kind of blogs even if the posting becomes more sporadic, and the content changes from student angst to careers and family and the undeniable temptation of the John Lewis homewares section. Let’s be honest, as those six years go by in your twenties, a lot changes. You get a job that perhaps you realise isn’t that career you wanted after all, you learn how to do DIY and botch it as well, mundane household tasks like weeding and cleaning the windows and generally become a “grown up”. Saying that, I’m still feel completely “un-grown up” inside, and have no idea how I’m going to deal with the Great Responsibility of Life.

That next age milestone is looming…

Chocolate Silk Cake

I have this idea of a chocolate cake in my head that I can’t quite find the recipe for. It’s rich, chocolatey, not too heavy nor light. A Goldilocks of chocolate cake if you will. Nigella’s recipes have gotten close, but not quite there. My go-to chocolate sponge cake is great but it’s a lightish cake and not the Bruce Bogtrotter behemoth I’m after.

So I saw this recipe on the Waitrose recipe and thought I would give it a go after the heavy sugar-fest that was the Konditor and Cook Curly Whirly Cake.

I’m a bit out of practice with decorating layer cakes so I went for straight and simple. I also had some dark chocolate truffles in the cupboard so popped them on top for a bit of extra flair.

So what was the verdict?

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This chocolate cake is delish! It falls firmly into the sponge cake category, but it is a bit richer than your standard chocolate cake flavoured with cocoa powder alone. I could definitely see myself making this again for birthday cakes and other celebratory cakes in the future.

It’s been so long since I regularly blogged that I forgot to take a photo of the cake being sliced, by which time it was so late in the evening it was dark outside and I was having to rely on the horror that is indoor lighting. So I cut a second slice just for a quick photo so you can see what it looks like inside. Sorry about the yellow appearance!

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Whether it’s the chocolate cake of my dreams…well perhaps not quite there. This cake was great, and definitely one to bookmark, but I’m still searching for the one! ❤

 

Curly Whirly Cake

Thank goodness January is over. It’s definitely is a month where everybody goes a bit nuts. The gym is suddenly full, the streets are full of joggers. I end up going absolutely mental for online shopping. There’s no explaining it, I just want to buy EVERYTHING. I also spend many hours fantasising about my perfect duvet day, waking up when it’s light outside, and spending the whole day snuggled up in my pyjamas reading novels and chocolates. Seriously, old lady proclivities rule.

It’s also been a time for heart-warming puds. I baked this sticky toffee pudding and discovered the deliciousness that is this cake, which had gone a bit stale in the tin but was utterly delicious gently warmed through, and poured all over with hot sticky toffee sauce. It is sooo tasty, try it with any plainish cake that’s gone a bit dry and old and you will see miracles happen. I wish I had taken more photos but to be honest, the cake was deeply unphotogenic, and we ate it straight out of the pyrex dish in around 1 minute flat.

I’ve also been on the hunt for a brand-new delicious chocolate fudge recipe. This one from Konditor and Cook looked incredibly promising. Unfortunately, when I baked it, it turned into an absolute stodge-fest.

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Just look at how claggy that sponge looks!

I’m sure I probably did a few things wrong in the making of the cake, but even so, it just didn’t taste of much either, just sugar. Disappointing, because Konditor and Cook’s Curly Whirly Cake seems to have a cult following, but perhaps it’s just not for me.

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I’ve seen another recipe on the Waitrose website for a chocolate silk cake that looks like it has a similar method, and I might give that one a whirl next time.

If you want to give the Curly Whirly Cake a go, the recipe is all over the internet and can be found on the The Guardian here.