Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Brandy Snap Cannoli

Brandy Snap Cannoli not out of a packet

Brandy snaps were the thing my paternal grandmother always presented at family pot luck dinners.  I was always impressed and excited to see the plastic wrapped plate of brandy snaps filled with cream.  Seriously - how did she get them so crispy and with all those lacy holes.  I have to admit to being a whole lot less impressed as a baking adult when I realised that these amazing creations were the result of opening a packet of mass produced brandy snaps and filling them with whipped cream.  Well, I *think* she at least whipped the cream herself.  Let's not shatter any more illusions of my childhood.  It would appear that I am quite judgemental in my old age...

And whilst it may seem as though I whip up a batch of these every other week, this is my second only attempt.  Mine were definitely not the lacy confection of my grandmother's "makings".  Mine were definitely, as Mary Berry would say, "informal" - which basically means rustically homemade.

The actual brandy snap mix is a one pot wonder of sugar, golden syrup, butter all melted together and then mixed with ginger, flour and surprisingly enough, brandy.  I can't quite recall the exact method.  I was multi tasking making a tiramisu (Rose's Heavenly Cake recipe) for Chris's birthday. 

I then spooned the mix onto the baking sheet, allowing a lot of room for expansion.  Rose recommends 2 - 2 1/4 inch rounds.  I think I would have preferred a weight.  Because for the last tray, my mix had solidified quite a bit and the 2 inch rounds were considerably taller and consequently they were giant brandy snaps.  No one complained though.

2 inches?
During the baking process the mix effectively boils, and because of the lack of flour/copious amounts of sugar it produces the lacy effect.  Except if you have a thick mixture.  Which I clearly did, because my brandy snaps were more akin to a crocheted afghan blanket, rather than anything approaching lace.  I am not sure how I could have got a thinner mix - add less flour?  Boil the mix less? Add water?  Add more brandy?  I think add more brandy - no losers there.

Once the brandy snaps are cool enough to touch, they are then wrapped around an appropriately sized dowel.  I improvised.
Are you just pleased to see me?
The handle of the wooden spoon wedged into the drawer.  Given the sturdiness of my brandy snap, I ended up just hand rolling them into the tubular shape, and so long as they cooled seam side down, they all stayed rolled and didn't flatten.  So there are some upsides to having sturdier mix.

My grandmother only ever filled her brand snaps with whipped cream.  Rose pushed the boat out with the cannoli cream.  I have to say I have a fairly soft spot for cannoli (always plural).  That filling, the crispy shell, heaven.  I have never ever tried to make cannoli - that is a big investment in cannoli moulds and fat for frying let alone the risk of third degree burns.

Except Rose's cannoli cream isn't the usual creme patisserie.  Instead it is crème pat adulterated (and I do believe that is the correct usage of the word) with  soaked currants and dried cherries, mascarpone cream, Cointreau (instead of Grand Marnier) and whipped cream.  The crème patisserie was absolutely incredible.  Instead of dividing an egg in half I just doubled the ingredients.  Why do things by halves? 

Crème Patisserie.  True Love.
I could have happily just filled the brandy snaps right there and then.  It would have saved me from *testing* that the crème patisserie had cooled to the right temperature.  Especially given I seemed to have *forgotten* how to use the thermometer and instead I was forced to eat teaspoons at a time.  Apparently the time between hot and perfect folding temperature is approximately 122 grams of crème patisserie.  Double the recipe to then eat half - genius.  Fat, sugar compromised genius, but genius non the less.

Sour Cherry injury
The dried cherries were cut into quarter inch bits, which resulted in a scissor injury.  I think I will use a knife next time or some kind of dried cherry vice.  Bracing myself through the pain, the cut up cherries and the currants and reduced with whisky (or brandy), sugar and orange zest.  Once cooled, this was folded through the mascarpone.  I am not sure how mascarpone is in the rest of the world, but I have found it highly susceptible to over whipping.  So I just folded the fruit mix into the mascarpone by hand, rather than pulling out the mixer.  Then the crème patisserie is folded in to create enough mix to fill double the number of brandy snaps you actually have.

I was faffing about in the drawer trying to find a tip big enough to pipe the filling.  As luck would have it, I selected a large star tip.  It would be dishonest of me to say that I purposefully chose this size because I anticipated that the chunky fruit would get caught by anything smaller.  Let's just say that sometimes the baking gods smile.  I only filled four brandy snaps, figuring that the kids wouldn't like the cream given the dead flies (currants) and lingering weirdness of the booze.  I was correct with two out of the three.

Thumbs up
Isaac ate three out of the four with no complaints about either lumps or booze.  I ate one, with complaints about lumps and booze - I definitely prefer the plain crème patisserie.  The remaining brandy snaps have been eaten without filling by the little boys and with filling by Isaac.

While I won't make the filling again, I will definitely be making the crème patisserie and the brandy snaps.  And I think even the little boys would happily eat that combination.

Tiramisu and Brandy Snap Cannoli
Next week monkey dunkey something or other brioche bun thingy what what.  I have baked this in error and lord alive it was the best baking stuff up I have ever made.  I will be baking it again this weekend... 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Araxi Lemon Tart

Overbaked but not burned...

I was literally clapping my hands together with childlike glee at this week's recipe.  About four weeks ago we hosted a dinner party for our breeder friends (those kindred sleep deprived baby obsessed souls whom we befriended whilst expecting our first born over eight years ago).  I am crazily ambitious when planning any event, I won't bore you with the original menu compared to the scaled back menu.  My originally envisaged selection of tarts for dessert were scaled back from plural to singular.   Happily, I decreased the number after I had made two batches of *almost* the very pastry required for this weeks bake.  I say *almost* because as I read through Marie's post I realised that there was no lemon zest in my already prepared pastry.  I can't even pretend that I gave this more than a passing "oh, well".

Assuming you have pastry in the fridge this recipe is a complete doddle.  The most difficult thing is squeezing the lemons.  Particularly if your lemons are almost bereft of juice.  Particularly if the juiceless lemons take so long to cut and juice that your scales turn off and you weren't paying attention to the weight before they turned off so you have to wildly guess how much lemon juice you have already tipped into the cake mixer.  Sigh.  I think it was roughly right.  Maybe a bit more right than wrong as the final result was quite lip puckeringly tart.

The best citrus juicer ever
This is not a lemon curd tart, it is more of a lemon cream tart.  The ingredients of sugar and eggs are beaten together with the lemon juice.  Then in a separate bowl (and I was questioning Rose the whole time - really Rose, really?! A separate bowl?  Righto, but I can't see how this is going to make *any* difference to the end product - I do have quite long one sided conversations with my recipe books when I bake) the cream is whipped to soft peaks.  Then (this is where I really ramped up the crazy talk) you fold the cream into the egg/sugar/lemon mix.  I am not sure what happened to others at this point but my softly whipped cream disintegrated back into double cream.  I am certain the next time I make this tart I will be dispensing with that step (resulting in one less bowl and whisk to wash up).  This is then put back into the fridge, for I have no idea why, for half an hour.  Dark arts clearly at work.

Half an hour is probably just to allow for cleaning up the egg shells and juiceless lemon carcasses
The rolling of the pastry is, however, total genius, I marvel at it every single time.  I am sure I have posted pictures of it on this blog previously.   If your current method of moving pastry from bench to tart tin involves a rolling pin and cursing and patching, then undertake an investigation and search this out in the archives.  Your life will be forever better, I promise.

The pastry is blind baked.  I had quite a bad crack between the wall and the base of the tart which I thought would end with my lemon cream pooling in the bottom of the oven.  Fortunately a thorough application of egg white to hot pastry sealed any leaks.


The super glue that is egg white

Into the pastry case which has cooled for three minutes (I didn't set the timer) the lemon cream is ever so carefully tipped in and then baked.  In all it baked for 35 minutes.  I think this was about 8 minutes too long.  I am guessing 8 because it was too jiggly in the middle at 20 minutes and solid and just starting to pull away from the pastry after the second batch of 15 minutes.  There is the requisite cooling period of course at which point the cracks opened up like a bad earthquake movie.  Glad the fault lines were between filling a pastry and not in the centre of the tart.

An overbaked tart.  By the time this cooled that crack between the pastry and the filling could swallow a small child.
This tart had to sit overnight so it added to other peoples waist lines rather than our own.  It was eaten at work today, with only a smallish wedge to bring home for Chris.  I think it should be eaten on the day of making; the pastry was crisp when I sliced it last night, but very soft, some might say, soggy of bottom, this afternoon.  Also,interestingly, the lemon cream had separated into two layers, the layer just above the pastry is more like a traditional lemon curd and the top layer more creamy, almost like a lemon posset.  Maybe this comes about because the cream is whipped and sits and then is mixed through again?  Dark arts indeed.  I really wish I had cut a slice last night to compare to this afternoons sampling.  This is definitely on the make again but serve whilst still warm list.

Layers - can you see them?

This weekend - brandy snap cannoli.  I am beyond excited about these things.  I predict swearing, a few burns, exploding icing bags but ultimately happiness.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Giant jammy biscuit- or some such thing

Two layers of sweet pastry bigger than your head sandwiched with a reduced raspberry jam? What is not to love. Particularly if you are 8. The perfect serving size for one apparently.

Rose gives an ominous warning - a simple and elegant recipe which requires the skill of a crafts person to achieve.  I am not ashamed to admit a little preening after this pulled out of the oven.

Despite Rose's warning, I did find this recipe pretty simple, and relatively quick.  Well, definitely quick in effort. Chilling time extends this to something that can't be knocked out quickly. Rose has you makes the biscuit first, but I think in future I would reduce the jam first because that took the longest time to cool, and protracted the time a little more.

To the biscuit.  This feels very similar to the pastry on the French orange tart.  That pastry is now my go to sweet pastry.  People swoon over that pastry.  I am feeling you it is the fastest way to a table full of compliments.  In place of the turbinado sugar I used demerrera which adds an extra crunch to the biscuit as well as imparting a very subtle caramel flavour (could be that I am imagining that last bit).  To the whizzed sugar the cold butter is added until the sugar disappears. Then flour and salt is whizzed in until pea size, then egg added until it forms slightly bigger clumps.

Actually have just reread the French orange tart pastry and they are really nothing alike other than the turbinado sugar.  Good for you all to know how amazing that pastry is.

I rolled out the biscuit without the requisite chilling without any issues. Once cut into a 12 inch disk I did refrigerate both top and bottom biscuit.  I had a mad scramble to find two baking tray sheets big enough.  Once top and bottom were chilled, one was scored with the wedges with natty cut outs, assuming you had natty cutters which I do, but not in quaint tiny size. I improvised with an icing coupler for a minimalist circle.  This is then chilled for a bit longer to minimise the stress (of the baker) when executing the sandwich move.

In amongst all this rolling and chilling and cutting and chilling, a jar of seedless raspberry jam is reduced from 357 grams to 314 grams.  I was less precise with this section of the recipe... I put the jam in the pan and put it on the gas and then went to check in the boys who were ensconced in front of a particularly entertaining episode of "How to train your dragon".  Not sure how long I was distracted. Long enough to burn the bottom of the pan. But not long enough to set off the smoke alarm. It wasn't even a minor disaster. I dipped my finger in and decided it didn't taste too burned.
 No idea how much it weighed, there was enough to spread around.

Once the jam was applied, the edges painted with (sorry can't use the word moistened because I know loads of people who have the heebies from that word) water  and then the top biscuit is applied.  I am not quite sure how I did that. I think I just lifted it up and plonked it on top. Like a true crafts person.

The edges are pinched together with a fork and then rose instructs poking it all over in a radiating design. Given I couldn't see any evidence of holes in her photo I decided that was a waste of effort and opted out of that instruction.  The assembled biscuit has one more chillax before baking,

The end result was a big biscuit, resulting in great excitement. Once cut into 12 wedges, it was slightly less exciting but also meant there was no fighting to the death to see who took the biscuit.

This is the type of sandwich biscuit I like making. Only two shapes to cut and sandwich instead of endless rolling and faffing.   The biscuit was the right mix of tartness from the raspberry jam and buttery crunch from the biscuit. Note to self though - don't add salt to the mix if you are using salted butter.

I am sure this will be on the boys list for a while.  That whole "only one biscuit after school" rule just became quite promising.  Next weeks lemon araxi tart will have less fans I am guessing.

Monday, 3 October 2016

White and Dark Chocolate Marble Cheesecake

More mess than marble

As I tied on my apron, dusted off my scales and fired up the Kenwood, I felt a strong sense of Alpha Baker guilt.  I have, for some time now, recognised that I am a strong starter but a rubbish finisher.  So when Marie invited me to participate in the home stretch of the Baking Bible marathon... well, it left me feeling very conflicted.  Was I cheating?  Or was I just starting again, albeit from a different place? Or was it Marie, fuelled by evil refined sugar, luring me back into a diabetic dalliance?  

Last September I decided that satisfying my craving sugar (cake, naturally) every afternoon was not conducive to a long and healthy future.  And, surprisingly, once I realised that my sugar dressed as cake daily dosage was probably slowly killing me, it was relatively easy to give it up.   By "it", I mean refined sugar.  And then I felt, when I was baking, I was a bit on par with being a sugar dealer, so I eventually also dropped baking.  I can't say everyone was happy with this arrangement.

And coinciding with the week 7 of the 2016 season of The Great British Bake Off, here I am again.  I think I can just about trick my starter into finishing something that only goes for a few more weeks.

So this White and Dark Chocolate Marble Cheesecake is where I make my sly re entry into the Alpha Baker fold.  I was kicking myself I didn't rejoin last week when it was a Quick and Easy recipe.  Instead of the usual crushed biscuits with butter, the crust on this cheesecake was a chocolate sponge (well, Rose calls it a biscuit, but it is most definitely a sponge).

It was as I was making this sponge that I realised how much I had missed baking along with the Alpha Bakers.  Left to my own devices, I would never have made this cheesecake.  I mean seriously, chocolate sponge and two different fillings?  With sugar? Never.  On reflection, maybe I am not such a strong starter either...  So, to the sponge.  I can't remember if I have ever made a sponge like this before, certainly not in this size, because I had to use the solid shelf from the oven as my cake tray.  
The shelf from my oven aka sponge roll tin

The sponge was really quite simple to make.  The old cocoa mixed with boiling water trick.  
Cadburys vs Green & Black Cocoa (in that order)
Then lots of egg yolks are beaten with a few egg whites until they triple in volume (another amazing trick), fold in the oft sifted flour and then fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.  Predictably, I misread the recipe and it wasn't until I was ready to fold in the egg whites that I realised my cake mix was looking decidedly vanilla instead of chocolate...
Photo: Photo:
Three bowls instead of two

This is what marbling should look like...
Some hasty, yet delicate folding sorted it all out and I don't think I lost too much volume from the sponge.  Once it was cooled and cut and wodged into the cake tin, no one would be able to detect any mishap.  Can I just say, as a child of the metric system, 1 3/4 inches is a weird concept.  I now realise, looking at my ruler that 3/4 inch is not that weird, but 2 inches is way easier and is it turns out, a better height to contain all that filling.  So my sponge was cut into two inch strips, not 1/3/4.

Strips cut 2 inches thick

Perfect!  Luckily this is all covered by cream cheese.
The filling was not as complicated as Rose's preamble made out.  Rose talks about making two separate fillings to then marble.  In reality it is a single mix divided into two batches with either melted white chocolate or melted dark chocolate mixed in.  One key learning is to ensure that the cream cheese/cream/egg/sugar filling is at the advised temperature.   Otherwise when you mix the warm chocolate with cold filling you get chocolate chip, instead of chocolate cream.   It wasn't a bitter experience, just annoying.

Pretty sure those choc chips are not meant to be there (only a small amount of swearing)

 The filling is then poured into the cake tin, encased in a silicon cake tin.  Trust me, as a veteran of the water bath cheesecake, the aluminium foil around the cake tin never works.  Invest a few pounds/dollars in a silcone cake pan (can't be called a tin really, can it?) and you will save a lot of soggy bottom cheesecake, not to mention reduce your foil footprint on the planet.
The actual hardest thing about the cheesecake was the faffing marbling.  So, apparently you scoop and lift?  What an awful mess.
After an hour or so baking out it comes, looking less that perfect.  I don't think the recipe said to top it with any disguise... but then again they probably did proper marbling instead of my unattractive brown splodge.  Mary Berry would be definitely telling me it looked unfinished.  I am definitely not getting called up to GBBO anytime soon.


The overall verdict?  It was a very good cheesecake, however not sure I could differentiate the white chocolate at all, perhaps it is a bit like the dreamy creamy frosting and the white chocolate just provides the right sweetness and mellowness?  I did reduce the sugar in the filling from 200grams to 150 grams and if I made it again I would probably reduce it further to 100 grams.  All who tried it, liked it, no one went back for seconds though.  I am not sure if that is because I have ranted too long and hard about the evils of sugar, or if one slice is enough, or they really didn't like it so much and were just being polite...  Either way, the boys will finish it off tomorrow and I can guarantee they will be looking for more.

I am definitely baking in for the next four items...  insulin and stretchy trousers on pre order.