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The Daring Bakers Challenge October 2011: Povitica

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

I don’t even know where to begin with this post – I made this recipe three times (though I was only successful twice) and I have SO MANY photos, it’s unreal. I loved making povitica (which you pronounce poh-vee-teet-tsa) so much – the dough was really fun to work with, as you stretch it out until it’s transparent before rolling it up, filled with a walnut and cinnamon paste, or whatever else you fancy if you’re a Daring Baker… Here’s the link to the official Daring Bakers post, which includes the surprisingly easy to make recipe and a slideshow of all the povitica that we made, as a group. Some of them absolutely put mine to shame, with beautiful spiral patterns and amazing ideas for fillings. Go and check it out, once you’re finished here, though consider this fair warning that you’ll end up starving hungry. Also go and check out Jenni The Gingered Whisk, who created this recipe from her own brain when she couldn’t find a good one online. Amazing.

To describe the recipe in short, you make a yeast bread dough, which you then stretch out until it’s mega thin. You cover your worktop with a clean sheet, lightly dusted with flour, to help stop the dough from sticking. Then you add a layer of filling and roll it all up into a sausage – using a sheet also helps with this. When you fold the dough sausage into a loaf tin you get great spiral shapes in each slice of the finished loaf – how you fold it and put it in the tin affects how the end result looks, as you’ll see from the great variation in the DB slideshow.

My first attempt failed because the oven I was using (the G man’s) is a bit off when it comes to low temperatures. This was such a shame, because I was so elated by making the dough and stretching it out for miles and miles… It went fine right up until I took it out of the oven, and both loaves had sunk like stones. They were raw and inedible in the middle – all yeasty, sticky dough and no class at all. Here is a gallery of photos from attempt number one, they are many and varied. They are also in no real order, because I can’t really figure out galleries in WordPress, despite having been using it for almost two years…

You’ll see I had a really, really fancy poviticia planned with strawberry jam and tarragon flavoured cream cheese in a checked pattern, which I thought would give cool swirls inside the bread. It might have, too, if the loaf had baked up at all, but we’ll never know. I used the same flavours in my second, successful attempt, but I didn’t have the heart to spend so much time on the design in case it didn’t work. I’ll go back to it the next time, now that I feel more confident. I also included a picture here of how sticky and elastic the dough was when I turned it out of the bowl to start kneading it. The ever-helpful Audax had suggested to us that we should have the dough more on the sticky side than the dry side, to help with keeping it elastic. I did add enough flour to the dough to stop it totally sticking to my hands and the worktop, but I left it stickier than I’d otherwise have done, and this paid off – in one of the photos you can see how far the dough stretched – in fact I had to double the amount of filling and *still* trimmed off some of it. It was so exciting to work with, like nothing I’ve ever made before.

With my second attempt, the dough was a lot less elastic and exciting to work with, but still stretched out admirably and looked a bit less wrinkly and weird in the loaf tin. On this attempt I made the same fillings as the first – the traditional walnut filling laid out in the recipe, and homemade strawberry jam and sweetened cream cheese, flavoured with pureed tarragon. My preference was for the second loaf, though I think opinion was pretty divided. This time the loaves rose out of the pans and the bread was cooked right through, which of course was a great improvement! They still weren’t perfect, with quite a lot of air pockets that made it hard to cut slices of the povitica, but they were so much better, and this made me glad. Here is the gallery for take two – these are less many and varied, but equally in disarray:

Now that I had completed the challenge, you might think I’d let it be and move on to other recipes. I didn’t feel like that at all – I enjoyed this recipe so much that I really wanted another go, and kept thinking of new fillings to use. Looking at the great photos on the DB forum eventually tipped me over the edge and I set out to make some more, this time using my four mini loaf tins. I had some spiced apple pie filling left over in the fridge (I’ll tell you about the pies another time), so I pureed this to use for two of the little loaves. For the other two, I pureed a banana that was right on the cusp of being ready to go in the bin, the dregs of a packet of pecans and a sachet of instant hot chocolate, to make a thick banana, pecan and chocolate sauce. I split the dough into four before leaving it to rise, thinking it might make it easier for me to make even loaves if I had a guideline of what a quarter portion looked like. This was true, though you can definitely tell which ones were left to rise while I made the other two… These last poviticas were the best, I think, both in flavour, texture, appearance and in the amount they rose up in the oven and surprised me when I opened the door. Here’s the gallery.

As you can tell, I had such fun making this bread, and I’d definitely recommend that anyone reading should give it a go. If you have a big space for a full sized loaf, that’s great, but if not you can make mini ones using a pillowcase instead. I’d definitely recommend using a sheet or pillowcase, even if you don’t think the dough will stick to your counter, because rolling the dough up by tipping the edge of the sheet is a very cool thing to do, even if I don’t have it quite as down as these guys.

I’m looking forward to practising more with this recipe, to get really pretty swirls and to get more control over the shape of the bread – getting it into the loaf tins was always an exercise in bravery, as I was scared that the whole thing would come apart in my hands any second. I rolled in right off the table and into the tin a couple of times, so that I didn’t even have to touch it.

My favourites were the fruit-based ones but I saw some great savoury variations going on in the DB forum, and would love to try a poppy seed version, too. There’s also always Nutella, which would provide a ready made filling if the bread dough was enough of an adventure for you. If you’re going to use Nutella, I think decanting it into a bowl and heating it a little would be a good way to go, to make it much easier to spread without ripping the thin dough – it’s like a pair of tights, once there’s a snag in the dough it’s only going to get worse. You can’t even apply nailpolish to stop it. Well, you *could*… but I most certainly don’t condone it.

This is probably my last Rock Cakes post – I’m planning on bringing my cooking and baking blogs back together, to the original Rock Salt blog. I’m hoping to be able to migrate the cakes posts over to Rock Salt… wish me luck!

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Chocolate, Wasabi, Ginger and Black Sesame Cake (or, Black Pearl Layer Cake)

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The recipe for this cake is here at Epicurious. In short, it’s three layers of chocolate and ginger sponge, doused in ginger and vanilla syrup, sandwiched with chocolate and wasabi ganache, coated in whipped cream frosting and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. If you think it sounds weird… well, I can understand that, but allow me to assure you that it’s not. I also have pictures, in an attempt to convey the wonder of the cake. Many, many pictures. Here are some of them now:

Fresh from the oven

Easily tall enough for three layers

This last photo is to demonstrate how flat I managed to get the top of the cake, even though I sliced it by hand. Well, alright, by knife, but without the aid of a cutting wire is what I mean.

This was quite a cake; a bit adventurous, a bit unusual, a lot delicious. I have to say that despite the exotic title, the predominant flavours were chocolate and whipped cream – two excellent flavours, I think you’ll agree. I would definitely make it again, but I’d bump up the amount of wasabi, and I’d follow the recipe directions better when it comes to the ginger. The instructions call for you to make a ginger and vanilla syrup with sliced root ginger, then drain the syrup and use the ginger pieces to flavour the cake mix. Unfortunately I’d decided to make both syrup and sponge on the same night, so I had to swap in some ground ginger instead of the fresh ginger. The flavour would have been far more intense, and I’d like to try it.

Ginger and vanilla syrup

One layer soaked in the syrup - see how it shines? Oh, how it shines.

I doubled the amount of wasabi powder the recipe stated for the ganache, and even then there was only a hint of heat. Mostly the heat came from biting into the tiny undissolved bits of wasabi from adding the powder to the ganache and not whisking it thoroughly enough… I quite liked the wasabi bombs, they kept everyone on their toes. I also added half a teaspoon of wasabi to the whipped cream topping – again this gave a very subtle flavour, next time I’d go for a little more. It’s hard to judge, though, especially as wasabi powder takes a little time to give its full flavour, just like mustard powder, but then loses it again when exposed to the air. A couple of the commenters on the Epicurious post also suggested that wasabi paste is a better choice for a stronger flavour, so I may go down that road next time. I didn’t hit the mark spot on this time, as far as I’m concerned, but the cake was still enormously well received. And just enormous.

Wasabi and black sesame ganache applied...

...and spread.

I’ve never made a three-layer cake before (though I have done a seven layer rainbow cake) so that was quite exciting. The recipe suggests using three eight inch tins and baking the layers separately, which is always a very safe (if time consuming) way to go, but I decided to go ahead and bake the whole lot at once in a nine inch tin. This took about an hour and twenty minutes to bake, though I think an hour and ten may have been enough as the cake was pretty crumbly on taking it out of the tin. Luckily, you baste the sponge layers in loads of syrup before sandwiching them together with ganache, then topping with a sweet whipped cream frosting, so the end result was far from dry. The low temperature also meant that, even after such a long time in the oven, only the very top of the cake was a bit singed, and since I was slicing that off anyway there was no problem. There was also some spare ganache and spare whipped cream. The G man really reaped the benefits of this happy accident, which almost makes up for him not getting a slice of the finished product.

Three layers syruped, ganached and stacked.

Oh, I left out the corn syrup and butter from the ganache. This doesn’t really fit in with any of the other paragraphs, but it’s worth mentioning… I just made a normal ganache – equal volumes of melted chocolate and cream – and then added the spices.

Another thing to note about this cake is that it’s very heavy – as in, if you have to carry it very far, be prepared to swap arms a lot. It’s a far distant cousin of the feather-light Victoria sponge, which should practically dissolve on your tongue like wafer. No, this is a bruiser of a cake. It’s also heavy in the sense of flavour, being very dense and rich inside, as we realised when I’d cut monster-sized pieces for everyone and we all started to go into a cake trance half way through eating them… The frosting does balance this richness out nicely, though, with a cleaner, lighter taste and soft texture. Speaking of texture, I loved the black sesame seeds in the ganache and round the edges of the cake. The tiny crunch from each of them added another element to an already interesting mouthful, without changing the sweet flavour at all. I also loved applying them to the cake, which I did by throwing little pinches of them at the freshly-iced sides. They stuck on so readily, it was obviously meant to be. It was a bit like pebble-dashing, but for baked goods. To minimise the inevitable mess, I placed two overlapping sheets of greaseproof paper on top of the cake board; when I was finished decorating, I gently (but firmly) slid the sheets out from under the cake. This left a mostly clean board and had the advantage of feeling like I was performing a magic trick.

Whipped cream frosting (and stray cake crumbs, bah).

Sesame seeds and chocolate stars applied

Now with inadvisable but irresistible glitter.

For the final touches, I went with chocolate stars around the top and, since I never know when to leave well enough alone, added a big L of glitter, because this was my beautiful sister in law’s birthday cake (and her name starts with L). I wish I hadn’t, but it looked so bare without any writing on it… At least I knew better than to try using writing icing; with the moist frosting it would have been indecipherable by morning.

Pancakes, Strawberries and Maple Syrup

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You didn’t think I’d come back from Canada without maple syrup, did you? This was a very quick, thrown together dessert one night when I fancied something nice and low-maintenance. I won’t even bother sharing the pancakes recipe that I used, as to be honest they were nothing more than a vehicle to get strawberries and syrup from plate to face. I used a recipe I found in a quick online search; let’s just say that  next time I’ll spend a little longer finding one.

Can you believe that I don’t know how to make pancakes by heart? I’ve hardly ever made them. I always think that they promise more than they deliver, unless you pile them high with butter and jam, or lemon and sugar. Personally, I’d rather have a scone. Or something with chocolate in…

The Daring Bakers Challenge September 2011: Croissants

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Well! Croissants! I have to say that, while I enjoyed the challenge (during the parts when I wasn’t stressed out of my mind, of course), and I’m really glad to have made them successfully, I will almost certainly never make croissants again. At least, not until I’m independently wealthy and live in a lovely cottage with a farmhouse kitchen and have nothing to do all day every day except bake and do crosswords. Until then, I just don’t have enough time to devote to making something so time consuming.

The recipe we had to follow was beautifully, reassuringly clear and basically held my hand all the way along to make sure I got it right. It was, though, a long haul for me. There were two points where you could let the dough rest in the fridge overnight, and I used the first but not the second. I think this was a bit of a mistake – using both would have made the process seem less lengthy, perhaps. I’ve massively simplified the process here, to give you an idea of how it goes:

  • form dough
  • let rise for three hours
  • roll out and fold dough
  • let rise for an hour and a half, or overnight in the fridge
  • roll out, add butter and fold dough
  • let sit for two hours
  • roll and fold again
  • let sit for two hours (or overnight in the fridge)
  • roll and shape into croissants (a deceptively simple instruction…)
  • let rise for an hour
  • bake

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That’s a lot of rolling, folding and rising or resting, I think you’ll agree. I didn’t have any real trouble with the recipe, though, until it came to shaping the croissants. I’d used a very strong flour, which meant that the dough was very elastic (because of all the gluten). This also meant that getting it to stretch into a triangle shape and *stay* in a triangle shape was extremely tricky and stress inducing. I did finally manage to get them rolled up but, as you can see in the slideshow above, the results were varied. Some looked really good and others were somewhat lumpen and unlovely. I later saw from some other Daring Bakers’ photos that they had rolled the dough into a long rectangle and then cut it into triangles, kind of like a pennant, so that the triangle shapes were really perfect and easier to roll. Great idea, guys!

The other change I made to the recipe as stated was to flatten out the butter into a block, using the wrapper as a template. This meant that I could just turn it over and, in theory, peel off the wrapper again, rather than flattening it out on the work surface and then scraping the butter off again. It worked pretty well on the whole, and I was pleased with myself. I know in the States butter isn’t sold in the same packaging as it is here in the UK, so it’s not a practcal tip for everyone, but maybe greaseproof paper would work?

The total bake time for the croissants was 12 – 15 minutes. I decided to bake them for 6, then rotate the sheets and swap them around, top to bottom, so that they’d bake evenly. When I went into the kitchen after six minutes, instead of the lovely buttery smell I’d been led to expect, I could smell what can only be described as burning. Hm. I opened the oven. The bottom tray of croissants, which had been lined with greaseproof paper, was kindling its way to bursting into flames. In order to avoid this, I tried to remove the top shelf in order to swap them over. In my haste, I tipped the top sheet up, simultaneously dipping the greaseproof paper and, in fact, dropping a whole croissant into the flame at the back of the oven. Nice. Then there were flames, real flames, and smoke, and those tiny bits of black ash that get up in your face like fruit flies and exacerbate the whole affair. And me shouting a bad word. And the G man coming through quite casually to ask if I’d shouted on him, and on seeing my predicament fetching me a rack to put one tray down on and fishing out the croissant from the back of the over with a set of tongs while I did it. So a few of the croissants were write-offs, right there. This did not improve my stress levels, I can tell you.


Once we’d overcome this setback, I left the croissants in for a further six minutes, and when I took them out they had a lovely pale golden colour. Unfortunately they weren’t really baked through and were very doughy and chewy in the centre. Here are a couple of pic to illustrate the results:

I then put the croissants *back* into the oven at a slightly lower temperature for an extra ten minutes. This resulted in some much darker croissants with extremely flaky and dry exteriors but nicely sot and bready insides, as follows:


In summary, I don’t think I turned out completely perfect croissants but they did look reasonable and they tasted pretty reasonable, too. Croissants have never been my favourite thing, I remembered shortly after embarking on day two of the epic baking process, so I would have been surprised if I’d been really blown away by them. They were enjoyable, and made a nice (if small) sandwich with some fancy cheese and ham. I wouldn’t rush to make them again, like I said, but I’m glad to have made them. The fire wasn’t *so* bad, in hindsight… Here’s to the next DB challenge!

UPDATE: Here is a link to a PDF file that will give you all the ingredients, instructions and some excellent step by step photos, should you want to get a bit daring yourelf!

Birthday Chocolates

Following on from the Daring Bakers reveal, here are my first two attempts at filled chocolates, which I made for the G man’s birthday. I made three kinds: white chocolate with Amaretto ganache, dark chocolate with white chocolate and raspberry ganache and dark chocolate coconut creams. I only made five of each, and I think this was actually harder than making a full batch would have been, and possibly just as time consuming. Making these chocolates helped me to get to grips with lining a chocolate mould ready to be filled, and there was a lot of mess and a few mishaps along the way.

Firstly, I thought it’d be really clever to set up some food warmers, to keep the chocolate I was using nice and liquid while I filled the mould and made the two kinds of ganache. Here’s my set up:

I still think that this was a good idea. Sadly, it falls into the category of ‘good ideas that don’t actually work’. Like putting your alarm clock on the other side of the room so that you have to get up to turn it off, and will therefore be miraculously awake and ready to start your day. Or buying cereal bars to make sure you don’t eat a huge and unhealthy breakfast (except that what happens is that you eat both a cereal bar AND a bad roll, or perhaps just a whole pack of cereal bars). What happened in this instance was that the heat from the tea light, inoffensive as it may look, burned the chocolate at the bottom of the bowls, meaning that I had to start over again. Really, I did make a lot of mess making these chocolates.

I’ve already explained much of the method behind these in my August Daring Bakers post so I won’t get into that again. I’ll stick with pictures and a brief description of the fillings in these chocolates. To make the ganache for these, I measured out equal amounts of melted chocolate and double cream into a small bowl, mixed together then added a flavouring. This isn’t necessarily a method you’d see expounded anywhere else, but it did the job for me! I think it’s a decent way to make several small batches of ganache – for one full batch, melting the chocolate and cream together in a pot isn’t exactly difficult. For the Amaretto filling I added almond liqueur, unsurprisingly, and used dark chocolate. For the white chocolate and raspberry I added raspberry liqueur and used (you guessed it) white chocolate. The coconut creams were a mix of shredded coconut, icing sugar and double cream, mixed to a consistency that would be thin enough to spoon into the chocolate moulds but, hopefully, thick enough to bite into without running out of the chocolate shell.

It’s taken me about two months to write this post! I keep coming back to it, then going away from it again… I’m going to solve this problem by putting in all the photos I have of this, my first filled chocolate making experiment, and let it rest at that. As you can see, they were far from perfect, but it had to start somewhere!

 

Blueberry Swirl Cupcakes with Lavender Icing

I made these to celebrate the birth of my colleague Mr B’s first baby, a baby boy. I kind of regret going with the blue theme in a way, it’s so old fashioned, but once I thought of the combination of blueberry and lavender I couldn’t help myself, they had to be made. I did cupcakes for us to share at work and then a tiny cake for Mr B to take home and share with Mrs B. Probably the baby didn’t get any of it, he’s only a few weeks old. I’ll wait a month or so before trying to hook him on sugar. Here are photos of the tiny cake at various stages of assembly.

These were easy cupcakes to make, though I did give myself some extra work with some little royal icing hats to put on them. They were supposed to be flowers but they came out distinctly hatty. I used fruit sugar to make the cakes, as I’ve never used it before and was interested to experiment with it. I also used soy milk, which I am coming to love more and more for baking as it adds a lovely sweet and slightly nutty taste. The cupcakes were wheat free, and could easily be made dairy free by using vegan margarine. To make them vegan, though, you’d have to use an egg substitute, and this is something I have absolutely no experience in – perhaps someone can give me hints or tips on where to begin?

Blueberry Swirl Cupcakes – makes 24:

  • 110g blueberries, washed and picked over
  • 1 tbsp fruit sugar
  • 225g rice flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 160g fruit sugar
  • 225g margarine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup soy milk

The first thing I did was to make the blueberry purée, which almost became instant blueberry jam. In fact, some of the purée really was thick enough to use as jam in the tiny cake. To make the purée I simply put all the blueberries in the blender with the tablespoon of fruit sugar and processed until smooth. The colour was amazing – I’ve tried to catch it as it changed from a bright pinkish-purple to a rich indigo but it was hard to get the lighting right. It darkened right in front of my eyes, it really was remarkable. These amounts made about twice as much purée as I really needed, so another time I might use half the blueberries in the purée and keep the other half for decoration.


Once the purée was made, I made the cupcakes, employing that old favourite, the all in one method. I put all the ingredients, with the exception of the fruit purée, in a bowl and mixed until just combined. Then I added 1/4 cup of the blueberry purée and stirred two or three times, enough to swirl the batter but definitely not enough to mix it. The thing to remember is that you will continue to mix it a little as you scoop it out and into the paper cases, so you definitely want to under-mix at first.

I scooped out an even amount into 24 paper cases – mostly blue ones, but with a few yellow after I ran out – and smoothed off the surfaces with the back of a teaspoon. Even with three eggs and half a cup of milk, the wheat free batter was thick and didn’t settle into the cases like normal cake mix would. I baked the cupcakes at 180C for seven minutes, before rotating the sheets and baking for a further five. I think it’s even more important not to over cook wheat free baking, as it already has a leaning towards being dry, so I kept a close eye on them. The cakes were just golden brown on top and very springy to touch. I let them cool completely before icing them.

While the cakes were cooling, I made (attempted to make) royal icing flowers… These amounts make a whole sheet full of the things, only 33 of which got used. It was better to have too many though as it let me experiment with forming them and then choose the most perfect ones from the bunch, rather than having to get every one right first time. I tried putting little blue dragees in the middle of some to make them more flowery but I preferred the smurf hats in the end.

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp glycerine
  • 175g icing sugar
  • one capful blue food dye

Firstly, before I made the icing, I greased a sheet of baking paper with coconut oil. Any oil or butter would do but coconut oil is my favourite, because it’s so mild and easy to work with. I sat the baking paper on an upside down baking sheet, to give a flat surface with no edges. Then, I combined the first three ingredients with a hand held mixer, and gradually added the sugar until it formed a stiff paste. I added the colouring and mixed well, then it was ready to pipe. I poured it (very awkwardly, I should add) into a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle, then went to it. I tried different methods of piping and found that the best thing was to keep the tip of the nozzle quite far away from the paper, to preserve the swirl shape, and use a gentle turning motion to get the right look. If I put the nozzle too close if would flatten the shape out totally, and if I turned too quickly the shape was stretched.

I would encourage anyone trying to make royal icing shapes to be sure that the royal icing is very stiff and almost dry, this will make the process a lot easier. In my case the icing was a little too soft and took ages to set. The humid weather played a part this, too – in the end I had to scrape the icing shapes of the paper with a thin knife and try to place them on the cakes without breaking them, which was another reason I was glad to have so many to choose from.

When the cakes were cool, I made the lavender icing. It was basically a simple white icing, made by mixing icing sugar with boiling water a tiny bit at a time, until the icing was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. The only difference was that I swapped some of the icing sugar for lavender infused icing sugar, processed so that the lavender flowers were broken into tiny specks. I used 40g of lavender icing sugar, 160g of normal icing sugar and one tablespoon of boiling water.

I think you’ll agree that the cakes are pretty once all the elements are put together. As ever, I don’t consider them perfect, but I was pleased with them, and pleased with the moistness of the cakes and the balance between the blueberry and lavender – neither was too strong, which is always a worry where lavender is concerned. Here are a final few pictures for your contemplation. Once again I’m sorry for the varying quality – baking in the evening does have its drawbacks, mainly the lack of light for good photos!

The Daring Bakers Challenge August 2011

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The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

My first challenge as a Daring Baker! This month’s challenge was enough within my comfort zone that it didn’t spook me, but it also introduced me to new challenges and techniques. Since this is pretty much the whole point of joining, I think we can call it a success. It was so great to feel inspired and really excited about being in the kitchen again, I think the Daring Bakers is just what I needed.

The challenge was as follows:

• You must make TWO candies
• The first candy must be ONE of the following CHOCOLATE candies:

a. A truffle, dipped or not dipped in chocolate OR
b. A cut (square) dipped chocolate/bonbon OR
c. A filled chocolate/bonbon using a chocolate mold

• The other candy can be any CHOCOLATE OR NON-CHOCOLATE candy you like

We were given a plethora of recipes to try but given a very free rein when it came to choosing flavours and styles, as long as it fell within the rules above. I ended up making three successful sweets – two chocolate and one non-chocolate – and one failed attempt, which was still salvageable and was blogged under a new name as if it worked as I meant it to all along. Mwa ha ha ha. Oh alright, it was the pear, ginger and basil jam. All in all a great first round, and I’m already looking forward to the next challenge.

We’ll start with the chocolates. Interestingly enough, for the G man’s birthday I made him a small batch of filled chocolates, but then I didn’t post about them so that nobody would think I was giving away the Daring Bakers challenge ahead of time (the challenge takers all blog their experiences and results on the 27th of each month). I’ll write a second post about them, to follow this one, or we’ll be here all day (and some of tomorrow). We may be here all day anyway, with the number of things I made for this challenge…

First up, dark chocolates filled with Amaretto ganache. Yum. I love the richness of this ganache, and how easy it is to make. Ganache is my current favourite thing to make; for such little effort, you get great rewards, and people think you’re very fancy and accomplished in the kitchen when, in truth, you might just be good at stirring…

For those of you not sure about what it is or how to make it, I’ve explained about ganache in my jaunty flower cakes post. On this occasion I used dark chocolate, double cream and flavoured it with a teaspoon or two of Amaretto. Very easy. Getting the chocolate into the moulds is also pretty easy, but messy in the extreme. By the last batch of chocolates I was feeling a bit more confident and a bit less messy about it, but I could certainly use more practise (as with everything). The hardest part of this challenge, for me, was tempering the chocolate. There was mess. There was cleaning. There was more mess. There was sweat, and nearly tears. I bought myself an instant-read thermometer to help me with this challenge and with future baking experiments involving superheated sugar products (like table, which a kind fellow Daring Baker has given me her great granny’s recipe for). Having never used a thermometer before I wasn’t really sure the best way to go about it, and I had dreadful trouble in getting it to give me a consistent reading. The one I bought doesn’t clip to the side of the bowl, or pot, and so trying to keep it steady while simultaneously stirring the chocolate was a nightmare. Every time I moved it, even just a little, the temperature reading dropped and seemed to take ages to come back up again. I think this is mainly what ruined my tempering endeavour. You could say it put me OUT OF TEMPER. Ahaha.

I tried the seeding method, which Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives lays out so neatly here:

• Finely chop chocolate if in bar/slab form (about the size of almonds).
• Place about ⅔ of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl
• Set aside ⅓ of the chocolate pieces
• Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water)
Tip: Make sure that your bowl fits snuggly into the saucepan so that there’s no chance of steam forming droplets that may fall into your chocolate. If water gets into your chocolate it will seize!
• Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the chocolate so that it melts evenly
• Once it’s melted, keep an eye on the thermometer, as soon as it reaches 45°C / 113°F remove from heat (between 45°C-50°C / 113°F-122°F for dark chocolate)
• Add small amounts of the remaining ⅓ un-melted chocolate (seeds) and stir in to melt
• Continue to add small additions of chocolate until you’ve brought the chocolate down to 27°C/80.6°F (You can bring the dark chocolate down to between 80°F and 82°F)
• Put it back on the double boiler and bring the temperature back up until it reaches its working temperature of the chocolate (milk, dark or white) as seen in the above chart. (32°C/89.6°F for dark, 30°C/86°F for milk and 29°C/84.2°F for white)
• If you still have a few un-melted bits of chocolate, put the bowl back over the simmering water, stirring gently and watching the thermometer constantly.
IMPORTANT: You really need to keep an eye on the temperature so that it doesn’t go over its working temperature

It’s now tempered and ready to use.

How those few lines belie the long, long time I spent at my stove top, on a humid August evening, trying to get chocolate to heat/cool/maintain its temperature. Such a very long time. You know you’ve been there a long time when the splashes (oh so many splashes) of chocolate that you get on your hands, utensils and work surfaces go unlicked, because you’re so sick of chocolate… Check out the steps along the way to making these chocs, some of which I’ll explain a bit more clearly later on.

I’ll try tempering chocolate again, but the key change that I’ll make is buying really high quality chocolate. I must admit to using bog standard supermarket chocolate that didn’t lend itself to the fine art of chocolate tempering. I’ll also make a bigger batch, because as with most things, making a small batch is much harder; I think that having more depth of chocolate for the thermometer to be submerged in would definitely help. Plus if you don’t use it, you just need to let it cool down and then you can use it the next time you have a chocolate recipe, either re-tempered or just as it comes, depending what you’re making.

One good side effect of using lesser quality chocolate was that when my chocolates were set, they had the coolest bloom patterns on them. I have no idea why this happened, or how, or how I would replicate it if I wanted to. If there are any chocolate experts out there I’d love to hear your theories! For now we can just look at them and marvel at their swirly loveliness.

The second batch of chocolates were white chocolate coffee creams. I started by dusting the inside of the moulds with bronze food glitter, to make them kind of fancy. I didn’t temper the chocolate (at that point the thought of tempering chocolate was making a muscle just under my eye twitch) and just melted it and poured it over the mould, filling all the little heart shapes. I then turned the mould upside down over the bowl I’d melted the chocolate in and let most of it run back out again. Using a silicone mould meant I could give each heart a little squeeze to get rid of more chocolate and leave a thinner shell, and more room for the filling. Once the hearts were all drained adequately I took a plastic scraper across the top to clean the mould. I set this aside while I made the fondant filling. I was freestyling this, and it turned out pretty well. I know coffee creams aren’t a popular choice but I love them, despite not liking coffee at all. It’s fine as a flavour, but a cup of it makes my mouth feel furry on the inside.

Coffee cream fondant:

  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules
  • 2 tsp boiling water
  • 5 – 6 tbsp icing sugar
  • 2 squares dark chocolate, melted

In a small bowl, whisk the coffee and water until dissolved. Add the icing sugar 1 tbsp at a time, then mix through the chocolate. Done! I wanted to keep it quite swirly but it didn’t stay that way inside the chocolates, sadly. Still, it looks cool in the ‘before’ photos. The G man, a seasoned coffee drinker, thought that the flavour of these was subtle, while I thought it was unmistakable. I suppose maybe it was somewhere in between? We finished the whole batch too quickly to bring in an independent adjudicator though.

Finally (you’ll be glad to hear) is my lemon, cucumber and basil pate du fruit. Now, I did say that this had worked – but that it only true for a given value of ‘worked’. The jellies set OK, but were a little sticky. I thought that leaving it overnight might help. In fact, leaving it overnight left a layer of syrup in the bottom of the tub that I had to drain off again. I suspect I either added too much pectin, or overcooked the pate du fruit. I was roughly following a recipe; actually I was roughly following two different recipes, which may have added to the problem. Here’s how to make pate du fruit that leaks overnight, if you want to make such a thing…

Ingredients:

  • one large lemon
  • 2 inch block of cucumber
  • 10 basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups jam sugar (sugar with added pectin)
  • granulated sugar to coat
  1. First, slice the top and bottom from the whole lemon, then boil for five minutes.
  2. While you’re doing this, peel the cucumber and reserve about half of the peel to stir through the finished pate du fruit. Chop the flesh into large chunks.
  3. When the lemon’s finished boiling, quarter it and put in a blender along with the cucumber and the basil. Process until completely smooth.
  4. Pour the mixture into a pot and add the lemon juice and sugar. Stir well and bring to a boil.
  5. Boil until the mix is very thick – this won’t take long. Stir frequently to avoid sticking.
  6. While the pate du fruit is boiling, thinly slice the cucumber peel that you reserved. Also grease a 7″ square baking tin with basil oil (or a flavourless oil if you prefer)
  7. When the mix looks ready (I know, this is extremely vague…), stir through the cucumber peel and pour into the tin. Allow to sit for several hours until cool and firm.
  8. Cut the pate du fruit into squares, put the granulated sugar into a small bowl and coat the squares.

Hooray! I would point you in the direction of this recipe for blood orange pate du fruit for a clearer set of instructions, or if you search you’ll find dozens of different recipes that you can try out.

Phew, that was a heck of a post! I feel like there is so much detail that I missed out, but there’s only so long I can make a post without the risk of people getting half way and losing the will to read, if not live. Suffice to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first Daring Bakers challenge, and you can expect a monthly post on the latest Daring Shenanigans.


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