Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pumpkin Crumble Muffins

Apparently all our neighbours think we are weird because we had zero trick-or-treaters tonight. I could be offended.... or I could settle down to New Girl and eat my weight in cheap chocolate before you can say 'Douchebag Jar'. I mean look at these adorable eyeballs and freaky looking monsters chocolates. They are calling me.... And now I have muffins. So I'm pretty much set. I really should say a prayer to the pagan Halloween Gods that my metabolism doesn't slow down any time soon....

These muffins are not too sweet, but deliciously moist and mildly spicy. The crumble topping just adds a special crunch and a bit of sweetness to the top. If you like a bit more of a kick you can double the amount of cinnamon and ginger. I find the pumpkin can lack flavour so I always double up with this recipe. I got a can of Libby's Pumpkin Puree in Fallon and Byrne in Dublin but you can make your own with some good quality pumpkin flesh roasted and blitzed in the food processor.

From Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery

240g soft light brown sugar
110g unsalted butter
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger ground
100g pumpkin puree
125g sifted self raising flour
120g plain flour sifted
125ml buttermilk

For the crumble topping (my own recipe) : This will make much too much but freezes well
110g plain four
20g porridge oats
4 tablespoons brown sugar
75g cold butter

1. Beat the sugar and butter together until lighter coloured, about 5 full minutes.
2. Add the eggs one at a time with a heaped tablespoon of flour. Repeat with the other egg. Mix in the pumpkin until well combined.
3. Combine the flours and spices. Add one third of the flour with one third of the buttermilk and beat until just combined. Repeat with the rest of the flour and buttermilk. Fill the cupcake cases.
4. For the crumble rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. A food processor will make easy work of this. Add the sugar and oats and mix well.
4. Sprinkle the crumble topping on top. You will have plenty over, it freezes really well so you can save for a lovely apple crumble another day. Bake in muffin cases for 18-20 minutes at 180oC.

Happy Halloween!!

Get creative with Halloween! This year I have to say I've been tame enough in my Halloween-y efforts. I didn't dress up (although I did go to a haunted Halloween experience and got sniffed at by a ghoul and pushed through the drawer of a zombie morgue- it was cool!). The internet has ruined Halloween for me. People buy these fancy costumes online that look too realistic. What happened to the days of cutting holes in bin bags (if you were a witch) or a sheet (if you were a ghost), using coat hangers in ways that would make Bear Grylls look unimaginative and safety-pinning the whole thing together with deft strategy? They were the good auld days. Our costumes were lame but we were all in it together, hoarding King crisps and sweating under one pound plastic masks.

PS note to the ladies. Lingerie is not an acceptable costume. Unless you are wearing your knickers over your trousers (Superman style) or bra over your top (Gwen Stefani in the 1990's style). Because in that case I have respect for your taste.

PPS cannot wait for the cheap Halloween sweets firesale tomorrow.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Fondant Fancies

I don't feel fancy at all. I've fondant glued to my glasses like welded cement. I think I know how they make industrial strength adhesive and it involves lots of sugar paste. I'm pretty in pink. But not when its on my face...

I did wonder when fondant fancies were the final technical challenge in the Great British Bake Off what all the fuss was about. I mean they are sponge covered in icing right? Seemed a bit of a mediocre challenge for the three finalists considering what they faced in previous challenges. But oh boy did fondant fancies take my naivety and whip my ass with it. There is nothing technically challenging about fondant fancies, they are just so messy and fiddly. Cutting the sponge into identical squares is tricky and the fondant dipping session requires patience. Its not a glamorous job.

Getting square paper cases for the fondants is a great idea because it covers the sides which can be lumpy and unsightly unless the buttercream underneath is perfectly smooth. Don't cut out the freezer time, it will firm up the cake and avoid it crumbling in your fingers.

I used Mary Berry's Fondant Fancies recipe, pretty much to the letter except I used my own buttercream recipe:

75g butter softened
200g icing sugar sifted
2 tbsp milk

Here are 10 tips I found on the great maisoncupcake blog for doing fondant fancies although to be honest it all goes out the window and you find your own rhythm with dipping -

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Chai Latte Cupcake

I'm reading Tuesdays with Morrie at the minute. Well I finished it today to be exact. Bawling in the kitchen, my glasses were filling up like little dams ready to burst. I'm sure many people have read it. It's a story of a man who learns of the terminal illness of his old college professor, Morrie and returns to visit him for 'one last class'.  Morrie is the kind of person we all strive to be, courageous, wise, compassionate and caring. He strips the human condition down to its most basic components. He analyses the culture we live in, the failings of the world to really fulfil us, to make us happy. He hits the nail on the head and reading it you feel like you should be taking notes, absorb the astute guidance because it rings so true. 

Of course aphorisms are easier said than obeyed- "Live each day as if it is your last", "Once you learn how to die you learn how to live"- but certainly there is no harm in trying to be a better person or trying to get more out of life. I really enjoyed it. Its a book you keep for reference, write your name and date on it and hope someone someday in the future reads it and it means something to them. 

My love of Chai Latte has been documented in my post on making Iced Chai Latte. I was well overdue on experimenting with the cupcake version. The sponge is warm and spic., I added rosewater because I've seen rosewater in chai tea recipes and it really complements the chai spices without overwhelming them. Go the whole hog with the beige buttercream frosting with a lovely pep. 

The cupcake and frosting is my own recipe, the chai spice mix is from The Novice Chef Blog

Makes 12 

For the cupcakes 
113g unsalted butter 
1 cup caster sugar 
1 1/4 cup plain flour sifted 
1/2 tsp baking powder 
1/2 chai spice mix (below)
2 large eggs lightly beaten 
120 ml milk 
1/2 tsp rosewater

For the chai spice mix (From the Novice Chef Blog)
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the buttercream
75g butter softened 
190g icing sugar sifted 
1/2 chai spice mix above
2 tbsp milk 

1. Beat the sugar and butter together until light coloured- around 5 minutes. 
2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a dry bowl. For the chai spice mix, mix all the spices together. 
3. Add the eggs one at a time with a heaped tablespoon of flour until all the egg is gone. 
4. Add the flour one third at a time alternatively with the milk and repeat until all the milk and flour is gone. Fold in the chai spice mix gently. 
5. Bake at 180oC fan oven for 15-18 minutes until golden. 
6. For the buttercream beat the butter, spice mix and icing sugar together until texture of breadcrumbs. Add the milk one tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together. Add an extra tablespoon of mix until the frosting is loose enough to spread, a little softer than the consistency of nutella.  

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Cheddar and Cranberry Soda Bread

Being out for dinner at MacNean's on Sunday reminded me of the beauty of proper bread. Soft and fragrant with a crunchy crust, teamed with real butter I would never stop eating it. I can't believe I never thought of putting cheese in bread before- it's genius! The mature red cheddar adds a tangy saltiness to the bread which is balanced out nicely by the sweetness of the cranberries. This is a no yeast bread which is quick and easy to make. Its even worth making a soup to team with the bread!

450g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
100g cheddar grated
100g dried cranberries
350g buttermilk

1. Sift the flour and bicarbonate inot a bowl. Add the salt, cheddar and cranberries.
2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk. Mix until a soft dough forms. All the crumbs should come together but the dough should not be too sticky. You may need another dash of buttermilk.
3. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two until the bread comes together in a smooth ball.
4. Shape into a 15cm in diameter round loaf and place on a baking sheet.
5. Bake at a preheated 220o C oven at 40-50 minutes. The base should sound hollow when tapped and be golden brown.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

MacNean Restaurant

There are a few people who have shaped my relationship with food and the Irish chef Neven Maguire is one of them. In my teens I got one of his cookery books for Christmas and now have an almost complete collection (I had an ogle at the new book, it looks fabulous, the photography is to die for). I really couldn't recommend them enough. I've never made one thing that didn't work or that didn't taste beautiful. There is a great selection of good family food, push-the-boat-out-and-be-a-show-off-dinners and classic desserts.  

I have been at Neven's MacNean restaurant twice before but it was a few years ago and I was so excited to go back again. Going to a good restaurant is an adventure down the rabbit hole and back again; being wow-ed by presentation, tasting a combination of flavours and textures you wouldn't put together yourself, deliberating on the menu like it was a life and death decision. Here are some of my favourite pictures.

Pre-starter of Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup with a Selection of Breads 

Mango and Ginger Jelly

Trout with Pak Choi and Lobster Ravioli 

Trio of Pork- Belly, Fillet and Cheek

Lemon Tart 

Chocolate Delice, Parfait, Malteaser Ice-Cream and Chocolate Opera Cake

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Malteaser Ice-Cream

Petit Fours

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Earl Grey Sponge with Lemon Curd and Earl Grey Honeycomb

I love honeycomb. It reminds me of fairs and jamborees as a child where those sweet sellers would come in their vans and  flog candy floss and fudge and other jaw-cementing goodies. I always got a bag of honeycomb. There was something... mysterious about it, alien almost. To me it looked like a piece of the moon, hard and brittle but in oddly deformed chunks with those signature bubbles running through it like the stream of the galaxy. It's a little less enigmatic when you make it yourself but it is so much fun having it fizz and foam when you add the bicarbonate. I added earl grey tea for a more adult flavour and used it here to add some gold colour to this birthday cake, you could leave it in big chunks and eat as is. Probably best not to mention it to your dentist next appointment though! 

For the Sponge 
220g unsalted butter softened 
220g caster sugar 
220g plain flour 
1 generous tsp baking powder 
3 eggs 
225ml milk 
8 earl grey tea bags 

1. Bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan. Throw in the teabags, slosh around a bit and leave to soak for half an hour off the heat. 
2. Beat the butter and sugar together until very pale- about 5 minutes. 
3. Sift the flour and baking powder together in a dry bowl. 
4. Break up the eggs with a fork in a cup. Add the egg one quarter at a time with a big heaped spoon of flour until all the egg is gone. Beat well after each addition. 
5. Squeez out the teabags and throw away. Fold in the remaining flour with a good slosh of milk and fold gently after each addition until all the milk and flour are gone. The mixture will be brown. 
6. Line 2 8 inch baking tins. I split the mixture into 3 thin layers and baked for around 12-15 minutes at 180oC until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean. If you bake 2 layers baking time will be a little more. Always use a skewer and you won't go far wrong. 

For the frosting (enough to sandwich three layers, you'll need extra for piping and for the top if you wish to decorate it)
75g butter softed
200g icing sugar 
2-3 tbsp milk 

1. Beat all the ingredients together until pale with no lumps- around 4 minutes. 

For the honeycomb 
100g caster sugar 
1/2 tbsp glucose 
25ml runny honey 
1/2 tsp baking powder 

1. Put the sugar, honey, glucose and a little less than 2 tbsp of water in a pan and boil until the liquid reaches 150oC. You really need a thermometer for this, its tricky work. The liquid should be a light caramel. Remove from the heat and quickly add the bicarbonate of soda. The mixture will fizz like crazy, keep whisking it then pour onto a lined baking sheet and allow to cool for about an hour. 

To assemble 
1. Beat the honeycomb between two sheets of greaseproof paper until fine gold crumbs. Tear an earl grey teabag and mix half of the leaves through the honeycomb. 
Allow the cakes to cool on a wire rack. Spread a heaped tablespoon of lemon curd on each and smooth thinly and then spread one third of the frosting. Scatter a handful of the honeycomb dust. Repeat with the other layer. Smooth a thin layer on top and finish with honeycomb dust. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pain au Raisin

I feel like I need to write a list.... of things I should make lists of. Not just things to do but life goals and inspiring quotes and idioms to live by and TV shows to watch and.... Other things that will improve the quality of my life. Sometimes I feel like my life is like when you go to the shop and you know that you really need something at home, like loo roll or milk or something but you just can't remember what it is. And as soon as you get home and slam the door behind you, you remember. And its frustrating.

Anyway back to baking, these pain au raisin are a rainy afternoon project. The puff pastry will not be rushed. Like a fine wine.... Or a narcissistic man.

325g strong white bread flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
42g caster sugar
About 210ml lukewarm water
250g unsalted butter cold but not hard

1. To make the pastry sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Stir in the yeast and sugar.
2. Then slowly stream in enough water to make the dough come together to a sticky but pliable dough.
3. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to double in size for about one hour in a warm place.
4. After an hour punch the air out of the dough and chill for one hour.
5. Just before the hour is up take out the slab of butter and place between two sheets of clingfilm. Beat with a rolling pin until 10cm x 20cm. Pop back into the fridge.
6. Roll out the pastry to a rectangle 10 x 30cm. Slide the butter over to cover two-thirds of the dough. Fold like an envelope and press the edges together to seal in the butter- I set out some photographs here- Folding Puff Pastry.
7. Put back in the fridge for 30 minutes. Then repeat the rolling and folding twice more.

For the creme patisserie
10g plain flour
10g cornflour
30g caster sugar
1 large egg yolk
150ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp raisins

1. Mix the flour, cornflour, sugar egg yolks and one third of the milk together to make a paste.
2. Heat the rest of the milk in a pan until just boiling. Pour into the egg yolk mix whisking all the time. Unless you want milky sweet scrambled eggs- which you don't. Pour back into a clean pan that is cool on the bottom and cook gently over a medium heat, whisking all the time until thickened- it will only take a minute or two.
3. Add the vanilla and cover with a piece of greaseproof paper. Allow to cool.

To assemble
1. Roll out half of the dough to a large rectangle with the dough about half an inch thick. Smooth over half of the creme patissiere and sprinkle the raisins. Roll up on the long side like these cinnamon buns I made Maple and Cinnamon Buns then cut into thick discs, about 3/4 inch thick.
2. Leave to rise for 20 minutes on greaseproof.
3. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
4. At the end of the rising time brush with beaten egg and bake in a preheated oven at 200oC for 20-25 minutes until golden. The filling might seep out. Take carefully off the baking tray and cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Cotswold Lavender Shortbread

GIANT EXHALE!! My God it has been a stressful few weeks! Exam time is never fun but this time seemed to take the biscuit (beg pardon for the pun!) in terms of stress levels. I'm looking forward to getting back to baking, blogging and reading FOR THE FUN OF IT!

Lavender is something that I've wanted to try since Jo used it on last year's Great British Bake Off. I considered buying a fresh lavender plant but I'm a spoilt little brat and I want lavender shortbread when I demand it, whether in season or not so I thought I'd go online and buy some dried culinary lavender. And it was a rewarding internet retail experience. I bought from and in two short working days a little box arrived filled with PURPLE shredded paper and with a PURPLE recipe sheet. Do you see what they did using purple there? It was a slow study day, I found it fairly amusing. I'm a marketing mogul's dream.

This recipe is from the sheet they sent, I'm guessing they are pretty expert using lavender and as a complete novice I leave it in their hands. I didn't want the shortbread to end up tasting like a bar of soap.

From Cotswold Lavender 
175g unsalted butter softened
75g caster sugar
200g plain flour
40g ground rice
1 level tsp dried culinary lavender

1. Preheat the oven to 160oC.
2. Place the flour, ground rice, lavender and sugar in a bowl and mix until even.
3. Chop up the butter into small cubes and rub in thoroughly with your fingertips or with a food processor.
3. Mix until it comes together in a ball then press into a greased tin, prick with a fork and bake for around 35 minutes.
4. Cut into fingers when still hot and leave to cool in the tin.
5. Sprinkle with caster sugar when cooled.