Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween Biscuits

The Scream

Happy Halloween! Here in the back of beyond we have an annual pumpkin carving competition on Halloween. So instead of trick or treating the children and some adults carve a pumpkin and leave it lit outside their houses and each year a different secret judge goes around judging the pumpkins and awards prizes. It is lovely to walk round  the village after dark seeing all the wonderful pumpkins.

For the last two years my husband has won the prize in the "I'm not telling you my age" category and felt under pressure to live up to his previous form. This year he created two amazing pumpkins but was pipped at the post by our next door neighbour with an impressive haunted house scene carved into a pumpkin. We did still manage to have a winning pumpkin in the household as my son came joint first with his 'brainless bully' pumpkin.

My creativity is kept firmly in the kitchen. I created a batch of Halloween biscuits for all the children visiting the pumpkins. My son enjoyed decorating the biscuits and eating them with all his friends.

Basic Butter Biscuits                   
  • 250g butter , softened
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 300g plain flour

  • Pre heat the oven to 180c

    Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, then add the egg yolk and vanilla and briefly beat to combine. Sift over the flour and stir until the mixture is well combined - you might need to get your hands in at the end to give everything a really good mix and press the dough together.

    Roll out your dough on a floured board and cut into shapes of your choice. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 8-10 minutes until biscuits are light golden in colour. Decorate however you fancy!
    The brainless bully!

    Saturday, 29 October 2011

    Gluten free isn't always easy!

    This weekend saw another trip to the city, this time so my son could go to his first Championship football match, courtesy of a football supporting friend of ours. My darling girlfriend Gem had offered us a bed for the night so I figured the least I could do was whip up a gluten free treat to take along.

    I remembered that Gem had mentioned having a go at Viennese whirls. We had had a lovely reminiscing session discussing our respective childhood trips to the bakers for Viennese whirls with butter cream filling and chocolate coverings.

    As the normal recipe tasted a bit like the shortbread I make (and that transfers to a gluten free recipe with no fuss), the only change is gluten free flour for  plain flour, I thought this would be similar. Big mistake! Biscuits need gluten to make them less crumbly and more manageable. The mixture looked and felt the same as the normal Viennese mixture so I initially piped it in the same way as I had piped my normal mixture. Thankfully I had only put half  the biscuits into the oven due to baking tray and oven space limitations because when they came out of the oven and I attempted to handle them they crumbled like dry sandcastles.  I was pretty stressed out by the time I had tried and failed to transfer the biscuits to the cooling racks and a few choice words were uttered!!

    The second batch I piped significantly thicker and piped some into cupcake cases to help hold them together through the cooking and cooling. These were more manageable and allowed me to move them and sandwich them together with the butter cream. But they were still significantly more fragile than the normal variety.

     The transportation of the biscuits 140miles to Gem's place was pretty fraught and I finally started breathing again once the biscuits were handed over and had survived the journey in one piece.

    I have listed Xantham gum into the recipe and that will make them easier to manage.

    Viennese Whirls
    250g Unsalted butter
    55g Icing sugar
    225g Doves plain flour blend
    2 tsp Xantham gum
    75g corn flour

    Butter cream
    75g unsalted butter
    150g Icing sugar
    1tsp Vanilla extract

    25g plain or milk chocolate

    Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

    Place all the ingredients into a food processor with the metal blade . If you don't have a food processor then a mixing bowl with an electric mixer.

    Mix the ingredients to a paste and then stop. You don’t want to add too much air.

    For the classic look of the biscuit place the paste into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe the mixture out onto non-stick baking parchment .

    Pipe the biscuits on the tray they will be baked on and make sure they are spaced sufficiently apart because they do expand.

    Bake the biscuits at 170°c for 15 minutes until lightly golden brown, then place them onto a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

    Beat together buttercream ingredients until a soft light buttercream is achieved. Pipe the buttercream onto one of the biscuits and sandwich another biscuit on top.

    Melt the chocolate and drizzle across the biscuits. Leave to set.

    Wednesday, 26 October 2011

    Scratch and sniff Christmas cakes

    Let me start today by declaring that I LOVE CHRISTMAS. I am not ashamed to admit this fact. Everything about Christmas gets me excited. The decorations, the presents, the whole father Christmas thing, getting the family together. I love it all. I also love fruit cake and anything made with dried fruit, really, so Christmas baking is my absolute favourite thing.

    Today is Christmas cake baking day. I always make my cakes in the last week of October. Why? Because Delia Smith says so. I am a huge fan of Delia Smith's Christmas cookery book and have had my copy for 15 years and use it every year for her Christmas cake recipe and her Christmas pudding recipe. I cannot imagine Christmas without Delia. She is a hero of mine along with Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver. This, I suppose, brings me to my second declaration. I am a messy cook! Anyone who has had to clear up behind me will know that my mantra in the kitchen is why use one dish when you can use 10!  I must add a little aside here; If it wasn't for my dishwasher and my fabulous husband I probably wouldn't bake quite as much for although I am a messy cook, I hate clearing up afterwards! My husband and I have an agreement. I cook, he cleans up after me. My friend calls him Dobby the house Elf . I prefer "my kitchen Richard, every house should have one!" Anyway moving on, because I am a messy cook and my favourite cookbooks are used with extreme regularity, some of my cookery books have taken on a 'scratch and sniff' quality. Delia's Christmas book being one of them. When I pick up the book it naturally falls open at the Christmas cake page and as I look at the page there are bits of dried cake mix and grease stains adorning the recipe, memories of Christmas's past come flooding back to me. Happy years and sad years but every year for the last 15 have included this cake making ritual.

    I generally make 3 or 4 Christmas cakes each year. One for our house,  the rest are gifts for my sister and her family,  for my friend who is a Christmas cake fan and  for Gem my gluten free friend. Once fed, marzipaned and iced, my husband makes festive presentation boxes for the cakes. The picture today is of the fresh out of the oven cakes. It will be a while before I can photograph the finished boxed cakes.

    Rather than copy Delia's recipe out. below is the link to her recipe on the Delia online website. I make my cakes exactly as she says, my only tweak is I omit the almonds and replace with more dried fruit.  I am not a fan of nuts in fruit cake. For Gem's gluten free version I use 2 tsp of Xantham gum and Doves gluten free self raising flour blend. I also have my own way of feeding the cakes. I feed them weekly with brandy via a syringe and needle. Usually 5ml a week injected into the cake in different spots each week. This method means the brandy gets to all parts of the cake and makes a really well brandied and moist cake.

    Baking bonanza in the back of beyond!

    Last weekend my dear friend Gem and her family came to stay in the back of beyond. They are city folk and so really enjoyed the change of scenery. We were lucky with the weather and had a lovely weekend going for long walks in the beautiful Autumnal countryside.

    Before their arrival I took the afternoon off work to bake for our guests. As you may remember, Gem is coeliac and has a lactose intolerance, so I have to get creative to produce tasty gluten and lacto free fare for her. To be fair I enjoy the challenge and this time I decided to raise my gluten free game and make the gluten free cooks nemesis - pastry. Pastry needs gluten to make it malleable and to give it a nice crisp texture when it is cooked, so without gluten it can be crumbly and tough.

    I decided to follow the recipe on the back of the Doves Farm gluten free flour mix. My theory being it must work if the producers of the flour mix say it does!! Before I started I did a little Google search looking for the best gluten free pastry recipes. Initially I found lots of gluten free quiche recipes, which were gluten free because they omitted the pastry altogether! This confirmed my thought that only the brave of heart actually home make gluten free pastry. Eventually, after much trawling, I unearthed  some good tips for making gluten free pastry which I incorporated into the Doves recipe.  I also used my trusty Kenwood food processor because all pastry comes out better the less it is handled. Amazingly it was easy to make and came out well for a first attempt. I decided to use the pastry for individual quiches and chocolate pecan pies. I figured I needed to get the most out of this first attempt at gluten free pastry.

    Working the pastry into deeply fluted individual tartlet tins was very fiddly and the end result was a little messy because I was nervous about how much the pastry might shrink (and I had left the pastry thicker than I would have done for normal pastry because of it fragility). After baking it blind I was nervous about trimming the cases too much in case of cracking. With hindsight I had little to fear. The pastry turned out to be crisp but not too heavy or tough. It had a slight biscuity quality and lent itself better to the sweet filling than the savory. Gem suggested a little salt might be added to counteract this when using this pastry for a savory filling.

    Once I had made the quiches in normal and gluten free varieties, I mentioned to my husband that I would be making chocolate pecan pies as well. He then informed me that he doesn't like pecans! So in the spirit of catering for all I ended up making him a pecan-less chocolate pecan pie. This is the pie in the picture because all the other pies got eaten before I got chance to photograph them.

    Gluten free pastry

    200g Plain white flour blend (Doves or other gluten free flour )
    75g butter straight from the fridge.
    25g Trex vegetable fat (you can use lard, but I prefer Trex)
    1 egg yolk
    3 tbsp cold water

    Place the flour, butter and Trex in the food processor. Process until a bread crumb mix is achieved (usually within 30 seconds of turning food processor on).
    Add the egg yolk and water and process until a ball of pastry is formed.
    Turn out the pastry and quicky form into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30minutes.
    Once chilled, place the pastry between two large sheets of cling film and roll out to desired size and shape. (Rolling it out between sheets of cling film means no extra flour is introduced into the pastry which can make the mixture dry and tough)
    Use this pastry as directed in your recipe.

    Chocolate Pecan Pies

    Makes 6 individual tarts in 10cm flan tins with removable bases or 1 large tart using a 20cm flan tin with removable base.
    Preheat the oven to 180c gas mark 4

    For the filling
    200g golden syrup
    3tbsp soft light brown sugar
    150g plain chocolate broken into squares
    50g butter
    3 eggs beaten
    1tsp vanilla extract
    175g pecan nuts

    For the pastry
    200g Plain flour
    25g caster sugar
    50g butter chilled
    50g Trex
    enough cold water to make the pastry come together, usually around 3 tbsps.

    First make the pastry. Put the flour, caster sugar, butter and trex into the food processor, process until bread crumb texture is achieved.
    Add in the water and process until a ball of pastry is formed. Turn out and wrap in cling film and chill for 30 mins.
    After chilling roll out the pastry on a floured board to the size of your tin (or tins).  Grease your tin(s) with a little melted butter then line with your pastry. Sprinkle the pecans into the bottom of the pastry case. Place tin onto a baking sheet and leave to one side whilst you make the filling.

    In a small saucepan mix together the golden syrup, the brown sugar, chocolate and butter. Heat this mixture gently until it is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the pastry case.

    Bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until completely set. If making small individual tarts bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool before serving. The tart may sink a little in the middle but this is normal.

    Tuesday, 18 October 2011

    A celebration of Apples

    Here in the back of beyond  apples are big business. Apples are grown just about everywhere you look, from huge orchards for cider production to the tree in the back garden. A few years ago one of the big cider producers produced it's cider in the local town, so from early September through to late october the town air would smell of gently fermenting apples, a really lovely sweet appley smell which I looked forward to every Autumn. Unfortunately they have moved production to another local town which is further afield and not somewhere I go often. I miss that smell, even though it made me feel perpetually hungry!

    Last weekend the local village had a 'celebrating apples' event which invited all those living locally to come and enjoy all sorts of apple related products and activities. There was an apple pressing stall where one could take their own apples and get them pressed. The resulting juice was so fresh and delicious, all shop bought apple juices were placed firmly in the shade. There were games to join in with: apple bobbing, apple and spoon races, archery and a wet sponge throwing competition with the local plumber given the task of standing in the stocks and getting a thorough soaking! The event also had a few competitions for junior bakers, artists and writers. My son earned himself a highly commended for his apple inspired collage and a first in the baking competition. He had to produce flapjacks to a particular recipe which I have to say I was dubious about, mainly because it contained ground almonds which I am not a big fan of ,so below is my version of the apple flapjacks.  This recipe makes a large 23cm square tin of flapjacks but can be halved for a smaller tin. These are a gooey rather than crunchy flapjack (which is my favourite kind) and has taken a lot of trial and error to get right!!   The picture on this blog  is of my son's prize winning entry!

    Apple Flapjacks

    Pre heat the oven to 180c

    12oz butter
    6oz  golden caster sugar
    10oz golden syrup
    2oz black treacle
    1lb 2oz porridge oats
    3 eating apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped.

    Place butter, sugar, syrup and treacle in heavy bottomed pan, bring slowly to boil until sugar has dissolved.

    Stir in the finely chopped apple and stir for a further 1 minute.

    Remove from heat and carefully stir in the oats.

    Pour into a shallow, oven proof, greased or lined tray* and bake in oven  for 15-20 mins.

     Allow to cool slightly before portioning. Leave to become cold in the tin.

    * I have been converted to the silicon baking tins for this recipe. The mixture doesn't stick and the tin does not need greasing or linning. Brilliant invention!

    Thursday, 6 October 2011

    New mum's need cake

    As you might have noticed, there is a definite theme running through my blog: Any occasion can be manipulated to involve cake!
    Last weekend we went to visit a close friend and the latest addition to her family, a gorgeous baby boy named Elliott. Like most new mum's she is exhausted by the demands of the new baby (and his big sister Jess), so our visit required some seriously sinful cake. It  just had to be chocolate fudge cake with some thick double cream.
    This recipe came off the back of a tin of ready made Carnation caramel. It is so easy to make and uber scrummy. I like to pop a slice of it in the microwave for 20 seconds which makes the fudgy topping run and the cake warm. This, with a dollop of double cream, is heaven on a plate!

    Easy peasy Chocolate Fudge cake

    175g (6oz) self-raising flour
    2½ tbsp cocoa powder
    1tsp bicarbonate of soda
    150g (5oz) caster sugar
    2 eggs
    150ml (¼pt) corn oil
    150ml (¼pt) milk
    2tsp vanilla extract
    125g (5oz) dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
    397g can Carnation caramel
    1tbsp icing sugar

    Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F / gas mark 4.

    Line the bases of 2 x18cm (7”) sandwich tins with baking parchment.

    Sift the flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and stir in the sugar.

    In a jug measure the oil and milk, then add the eggs, one teaspoon of vanilla and mix together with a fork until combined. Beat two tablespoons of the caramel until smooth and whisk into the egg and oil mixture.

    Combine the wet with the dry ingredients and mix well.

    The cake mix will be quite wet. Pour the mixture into the tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until springy to the touch.

    Cool the cakes in their tins and then turn out onto a wire rack. Remove the baking paper and cool completely.

    Melt the chocolate in short bursts in the microwave, stirring until smooth. Add the remaining caramel and vanilla to the chocolate and beat well until smooth and glossy.

    Sift in the icing sugar and combine thoroughly.

    Place one half of the cake onto a plate, spread with a generous amount of the frosting and top with the other sandwich half. Spread the remaining frosting over the top of the cake and down the sides to cover completely. Leave to set.