Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Pear and Butterscotch Frangipane Tartlets

Never mind Prada and Gucci. Move over, Chanel and Valentino. Sure, they have gorgeous and desirable things, but no clothes shop can get can my Mum half as excited as a certain kitchen shop. I wonder if the words, “Williams Sonoma” mean anything to anyone? I thought so. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Williams Sonoma is a kitchen shop chain in America. It sells the most beautiful things.)
DSCF6171This August, my family is going to America for our holidays. As we are spending a few days in Washington DC my Mum has already been online to find the nearest Williams Sonoma to where we are staying. And this is nothing new! My Mum has bought home cake stands, china platters and fruit bowls on international flights many times before – leaving a space in the suitcase for exciting new things on the way home has become the norm. But what’s this got to do with these tarts? Every keen cook wants their kitchen full of gadgets and gizmos, or even just new pan after new tray after new dish. Half of it never gets used, but is always wanted. My Mum bought these tartlet pans a year or so ago and this weekend I found them, still neatly tucked in their box. Their time had most certainly come!
DSCF6164 They were used to make these scrumptious Pear and Butterscotch Frangipane Tartlets. You’ve got your crisp pastry layer, the gloriously sticky sauce, soft frangipane and juicy pears. What’s not to like? Even if you’re not in the mood for the whole tartlet shebang, the butterscotch sauce is a definite Must Make. It is almost drinkable, it is that good. You can all too easily slurp spoon after spoon. Amazing! Or, on the other hand, if you’re not feeling for the sauce – you could put a small layer of apricot jam on the base of the pastry – extra fruit intake :)
DSCF6150Although they are multi-component, these tartlets are fairly simple to make because no step is complicated. Plus, when you bring them to the table they look like something out of a patisserie! The recipe is from the latest issue of BBC olive magazine, so don’t delay buying it! The tartlet pans are not going back into hiding because I want to experiment with more mini tarts – ideas, anyone?
Until next time! X

Friday, 22 January 2010

“Petit Fours aux Amandes”

aka gorgeous almond “macaroon” style biscuits that are completely impossible to ignore when you walk past their tray.DSCF6004 To me, it feels like there are so many skills to learn when you start baking – and especially baking for a baking blog. Obviously, there are simple things to master first, simple things to be able to build on. Sponge cakes, roll-out cookies. But then I gradually find there are more things – candy making, fancy-buttercream making, complicated-cakes, puff pastry, elaborate sugar craft. Of course most of these things are completely unnecessary and few but the professional do them – but they are so much more noticeable when you look at the “big blogs”. One small technique I had yet to master properly was piping.


Which is why these biscuits appealed to me and were on my new To Bake list. They were unusual, from a new book, looked darn tasty – and could give me a chance to improve on that old piping.
For Christmas, I was lucky enough to receive Mary Berry’s Complete Cake Bible. Readers abroad may not recognize the name – but Mary Berry is a classic – a little like a British Dorie Greenspan. This book (as the title may give away) holds every recipe you’re going to need, for every occasion, every ingredient, every time. As I read through it, almost every page had me thinking “Ooh”, “I should make that”, “That sounds nice”, “How clever!” or “That’s so pretty!”. Definitely a book I would recommend.  DSCF6005

Happily, these cookies turned out delicious. They are moist and slightly sticky, bursting with almond flavour. The book says you would probably only make these as a gift as they are slightly fiddly. Well…ahem… my family enjoyed them very much and not one was shared! They are so delicate and small it becomes dangerously easy to munch on a couple at a time. I got the hang of the piping, and feel much more confident with that now.
Notes: I had three trays of cookies and each turned out differently. Tray 1 – had about 9 minutes and turned out perfectly. Tray 2 – same time, but for some unknown reason the piping detail disappeared whilst baking. Tray 3 – had 12 minutes, a little too dark. Just something to bear in mind! You can see the three different batches in the bottom picture.

Petit Fours Aux Amandes from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Bible, by Mary Berry

Ingredients: 2 egg whites
4oz (100g) ground almonds
3oz (75g) caster sugar
a little almond essence

To Decorate: glace cherries or angelica (these do NOT have to be chopped into heart shapes like mine, but I was baking with my arty sister and well…they are so cute!)

To Finish: 1tbsp caster sugar
2tbsps milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with non-stick paper.

2. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold in the ground almonds, sugar and almond essence.

3. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle, and pipe into small rosettes. Decorate each rosette with a small piece of glace cherry or angelica.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Lift onto a wire rack.

5. To finish, mix the caster sugar and milk together and lightly brush over the cooked petit fours.


From left to right, Tray 1, Tray 2, Tray 3.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Glazed Fruit Rolls

I read somewhere once that things are only scary if you are told they are. For instance, many people find pastry making scary – but if you grow up believing its simple then you are oblivious to the fear. It’s the same with making a sponge or meringue – feared processes, but if you tell yourself they are simple then they are likely to be much easier. My baking fear is yeast.
DSCF6048 About a year ago, I attempted hot cross buns. They didn’t work, and there was much wasted dough – not fun times. Since that, I occasionally saw a recipe I liked, considered making it, saw it involved yeast, and put straight back down. The kneading, the knocking back, the rising, the “tepid” water, the whole shebang scared me. But then time and time again on Tastespotting, Foodgawker and on so many blogs I would see cinnamon rolls. And they looked so very good. SO very good. So I gave in, and yeast was once again introduced to my mixing bowl.
DSCF6027These aren’t actually cinnamon rolls – they are mincemeat rolls. After Christmas there are always a few jars left over and whilst mincemeat lasts, its nice to use it up a bit. A free day was found and the baking begun. And it worked! This recipe was from the Waitrose magazine, so from the beginning I felt in safe “hands”. The dough came together nicely, wasn’t too sticky, rose when it was meant to – it was on its best behaviour! And happily, I managed to cut 10 rather than 8 rolls out of the dough.DSCF6035These may be one of the best-smelling things you could bake. They fill your house with their rich, fruity “aromas” and the softly baking dough. As you pull them apart, they open stickily and icing cracks and falls (I cut a final corner by making glace rather than cream cheese icing), your fingers immersed in each bite. Such a treat. They are perfect on a Sunday night in front of the television and our family demolished as many as we could fast. I’m happy to say this has set me back on the yeasty-route and massively helped with my confidence. Do not be surprised to see Hot Cross Bun Attempt 2 in this space at Easter time! You can find the fruit scroll recipe here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Savoury Alert

Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to start my savoury rule just before the Christmas baking season. Needless to say, it hasn’t exactly worked out and nothing savoury has graced my blog since the chicken pie. Well, New Year, new resolutions – and back with the savoury.DSCF5990
I always think that there are two ways to go with food in January. There’s the detox, uber-healthy, salad and water survival way. Or there’s the “its-cold-and-summer-is-too-far-away” mentality – comfort, comfort, comfort. Whilst I always prefer the comfort way – this sort of manages to mix a bit of both. Carrot and Red Lentil soup, with Bacon and Cheese Bread.
DSCF5977 On my “Savoury To Make List”, second from bottom, was a rather unclear wish - “some kinda soup”. I’ve never really made soup before so had no idea which way to go with it. It wasn’t until my Mum told me about her recipe (that sounded simple) for this soup, that I knew where I was heading. It was a learning curve for me, simple or not, and a couple of times I did ring my Mum “It’s too watery”  “I think it’s the wrong lentils” “How many onions again?” etc BUT all that said and done – it tasted good. It didn’t turn out watery, in fact perhaps it was a tad on the thick side. I’ve said it before and I don’t mind repeating it – I adore sweet baking, its why I bake. But always at the end of a savoury bake or cooking, the sense of accomplishment is pretty good. There’s no stopping me and soup now ;)
DSCF5987And to go with it – Rachel Allen’s Bacon and Cheese Bread. Its another thing that sounds harder than it is – it’s not a yeast sort of bread, in fact its almost a savoury cake, especially with its soft texture.  This bread is really simple and can be made up in so little time, no kneading or rising or anything like that. I guess you just can’t go wrong with Rachel Allen! The bread creates a gorgeous thick crust, and the lardons throughout mean bursts of extra flavour. Delicious, and even better toasted!
Rustic Bacon and Cheddar Bread, from Bake by Rachel Allen
Ingredients: 320g/11.5oz plain flour
1tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4tsp ground black pepper
100g/3.5oz Cheddar cheese, grated (I think you need to use more for stronger flavour)
100g/3.5oz bacon lardons cooked until crisp
200ml/7fl oz milk
2 eggs
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
60ml/2fl oz olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F/Gas Mark 4. Lightly oil and line a 13x23cm (5x9in) loaf tin.
2. Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the grated cheese and cooled bacon lardons and mix well.
3. Pour the milk into a large measuring jug, add the eggs, mustard and olive oil and whisk to combine.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and slowly pour in the liquid, stirring all the time until it is fully incorporated.
5. Pour (or spoon, my dough was not pourable) into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 50minutes. Remove from the tin and allow to cook for 10 more minutes on the oven shelf in order to crisp the bottom (I baked first for 45 minutes, then gave it 2-3 out the tin and this was more than enough). When cooked, it will sound hollow when tapped on the base. Allow to cool on a wire rack before eating.
DSCF5961 My Mum’s Carrot and Red Lentil Soup. Serves 4
Ingredients: 1 onion
1 clove of garlic
4-5 carrots, sliced fairly thinly into circles
1 stick of celery, chopped
4-5tbsp red lentils
1 litre of vegetable stock (I make it 4tsp stock powder = 1 litre of hot water, but your stocks may vary)
1 tin of tomatoes
1. Finely chop the onion and crush the garlic. Soften the onion and garlic in a small amount of oil in a large saucepan/stock pot over a low heat. Add the carrots and celery.
2. Pour in your vegetable stock which should cover the vegetables. Spoon in the lentils, which won’t look like there are enough but they swell like rice during cooking.
3. Leave to simmer over a low heat until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomatoes and let cook for 4-5 minutes.
4. Blitz the soup in a food processor and serve. Some people like to blitz half and leave half, to get varied texture. You may need to add a little more stock if it is too thick, or cook and add more lentils if too thin. Enjoy!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Gingerbread House

For a good couple of years now, my family has intended to make a gingerbread house. We have seen the kits and finished products, the pretty snow-icing and sweetie decorations. Every year, “we should really make one of those”. Every year, we somehow don’t get round to it. Not anymore!
DSCF5716This is my little gingerbread house! I was nervous about making it, hearing recipe stories about collapses and breakages but thankfully none were had with my gingerbread baby! My sister and I built and decorated it carefully, and the sturdy biscuit survived a trip from London to Suffolk and back again. These houses are so much fun to decorate as you can truly let your imagination run because every house is an individual creation.
DSCF5691This turned out to be a very fun Christmas bake. My own house was filled with gorgeous gingerbread scents and then in the corner sat this cheery and colourful gingerbread cottage. So cute!
Next year I will be definitely making a gingerbread house again, and would like to experiment with it more. I’d like to try melting boiled sweets for windows, cutting out doors, making a different shape (tall and thin or a long gingerbread bungalow), stringing fairy lights in the inside – so much! Perhaps this will take a couple of Christmasses…
DSCF5711 The Daring Bakers December challenge was a gingerbread house so no doubt you have seen many many creations these last few weeks! But if you still want to see more (they are all so beautiful!) click here. I used this gingerbread house recipe, which is apparently best for shaping and creating not eating – but it didn’t stop me and it tasted delicious! Also, with this recipe you get a LOT of leftover dough. I think you could freeze it for cookies another time, but I just created a whole forest of snowy trees and a family of groovy people to surround the house. Hope you all had a wonderful New Year – Venice photos coming soon. X