Elderflower and pear jelly

Today I have a delicious, refreshing recipe for elderflower and pear jelly to share with you. I love elderflower sparkling presse so when Bottlegreen told me about the newest addition to their collection (elderflower and green tea) I knew I had to try it. I don’t like to do product reviews for the sake of product reviews so I thought I would create a recipe using it to share with you. As a drink this new flavour is delicious and refreshing but personally I prefer the elderflower sparkling presse without green tea. However as a jelly the flavour mellowed and the resulting jelly was a delicious, spring dessert. This was the first jelly I have made (unless you count the just add water type from my childhood) but it won’t be the last.

Elderflower (and green tea) and pear jelly
Serves 4

400ml Elderflower and green tea sparkling presse
2 sheets leaf gelatine
small tin of pears in natural fruit juice

  • In a bowl, cover the gelatine leaves with cold water and leave to soften.
  • Over a gentle heat, warm 100ml of the elderflower presse  but don’t let it boil.
  • Remove from the heat. Squeeze the excess liquid from the gelatine leaves, stir in to the warmed presse until dissolved. Add the rest of the presse.
  • Place two pieces of pear in to each of 4 glasses. Divide the jelly mixture between the 4 glasses. Leave to set in the fridge over night.

Thanks to Bottlegreen for my sample bottle of Elderflower and green tea sparkling presse.

Christmas baking – Panforte

This is my entry for VoucherCodes.co.uk Most wanted Yule – Blog bake off. The challenge quiet simply is to bake and blog a recipe that epitomises christmas. Panforte may not be the most obvious recipe to fit the requirements but at this time of year the food blogs are full of recipes for christmas puddings, cakes and mince pies so I decided to find a recipe a little bit different. I nearly made another gingerbread house but unfortunately I just didn’t have the time this year. So back to the drawing board I went (or rather my ever growing cookbook and food magazine collection).

Inspiration finally struck whilst visiting Manchester Christmas markets. Its become a bit of a tradition of our to take a day off mid week in December and visit the markets. We finish our christmas shopping in the shops, wander round the markets, eat lunch at one of the many food stalls and drink mulled wine and warming fruit punches. Stalls come from all over Europe including Germany, France and Italy. There is always a stall selling traditional Italian biscuits and this reminded me that I had seen a recipe for Panforte in Sainsburys magazine in early November.

Panforte is a traditional spiced festive treat from Siena (it seemed fitting to bake panforte this christmas since we will be getting married not far from there next summer). It may not be the first sweet treat you think of when you think of christmas but all the key elements are there – dried fruit and nuts, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

It also keeps well (Important at this busy time of year so you can bake it ahead of time) and is relatively straight forward to bake. The end result is a deliciously, festive, chewy sweet treat. Perfect to serve with coffee over the festive period or perhaps to give as gifts.

Panforte
serves 16

75g blanched almonds
75g blanched hazelnuts
50g unsalted shelled pistachios
225g mixed dried apricots, figs, pitted Medjool dates and candied peel, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp each groung ginger, ground cloves, ground nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper
75g plain flour, sifted
1tbsp cocoa
200g clear honey
200g caster sugar
icing sugar to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 180C, fan 160C, gas 4. Oil and line an 18cm square non-stick loose bottomed tin. Scatter the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes until golden. Lower the oven temperature to 150C, fan 130 C, gas 2. Cool the nuts, then chop with the pistachios and tip into a large bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit and mix well. In another small bowl, mix the spices, flour, cocoa and a pinch of salt. Add to the dried fruit and nuts and mix thoroughly.
  • In a medium pan, stir the honey and sugar over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring slowly to the boil, then bubble for two minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, pour into the fruit and nut mixture and quickly mix with a large wooden spoon. Spoon into the tin and level the surface. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, then leave to cool in the tin. Once cold remove from the tin. Cut into squares with a sharp knife and dust with icing sugae to serve.

Nigella’s maple pecan bundt cake

After months of very little baking, October seems to be the month of baking in our house. So far I have baked chocolate chip cookies and brownies (for my boyfriend to take to work to celebrate his birthday) and a maple pecan bundt cake for his 30th birthday. All 3 recipes are from Nigella’s new book Kitchen and all 3 turned out beautifully. I’ve still got to bake something for our late Macmillan coffee morning at work on friday and something to take in to work for my birthday next week. Just as well then that Tate and Lyle sent me a range of their fair trade sugars to tell you about. They are committed to making their range 100% fair trade and have a new design to their packaging too. Why not have a look at their fantastic baking facebook page here.

I loved the maple pecan bundt cake. The cake itself was delicious and moist but the best thing about this cake is the surprise that comes when you cut in to it. The maple syrup and pecan filling is to die for! The cookies worked really well too. I’ve made quiet a few cookie recipes before but these were by far the best texture wise, crunchy outside and chewy in the middle. The only negative was, for me, they were perhaps a little too sweet. The everyday brownie recipe was easy to make and the results were gooey and delicious.

I bought Nigella’s book on a bit whim whilst I was taking a break from revision last month. It was a bargain at just £13 and almost 500 pages. It is however my first Nigella cookbook! I know, I know I’m a bit late finding Nigella but I never watched her shows until this summer when that seemed to be all that was showing on the Good food channel. I’ve always thought of her cooking as being too “unhealthy” but with the bargain price, delicious looking pictures and me desperate to get back in to the kitchen trying out new recipes, I decided to give it a go.

The book doesn’t disappoint, I instantly loved her style of writing and only 20 pages in I found I’d read nearly every word and learnt quiet a few hints and tips. As for the recipes, first impressions are that they don’t seem as unhealthy as I thought. Yes there are a lot of baking recipes but I don’t bake that often, for just the two of us, but when I do  have an occasion to bake for, it’s nice to have a selection of recipes you can trust to turn out well. There are some savory recipes I’ll never cook or that I would experiment with replacing or reducing the butter etc but not as many as I expected and anyway it’s all about moderation and using your own judgment. Now a days I tend to look at the balance of the types of food we eat over a week rather than in one day, we all need the occasional treat. All in all a great book that I can see myself going back to regularly. I may even have to take a look at some of her earlier books.

Maple pecan bundt cake

for the maple pecan filling:

75g plain flour
30g soft unsalted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150g pecans (or walnuts), roughly chopped
125ml maple syrup

for the cake:

300g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g soft unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
250ml creme fraiche or sour cream
1-2 tsp icing sugar, for decoration
flavourless oil, for greasing

1x23cm bundt tin

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Using flavourless oil grease your bundt tin, and leave upside down on newspaper for the excess oil to drain out.
  • Make the filling for the cake by mixing together the 75g flour and 30g butter with a fork, till you end up with the sort of mixture you’d expect when making crumble topping. Then, still using the fork, mix in the cinnamon, chopped nuts and maple syrup, to form a sticky, bumpy paste. set a side for a moment.
  • For the cake, measure 300g flour, the baking powder and bicarb into a bowl.
  • Now, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in 1tbsp of the flour mixture, then 1 egg, then another tbsp of flour mixture followed by the second egg.
  • Add the rest of the flour mixture beating as you go, and then finally the creme fraiche or sour cream. You should expect to end up with a fairly firm cake batter.
  • Spoon just more than half the cake batter into the oiled bundt tin. Spread the mixture up the sides a little and around the funnel of the tin to create a rim. You don’t want the sticky filling to leak out the sides of the tin.
  • Dollop the maple filling carefully in to the dent in the cake batter, then cover the filling with the remaining batter. Smooth the top and put the tin in the oven for 40 minutes, though it’s best to check with a cake tester after 30 minutes.
  • Once cooked, and the cake tester comes out clean where it hits the sponge (obviously, any gooey filling will stick to the tester), let the cake cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes in its tin, then loosen the edges with a small spatula, including around the middle funnel bit, and turn the cake out onto the rack.
  • When the cake is cold, dust with icing sugar by pushing a teaspoon or so through a tea strainer.

Christmas baking

The Christmas tree is up, the presents are wrapped and the cards have been sent. Now it’s time for me to tell you about some of the festive baking I have been doing this month.

First up there were the Jamie Oliver mince pies (from last years Christmas show, recipe available here). These were incredibly simple to make and a delicious twist on traditional mince pies. We ate a few warm from the oven and the rest are sat in the freezer patiently waiting to be reheated from frozen nearer to Christmas. I followed the main recipe but I used more than 100g of mince meat as it was spread too thinly for my liking.
Next up are these Christmas spiced biscuits from Sainsbury’s magazine. The flavours in these biscuits are delicious and quiet frankly I could eat them all year round! I’m sorry to say that there are none left! For that extra festive touch I decorated them with red and green icing.
I have also taken part in this months festive themed Daring cooks and Fresh from the oven challenges. The results of which will be posted on the 14th and 28th respectively. I also aim to find time to bake some extra Christmas treats for my family and also complete the December Daring bakers challenge so keep an eye out for them on here soon.

Spiced Christmas biscuits
Sainsbury’s magazine, December 2008

225g soft butter
175g light soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 large egg
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

  • In a food processor, mix together the butter, brown sugar and honey for a few minutes or so until pale and creamy. Then add the egg and mix again until combined.
  • Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices and mix until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
  • Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently, then divide in two.
  • Roll out each piece of dough between two sheets of baking parchment to about 0.5cm thick and chill for at least one hour until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C, 170C (fan), gas 5.
  • Cut out star shapes using a cutter and place on a baking sheet; repeat until all the dough is used up.
  • Bake in batches for 10-12 minutes until golden, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • When cold, decorate with icing if desired.

Will keep in an airtight container for up to a week. Can be frozen uniced.

Daring bakers – November 2009 – Cannoli

I had mixed feelings about this months Daring bakers challenge. On the one hand I love cooking and eating Italian food but on the other, I refuse to deep fat fry anything. A bit further in to the post and I discovered that it was possible to bake cannoli. So I decided to give the baked version ago. I just needed to find out at what temperature and for how long and what I could use instead of buying cannoli forms. A bit of research on the Internet and I found a video where not only did the cook bake his cannoli but he used 1 inch diameter wooden dowelling to shape and bake the cannoli.
So armed with 6 3 inch lengths of wooden dowelling one Sunday afternoon I set about making baked cannoli. The dough itself was simple enough to make using my KitchenAid, however rolling out thinly was quiet a challenge. I shaped the dough around my soaked lengths of dowelling (just as suggested in the video) and baked as directed. I only made 6 cannoli since there were only 2 of us but unfortunately 4 of them refused to be parted from the dowelling! The two that survived with filled with whipped cream (a cheats filling I know but I guess I must have known they wouldn’t turn out!) and decorated with chocolate chips. The taste? I have to say I wasn’t impressed with the taste. I’m sure that part of the problem was that I went for the healthier cooking option but even so I didn’t rate the flavour of the shell that much. At least this was a slight improvement on last months macaroons!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Christmas pudding challenge

A few weeks back I saw a competition posted on the UKFBA website. The competition was to come up with an alternative way of using a Christmas pudding. The competition is being run by Mathew Walker who have been making Christmas puddings in Derbyshire since 1899. Mathew Walker generously sent all bloggers wanting to enter the competition a 100g taster Christmas pudding and a full size (454g) Christmas pudding.

So I started to think of recipes using Christmas pudding, specifically leftover Christmas pudding (yes, I believe it does happen in some households!). I wanted to create something simple that could be used as a desert on boxing day. The final recipe I settled on was to replace meringue with Christmas pudding in a twist on the traditional Eton mess – a Christmas mess!

I still wanted there to be a mixture of textures as well as flavour so I decided to include broken up pieces of brandy snaps in the cream mixture. The hardest part was deciding what fruit to put in it. Cherry’s soaked in kirsch? cranberry sauce? mandarin segments? I think all would work well. In the end though I found a tub of pears in cranberry juice which left them a beautiful pink/red colour. The dish tasted delicious. all the flavours blended together well (helped by the Christmas pudding being so delicious and flavourful) and I enjoyed the mixture of textures. The brandy flavour in the Christmas pudding infused through all the cream making it all lovely and as my boyfriend called it “Christmas in a glass”.A Christmas mess is the ideal desert for boxing day. Its quick and simple to prepare (exactly what you need after all the preparation and cooking on Christmas day), uses up any leftover Christmas pudding, includes many of the traditional flavours of Christmas and tastes fantastic. Leftover Christmas pudding can be included cold or reheated (and then cooled slightly before adding to the cream). You could heat by frying lightly or in a microwave. The quantities are a bit vague allowing you to customise the recipe to your families tastes.

Christmas Mess
Serves 4

200g leftover Christmas pudding (or as much as you have/like).
400ml double cream or whipping cream
4-6 brandy snaps
Tub of pears in cranberry juice (tinned pears in natural juice would also work or any fruit of your choice)
Icing sugar and coco powder for dusting.

  • In a large bowl softly whip the cream until it is thick and soft.
  • Gently stir in most of the bits of brandy snap and all the Christmas pudding.
  • Put a layer of pears in the bottom of 4 glass dessert bowls (I used wine glasses).
  • Spoon the cream mixture on top.
  • Decorate the tops with the reserved brandy snap shards.
  • Dust with icing sugar and coco powder.
  • Serve.

Chocolate, pear and orange squares

When I asked my boyfriend what dessert or cake he would like me to bake for his birthday the response I got was anything with chocolate and pears. The chocolate was no surprise (he LOVES chocolate) but the pear threw me a little. Chocolate and pear may be a classic, tasty pairing but none of my recipe books seemed to have any recipe ideas. Then a couple of weeks before his birthday I won a copy of 200 cakes and bakes, published by Hamlyn, via a weekly contest by Octopus books on twitter. When the book arrived I was pleased to see a delicious looking, simple to make chocolate, pear and orange squares recipe (a traybake).The cake was indeed simple to make and the end result was delicious. It rose well and was light and moist and the flavours mixed well together.
The rest of the recipes in this little book also look deliciously tempting. To name just a few that appeal to me there is a strawberry macaroon cake, chocolate truffle cake, chocolate and chestnut roulade and triple chocolate pretzels. The book is full of mouthwatering photographs to tempt you and the instructions all seem clear and simple.

Hopefully you will also notice an improvement in my photographs on this entry. I have just bought one of these mini photography studios and have noticed an improvement already. Hopefully once I have more time to play around with it they will get better still. The only disappointment with this purchase is there were no instructions provided what so ever. I noticed that a lot of the pictures I took on a white background had a pinkness to them. If anyone knows what is causing this and how to correct it that would be helpful.

Chocolate, pear and orange squares
Serves 8

175g butter, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
125g self-raising flour
75g self-raising wholemeal flour
25g coco powder
grated rind and 2 tbsp juice from 1 orange
4 small conference pears, peeled, halved and cored

To finish
sifted icing sugar
1 little grated chocolate
a little grated orange rind

  • Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually mix in alternate spoonfuls of beaten egg and flour until all has been added and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cocoa, orange rind and juice then spoon the mixture into an 18x28cm roasting tin lined with nonstick baking paper and spread the surface level.
  • Cut each pear half into long thin slices and fan out slightly but keep together in their original shape. Carefully lift on top of the cake and arrange in 2 rows of 4.
  • Bake in a preheated oven, 180C (350F), gas 4 for 30-35 minutes until well risen and the cake springs back when gently pressed with a fingertip.
  • Lift out of the tin using the lining paper, cut into 8 pieces and peel off the paper. Dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with grated chocolate and orange zest. Serve warm or cold as it is, or with ice cream or custard. Store in an air tight tin for up to 2 days.

Daring Bakers – Vols-au-Vents

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
When I first read this months challenge my first though was of the mushroom Vols-au-Vents of the 80’s, from parties when I was a growing up. I’m also not a huge fan pastry so to say I wasn’t as excited about this challenge as say the Bakewell tart or Dobos Torta would be an understatement. Then my second thought was that making puff pastry is supposed to be a challenge (which is why I joined the daring bakers after all) and something I should try making myself at least one so I decided to participate.

The main point of the challenge was the homemade puff pastry. Puff pastry is in the ‘laminated dough” family, along with Danish dough and croissant dough. (In fact, if you participated in the Danish Braid challenge back in June 2008, then you already know the general procedure for working with laminated dough.) A laminated dough consists of a large block of butter (called the “beurrage”) that is enclosed in dough (called the “détrempe”). This dough/butter packet is called a “paton,” and is rolled and folded repeatedly (a process known as “turning”) to create the crisp, flaky, parallel layers you see when baked. Unlike Danish or croissant however, puff pastry dough contains no yeast in the détrempe, and relies solely aeration to achieve its high rise. The turning process creates hundreds of layers of butter and dough, with air trapped between each one. In the hot oven, water in the dough and the melting butter creates steam, which expands in the trapped air pockets, forcing the pastry to rise.

Making the puff pastry wasn’t as hard as I thought (although mine didn’t rise very much so I clearly haven’t mastered the technique), it was more time consuming than anything else. I struggled all month to think up an interesting filling for my Vols-au-Vent’s. In the end I saw some rhubarb tarts on Nigel Slater’s simple suppers and decided to make them with some of the pastry I made and simply fill the Vols-au-Vent’s with roasted rhubarb. Although the pastry didn’t rise all that much (it probably doubled in height) it did have plenty of layers to it. I’d never roasted rhubarb before but I liked the way it maintained the pinkness and tasted delicious.

The verdict –

  • Did I enjoy the challenge? – yes
  • Would I have made puff pastry myself if wasn’t for this challenge? – probably not
  • Would I make this recipe again? – again probably not, I’m not a big fan of pastry so I couldn’t see me making my own puff pastry again.

My Rhubarb tart –

I have copied the recipe below for anyone who would like to have a go at puff pastry. I would strongly recommend you watch the Julia Child video mention below if you do want to have a go as it demonstrates all the folding, turning etc.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book. http://video.pbs.org/video/1174110297/search/Pastry

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
  • Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.
  • (This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d’oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)
  • Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.
  • Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.
  • Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)
  • Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)
  • Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.
  • Fill and serve.

Banana muffins

Do you have two blackened bananas sitting in your fruit bowls just crying out to be turned into banana bread? Yes, then this is the post for you.
Every year in the UK we throw out 6.7 million tonnes of food, most of which could have been eaten. 40% of this is fresh fruit and vegetables (and bananas are in the top 5 fruit and veg we throw away). These facts are just a few of the facts on Love food, hate waste campaign website. The website is jam packed with ideas and tips for reducing waste and saving money as well as lots of great recipes for using up leftovers.

I’ve blogged in the past about some of the ways I reduce waste which as a nice side effect also saves money. For example making the most of a chicken, meal planning and using this as a basis for a shopping list and freezing leftovers. There are also a growing number of cook books on the market about making the most of the food we buy. The basic principle most of these book encourage is buying the best quality food you can afford and making sure you get the best out of it and don’t waste any. One such book is The new English Kitchen by Rose Prince which is full of tips and recipes to help you get the most of the food you buy. It covers everything from baking your own bread, making your own stock, cooking with cheaper cuts of meat and the principle of making food in to more than one meal. Another similar book is The thrifty cookbook 476 ways to eat well with leftovers by Kate Colquhoun. These two books aren’t full of mouth watering colour photographs of the recipes but instead they are packed full of great advice and recipe ideas and the authors passion for food and making the most of it are evident.

The other day I had a very sad looking fruit bowl, a couple of blackened bananas and a few apples that had seen better days. So I decided to turn the bananas in to banana bread and the apples combined with a few cooking apples I stewed and turned in to a crumble. For the crumble topping I used a mixture of the left over topping (stored in the freezer) from making the blueberry muffins, porridge oats and broken up pecan nuts. The crumble was delicious served with some natural yogurt. The banana muffins were also very tasty and a great nutritious treat to add to our lunch boxes. Kate gives a basic banana cake recipe in her book and lists a few variations. I have adpted the recipe by halving the amount of sugar in the original recipe. I like mine with mixed spice and chopped nuts to give it plenty of flavour and the nuts give a bit of texture. I have made it as a loaf and as muffins and I love both. Two delicious treats from one neglected fruit bowl.

Banana cake
Adapted from The thrifty cookbook

2 bananas, past there best, the blacker the better. Mashed with a fork.
1 egg
130g Self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
55g very soft butter
50g caster sugar

Optional:
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 tsp mixed spice

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Line a small loaf tin, about 22x12cm. Lining with parchment paper to make the cake easier to remove.
  • Put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix together and combine well with a fork. Depending on how mushy the bananas are, you might need to add a dessertspoon of warm water or milk to give the mixture a thick dropping consistency.
  • Put the whole lot in the loaf tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. If the cake gets too brown on top, you might need to cover it with a piece of foil for the last 5 minutes or so.
  • When a fine metal skewer or piece of raw spaghetti poked into the centre comes out clean the cake is done. Let it cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen them and turn the cake out on to a wire rack to cool.
  • Alternatively, you could spoon the mixture into a muffin tray lined with paper cases, in which case reduce the cooking time to 15-20 minutes.

Daring Bakers August – Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
A spoonful of sugar was one of the first blogs I regularly read before I started my own earlier this year. I even emailed Angela for advice before I set up this blog and she was kind enough to reply. So I was keen to see what recipe she had chosen for us. I knew it would be a good one and I knew it would be daring.

August 1st came round and I checked the forum excited to see what she had picked. My first thoughts on seeing the recipe and the pictures was wow, the cake looked amazing and sounded delicious. Then I read the recipe and looked at the cake again and started to feel a little intimated by all the steps and the immaculate presentation of the cakes. Whilst reading other peoples comments I knew I wasn’t alone in thinking these thoughts but then we did sign up for a challenge when we joined the group.

The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners’ and Gingerbread Makers’ Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

I have copied the original recipe across and included my pictures throughout. I didn’t use the buttercream recipe here as I wanted my boyfriend’s sister who is pregnant to be able to eat it. Instead I made a chocolate ganache with 200g dark chocolate and 200ml cream. Added a portion or this to a basic butter and icing sugar butter cream and used this to sandwich the layers together and then coated the whole cake in the chocolate ganache. My caramel layer didn’t turn out as it should of done. It smelt like it was burning so I took it off the heat and poured it over the cake layer, only to find it wasn’t caramelised at all. However it did give the cake wedges on the top a delicious taste, even if it didn’t look as impressive as it should. The “caramel” layer was at least edible. Some comments on the forum said that this layer was inedible and had to be removed. I was a little disappoint with the look of the cake but once I cut in to it and saw all the layers and once we all tasted it it didn’t matter about the poor “caramel” layer.All in all I enjoyed baking this cake and we all enjoyed eating it. It was quiet rich but tasted fantastic. Would I make it again? Probably but not for a little while and I might not bother with the caramel layer.

Equipment

  • 2 baking sheets
  • 9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
  • mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
  • a sieve
  • a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
  • a small saucepan
  • a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
  • metal offset spatula
  • sharp knife
  • a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.
  • piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times

  • Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
  • Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
  • Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
  • Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
  • pinch of salt

Directions for the sponge layers:

NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

  1. Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
  2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter.)
  3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don’t have a mixer.)
  4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
  5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

  1. Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
  3. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
  4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
  5. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Lorraine’s note: If you’re in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you’ll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
  • 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Directions for the caramel topping:

  1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
  2. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
  3. The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn’t just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Angela’s note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos

  1. Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
  2. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
  3. Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
  4. Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.