Kouign Amann

Kouign Amman

Mini Kouign Amann showing sugary top (left), crunchy bottom (centre) and light, buttery layers (front).


Oh my dears, have I got a treat for you this week!

The theme for Week 6 in this season’s Great British Bake Off is sweet dough, with a Showstopper Challenge of 36 sweet European buns.

The contestants will probably have to bake 3 x 12 buns, each with a different flavour, but rather than rush through three recipes, I’ve decided to concentrate on what would have been my number one choice, were I competing – the magnificent Breton specialty, the Kouign Amann.

To me, the name (pronounced ‘koo-een ah-man’) sounds very exotic, almost Arabic, but it’s actually from the native Breton language meaning ‘butter cake’ and couldn’t be more simple: a bread dough enriched with butter and sugar.

There are several recipes floating around on the internet, but my choice was only ever going to be that of Madeleine Kamman – the best French chef you’ve (probably) never heard of.

I’ve mentioned Madame Kamman before – hers is the recipe for Ratatouille that rehabilitated the dish back into my life after a good thirty years in the wilderness, and it can be found in her epic and invaluable The New Making of a Cook. Packed with clear explanations, occasional science and delightful anecdotes, if you’ve ever wondered ‘Why?’ in cooking, then this is the book for you.

Delighted as I am with my copy of The New Making of a Cook, it is Madame Kamman’s much later work, When French Women Cook, that I treasure most. In it, she chronicles her formative years in France both before, during and after World War II, and the impact on her life of eight remarkable women, the French regions they lived and in whose kitchens she worked and first discovered her love of cooking. Originally published in 1976, the book is one of the first gastronomic memoirs, and it has enchanted me from the moment I read it’s opening line: “Most of the recipes in this book have never been written down before.”

The recipes in the book evoke the very essence of each of the eight regions, but with the luxury of food availability in the 21st century, it is easy to reproduce them with the original ingredients specifid. Not that the recipes contain much that is either complex or exotic – many of them originate from times of hardship, when French women had to practice la Cuisine de Misère – the art of cooking with almost nothing. One of the first, and still one of my favourite recipes I made was the ‘Tarte aux Deux Choux’ – a tart of brussel sprouts and cauliflower – which sounds so simple – and it certainly was to make – but the flavours in the finished dish were incredible.

So how best to describe the taste of a Kouign Amann? It is similar to Danish Pastries and croissants, but sweet. The outside is deliciously crunchy and chewy, whilst the layers inside are soft and fluffy. For those of you familiar with regional British baking, it is a French designer equivalent of Lardy Cake. Now I love Lardy Cake (there’s a recipe in my book, she shamelessly plugged) – it’s delicious! But it is a whole world away from the buttery, crunchy, crisp confection of a fresh-baked Kouign Amann. The secret, of course, is in the butter, that pinnacle of Breton regional produce. If you look at a cheese map of France, you’ll notice that the region of Brittany is, surprisingly, quite bare of cheeses, because what the Bretons do best with their rich milk is make butter. It is possible to find butter from Brittany in the UK in some of the high-end supermarket chains, but you can also make this with regular butter, adding a scattering of fleur de sel or Maldon salt if liked.

More usually sold as a large cake, in keeping with the theme of this week’s Bake Off challenge, I’ve divided Madame Kamman’s recipe into individual portions to make ‘buns’. Thanks to a follower on twitter (@Edesiaskitchen ), I learned that these are called Kouignettes, and are now a ‘thing’ in Parisian bakeries. They come in a variety of flavours (see here) and appear to be formed differently, being rolled up in a spiral.  While certainly simpler and no doubt quicker to form, it also means that, in the heat of the oven, all the butter and sugar carefully layered into the dough will just melt and run out the bottom. Admittedly, this does mean a pooling of sticky syrup around the bottom of the pastry (not necessarily a bad thing), but keeping the layers horizontal as they bake, as in the method below, allows them to remain deliciously rich, and, as can be seen in the picture above, no excessive pooling of sticky syrup around the base. (Lordy! Anyone else fascinated/horrified by the torturous twists, turns and length of that sentence?? MAB)

Madeleine Kamman learned her Kouign Amann recipe from the accomplished Loetitia (pp267-308), a native Breton and ‘one of the finest Breton cooks’. You can’t get more authentic than that. Apart from adjusting the size for cooking, I’ve not changed this recipe. You will need 9 individual foil pudding basins like these.

Update: You can double the recipe, make the squares of butter/dough 20cm and cut the final folded dough into 16 squares. Only 1tbs butter per portion – it’s practically health food! 😉

Kouign Amann

190g strong white flour
1tbs cornflour
1/2tsp orange flower water[1]
a pinch of salt
1tsp fast-action yeast (1/2 a sachet)
warm water to mix
125g slightly salted Brittany butter
125g granulated sugar
caster sugar to glaze

  • Mix the flours, salt, yeast and orange flower water.
  • Add warm water and mix into a soft dough.
  • Knead for ten minutes and then shape into a disc 15cm across.
  • Place on a buttered plate and lightly cover with greased clingfilm.
  • Leave to rise until doubled in size – 45 mins to 1 hour.
  • Pat the dough down and reshape into a 15cm square.
  • Cover the butter top and bottom with cling film and bash thoroughly with a rolling pin to soften. As with puff pastry and other laminated doughs, when rolling out it is best to have the dough and the butter at the same temperature/consistency. Shape the softened butter into a 10cm square.
Butter and dough placement

Butter and dough placement

  • Turn the dough so that it lies with corners top and bottom, like a diamond. Place the butter square in the centre as per diagram.
  • Fold the four corners towards the middle, covering the butter. Press the edges of the dough together to join.
  • Roll out the dough until it is at least 30cm long, keeping it just 10-12cm wide.
  • Sprinkle 1/3 of the sugar over the dough and roll the rolling pin over it to press the sugar into the dough.
  • Fold the top third of the  dough down and the bottom third upwards so that the dough forms three layers.
  • Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. NB If you chill for longer, the sugar will begin to leech moisture from the dough, and turn to syrup, which will make the dough difficult to work with.
  • Remove the dough from the fridge and place it in front of you like a book, with the fold lines vertical.
  • Roll out as before, sprinkle 1/3 of the sugar and fold top and bottom inwards.
  • Turn the folded dough 90° and roll out for a third time, sprinkling the last of the sugar and folding the sugared dough into thirds.
  • Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Roll out for a fourth and final time, this time rolling it to about 40cm long. Fold the pastry in a ‘book fold’, that is fold each end to the middle, then fold again making 4 layers. This fold has the advantage of enclosing the sticky ends of the dough inside and making for a cleaner finish.
  • Roll out the dough to make a square of at least 20cm.
  • Cut the square into nine smaller squares (3 x 3).
  • Lightly butter the foil pudding cases.
  • Set one piece of dough in each pudding case, either tucking under the corners, or folding them upwards and towards the middle.
  • Arrange the cases on a baking sheet, cover with cling film and set aside to rise for 30-45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Sprinkle the tops of each pastry with a little caster sugar and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Turn the baking sheet around after 20 minutes, to ensure even colouring.
  • Allow to cool in the foil tins.
  • Best eaten on the day of baking, preferably still slightly warm. To enjoy later, refresh in a cool (100°C) oven for 10 minutes first.

[1] A good quality Orange Flower Water is made by Nielsen-Massey. If yours seems a little on the weak side, feel free to increase the quantity accordingly.

Filo Picnic Pie

Filo Picnic Pie


Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself!? Already we’re at Week 4 of this year’s Great British Bake Off and the theme this week appears to be Pies and Tarts – I say appears because the theme sometimes completely passes me by – my own series included! Still, the Radio Times says it’s Pies and Tarts,so that’s good enough for me!


The Signature Bake is a double-crusted – i.e. pastry top and bottom – fruit pie. Bit of a redundancy methinks, since I’m pretty sure the word ‘pie’ implies a lidded pastry to most people, but better to have everyone clear. I toyed with the idea of just pointing you at my Green Chilli Apple Crumble Pie and suggesting adding the oats to the cheese pastry for extra crunch, but that seemed a bit lazy, so I opted for having a go at the filo pastry showstopper pie.

Since last year the contestants were tortured with making their own strudel pastry, I’m guessing that this year they’ll be asked to make their own filo pastry.

Me make filo pastry? Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen. Who has the time/inclination, outside of a competition??

I opted (as if there was ever a choice!) to use ready-made, thereby freeing up time to refine the filling, which I’ll get to via the following brief detour.

One of my first, favourite food blogs was the awesome http://fxcuisine.com/, written by the multilingual Swiss national François-Xavier. Alas, since October 2009, Monsieur FX has move on to other adventures, but his magnificently photographed blog remains – catch it while you can!

It was on FX’s blog that I discovered Gomser Cholera Pie. Hey, come back! Why are you running away shrieking!? The pie is thought to have acquired its somewhat grisly name in the early 19th century, when the first major cholera pandemic hit Europe, with Switzerland suffering especially harshly. Without knowing the cause of infection, isolation was the safest way to ensure ones health remained robust. Peasants living in the Goms valley, high in the Swiss Valais, relied on the foods that they had to hand in their stores: apples, pears, potatoes, onions, leeks, raclette cheese, local bacon, butter, and flour.

FX makes his Cholera Pie with the same, traditional ingredients and encases it in puff pastry for a beautiful and refined dish. I’ve loved this combination of flavours for years, adapting it to make use of British ingredients. Switching the puff pastry for filo pastry was straightforward. Since the filling is mostly pre-cooked, it holds it shape well as the pie bakes, with little shrinkage and the mashed potato absorbs any moisture released during cooking. Other changes I made included adding some chopped parsley to the mashed potato, to freshen up the flavour, and shuffling the order of the layers about to pair the flavours more evenly. I decided to line the whole pie with the mashed potato mix to increase stability and keep any juices away from the crisping pastry. I opted for red onions, since their purple colour contrasts so well with the green of the leeks.

Filo Picnic Pie Filling

After trialling a variety of shapes, I elected to use my long, slim bread tin as the mould for my pie. I wanted to create something different from the usual “scrunch it all up and plonk it on top” style of filo pie, and the smooth, regular, rectangular shape of the loaf pan seemed ideal. The neatness was emphasized by baking the pie upside down, or rather, turning the pie out and serving it upside down to the way it had been baked. A couple of strips of filo ‘twine’ and a rosette baked separately finished off the decoration.

Deliciously crisp and crunchy when freshly baked, I call it picnic pie, because, once cooled, it is pleasingly robust, losing only a few flakes of pastry when jostled about and ideal for packing in a basket for an al-fresco meal.

Filo Picnic Pie

2 packets of Jus-Rol filo pastry[1]
250g unsalted butter[2]


Obviously, the quantities will vary depending on what you have to hand and the size of the tin you use, but I used the following:

250g smoked bacon, cut into 2cm cubes
2 dessert apples
2 firm pears
250g grated mature/vintage cheddar
1 large leek
2 red onions
1kg potatoes
1 large bunch (100g) of flat-leaf parsley

vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Prepare the fillings

This takes quite a while, so maybe do the preparation on one day and then assemble the pie on another. Toss the cubed apples and pears in lemon juice to keep them from going brown, or just leave them until you’re ready to fill the pie. Once prepared, the fillings will happily keep in the fridge for several days.

  • Bacon: Cook the bacon cubes until no-longer translucent and all liquid has evaporated.
  • Fruit: Peel and core the apples and pears and cut into 2cm cubes.
  • Leek: Cut the leek in half lengthways and rinse all grit and dirt from between the leaves. Lay onto a cutting board and cut it again lengthways, quartering it. Slice thinly, both white and green parts. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook the sliced leek gently until softened, keeping the colour bright. Do not brown.
  • Onions: Remove outer leaves and cut in half. Lay the halves flat and make 2 or 3 cuts across it, then slice thinly. Try and get the onion into similar sized pieces as the leek. Season with salt and pepper. Proceed as for the leek, softening the onion in a little oil.
  • Steam or simmer the potatoes in their skins until tender. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, then remove the skins and push through a potato ricer.
  • Parsley: Chop finely and mix lightly into the riced potatoes. Don’t compress the potato – you want to keep it dry and fluffy.

To Assemble The Pie

I will include instructions for the decoration, but the pie is just as delicious plain and unadorned.

  • Have a damp cloth to hand, to cover the sheets of filo pastry, so that they don’t dry out as you work.
  • Unpack the pastry from one packet and lay it on the worktop. Cover with the damp cloth.
  • Take one sheet of filo and halve it lengthways.
  • Twist each half around itself until it resembles a rope, then lay inside your loaf pan at right angles, like wrapping for a present.
  • There’s so much butter in the pastry, I don’t usually grease the tin, but spritz with cooking spray if you’re at all concerned.
  • Cover the loaf tin with a damp towel, while you prepare the rest of the filo.
  • Take the next sheet of filo and lay it on the counter top.
  • Dot over it with melted butter.
  • Lay a second sheet of filo on top of the first and dot with butter.
  • Repeat for all 5 sheets.
  • You now have a rectangle made up of 5 sheets of filo laminated together with melted butter.
  • Line the loaf tin with the prepare filo. It should lie smooth against the bottom and sides of the tin. The excess pastry at the end should be folded neatly, as if wrapping a present. You can just about make the folds out on the picture.
  • Leave the excess pastry trailing over the edges of the tin.

Adding the ingredients

  • Line the pie with the potato/parsley mix. This will help keep the filo moist until you bake it. Press the mashed potato against the sides and bottom of the tin – it will have enough moisture to stick together. Make sure there is about 1cm depth all around.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients in the following order:
    • Bacon
    • Apples and pears mixed
    • Cheese
    • Leeks and onions mixed
    • Mashed potato and parsley

The diagram shows the different layers when the pie has been cut. Since the pie will be inverted to serve, the fillings need to be added in reverse order.

Pie cross-section

  • Press the ingredients down firmly to give the pie stability when baked.
  • From the second packet of filo, laminate 3 sheets of filo with butter and lay them on the top of the pie. Fold the excess pastry from the sides back over them and press to seal. Brush the whole with melted butter.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Put the tin on a baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes. Don’t be tempted to remove the pie early – the top will always be darker than the sides and the sides need to be cooked and crisp or the pie will collapse when removed from the tin. If in doubt, remove the pie, invert it and slide the tin up a little to check the colouring on the pastry.
  • When happy that the pastry is crisp enough all over, allow the pie to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing and serving.
  • If you’re taking this on a picnic, allow it to cool completely and then chill in the fridge. Turn the cold pie out of the tin and set onto a baking sheet. Crisp up the pastry in a 100°C, 80°C Fan oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before wrapping in parchment/foil.


Due to the nature of how this pie was baked, I baked the rosette separately and just balanced it on top to serve.

  • Using the remaining filo, laminate the sheets together with melted butter.
  • Cut ribbons of laminated filo using either a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Make the ribbons about 3cm wide.
  • Take 3 x 15cm strips and fold the ends into the middle to make the loops of the rosette. I used scrunched up foil to keep the loops nice and round.
  • Lay the strips evenly across one another to make the six ‘petals’ of the rosette.
  • Cut another 2 strips of pastry and use scissors to cut an inverse ‘V’ into one end of each.
  • Tuck these ribbons underneath the rosette, arranging the ends over more scrunched foil to make them stand in waves.
  • Finally, cut a 10cm square of pastry and crumple into a ball to form the middle of the rosette.
  • Arrange the rosette on an upside-down loaf tin. Let the ends of the ribbons trail down the side if liked.
  • Spray the whole with cooking spray.
  • Bake for 10 minutes only in a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven.
  • Allow to cool and add to the pie just before serving.

[1] I don’t usually specify brands, but the sheets of filo here are especially large (255mm x 480mm), allowing you to line the tin without having to patch and join sheets together. Each pack contains 6 sheets.

[2] You might not use all of the butter

Butterscotch Brulee Tarts

Butterscotch Brulee Tarts


Very belatedly is one of my Bake Off recipes that didn’t get much screen time, compared to the Apple Rose Tarts – but it might actually edge ahead of them in the taste stakes. This post is for my beautiful and talented sister Georgina, who’s been waiting patiently for this recipe ever since Tart Week. Go follow her on Twitter ( @Georns ) – she says/tweets cool stuff!

When the Bake Off began airing, I was interviewed by the local BBC radio station, and was asked what my favourite food from childhood was. My answer was the Butterscotch Tart we had for school dinners. (I should point out at this stage that my mother was Kitchen Supervisor at the central kitchens that supplied the meals for all the schools in the local area – a fact which earned me by turns admiration and resentment at school, depending on the menu of the day – and occasionally both at once when the menu was particularly divisive.) I also had a great fondness for Butterscotch Angel Delight, although its appearance on the dinner-table was rare,  because it was everything our regular puddings at home weren’t. Packed to the gunnels with flavourings, colourings and preservatives and – most deliciously decadent – it came out of a packet! Such a NORTY pudding! *sighs wistfully*

ANYHOO – These tarts are very simple – a pastry shell filled with a flavoured custard. For the Bake Off, however, I jazzed it up a little by adding pecans to the pastry, and just a drop of scotch to the filling, which really turns this nursery pudding into something altogether more grown up. As a final flourish, I decided to brulee the tops to add some crackly crunch. Now bruléeing caster sugar with a blowtorch can be tricky – it only takes a second to go from caramelised to burnt, so I was really pleased to discover ‘Brulée Sugar’. It sounds really fancy, but it’s easy enough to make yourself. and involves the alchemy of sugarwork!

There’s a theory out there *waves hand vaguely* that one of the characteristics of sugar is that it yearns to return to its previous form – which goes a long way to explaining why it is important to wash the sugar crystals off the side of your pan with a wet pastry brush when boiling sugar. It doesn’t take much for the whole lot to crystallise and then there’s no recovering – you just have to start again.

SO – going along with this theory, if the end result (brulée) is essentially melted sugar, then isn’t starting with sugar in crystals (granulated or caster) just making life difficult for yourself? If you started with a sugar that used to be melted, it would be so much easier to return it to that state, because that is the state it would ‘want’ to be in! It might sound bonkers (sentient sugar!?) but I was impressed with the speed at which it dissolved into golden caramel under the flame of the blowtorch. So here’s how we do it!

Brulée Sugar

  • Sprinkle some caster sugar into a heavy-bottomed pan – exact quantities aren’t important, what you’re aiming for is a thin, even layer.
  • Heat gently until the sugar melts and turns a dark golden brown. NB It won’t melt evenly, so a certain degree of swirling is needed. DON’T STIR – or it’ll crystallise (see above)
  • When all the sugar crystals have melted and you have just a clear caramel, pour it out onto parchment or silicone sheets and leave to cool and set.
  • When completely cooled, break up into small pieces and either blitz in a spice grinder/food-processor or pound in a mortar. The texture doesn’t have to be completely smooth powder – a few chunks here and there add a nice texture to the finished brulée.
  • Keep it in a small jar, making sure the lid is secured tightly – moisture will make it harden into a solid lump.

This is a great make-ahead dessert, because you can just assemble it all at the last minute: pour the custard into the cooked pastry shells, sprinkle with brulée sugar, apply flame and serve at once. However, if there’s going to be any length of time between making and serving, consider also chilling the custard-filled tarts in the fridge, uncovered. A slight skin will form on the custard, and this will form a barrier between the custard and the Brulée Sugar. I didn’t do this when making these tarts to photograph, and as you can see from the picture (if you look closely), I faffed about so much taking the pictures, the moisture from the custard is causing the sugar of the brulée to dissolve, and the custard is starting to show tiny cracks.

Butterscotch Brulée Tarts

Pecan Pastry
215g plain flour, plus additional for work surface
50g finely ground pecans
3.5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
190g unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
ice water

  • Combine flour, ground pecans, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Blitz briefly to mix.
  • Add the butter and process until like breadcrumbs.
  • Add water until the pastry comes together
  • Knead gently into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

90g unsalted butter
100g dark Muscovado sugar[1]
100g Demerera sugar
120ml double cream

  • Place butter  and brown sugar in a heavy bottomed pan.
  • Stir continuously over a medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Cook mixture to rolling boil only (about 5 minutes) 106°C
  • Remove from heat and immediately stir in 120ml cream and set aside to cool.

Custard Filling
250ml milk
50g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp flour
1tbs cornflour
3 large egg yolks
1 tbs whisky (optional)
Extra thick double cream – although ordinary double cream is just fine, as is no cream at all – depends how firm you like the custard to be.

  • Heat milk.
  • Mix yolks with sugar and flour.
  • When milk is hot, remove it from the heat and pour onto the egg/sugar mixture, whisking vigorously. NB A whisk really is the best utensil for this job – the wires agitate the mixture whilst the gaps allow it to move through the liquid without (too much) sloshing over the sides of the bowl.
  • Pour the mixture back into the pan and continue to heat, whisking, until it thickens.
  • Stir in 120ml butterscotch. Add 1 tbs scotch (whisky)
  • Cover with plastic wrap. Cool

To serve, fold in cream if required.

Overall Method

  • Make pastry and blind bake tart cases – 200°C, 180°C Fan. If you’re using muffin tins, then bake for 10 minutes with beans in (use plain white paper muffin cases to hold the beans – I used patterned cases once, and the colours on the outside of the cases bled into the insides of the pastry caes – Lawks!), then 5-10 minutes without. Larger shaped tarts will take slightly longer for each baking.
  • Make butterscotch.
  • Make custard filling.
  • Fill tartlet cases, chill
  • To Serve: sprinkle with brulee sugar and blowtorch until melted and caramelised.

[1] I use this mixture of sugars because I like the dark butterscotch taste it produces – which might not be to everyone’s taste. Think of it as the butterscotch equivalent to 70% cocoa chocolate and milk chocolate. If you think this might be too intense a flavour, use 200g (total) of Demerera sugar instead.

The Midnight Meringue

Midnight Meringue Pie


Cor! It’s been a while since I made a post – apologies for that, but it’s been a bit hectic since the final of The Great British Bake Off aired.

Now I know this is still a Bake Off recipe, but I wanted to make it a blog post just to fill in some background on how I put the recipe together. I did actually go through the reasoning behind the recipe on camera, but obviously it never made it into the edit. To me, at least, it therefore seemed like I’d just given a pie a bit of a poncy name for no real reason. So for those interested, here is the background and how I put this dessert together. Feel free to skip down to the recipe.

Still here? Awesome! Ok, so the recipe request for the Week 5 Showstopper Challenger was for: A Unique Meringue Pie. The guidelines were very specific in two respects:

  1. It had to be something much more than a regular Lemon Meringue Pie, and
  2. It had to be big. Huge, even. At least 30cm diameter across the base.

Obviously the size was going to test our skill in baking such a large pie, and the filling stipulation was going to test our creativity. So all this got me pondering how I could do something that was original, unique and achievable within the time limit of 3 hours.

Now when I think of a meringue pie, I naturally think of lemon meringue pie – and it just reminds me of a bright, sunny day: the circle of yellow like the sun, the mounds of fluffy white meringue clouds. So I thought it would be fun to make something that was a contrast – involving dark and light, very Ying/Yang. Then I thought about it a bit more and decided it wasn’t going to work – Ying Yang Meringue? Please.

So I crossed over to the Dark Side (Luke I am your father) and The Midnight Meringue was born!

Dark chocolate pastry, rich mocha filling and a dark meringue made with…..well, it went through several revisions, including (as some of you might remember) right down to the wire on the day itself! Treacle meringue, molasses meringue, coffee meringue – but on the day, brown sugar meringue won out.

I also decided to ‘assemble’ rather than bake the meringue, reasoning that less could go wrong that way – I could concentrate on each component individually and not have to worry about something over-cooking. The final dish consisted of a cooked Italian meringue made with brown sugar, a thick and rich custard filling flavoured with coffee and dark chocolate and a blind baked chocolate pastry case.

The meringue was piped in a huge swirl and finished off with a few blasts of the blowtorch to toast the edges.

The meringue was a little softer than the standard meringue topping because of the brown sugar, but I still think it was the right choice and really made the pie stand out.

This recipe is for a single large pie, but you could just as easily bake mini pastry shells and create individually-sized pies for a special occasion – and would probably be less stressful than worrying about one big pie. The fact that at least 2 of the components can be made in advance just makes it that much easier.

The Midnight Meringue

Chocolate Pastry
300g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
175g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tbsp milk

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180 Fan.
  • Grease a deep, loose-bottomed, 30cm tart tin.
  • In a food processor, mix flour, cocoa and sugar.
  • Add butter, cut in small cubes. Blitz.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of milk and blend again until mixture resembles coarse, damp sand.
  • Press the mixture into the base and sides of your pie tin. Alternatively, press mixture together and roll out using a rolling pin. It’s quite crumbly, so this is rather tricky and best done between sheets of cling film. Depends how critical your guests are going to be 😉
  • Line with baking parchment, fill with rice/beans/baking bead and bake blind, 200°C 180°C Fan, for 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove beans, cover edge of rim with foil to prevent burning and return to the oven until fully baked (10-15 minutes).
  • Allow the pastry to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then ease out of the tin and cool on a wire rack

The mocha filling
250g dark (70%) chocolate, chopped
6 large egg yolks
225g caster sugar
65g cornflour
1 litre milk
2 tbsp espresso coffee powder

  • Melt chocolate in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds to prevent burning.
  • In a bowl, whisk together yolks, sugar and cornflour.
  • Add the coffee powder to the milk and heat, stirring until the coffee has dissolved.
  • Whisk hot milk mixture into the egg/sugar mixture.
  • Return the custard to the pan and continue to heat, stirring, until it has thickened.
  • Stir in the melted chocolate until fully incorporated.
  • Check flavour. Depending on the strength of your chocolate, you may need to add more coffee powder.
  • Cover with cling film to stop a skin from forming and chill until required.

The brown sugar Italian meringue [1]
150g egg whites (5 large)
pinch of salt
few drops of lemon juice
45g granulated sugar
15g powdered egg white
150ml water
300g dark muscovado sugar

  • Put whites, salt and lemon juice in a mixer bowl.
  • Whip whites slowly until frothy, then fast until stiff peaks.
  • Gradually add granulated sugar and egg white powder (mixed together). Allow each spoonful to dissolve before adding the next.
  • Whip to stiff, glossy peaks.
  • Heat sugar and water to 115°C
  • Remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to subside.
  • With the beaters running, pour the sugar syrup into the whipped whites in a thin stream, then continue whisking until bowl is cool to the touch and the meringue is stiff. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.

To assemble

  • Place the chocolate pastry case on the serving dish.
  • Whisk chilled custard filling and pour into the pastry case.
  • Spoon (or pipe) over the brown sugar meringue. Make sure there are no gaps between the meringue and the pastry shell, and that the filling is completely covered.
  • Use a blowtorch to lightly toast the meringue. Serve.

[1] This quantity makes enough meringue to cover a single large meringue pie. If you want an awe-inducing mountain of meringue like the picture (although I feel obliged to point out that the picture is actually of a mini, 8cm pie), you might want to make double the quantity. If so, then I would suggest making two batches, because a single batch fills a standard mixing bowl.

Chocolate and Orange Mousse Cake

Chocolate & Orange Mousse Cake


Semi-final week on The Great British Bake Off, and the Signature Bake for Round 1 is a layered sponge and mousse cake.

My original recipe is listed on the BBC Food website, which was the version from the show and which was completed within 2 hours.

This version varies slightly in that, without the time-pressures of competition, I have suggested a gelatine-set orange gelee for the top. This can look especially impressive as it means that the gelee stands proud of the surface of the cake, as if by magic.

The instructions below are for a single, large mousse cake. The same quantity will also make 12 mini versions like the one pictured above, which stands about 6cm high. Instead of teeny tiny springform pans (I’m not even sure they make them that small), I used the ‘improvised baking rings’ (made from tinned peas tins) mentioned earlier in the Muffins post.

Joconde décor paste
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar
100g egg whites
110g plain flour
orange food colouring
2tbs melted butter

Joconde sponge
180g egg whites, at room temperature
25g granulated sugar
225g ground almonds
225g icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
40g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
85g clarified butter, melted

Chocolate and orange mousse
1 orange, zest and juice
1 tsp powdered gelatine
175g plain (60%+) chocolate, broken into pieces
2 large eggs, separated
300ml double cream, whisked to soft peaks

Orange gelée
300ml orange juice
3 sheets gelatine

To decorate
300ml double cream, whisked to soft peaks
3 oranges
cocoa powder

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan
  • Line two 45cm x 30cm (half sheet) baking trays with baking parchment and brush with the melted butter.
  • Line the base and sides of a 25cm springform cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Make the joconde paste:
    • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then gradually add the egg whites, beating continuously.
    • Fold in the sifted flour then add the food colouring.
    • Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 5mm plain nozzle.
    • Pipe the mixture onto the buttered parchment in a swirl pattern and place in the freezer to harden.
  • Make the joconde sponge:
    • Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
    • Add the granulated sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks are formed.
    • Scrape the meringue mixture into a bowl and cover with cling film to prevent the meringue collapsing.
    • Beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs in the bowl for 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
    • Turn the speed down to low and mix in the flour and cocoa powder.
    • Gently fold in the meringue mixture using a large spatula.
    • Put the melted butter in a small bowl and mix in a cupful of the sponge batter. Pour this back into the mixing bowl and gently fold into the rest of batter.
  • Remove the baking trays with the decor paste from the freezer.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the two baking trays, spreading it smoothly over the decorations and into the corners ensuring it is level. An offset spatula is useful for this.
  • Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the sponges are cooked and springy to the touch and have shrunk away from the edges of the pan.
  • Turn out by covering the sponge with a sheet of parchment then flip the baking tray over onto the work surface. Peel off the paper to reveal the pattern, and lay it lightly on top of the sponge. Leave to cool.
  • When cooled, cut strips of sponge to line the sides of the cake tin, ensuring the pattern is facing outwards against the sides of the tin. Cut a circle of sponge to line the base and lay it patterned-side down, in the bottom of the tin. Cut a second circle to make the top of the cake and set aside.
  • Make the mousse:
    • Pour the juice from the orange through a fine sieve into a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Set the mixture aside for three minutes then place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water, taking care the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water, and stir gently until the gelatine has dissolved.
    • Place the chocolate in a large bowl and melt it in the microwave, stirring every 45 seconds.
    • Mix the orange zest and egg yolks into the melted chocolate, then stir in the gelatine mixture and fold in the whipped cream.
    • Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks then gently fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour the mousse into the tin, level the surface and place the remaining sponge circle on top, pattern uppermost and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.
  • Make the orange gelée:
    • Cut the gelatine sheets into small pieces and put into a bowl. Add 60ml of orange juice from the 300ml and leave for 10 minutes while the gelatine swells.
    • Heat very gently in a saucepan until the gelatine has dissolved, then stir in the rest of the orange juice.
    • Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Don’t skip the cooling. If you try and pour the orange gelee over the cake before it has cooled and thickened slightly, it will just soak into the sponge.
    • When the orange mix has cooled and is beginning to thicken, remove the tin from the fridge and slide a strip of food-grade acetate (or silicon sheeting) between the side of the springform tin and the sponge.
    • Carefully pour the orange mixture over the top of the cake and return to the fridge to set (2 hours)
  • To decorate:
    • Release the sides of the springform tin and peel off the acetate/silicon. Transfer to a serving plate .
    • Whip the double cream to stiff peaks (be careful not to over-beat) and pipe swirls around the edge of the mousse cake.
    • Cut thin strips of peel from the oranges and curl them around a straw.
    • Decorate mousse cake with orange zest curls and dust with cocoa powder.

Cost: £9.50 (September 2011)

Herb and Walnut Rolls

Herb and walnut rolls


Oooh, I’m getting all behind like a cow’s tail, as Mother used to say! Still says, actually. I was wanting to do my macaroons to show that they weren’t ALL disasters, then there’s the chicken pie and the meringue pie from last week too – and it’s only a few days until Program 6 of The Great British Bake Off and cheesecake/roulade/croquembouche!

But first, Bread.

In the showstopper challenge for Bread Week on The Great British Bake Off, we had to bake 2 different types of rolls, and a basket to display them in. I chose sweet Chocolate and Chilli rolls and these savoury Herb and Walnut.

I also chose to bake some of them in flower pots, having read that Eliza Acton used to bake in ‘earthen pans’ instead of the loaf tins we know today. There’s nothing special about the pots – they’re regular clay flower pots from the local garden centre. HOWEVER – they must be seasoned before use – and not seasoned as in salt and pepper – seasoned as in treated so that the bread dough won’t stick to the insides.

How to season flower pots for baking.

  • Wipe the pots with a damp cloth and arrange them on a baking sheet right side up.
  • Using a pastry brush, paint the insides of the pots with vegetable oil.
  • Turn the pots over and paint the outsides and the base.
  • Bake in a hot oven for 30-40 minutes – Best to do this when you’ve got the oven on to bake bread (you ARE baking bread, I hope! 😉 ).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  • Repeat the painting with oil and baking 3 times (for a total of 4 times altogether). As the pots bake, the oil will soak into the clay and gradually build up a kind of non-stick surface.
  • Don’t wash the pots after you use them – soapy water will undo all the good work you put in seasoning them. A quick wipe with a damp cloth when they’ve cooled down will suffice.

The recipe itself is another mix of flours and flavours. Spelt flour can be tricky to work with due to the low gluten, which is why I’ve teamed it with some rye and some white flour. Stoneground wholemeal flour just made the dough way too heavy, so I lightened things up by using just brown bread flour. The herbs really do pack a delicious punch when fresh, but dried the intensity of flavour just isn’t there. Go with what you can get, though. If you like a really nutty flavour, toast the chopped walnuts in a dry pan for 5-10 minutes.

Herb and walnut flowerpot rolls – Makes 8-12, depending on size

300g brown bread flour
200g spelt flour
50g rye flour
50g white bread flour
1½ tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 sachets dried fast-acting yeast
about 500ml/18fl oz warm water
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
200g/7oz walnuts, roughly chopped

For the glaze
1 free-range egg
1 tbsp water

  • Mix the flours with the salt in a large bowl then add the herbs and the yeast and make a well in the centre.
  • Mix together the water, sugar and oil, pour into the flour then mix until ingredients come together to form a dough – you may need to add a little more water.
  • Turn the dough onto a floured board, knead for 10 minutes then place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Knead the walnuts into the dough.
  • Divide the dough onto portions and shape into rolls.
  • Oil the insides of your flower pots and place a square of baking parchment over the hole in the bottom.
  • Drop the balls of shaped dough into the pots. To ensure there’s enough room for rising, they should be no more than 2/3 full.
  • Place pots on a baking sheet and cover with a cloth. Leave to rise until the dough springs back slowly when pressed with a fingertip. You  want the dough to be about 3/4 risen and to finish rising in the heat of the oven. If you wait until it’s fully risen before putting it in the oven, it will deflate, especially if you knock the baking sheet as you put it in.
  • Mix together the egg and water. Brush the rolls lightly with the egg mixture – try and avoid letting the mixture pool against the side of the pots – it’ll stick the dough to the pot.
  • Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until the bottoms of the rolls sound hollow when tapped. If you have trouble getting the rolls to pop out of the pots, slide a knife around between the side of the pot and the side of the bread, then poke the handle of a wooden spoon through the hole in the bottom of the flowerpot.
  • Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Cost: £3.45 (Herbs from my garden, September 2011)

Melting Moments

Melting Moment Biscuits


Week 4 on The Great British Bake Off was Biscuit week, and for my Signature Bake I chose to make Melting Moments.

The reasons were many:

  • Underneath all the ‘bells and whistles’ decoration, they contain just five ingredients, all of which you would find in your cupboards – one of my (numerous!) pet peeves is having to make a shopping expedition in search of ingredients.
  • There’s no tricky techniques – it’s practically a ‘bung everything in a bowl and mix it’ method.
  • They bake really quickly – a mere 12 minutes!
  • They’re crisp, yet melt in the mouth. No, seriously – they literally melt! It’s the magic of cornflour! I’m all for a nice, crisp, chunky, rustic biscuit, but every now and then something delicate and indulgent just hits the spot.
  • They can be prettied up by being piped – or if speed is of the essence, teaspoonsful of mixture on a baking tray work just as well with a fraction of the faff.
  • They can be kept in a tin and enjoyed plain – but also sandwiched together with jam and buttercream at short notice for a special occasion.

As luck would have it, I’d recently spent quite some time perfecting what I believed to be the perfect Melting Moment. This involved experimenting with various proportions of cornflour/butter/flour/sugar to achieve that delicate balance of crisp to bite, yet melt in the mouth crumbliness: too much cornflour, and they end up tasting almost ‘chalky’ – too much flour, and they don’t crumble, too much butter and they end up greasy.

It also gave me the opportunity to use a new recipe for a lighter, silkier buttercream that I’d found. Doesn’t that sound delicious and awesome? Stay with me though, because you might start to have doubts as I elaborate. It’s known by a variety of names, but the one that I, possibly misguidedly, chose to remember it as is: Depression Era Buttercream. Stay with me! Think silky! Think luscious!

Still here? Good. Because now I’m going to tell you it’s made using a thickened paste of flour and milk. *waits for the shrieking stampede of readers fleeing for the hills* Born in an era of economic hardship (sound familiar??), this buttercream recipe manages to stretch the expensive butter and sugar to go a little further, but what you actually get is astonishingly good and head and shoulders above a regular buttercream.

Seriously – what with the description and the name – if ever a recipe needed some MAJOR PR and spin-doctoring, it’s this one. It almost had me doubting too, when I first read about it – but if you look out there on the internet, it comes up time after time, with people raving about how great it is. I reasoned that they couldn’t ALL be delusional, so I decided to give it a go. With a bit more research and some tweaks here and there, I came up with the instructions below to ensure that the end product is stunning.

Where normal buttercream can be a greasy, gritty, yellow lump, this buttercream is light, dazzling white, and silky smooth.  It’s versatile in that you can add flavour and/or colour to the milk, and not risk spoiling the end result by accidentally adding too much liquid. I used a variation of this with my blackcurrant and mint macaroons (which weren’t shown in the final edit *sob!* but which tasted lovely!).

Melting Moments – makes 12-14 sandwiched biscuits

250g plain flour
58g cornflour
58g icing sugar
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • Cream butter and icing sugar together until pale and fluffy. NB This will take a good 5 minutes, possibly longer. The mixture needs to be soft enough to pipe
  • Add the vanilla extract and beat for a few seconds.
  • Sift flour and cornflour together over the butter mixture and mix until smooth.
  • Fit a large star-shaped nozzle into a piping bag. To add the touch of colour to your biscuits, draw/paint a single line of food colouring inside the piping bag, from the nozzle to the bag opening. I chose red, because I was using raspberry jam. Matching the colour to the jam is a nice touch, I feel – but any colour would do.
  • Spoon mixture into the piping bag and pipe swirls on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. NB I used a template of circles drawn on a sheet of cardboard, and pinned it underneath the baking parchment. Not compulsory at all, but if you’re going to sandwich the biscuits together, it helps to keep them all a  similar size.
  • Place in freezer for 15 minutes to firm. This will harden the butter in the swirls, so that when the biscuits go into the hot oven, the heat will cook them almost instantly, thereby preserving the pretty pattern. You can skip this step by all means, but the result will be decidedly ‘fuzzy’ compared to the picture above.
  • Turn oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 12 minutes or until they are a pale golden colour and the edges of the ‘swirls’ are just turning a light brown.
  • Leave for a few minutes on the baking tray to firm up slightly before transferring to wire rack to cook.

Depression Era Buttercream Filling 
This makes enough buttercream to fill and ice a regular-sized cake – more than is needed for a single batch of biscuits. Consider halving the recipe – or make twice as many biscuits!

250ml milk
4 tbs plain flour
225g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • Heat the milk with the flour, stirring with a whisk until the mixture thickens.
  • Continue cooking and stirring for 1 minute. This extra bit of heating/stirring will ‘cook out’ the flour and ensure that the buttercream doesn’t taste floury.
  • Pour the mixture onto a plate, cover with cling film, to prevent a skin forming and cool. NB Don’t skip the cooling part – you don’t want the butter mixture to melt.
  • Beat the sugar and butter for at least 10 minutes until pale and fluffy .  NB Do not skimp on the whisking time. Obviously, a stand mixer would be ideal, but even with hand-held beaters you should persevere. This extended beating will get air into the mix, and the more air means a lighter, silkier buttercream. The mixture will become almost white in colour.
  • Add thickened milk mixture and vanilla extract.
  • Continue mixing until fully incorporated, pale and thick – another 10 minutes.

To Assemble
Seedless Raspberry Jam (or jam of your choice – whizz it in a mini food processor to get rid of any lumps of fruit)
Icing sugar

  • Spread the bases of half the biscuits with a little jam
  • Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with the buttercream and pipe circles of cream onto the bases of the other half of the biscuits.
  • Sandwich the biscuits together and and dust with icing sugar.

Cost: Biscuits: £1.35, Buttercream: £1.55 (September 2011)