Monthly Archives: April 2010

Croissants

Croissants have been on my Want To Make list for a long time, but I just hadn’t had the nerve to make them so I was glad when I saw that Corrie from Hot Potato had decided to these being April’s Fresh from the Oven challenge. To make it even better the recipe was from my bread bible – River Cottage Handbook: Bread. I think I would go as far to say this turned out to be one of my favourite Fresh from the Oven challenge so far.

I only did a half batch as the amount of butter being used in the full recipe scared me slightly, even though I knew the amount of butter per croissant would still be the same! Well I have to say I’ve now been truly spoilt. Never did I think I would be able to make such delicious croissants. These are only matched by freshly baked croissants from a bakery near a friend’s house in Bristol. I think we’ll struggle to go back to the ready-made versions we usually have on our Sunday treat breakfasts from the shops. Don’t let the long instructions put you off, they are easier than it makes out and so worth it. If the amount of butter scares you, one thing I will say is that you get a good workout rolling the dough out into the giant rectangle.

Croissants
Makes 24-28 croissants
From River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens

1 kg strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
20 g salt
330 ml warm water
330 ml warm milk
10g powdered dried yeast (instant/bread machine yeast)
140g caster sugar/white sugar
500g unsalted butter

For glaze:
2 medium egg yolks
50ml milk

1) It is best to use a food mixer for the first stage as the dough will be soft, sticky and difficult to knead by hand. So, put all the ingredients, except the butter, into the mixer bowl and fit the dough hook. Knead on low to medium speed until the dough is soft, stretchy and satiny – about 10 minutes. Put the dough in a decent sized polythene bag (it needs room to rise), suck out the air, tie a knot in the bag and put it in the fridge to rest over night.

2) First thing in the morning, get the butter out of he fridge. You need it to warm up a bit so it is workable, but not soft. The idea is that the dough and the butter have a similar degree of firmness.

3) As soon as it seems ready, lightly flour the butter, lay it between two sheets of cling film and bat it out with a rolling pin to a fairly neat square about 1cm thick. Take your time to get the thickness and shape as even as possible, then put it to one side.

4) Take your dough out of the fridge, flour it and roll out to a rectangle, a little more than twice the size of the butter (allow a couple of centimeters extra all around). Now lay the butter on one half leaving a border, fold the other half over and press down all the way round to seal the butter in.

5) Next roll the dough away from you until it is twice its original length, then fold the top and bottom edges in by one sixth. Fold them in again by another sixth, so the folds meet in the middle, then fold one on top of the other.

6) Give the dough a quarter turn and roll it out again to about the same size as before, fold the top and bottom edges in to meet at the middle, then fold one on top of the other. Roll this out slightly and seal the edges with the rolling pin.

7) Put the dough back in the plastic bag and return it to the fridge to rest for an hour or so. (You’ve given the gluten a good workout and it must relax now, otherwise it will be resistant and uncooperative later.) *I found the dough extremely resistant after a 2 hour rest and I had to use a herculean effort to roll it out. I did halve the dough and let the second half rest overnight and had a much easier time rolling it out. Unless you’re a body builder I would advise a longer rest than an hour or two.

8 ) In the meantime, you need to cut a template from a piece of cardboard (the back of a cereal box or something similar). You want an isosceles triangle, measuring 20cm across the base and 25cm tall. (The easiest way is to draw an upside down capital T and join the points, like a cartoon sail).

9) When your dough has rested, unwrap and roll it out to a neat rectangle, a little larger than 140cm x 50cm . Now trim the rectangle to these measurements leaving perfectly straight edges. Cut the rectangle in two lengthwise, to give two 25cm wide strips. Now using your template as a guide, cut 12-14 triangles from each strip.

10) Lay each triangle away from you and roll it up from the base. Wet the pointed end and seal it. Curl the tips around to form a crescent and pinch them together to hold them in place; or you can leave them straight if you prefer. (At this point you could freeze some if you like. Space them out on a tray and freeze, then pack into bags. Allow an extra hour for rising when you come to use them).

11) Lay your croissants with the sealed point underneath, on baking trays lined with greased baking parchment or (better still) silicone mats. Cover with cling film or a bin liner and leave to rise until doubled in side. As the dough is cold, this could take a couple of hours, or longer.

12) When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C/400F /Gas Mark 6. Beat the egg yolk and the milk together, then gently brush all over the croissants. Bake for about 10 minutes, then lower the setting to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 and bake for further 10-15 minutes until they look beautifully golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly, while you make coffee.

P.S. If your work surface isn’t large enough to roll the dough out to a 140 x 50cm rectangle, cut it in half. Roll out one portion at a time to a rectangle a little bigger than 70 x 50cm, then cut the strips as above and cut 6 or 7 triangles from each strip, using your template as a guide.

Easy Cheesy Biscuits

It’s no lie that we love cheese in this house. Be it feta, paneer, Stilton, Red Leicester or some Gorwydd Caerphilly there is always some variety in the fridge. I think it would be one of my Desert Island foods. Hubs had a go at making his own cheese press. Many of my pupils have asked if we can make cheesy biscuits in Cookery Club. Like all the recipes I teach I road test them at home to check they are suitable and given they contain a well loved ingredient I was more than happy to find a recipe suitable for them to make. An old workmate used to make the most amazing flaky cheesy biscuits of which these biscuits are based on. Hubs & Father-in-Law were the taste tasters for these biscuits and lets just say, they didn’t last long.

With a minimum of 3 ingredients these really are easy and perfect for kids to make. It is possible to change the topping and flavours, a great way to experiment with tastes and textures. You can also try mixing two cheeses – a smoked cheese and mature cheddar works very well together. There are a few tips I would give for these biscuits:

  • Use mature/strong flavoured cheese. Also very cheap, mild cheese has a tendency to go very greasy & watery when heated so try not to use it in this recipe.
  • Chilling the dough before rolling out helps the biscuits keep their shape, however it isn’t essential and they still taste just as good if you don’t chill the dough.
  • Try to allow them to cool for an hour, yes I know it’s hard, but they taste better properly cooled than they do warm out of the oven.
  • Try and keep your husband/partner/kids away from them or they might literally inhale them!

Easy Cheesy Biscuits
Makes around 30 small biscuits

100g plain flour (it will also work with self-raising flour)
100g butter or margarine
100g mature cheese, grated
pinch of chilli powder and/or mustard powder (optional)
toppings e.g. paprika, nigella seeds, poppy seeds, curry powder, cumin seeds (optional)

1) Rub together the butter and flour then mix in the grated cheese and chilli/mustard powder until you have a dough. If you have problems getting the dough to come together add a splash of milk.

2) Roll into a ball, cover in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 min.

3) Roll out the dough until around 5mm thick. Cut out shapes and place on a lined baking tray. Sprinkle with toppings.

4) Bake at 180° for 10 minutes, until puffed and golden. Cool on a wire baking rack for an hour before eating.

Courgette & Pistachio Cake with Lime Cheesecake Icing

I can’t believe how fast the last few weeks have gone. I visited my parents at Easter, met up with the lovely Claire from Claire’s Cake Bake, been back in work 2 weeks, wondered if my sister was ever going to get back from New Zealand…oh and resigned from my job. I’m leaving to become a freelance food geek specialising in kid’s cookery & Primary Curriculum; something I’m very excited about. It all came to me, randomly, during a Hairy Biker’s episode that featured a Food Historian. Fed up of waiting for the perfect job to come to me I decided to create my dream job and take it to the people. I just pray I manage to pull it off or we’ll be back to eating Value beans on toast before long. Good sign is that I already have clients lined up even before I’m officially trading. Most of my free time has been spent business planning and developing recipes to try with my pupils. With Jamie Oliver investing his own money to improve Food Education, I think he needs to call me…

With everything going on I’m cooking lots of quick simple meals with the odd cake to keep us going. I’m also working on quite a few recipes to make them more suitable for teaching. This recipe probably isn’t one of these recipes, but it is full of hidden vegetables!

After speaking to mum about my Mini Carrot Cakes she wondered how courgettes and pistachio would work together. I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t work as courgettes are often used in cakes not really for the taste, but because they give a fantastic moistness to the cake. Although they are not in season yet, as any grow-your-owner knows these vegetables have a habit of taking over the garden and there is only so much courgette you can eat in more traditional form. This I think is quite an edible alternative.

One thing I did find out when making this cake is that it works out cheaper to buy pistachios out of their shells. I spent far too long shelling 150g of pistachios only to be left with 75g of actual nuts. The resulting cake has beautiful green flecks throughout it due to the courgette & pistachio nuts. To complement this I grated lime zest into the icing. This cake keeps well in a tin for a few days.

Courgette & Pistachio Cake with Lime Cheesecake Icing
Makes 1x 2lb loaf

140ml vegetable oil or rapeseed oil, plus extra for greasing
2 eggs
200g muscovado sugar
300g grated courgettes, (Don’t bother peeling them. I blitz them in the food processor)
100g raisins
70g unsalted pistachios, chopped (optional)
180g self-raising flour
tiny pinch of salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg or mace ( I like mace as it has a hint of citrus)
½ tsp mixed spice

Lime Cheesecake Icing

50g cream cheese, chilled (full fat works best)
50g butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g icing sugar, sifted
1 lime, zest only

1) Preheat oven to 150°c. Line 2lb cake tin with liners or lightly grease.
2) In a large bowl beat the egg, then add the oil, sugar, courgette and pistachios. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.
3) Fill the tin with the cake mix. Bake for 75 min, or until cake is risen and cooked through. Allow to cool before icing.
4) Beat together the cream cheese, vanilla, lime zest and butter then gradually add the icing sugar. The icing sugar will stiffen the icing the more you put in, but taste as you go along to make sure you don’t make it too sweet. Once the icing is ready, spread onto cake and leave for a few hours for the icing to harden slightly.

The Garden – 2010

The snow has gone, the days are warming up so it must be time for us to start our 2010 garden. After watching last night’s new series called Edible Garden, which is hosted by Alys Fowler, it would seem Hubs & I have been ahead of the trend.

In our tiny garden everything is grown in pots, hanging baskets or in the two small raised beds down the edge. As space is limited there are a few rules as to what  we plant 1) it has to be edible or useful 2) colourful  fruit/veg or flowers. Hubs very much concentrates on the fruit & veg and I do the herbs. First I must point out that Hubs & I are not exactly experienced with gardening. We’re the kind of chuck-it-in-and-see-what-happens type of gardeners. Every year we learn lessons and try not to make the same mistakes the following year. If your interested here are the links to The Garden – 2008 , The Garden – 2009 and the much toiled over Falstaff Sprouts.

The lessons we’ve learnt over the years:

  • Squashes – triffids in disguise. They quickly take over a small garden.
  • Globe artichokes – pretty but take up far too much room in a small garden for the amount you yield.
  • Rhubarb – impossible to kill. Shame I don’t like the stuff.
  • Brassicas – we are obsessed with planting them even though they can be  pain thanks to pests. Hubs is always on Caterpillar Watch when we are planting these.

I love flowers and until now the only flowers had been on the veg/fruit plants or herbs but thanks to being influenced by Masterchef & James Wong I’m planning to grow edible flowers alongside my herbs. I’m starting with borage & marigolds. Borage – quite plain and simply I want to try it in Pimms. Marigolds – for various reasons from edible, medicinal and also companion planting as it helps to keep away aphids. Without realising it we already do quite a bit of companion planting. Chives for aphids & blackspot in roses; Basil for flies & mosquitos, Rosemary & Sage for cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies. To be honest I’m not sure if it works but given we haven’t had to use any pesticides on the garden may be a good sign.

The rest of the garden plans include:

To start quite a few of the seeds off we plant them in little biodegradable newspaper pots made with the ingenious paper potter . Not only is it a great way of recycling, the pots are gratis thanks to the amount of free newspapers we get through the letterbox. These little seeds are then germinated on either the windowsill or little greenhouses we managed to pick up in Ikea. Hubs also has got plans to build some fancy cloches to help protect some of our plants once they are in the ground.

The thing I love most about gardening is the experimenting and seeing all the wildlife it brings to the garden. Nothing beats the satisfaction of eating delicious fruit or veg straight from your own garden.

Long awaited Hot Cross Buns

I’ve been trying to bake the perfect Hot Cross Buns for the last few Easters and until now these doughy treats had eluded me. Past Hot Cross Buns have resembled rock cakes, the crosses had dribbled off or they were frankly inedible.

Deciding not to be beaten, this year I decided to consult my bread bible, Bread: River Cottage Handbook. I’ve used it for many recipes in the past including focaccia and bagels and never has it let me down. The reason I love this book so much is that not only does it produce great recipes, it isn’t patronising (like lots of bread baking books can be) and it advises how you can adapt the recipes and make them your own.

The one thing I accidently missed out of the recipe was the egg, this is added to enrich the dough. Given I forgot it, the buns still tasted delicious. Especially warm from the oven, split and slathered in butter. I think this recipe may be making appearance outside the Easter season minus the crosses. But then again, if the supermarkets are anything to go by it’s Easter all year round. Trust me, these homemade versions are worth waiting for.

Hot Cross Buns
From Bread: River Cottage Handbook – Dan Stevens
Makes 8 large buns

250g strong white bread flour
250g plain white flour
1 tsp mixed spice
125ml milk, at room temperature
125ml water, at room temperature
7g fast action yeast
10g fine salt
50g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g butter, softened
100g dried mixed fruit

For the crosses:
plain flour
water

For the glaze:
2 tbsp apricot jam (you could also use marmalade)
2 tbsp water

1) Combine all of the dough ingredients and knead for 10 minutes until you have soft, elastic dough. Shape into a round and leave to rise until doubled in size. In our house this usually takes 1-2 hours.

2) Once the dough has doubled in size knock back the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces. Shape into buns and leave on a floured board, covered with a clean tea towel, to prove for 30 min.

3) Preheat oven to 200°c. Transfer the buns onto a floured baking tray. Mix together a small amount of plain flour & water until you have a thick paste. Pipe the crosses onto the buns. Bake for 15-20 min until risen and golden.

4) While the buns are still hot, mix together the two glaze ingredients then brush over the buns. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

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