Walnut Whip Pastries

Walnut Whip Pastries
Wotchers!

The idea for these pastries came from watching a film clip on the original Walnut Whip chocolates being hand-piped and filled. I recalled that I hadn’t really done much with the Quick Chocolate Puff Pastry, other than show you the method, and since I’d recently acquired some cream horn tubes, I was all set!

ConesAlas, the best laid plans of tumpty-tumpty-tumpty-tum and all that – MY cream horn tubes weren’t the beautifully sleek examples pictured above, I’d gone for the non-stick style, seen below.

My cones

Which meant I had to devise a way to get my tubes to stand upright in order to form the tapering cones of the walnut whip shape. I won’t bore you with ALL of the trials and tribulations, and the various failed attempts, but I did eventually achieve success combining two differently-shaped ice-cream cones and balancing the metal shapes on top. I’ve seen a few suggestions out there that call for just covering wafer cones with foil, but that doesn’t work (caveat: doesn’t work well enough for me to recommend). To cook properly, all the way through, the pastry needs the high temperature that the metal will get to in a hot oven. Foil never gets hot enough to cook the inside of the pastry thoroughly. I tried.

This is another Lego™ recipe, in that it’s made up of bits and pieces from other recipes, mixed with some new things. I’ve already mentioned the Chocolate Puff Pastry from a few weeks ago. I’ve also used the Bavarian Cream from the Sicilian Seven Veils Cake, and swapped the chocolate flavouring for coffee. The NEW bits in this creation are the candied walnuts and the Crunch Shortbread biscuit used for the base.

I’m going to be straight with you – the pastries have a pretty high FQ (Faff Quotient™) – I only got a dozen usable pastry ‘shells’ from a whole batch of the chocolate pastry (mainly due to my own clumsiness, I’ll admit) – so if it all sounds too much like hard work, just have a bash at the biscuits: they’re seriously good all by themselves!

To make the complete pastries involves making several separate elements, and then assembling them at the end. The whole process can be spread over a few days if necessary. I suggest shaping/baking the pastry as the last task, so that it retains its crispness.

Walnut Whip Pastries

The four elements that need to be made first are:

  • Chocolate Pastry
  • Candied walnuts
  • Bavarian Cream
  • Crunch Shortbread

I know I said to bake the pastry last, but you should MAKE it first, so that it can thoroughly chill in the fridge, and thus be a bit easier to roll out/work with.

1. Chocolate Pastry – click HERE for the recipe and method.

2. Candied Walnuts.

150g caster sugar
cocktail sticks
walnut halves

  • Sprinkle the sugar into a non-tick pan and place on a low heat to melt. Do not stir, as this will cause the sugar to crystallise.
  • If the sugar is melting unevenly, swirl the contents around to mix.
  • While the sugar is melting, pick out the best-looking walnut halves and skewer each half with a cocktail stick, ready for dipping.
  • When all the sugar has melted, and is a deep caramel colour, it’s time to dip the walnuts.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and lay a sheet of parchment paper alongside.
  • Dip each walnut into the caramel and allow the excess to drain off.
  • Place the walnut on the parchment and gently twist the cocktail stick free. The caramel should still be liquid enough to flow over the hole left by the cocktail stick.
  • Allow to cool, then wrap in parchment and keep in an airtight box. The dipped nuts will become sticky if left exposed to the air.

3. Coffee Bavarian Cream
Bavarian cream is basically a custard with added gelatine, with flavourings and cream folded through. If you want to break down the process because of lack of time, it can be made in two parts. The first part is the custard base, the second adding the flavourings and gelatine when ready to use. If you do this, then warm the custard slightly before trying to stir in the soaked gelatine.

125ml milk
1 large egg yolk
18g cornflour
45g sugar
2tsp Espresso coffee powder
2 leaves (4g) gelatine

300ml double cream

  • Soak the gelatine in cold water to cover for 10 minutes.
  • Heat the sugar and the milk until almost boiling.
  • Whisk the cornflour, vanilla and egg yolks together, then gradually whisk in the sweetened milk.
  • Return the mixture to the heat and continue heating and stirring until thickened.
  • Remove custard from the heat.
  • Drain the gelatine and stir into the warm custard until fully dissolved.
  • Cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming.
  • Whip the cream to firm peaks, then fold through the cooled coffee custard.
  • Cover with cling film and chill until required.

4. Crunch Shortbread

This is a crumbly, buttery shortbread, but with added feuilletine and ground almonds for two different yet complimentary crunch textures. If you don’t have any feuilletine, use a few crushed crepes dentelles or cornflakes.

135g butter – softened
45g icing sugar
1g salt
135g flour
10g cocoa
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine

  • Mix the softened butter, sugar, salt, flour, cocoa and ground almonds in a bowl until well combined.
  • Lightly stir in the feuilletine. Try to keep the pieces a reasonable size, so that they can still be discerned in the cooked biscuit.
  • Turn out the mixture onto parchment and lay some clingfilm over the top.
  • Roll the mixture out to between 5-8mm thick and place in the freezer to harden for between 15 and 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Cut the chilled paste into 4cm-ish rounds (I used the rim of a small glass) and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Bake for 11-12 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

5. Chocolate pastry shells

I suggest working with just half of a batch of pastry at a time, since the strips of pastry will be quite long and potentially tricky to handle.

  • Roll the pastry out thinly (5mm), keeping the shape as straight and rectangular as possible. Try and achieve a length of 40-45cm, so that you can make each shell using just a single strip of pastry.
  • Cut the pastry into 1cm wide strips. I find a pizza wheel works best for this, as it doesn’t ‘drag’ the pastry as a knife would. Also, your pastry might be getting a little soft by this stage, with all the rolling. If you think it’s too soft, pop it back into the fridge or freezer to firm up.
  • Grease your cream horn tins.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Dampen the strip of pastry you’re about to use, with a pastry brush dipped in water. This will help the pastry stick to itself on each ‘turn.’
  • The Fiddly Bit: Starting at the bottom of your cream horn tins, wrap the strip around to form a level base for your shell, then continue around the tin, overlapping the pastry slightly at each turn. You want to pull the strip a little, to ‘stretch’ it, then wrap it quickly around the cone. As it contracts, it will pull close to the tin and make for a better shape. Don’t pull so much that the pastry breaks! (Tricky to begin with.)
  • Finish your pastry shell about half-way up your cone: you want the top to be about as wide as a walnut, once cooked.
  • Stand your cones in the cups of a cupcake tin, for a little extra stability.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes until the pastry is fully cooked.
  • Leave to cool on the cones.
  • Once cool, ease the shells gently from the cones and set aside.

 To Assemble

150g dark, 70% chocolate

  • Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water until completely liquid and smooth.
  • Spoon the Bavarian Coffee Cream into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle.
  • Lay a sheet of parchment onto a tray that will fit into your fridge (to chill the assembled pastries).
  • Lay a piece of clingfilm on the bench in front of you.
  • Have the pastry shells, the biscuits and the candied walnuts to hand.
  • Stage 1 assembly. For each pastry:
    • Take a biscuit and brush the top with melted chocolate (to prevent sogginess from the cream filling).
    • Take a pastry shell and set it upside down onto the clingfilm in front of you.
    • Pipe the coffee cream into the pastry shell until completely full.
    • Use a knife to smooth the cream across the bottom of the pastry shell.
    • Spread melted chocolate over the bottom of the pastry shell and the coffee cream, and, turning the pastry shell over, set it onto the chocolate covered biscuit, where the chocolate should ‘glue’ them together.
    • Paint melted chocolate over the top of the pastry shell, and set a candied walnut on top.
    • Chill in the fridge.
  • Now you could stop here if you like – all the ‘pieces’ are assembled. However, I decided to neaten the pastries up by dipping the bases in the melted chocolate. The biscuit is then completely covered, and the ‘seal’ between the pastry and the biscuit itself has been recinforced with another layer of chocolate.
  • If your chocolate has cooled too much, set it over the pan of hot water until it is melted again.
  • When all the pastries have chilled for at least 20 minutes in the fridge, remove them and dip them in the melted chocolate.
  • Use a pastry brush to even out the chocolate coating.
  • Set onto parchment and chill in the fridge until required.

Apricot Jam

Apricot Jam and buttered scones.
Wotchers!

Glorious, jewel-like apricot jam is the recipe this week, having spotted some fabulous Bergeron apricots in a local supermarket (Morrisons) for just 99p a punnet – NINETY-NINE PEE I SAY! Total bargain! Get down there today and make this your Bank Holiday weekend project!

I’m a big fan of the sharp-sweet tang of apricots, and with a respectable amount of pectin, there’s no need to Faff About™ adding any extra. The small quantity lemon juice helps anyway, both in the set and in sharpening the flavour of the apricots.

This method is slightly longer than your regular jam-making session might be, but it is seriously low on effort. Start-to-finish, it’s about 24 hours, but of that, there’s maybe only 1 hour of actually doing anything – bonus!

The result is so vibrant, so delicious, you’ll wish you’d made more – however many jars you make. I bought 6 x 350g punnets – and made six jars. One jar of finished jam for every 350g of raw fruit is also a handy way to work out how many jars your going to need. As a precaution, I always have one jar extra, all cleaned, heated and ready to go, in case of an overabundance. I’ve scaled the quantities down to use just 1 kg of fresh, pitted fruits (so 3 punnets from the shop), so it’s a little easier to scale up/down.

This method involves first macerating (or soaking) the fruit in sugar for several hours (or even overnight). The sugar draws out the juice from the fruit, and in turn a little of the sugar is absorbed. This absorption of sugar will help to firm up the fruit and keep it from disintegrating during the necessary boiling later on.

That being said, this is not a solid jam that has to be crowbar’d out of the jar (a particular dislike of mine). It’s definitely leaning more towards the conserve, although having sliced the fruit to manageable bite-sizes, I think that disqualifies it from the traditional definition of conserve (i.e. whole fruit in syrup).

ANYHOO….

Here’s how it goes:

Apricot Jam

3 x 350g punnets of Bergeron (for preference, but not compulsory) apricots, to give 1kg of prepared fruit
800g granulated sugar
Juice of 2-3 lemons

Day 1

  • Rinse the apricots and cut into halves, top to bottom, and remove the stone.
  • Layer the apricot halves, sugar and the juice of 2 of the lemons in a large bowl ensuring the cut surfaces of the apricots are covered with sugar.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for 8-10 hours, or overnight.
  • Mop brow and declare loudly to any interested parties “This jam-making is EXHAUSTING! I must have a REST and watch a FILM”.
  • Put feet up.

8 hours later, or next morning if you started at night

  • Gently slide the apricot mixture (which will probably be quite runny by now) into a preserving pan and warm gently, until all the sugar is melted.
  • Try and avoid stirring, as the fruit will still be very fragile and might begin to break apart with too much spoon action.
  • When all the sugar is melted, bring the mixture to a boil.
  • As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat and gently pour the fruit mixture back into the bowl.
  • Re-cover with cling film and set aside overnight.
  • Mop brow and put feet up as above.

12-14 hours later

Here’s where things might get a little too Faffy™ for your liking, feel free to skip the next part if you prefer a slightly more rustic jam.

  • Removing the skins
    • Strain the fruit from the syrup. I prefer to lift it gently with a skimmer, to avoid squishing it too much, but you can pour it through a sieve if you like.
    • By this time, after their overnight soaking, the skins should be wrinkled and easy to separate from the flesh of the apricots. I usually start by picking up an apricot half by the skin in my left hand and then using a small, sharp knife to ease the flesh away. Sometimes the cut edge of the apricot next to the skin has hardened and needs a little encouragement to come free. If your apricots have a slightly thicker skin, this may not be as easy as described. In this case, give up.. Persevering will only mash the apricots to mush.
    • Discard skins.
  • Using some sharp scissors, cut the now skin-free apricots into strips about 0.5-1cm wide. Again, feel free to skip this if so inclined. It just makes the jam easier to spread. Set fruit aside for now.
  • Once the fruit is prepared, it’s time to boil the syrup to setting point.
  • But before you start heating it, taste. I like a particularly sharp jam, so I tend to add the juice of another lemon at this stage if necessary. Taste the syrup and make your own decision.
  • Also, put 2 saucers in the freezer. These will be used later to test whether your jam has reached setting point.
  • Pour all the syrup into the preserving pan and bring to a simmering boil. Keep an eye on it, as too high a heat may cause it to boil over.
  • Skim the froth from the top of the simmering syrup – removing this will help give your finished jam that jewel-like clarity. Don’t throw the foam away, it’s still delicious, just bubbly. Enjoy on toast with some salty feta or goats cheese – NOM!
  • Setting point is reached at 105°C, when the excess water has evaporated – there will be a distinct lack of steam coming from the pan, but use a thermometer to double-check.
  • Add the apricots, sliding them gently into the syrup. It will immediately go off the boil, and as there will be quite a lot of syrup clinging to the apricots themselves, it will take several minutes to come back to setting point.
  • Use this time to wash your jam jars, rinse and arrange onto a baking sheet, together with their lids.
  • Put the jars into a cold oven, and turn the heat to 100°C, 80°C Fan.
  • When the jam has reached setting point for the second time, draw the pan to one side away from the heat and test the jam by putting a teaspoon onto one of the cold saucers from the freezer. Return the plate to the freezer for a minute or two then remove and slowly push a finger through the cooled jam. If the surface wrinkles, then the jam is done. If not, return to the heat for a few more minutes and test again.
  • Once the jam is set to your satisfaction, turn off the heat and leave it to cool a little. You want it to be cool enough to begin to form a thin skin on the surface. This means that it is starting to set, and you should put it in jars. Depending on how big a batch you’re making, this could be as long as 20 minutes. Have a cuppa while waiting!
  • Stir the jam gently, to distribute the fruit throughout the syrup. Now that the jam has cooled a little, the fruit will stay suspended evenly. Stirring when the jam is too hot will do nothing, and pouring too-hot jam into jars will just make all the fruit float to the top.
  • Remove the hot and now dry jars from the oven and, using a jam funnel, pour your jam into the jars. You might want to use oven gloves to hold the jar steady. Fill the jars as close as possible to the top – to within 5mm at least (bacteria love air gaps, so you want to keep them as small as possible).
  • Screw the lids on tightly and then wipe off any spillage from the outside of the jars. Leave to cool completely before labelling.

Pea, Goat Cheese & Mint Glamwich

Pea, Goat Cheese & Mint Glamwich

Wotchers!

Just because lunch is a sandwich doesn’t mean it has to be ordinary.

For this recipe, I’ve taken the Swedish smörgåstårta and shrunk it to an individual serving size.

Three layers of dense, nutty rye bread are sandwiched together with two complimentary fillings – pea hummus and a fresh mixture of creamy goats cheese and petit pois. Wrapped in a ribbon of cucumber and topped with pea shoots, mint and a scattering of more peas, lunchtime just got deliciously elegant.

Ingredient choices

  • Rye bread – for deliciously dark colour contrast and firmness to hold up the layers.
  • Petit Pois – lovely bright colour and their sweetness contrasts well with both the earthiness of the tahini in the hummus and the sharpness of the goats cheese. Fresh peas in pods are always going to be rather mealy in comparison, unless you grow them yourself and can pod/cook them within an hour of picking.
  • Goat’s cheese – The dazzling white is a great contrast against the dark of the rye bread and the bright green of the peas. The soft variety available in a pot allows for easy spreading and mixing. Alternatively, use cream cheese or mascarpone or ricotta.

Get Ahead

Whether a single serving for a weekday lunchbox or buffet-level numbers for a weekend event, you can make short work of this sandwich by partially assembling the day/evening before.
Proceed up to the point where the sides and top are coated with the cheese and then stop. Wrap the sandwiches in cling film and refrigerate overnight. Pick out your pea/mint/salad shoots and store, with the remaining peas, in the fridge in a plastic box lined with a dampened sheet of kitchen roll. Finish off the sandwiches just before serving.

Pea, Goat Cheese & Mint Glamwich

Makes 2 sandwiches – 1 serving.

For the pea hummus
3 sprigs mint
100g frozen petit pois
1tbs tahini
1tbs natural yogurt
juice of up to 1/2 a lemon
black pepper and salt to taste

  • Put the mint sprigs into a pan and fill with cold water. Bring the water to a boil.
  • Tip the frozen peas in and bring back to the boil.
  • Drain and rinse in several changes of cold water (to preserve the bright colour). Remove mint and discard.
  • Tip onto a paper towel to blot up the excess moisture.
  • Weigh out 50g of peas and set the rest aside.
  • Put the 50g of peas, tahini, yogurt and a squeeze of lemon juice into a spice grinder or small food processor and blitz to a paste. Taste and season as required. Use more lemon juice or yogurt if the paste is too thick or too cloying. NB To make this hummus vegan, use olive oil instead of yogurt, and add a little extra lemon juice.

Cheese and pea mixture.
50g soft, spreadable goats cheese
40g cooked petit pois
salt and pepper to taste

  • Stir the peas and cheese together.
  • Season to taste.

Decoration
2 slices rye bread – packs in the supermarket tend to be uniform i size and handily pre-sliced.
1 cucumber (not all of this will be used)
more spreadable goats cheese (or cream cheese/mascarpone/ricotta)
pea shoots, mint sprigs, the remaining 10g cooked petit pois

To assemble

  • Cut each slice of rye bread into thirds.
  • For each slice, spread one third with a thick (1.5cm) layer of the pea and goats cheese.
  • Lay a second piece of rye bread on top and spread thickly with the pea hummus. Any leftover hummus can be eaten with carrot/celery sticks for a more substantial lunch.
  • Add the final layer of rye bread. Repeat for the second sandwich.
  • Spread the sides and top of the sandwiches with a thin layer of goats cheese. This will help the salad shoots and cucumber adhere and also keep the sandwich from drying out.
  • Arrange the pea shoots and mint sprigs over the top of the sandwich, pressing them lightly into the layer of goat’s cheese.
  • Using a Y-shaped peeler or mandolin, cut a thin ribbon of cucumber for each sandwich. Press the cucumber between a sheet of kitchen roll to absorb the excess moisture.
  • Wrap the sandwiches in the cucumber ribbon, neatening the sides. Depending on the size of the ribbon, you may require more than one to fully wrap the sandwich.
  • Sprinkle the remaining 10g of petit pois over the top of the sandwiches and enjoy!

Lane Cake

Lane Cake

Wotchers!

This is my End-Of-Term post for 2014, before taking a short break over the summer to do Stuff™, and so I have chosen a cake that has been on my ToDo list for many a moon.

This is Ms Emma Rylander Lane’s Prize Cake, with which she was declared champion at the Georgia State Fair, Columbus in 1898. It is also the cake immortalised in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. When the novel’s narrator, Scout Finch, described the celebrations for the arrival of her aunt Alexandra, she declared:

Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny[1] it made me tight.

Miss Maudie later decides that a Lane Cake is in order when a neighbour is hurt on the night Miss Maudie’s house catches fire.

“Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week – he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

Over the years, the Lane Cake has suffered several adulterations and been added to and embellished like a baking Pass The Message game, and what is now purported to be a Lane Cake is frequently a far cry from the prize-winning original.

The original cake is deceptively simple: a sponge cake made with egg-whites and a dazzlingly white meringue frosting. The star, however, is the filling: a rich, sweetened egg-curd studded with raisins and shimmering with alcohol, in this case brandy although whiskey is another option.

I love the fact that, not only was the Lane Cake a special occasion cake, it was also a nineteenth century humble-brag. Refined Southern ladies would not be so coarse as to boast about their baking skills *pauses to sink gracefully onto a nearby chaise-longue and flutters fan coyly* but it would be patently obvious to anyone with any baking ability just how impressive a Lane Cake was in terms of demonstrating the baker’s skill. Not only were there few gadgets for whisking eggs and creaming butter/sugar to ensure an airy sponge, the ovens were unpredictable in terms of both strength and duration of heat. Making the filling without curdling the yolks or the frosting without burning the sugar was impressive indeed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cook treated herself to a decent glug of shinny herself – with all that stress she’d have earned it!

I really like the contrast between the simplicity of the cake and frosting and the gutsy richness of the filling. I think the original recipe needs nothing adding to it – it’s delicious just as it is – although additions over the years have included coconut, cherries, pecans etc. Gilding the lily, in my opinion. To my mind it’s akin to someone ‘improving’ Chanel’s Little Black Dress until it resembles Carmen Miranda, complete with fruit hat.

Nevertheless, there’s a couple of things that will need your consideration/decision-making when making this cake.

  • Exactly as written, the cake is a little on the firm side. Personally I like it because of the contrast in texture between the filling, the cake and the frosting. Additionally, it makes for a more stable cake during assembly. However, if you’d like to have a lighter texture, consider whisking the egg-whites separately to stiff peaks, then folding them gently into the cake mixture after adding the flour and the milk. Your call.
  • Also, the cake doesn’t have any flavouring as such. Creamy milk, rich butter and fresh eggs should be sufficient, however, if you prefer your cakes to have a definite flavor, then add 1tsp vanilla extract to the batter.
  • Due to the liquids added after cooking, the filling might need a little help in order to stay a ‘filling’ and not become an ‘oozing out and dripping down’. You can add more yolks, or consider making the mixture thicker and more of a custard by adding a little cornflour mixed with water and cooking it until thick. Emma Lane recommends letting the assembled cake stand for a day or two before cutting, and this would enable any extra liquid to be absorbed by the sponge layers, however you would need to wrap the cake firmly in cling film or an acetate band in order to keep the filling between the cakes long enough to firm up. Alternatively, thicken with cornflour and then drizzle the cake with a little extra alcohol to moisten just before assembling.

This is the original Lane Cake recipe but for one fact: it’s half the size. The original recipe called for the mixture to be shared between four cake pans, which I don’t have. Now I know I could have used 2 tins and then split each cake horizontally, but I also don’t have a large enough audience to consume said cake once assembled. Making it just a two-layer cake is still an impressive-but-manageable size, and can also be easily scaled up should the occasion arise.

Have fun in the sun until next time – and don’t get too loaded with shinny! ;) M-A

Lane Cake

For the sponge
210g sifted plain flour [2]
1tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
113g unsalted butter – softened
200g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
4 large egg-whites
120ml whole milk

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease two 20cm sandwich tins. Cut a circle of baking parchment for each one and line the bases. Set aside.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Beat the butter until light and fluffy, then add the caster sugar and beat for a further 5-10 minutes until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the egg-whites one at a time. Beat well in before adding the next.
  • Add the milk and flour mixture alternately until fully combined.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared baking tins and smooth.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cakes are risen and golden brown and have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pans.
  • Leave the cakes to cool in the tins for 5 minutes.
  • Turn the cakes out onto a wire rack and remove the sheet of baking parchment.
  • Gently turn the cakes the right way up and leave to cool completely.

For the filling
4 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
30g butter – softened
75g seedless raisins – chopped
3tbs brandy or whisky
½tsp vanilla extract

  • Put the yolks sugar and butter into a pan and stir together over a medium heat until quite thick.
  • Remove pan from the heat and add the chopped raisins, alcohol and vanilla.
  • Cover with cling film and set aside to cool. If the filling is too runny when cold, consider using one of the options mentioned above to rectify.

For the Italian Meringue
50g egg whites (1-2 large)
pinch of cream of tartar
few drops of lemon juice
20g caster sugar
50ml water
100g caster sugar

  • In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites until foamy.
  • Add cream of tartar and lemon juice and continue whisking on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
  • With the whisk running, slowly add the 20g of caster sugar in a steady stream.
  • When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, stop the whisk until the syrup is ready.
  • In a heavy saucepan, gently heat the 100g of caster sugar and water, swirling the pan until the sugar is dissolved. NB Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallise and you will have to start again.
  • Turn the heat to high and cook the syrup until the soft ball stage on a sugar thermometer (115°C). NB Youmay have to tilt the pan in order to make the syrup deep enough for the sugar thermometer.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup has stopped bubbling. If you’re not confident about pouring boiling syrup from a hot pan one-handed, pour the syrup into a plastic jug.
  • Switch the whisk to medium speed and slowly pour the cooked sugar into the stiffly beaten whites. NB This is the tricky part. If you are pouring the syrup straight from the pan, be sure your oven gloves are thick enough so that your hand is fully protected. Pour the sugar syrup in a steady stream so that it hits the side of the bowl just above the point where the beaters meet the side of the bowl. This will achieve 2 things: the syrup will cool and this will help avoid cooking and/or curdling the egg-whites and the beaters won’t get covered in sticky syrup.
  • Once all the syrup has been added, continue beating the egg-whites until the outside of the bowl feels cool. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.

To assemble the cake.

  • Spread one cake with the cooled filling.
  • Place the other cake on top.
  • Coat the whole cake with the meringue.
  • Leave for 1-2 days before cutting to allow the flavours to mix. If chilled, allow to return to room temperature before serving.

[1] Slang for alcohol.

[2] Sifting the flour adds air, which in turn add lightness to the sponge. The quantity stated in the recipe is as a result of converting from US Cups. I might have sifted too much or too little air into the flour, so it’s more of a guideline than a hard and fast quantity. Keep some sifted flour on hand to add in case the cake mixture proves too loose.


Apple Fries

Apple Fries

Wotchers!

Here’s something I created following on from the post about Fat-Free Crispy Oven Chips a few weeks ago.

I wanted to see if it would work with something sweet and after a bit of trial and error, found the perfect pairing: Bramley Apples.

Bramley Apples are native to the UK and are the most popular choice for a cooking apple, because when cooked, they fluff up into a froth of apple puree without releasing too much juice – ideal for baking pies and for this recipe! The coating of spices and egg-white emerges from the oven deliciously crisp, yet as you bite into them, the apple inside collapses in a puff of froth.

If you can’t find Bramley Apples, I am assured by @essjayeff of Essjay Eats that Granny Smith apples also fluff up during cooking.

Delicious as a dessert or a snack, they’re fat-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free and paleo friendly – and ready in just 20 minutes!

I like them plain, but then I’m especially fond of sharp-flavoured apples. You could always add a sprinkle of sugar or some cream for dipping if you wanted to be indulgent, but the dazzle on your halo after eating such a healthy dish is almost as delicious as the fries themselves!

Apple Fries

2 large Bramley Apples
3 large egg-whites
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ground nutmeg

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
  • Add the spices to the egg-whites and whisk in thoroughly. This might seem a lot of spice for the mixture, but the blast in the oven will eliminate much of their strength.
  • Peel the apples and cut into quarters.
  • Remove the cores and, depending on the size, cut each quarter into 3 or 4 wedges. Don’t cut them too thin – ideally, you want them to be thick enough to be able to ‘stand upright’ on the baking sheet on their curved outside edge, for maximum crisping.
  • Toss the apple slices in the egg-white mixture and stand them upright on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisped. NB: these wont be as crisp as the potato wedges. Try a taste test after 20 minutes to decide if they need a little longer.
  • Although they are still nice once cooled, these are best enjoyed straight from the oven.

No Knead Cucumber Bread

Cucumber Bread

Wotchers!

OK, so I might have taken a bit of a liberty with the title of this post, but I can honestly say that I didn’t knead this loaf.

My stand mixer with it’s dough hook on the other hand…..

Owning a mixer isn’t a prerequisite, however, because this is a very moist dough – and it gets moister over time – so it’s more of a stirred dough at best.

This loaf is a proper, yeast-raised savoury bread – not a sweet vegetable cake wearing a loaf shape as a disguise. It is delicately flavoured with fresh dill, which compliments the taste of the cucumber deliciously. It has a fabulous open, soft texture inside and a crunchy crust that stays crunchy, even the day after baking.

It struck me that this loaf is also the perfect solution to the old cucumber sandwich sogginess problem: cucumber in the bread, cream cheese between the bread – tadaah!

No Knead Cucumber Bread

1 large cucumber
1 tsp salt
500g strong bread flour
1 sachet fast-action yeast
1tsp sugar
2-3tbs chopped fresh dill

water for mixing

  • Shred the cucumber into matchsticks using a mandolin. Alternately, use a coarse grater.
  • Put the cucumber bits into a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle with ½ tsp salt.
  • Stir it about, then sprinkle the remaining salt and leave to drain for 30 minutes.
  • Put the remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir.
  • Tip the drained cucumber into the bowl, followed by the liquid that has drained out of it. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. You need to add liquid to bring this all together as a dough, but – unless you’ve got waaaaaaaaaaay too much time on your hands, you probably don’t want to wait around until it slowly leeches out of the cucumber. It’s going to leech out a bit more anyways, but you need to bring it together into a soft dough first.
  • Stir the mixture, or use a stand mixer and dough hook, and add in water as required, until there is no dry flour visible. You can also get in there with your hands, which might be the best way to judge the moisture needs of the dough. As a rough guide, and depending on the moisture content of the cucumber, it should take anything between 100-200ml more liquid. If you’ve made the Grant Loaf, the texture will be similar – not liquid, but too wet to knead. NB Don’t add too much liquid (obvs.). Add just a little at a time and make sure it’s very well mixed in before adding any more. Too much moisture will make for an open-textured but damp finished loaf.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and leave until doubled in size. Depending on the room temperature, this could take anything between 1 and 2 hours.
  • What you’ll find,when you come back to your bowl, is that yes, it has risen, but also it has become much more liquid.
  • Grease a large loaf tin. The one in the pictures below is 24cmx14cmx7.5cm.
  • Pour – for there is no other word more suitable – the dough batter into the prepared loaf tin. It will come to within 3-4cm of the top of the tin (see left-hand pic below)
  • Set aside to rise while the oven heats up.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • It will take about 30-45 minutes for the dough to rise to the top of the tin – see right-hand pic above.
  • When the dough has risen, carefully transfer the tin to the oven. Don’t knock the tin, or you run the risk of deflating the dough.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the tin around 180° and bake for a further 20 minutes.
  • Remove the loaf from the tin and bake for a final 10 minutes, for a total cooking time of 1 hour.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Wait until this loaf is completely cold -preferably the next day – before slicing.

Variations:

Flour: The more observant of you will have noticed some discrepancies amongst the photographs. This is down to different flours used to bake each loaf.

The loaf at the top of the page is made with white flour, the photo of unrisen dough is of a loaf made with brown bread flour, and the photo of the risen dough is of the loaf made with stone-ground wholemeal bread flour.

Brown Wholemeal Cucumber Bread

You can see the difference in the texture of the brown loaves in this photo: wholemeal (top) and brown (bottom). To begin with, I recommend making this recipe with white flour first, and then exploring other flours if so inclined when you’re happy judging the amount of liquid to add.

Cheese Another variation to include with the dough, thereby turning it into a picnic loaf which needs only the addition of  butter at most, to make for a deliciously portable snack. Cut 100g-150g of your favourite cheese (I suggest strong Cheddar, aged Red Leicester, Feta or Goats cheese) into 1cm cubes  and add to the dough after the first rise.


Vegetable Cheese Scones

Vegetable Cheese Scones

Wotchers!

This week it’s more a variation on a theme, rather than a completely new recipe.

Deliciously savoury cheese scones, fortified by the inclusion of some fresh vegetables in the middle – ideal for lunchboxes, picnics, to accompany soup or salad, or even as a mid-morning or afternoon snack.

I thought they looked especially pretty with a single piece of veg inside. Other suitable contenders might be small, vine-ripened tomatoes (peel them and place with the stalk to the side in order to look prettiest when cut) and whole, caramelised shallots.

Of course, you could just as easily cut the vegetables into dice the same size as the cheese, but I quite like the surprise element of the scones appearing to be plain, albeit of a rather generous size.

The recipe I have used as a starting point is the one for Mrs McNab’s scones from my book. As an unsweetened recipe, it is perfect as a blank canvas which can be tweaked to your own needs. Here are a few tips I followed when tweaking:

  • Choose your cheese and vegetables according to your personal preference. I used cheddar for the scones with cauliflower and mushroom, although it doesn’t show up much. A more striking alternative might be Double Gloucester or an aged Red Leicester. White feta/goats cheese goes well with both the broccoli and the beetroot. Alternatively, a pale and crumbly Cheshire or Caerphilly cheese or even a blue cheese would also be suitable.
  • Cut cheese into 1cm cubes. Grated cheese tends to blend into the scone mix and get rather lost. One of the first batches I made of these scones had 100g grated Parmesan in and you could barely make out any cheese flavour at all. The cubed cheese gives a great hit of cheesiness because it is nestled in the plain scone mix, which gives it a great contrast.
  • Whenever you have cooked cheese in a recipe, add a little mustard powder. It won’t be detectable, but it will give a great boost to the flavour of the cheese.
  • Make sure the vegetables are partly cooked. The cooking time for scones is so short, the heat won’t penetrate enough to cook them, merely warm them through. I roasted the cauliflower for a bit of extra flavour and blanched the broccoli for 5 minutes. The mushrooms were poached in stock for 30 minutes and the beetroot I bought ready cooked.
  • Add some pepper to the scone mix.
  • Bake the scones in deep muffin tins to give them a good shape.

Veggie Scones close-up

Vegetable Cheese Scones

Makes 12 large scones. You can make more if you reduce the size of the scones and use small vegetables.

450g plain flour
60g unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
½tsp black pepper
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda [1]
2 tsp cream of tartar [1]
1 tsp mustard powder
1 large egg
150-200g cheese – cut into 1cm cubes
150ml plain yoghurt
150ml milk, plus extra to glaze

Assorted cooked vegetables

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan.
  • Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  • Put the flour, butter, salt, pepper, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, mustard and the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the mixture into a large bowl.
  • Add the cubed cheese.
  • Mix the yoghurt and 150ml milk together thoroughly.
  • Gradually stir into the flour and egg mixture with a knife. The dough will be very soft and rather wet. This is fine.
  • Put a heaped tablespoon into the bottom of each cup of the muffin tin.
  • Press the vegetable you are using gently into the scone mix.
  • Spoon more scone mix over the top until the vegetable is completely covered.
  • Smooth the tops and brush with milk to glaze.
  • Bake for 15 minutes until risen and golden. Turn the baking sheet around 180° after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

[1] Or use 4tsp baking powder.


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