18 January 2015

New Year, New Toy

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Well, a couple of weeks ago I started my new job, so things have been a bit hectic and I've neglected my cooking and baking. But no more as I finally went ahead and bought myself a cookie press. My Mum's had one as long as I can remember and she used to make lots of lovely bickies. However these days are past. I think the reason to some extent is that it can be a fiddle until you find the knack for it and I suspect quite a few people just give up.

The cookie press was on a special offer and in addition to the 12 different patterns the press came with, there was the "Spring edition" pack with 6 more patterns on the theme of Spring. So I bought those too.

There were three recipes in the main pack, each claiming to result in a ridiculous amount of cookies - 12 dozen! So I chose the simplest one and halved it.

Ingredients
Makes about 75

170 g unsalted butter at room temperature
125 g granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 egg, preferably large
½ tsp vanilla extract
250 g plain flour

Method

  1. Set the oven to pre-heat at 180 °C fan (200 °C otherwise) and place three baking sheets in the fridge to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and salt until it goes light and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg and vanilla extract and incorporate well.
  4. Mix in the flour, a little at a time to get a soft dough.
  5. Select a cookie pattern and insert into the press.
  6. Shape a part of the dough into a sausage and insert into the cookie press, then close it and click in the plunger until the dough begins to come out of the cookie pattern.
  7. Now take one baking sheet out of the fridge and press the cookies onto it.
  8. Once the baking sheet is full, place in the oven to bake for about 6 - 8 minutes.
  9. In the mean time, take the next baking sheet and continue to produce more cookies.
  10. Re-fill the cookie press as necessary.
  11. Once the cookies have baked, take out of the oven and carefully transfer to a cooling rack.
  12. If you need to re-use the baking sheets, wash them between each bake, using cold water and put in the fridge for a bit, if time permits.
  13. Store the cookies in an air-tight container.

The cookie press booklet didn't mention chilling the baking sheets, but a quick search on the internet indicated that this is quite key. Also it seems the baking sheets shouldn't be lined with baking paper. It wasn't clear if the sheets should be stick or non-stick, it seems people had had success with both types. My baking sheets are non-stick and worked fine mostly.

The thing to keep in mind is that the first two or three presses will most likely be wonky as the dough might not have fully "settled" inside the cookie press. Discard these and add to the remaining dough.

Also at the very end, my cookies didn't come out as well, so I just stopped and re-filled the press. This meant I ended up with a small piece of dough, about the size of a walnut, which I wrapped in cling film and froze for next time.

Another key thing is not to refrigerate the dough, it needs to be soft or it will be really difficult to press it. I think my Mum did refrigerate on occasion and ended up rolling the dough into cookies when she couldn't press them through.

I called Lundulph into the kitchen to see how the press works. His immediate reaction was that the cookies were too small and that he likes "normal"-sized cookies. I tried to oblige and did two presses/clicks per cookie in my first batch. This resulted in a better size for the cookies, but they didn't keep their shape as well as the smaller ones and they almost flowed together during baking. So for the remaining two sheets, I followed the instructions and ended up with small, but very pretty cookies.

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In all this baking took under 2 hours and I regret not doing a full batch of the recipe. However, I have cookie dough left-overs in the freezer, so I'll make another lot as soon as this one has been eaten. And I'll experiment and decorate - various coloured sugar crystals can be sprinkled on before baking or the cookies can be iced after baking. Or their bottoms could be dipped in chocolate and glued together. Lots of possibilities, even colouring the dough itself. I think my gingersnap dough would work very well with the cookie press, as long as I make sure to let it come to room temperature beforehand.

23 December 2014

Christmas (Bird) 2014

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After various discussions with Lundulph, we've decided to stop our project to have different birds for Christmas each year. It's not sustainable, so we've settled onto goose. As before, I ordered the smallest possible goose from our butchers and went for the Mary Berry recipe I used a couple of years ago.

I did make a change this year - I baked the mushrooms, rather than fry with butter and also used single cream for them, rather than double cream. Still as tasty, but less fat on the whole.

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The new thing was the dessert - chocolate profiteroles decorated to look like Christmas puddings. I spotted this recipe in the queue at the till in the supermarket and as luck would have it, it was on their website as well.

Ingredients
Profiteroles
125 g plain flour
25 g cocoa powder
1 ml salt
300 ml water
2 tsp caster sugar
100 g unsalted butter
3 large eggs

Filling
300 ml whipping cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp dark rum

Decorations
50 g green fondant icing
15 g red fondant icing
200 g Belgian white chocolate

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C fan and line a couple of baking sheets with paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt. Make sure to mix thoroughly.
  3. Gently heat up the water, caster sugar and butter. Once the butter has melted, bring the liquid to the boil and remove from the heat.
  4. Stir in the dry mixture, then return to the hob. Stir vigorously and "cook" for a few minutes, the dough should come off the sides.
  5. Remove from the hob and set aside for 5 minutes.
  6. Lightly whisk the eggs together, then stir into the dough, a little at a time to get a glossy, pliable dough.
  7. Transfer the dough to a piping bag with a wide round nozzle, about 1.4 cm diameter.
  8. Pipe 24 blobs onto the baking sheets. Wet your hands and form each blob to a ball.
  9. Bake the profiteroles for 25 minutes, then take out of the oven and pierce a hole at the bottom of each, placing upside-down onto the tray.
  10. Return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes to allow them to dry out inside. Remove and transfer to cool on a wire rack.
  11. Place the whipping cream, icing sugar and rum into a bowl and whip the mixture to stiff peaks.
  12. Transfer to a piping bag with a narrow round nozzle and once cooled down, fill each profiterole from the hole in the bottom, then place them in the fridge.
  13. Roll out the green fondant icing to about 2 - 3 mm thickness and cut out tiny holly leaves.
  14. Pinch out tiny pieces of the red fondant icing and form to "berries", about the size of pin heads.
  15. Melt the white chocolate in a bain marie or in the microwave, taking care not to burn it.
  16. Transfer the melted chocolate to a piping bag with a small round nozzle, then drizzle a daisy over each profiterole.
  17. Place a couple of icing holly leaves and 3 red icing berries on each. Store the mini Christmas pudding profiteroles in the fridge.

I haven't made profiteroles for a while and certainly not ones with cocoa powder in them. So I wasn't entirely sure what would happen. It felt like they didn't quite puff up as much as regular ones. I'd also not baked ones where I made holes in the bottoms and continued baking to dry them out, though I know Mary Berry recommends this technique. What I got was some dark brown profiteroles, which weren't too puffed up and seemed pretty dry.

I also made the fondant icing decorations a day before as I didn't have the right cutter. I regret not buying one, it would have made life a bit easier.

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However, it is not impossible. I rolled out my icing and cut a large circle with one of my cookie cutters. Then I used one edge of another cutter shaped like the digit "3" to get a sort of oval shape. Continuing with the "3" cutter, I cut out the little bits all round the edge to make the oval look like a holly leaf. I should have made 48, but once I reached 30, I gave up as Lundulph came home and wanted dinner.

I assembled the profiteroles while the goose was baking, so the kitchen was pretty hot and I had to make sure to keep the cream as cold as possible. I recommend this on the day before as well.

Because the profiteroles didn't puff up, there wasn't room for much cream either and Lundulph and I had to have some extra cream on the side as the profiteroles were pretty dry and tasteless on the whole. More sugar is definitely needed, both in the dough and the cream, I'd say. So although they were quite pretty, they didn't taste very nice. Maybe I should try making regular profiteroles and dip them in chocolate, rather than use cocoa. Still, it was a nifty idea and Lundulph was happy, as he's quite keen on profiteroles.

The goose on the other hand did. I didn't prick the skin when I first put it in the oven, so after about 30 minutes when it was time to turn it round onto its back, it had puffed up and looked like it'd explode. So as I turned it over, I punched holes in the skin all over and the fat oozed out at speed. What we ended up with eventually was a goose where the meat came off the bone and there was no need for carving at all. The texture was very good.

I also splashed out on tender stem broccoli, which was really tasty too, I must remember that for next time.

And so we had a rather successful Christmas dinner, the two of us, and this year's main thing was that we finally got to eat it in our dining room on our brand new dining table. After all these years, we are now at the point where we can use all the rooms of the house, having always had one room being in a state of renovation and crammed with building materials. But no more. Well, not much anyway.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

15 December 2014

Vit Glögg

Last Sunday, Lundulph and I ended up doing a lot of things and completely forgot to have mulled wine and something freshly baked with the second Advent candle. So to compensate a bit, I decided to try something new this time (and a recommendation from my Mum).

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"Vit glögg" translates to white mulled wine. I've only come across it in Sweden and I don't believe I've ever had it before. This particular recipe includes almond liqueur and since we've had a large bottle of Amaretto for ages, this would be a great opportunity to use up some of it.

Ingredients
1 bottle of sweet white wine (750 ml)
200 ml almond liqueur
1 dl granulated sugar
4 sticks of cinnamon, about 5 cm long each
1 tsp of cardamom seeds
5 cloves
3 cm long piece of fresh ginger

Method

  1. Place the wine, liqueur, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves into a saucepan.
  2. Peel and slice the ginger thinly, about 2-3 mm, and add to the saucepan.
  3. Heat up gently to just under simmering for 15 minutes to let the spices infuse the liquid and allow the sugar to dissolve.
  4. Strain and serve.

The original recipe is here (in Swedish). I managed to forget the cloves completely, but it worked fine anyway. The original recipe states 2 dl granulated sugar and this is way too much.

A note about the wine. The recipe stated sweet wine, but the wines in the supermarket were marked as "dry" mostly. There were a couple of "very dry" and a couple of "medium dry". Luckily I spotted one that was marked "medium" and that's the one I went for. It was made from moscato grapes, which I guess would make it sweet enough for the mulling. I suspect if I'd found an even sweeter wine, with all the sugar I added it would have been impossible to drink.

With this, Lundulph and I had some lovely chocolate panettone, which we bought from our local farm shop. It's nice that this has become so popular and is easy to get hold of. The first time I had panettone was in 2002. It was a present I bought for Lundulph in our early days of dating. We both liked it a lot and wanted more, but I had severe trouble getting hold of it in the UK then.

But this white mulled wine was quite a hit, so it might be added to our Christmas traditions. We didn't put any raisins or blanched almonds in the cups, I don't think it's needed.

1 December 2014

Saffron Biscuits

The second thing I made for the first Advent Sunday is again from a very old recipe in my collection and looked quite nice in the photo.

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Ingredients
Makes around 55
2 dl granulated sugar
1 pinch saffron
150 g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
2 tsp orange zest
2 tsp baking powder
4½ dl plain flour
whole almonds for decoration

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C or 180 °C fan and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Place 1 tbsp of sugar and the saffron in a pestle and mortar and grind together.
  3. Mix the remaining sugar and the butter to a creamy consistency.
  4. Whisk in the egg, saffron and zest.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together the baking powder and flour, then add to the cake mixture. The dough will be too dense for a whisk, so use your hands to incorporate everything.
  6. Divide the dough into four pieces and form each into a sausage. Place two pieces on a baking tray, then flatten a little and decorate with almonds.
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  7. Bake the trays for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and slice at an angle with a sharp knife.
  8. Move to a wire rack and let cool completely.

These biscuits did not turn out like in the photo and I know the recipe was wrong as it listed finely chopped almonds at the top of the ingredients list, but then never mentioned when they were to be used. I'd hoped to use some of my ground almonds, but I didn't dare add them at a random place in the baking process and instead just stuck whole almonds on top. In the photo they looked like a saffron/orange version of my fudge biscuits, but that's not what the result was. Still, they were tasty, but I'll try to adjust the fudge biscuit recipe next time. I also need to actually measure the orange zest next time, I sort of guessed at 2 tsp and I think I added more than that.

The biscuits were nicer when still a bit warm actually and I'll try to warm them up in the microwave when I have some next. I suspect they'd be good for dunking in your tea/coffee, if that's what you like, they seem to be pretty solid.

Update 15th December 2014:
I had a good read-through of the recipe leaflet. Indeed there are issues - the almonds as mentioned above for sure. But also I noticed that the photos and the recipes order were "quirky". I was looking at the wrong photo, so no wonder my biscuits didn't look anything like the ones on it. In fact, once I found the actual photo, I established that mine looked prettier, which was very pleasing. What Lundulph and I also discovered is that once you start nibbling on them, it's really difficult to stop...

Gingerbread Muffins

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This year, I've decided to experiment a little with the traditional Christmas flavours and so decided to try my hand at gingerbread muffins. I didn't bother researching recipes, instead I opted for one in my collection. It's not a gingerbread sponge per se, but rather a "spicy sponge cake", which had the same spices I normally use for gingersnaps with the exception of ginger.

It's also a recipe of a basic batter with variations, something I always find appealing. I've made the nut sponge cake version on many occasions, it's very good for cakes, however, this time I made one bad ingredient swap. Please read on.

Ingredients
Basic cake batter for a 1½ l cake tin or 12 muffins
50 g unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 dl granulated sugar
3 dl plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 dl single cream

spicy variant
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground ginger

ready to roll fondant icing for decoration

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C for a cake and 175 °C for muffins and line the appropriate tin.
  2. Melt the butter gently and set aside to cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar light and fluffy.
  4. Sift together the flour and baking powder, then carefully add to the batter, alternating with the single cream.
  5. Finally fold in the melted butter and the spices.
  6. Pour into the tin and bake for about 35 minutes if making a cake or 15 -20 minutes for muffins.
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  7. Test for readiness with a toothpick or skewer and when it comes out clean, remove from the oven and onto a wire rack to cool.
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  8. Roll out some fondant icing, cut out shapes and decorate the cake/muffins.

I was not able to resist a new set of cookie cutters in the shape of snow flakes this year and I use them to cut the icing.

The ingredient swap I made was to use semi-skimmed milk instead of single cream. I believe this is the reason why the muffins ended up so very dry, however, I'll try to remember this for when making cakes which will be moistened with syrup. But in this case this was not a good idea. Perhaps I could have compensated by increasing the amount of butter, but I didn't. I also think I need to make adjustments to the amounts of spices - the ginger was a bit too strong for me, however I think the other spices need to be increased a little, rather than reducing the ginger.

I am quite pleased that the amount was right for 12 muffins, which Lundulph and I have been putting away at a decent rate over the week-end, since it's the first Advent. Lundulph has been really good and hasn't had any alcohol during the whole of November, so we had non-alcoholic spicy fruit punch instead of mulled wine, as we lit the first candle.
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For another variant of this cake, swap 1 dl of flour for 75 g of ground nuts and bake for 40 minutes if making a cake.

25 November 2014

Nutty Chewy Treats

Another recipe I came across in going through my recipe collection is the following. It's really easy and massively tasty, yet I'd managed to miss it completely in the 20 odd years I've had it.

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Ingredients
Make 18 large pieces

100 g pecan nuts
1.5 dl icing sugar
2 large egg whites
pecan halves for decoration (optional)

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150 °C fan and line two baking sheets with baking paper.
  2. Place the pecans and the icing sugar in a food processor and blend together as finely as possible, but without the pecans releasing their oil.
  3. In a separate non-plastic bowl whisk the egg whites to stiff peak stage.
  4. Carefully add the nut/sugar mixture a bit at a time and fold in.
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  5. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a fairly open star nozzle and pipe lengths of about 7 cm onto the baking paper, making sure to leave a lot of space between them as they'll swell during baking. Decorate with a pecan half on top if using these.
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  6. Bake for about 25 - 30 minutes, then remove and allow to cool on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container.

Once the nut/sugar mixture has been folded into the egg whites, the whole thing will appear to collapse a bit, this is OK.

The original recipe said hazelnuts, but it seems I forgot to buy these, so used pecans instead. I also forgot to put a pecan half on top of each. It also said to bake for 15 minutes, however at this point the treats were firmly stuck to the paper. Now since these are basically meringues with nuts, just like macarons, I resorted to the rescue method and baked for a further 15 minutes. They'd sunk in a little by then, but given how ugly my piping was, this didn't really matter.

For next time, I'll pipe round rosettes instead, so that they can be eaten in one bite as they are fairly crumbly along with the lovely chewiness in the middle. Lundulph and I gobbled ours up way too quickly.

I'd also like to try them with different nuts, in which case the decoration on top is a good way to know which one you're eating.

Curried Aubergine and Potato Pie

I've been rummaging through my recipe collection for ideas on what to do this Christmas and so I came across a small book which I received as a farewell gift when I left a previous job some years back. It's the Good Food 101 Hot& Spicy Dishes book and it has quite a few interesting things in it, I've just not tried any of them yet.

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But since Lundulph's vegeterian week challenge, the following recipe took my fancy, especially since I know that Lundulph loves aubergines.

Ingredients

1 kg waxy potatoes
1 large onion
1 large clove garlic
3 medium sized aubergines
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp curry powder
1 can of chopped tomatoes (400 g)
1 dl water
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 can of chick peas (400 g)
salt and pepper to taste
butter

Method

  1. Wash and if necessary peel the potatoes, then cut into bite-sized chunks and steam/boil until soft.
  2. Peel the onion and garlic and chop finely.
  3. Trim and wash the aubergines, then cut into chunks of about the same size as the potatoes.
  4. Heat up the olive oil and fry the onion and garlic gently until transluscent.
  5. Add the aubergines and fry for about 8 - 10 minutes until they start going soft.
  6. Stir in the curry powder and fry for a further minute or so, while stirring constantly.
  7. Add the chopped tomatoes, use the water to rinse off the can. Also add the tomato puree and chick peas and cook for a couple of more minutes.
  8. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C fan and grease a deep oven proof dish.
  9. Transfer the aubergine mixture to the dish, then add the potatoes on top, covering the aubergines.
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  10. Cut very thin slices of butter and place over the potatoes here and there.
  11. Bake for 35 minutes, until the potatoes go golden brown and crunchy.
The recipe is lovely as it is, though I wouldn't call it hot and spicy. Perhaps if I'd used hot curry powder possibly, but currently I have medium. So next time, I'll add more curry powder and also swap the tomato purée for harissa or chipotle paste. Possibly some mushrooms wouldn't go awry either, but there is a risk of ending up with a baked ratatouille. Lundulph certainly enjoyed it as did I. It works both as a main dish and as side with meat.

21 November 2014

Coconut Onigiri

When my Sister Bip came to visit back in September, the last thing we did was to try two new desserts from Wagamama - the sweet onigiri and the mochi ice cream. Both turned out to be really tasty and I set about to try my hand at these beautiful and tasty delicacies from Japan. It took me a while to get all the ingredients, mainly because I kept forgetting to put them on my shopping list, but finally today I got my act together and made the onigiri.

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Obviously Wagamama haven't published the recipe, but a quick search on coconut onigiri gave resulted in this recipe with instructions, which seemed to be on the right line. I made some minor adjustments and converted to metric amounts.

Ingredients

2.5 dl sushi rice
5 dl coconut milk drink
0.7 dl granulated sugar
3 tbsp maple syrup
1.25 dl dessicated coconut
white drinking chocolate (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the rice in a sieve and rinse well under running water.
  2. Transfer the rice to a casserole dish, add the coconut milk drink, granulated sugar and maple syrup. Stir through and bring to a boil.
  3. Put the lid on and let simmer gently for about 15 or so minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Place the dessicated coconut in a pan and toast for a few minutes under constant stirring - some of the flakes should go golden brown. Once this happens, remove from the heat and set aside.
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  5. Once the time is up on the rice, turn off the heat and leave the rice to stand for a further 10 - 15 minutes. The liquid should have soaked into the rice and it should have the consistency of a thick porridge.
  6. Transfer the rice to a bowl, add the toasted coconut and mix well.
  7. Sprinkle white drinking chocolate on a large plate and also place some in a small bowl. Using latex gloves, form small balls from the rice, about the size of walnuts. Then roll these in the white chocolate in the bowl and place on the plate.
  8. The chocolate will likely melt/soak in, so they'll end up just as sticky as before, however it adds a nice flavour to the onigiri.

Actually, talking through these with Lundulph we thought that dipping the onigiri in melted white chocolate would work nicely. This would mean we'd need to eat them cold of course. So far, we've whizzed a few in the microwave and had them warm, which is really nice and I'm not sure if cold would be as nice. Perhaps if I make them a little smaller.

Using ganache as a filling would probably also be quite nice and I'm trying to work out how to achieve the ones at Wagamama, which had been battered and deep fried very briefly, adding an extra crunch.

18 November 2014

Quick Kimchi

I've been thinking of trying my hand at kimchi for a while and as I'd ended up with spare courgettes the other day, I looked round for a recipe involving courgettes and I came across this one. The recipe also calls for cabbage and I had some left over from the cabbage rolls I made a couple of weeks ago, so things worked out quite nicely.

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Ingredients

1.5 l water
3 tbsp salt
600 g cabbage coarsely shredded
400 g courgettes cut into 4 cm thin strips
3 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 large clove of garlic, pressed
2 tbsp Korean chilli powder (gochujang)
1 tbsp sugar

Method

  1. Place the water in a large non-metal bowl and stir in 2.5 tbsp of the salt.
  2. Add the cabbage and courgettes into the water and leave for about 12 h, stirring occasionally.
  3. Scoop out the vegetables and transfer to a side bowl, but keep the brine.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the ginger, garlic, chilli powder, sugar and the remaining salt, then stir the mixture into the vegetables.
  5. Transfer the vegetables into glass jars, packing as tightly as possible. Add any liquid the vegetables might have released and top up with the saved brine.
  6. Place a piece of baking paper over each jar and secure with a rubber band. Let stand in room temperature for 3 days, the jars should start bubbling a little.
  7. After 3 days, taste the kimchi. If it tastes nice, put lids on the jars and store in the fridge, if not, leave for longer and taste every now and then until ready.

We ended up leaving the kimchi for one extra day. The only thing is, the courgettes went quite mushy and neither Lundulph nor I liked them much. But the cabbage was really good. I'll try to remember to get spring onions, like in the original recipe next time. But I'll swap the courgettes for carrots. Lundulph also suggested beet root, though the whole thing will end up purple. Hm, perhaps with red cabbage...