Monday, 15 December 2014

The Ischler

Usually my opening photo is of the final baked product in its full glory.  Unfortunately, three little monkeys ate all The Ischlers before I could take a photo.  So I guess that is at least three votes of approval for these annoying cookies.

So, The Ischler.  Everything about this "cookie" annoyed me.  As boring as it may be, let me list the ways (which coincidentally follow the recipe flow)

  1. The name prefaced by "The".  How would I know if they were "The" Ischler given I had never knowingly consumed any lesser Ischlers.  I moved on quickly from here, given I am most accustomed to putting my faith in Rose's pronouncements.
  2. The toasting and grinding of "preferably unblanched almonds".  Sigh - unblanched sliced almonds are akin to unblanched sliced unicorn horn.  I mean, ground almonds and unicorn horn are thick on the ground - so in the pursuit of annoyance minimisation and avoiding a trip to the supermarket I used ground almonds (note here as Error 1 - ALWAYS do as Rose instructs at least the first time around)
  3. Actually, not quite everything annoyed me (I am such an exaggerator - some would say).  Mixing these in the food processor was brilliant.
  4. But then I was meant to get moist and crumbly particles which would hold together when pinched.  Nope.  I think this was the fault of the first error.  Mine was more like a buttery biscuity mass.
  5. The dough was then kneaded in a plastic zip lock bag and then divided into four plastic wrapped parcels.  Sometimes I think that Rose has shares in a plastic wrap company.
  6. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 2 days - I was definitely at the bounds of the two days.  I love that some of Rose's recipes respect that baking is not always a continuous end to end process. (See, I have clearly exaggerated my annoyance - brilliant and love have already been used)
  7. The making of apricot lekvar - seriously, a tablespoon of mixture will take 3 seconds to fall from the spoon?  Is that three seconds to fall off the spoon or to fall from the spoon and make its landing.  All of it?  Or just some of it?  Should it flow in a continuous stream for three seconds or should it just glop out.  I took the glop option.  Fortunately glop must be the right consistency - last time we made this I ended up with apricot concrete, this is kind of usable.  Not in a lekvar on toast with a cup of tea way, more on a wodge it in a biscuit/cake way. So two jars should see me through to the end of my days.
  8. The rolling of the dough.  Ayee.  This was particularly stressful.  A dough with 1/4 butter and 1/4 ground almonds is pretty soft and delicate.  No match for a particularly helpful three and a half year old tag team of cuteness.  They are at the pinnacle of "I can do it on myself" (Error 2 - bake only at night).
  9. So on to the baking.  Bake 4 minutes, rotate the tray half way round and then bake a further 2 - 6 minutes until just beginning to brown.  I think I need to invent some kind of special UV light which detects the beginning of browning, because I cannot work this out with my unaided eye.  Looking at this photo, they were clearly at the very very very beginning of browning.  In my defence I grew up in Australia where the threat of skin cancer makes me paranoid about tanning, so I can only assume this paranoia has filtered into cookie baking. (Error 3)
  10. Making the ganache was a snap.  Well it would have been had someone (but no one who lives in this house apparently) not eaten the 60% chocolate.   Note to self - store chocolate in the safe without the kids, husband or nanny seeing me do so.  Given the kids prowess with technology I am sure they could crack a safe in about 2.7 minutes.  So I cobbled together a mathematical equation of 40% x 75% cacao and 60% of 50% cacao and hoped it was roughly right.  (Error 4)
  11. The the supposed synergy of bringing the three things together.  I am an accountant (I only roll out that admission when it suits me) and when four different volume measures are used in the same sentence for largely the same activity, I start to get a bit twitchy.  Teaspoons and tablespoons I can cope with.  Grams and millilitres for two items of roughly the same viscosity - Rose's ears must have been burning.  Just for the record 3.7ml of lekvar and 6 grams of ganache.  Far fricking out.  Don't even get me started on spreading them 1/8 of an inch from the edge.  (Error 5)
  12. Fair to say rough enough was good enough for me - sorry Rose.  I ended up with 35 love heart biscuits - completely false advertising because by the end, I wasn't wodging them together with much love in my heart.
And that is where the photos end.  I sandwiched these all together in varying degrees of accuracy to the 3.7 mls and the 6 grams and headed to a friend's place for afternoon tea.   I am not sure whether it was the cumulative annoyance a two day (non continuous) baking process or whether it was true fact, but I found these to by the antonym of synergy.  Well, the actual definition is antagonism, but if the antonym of synergy could be expressed in cookie/biscuit terms, then it would be The Ischler.  Now it could be because of Error 1.  It could be of Error 2.  It could have been Error 3 or Error 4 or perhaps the synergy of all four errors brought about the antagonism of The Ischler.

We may never know because I will probably never make these things again.  They just tasted bland to me, overwhelmed by chocolate (Error 4) and underwhelmed by the lekvar (Error 5 - maybe it was 3.2ml of lekvar, rather than 3.7ml?) all surrounded by a bland biscuit (Error 1 and Error 3).  So with that insightful analysis, it would appear that they synergy of errors brought these cookies undone.

Then again, the three monkeys polished of the remaining 27 biscuits on Monday afternoon between them getting home from school and me getting home after work.  There was literally 1/8 of a biscuit left on the dining room table, which had somehow escaped the hoovering of the boys.  I did eat it.  And it almost had me reversing my opinion, but unfortunately I needed more than 1/8 of a biscuit for it to be a valid sample size.

Next week Coffee Crisps.  Can I just say that I am most definitely not a cookie baker.  So much work and they are just consumed in minutes!  

Monday, 8 December 2014

English Dried Fruitcake

When I think of English Fruitcake, which is usually about this time of year, my imagination doesn't render the picture above.  Instead, I think of the endless round of weddings where the fruit and booze were almost as heavy in the cake as the almond paste icing and fondant was on the cake.  They were solid bricks.  The only way to make them edible to my young palate was to eat the fondant, throw away the almond paste and slather butter on the cake.  Quite a complicated process really.

Rose's version of Kate's version of the English Fruit Cake is at complete odds with the fruitcake of my youth.  That may have something to do with the advanced age of my palate and how much better acquainted it has become with alcohol.  So yes there is fruit, but not the traditional fly cemetery and yes there is alcohol, but rum, not brandy.  And this has apple.  Lots of fresh apple. I have never ever eaten fruit cake with diced apple.  And lots of pecans.  And bugger all dried fruit.  Bizarre.  I live in England now and I have never seen a fruit cake like this before.  Not that I have been searching - nowadays weddings are not furnished with bricks of fruitcake with fancy fondant, weddings are rounded out with cake people like to eat!

So, on to Rose's recipe.  I used bramley apple, which according to they are the best cooking apples.  See, a snappy apple graph tells no lies.

I have to say, they leaked a lot of juice.  Nowadays, timing in the kitchen is somewhat protracted.  I like to think that I test the bounds of Rose's timings.  Things either have to be done right that second or else they are parked in the fridge until the next convenient time...  So, my apples may have sat for an hour or so...

It is a pretty simple mix, I added a little something because I soaked my fruit in rum for a week, instead of hot water for five minutes.   See point above about my adherence to timings.  Pecans were also toasted for longer than the requisite 7 minutes - probably 14, but no fatalities were recorded.  The hardest thing in this recipe was the dicing of the Bramley apples - 237 grams of them if memory serves, compared to 150 grams of mixed dried fruit.  I used a mix of cranberries and golden raisins - completely bloated on some Venezuelan Rum - which to some would be a crime against rum, but honestly turned out pretty tasty.

I have this special wooden cake "tin" which I have had for years.  Which I love.  Which has stored various bits of baking junk for the past 10 years, since the last time I baked a fruit cake in it.

It is brilliant because the wood insulates the cake during the long baking times.  Remember this sentence for further along this post...

And which I only remembered I should have soaked in water to get the boards to swell to a tighter fit after the mix started seeping out the gaps...  So easy peasy cakes can still end up in a mess if you have a memory live a sieve.

No matter, those seepy out bits were declared a hit by Isaac.  Weirdly the apple seemed to push out to the sides like some kind of phenomena of physics - centripetal forces at work?

And which I only remembered I should have soaked in water to get the boards to swell to a tighter fit after the mix started seeping out the gaps...  So easy peasy cakes can still end up in a mess if you have a memory live a sieve.
Leaking "tin" and strange apple physics aside, all these count for nought when you underbake the cake.  So that bit when I told you that the wood insulates the cake during long cooking times?  Well, a traditional fruit cake (non leaking of course) would take about four hours at a low temperature.  Rose's cake bakes for about forty minutes.  And it seemed done.  But I suspect my toothpick pierced only dried fruit and falsely made me pull this cake out about 7 minutes before it would have been perfectly cooked.  Bugger.

Which is exactly what I said when I peeled off the bottom baking paper...

Clag paste.  On the plus side, I know plenty of kids who ate that and lived to tell the tale, so it can't be all bad.  Figured the cake might still be okay... at the very least the edges.

And you know what, it was pretty good.  A little lacking in height - I blame that on the seepage and oversoaked dried fruit.  But the flavour was good.  I didn't dress it in rum, there was plenty coming through in the cranberries and raisins.   Only the very middle was slightly underdone - note made in the book to remind me for next time!  It was eaten in less than a week (highly unusual for a traditional fruitcake - those things used to last months, they were so disgusting!) and it didn't need any butter.

Cake is a funny thing in this house.  Of our three boys - Isaac, the eldest is like his Dad and will eat anything.  Patrick is more discerning and not much of a sweet tooth and Thomas will eat anything chocolate or cake that looks like chocolate cake.  This cake didn't look like chocolate cake.  He wouldn't eat it.  And Chris is grateful for anything that doesn't disappear out the door.

And to track the passage of time, the photo of the left was taken in November 2011 when the wee boys were about five months old and the photo on the right was taken a few weeks ago. Clockwise from the right is Isaac, Thomas and then Patrick.

Next week, The Ischler - they would call that a biscuit, where I am from.  I would call it a lot of bother.  Two almond biscuits sandwiched with apricot levkar and chocolate ganache.  Pure faff.  I know, because I baked them today.  It is going to take me a week to get over the faffing palaver of The Ischler to blog about it.  That will definitely be a post which tests the bounds of Rose's time instruction.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Kouign Amann

Apparently there is no gentle easing into this Alpha Bakers group.  The first stained pages in The Baking Bible are for the Kouign Amann.  If it hadn't been the first, I think I probably would have worked on a convincing excuse why I had to sit out whatever week this recipe washed up in...  That Marie is very clever.  Begin as you mean to go on.

Up until Saturday November 22, I had never made puff pastry.  Lamination was where heat brought together the holy matrimony of plastic and paper.   Business letter folds were, well, for business letters.  Envelopes never ever contained butter: butter money, yes, but butter never.  When we first moved from New Zealand to Australia, my great grandmother would often send my mother money through the mail to buy butter - hence the butter money.  These letters always came with strong words forbidding it to be spent on beer for my father ... or margarine.  Parallel evils in the mind of a displaced Scottish Presbyterian.

The Great British Bake Off has recently finished its 2014 season, and in the pastry round, these were the technical challenge.   I was feeling rather smug even though I had never baked them;  I knew what they were because I had skim read Rose's beta recipe.  Ah, so easy to be smug when sitting in front of the television with a cup of tea.  So I donned my metaphorical pinny this morning and set about.  Those Great British Bake Off contestants had three and a half hours to get them plated ready for judging.  I started about 8.30 this morning and we had our first still warm sample at about 5.30pm.   To be fair, I did have to stall the final rise after shaping for two and a half hours whilst we nipped out to a four year old's birthday party.  Nothing like navigating a soft play area on your hands and knees to take your mind off worrying about whether the pastry is going to be laminated or no.

So, to the method.  First stumbling block - what is the difference between  Dried Active Yeast and Easy Bake Yeast?  Well, given that I spilled a good proportion of the Dried Active Yeast as I opened the container, I can tell you quite a lot.  The Dried Active Yeast is not pleasant underfoot - think 100's of teeny tiny marbles.  And you need to add water to get it to activate - so the teeny tiny marbles were mostly swept up and I moved onto the Easy Bake Yeast.  Sometimes I wish that branding didn't get in the way of truth.  The Easy Bake Yeast was much finer and activates within the mix - magic.

As Rose says in the preface to this recipe, time does most of the work.  In all honesty, if you can read, own a ruler and have a timer, you can definitely have these in your life.

The first proof before rolling is for half an hour.  Which is enough time to form your big pat of butter.

Or forty five minutes if you don't hear the alarm and your husband switches it off without telling you.  The dough was pretty spongy at this time, so I worried for about one minute that my dough would be overproved.

Then it is a case of rolling and placing

and wrapping

and then rolling

and then folding

a couple of times until you get to the third and final and add the sugar

and then the cutting and forming

I thought it had all gone horribly wrong at this stage.  I could clearly see the butter melting through my pastry.  I thought my fifteen minutes of overproving had brought me undone.  I cursed UK extra strong bread flour for not being as strong as the US King Arthur Bread Flour.  And then I shoved the formed KA's into the fridge, wrapped presents and bundled the little boys into the car for a two hour party at the local soft play.  When we returned I let the shaped KA's sit out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before sticking them in the oven at 200 degrees celsius.

Surprisingly they came out looking like this... with the added bonus that there wasn't a pool of butter scorching in the bottom of the oven.

I didn't get as much height as Rose and Woody - but that is usually the case.  We ate the first "sample" a bit too early, they are definitely better on the cool side of warm rather than the hot side of warm.  One of the comments was that they tasted like croissants dipped in honey, maple syrup and that industrial stuff you like (aka golden syrup).  Closely followed by "And, why can't you make croissants?"  Maybe because they cost £2.00 for eight at the supermarket - that's why.  And one swallow does not a summer make.  As they cooled, the crisp became crispier and the sugar became more syrupy and the butter less buttery.  All round better.

  My verdict (based on Paul Holyrood feedback to the Great British Bakeoffers) was that they had good lamination, an okay rise, maybe another couple of minutes of bake (but with foil on the top to prevent scorching).  All in all they were about 75 times better than the Marks and Spencer version.

So, if you are an insomniac you can while away the wee hours and have these on the table for your loved ones breakfast.  If you aren't, then there won't be any complaints as they eat them at 5.30pm.  Or at 10.30pm.  There definitely won't be any left to trial the KA version of bread and butter pudding.  There won't even be enough left to take to the office!

Can I just finish by saying it is great to be back with my virtual baking buddies.  Next week - English Fruit Cake.