Thursday, 28 February 2008

A photo essay: tonight I will be mostly...

(...putting the shopping away!)

Vital equipment*

I do believe I mentioned that there was something other than shoes that, in my opinion, a wannabe Domestic Goddess needs, and that is a fantastic apron. Although I have two, the one pictured is specifically my "Domestic Goddess Baking Day Apron" which I save for specially occasions and shall be donning again on Saturday (March 1st, Baking Day is here again!).

And what shall I be wearing with it? Why, my fabulous matching red shoes of course!

* It has occurred to me that while I initially referred to only two pieces of vital equipment I was in somewhat of a shoe induced haze! So I will be extending this list as and when things come to mind - one did whilst making the bread yesterday for example. So you can no doubt expect my musings on other vital equipment (not all as glamorous as red shoes and pretty aprons however) in the future.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Lazy bread

Oh we do get through a lot of bread in this flat don't we?!

As I somehow managed to cobble N's lunch together with the last scraps of the seeded loaf (salvaging one measly slice to make sure he had at least something for breakfast) I knew I was in trouble. In about three and a half hours I was going to be wanting lunch, and lunch would mean b
read, and oh look, there wasn't any.

Okay, I know that actually bread doesn't take that long to make, especially if I only made a plain loaf that required the least resting and proving. Thing is, I was feeling dopey and lazy this morning and, after the mutant loaf episode, thought that messing around with any dough might be a mistake - especially as I had been planning on making rosemary and sea salt focaccia rolls as my next bread experiment.

Fortunately the combinations of my trusty recipe scrap book and miraculously working memory prevailed. I would make nut and fruit soda bread! *insert 9am sigh of relief here*

Back in the days when we were actually venturing out of the flat on a weekend morning for the papers I had been a regular cutter-outer of the Guardian or Observer recipes if they took my fancy.

One week Dan Lepard had included a recipe for walnut and honey soda bread in his "learn how to bake" column. Knowing that Lepard is very highly regarded in the bread world (yes, his book is on my wish list!) and knowing our joint appreciation of both bread and honey I dutifully cut it out. Although it was a few weeks before I tried it, once I had it became a weekend breakfast regular. Deliciously moist, not too sweet (once I cut down the honey slightly), easily adaptable (hehe, you know me, I just can't resist!) and quick, so quick - it takes less than ten minutes to mix then you can just bung it in the oven immediately for 40 mins, and poof! bread!

I have since tried the recipe with all sorts of things in place of the walnuts, either wholly or in part. Our favourites have been walnut and apricot, and walnut and cranberry with a hint of spice.

Today, lacking walnuts completely I turned to our stockpile of winter unshelled nuts and dutifully shelled the hazelnuts. I still didn't have quite enough so I added dried cranberries to make up the weight. I also dramatically reduced the honey as I wanted a more lunchy loaf. The result was:

Very tasty indeed. It's more like a traditional soda bread when made without the walnut meal and with less honey as the baking powder really comes through, however it is also less dense and sticky, which was exactly what I'd hoped. I was really pleased, not only with the result, but with the fact that I remembered the ole favourite to dig out in times of need. Oh, how I shall never neglect you this long again.

I will still aim to make the focaccia rolls at some point, but for now the soda bread shall reign in the North London Kitchen.

I guess since I've raved about it so much you'll want the recipe. I am posting here the one I actually used, and will post the original (or something more like it - it's bound to have some additions and adaptations!) next time I make it.

Hazelnut and cranberry soda bread (adapted from Dan Lepard's walnut and honey soda bread recipe)

600g wholemeal flour
4tsp baking powder
50g hazelnuts (bashed a bit in the pestle and morter)
50g dried cranberries
50g honey (the clear runny sort)
300g water (plus I needed a bit more when I actually mixed the dough as it was rather dry)

Preheat oven to 200 C

In a large mixing bowl combine together all the dry ingredients. In another microwavable bowl (or in a pan on the stove) mix together the water and honey and warm slightly so they combine together. Then add the water/honey liquid to the dry ingredients and mix together well until it forms a slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and shape into a slightly domed ball. Place on a baking tray and whack in the oven for 40 mins. It should be crusty and risen once this time is up (I've never needed more or less time remarkably). Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. I ate mine for lunch while it was still every so slightly warm. Delicious!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

It's all gotten a little bit seedy here.

Yesterday was that time again, we'd run out of bread.

There is something so comforting about bread, and wholemeal in particular just screams homey goodness. (home-meal perhaps? hehe). Our store bought bread of choice was the wholemeal seeded batch and I figured that since we liked it so much from the shops, why not have a bash at adding seeds to the plain wholemeal loaves I'd been making. So I did. N arrived home last week with a nice selection of seeds from a local health food shop and yesterday morning I set to work adding them to the wholemeal mix.

It's worked out pretty well flavour-wise, but the dough didn't rise as much and it very dense, so I think using less seeds next time would probably be better, especially as it is totally packed with them. But still, let the experiments continue!

As you can tell from the dough resting picture it's been pretty sunny here lately. It's still not warm, but it's bright and Spring is definitely preparing itself to make an appearance. It's so wonderful to wake up to sun streaming in. Not long now til the veggies are growing, flowers showing and breakfast in the garden starts becoming something to contemplate. *sighs*

Anyway, enough of that smug contemplation for one post, on to the recipe!

Wholemeal seeded loaf.

10g yeast
300g wholemeal flour
200g strong white flour
10g salt
350g water
150g mixed seeds (this is what I used, but I think 100g is probably enough, use whatever seeds you fancy, I used linseed, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame)

Mix the yeast and flours together, then add the salt, mix again until combined then add the water and seeds. Mix until it forms a dough, then shape into a tight ball and leave to rest covered by a tea towel for 1 hour. Once rested remove onto a floured surface and form into a tight ball again and leave to rest for a further ten minutes. Then transfer into a proving basked (bowl with a well floured tea towel lining it more like) and prove for an hour. Meanwhile put the oven on to 250 C with a baking stone or flat baking tray inside. After the proving hour the dough should have risen to double it's size. Mine hadn't, but I baked it anyway! Place on the stone or tray in the centre of the oven and mist the oven with a water spray and then wet the bread slightly (to encourage a good crust) Bake for the first five minutes at 220 C then turn the oven down and bake for a further 35mins on 200 C. It should be slightly crusty and sound hollow when tapped. Leave to cool on a wire rack.


Sunday, 24 February 2008

My new cupcake obsession

We woke up this morning to bright February sunshine and finally the need to turn the heating down slightly. I was even able to open the blinds and let the kitchen flood with natural light. Ah, what a perfect beginning to a Sunday.

Since the temperature is rising slightly and another month draws to a close we knew it was time to get properly started on the garden. However, before we got going with all that I had even more important things in mind: cupcakes!

I have become slightly obsessed with the idea of cupcakes recently. I just love the pretty decorations and
outrageous icing colours you can lavish on them. They are also so versatile, there are so many different flavours or combinations of flavours to choose from I don't think you'd ever get bored. So last week I splashed out and ordered some posh paper cupcake cups and a range of exciting sprinkles (I also bought cookie cutters which will no doubt make an appearance sooner or later!). The package of baking goodness arrived yesterday. I tried to hold out until Baking Day - which is next week, so not exactly ages away - but I just couldn't resist.

So this morning whilst listening to Desert Island Disks on Radio Four I began my cupcake experiment:

I had a vanilla cupcake recipe and decided to adapt it to make it chocolate in order to top them with coffee icing and little bear sprinkles. I also thought that to indulge my decorating needs even further I would make some bright red vanilla icing and add some chocolate star sprinkles, thus continuing the red theme I have adopted.

I think the results came out rather well, and they were just the thing with a cup of tea after a hard afternoon's work clearing the garden.

Mocha Cupcakes: (this mix makes 12, but I halved it - there's only so many two people can eat and we're trying to be good!)

For the chocolate cupcake batter:

125g self-raising flour
125g caster sugar
125g soft unsalted butter
2 eggs
1⁄2 teaspoon real vanilla extract
six squares of very dark chocolate (melted)
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons milk, approximately

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/ and line a 12-muffin pan with paper cases. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs one at a time with a little of the flour. Then add the melted chocolate, vanilla extract, cocoa powder and fold in the rest of the flour, adding the milk to get a dropping consistency. It will look as if the mixture is not enough to make 12 cupcakes, but it is as they will rise well so you only need to fill each cup by two-thirds full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cupcakes are cooked and golden on top (it took me 20 mins for six as the chocolate make the mixture stickier). As soon as bearable, take the cupcakes in their cases out of the tin and let cool, right way up, on a wire rack. Decorate the cupcakes after they’re completely cool.

Mocha Icing:

50g butter (softened)
100g Icing sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Camp coffee (or to taste)

Cream together the butter and sugar until stiff and smooth, add the vanilla and mix, then add as much of the coffee as you require for taste.

I also made the plain vanilla icing. This time replacing the coffee with 1/2 tsp of red food colouring.

Ah cupcakes, so many possibilities, so little time!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

This week's new recipe choice goes to...

..."Leeky Welsh Rarebit" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

I've been a fan of HF-W for a little while, mostly because of his rational approach to seasonal sensible food. I like the fact that he supports the growing of your own fruit and veg if you can, battles for free-range, organic whenever possible, fair food and good treatment of animals. I could ramble on about all these things for ages, but now is not the time, as I am here to talk about the above goodness that was today's lunch and this weeks new food resolution adventure.*

I was lucky enough to get "The River Cottage Year" for Christmas from N's parents and have thoroughly enjoyed not only the recipes but the writing. The best thing about it though it that it's organised according to months and what is in season. This is particularly perfect for us as our weekly Abel and Cole delivery is also seasonal and so H F-W has helped a lot in knowing what on earth to make with the weird and wonderful veggies that have turned up on the doorstep.

However, having tried all the January vegetable recipe suggestions, I seem to have left H F-W behind this past month. I've also been sidetracked by the Delia Smith "Vegetarian" book N and I picked up on our bonanza book buying weekend. So on Thursday lunch time whilst taking a break from work I decided to return to "The River Cottage Year" and see what delights he suggests for February in case I'd missed anything the month had to offer. Turns out I had. Leeky Welsh Rarebit.

The picture alone was enough to set taste buds going, and the discovery that it included beer made it a total must. So, having made a nice big white loaf for toast, during half-time I frantically threw together butter, flour, beer, cheese and leeks and presented, just in time for the second half, my first ever attempt at rarebit.

It was really nice, and just what a grey late-February lunchtime needed. My only changes next time would be to add some more mustard to the mix and to use mature cheddar (which the recipe suggests, but that we didn't have). We eat it with lashings of Daddies sauce and N dutifully finished off the left over beer; what a trooper.

And so now, all set up for the afternoon we're off to the garden centre for more pots so we can finally get out greenhouse experiments started. Thanks Hugh for inspiration all round today!

*Actually, there was another new food resolution adventure earlier in the week, but it was very minor and less successful, oh and I conveniently forgot to take any photos! I made baked parsnip crisps to have as nachos on Wednesday. However, they didn't cook evenly and shrunk much more dramatically than I had expected. Some were really nice, some were still soggy and some were burnt to a crips. Oops! Another Minor Failure for the North London Kitchen and hence why it didn't make the blog.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Mutant Loaf from Outer Space!

Our delicious pecan and walnut bread about to run out (oh no!), I decided it was time to get on the bread case again. This time, it about to be the weekend, and having some lunch ideas in mind (post to follow no doubt), I decided to take a step away from out usual wholemeal preferences and make a simple fluffy white loaf. Or so I thought.

I think I was just a bit distracted by the prospect of the weekend beginning and our night out at the cinema and so wasn't paying enough attention to what I was doing. I somehow managed to forget the bit in the recipe about forming the dough into a tight ball and just left it all misshapen during it's proving time. The result?

The Mutant Loaf From Outer Space! ("da, da, da" - *scary Sci-fi music moment).

Not the nice smart rounded loaf I was hoping would fill our weekend, but then again one shouldn't discriminate against shape, and fortunately the bread still turned out lovely and fluffy just as I'd hope. Just not round!

Here is the proof that it all turned out in the end:

Too be honest, it was always going to be alright, it's bread isn't it?! Mmm...bread.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Vital equipment

A wannabe Domestic Goddess cannot live on bread alone...she needs shoes!

There are two pieces of equipment that I would argue are essential for a wannabe Domestic Goddess to do her job to the utmost potential: a good apron and a beautiful pair of shoes.

Okay, so the shoes are probably slightly less essential, some would argue not even essential at all, but having bought three pairs today I have decided that they are, because that's how I'm justifying the purchases, hehe.

The brighter red pair are flats and look very cute indeed poking out from beneath my black trousers. They also cunningly match my "Domestic Goddess" apron (a total indulgence that I save for wearing on Baking Days) even more reason to justify buying them.

Roll on March 1st, Baking Day and the perfect combination of shoes and apron!

I love posh coffee

I freely admit being a coffee snob, and feel totally justified in being one. There is nothing quite like a proper cup of good coffee, and it's ALWAYS worth any amount of effort (small or large) in order to get one.

Fortunately the landlord left us with a posh coffee machine. It doesn't actually get used that much as we tend to use the cafetiere, but every so often that stronger coffee is needed. This morning was one of those times and as always the wait for the machine to heat up was well worth it.

Now, coffee gulped, caffeine injected, I am ready to take on the world. Well, central London at least!

Pecan and cranberry goodness

Oh yes, more bread!

There can never be too much bread if you ask me, and bread experiments will probably take up rather a lot of space on this blog, mostly because since resolving to eat only homemade bread there has been rather a lot of baking going on. I'm still trying to work out the averages of how much bread we get through in a week, and thus how many loaves I am going to be making and how often, but to be honest I haven't actually been paying all that much attention, I just make more when the other stuff runs out - sometimes leaving it to prove whilst at a football match and frantically whacking it in the oven at eleven at night when the winning euphoria finally clears and the bread memory kicks in!

Annnnyway. Last night was another bread making one and as I finally had both cranberries and pecans in the cupboard I decided to have a proper crack at Richard Bertinet's pecan and cranberry bread (minus the orange zest, because of course there is inevitably always one ingredient lacking).

As you can see from the pictures this is a rather pretty bread, and tasty to match (at least that's what N assured me when he tucked into his toast this morning). It's a fortunate one because it works well as a breakfast choice (something the sundried tomato and walnut, although delicious, was less suited for) as well as a lunchbox one. This dual function is pretty vital as I like only having one loaf on the go at a time, and have to make sure N has something to eat before tacking his ride to work.

This bread works well because cranberries aren't too sweet, even when dried, and so they provide a great flavour to complement cheeses in sandwiches whilst being tasty enough on their own to make interesting toast. Add to that the slight crunch of the pecans and this bread is away. Although there is no orange in my loaf I think that this is actually better as two flavours in bread for a sandwich is enough to add flavour but not too much to detract from the filling.

Righty, that's enough bread praise for one day. If I don't stop now I'll be going on forever about the virtues of any and every bread! Plus this has just arrived:

Our weekly organic fruit and veg box from Abel and Cole, full of tasty fresh seasonal loveliness (and that sneaky extra box at the bottom is a tasty bottle of wine, hehe!). So I'm off to put the food away and contemplate what weird and wonderful dishes we can make with parsnips this week...

p.s. In case you're interested, here is the recipe for the bread, adapted from Richard Bertinet's "Dough: Contemporary bread making"

Pecan and Cranberry Bread. (one large, two small, loaves)

10g yeast
200g Strong white flour
300g Wholemeal flour
10g Salt
350g Water (he says weighing is more accurate, and he's right)
100g Dried cranberries
100g slightly crushed pecans (I shelled my own and to be honest they were pretty crushed already once I got finished with the nut-cracker! If you're using ready-shelled just break then into thirds.)

Pre-heat oven to 250 C and place your baking stone (or flat baking tray for us cheap-skate plebs) in the middle.

Put the yeast in the bowl and then add the flour and mix thoroughly with your hands. Then add the salt, mix again, then the water. Mix the whole lot with your hands until it just starts to stick together, then add the cranberries and pecans. As it begins to form a dough put onto a non-floured surface and work into a dough making sure the cranberries and pecans are worked evenly into the dough.

Place in a floured bowl and cover with a tea towel to rest for 1 hour.

Remove from the bowl onto a floured surface and separate in half if you're making two loaves. Shape in to a ball (or two) by tucking the dough into itself underneath until a smallish smooth ball is formed. Leave to rest for another five minutes. Place into a proving basket and leave to prove for an hour (yeah, who has these on had in their kitchen!? - line a bowl with a tea towel and flour generously. You can just keep the floured tea towel after use, with the flour still on it, for any future proving. As Bertinet suggests I have four tea towels dedicated to bread making now, two for "proving baskets," two for covering. Apparently they benefit from re-use (without washing) because they hold the yeastiness of the doughs which help the proving of future loaves).

Turn the oven down to 220 C, mist with a water spray and place the loaf, or loaves on the baking stone. Bake for the first five minutes at 220 C, then turn down to 200 C and bake for a further 15-20 mins for the small loaves, or 30-35 mins for a large loaf. Remove and tap to make sure its hollow. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Then eat, lots of it. Mmm, bread!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Valentine's madness: a gastronomic (and blogging) epic!

Okay, I admit it, I love any excuse to spoil N, especially when it comes to indulging him in nice food. However, whose stupid idea was it to attempt a four course Valentine's day meal doing everything from scratch?! Mine of course. It seemed like a wonderful idea: no expensive meal out in a restaurant filled with other smoochy couples drinking over-priced wine and eating over-priced food feeling under-dressed, or over-dressed. Instead we could just have a nice easy evening in, drinking our favourite wine and eating freshly prepared homemade food listening to our choice of music (not some hideous supposedly romantic Muzak) and retiring to the sofa in our pyjamas to watch a film. Just the two of us all night. A perfect evening if you ask me.

The only thing I hadn't factored in was exactly how much work a four course meal (and vaguely impressive presentation) would take! I basically spent the whole day in the kitchen (or in the streets of north London on the hunt for a cake dome and decent olives). I can't pretend that it wasn't fun though. In fact, it was great! I loved every chaotic minute of it, even the disasters, but especially the look of pleasure on N's face as I presented each course. That alone was worth every second of slaving over a hot kitchen.

So now I am going to re-live it all in great (and no doubt boring) detail. Be warned this is quite an epic!

I started the indulgence early with a special breakfast of raspberry pancakes with mascarpone and maple syrup. I'd had some batter left from Baking Day and thought a special treat was in order it being a special day. Little was N to know that raspberries (and their deep red colour) were going to turn out to be the theme of the day!

With N sufficiently fueled for the four mile cycle to work I ushered him out of the door, grabbed a shower, slung on my apron and at 9.15 sharp began the mammoth tasks at hand.

Having spotted the delicious looking Red Velvet Cake on Tartelette's blog I knew it was going to be the climax of my Valentine's day meal. It just looked so red and decedent, I knew it would be perfect. However, I wanted to adapt the recipe to use raspberries, not strawberries, as I prefer their slight tartness and deeper colour. Hence the three large punnets of raspberries in the fridge and thus the raspberry pancakes!

So by twenty past nine I was boiling raspberries with my silicon spatula, courtesy of the Queen of Posting, in order to have a raspberry syrup to form the basis of the colour and taste of my cake.

The raspberry syrup wasn't quite enough to give the bright red colour I was looking for, so I did resort to adding food colouring as well, but it still smelt amazing and the cake would retain the slight hint of raspberry flavour that I wanted.

The cakes were whipped in the oven and 35 mins later whipped out again, tested and left to cool. Knowing my tendency for not being able to leave cakes cooling for long enough I chose this opportunity to head out to buy the cake dome that would house the cake and be the Valentine's table centerpiece. I also picked up some really nice olives, the only part of the meal that wouldn't be handmade.

I returned to the carnage of a messy kitchen to discover the cakes completely cool and so readily extended the mess to the dining table where cake filling would commence.

Definitely the most indulgent cake I have ever attempted, three layers all separated by a thin layer of melted white chocolate, marscapone icing, raspberry puree and fresh raspberries! Total decadence!

It was around this point that the North London Kitchen experienced its second Serious Failure. The cream cheese icing that was to cover the cake was taking upon itself to re-enact the white chocolate mousse's rebellion: it refused to stiffen enough to be thick enough to cover the cake. Argh! Cue another emergency call to the domestic goddess hotline ("Mum, my icing's too sloppy, HELP!") Fortunately the fount of all baking knowledge had the answer, more icing sugar was added (a LOT more icing sugar) and finally it was ready. It still didn't pipe well - too stiff to go through the bag without lots of effort, only to fall over once I turned my head) - but once I'd stuck the mini-hearts on I think it looked pretty good:


One course down, three to go!

Actually, that's not quite how it happened, as I did prepare the other courses in between doing the bits of the cake, I just figured it would be simpler to treat each one separately in the blog.

Whilst the cake had been cooking I had made a white chocolate pudding that would be the pre-cake desert, and that was cooling on the side. It would be served with a swirl of raspberry puree on top - alas in the moment I forgot to photograph it.

Then I made the main course: Caramelized red onion tarts with goats cheese served with a pear and walnut salad.

I'm not usually one for twee little things, certainly not for main courses, but I couldn't help but make the tarts using heart shaped moulds, I mean, come on, it's Valentine's day!

So the pastry was made, filling prepared, all I needed to do was put one into the other and whack in the oven twenty minutes before we were going to eat.

Now I had three courses ready to rock. Only the final, and coincidently first, to prepare. I was doing bread and olives and houmous. It had to be bread didn't it, a meal wouldn't be right without it. So I made a batch of olive dough from Richard Bertinet's book, split it, and made rosemary and sea salt focaccia with one half and sesame breadsticks with the other. While these were resting and proving I threw together some houmous using an old Observer recipe. Although I forgot, yet again, to take pictures of these individually, you can see the breadsticks and houmous at least in this picture of the table.

And so, everything was finally ready. I wrapped the presents, printed the menu, set the table, put on the music and so began our wonderful evening!

We ate three courses, made some proper espresso and retired to the sofa with huge slabs of cake, coffee, a single Montezuma raspberry truffle each and Casablana on DVD. *sigh* Perfection.

I'm not going to post all the recipes here as this blog is long enough already. However I will post the Red Velvet Cake recipe as I have adapted it and didn't cook straight from a book, which is what I did for the red onion tarts (Delia Smith again). Also, the cake could be made as muffins (I reckon half the mixture would make at least six muffins, probably more) and so you don't have to be quite as over indulgent as us!

Red Velvet Cake

115 g butter
1/2 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 C. buttermilk
1⁄2 cup raspberry syrup
2 Tsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tsp. vinegar
1 t.sp soda (sifted)
2 1/2 C. cake flour

(NB: the aim of the raspberries is to turn the cake its red colour. Unfortunately it wasn’t red enough so I also added about 1tbsp of red food colouring to get the right bright red cake mixture I wanted)

For the raspberry syrup: cook a pint of raspberries with 1⁄2 cup sugar and juice of 1⁄2 a lemon. Let cool. Strain. If the juice is very liquid, reduce over medium heat to obtain a syrup consistency.

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add raspberry syrup and cocoa. Add salt to flour and sift. Add flour and buttermilk alternately, mix well. Add vanilla, mix well. Add soda and vinegar and don't beat, just blend. Bake in three 9" pans about 30 minutes at 180 C.

Cake covering: Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups (230 grams) powdered sugar, sifted

In bowl of electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter, on low speed, until very smooth with no lumps. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully incorporated and smooth. NB: I had to add loads more icing sugar to get it thick enough to spread over the cake.


250g Marscapone cheese
150g Fromage Frais
1 dsp caster sugar
250g Raspberries
melted white chocolate
leftover raspberry syrup

whisk together the marscapone, fromage frais and sugar with a balloon whisk until combined. Spread a layer of melted chocolate on the base cake layer, then add about half the cheese mixture and spread evenly, Add half the remaining raspberry syrup and spread evenly again, then top with half the fresh raspberries. Repeat for the second layer.

NB: You’ll need to store the cake in the fridge because of the fresh fruit and it’ll need to be eaten quickly – what a shame!

Baking Day! (February)

The Baking Day resolution was made too late for starting in January, and to be honest there had been plenty of indulgence already (see cupcakes and mousse!), so the institution of our new decedent day of indulgence began on February 2nd.

I wanted the inaugural Baking Day to be done in style. Since the following Tuesday would be pancake day, but N and I would both be out and thus unable to indulge in pancakes together, what better way to begin Baking Day proceedings than with American-style blueberry breakfast pancakes.

They were delicious and well worth the effort (despite the fact that they took slightly longer to cook than I anticipated and so I missed the first Arsenal goal in the match!) I served them with additional blackberries and blueberries and cream whipped with maple syrup and plenty of maple syrup on the side. Decedent, indulgent and true to the spirit of Baking Day!

It just so happened that the first Saturday of February was not only Baking Day, but also a Dungeons and Dragons evening to be held in Kent. Knowing that it was quite likely that the evening would be a very long one, stretching into the early hours and involving not insignificant amounts of beer, I thought that making a nice big cake for everyone to share would help keep those of us on a hard night's slaying going (and to help soak up some of that alcohol).

It wasn't difficult to decide what to make. The previous weekend N and I had been out and bought a new bookcase for the flat, and then lots more lovely books to put on it, one of which was Delia Smith's "Vegetarian Collection." A really nice book not only because of the large format and beautiful pictures, but also because it includes baking and desert recipes as well as main courses. In it I had found a fresh coconut cake and low and behold in our Abel and Cole box on the Wednesday before Baking Day we coincidently received a coconut. Now if that's not an omen for making a fresh coconut cake I don't know what is!

So, whilst N put together the final touches for the D&D campaign I frantically cooked, cooled, iced and decorated a cake. Ta da!

As it happened, during the recipe I had problems with the scales, and as a result I think the cake had far more butter in it than called for. This meant that it wasn't as solid as I would have liked, and so instead of being a four layer cake make from two 8" tins cut in half, I had to make do with just using the 8" tins as they were. However, I think this worked out well in the end as the mascarpone filling and coating was just enough and probably wouldn't have stretched for more layers. The crumbly nature of the cake also meant it didn't come out from the tins as cleanly as I needed, and in fact not only left a lot of itself behind, but actually came apart whilst being moved onto a plate. A rather stressful moment I must admit especially knowing we were a bit pushed for time and needed to get everything into the car and go. All I can say is thank goodness for coated cakes, as once I slapped the icing and grated coconut on I don't think anyone noticed!

As usual I adapted the recipe (I just couldn't resist, I never can) and added the zest of one lime to the batter and then when it was too dry added the lime juice instead of water. I then topped the cake with the zest of another lime. This was a great addition to the flavour and in my opinion made it more interesting.

On the whole it went down very well at 2am with a cup of tea whilst trying to work out how on earth to kill a bunch of magical scorpions. It was a very moist cake because of the freshness of the coconut and addition on the lime, which meant it also kept well for a sneaky second slice the following day!

May all Baking Day treats be this tasty (and less crumbly and stressful!)

Now for the recipes...

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

The mix made four pancakes each with batter to spare, and believe me four was more than enough!

2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup caster sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries
Extra unsalted butter to fry the pancakes

1. Mix together dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, bicarb soda)

2. Mix together wet ingredients (eggs, buttermilk, melted butter)

3. Combine wet and dry ingredients and carefully mix till just combined (do NOT overmix - the batter should be slightly lumpy)

4. Heat a frying pan and melt 1-2 tbsp butter at a time over a low heat. Once the butter has melted, spoon roughly 1/3 cup of batter into the frying pan and lightly spread into a circular shape of even thickness. (I actually used a heart shaped mould courtesy of the Queen of Posting)

5. Sprinkle some berries over the uncooked surface and push them into the batter.

6. Fry for about 2-3 minutes or till the sides have started to colour and the bottom is slightly crispy and nicely browned. Carefully flip over and fry the other side till equally cooked through.

7. Serve with more berries and maple syrup.

Fresh Coconut Cake (Adapted from Delia Smith)

For the cake:
75g fresh grated coconut (have big strong man on hand for help grating as there's more to come!)
175g Self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs (room temp)
175g soft unsalted butter
175g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lime (zest and juice)

Sift flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add all other ingredients apart from the coconut, whisk and combine everything (actually I just stirred like mad with a wooden spoon). After about 1min the mixture should be smooth at which point add the coconut, mix again and divide the mixture between two 8" cake tins.

Bake for 30-35 mins until the sponge springs back when touched. Remove from the oven and leave to cool (Delia says for 5mins, but I think the longer the better in my experience of this crumbly cake).

Filling and coating:

40g grated coconut
250g marscapone
200ml fromage frais (I think 150 is enough actually and gives a slightly creamer less tart flavour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 dsp golder caster sugar

50 grated coconut for coating
1 Lime (zest for topping)

whisk all ingredients together. Use about half in between the two cake layers, spreading a thick but even layer. The use the rest to coat the outside of the cakes. Then cover with the final 50g of coconut and zest the lime over the top in the centre.

Serve with a nice cup of tea for optimum cake enjoyment!

Donuts at midnight!

I love our life. I am not one for gushing and gloating usually, but I just can't help saying how wonderful things are, because they really are.

I think the donuts at midnight incident was definitely an indication of how much fun we have in Our Lovely Flat (tm). I was reading A.M.Holmes "This book will save your life" one night in bed. The picture on the front cover is of donuts, those typical American round glazed and iced ones. I joked with N that I really fancied one and that the book was making me peckish. He laughed at first and after a few moments commented that he too now fancied a donut. Whilst pondering this it occurred to me that one of the many things I brought back from The North on our mammoth pre-Christmas trip was a baked donut pan that came with a recipe. I giggled and said to N "do you really want donuts? Give me twenty minutes and I could make you some!" He laughed, the
n a moment later went "really? you could make donuts? you would make donuts? Because I'm not really that sleepy."

Ah, give a wannabe domestic goddess a challenge and of course she won't back down!

So, twenty minutes later, N was safely ensconced in ProEvo on the Xbox, continuing his teams winning streak to take the league and cup titles, and I was donning an apron and producing batches of lovely warm baked donuts dipped in cinnamon and sugar, or glazed in lemon icing.

It was the most wonderful evening, and a perfect example of one of the many many reasons why life in Our Lovely Flat (tm) with N is just so incredible. *gush, gush gush*. Hehe.

Cappuccino mousse

The flurry of January activity continued when it came to cooking dinner for everyone (N, myself and his parents). Having produced the pretty cupcakes the day before I had stupidly set myself up for another challenge. I had made something pretty and impressive (well, at least I hoped so) on the first afternoon, and now I had to continue that trend for dinner. Eek!

To be honest, I like cooking for people, but I am not one who's all about minding your Ps and Qs over the dinner table, and certainly didn't want to set some comedy posh precedent. I wanted good, hearty, enjoyable but tasty food, if it looked good that would be a bonus, but really it's all about taste and indulgence (as it always should be). I also wanted to try something new that I hadn't attempted before. It might go wrong, but it would be more fun for me to make at least.

So I came up with the idea of combining the dark chocolate espresso mousse recipe I'd be wanting an excuse to try, with a white chocolate mousse recipe I'd found. I figured I would top the former with the latter and produce a "cappuccino mousse."

So off I went:

The dark chocolate espresso mousse went very well. It all combined together and smelt lovely, it also looked like it was going to set perfectly.

The white chocolate mousse on the other hand was having none of it. It just wouldn't set. I blame the Vega-gel I used instead of gelatin. I was trying to keep the recipe totally vegetarian, and while I don't actively avoid gelatin in my daily diet, I figured that where I personally made the choice it would be better to be totally vegetarian and avoid gelatin, since I could do it no problem. No problem, yeah, right. The Vega-gel just turned into a gelatinous mess and so didn't combine with the other ingredients meaning that eventually after seemingly hours of trying I had to give in, strain the mousse and accept that it wasn't going to set. Serious Failure number one for the North London Kitchen. I even tried the suggestion of the Domestic Goddess Help Hotline (Mum on her mobile) and added whisked egg whites. Nope, that white chocolate was in vendetta mode and just wasn't going to comply.

Fortunately it actually worked out for the best (at least I presented it that way!) I set the dark chocolate espresso mousse in the bottom of a cocktail glass, and then poured the white chocolate not-so-mousse over the top, giving it a foaming liquid look, more like an actual cappuccino. Voila!

So yes, I thought it all turned out rather well. I topped them with a marbled chocolate slice from a packet I found at the supermarket, served and we all enjoyed (at least I think we all did, I certainly did!) No pictures of the final served version I'm afraid as I was in a hurry to put them on the table and thought pausing to take a sneaky picture might just be a bit much, but you get the gist from above.

Finally, here's the recipe as I did promise people I would post them.

Cappuccino Mousse: (serves 4-6 depending on portion size, it’s rich so I made six medium ones)

First make the dark chocolate mousse so that it can be setting in the fridge while you prepare the white chocolate layer.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Mousse:

3/4 cups bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup espresso (extra strong from an espresso machine is best)
2 egg yolk
1 Tb sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate, butter and espresso in a small saucepan over low heat until the chocolate melts and stir until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolk and sugar until pale. Fold the chocolate into the egg mixture. Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold it into the chocolate base. Refrigerate one hour before using.

White Chocolate Mousse topping:

1.5 Tb. water
2.5 oz. white chocolate (Green and Blacks looks most like a cappuccino topping because of the vanilla)
1 cups single or pouring cream (18% fat)

Place the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until smooth and the chocolate is fully incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into a bowl. Whisk for 3 minutes or until cooled. Refrigerate for a little while before topping the dark chocolate mousse with it to get the cappuccino effect.


Cupcake prettiness

We had a flurry of activity in January and as a result there was an inevitable flurry in the kitchen. Towards the end of the month N's parents came to visit, and although I never need an excuse to make cakes the occasion did seem to provide the perfect reason. The only problem was that his parents now live in France, home of the pâtisserie, of not only delicious cakes and pastries, but also ones that are divinely presented. So the pressure was on.

This was the result:

A set of cute lemon cupcakes iced with gloriously coloured butter icing and topped with sugar flowers. Although the cupcake mix itself wasn't very good (too buttery I think: half of those I made fell apart and so my yield in the end was only six - better for the waistline, not great for domestic goddess esteem) I thought that the results with the icing were so pretty (the picture really doesn't do them justice) and I just can't wait to have an excuse to make them again.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

A bread retrospective. (Or; I am my father's daughter.)

Hello, my name's Rebecca and I'm a bread addict.

I am indeed my father's daughter and have the bread fanatic gene. I can't help it, I just love bread, am obsessed with bread, would eat it for and with every meal. This goes some way to explaining my enthusiasm for the making of our own bread resolution - it's basically a sneaky way to make sure we eat even more bread, and that the flat always smells of it!

We've been committed to this new home-made bread cause for two weeks now and it's going rather well, so I couldn't help but post a bread retrospective to go with the previous
cooking one, as I believe bread deserves a place of its own.

I am going to do my best to include these in the order that I tried them. The first two breads I have included are pre-resolution, the rest are from the last two weeks. Also, there are some lacking. I unfortunately forgot to take a photo of the plain white load I made, and I made breadsticks for Valentine's day (yes, yes a post will be forthcoming) and alas didn't get a picture of them on their own. However, I hope the following will keep you sated for now.

Walnut and honey soda bread. This was the first bread I tried, taken from a Dan Lepard recipe in the Guardian. It's so simple it's ridiculous, basically you just throw all the ingredients together and whack it in the oven. No resting or proving required. It's a great breakfast bread for this reason as you can have it baking while you have that first cup of coffee and it's ready just in time for the peckishness to set it. It's also really adaptable. I have been adjusting the amount of honey to make it less sweet and substituting various dried fruits (apricots, cranberries etc) in place of half the walnuts. It works every time and I truly believe you can't mess this bread up. It's great with cheese too. Sconto!

Rosemary and rock salt focaccia. Possibly one of my favourite breads, which was why I was both eager to try it and fearful of not managing to produce a tasty result. I needn't have been too worried as this too seems to be a hard recipe to get wrong. I took it from the BBC website as it was the simplest one I could find, simple to follow, no tricky starters or milk additions, just a nice basic dough. The result was very pleasing. Perhaps not as cakey as the focaccia from Carluccio's that I love, but that's an indulgence and it's nice to have something lighter on hand. I have been mostly serving this with soups (ah, yet another post I should do) or with "Friday night" type dinners of cheese, olives, houmous and such like. Since the doctor has recently told me to put more salt in my diet what better way is there to do it than via bread!

I am extremely fortunate that N shares my love of bread. He is perhaps not so obsessive about it (I think that's a very unique gene) but he is certainly very enthusiastic and was incredibly pleased when I suggested we start only eating bread made ourselves. As a result he bought Richard Bertinet's book "Dough: simple contemporary bread" for me. This was the true beginning of the bread making attempts. The book has four basic dough recipes (white, olive oil, wholemeal and rye) from which numerous breads, of varying difficulties, can be made. I have so far made each dough at least once and have been enjoying the different things he does with each dough. I haven't managed to take photos so far of the white, rye or olive breads I have made, for some reason it did occur to me to photograph the wholemeal attempts (why only wholemeal I don't know as the others have been equally delicious and certainly as photogenic. Oh well, at least that will mean more bread posts to come!).

Small round wholemeal (left) and wholemeal with orange and pecan (right). I made a batch of the wholemeal and then split it, making one small plain loaf and then adding pecans and orange to the other half (Bertinet has a recipe for pecan, cranberry and orange, but I didn't have any cranberries). Both were really nice and a great start.

My next attempt at wholemeal again leaned towards making two smaller loaves. This time a conventional loaf-shaped wholemeal topped with oats (left) and a wholemeal with apricot bloomer (right). The latter being another great one either toasted for breakfast or with a nice strong cheddar for lunch.

Since these results I have started making one large loaf as it suits sandwiches better (and for some reason means we eat slightly less of it and so I don't have to slave over a hot oven every day!) I have made a plain white (which was the most successful in terms of rising, and a plain rye (doesn't rise as well, but tastes great and is more filling). I also tried his olive dough for another rosemary and salt focaccia loaf and sesame breadsticks - both good, although I think the original focaccia loaf was marginally better.

Finally, but my no means least, was this week's walnut and sundried tomato wholemeal bread. Using the pecan and cranberry recipe as the outline I just substituted the walnuts for the pecans and the tomatoes for the cranberries. It worked out well, producing a lovely moist bread perfect for sandwiches. Less good for breakfast, but perhaps that's a good thing as it forced more healthy righteous museli eating!

As I type this I have a large plain wholemeal proving by the preheating oven for this first half of this week. Mmmm...more bread...