Thursday, 29 March 2012

Necessary Reading - The Little Paris Kitchen

As much as I like to think of myself as a lover of food, I'm ashamed to confess that French cooking is one area I've never really got to grips with. So with that in mind it was with some reluctance that I tuned into the latest BBC cookery show The Little Paris Kitchen. Now I'm not going to pull any punches here and I'll be brutally honest, I thought the show was...

...great! I loved the selection of recipes, wonderfully presented by the charming and engaging Rachel Khoo and my only criticism so far would be I wish each episode were longer! For that reason, not to mention because I'm as much of a lover cookbooks as I am of cooking, I headed to my local bookshop this week and picked myself up a copy of the book accompanying the series, The Little Paris Kitchen: Classic French recipes with a fresh and fun approach.

This book is a terrific introduction to those daunted by traditional French cooking and a worthy addition for more experienced cooks looking for a fresh approach to more traditional dishes. The recipe selection is broad and varied, ranging from the classic to the contemporary, with a few surprises along the way. I raised my eyebrows (in a good way) more than once, at dishes such as Mackerel Tartare with a Rhubarb and Cucumber relish, Cured Sausage, Pistachio and Prune Cake and Vacherin 'Hotdog' with rosemary rhubarb. The recipes are separated into helpful sections, covering snacks to family dinners and each is clearly explained and accompanied by useful tips, techniques and even the occasional twist. Much like the food the photography is simple yet elegant, showcasing the beautiful recipes, beautiful Paris and the beautiful cook herself!

I have read elsewhere that the food featured in The Little Paris Kitchen is almost too simple, but for me that is what makes this book so special. The dishes are creative, exciting and most importantly, achievable. I've tried out about half a dozen so far and each one has not only been delicious to eat, but also easy and enjoyable to make, which surely is the point of good cooking. I really love this book already and look forward to trying out more of what it has to offer. I suggest you all hunt down a copy at the next available opportunity!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Not Cross Buns

Here is my take on the traditional hot cross bun recipe. I've not bothered with the crosses, not only because I am a man of science but also because it's one less thing to have to think about. These buns are about as far removed as your can get from the flat pale equivalents sold in most supermarkets. Dark golden, syrupy and rich in both flavour and texture they are wonderful spread with something indulgent, or even just eaten alone. I'd say you'll get about 9 buns out of this mixture and I'd resist the urge to make them any bigger, as they colour quite quickly in the oven. I've been pretty traditional with my filling and spicing in this recipe, but there is a lot of room for experimentation. You could have a go with a bit of citrus, chocolate or maybe even marzipan! Finally I've glazed my buns (innuendo alert) with a little warmed golden syrup, but feel free to try other things such as maple syrup or jam.

Prep Time: 30 Mins (Plus time to prove, ferment, etc)
Baking Time: 15 Mins
15g Fresh Yeast
100ml Warm Water
40g Caster Sugar
320g Strong White Bread Flour (Plus a bit more to dust your surface if required)
50ml Milk
40g Unsalted Butter (Melted and cooled)
1 Medium Egg
1tsp Mixed Spice
125g Mixed Dried Fruit
1tsp Salt
3tbsp Golden Syrup (Warmed through for 20seconds in the microwave)
A little oil for greasing

Right, as with most of my bread recipes at the moment, the magic begins the night before. If time is of the essence you can shorten this step but try and leave it for at least an hour. In a large bowl crumble in your fresh yeast, then add in 50g of the flour and 10g of the sugar. Pour in the water and give it mix around until combined (I use a tiny whisk for this!). Cover with a dry tea towel and leave overnight.

The next morning add the rest of the sugar, milk, butter and spice. Crack in the egg, give it a brief mix about with a wooden spoon, then tip in the fruit and do the same. Finally add in the rest of the flour with the salt until a loose dough begins to form. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and start kneading (stretching the dough away from you, folding it back on itself and repeating). You'll find after about 4 or 5 minutes it'll start to become much less sticky and easier to work with, although you may have to chase the occasional rogue sultana that tries to escape! Continue kneading for another couple of minutes then place in clean, lightly greased bowl (I actually used the residual butter from the pot I melted it in), cover with a damp tea towel and place somewhere warm for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

By this time the dough should have doubled in size, so bring it back into the kitchen. Tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface (Use a flavourless oil if you can) and knock the dough back, pressing it with your fingers and the ball of your hand. Divide and shape the dough into 9 equal sized balls and leave for a further 30 minutes on your greased surface, covered again with the damp tea towel.

Carefully transfer the little buns to a floured baking tray and put into the centre of the oven. Turn the oven on to 190C/375F/Gas 5 and let them bake for 15 minutes, by which time they are dark golden. Remove them from the oven and wrap the hot buns in your damp tea towel. You don't have to do this, but I find it helps soften the top of the buns. After five minutes, unwrap the buns and place them on a wire rack or plate. To finish brush over the warm syrup, then see how long you can resist eating them. I bet it won't be long!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Blueberry Monday Muffins (On a Thursday)

Just to prove how flexible my Monday Muffin recipe is (See below for info) I used it to make these blueberry muffins this morning. All I did was replace the quantity of carrots and sultanas with blueberries and removed the spicing altogether (leaving in the dash of vanilla). The mix left me with enough for 6 big muffins and took about 40 minutes in the oven. This is already one of my favourite easy recipes and I'm going to give it another go with chocolate next week!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Little Monday Muffins!

These muffins are so easy they barely need a recipe, so are perfect for Mondays! Just dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another, mix them both together and fold through the rest. They are also incredibly flexible. I've made mine with carrot and sultanas but you could replace the quantities with anything else you want to try. The same goes for the spicing and flavouring, so feel free to experiment. A last point, you'll get twelve dinky muffins out of this mix but if you want the giant cafe style ones, then just use six cases instead of twelve (adding a bit more time to cook).

Prep time: 10 Mins
Baking time: 25-30 Mins
2 Medium Eggs
150ml Vegetable Oil
100g Golden Syrup
1tsp Vanilla Extract
175g Plain Flour
75g Light Muscovado Sugar
1tsp Baking Powder
1tsp Mixed Spice
1/2tsp Ground Ginger
1/2tsp Ground Cinnamon
150g Grated Carrot
100g Sultanas

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. In a bowl, beat the two eggs then pour in pour in the oil, syrup and vanilla. Put it to one side and in a fresh bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and spices. Pour in the the wet ingredients and beat it all together to a smooth batter. Fold through the carrots and sultanas, then spoon evenly into the cases (The mixture should come up to just over halfway). Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until a little skewer (I used a toothpick!) can be cleanly removed from the middle of one of the muffins. Remove from the oven and set aside, then after about 20 minutes remove from the tray and leave on a wire rack to cool completely. Wahey! 

Friday, 16 March 2012

For Your Consideration - The Rare Tea Company

As far as I'm concerned tea and cake is one of lifes true affordable luxuries, so it's with some embarrassment that I admit to only recently becoming interested in premium teas. I've tried a few from different companies, both large and small, but my favourite is by far the selection from the Rare Tea Company. 

Their teas are outstanding, with a wonderful freshness balanced with a deep flavour and fragrant aroma. The selection available is consistently high quality but what I really love is that there seems to a tea available for everyone, be it fans a fragrant exotic teas such as Jasmine, herbal tea aficionados, or even tea novices such as myself. They also have limited edition and guest teas for those wanting something a bit different. I would have said for those wanting something a bit special but all their teas are special! 

The Rare Tea Company sources their teas from Asia, Africa and even the UK. Obtained directly from small producers and fairly traded their teas are also responsibly shipped, stored and packaged. So, there really is no excuse not to give them a go. Just don't forget about the cake!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Chocolate Iced Maple and Pecan Loaf

I had some maple syrup left over from pancake day so thought I'd give this one a try. It is incredible, with a deep, rich maple flavour and satisfying texture. You can leave the chocolate icing off if you prefer it without but I think it makes a big difference. Also, as always it's incredibly easy to make!

Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus a bit of time to let things cool down)
Baking time: 60 Mins
175g Maple Syrup
175g Medjool Dates (Roughly chopped, stones removed)
50g Light Muscovado Sugar
150ml Milk
175g Self Raising Flour
100g Unsalted Butter (Plus extra for greasing)
2 Medium Eggs
150g Pecans (Bashed up roughly)

100g Dark Chocolate (I used a 71% Grenada Chocolate company bar)
2tbsp Golden Syrup

Pour the maple syrup into a saucepan, then throw in the dates and sugar. Tip in the milk, then warm the mixture through on a low heat until it's nicely combined. Turn the heat off and leave for 20-30 minutes, by which time the dates would have started to melt into the velvety mapley concoction.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease/line the base of a 22cm loaf tin. In a mixing bowl rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Pour in the maple syrup mixture (including the dates) and briskly mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Crack in the eggs one at a time and do the same. Tip in 125g of the pecans (keeping 25g back for later) and gently fold them through. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 60 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed from the centre. Leave in the tin for 30 minutes of so, then remove and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. It should come out of the tin relatively easily, but if not just run a butter knife gently along each side of the cake which should help release it.

To make the icing break the chocolate up and melt it either over a bain-marie, or in the microwave if you're confident doing it that way. When it's nicely melted stir through the golden syrup. Spoon the icing onto the cooled cake and level out with a flat knife or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle over the last 25g of pecan nuts then slice and annihilate at your leisure!

Friday, 9 March 2012

White Bread: The Directors Cut

I've been on somewhat of a bread odyssey recently, trying out different methods for various loaves. After a lot of tinkering and testing I think I've finally come up with a recipe that I'm really happy with. Now I'm not saying this will make the quintessential white loaf and in fact more experience bread bakers may well scoff at some of my slightly unusual methods. All I can say is I'm really happy with the fluffy and flavoursome bread this recipe creates and I'll be sticking with it for the foreseeable future! I make two stick loaves with this, but it's a great all rounder. You just need to adjust the baking time.

Right, so let's get started! I use fresh yeast for this recipe, which I managed to get in a nearby bread bakery. It costs literally pence, a real bargain (24p for enough for half a dozen loaves) and I keep it in one of my fridge compartments until needed.

The evening before I needed my loaves I placed 15g of fresh yeast in a large bowl with 200ml of warm water and 1tsp of sugar. I stirred it around with one of those little mini whisks until the yeast dissolved, then added 100g of very strong white bread flour and did the same until I was left with a creamy consistency. I covered with a dry tea towel and left overnight.

The next morning I measured out 220g of very strong white bread flour. I added 200g of the flour to my yeast mixture with 1/2tsp salt, keeping 20g of the flour aside. I mixed it with a wooden spoon, then when it came together, tipped it out onto a clean surface dusted with 10g of the flour left over and started kneading. My kneading technique is pretty basic and just involves pulling the dough away from my body, folding it back on itself, turning slightly and repeating. I did this for about 8 minutes, using the last 10g of flour if the dough got too sticky. By this time the dough had become smooth and elastic so I then formed it into a ball, dusted it all over with flour and placed it back into my mixing bowl. Finally, with my kneading arm aching, I covered with a damp tea towel and placed in a warm place.

After about 2 hours the dough had doubled in size, so I brought it back into the kitchen. I measured out 1/2tbsp of olive oil and spread it over my surface, then tipped out my dough onto it. I pressed the dough down with my fingers then gave it a brief final knead, treating the dough like a clock face and bringing the edges into the middle at each of the numbers. I then split the dough in half and rolled it out into two thin stick shapes about 30cm long. Finally I laid them back on my greased surface, sliced the top a few times with a sharp knife and covered again with my damp tea towel.

After 40 minutes I dusted a flat baking tray with some flour. I carefully lifted my two sticks off of the surface, placed onto the tray (The oil should stop the dough sticking) and gave the top of each a final light dusting of flour. I then placed into the centre of a cold oven and turned it up to 240C/475F/Gas 9. I know it sounds bonkers but it just seems to work for me this way. After about 20 minutes, the bread had a nice even colour so I removed it from the oven. To finish, I wrapped one of the loaves in a damp tea towel for 15 minutes as my niece and nephew wanted to try it and they prefer a soft crust!

Bread done!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Roasted Rhubarb Cake with Candied Pistachios

I can't get enough of candied pistachios at the moment and think they go really well with this zesty and seasonal rhubarb cake. I considered reducing the syrup I candied my nuts in* and if I was just making them to eat on my own, I would definitely reduce the quantity of sugar and water by a third. However I think the extra syrup works much better with a cake as you can spoon it over the top!

* Yes I am aware of the double entendre!

Prep time: 30 Mins
Baking time: 50 Mins (Plus 25 mins to roast your rhubarb and 10 minutes to candy your nuts*)
300g Rhubarb (Washed and trimmed)
25g Light Muscovado Sugar

200g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Light Muscovado Sugar
3 Medium Eggs
100g Ground Almonds
Zest of 1 Medium Orange
150g Self Raising Flour

200g Pistachios (Roughly bashed up)
150g Golden Caster Sugar
150ml Cold Water

There's a few components to this recipe but it's still very easy! Start by preheating the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Chop the rhubarb into 3cm pieces and mix them around in a bowl with the 25g of sugar. When they are nicely coated place the rhubarb on a shallow tray lined with baking or greaseproof paper, spaced evenly apart and sprinkle over any sugar that is left in the bottom of the bowl. Place in the oven for about 25 minutes, by which time the rhubarb will be soft, yielding and starting to release it's juices. Remove from the oven, tip the rhubarb and any juice into a fresh bowl and set aside to cool for about 30 - 45 minutes.

To make the cake itself preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease/line the base of a 20cm loose bottomed tin. Cream together the butter and muscovado sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the ground almonds and orange zest, then sift in the flour and do the same. Fold through the cooled rhubarb and it's juice as carefully but as thoroughly as you can. It will start to break up quite significantly, but that's absolutely fine (In fact you want that to happen). Spoon into your prepared tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 50 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed from the centre. When you're happy it's cooked, remove and leave to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes. By that time you should be able to easily release it from the tin.

Place the warm cake on a wire rack with a plate underneath (This will become clear later). Place the pistachios in a saucepan with the caster sugar and water, then fire up the heat underneath as high as it will go. Bring it up to the boil, then let it bubble away angrily, stirring occasionally until the syrup has thickened and become golden. This should take anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the size of the pan used. When it's ready remove it from the heat, then spoon the pistachios and syrup evenly over the top of your cake and leave to cool. After about half an hour of cooling you'll find that some of the syrup may have run off of the cake onto the plate, so if that's the case you can spoon it back over the top. Waste not want not!

FINAL NOTE - This cake is even better the day after you make it!!!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Secret Ingredient

Not sure how I missed this, but last week revealed the secret ingredients that some of the top food professionals keep in their kitchen cupboards. How many do you have?