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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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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!

 

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.


Peach Knobblers

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These were not my finest looking cakes, I’ll be the first to admit. Hence the name – they really suit it. Let’s get a picture in straight up, and you can see what I mean.

Now, the theory behind these was nice, and in fact the *taste* of them was nice, too, it’s just unfortunate that they looked so dreadful. I was trying to recreate the joy of a peach cobbler in the form of a cupcake, for my dad’s birthday picnic. I thought I’d do a spiced brown sugar sponge, top it with peach slices then add some of the cornmeal drop biscuit topping and bake the whole lot. I considered baking the sponge first, then adding the peaches and topping once it was partly cooked, but I didn’t want to dry out the sponge with excessive baking time. I really should have taken that risk, because what came out of the oven looked like a monster; like a troll cake who’d eaten an innocent peach cake for walking over its bridge, but you could still see the peach cake crying out for help. The other thing I should have done was omitted a raising agent from the sponge mix, and that might have stopped the cake from rising up (and around and out and over) so much. Still, if you don’t try, you don’t learn, right?

The recipe for the spiced brown sugar sponge, which was really good, despite its appearances, is as follows:

Makes 8

  • 4oz brown sugar, sieved or at least crumbled to get rid of most of the lumps
  • 4oz margarine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 4oz flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • pinch salt

Using a hand or stand mixer, combine the sugar and margarine. Next, add the egg and then the milk. Mix all the remaining ingredients together, then add to the bowl and fold with a spatula until just mixed. Distribute the mix between eight cupcake cases. Bake at 180C for about fifteen minutes.

That’s kind of the fairytale version of the recipe. I thought ‘bake until troll-like’ didn’t have the same ring to it.

If you want to make peach knobblers…

  • 400g tin peach slices in syrup, drained
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 tbsp and 2 tsp fine ground cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Make the drop-biscuit topping first, by combining the dry ingredients and butter with your fingertips, to form a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the milk, followed by the lemon juice. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk, 1 tsp at a time. If it is too wet, add more cornmeal, 1 tsp at a time, and make sure it is fully mixed through before adding more.

 

Follow the recipe for spiced brown sugar cakes as above (you could omit the raising agent to try and improve the appearance), but instead of using the cupcake cases, use muffin cases, and half fill each with the sponge mixture. Top with two or three peach slices, then a teaspoon of the drop biscuit cobbler mixture. Bake at 200C for 10 – 15 minutes, until troll-like.

A Cake Made of Cheese and a Cake Made of Salt

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(This post is out of synch with the rest of the Year of the Cake posts – it was number eight)

Slight exaggeration in the title there, sorry about that. Today’s YotC post covers three lots of cakes, two recipes from around the internet and one heap of freestyling on my part. No partridges, nor pear trees. Although, could you smoke partridge breast over pear wood? Would that be delicious? Maybe I will find out when I am grown up and live in the beautiful country house that is somehow still near enough the city to nip out for a bag of light brown sugar at 10pm that my imagination dreams up for me. The kitchen is huge, with an oven big enough to put two pizzas side by side (that’s the standard oven measuring unit, you know) and maybe an aga, too. Yes, both. Six hobs on the oven. And a freestanding island in the middle with a double sink for prep. There will also be a  smoker for doing my partridge and various other meats, fish and seasonings in – this might be out in the spacious garden, which will have a giant lawn for lounging on in the summer (the house seems to be in a country that gets more than a week of summer) and a paved area for holding barbeques and elegant cocktail parties.

I could go on, but I will not, lest I bring us all to tears with the beauty of the vision.

The cake made of cheese is actually torta con ricotta, and the recipe is here. This was the cake for my lady wife’s birthday celebrations last week. She is half Italian and pointed me in the direction of this site a few weeks ago, saying that it had loads of authentic recipes, and even some regional ones that her dad makes and remembers from when he was young and living in the old country. I don’t think her dad calls it ‘the old country’ but that just seemed like the best way to finish that sentence. I duly had a look, and got very excited about the double prospect of making some authentic Italian dishes and improving my Italian while I was about it. I did have to use an online translator for some words and phrases, but resisted the option of translating the whole page – that felt like cheating, and was less fun. I feel quite proud of myself for muddling through it, and the cake turned out well. We ate massive slices of it while it was still warm from the oven – it has a texture somewhere between cake and scone. I covered it in a lot of icing sugar, which led to much hilarity when someone made me laugh just as I was taking a bite – it was like there had been a sudden and extremely localised snowstorm over my lap. It was a pretty messy business, but I certainly thought it was worth it. I don’t know how well the cake keeps, but it was lovely and soft when it was fresh, and also quite a straightforward recipe. I had the raisins soaking in rum for about 36 hours, they plumped up a treat. So would I after 36 hours in rum, I dare say.

I like the idea of using cheese instead of butter, although it had never occurred to me to make a sweet sponge cake this way. I’ll be experimenting with this one to see if I can make it wheat free – as the texture of the cake is heavier than a normal sponge with wheat flour, I’m thinking it might come out just normal with wheat-free, instead of too light and crumbly. Worth a shot, anyway. I’ll also be experimenting with ricotta in place of butter in other recipes – you could probably make nice ricotta scones, either sweet or savoury. I like a nice cheese scone, and the logical next step is to make them double cheese scones, or triple cheese scones… I like recipes that have the word triple in them. I make a good line in triple chocolate brownies – they were somewhat of a signature dish at one time, but I haven’t made them in a long while. They have dark chocolate in the brownie mix, then milk and white chocolate chunks (not chips, chunks) and finally a coating of melted milk chocolate on top, in lieu of any icing. The melted chocolate top was a great discovery for me; as I believe I’ve mentioned before, icing has never really been my strong point. To cover the brownies, all you do is set squares of chocolate on top of the unsliced cake  just after it comes out of the oven, leave for a minute or so and then slide them around as they melt, to coat the whole surface. Easy, although it can be a bit hot on the fingertips.

This is a really rustic looking cake, which suits me down to the ground as I develop my presentation skills. This one is *supposed* to look lumpy and cracked on top, it’s fine. Of course, covering it in icing sugar helps to disguise some of this. The recipe calls for vanilla sugar, which I saw in a posh supermarket the other day and didn’t buy, and am now regretting not buying. As I seem not to be bankrupt this month, despite pay-day being only three days away, I think I’ll go on an internet baking-supplies-buying spree, and see what I can find to add to my cupboard of doom. The other cakes I want to share today are fancier, and I’m pleased with them even though they are not perfect – the photos are of the most perfect ones, predictably enough. The recipe for the two of them is the same to begin with, but one is sprinkled with salt flakes and iced, while the other simply has little chocolate stars placed (regrettably unevenly) on top while warm, to melt on. I’m trying to get a bit more creative with my photos, although whether or not I’ll ever have a talent for it remains to be seen.

Here are the bigger cupcakes, after baking but before icing. They are a dark chocolate cupcake, and are supposed to be sprinkled with fleur de sel. I didn’t have fleur de sel – one of the items for my shopping spree – and also didn’t have light brown sugar, but I wanted to bake something so I thought I’d give these a trial run and use sea salt flakes and ground demerara to replace the missing ingredients. Always good to experiment, I say. The sugar looked pretty weird when I’d ground it up, but seemed to work out ok – I think the proper thing would give a stickier and maybe sweeter result, and I could probably even just have used it unground, as I’m pretty sure it would have melted in while baking anyway. I also really liked the salt flakes on top of the dark chocolate cake, and from what research I’ve done on fleur de sel think that the real thing will be even better, with sweet undertones to the initial salty flavour. I made the cupcakes last night, thinking that I’d see some of the girls tonight, but as it happens we decided against it, so now I have ten cupcakes in my kitchen, plus a tin of other little cakes that I plan to take to work. It’s looking like another fattening weekend.

Here they are in their finished glory, with a white chocolate buttercream icing and pretty sprinkles. They are the nicest looking cakes I’ve ever made, I think, and they taste pretty good with it. For the buttercream, I set out with good intentions of measuring my ingredients but, alas, got caught up in various dramas of the kitchen and the good intentions were left by the wayside. At a guess I’d say I used 70g of butter and 200g of icing sugar, along with two squares of white chocolate. One of the kitchen dramas was that the white chocolate burned in the microwave as I was melting it – I’ve managed to burn white chocolate in the microwave a couple of times now. How can you burn something in a microwave? I really don’t know. I think white chocolate is a bit temperamental, especially less expensive stuff which is what I tend to use, if truth be told. What was salvageable of it was about two squares, which gave a very subtle flavour to the icing. I found that the mix was too sweet as I was making it, so I used some salt flakes in here, too, crushing a pinch of them in my fingers before blending it in with the butter, sugar and chocolate – I think it really brought out the chocolate flavour while deadening the sugary hit. The icing is still extremely sweet but didn’t make my brain fizzy, or make me feel like I’d come over all diabetic if I even looked at another one in the next 24 hours. Once I’d whisked the ingredients together until the flavour was right, I ladled the mix (literally, I used a ladle) into my new and exciting icing bag. I bought a new one for myself, and my thoughtful sister also bought me one so now I have a couple with different shapes and sizes of nozzles to try out. I used the one I’d bought myself tonight, and it feels like it’s designed for bigger projects than ten cupcakes. It’s a big icing bag, and the nozzle attachment eats up a lot of the icing, so that there is enough to ice at least one cupcake sort of stuck in there at the end. I also had an issue with there being a lump of unmelted chocolate in there that blocked the nozzle half way through, and left me with mangled icing which I scooped off and tried again; this inevitably left more mess than I would have liked on the cases and on the cakes themselves. However, all in all, it was pretty successful. I sprinkled the sugar shapes on top after I’d iced them all and I like the way that they nestled themselves into the folds of icing, and some even slid all the way down the icing like it was a giant chute for sprinkles. This was fun to watch, although it added nothing to the appearance of the cakes. It did leave my kitchen with a lot of sprinkles on it, which was fine as it was already half covered in buttercream anyway.

The second lot of cakes that I made using the same base recipe have a huge cuteness potential, if I had just baked them a little differently. All will be revealed. After making one batch of cupcakes last night, I had some of the mix left over. I didn’t want to waste it, but I also didn’t want to bake any more so I popped it in the fridge to keep fresh. I had no qualms about this even though it contains raw eggs, as I was reading up on macarons yesterday and read that for perfect ones you should use egg whites that have been out at room temperature for up to 48 hours, and they seem not to be poisonous. The cake mix had been really liquid yesterday, but after chilling it was much firmer. If I had left the mix out longer to come up to room temperature, or maybe heated it up in the microwave briefly, it would have been more liquid again and would have settled flatter in the cases. Also, I used a g grill pan to bake the mini cakes, so that they weren’t sitting evenly. I don’t have a flat baking tray, will add that to my lit of things to spend my money on, and subsequently have to find room for in my kitchen. Anyway, they came out a bit uneven, but here are the best looking ones:

These only took ten minutes to bake because they are so small, and as I said earlier I put the stars on them as soon as they came out, to melt on. If you’re going to do this, my advice is simple: don’t touch them once they’re on. If they don’t land in the right place, just get over it. Move on with your life. Eat the imperfect cake if you can’t bring yourself to serve it to someone else. If you try to move or, even worse, lift the star back off again you will cover yourself and the surface of the cake with melted white chocolate that *used* to be a star shape. Once they’re on the hot surface of the cake, these little guys are just barely hanging on to their surface shape. Put them on and leave them alone to cool. I put mine into a tin and am leaving them overnight, but even moving them to a tin wasn’t without its mishaps. I caught a couple of the stars with a fingertip and had to leave a couple of cakes with three stars instead of four. That’s almost as bad as food touching on the plate, having unevenly decorated cakes.

I am really pleased with the new idea of using salt flakes in baking. I like the idea of flavoured salt, too. My friend Miss P, who is an excellent baker, recently made white chocolate and lavender salt cookies which were outrageously good. I’m wondering about fashioning my own flavoured salt in a similar way to making my own flavoured oils and vinegars, which I’ve done with good results. It’s another one to mull over at the back of my head for now. These cakes were a couple of experiments in mixing a little bit of savoury in with sweet recipes, and I count them both as success stories. But nothing will change my mind on putting raisins in savoury food. That is plain wrong. If the devil is real, and he eats sandwiches, they’re coronation chicken.

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