Tags: gluten-free, how to eat, nigella lawson
Sometimes life, and even baking doesn’t turn out the way you want… and sometimes it can all go rather wrong… The question is – how do you react to the problem? And in the interests of full disclosure to the 3 people reading this blog I thought I would share a recent disaster (actually it worse than that – it’s a repeated disaster)
So as I have repeatedly mentioned, I know plenty of people who avoid gluten and wheat, so love trying out new cakes in the quest to find the best gluten-free version of most cakes, preferably ones that taste brilliant and no-one realises that they are “safety cakes” as a colleagues recently named them! In Nigella’s How to Eat (If you don’t own this book – you really should buy it…. it’s a wonderful read!) she has a recipe for “fancy cake” – the fancy element coming from its shape as it is made in a brioche tin. The ingredients are just ground almonds, eggs, sugar and grated lemon zest – so I thought it would be good to try out – on the first occasion to have a pudding with some creme fraiche and strawberries.
Making it: Its pretty simple, although the eggs to have to be separated and whisked separately – the white on their own until they form stiff peaks, and the yolks are whisked with sugar until they are pale and thick. Then the almonds and lemon zest are folded into the yolks and sugar, and finally the egg whites – trying to retain the precious air to keep it light. The batter is poured into a well-greased brioche tin and cooked for an hour. Once the cake came out, I left it to cool and then tried to remove it from the tin. DISASTER. Cake stuck to tin and came out in several chunks.
Eating it: Sunday lunch was with friends – so I decided that I would still serve this somewhat imperfect looking cake… and despite its unpromising appearance it was delicious. It was a robust texture and moist because of all the nuts. It provided a scrumptious backdrop to the fruit.
Next time: So given it tasted great, I though it was worth trying again. This time I greased the tin even more carefully and followed Nigella’s instructions to remove it from the tin after 10 minutes of cooling. But again it stuck… in fact it stuck even more – and came out in lots of pieces. I was in a quandary – I knew I had taken a risk in trying the cake again, but I had promised a new cake for the boss – and I didn’t want to renege on the promise. I also knew that the cake was delicious from its previous outing, so decided that despite looking dreadful, it was worth allowing substance to overrule style, and for my pride to be put aside… so I took it to work anyway! And happily, it was not rejected for looking a mess…. and it was all scoffed!
So before there is another next time…. I think I need a new brioche tin – as this one is seriously not as non-stick as it claims to be – its gorgeous pink exterior does not compensate for its failures! Or perhaps I need more patience and a new technique for removing cake from tin…
This weekend I threw a party!
It was a tea party in honour of my beautiful, lovely friend Audrey who is marrying Martin next weekend. Its been a short engagement as they are keen to start their new life together, and so the last couple of months have been hectic getting everything organised for the big day, and more importantly the life that comes after that. But there was time in the diary today to have a tea party as the hen do and I was delighted to be able to host the great event.
- Smoked salmon and cream cheese on soda bread
- Ham and mustard sandwiches
- Heart shaped biscuits (using Nigella’s cut out cookie recipe which is delicious and easy!) – crazily iced with red and white icing
- Meringues with whipped cream and strawberries
- Tiramisu cupcakes (the new recipe – more detail to follow)
- Old fashioned chocolate cake decorated with a dusting of heart-shaped sprinkles
All served with lots of love and laughter, accompanied with plenty of sparkling wine. I’d also decorated the flat with lots of pink things, and had made a banner in honour of the event. I was delighted with how the banner turned out – more “Martha Stewart” than “Blue Peter” – a real achievement for someone like me who is not all that neat (exciting new discovery is spray mount – glue in an aerosol can!)
Following on from the success of the mojito cupcakes earlier in the summer and as Audrey loves coffee cake – I thought the tea party would be perfect for trying out the tiramisu cupcakes from the Love Bakery book (even more appropriate as Audrey gave me the book in the first place). If the cakes were flop, there would be plenty of other cake, so it would all be fine!
Making them: the cakes were simple sponge fairy cakes. The instructions were for large cupcake sized cakes, but I thought that mini cakes would work better at a tea party so that everyone could feel able to have a small piece of everything! So instead of making 12 cupcakes, the recipe produced 48 mini cupcakes (in very sweet heart patterned cases). Once they came out of the oven, the magic began as they were then anointed with a syrup made from marsala wine, coffee and some sugar – transforming them into moist bites reminiscent of a tiramisu. The final touch was the icing – made from mascarpone cheese, icing sugar and double cream. I had decided a couple of weeks ago that I needed to conquer my fear of the piping bag, so have been practising – and managed to produce some respectable swirls for the tops of the cake. The finishing touch was a dusting of cocoa powder.
Eating them: One guest said that they were the most delicious cupcakes they had ever eaten! The icing was unbelievably lovely, and the syrup turned ordinary sponge cake into something scrumptious. The finished article definitely was as yummy as tiramisu, but even lighter!
Next time: there so will be a next time… and I’m not sure I’d change much!
Having made disappointing fairy cakes using gluten-free/wheat-free flour last year, I wanted to have another attempt. So a meeting at work was the opportunity to try out the gluten-free cupcake recipe in the Love Bakery book. The book promises that no-one will guess that these cakes are any different from wheat-y versions – so I thought it was worth a shot as a quick bake, without having the fuss of separating eggs.
Making them: It was a simple sponge cake. I used dairy-free margarine as well to make it even more palatable for my boss who also avoids dairy – although there was some milk put in add the end to ensure it was soft batter. The cakes were easy to make – I made them while nattering to friends who had come for supper and it was “the work of moments” as Nigella would say! Instead of making 12 big cupcakes, I made 24 fairy cakes. I decorated them with a simple glace icing (although I did use a serious quantity of purple food colouring).
Eating them: Unlike the previous attempt, these were soft and delicious! The cupcake cases came away from the cakes, so they looked a bit of a mess (sorry no photo because I forgot). But their slightly wonky presentation did not undermine their eating appeal. The meeting went well – I’m sure the cake made a positive contribution to that!
Next time: I might replace the milk with lemon juice to remove dairy entirely. It might be taking the experiment too far. but if it works then I’ll have a simple wheat, gluten and dairy-free cake in the repetoire.
One cooking task that I find deeply dull is separating eggs. I’m reasonably successful at the task thanks to a clever little separator-spoon that I bought years ago that holds the yolk and lets the white drip into a bowl. Making something requiring only egg whites is even more irritating as then the yolks have to be thrown away (or if sufficient eggs have been broken it’s an reason to make a gateau breton). So when my friend Ali told me about Two Chicks pasteurised egg whites in a carton – I was seriously excited!
Two chicks egg whites come in carton of 15 egg whites. I used up 2 eggs white – which is 60ml of liquid to make meringues. Thanks to the Kenwood making meringue is incredibly simple – just leave it to whirr away!
The egg whites behaved totally normally when whipping them up. I created 8 little nests (and as I still haven’t conquered my fear of the piping bag, I just piled it up using a spoon to shape). We enjoyed them with raspberries and softly whipped cream for dessert on Sunday. While I slightly overcooked the meringues to my taste they tasted great (and that was not the fault of the ingredients, just my miscalculation).
So all in all – I think these egg whites can be considered a wonder ingredient! It makes meringue much quicker and easier to produce – and that can only be a good thing if it means that I can make the chocolate pavlova more often! The potential downside is that 15 eggs whites is a huge quantity – so I have lots left over: time to start exploring savoury options using egg whites… watch this space!
Tags: Elisa Beynon, Sunday lunch, Vicars Wife
Summer has turned into that classic British mix of sunshine and showers: every day seems to have both glorious moments of sunshine and near-torrential downpours. All this makes meal planning rather tricky, and certainly makes outside meals a gamble! Last Sunday, Richard and Ailsa came for Sunday lunch (and we were also joined by Dimity who is staying with me at the moment). I wanted lunch to be summery (as it could have been a scorcher of a day) but also sufficiently robust if it was a damp squib day. So I decided to cook some pork chops (from the supermarket, but from the “quality” sub-brand and outdoor reared therefore being pork with flavour, not cheap pork which has no flavour at all and only the texture marking it out as porcine protein) and alongside it was a perfect opportunity to try out the roasted red onion and tomatoes recipe from the Vicar’s Wife Cookbook. Admittedly roasted vegetables don’t really need a recipe, but this was a combination that I had not tried before…. so helpful to have Elisa Beynon’s prompting to try something different.
Making it: Really simple. Quartered some red onions, chopped some tomatoes in half. Sprinkled over some garlic and basil oil (one of Waitrose’s brilliant flavoured oils). Shove in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Finally added a big splosh of balsamic vinegar and then put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
Eating it: we ate inside (I wanted to eat outside, the others were more sceptical – and they were wise – as after lunch was dished out – it chucked it down!). The roasted onions and tomatoes were delicious: a lovely summer-y flavour (as if we were at an amazingly good BBQ – but without getting damp). The splash of balsamic vinegar deepened the taste and it worked really well with the roasted pork chops
Next time: perhaps I will get to eat it outside…. but there will be a next time as this is a great combination alongside some simple grilled meat. It would be great as part of a BBQ buffet, as it would taste still taste good having been out of the oven a while.
Tags: beans, chorizo, salad
Again, another long pause between posts…. To be honest, I had lost my cooking mojo. I had become bored with cooking, bored of the things I was making and not really excited by new recipes either. But after a wonderful holiday on the Algarve, soaking up sunshine and being ridiculously lazy I feel refreshed and revived and back into the cooking groove.
Post-holiday there is the desire (and necessity) to be slightly more restrained, to enjoy good food that is also healthy and wholesome. In the August edition of Delicious magazine there was yummy looking white bean, chorizo and herb salad, which looked perfect for Monday evening. It had been a hot day (made worse for me by the office air con not working and no way of opening the windows in the office to generate air flow) and I was cooking supper for Sarah and Dimity. I’d left the office slightly late, and had to pop into the supermarket on the way home too, but managed to get into the house before Sarah arrived, and the swift preparations for this salad meant that dinner was served fairly quickly! Happily we were able to sit outside and enjoy the warmth of the evening.
Making it: the chorizo was cooked in a dry pan, and then drained on kitchen roll to reduce the greasiness. The beans were then warmed in the pan, with a dressing made from mustard (was meant to be smooth Dijon mustard, I only had grain mustard but I thought it would be ok), red wine vinegar and oil (and also got to soak up the fat that came out of the chorizo). Then when the bean were warmed through, it all got tossed together with some cherry tomatoes and salad leaves (watercress, spinach, rocket and handfuls of parsley).
Eating it: fresh yet robust. I thought it was utterly delicious! And we ate it all up, so I think it was appreciated by the others too.
Next time: I’m sure I will be adapting the template to include other things in future. The magazine suggested bacon and roasted peppers… so we shall see!
Tags: cupcakes, Hummingbird Bakery
Sorry – again recipes are backing up… but this is another posting about another cupcake from Cake Days from the Hummingbird Bakery…which is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. The book is beautifully designed and full of lovely ideas: the recipes seem to be not just an idea for a twist on old favourites but inspire in me ideas for social gatherings. So I guess this is a warning – expect more cupcakes from me (and maybe I’ll one day learn to do posh icing properly)
But, to the recipe and event in question…. My grandmother had her 90th birthday a couple of weeks ago and in honour of such a great milestone, we threw her a tea-party where she invited all her friends and neighbours along with the whole family (which is nearly a clan). Each family was responsible for bringing 2 dozen servings of cake – and we produced a bounteous feast. My contribution was rose cupcakes from Cake Days. I love roses, and they always make me think of my grandparents – as they all had amazing rose bushes in their gardens when I was a child. So I was intrigued to try out a floral cupcake to see whether the smell of roses could translate into a great cake.
Making it: As I was making 2 dozen (or so) ordinary sized cupcakes – I decided to double the recipe: I think this was the most full the Kenwood has ever been…. but it coped. The method was the usual Hummingbird approach of flour, butter, sugar mixed to sand, then adding milk, eggs and in this case rosewater to the batter. The rosewater gave a wonderful perfume to the batter. The buttercream was also flavoured with rosewater.
Eating them: I am delighted with how the Hummingbird cupcakes are coming out (I had been slightly little disappointed with them as they had come out tough on a couple of occasions) and the texture was great. The rose flavour was subtle, leaving the feeling (in a good way) that somehow I had eaten the scent of roses.
As I had doubled up the recipe, I had made an immense number of cakes. Some went into the freezer for later treats. They were a great addition to a picnic feast the following weekend (and I have to confess I ended up eating a couple for breakfast – which was a wonderfully naughty treat!)
Next time: there are suggestions for other flower-based cupcakes, and a whole range based on herbal teas… so watch this space for some more civilised tea party treats!
Tags: cupcakes, Hummingbird Bakery
I like little cakes. I think there is something ever so pleasing about a small cake. While big cakes that need to be sliced have their place, they are more formal and need a crowd. Small cakes are more flexible – requiring involve less commitment from the eater: no need for a knife and plate – just take and eat! But small cakes are also slightly child-ish, and immature: it is hard to make a mini-cake sophisticated (especially if like me, you are not gifted with piping skills). But the latest trend in cupcakes provides one route to more ‘grown-up’ cupcakes: add alcohol! I was kindly given a copy of the latest Hummingbird Bakery cook book – Cake Days – which has a whole section of cocktail cupcakes. So for a tea-party/BBQ I thought this would be perfect excuse to try one out – and as mojitos are my cocktail of choice…. and they in the most pleasing ‘mini’ size already – this seemed the obvious choice.
Making them: The Hummingbird method is to make a ‘sandy’ mixture of the flour, a small amount of butter, sugar and then add eggs and milk to make a wet batter. To flavour the batter I added some chopped mint leaves (a good use of the mint plant in my garden) lemon and lime zest and made a syrup from rum and sugar. So when the cakes were out of the oven, the syrup was drizzled over the top and soaked in while they cooled. The icing was a traditional butter cream – but some of the milk replaced with rum, with more zest. To finish them off, I chopped some more mint and mixed it with some sugar and more zest as a crunchy topping.
Eating them: One of the guests at the party called them the loveliest cupcake they had ever had (!). The zest and mint gave an incredibly fresh flavour. The kick of the rum in the icing was discernible, but not overpowering. So like a mojito – delicious and more-ish!
Next time: I have to confess: I slightly messed up the icing. I was in a rush and added far too much liquid – so to rectify the situation had to add loads more icing sugar to make it sufficiently stiff. But it worked out fine…. and I have icing stashed in the freezer for a future occasion…. and there will be a next time.
Sorry! I’ve been bad at blog posts (again) but there are some great recent recipes that I will share with you…. but first I need to do a different kind of review…. a review of a weekend away…
The excuse: The Royal Wedding Weekend. I work on Whitehall so I’d seen all the flags go up (although wasn’t in the office at the crack of dawn to see the dress rehearsal) but had no desire to hang around for the event itself – so together and Ailsa – we decided to make the good use of the weekend and escape to France for a weekend of wine and food.
The destination: Bordeaux – it’s incredibly easy to get to Bordeaux – as there are flights from Gatwick on British Airways. I’d flown into the airport a couple of times but never stopped off in the city – so was keen to visit. The city is full of beautiful buildings and there is great wine heritage (obviously!) We decided to rent an apartment for the weekend in the city itself – so that we could get away without needing to hire a car and an apartment is much more fun than a hotel when in a group as it gave us as communal space. We entirely lucked out with the apartment – which was huge, in a typically grand beautiful block overlooking the river and only a couple of minutes walk from the first of many lovely squares with great restaurants.
The food: Where do i begin…. we were there for 72 hours and ate like kings! We started out a fab restaurant which specialises in steak-frites – the only choice was how you wanted your steak cooked! We ate in a couple of traditional bistros, a great creperie (a bargain meal – salad, a galette (savoury pancakes) and crepe for 10 euro) and treated ourselves to a couple of serious meals where we ate gastronomic delights – mainly modern twists on perfect french classics. So if you are in Bordeaux – I can highly recommend Le Malby in Bordeaux – we ate an amazing meal in a beautiful square and the other clientele were not just other tourists following the guidebook recommendations! (and the rather handsome waiter with excellent English was an added bonus. We also ventured out on day trip to St Emilion where we ate a wonderful meal at Le Clos du Roy- I had white asparagus to start, duck as my main course, and then the most amazing strawberry macaroon for dessert (Richard had “special cheese” as his third course – which was a whipped goats cheese served in a pastry tower.
The wine: We did our best to give ourselves plenty of opportunities to try to best of Bordeaux –
and discovered the Bordeaux wine association’s wine bar Bar a Vin which sold a select range of delicious local wines at incredibly modest prices in a great setting. Our day trip to St Emilion was also great – we wandered around some cellars and around some vineyards and did some wine tasting. We stumbled on a great little shop which sold both a “bad boy” (mainly Merlot red) and “bad girl” (cremant du Bordeaux – which is the local sparkling wine). I bought a bottle of the bad boy (because I loved the name) which will be delicious decanted and given time to breathe.
Overall it was a wonderful weekend – the weather was fab, the company excellent, and food and drink superlative. I came home a little heavier of body but lighter of heart. We are already thinking of where we could go next year.for another interesting weekend of food and wine… Any suggestions?
I think I have mentioned that my boss is gluten intolerant, which means that when we have an office bake-a-thon (which happens every once in a while in aid of charity) I always make something that he can eat – so that he can join in… A recent discovery in the special products aisle has been certified gluten-free oats – which meant that I could try out the flapjacks from my new Mary Berry book in a Neil-friendly format. I have successfully made a chocolate flapjack (from the Green & Black’s chocolate cookbook) but I’d not found a plain flapjack that worked – but this looked good – to add to the gooey goodness – it uses demerara sugar.
Making it: flapjack is simple, melting butter, sugar and syrup and then mixing it in with the special oats. Then the mixture is put in a tin (lined to make it easier to get out) and cooked for about 35 minutes at 140C. When I took it out of the oven I cut it into pieces while it was still warm… and it was seriously gooey…. and looking very promising. Then when they were cold, they were all packed up for the office.
Eating it: All that flapjack should be – gooey on the verge of caramel – perfectly cooked oats. Totally more-ish – I probably ate more than was wise… and Neil’s comment was “thank you…. I am not sure that I’d have got through today without them”
Next time: These are clearly a winner for the office – they were quick to make, easy to transport and went down a treat – so will definitely be made again. And given how much Neil appreciated them – I shall always think of them as “Neil’s flapjacks”