26 August 2015

Birthday Kransekake

This year Lundulph's Mum (like my Mum earlier this year) is turning 70, so big celebrations are in the making, more on this later. But we also decided to have a small family get-together on the actual day and Lundulph kindly volunteered me to make a cake.
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Now times are busy at work at the moment, so I opted to work from home during the birthdays, as Lundulph's Dad also had his birthday a few days before his Mum. Thus we stayed at their place for a few days and while Lundulph was helping out with the party plans, I sat in the guest bedroom working.

This also meant that increasingly Lundulph got more and more nervous about the cake - he hadn't seen any signs of a cake, other than some odd looking biscuity rings that had been in the freezer and had meant he wasn't allowed to rummage around for food. This because I'd decided to make it a surprise for everyone and I was quite worried that Lundulph would get upset because I hadn't made a "real, traditional" cake. But I decided to plod on with my plan.

It all started of course when I went in to Lakeland for ideas and spotted a kransekake pan set. I couldn't resist it, it's as simple as that.

And while Lundulph was enjoying the Ashes for a couple of days, I used the opportunity to make the kransekake rings.

Ingredients

1 kg "50/50"-type marzipan
300 g icing sugar
80 g egg whites (2 eggs approximately)
50 g butter
2 dl ground almonds

Royal icing
2 dl icing sugar
1 egg white

Method

  1. Grate the marzipan coarsely into a large bowl.
  2. Add the icing sugar and stir together with your hand until the marzipan and sugar are mixed through.
  3. Whisk the egg whites lightly, then start adding to the marzipan mixture a little at a time, while kneading the marzipan.
  4. The mixture is ready when you can roll out a sausage of about 2 cm diameter and bend it into a circle without it cracking anywhere.
  5. Melt the butter and brush the moulds well, then sprinkle generously ground almonds and tap off the excess.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C and start rolling the marzipan mixture to about 2 cm diameter lengths.
  7. Gently lay onto each ring mould, splicing the two edges with diagonal cuts.
  8. There should be some marzipan mixture left over, use about a ping-pong ball sized piece and shape into a cone for the top of the kransekake.
  9. Bake all in the oven for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on them and removing as soon as they start getting a bit of colour. Bake the top on an oven safe dish lined with baking paper.
  10. Leave to cool down complete on the moulds, before carefully removing the rings. If they've puffed up too much and stuck together, carefully first separate in the moulds with a knife.
  11. Place the rings on a large plate, with smaller rings inside the larger ones, perhaps 3 - 4 stacked. Place in plastic bags and freeze until the day before they're needed.
  12. The day before serving, remove from the freezer and let thaw in room temperature.
  13. A few hours before serving, make up royal icing by mixing about 2 dl icing sugar with some egg white. Add the egg white a little at a time into the icing sugar and keep stirring through before adding more. Continue until the consistency is such that it can be piped , but it won't drip or run.
  14. To put the kransekake together, start by stacking all the rings, with the largest at the bottom and the smallest at the top, to make sure you have the right order as it can be difficult to tell, the size difference between neighbouring rings is small. Then remove them one at a time and lay them out in order.
  15. Put the royal icing into a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle, then pipe four small blobs at the bottom of the largest ring and place it securely onto the serving plate.
  16. Pipe waves around the top of the large ring, always starting and ending in the inside of it, as this will get hidden with the next layer.
  17. Once the whole ring has completed, carefully place the next one on top, making sure it's centered and repeat the icing waves all around, before placing the next ring on top of that.
  18. Continue until the whole pyramid has completed - you may need to stand on a chair to reach the top layers. Finish with the little cone.
  19. The kransekake is eaten, by working your way down through the layers.
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And indeed it was a great success - it's simple, yet impressive as it's so tall once assembled. It was also very sweet, so I'll try to reduce this next time. The idea with the freezing is that it will make the kransekake crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle. What happened was that the 4 - 5 rings Lundulph and I took home with us, got chewier and chewier with every day they stayed in the larder. It was very nice to have a little nibble after lunch or dinner. And Lundulph was not at all upset, but how could he with all the marzipan to munch on.

Some will also melt dark chocolate and make fancy filigree decorations which are stuck in between the rings. It was my intention to do this as well, however I ran out of time and as I don't trust myself to be able to temper the chocolate, I thought I'd better not bother. Next time I will and I'll also try the alternative traditional shape - a cornucopia, with small petit fours or such spilling out of it. This, however, requires the rings to be glued together with caramel and looking at some professionally made ones, they even have special stands for support, like here from a Danish brand of marzipan, it's in Danish, but just look at the photos.

Key thing to keep in mind - there must be at least 18 rings and preferably more. At the Danish Bake-Off in 2012, the kransekake (Norwegian) or kransekage (Danish) was one of the technical challenges and had to have 20 rings. I highly recommend doing an image search on Google for ideas on how to decorate.

Finally a word on the "50/50"-type marzipan. The numbers indicate the proportions of ground almonds to icing sugar if you're making it yourself. Rather go for a 50% marzipan, which tends to be more expensive and is not as soft to work with, but that's how it should be. I actually baked my kransekake at 200° and thanks to the egg white, it puffed up. I think in my Swedish baking book, it's recommended to shape everything and then let stand for 24 h to form a dry crust, before baking. A bit tricky in the UK, especially when moving towards Autumn and there's lots of rain and moisture in the air. Might be worth a try.

6 August 2015

Wholemeal Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

In my search for a good muffin recipe, I came across this one, which seemed very appealing as it had wholemeal flour and coconut oil in it. How wrong I was...

Ingredients

Makes 12
245 g wholemeal flour
65 g caster sugar
25 g cocoa powder
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp baking powder
60 g melted coconut oil
1.6 dl semi-skimmed milk
1 large egg
0.6 dl chocolate chips

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C and line a muffin tin with paper cases.
  2. Stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Mix in coconut oil, milk and egg.
  4. Fold in the chocolate chips
  5. Divide up the mixture between the cases and bake for about 20 minutes.

What I got was a very stiff batter, so I used an ice cream scoop to distribute among the paper cases. This was great I thought, no dribbling or fiddling with piping bags and such. And baking worked pretty well, they achieved a very nice domed shape, another plus point for this recipe.

But then we tried them and the taste was horrible. I imagine it would taste like this if I'd used sawdust and wood chippings instead of wholemeal flour. The texture was fairly unpleasant too, they were very heavy, which is no wonder with only wholemeal and a tiny amount of baking powder.

Possibly it might work OK as a loaf, where the slices can be eaten with butter and jam, though I'm not sure it would hold together, there's no kneading to develop a gluten structure.

Lundulph obligingly ate his and half of mine, as I decided not to force it down. Lundulph's parents and his brother and partner and a neighbour also kindly agreed to try them, all of us with the same verdict - these were no good at all. And I don't think these are worth experimenting with either, there's too much that's wrong with them. Still, a useful experience.

28 July 2015

New Breakfast 2

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The second breakfast recipe I tried was for "fruit porridge" and there were a couple of things I decided to ignore from the outset - one of the ingredients was celery. Just say no, that's all I'm saying. The second one was to blend the fruit together into some sort of porridge consistency. Well, that would be fruit purée, and why do that, when it's nicer to have it diced and have some textures and colours as well? Not to mention that surely if the stomach has something to digest, it might prevent getting cravings a couple of hours later?

Of course diced fruit in a bowl is a fruit salad and that would take some time to do, not enough of that in the mornings, so I prepared it on the evening before. Lundulph came into the kitchen to see what I was up to and as he saw the kiwi fruit, he decided that he'd like to try this new breakfast as well, so I made a second portion for him too.

Ingredients

1 portion
1 apple
1 pear
1 large kiwi fruit
a handful of raspberries and blueberries
1 tbsp crushed linseed
1 peeled hard-boiled egg

Method

  1. Wash, peel and core the apple, then dice and place in a bowl.
  2. Wash, peel and core the pear, then dice and add to the bowl.
  3. Peel and dice the kiwi fruit and add to the bowl.
  4. Gently wash raspberries and blueberries and add to the bowl
  5. Finally sprinkle the crushed linseed over and stir through to get everything mixed and it's ready to eat along with the egg.

When I handed Lundulph his fruit salad, his only comment was that this is one big bowl of fruit, then he went off to the home office, where he tends to eat breakfast most of the time.

I had the fruit salad first and then ate the egg with a little salt. It was a bit of a struggle to eat everything and I felt rather stuffed afterwards. The idea is of course that the egg provides the protein and again, I got through up to lunch without experiencing any cravings at all.

I was telling my Mum about this too, as she's been having fruit salads with nuts for breakfast for years and she concurred that it's a very filling meal indeed.

But it is also a bit more effort than I have time for, so I only made it a couple of times. I think it would work as a dessert for two, just the fruit salad that is, minus the egg. Making it on the evening before and keeping wrapped with cling film in the fridge works quite well and if you're already cooking in the evening, this won't add too much effort.

And yes, the raspberries and blueberries were the replacement for the celery. The photo in the book actually had pomegranate pieces and I suspect that's rather nice too.

27 July 2015

New Breakfast 1

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Now, my new diet books have lovely recipes and I've tried to follow their concept of palm portions, but I have a bad feeling that's too much for me anyway, perhaps because I no longer feel hungry around elevenses. In the second book there were a couple of breakfast recipes that seemed very appealing and I tried both. Here is the first one, which I've ended up sticking to, as it's a little quicker to do.

Ingredients

1 portion
4 tbsp cottage cheese
½ banana
4 - 5 large strawberries
1 dl heaped with blueberries
1 tbsp flaked almonds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp whole linseeds
¼ tsp ground cinnamon

Method

  1. Scoop the cottage cheese into a bowl and slice the banana thinly over.
  2. Remove the stalks of the strawberries, wash and dice into the bowl.
  3. Wash the blueberries and add to the bowl as well.
  4. Finally add the almonds, sunflower seeds and linseeds and sprinkle the cinnamon on top.
  5. Stir to mix and eat.

Now, the palm portion concept states that the meal should consist of protein of about the size of one's palm (minus the fingers and thumb), then two fist-sized portions of veg or fruit and a fist-sized portion of carbs. This will help you keep your weight. If you want to lose weight, then swap the third fist-sized portion for veg or fruit as well. The book then provides loads of ideas for what to use in each of the food groups.

In this breakfast recipe, the cottage cheese provides the protein part and 4 tbsp are about the size of my palm. The ½ of banana counts as one fist-sized portion of fruit, the strawberries a second and the blueberries a third. I believe the nuts and seeds provide protein and some fat as well, not to mention that linseed tends to get the system going. The cinnamon is not necessary and I've forgotten it on some days, and it was still tasty. I will need to make it more seasonal, I'll have to do some research on what I can swap the strawberries and blueberries with, to make it more interesting. But it's a really nice and filling breakfast that keeps me going well up to lunchtime, no cravings at all.

Of course this takes a little longer to put together in the mornings than say müsli and milk or yoghurt, but not too bad and I think it's time well spent.

26 July 2015

Lemon and poppy seed cupcakes

This year has quite a few big birthdays in the family and next up is my Mother-in-Law. And I get the honour of making some of the desserts - cupcakes and cake pops. Lovely! So on my latest trip to my local Lakeland, I couldn't resist buying moulds for making lace out of icing. Of course it's not regular icing, it requires some special mixture to allow it to keep its shape.

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And as I'm doing more and more advanced things in my baking, I have to practice in advance and this is it - try out one of the many cup cake recipes I saved from the Danish Bake-off in 2012 and combine with icing lace. Note that the original recipe is in Danish.

Ingredients

125 g soft unsalted butter
100 g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
1 tbsp lemon juice
275 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 ml salt
2 tbsp black poppy seeds
¾ dl single cream

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C (160 ° C fan-assisted) and prepare some muffin cases.
  2. Whisk together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and incorporate well. After the final egg, also stir in the vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the poppy seeds and stir through to make sure they are well mixed.
  5. Add the flour mixture a little at a time and whisk incorporate into the butter mixture to form a thick batter. Add the cream when the batter becomes stiff and the electric whisk is struggling.
  6. Spoon or pipe into the muffin cases, filling about ⅔ of each case.
  7. Bake for 15 - 25 minutes (depending on size), test with a toothpick to see if they're ready, it should come out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.

I bought slightly smaller muffin cases recently, they are much more manageable when eating and have a better balance between the cake part and the icing. So I used them and had 20 muffins from the above amounts. I should have placed them in my metal muffin tins even if they are smaller, that would have helped them keep their shape, but instead I squeezed them all into one tray and so some went rectangular as they bumped into their neighbours while baking.

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Now for the decorations, I first went for the recommended icing in the recipe, however it split and I couldn't sort it out, but it was very tasty, so I've frozen it into creamy ice lollies. I also was reluctant to flavour it - it was supposed to be divided in 2 equal parts and one to be flavoured with lemon juice and coloured yellow and the other part to be flavoured with orange juice and coloured orange. It seemed to be a lot of the two juices to be added and I thought it would end up being rather runny.

Ingredients for icing

90 g soft unsalted butter
75 g icing sugar
250 g mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla extract
yellow food colouring

Method
Whisk together everything until it's soft and fluffy. If it doesn't split, pipe onto the cooled down muffins. Otherwise freeze into ice lollies.

I tried to pipe the split icing with the hopes that it might force it to come together, but it started melting in my hands and I gave up. I put some giant raspberries on top, which tasted nice, but made the cupcakes so very top heavy they were not able to stand up on their own.

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The next thing was to try out the icing lace. The packet instructions were for industrial amounts, I made a fifth if them and still had a blob left over. The mixture was very rubbery from the start and it took me quite a while to work out the right level of pressure to use to get the lace moulds filled enough to form a lace and yet not accidentally scrape half of the filling off. I left them to dry naturally through the day and in the evening, I dug out some ready to roll blue icing, rolled it out and cut out circles, then put the icing lace on top and it looked very pretty.

The next day, the blue icing had bled into the muffins and also picked up lots of moisture from the air, as it is very rainy at the moment. The white icing lace kept well, but also succumbed to the strong blue colour of the rolled out icing on day 2. I'll need to make another batch of the icing lace, to make sure I have the knack for Mother-in-Law's birthday party. And I also need to work out a good recipe for the cupcakes.

I personally liked the poppy seeds, they give a very nice crunch, but Lundulph thought they were more of a savoury ingredient and we both were struggling to taste the lemon. I also thought the muffins were a bit on the dry side - the original recipe called for milk, but I think using single cream should make them a bit more moist. Lundulph suggested muffins with cardamom flavouring, like a cinnamon bun basically, so that'll be the next thing to try.

I also took some to work for some of my overworked colleagues. I've not heard anything from them, so my guess is these weren't quite a hit with them either. And not surprising, work has been hectic and stressful for weeks and I'm tired and have headaches, so my baking very much reflects this. I think I need to knead a dough by hand and get some of the built-up frustration out.

18 July 2015

Baked Churros

While spending a number of evenings watching youtube recipes, I came across the wonderful channel of Ann Reardon of How to Cook That and one of the recipes was for churros, which I think of as the Spanish version of mekitzi.

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I've had churros a couple of times and really enjoyed them, but never really thought about making them at home and when I found the tutorial video, I decided to try them out.

The basic dough is very similar to the choux dough, but with fewer eggs and I was a little concerned that they would puff up, but they didn't and perhaps that's down to the smaller amount of eggs in the mixture.

Ingredients

Churros dough
250 ml water
115 g butter
160 g plain flour
3 large eggs
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Cooking oil spray

Cinnamon sugar
54 g caster sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon

Nougat dipping sauce
1 part nougat
1 part semi-skimmed milk

Method

  1. Line a couple of baking sheets with baking paper and pre-heat the oven to 200 °C.
  2. Put the water and butter in a saucepan and melt on the hob.
  3. Stir briskly in the flour and once the dough starts thickening and comes together into a ball, remove from the hear.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time and incorporate well in between.
  5. Finally stir in the sugar and vanilla and transfer to a piping bag with a fairly narrow star nozzle.
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  6. Pipe straight lines, a couple of cm apart onto the prepared trays and spray with a little cooking oil.
  7. Bake each tray until the churros go golden brown on the ridges.
  8. Stir together the caster sugar and ground cinnamon to mix well.
  9. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack and sprinkle immediately with the cinnamon sugar.
  10. Make the dipping sauce by dicing the nougat and placing in a heat proof bowl.
  11. Bring the milk to the boil, then pour over the nougat and stir until the nougat has melted and has become a homogeneous mixture.

I also used a nozzle that was too wide, so my churros were a bit on the thick side, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to pipe the dough, it felt a bit thick and I didn't want to get a smaller nozzle clogged up. In the past I've mostly used too small nozzles and had tremendous problems with piping things well. This meant I had to bake my churros for 25 minutes and I also upped the temperature to 220 °C as they seemed to be taking forever to develop colour. I also had some cinnamon sugar left over, but that can be used when I make cinnamon buns next.

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But they were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and worked very nicely with the nougat sauce. In fact the reason I made it was that I didn't have any chocolate in the larder and thought I could make a "ganache" with the nougat, but rather than using cream, I used semi-skimmed milk. This resulted in the mixture not setting like a ganache would, even after being chilled in the fridge, so it's a good one for ice cream as well I think.

This was a surprise for Lundulph and a very tasty one too. We ate almost all of the churros for breakfast, so if I make this for more people, I definitely need to increase the recipe. Hopefully I'll remember to use a smaller nozzle next time too, that should shorten the baking time considerably. Lundulph liked that they weren't greasy like deep fried ones and of course you could tell the difference, but it wasn't a bad one at all.

13 July 2015

Chicken Burger with Beetroot Tzatziki

After two fish recipes, we decided to go for a chicken recipe from my new diet book.

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Also pleasing is that I get to try out sambal ulek - I've heard of this, but never cooked with it. It's an Indonesian chilli paste. The brand I bought wasn't as spicy as I expected and would have liked, but was still very nice.

Ingredients

Beetroot tzatziki
2 large beetroot
300 ml light crème fraîche
2 tsp horseradish paste/sauce
salt and pepper

Burgers
500 g chicken breast
4 shallots
2 large eggs
2 tsp sambal oelek
1 tsp lime juice
2 tbsp cornflour
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Method

  1. Peel the beetroot and then grate it coarsely and place in a large bowl.
  2. Stir in the crème fraîche, the horseradish, salt and pepper.
  3. Next, trim the chicken breasts and chop finely - or whizz in a food processor, then place in a large bowl.
  4. Peel and finely dice the shallots and add to the chicken.
  5. Stir in the eggs, sambal oelek, lime juice cornflour, salt and pepper and mix to get well combined. It will not be possible to form into burgers, that's OK.
  6. Heat up some oil in a frying pan, then using a scoop spoon 2 - 3 patties into the frying pan and press down into burger shapes, making sure they don't touch.
  7. Fry for a few minutes, then flip over and fry for a few more minutes and the burgers are done.
  8. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Serve with the beetroot tzatziki and steamed or sautéed potatoes.

The beetroot tzatziki is a bit misleading I think - tzatziki has fairly fixed ingredients, none of them being beetroot. But the mixture was very nice and I would have added more horseradish if I'd dared, I quite like the flavour, but I suspect Lundulph doesn't. The key thing is to wear protective clothing when peeling and grating the beetroot and preferably red in colouring or you'll be sorry. The book recommends stir-frying the beetroot first and letting it cool down before making the mixture, if you want to tone down the beetroot flavour. To be honest, I think it was nice raw and I keep thinking we should try to eat more beetroot, but it is a bit of a hassle to prepare it as it can stain and also as it would discolour our food. My Sister Bip usually makes juice and she's promised to make some for us next time we go to Sweden.

As for carbs, I'd bought some lovely baby potatoes, which I first steamed and then fried in the left-over oil from the chicken burgers. If you do that, I strongly recommend that you warm up the oven to about 80 °C and keep the burgers warm. But of course burger buns would work just as well, maybe add some sliced tomato, red onion and a couple of salad leaves.

Finely chopping the chicken took a lot of effort, as the processor attachment on my handheld blender broke the other week and so I don't recommend doing this on a week-day. But it's well worth trying to dice finely, rather than mince as the burger texture was very good. I was also pleased that I didn't need to get my hands dirty forming patties and I'll try that when I make Bulgarian meatballs in the future. I used my ice cream scoop to plop 3 scoops into the frying pan and then gently pressed them down, leaving about a cm between them. But next time I'll add a spicier chilli paste.

Lundulph's verdict - nice texture, meatier than normal burgers, tasted nice and the beetroot and potatoes worked well with them.