Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Strawberry Shortcake

That is what I think of when I think of Strawberry Shortcake.  Like pumpkin pie, biscuits that aren't cookies, cookies that aren't biscuits and marshmallow fluff, I figured it was an American thing.  No longer.  I am staking a claim on this Strawberry Shortcake and making it my own (with due credit to Rose of course!).

I have no idea how a traditional Strawberry Shortcake should be made, but the Rose version is pretty simple.  I am completely converted to the genoise sponge.  Last Christmas my mother called me in a baking flap.  There was no baking powder in the house to make the sponge for the Christmas Trifle.  I started to talk her through making a genoise, but apparently me talking her down wasn't a success.  So here is the method in writing with a few patchy pictures and no ingredients... it should be a complete snap for anyone to pull together now.

First off make the buerre noisette.  This is probably where I lost my mother.  Actually I probably lost her when I said, "take out your digital scales, accurate to 1 gram...".

This is no big thing.  Basically you heat the solid butter until it melts and then you keep on cooking it until the bottom of the pot is coated in really dark brown, almost burnt gunge.  This gunge is the browned milk solids.  The golden brown liquid on top is the buerre noisette.  Not so much a recipe as a technique.  This is then kept warm at 40 - 50 degrees celsius, with the vanilla essence mixed in.  I did neither.  Instead I just reheated it to just above finger temperature when the time came to use it.

Next step was to warm the eggs and sugar until tepid.  My definition of tepid is that it feels warm when I stick my finger in it.  So I guessing that is probably about 40 ish degrees.

Tepid eggs and sugar - can't you tell?
Next this is beaten for at least five minutes until it quadruples in size.  Impressive huh?

Next you take a bit of the billowing egg and sugar mixture and fold it into the warmed beurre noisette (preferably with the vanilla essence).  Then you fold in very very very gently (ie without help from small children) half the sifted cornflour and cake flour.  Then the recipe says, fold in the remaining half cornflour and flour mix, but I didn't.  Instead I folded in the beurre noisette and egg mixture then I folded in the remaining flour.  Nobody died.

Scrape that into the cake pan, with a last fevered, but gentle, mix to capture the 1/4 cup of flour that always seems to find its way to the bottom without being moistened by any of the wet ingredients.  I thought my cake would be littered with little flour bombs, but I had just one.

Into the oven and it baked for about 35 minutes at 175 degrees. I was greatly pleased by the height of this genoise.  There is a bit of a panic to get the thing out of the tin and back the right way up, but that all went quite smoothly and there was no sinking at all.

Because I don't yet own a beautiful shortcake tin, I fashioned my own version.  Thomas was most pleased by this make do and mend approach as it meant that he got to eat the offcuts and spread them from kitchen to playbench.  I am sure the mouse was most pleased too.

Trimmed to hold the strawberries

The cake is then doused in a strawberry and cointreau and sugar syrup (should have been Grand Marnier, but make do and mend).  I went a little of piste here and instead of using frozen strawberries - I had none and nor did I want to freeze any, so I just pureed the required amount and then let it ooze out the juice.  Worked a treat.
Syrup applied

This syrup is painted on the exposed top and the bottom as well.  You have to scrap off the crust from the bottom otherwise the only place that syrup will end up is on the bench.

Now, the recipe says to rest overnight to allow the flavours to settle/combine/join together as one.  Unfortunately, we had a few friends over for dinner, and this was the dessert, so it had about six hours to sort itself out.

Onto that indentation of pinked up delight, I placed the pureed strawberry that so willingly released its juice for the syrup.  I was a bit hesitant about this step.  I get the heebies about soggy stuff (think white bread and tomatoes after four hours - stomach curdling bleh) so I was very dubious.  Fortunately Raymond posted early and his looked amazing so I just went with it.

Next was macerating some strawberries.  Rose did hers in sugar and lemon juice, I am a bit over the lemon juice in everything, so I opted for sugar and two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.  I have to say it was perfect, but given I didn't have the lemon version to compare to, I guess it could only be perfect?  The strawberries are artfully placed on the top of the cake - you will have to take my word for it.  I was about a bottle of very good sauvignon blanc into the evening and consequently photography and apparently also strawberry jam enhanced whipped cream application became a bit slap happy.

My new mental image when I think of Strawberry Shortcake

You can see in the background that this was served with a variety of whiskies.  And between five adults, almost the entire cake was consumed.  I think the consumption of cake was very linear to the consumption of the whisky.  We had run out of wine.  And beer.  So the only options left were cake, cointreau, port and whisky.  Make do and mend I say.

This cake will definitely be made again.  Probably without the bottle of sauvignon.  That way the cream has a hope of being more artfully applied.

Reading back over this post, I am sure my Mum could have made this... I just need to buy her some digital scales.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Cran-Raspberry Upside Down Cake

Served a la office
This one nearly got made in that sweet spot between Thanksgiving and Christmas when cranberries abound - even in the UK.  In fact I bought and threw out two bags of cranberries because I didn't get around to making it.  Had I know that I could have easily frozen them...

At any rate, Waitrose stock frozen cranberries so this cake is an any day of the year cake.  Which is lucky because it is amazing.  Even more amazing is how quick and easy it is.  Assuming you remembered to order the frozen cranberries on your weekly shop.

Caramel colour - tick
First off make a caramel, which has lemon juice in it.  I have to say I am not sold on the lemon juice I could definitely still taste it in the final cake.  I left out the lemon zest for that exact reason.  I like lemon in a lemon cake, anywhere else I am a bit dubious in my old age.
Don't worry about my wrinkle, I fixed that up after I took the photo.

Onto the caramel you tip 100grams of cranberries, which looked a bit sparse, so I tipped in 200 grams of cranberries which looked on the generous side of "about right".  This is a 20cm pan, not sure what the recipe called for now!

Stacked highish
The cake mix has a sour cream and butter base with the usual flour, sugar and leavening.   Such a great cake mix.

All mixed up with somewhere to go

Smoothed onto the frozen cranberries
The cake then went into the oven for about forty minutes (memory failing me now) I know it was slightly more than recommended.
In situ (and how I love my oven!)
Out of the oven and it smelled amazing and looked pretty good too.  A little bit of cranberry juice bubbled through to the top.  It definitely took longer than expected - see all those test holes in the top of the cake?!

Rose recommends to tip this out immediately - hardened caramel would definitely result in a less than smooth evacuation of the cake.

See, I did as I was told and lost a few cranberries to the tin.  All was resurrected though within seconds as I scooped them out and returned them to their rightful home.

The final cake is then brushed with some melted raspberry jam and whilst it will never win prizes for the prettiest cake in the book, it tasted pretty incredible.  The sharpness of the cranberries was offset by the caramel and the softly tart cake.  This one made it into work and there were lots of positive comments.  Pretty much the only cake that is consumed at work is either one that I have made or the ones that make their way around on the cake trolley once a week.  Yes, we have a cake trolley - always a tray bake.  My cakes seem to be more widely consumed amongst our team than those proffered by the cake trolley.  This may be because mine taste amazing.  But more likely it is because mine are free and the cake trolley is £1.50 a piece.

Luxury Oatmeal Cookies

When they asked at work what made these cookies luxury, I had to stop to think.  I mean, obviously it was the chocolate chips.  But then maybe it was the homemade granola?  Or was it just the fact that they are homemade?  Maybe I should start prefacing all my baking with the moniker of *luxury*.  It has a certain ring to it.

Not many of the Baking Bible bakes so far have made it into the office - much to their distress.  Quite a few of the recipes so far have been either too fragile to transport or so good there was nothing to share or too short a shelf life or not enough to go around.  These cookies didn't fall into any of those categories, mainly because the recipe makes a truck load of them.

The best thing about these cookies was the recipe for the home made granola.  There was plenty of commentary amongst the AlphaBakers about whether they liked the home made granola.  Sure it was another step in the process, but I think my life is better for that extra step.  This was the first time I had ever made my own granola.  For those few non Americans who read this blog, granola is like an oatmeal based, toasted muesli.   Forget about the cookies, I am happy to just make the granola.  So, how to make it?

The internet is full of interpretations, each claiming to be the best.  I think that the best granola is the one that you make three times in quick succession.  But again, it is probably more a personal choice.  Rose's recipe is made on Old Fashioned Oats.  I was a bit stumped by old fashioned oats, so I just went with what I had - Flavahan's Porridge oats.  These are coarsely cut, but I think old fashioned means not cut up - old fashioned oats that take 40 minutes to cook in the morning instead of 5.  Lots of time, especially in the morning, is so old fashioned.

So, the general gist of the granola is to mix some oats with some oil with some nuts (pecans/walnuts) with some sweet with some salty with some spice with some vanilla and then toast in the oven for 20 minutes at a low temperature.  Maple syrup was Rose's recommendation - I went for less volume of the sweet and a mix of maple syrup and golden syrup.  Mainly because here maple syrup is roughly five times more expensive than golden syrup and most of the cheap maple like syrups (tm) are all golden syrup with maple flavour...

I toasted mine for more like 40 minutes and it crisped up nicely once it cooled.  Amazing, stirred into natural yoghurt.

Into the granola you then mix in chocolate chips and dried fruit.  My chocolate chips were replaced by a chopped up Lindt chocolate bar and my dried fruits were a premix of raisins and cranberries.

The base of the biscuit is the pretty standard butter, flour, sugar, vanilla made awesome by a food processor.  Have I said yet how much I love Rose's cookie recipes because they all so far have used the food processor.   And because it wasn't pastry, the boys could press the ON button as many times without me having to yell even once.

This butter goodness is added into the granola and mixed up.  Not back breaking work, but not so easy for a three year old.

Then the dough is divided into two and refrigerated.  Which I actually did.  Amazing.  Sometimes it is helpful to cheat off my fellow Alphabakers and learn from those that go boldly and post early!

I didn't opt for the 42gram balls, instead we made just slightly bigger than a teaspoon sized ball.  Some we rolled perfectly, some we slopped on, some we rolled and flattened.  And you know what, there was a definite difference between the end cookies.  So much so, people asked whether I had made three different types.  I think that was also because the mixing was a bit random so some had more luxury than others...

My personal favourite were the rolled balls, these really kept their shape and a bit more resistance when bitten.  The cinnamon from the granola mix really came through in the biscuits - the granola not so much, which I think was down to using those modern fandangled oats instead of the big old fashioned oats.

Irrespective of the oats used, I would happily make these again.  They are a good biscuit to make with kids and a real tin filler, as my grandmother would say.  I think the criteria for a tin filler was that they were quick and easy, made a shed load, not so incredible that they would go disappear into the wake of giggling children and held up over time (assuming kids didn't find them).

The granola is definitely on my fortnightly rota.  The only difference being that I sub in some dried fruit into the final mix and I am experimenting with coconut oil this weekend...

Sour Cherry Pie

Sour Cherry Pie - sounds not so appetising.  My Mum Maxwell (my Mum's mother) always told me that eating too many cherries ended with too many trips to the toilet.  And then there was the time that my Nana took my sister and I on a road trip "Up Central" and we managed to get a substantial amount of cherry juice all down the front of our best powder blue, matching dresses.  If you ever get to New Zealand, Central Otago is magical.  Now it is famous for more than just stone fruit, it does a pretty good turn in Pinot Noirs.

I wasn't going to make this, after all, where would I find sour cherries; fresh, frozen or otherwise.  And then I read that sour cherries were just morello cherries and hope was renewed.  Chris was sent to two grocery stores to the international food section to find morello cherries.   Apparently the morello cherries not popular with the Polish or the Mexican or the Indian or the Italian (seems the international demographic of our supermarket is just four countries).  Hope dashed!  I was ready to pass on this, and then on a whim I searched for it as I was ordering my weekly grocery delivery.  Huzzah - Sour Cherry Pie Filling no less.  Game on.

No idea where these are from - SPC would imply Australia...

It was so easy, it felt like cheating.  After all, my cherry filling was made.  The pastry is knocked together in the food processor - takes about 10 minutes (especially if the kids are asleep).  Then thirty minutes to chill (if you follow Rose's instructions - which I did not).  I lined my pie dish which went well...

Precariously balanced on the edge of the bench - small wonder I don't have more baking disasters

Then I rolled out the pastry for the top.  I don't know how the other Alpha Bakers do it, but I am always scrimping to get enough out of my pastry.   You definitely need to have the top layer for the lattice chilled.  There were a few stressful moments as I coaxed the pastry from the plastic wrap in one almost continuous strip.

Plastic wrap bottom and top is the only way to roll pastry I have decided.  And that, with the pastry wands and a massive silicon roller makes it all pretty fool proof, assuming the fool chills the dough before rolling...
Pastry Wands are brilliant at everything

Turns out the pastry wands do double duty for cutting out lattice strips.  Rose has a great photo tutorial in her book on how to construct a lattice.  Surprisingly simple and here I was quite grateful to not have chilled dough as the pastry needs to fold back on itself as you weave under and over.  Buy the book, you will see what I mean.   And don't just take my word for it, Rose's Baking Bible just won IACP Sweet/Savoury Baking Book of 2014.

The latticed up pie then had a final chill in the fridge before baking for quite a long time - no soggy bottom pastry please!

This is good pie.  I do love Rose's cream cheese pastry - it is a snap to make and it gives such stellar results.  I just need to get one of Rose's pie dishes to set it all off perfectly...   I would definitely like to make this again without the pre made pie filling.  The bagged pie filling could have had more fruit, less gloop.  Need to sort myself out a trip to Germany to get some Morello cherries...

Friday, 3 April 2015

Sticky Caramel Buns

Ah Caramel Buns, how we loved thee.  We also loved the Monkey Dunkey Bread.  This is the tale of two sticky buns all made from the same brioche recipe.  Marie had scheduled the Caramel Buns, but somehow I managed to get Monkey Dunkey Bread stuck in my head.  I had just slipped my Monkey Dunkey Bread into the oven and happened to check the Facebook group to read Raymond's post on Caramel Buns.  Huh?  Caramel Buns - no way!   It was particularly annoying because as I was forming all those faffing balls and dipping them in the caramel sauce, I was pining for the caramel buns.  So, I made the Monkey Dunkey Bread and then because the posting was amazing for the Caramel Buns, they were made the following weekend.

The brioche is amazing.  I love this dough.  This dough made me feel like I was some kind of amazing baker.  My affection for yeasted doughs is growing (ha ha ha such a lame and unintentional pun!).

The brioche has a starter of water, sugar, flour, yeast and an egg.  This is mixed together by hand (my choice) and then the dry ingredients of more flour, sugar,yeast, salt are sprinkled over the top and allowed to ferment for about 2 hours.  By that point the liquid has bubbled up through the dry mixture and it emits the smell of yeasty goodness.

The bubbly yeasty mess goes into the mixer and with the dough hook two more eggs are added.  

Onto this shiny pretty relaxed ball, we add butter.  Brioche is definitely not for the faint hearted.

Once the butter is beaten in and it is all soft and glossy, the dough is left to rise until at least doubled in size.
Diligently marked

Adequately risen

Must remember to oil the plastic wrap.

A living breathing mass in my "proving" cupboard.  Definitely one of the joys of baking. That sticky mass took about 1:45 to more than double in size.  Then it was into the fridge for an hour to chill, then out to be stirred and deflated before back in for another hour to chill again (less sticky this way)
Artfully staged for the wrong recipe...
After the two one hour rests in the fridge it was shaped into a rectangle, given a few business letter folds with 90 degree rotations before finding its way back into plastic wrap and put in the fridge for an overnight rest.

Let's assume I didn't mess up, and instead went straight into the right recipe...  the caramel buns required the brioche to be rolled into a rectangle and sprinkled liberally with a raisin and toast pecan sugary cinnamony mix.  Amazing.  But no photos, so you will have to take my word for it.

Then the rectangle is rolled up like a swiss roll and with non minted dental floss sliced into twelve 1 inch slices before one last prove and then baked.   Clever Rose has us place six coiled up buns around a jar of water in a cake tin.  This held the buns shape and added steam into the oven.

Twelve, but not for long

The final gilding of the lily was an incredible caramel sauce and more toasted pecans.  Those twelve not so innocent buns didn't hang around for long.  As Isaac was eating his second bun, he sighed heavily and said with a pained expression  "I just can't stop eating this caramel."   It is so hard being a child of this household.  The torture.

These Caramel Buns (and the Monkey Dunkey Bread) were worth every last minute.  I do kind of like this baking where it takes snippets of time which are easily woven into the to and fro of everyday life.  Not one of the steps to get to the end product took more than 12 minutes, even though from start to finish it was more like 24 hours.  Time makes these amazing, not hard graft.  And the best thing is that everyone thinks baking like this is some dark art of the impossible.  Shhhh!  Don't tell them it is all Rose's doing.
Did I really make that?


I seem to have missed a whole month of blogging.  I have been very tardy in the posting department.  And very lapse in the photographing department.  Although I have been holding my own in the baking and eating department.  Time and technology don't seem to come together at mutually convenient times.  I need to find some way to blog whilst sleeping.  Or blog whilst baking.  A bit like "tidying as you go".  Given how *amazing* I am at that I expect that blogging as I go will be just as successful...

So, these Hamantaschen were scheduled for Purim.  Purim as in the beginning of March.  So, yes, I am a bit late. About five weeks late.  All going well, I should have five posts the end of this weekend...   

My knowledge of the Jewish calendar is primarily through Rose's Alpha Baking group.  Apparently the shape of these biscuits is said to replicate the three cornered hat of the Haman.  From what I understand the Haman was a bit of a nasty piece of work, who eventually found his end at the piece of a rope.  And armed with that knowledge I set off to bake them, even though I can't even pronounce the word.

The biscuit has two component parts.  A sweet cookie crust pastry (pate sucree) and a filling.  Rose supplies a recipe for the traditional poppy seed filling or suggests using apricot lekvar.

The making of the pastry is straight forward now.  I really must experiment with making pastry by hand, rather than always using a food processor.  The little boys love to help whenever it comes to using the food processor.  I am sure there is some base DNA which attracts males to tools with the power of dismemberment.  I have to admit I am not very calm and collected when they drag their chairs into the kitchen to help.  They haven't quite grasped the concept of the three stages of pastry making.  Nor the difference between ON and PULSE.  Happily, the pastry doesn't seem to suffer too much.  Perhaps my yelling "Pulse, just EIGHT PULSES!  Not ON!" relaxes the pastry - it has nil affect on my state of relaxation.

Pulsed until size of peas... or something
Pulsed until breadcrumbs with no sign of butter.

Rose recommends that the pastry be divided in half and then refrigerated for 30 minutes each.  From personal experience, listen to Rose.  This dough definitely needs to be firm to withstand the shaping process.  If the dough is too soft, it looks less like a Haman and more like a sow's ear.  The Hamantaschen's are a 3 inch (or whatever the diameter is of my largest cookie cutter) circle of dough, topped with a teaspoon of the filling of your choice.  Then through something that feels vaguely unnatural, you turn the sides of circle upwards to form a triangle.  This then encloses the filling which ends up just peeking out.  It should only just peek out to keep things looking neat after baking.  So if you start out with warmish dough, this unnatural triangulation process elicits quite a few swear words.  So listen to Rose and chill your dough.

Rolling of the dough to 1/8 inch.  How I love those Pastry Wands.

Soft dough is a no no.  I had to almost scrape these off the bench.

The poppy seed filling was its own little challenge.  I made two separate fillings - one with poppy seeds expiring in March 2015 and one expiring in October 2015.   The first mix with the technically expired poppy seeds tasted bitter.  The second mix, unfortunately tasted the same.  So either both bags were rancid, or that is just the way a billion poppy seeds taste en masse.  The poppy seed mix required that the poppy seeds were ground.  I didn't think Chris would appreciate poppy seeds through his burr coffee grinder so I attempted to grind them in my food processor.  Hopeless.  Then in the mortar and pestle.  Hopeless.  I think this is my new definition of futility.  The ground (or impervious) poppy seeds are then mixed into hot sweetened milk,  The poppy seeds should absorb the liquid.  Unless they are impervious poppy seeds, in which case you get a milky seed mix.

My best shaped Hamantaschen's were those with the chilled firm dough and with the firmer lekvar.

They look cute
The unrefrigerated dough was soft after baking as well

I have to say I preferred the lekvar versions.  So did everyone in our house.  I could tell because the poppy seed versions were still hanging round a week later.  These are definitely not on my bake again list - not just because I can't pronounce the word.

Do the poppy seeds hamantaschen look like a bikini wax?