24 February 2009

Fat Tuesday

IMG_4184

This year I finally got the opportunity to make semlor. This is a traditional Swedish pastry to be eaten on Shrove Tuesday. There's no concept of pancake day - Swedes have pancakes every Thursday after their pea soup with mustard and gammon.

But so far Lundulph has always insisted on pancakes for dinner (being a working day). However, this time I succeeded. I made the buns on Sunday night and the filling on Monday. Then did the final assembly this morning in order for them to be as fresh as possible when I took them in to work to tempt my colleagues.

As usual I didn't have too much time to research recipes, but one of the three I came across was from Dagmar of A Cat In The Kitchen. She definitely seems to know what she's talking about and the fact that the buns for the semlor required both yeast and baking soda made things even more interesting.

I followed the recipe to the spot to begin with and just after I put in the 9th (and what I'd decided it would be the last) decilitre of plain flour, I realised that this is a Swedish recipe, where all flours are strong. I'd used UK plain flour which is low in gluten and thus doesn't rise too well.

Ta-dat ta-ta, to the rescue, I threw in another decilitre of super strong flour and of course that pretty much killed the dough. From being nice and soft and just barely sticky, it went all floury and stiff. Yikes! What to do? Add more liquid, about 1 dl of it. It took ages to work it in, even with the machine, the stiff dough just slid over the milk surface and I had to stop it to give it a hand a few times. Once fully incorporated, it was a bit on the runny side, so I added two tablespoons of strong flour which brought it back to almost the original perfect consistency. It was a bit stickier, but I thought let it rise and see how it goes.

This was a good gamble. Barely 45 minutes later the dough had swollen nicely. Now I'd decided to make mini bite-sized semlor and weighed the dough to work out now much each bun should weigh. 60 g seemed good and I got 26 of these dough lumps and had 40 g piece left.

The dough was still a bit too sticky to work into balls the way my Mum has taught me, so I did what I learned in my baking course last year. Cup hand over the piece of dough as if it's a computer mouse. Then gently I made circular movements with only the top parts of my fingers touching the dough. Miraculously it forms into a nice round ball, about the size of a chicken egg.

IMG_4180

Another 45 minutes later an my mini buns had proofed to regular size. Think small grapefruit.

IMG_4181

I've had to throw away a number of eggs lately after using for glazing and decided against wasting yet another one on these. So I brushed them with milk only. This is the way they are in patisseries and caf├ęs in Sweden as well.

Unfortunately I didn't start pre-heating the oven on time and they over-proofed a bit. I baked the first lot at 210 degrees C (the actual temperature of my gas mark 6) for 8 minutes, but they did not look done at all and I kept setting the timer on 3 minutes at a time and checking them. I turned the baking sheet around, as it wasn't baking evenly either. And turned down to gas mark 5, which took the temperature down to 190 degrees C.

Yes, I've invested in an oven thermometer and as it turns out, my oven is way off from what the gas marks allegedly should be.

The second tray I baked in the top oven, which underperforms at the best of times and I had to set it to 7 to get to 210 degrees C. It also works quite differently too, because the buns in it were the most successfully baked ones, I think.

For the last tray, I kept gas mark 5 and 190 degrees C and baked them for 16 minutes, which was perhaps a minute or two too long as they went quite dark on top and barely had colour at the bottom.

IMG_4182

These were left to cool down completely overnight and on Monday morning, I put them in my fancy cake box padded up with kitchen towels to take up any moisture.

In the evening, I cut off small lids from each bun and nipped out the middle carefully. The texture was very nice.

I flipped the Kitchen Assistent machine on its side and put in the blender attachment. I diced 250 g of white marzipan and put in, then 2 tbsp icing sugar and the crumbs. Then heated up 1 dl semi-skimmed milk and poured it in, then whizzed away. Some help was required, but I got the whole lot into a smooth and fairly thick mixture, which I left on the side in room temperature.

This morning, I lined up some of the buns in my big deep baking tin and put about a tablespoon of the marzipan filling into each bun.

I flipped back the Kitchen Assistent onto it's legs again and put in the whisking bowl and whisked 600 ml of double cream with 5 tbsp caster sugar to stiff peaks. I filled my piping bag with it and squeezed out a generous amount to cover the filling and hole of the semlor.

IMG_4183

Then I trimmed each of the lids into a triangle. This is traditional in Sweden and my boss, who's also from Sweden got very upset when we looked up photos of semlor today and there were some Swedish ones with round lids. You've got to get things right, really!

And don't forget sifting icing sugar on top.

Lundulph was in a rush in to work this morning, so didn't have one then, but I just assembled one for him now and he now has a very happy expression on his face. Definitely approved and a repeater.

But with pancakes as a savory main course he said.

They were also very popular amongst my colleagues at work, those who dared to try them. I regret that I didn't bring in more.

A final note on Dagmar's recipe. She says it makes 12 buns, but I got 26 regular sized ones and one smaller one. If I'd made just 12 buns, they would have been gigantic.

16 February 2009

Cheddar!

For Valentine's Day we decided to go away on a mini-break to Exmoor National Park. We used to do this a few years back, but house, mortgage and work kind of tied us down.

So I sneaked out half an hour earlier from work on Thursday in yet another snow blizzard in order to pick up Lundulph and drive off to Somerset. It didn't look good and I'd called the B&B on Monday to find out if we'd be able to get there.

We certainly did get there, later than planned, but not only was it not snowing, it was +8 degrees according to the car.

Our landlords had lit a very nice fire for us, but we were too tired to enjoy it.

We spent the next two days hiking up and down the rolling hills and did some funny walks in the evenings. Not to mention that going away off season means that feeding places are rare and open at awkward hours. We kipped a few pints in the various establishments on Porlock High Street while waiting for at least one to start serving food. Lundulph got his rare steak, still flapping on the plate and I went for the healthy option of veggie burger with chips...

Anyway, on our last day we made a few stops on our way back, one of these being the town of Cheddar to admire the Gorge and also buy some genuine, real, original, the one and only Farmhouse Cheddar.

IMG_4179

The gooseberry and elderflower jam just seemed too intriguing. The Cheddar shop had oak smoked wedges and I have a very spot soft for smoked cheeses. They also had Cheddar rounds aged in caves. They were covered in cheese cloth that had gone black with mould. I bought the smallest size they had and I suspect I'll have to share it with someone, it's way too big for me and Lundulph has an unnatural and inexplicable aversion to cheese.

Speaking of caves, we also went to Wookie Hole and we did that before Cheddar Gorge and that was such a waste of pretty much everything, put me in a bad mood. Not only was it quite far to get to, they had some sort of "Experience" fairground attraction collection for which they had the nerve to charge £15 per person. This gave us a guided tour of 30 minutes with one guide who was lacking in the areas of organisation and pronunciation, so the group ended up wandering too far in and had to retrace our steps and at least I struggled hearing what he was saying (in case he had some interesting things to say). After that we got to walk through the "Fairyland" - artificial islands with fairy statues of various sizes and wind chimes - and through pre-historic earth with a "Neanderthal man" who seemed to be pregnant with a sheep and have his wig on backwards and a selection of plastic dinosaurs desperately in need of a lick of paint. Even the little children failed to bring up enthusiasm and I can't blame them - Jurassic Park is a tough act to follow. The trail then took us around the back of the place where all the skips are kept and into some sort of demo area for making paper, but the chap stationed there didn't seem to be too interested.

There was some sort of cafe to rip you off further before allowing the victims into the nostalgia entertainment arcade. I must say it as an impressive collection of very early one armed bandits - two had Sega written on them, but you had to pay 50 p for 5 old pennies in order to play them.

The maze of mirrors was sort of OK and there was a decent selection of bendy mirrors to make you look funny and finally we reached the exit and the massive shop. This is a lot bigger than I've seen at other places and had the usual tat. At this point Lundulph got fed up and we walked off.

So the lesson learned is don't bother, it's not worth it.

But do go to Cheddar Gorge, it is very pretty, though there were so many people there.

I'll blog further on this when I've opened my cheeses. Must see when Lundulph is out next...

10 February 2009

Banoffi off

Well, my boss laid down the challenge - make a banoffi pie and compete against colleagues with other colleagues tasting and rating.

I've heard of the concept of Banoffi or Banoffee, which apparently is the older spelling. And I think I might have had some a few years back, don't remember really. It's not a dessert I would have tried out, but a challenge is a challenge and when it's one for cooking, I can't really resist.

A quick google hit upon the original recipe from The Hungry Monk.

The lack of experience in banoffi and Lundulph sitting next to me and reading along pointed me in the direction of following this to see what'll happen.

IMG_4122

Besides, boiling unopened cans of condensed milk for hours on end was very novel. I'll have to open one of the unboiled ones to see what normal condensed milk is like. It was quite amazing that after 4 h of boiling and allowing the tins to cool down, would turn into toffee coloured thick cream. I had to work it up a bit to make it pliable enough to spread over the pie crust.

IMG_4123

IMG_4124

I also had to get up early this morning to line with bananas (to stop them from going brown) and cream (to stop it from collapsing). I wisely kept the pie in my car in the cold until it was time for the tasting session.

IMG_4125

Obviously the other 5 contestants had a bit more experience than me, because they didn't use the condensed milk, but made proper toffee, which was a lot sweeter. They all made the pie base from crushed biscuits, one had used ginger biscuits which was rather nice. Another had used Philadelphia cheese in the cream, also quite nice. A third had over-done the toffee and it had partly turned to fudge. Combined with pecans, I think it was the winner.

I came second to last and a lot of the pie was left to take home. We had some after dinner at which point I realised that something had gone badly wrong with my pie crust - it was well salty! Not sure what happened, but no wonder no one liked it.

I also need to get a slightly smaller pie dish too, to avoid making such massive amounts.

The recipe recommended making as many tins of toffee as possible in one go, since it's to boil for so long, might as well do en masse, they store just as well and long after the treatment. So now I have three cans of toffee in the larder. I'm keen to experiment with bits of fudge next time.

Also maybe some lemon zest in the cream would be nice to offset the sweetness.

8 February 2009

Falbala's Third Birthday Party

My younger niece, Falbala, was born on New Year's Eve and her favourite sport is netball, so I'd promised to make her a cake in the shape of a netball court for her 10th birthday last year.

Sad circumstances prevented us celebrating her on that day and various other things forced us to put it off up to yesterday. This of course resulted in her getting three separate celebrations. Yesterday's one was with her friends.

So over the past week, I've been preparing her cake. This was also the first time I got to use icing to cover the cake, it's harder than it looks. And as I was putting the cake together, I got alternative ideas on how I could have done it all and skipped the icing completely. Never mind.

I used the same cake base as for Lou's cake, but I made 2.5 times the amount. Also instead of almonds, I used white chocolate bits. This resulted in a big rectangular cake - 17.5 x 28 cm and I baked it for 2 h 20 m. This was a bit too long and I should have stirred the chocolate bits in after pouring the mixture into the cake tin, because they seem to have moved to the edges of the cake and caramelised, rather than remain in their shapes, so the whole cake had a toffee flavour to it. Also because of the over-long cooking time, the crust went quite thick. But keeping the oven on 175 degrees (just over gas mark 3) prevented the cake from burning.

The cake itself was fairly thick and I ended up cutting it into three layers. As a filler, I made the white chocolate ganache I made for the Opera cake last year. And I trebled the dose.

You'll have spotted the white chocolate theme by now. Falbala likes white chocolate a lot. So I spread the ganache generously between the three layers of the cake.

Next was the white icing. They had ready rolled icing, but I suspected it was for a round cake and also would not be sufficient to cover the size I intended to make, so I bought ready icing in a lump of 1 kg. The instructions said dust the surface with a little icing sugar and roll. I did that and the icing sugar was pushed out along the edges and the whole thing was firmly stuck to the work surface. I also noticed that although easy to roll out, it didn't roll evenly like dough. Since it wouldn't come off in one piece, I pulled it all together and laid out baking paper and rolled again on that. This worked a treat and it was very easy to flip over the cake as well. Still, the middle of the icing was a lot thicker than the edges and I couldn't shift it.

As I've mentioned earlier, the kitchen shop in our village has a very good selection of bits for sugar craft and I got red and blue paint to paint the lines of the court on the icing. The proprietress was kind enough to tell me to leave the icing on the cake to dry out a bit before painting, so that the colours won't soak in and bleed into it. Thus I left the cake iced and ready in the fridge overnight and painted it yesterday morning. The colours are very thick and it does say concentrated on the label, so I used the blue to paint the lines, this was difficult because I couldn't rest my arm for support anywhere and the thickness of the paint forced me to keep dipping in it a lot more often than I'd expected. So for the side lines, I dissolved some of the paints in a little water and this worked out nicely, it felt like using water colours.

For the goals, I'd brought thin wafers all the way from Sweden and was about to start working out how to fit them to the rock candy posts, when Lundulph commented that in netball there are no boards behind the hoops, just the hoops themselves. I hadn't worked out the hoop and net bit anyway, so was a bit distressed at this point. I'd had some vague thoughts ages ago about doing something really fancy with caramel, but I'd probably need to be a pro to achieve what I'd thought out. I tried to make a net-like structure from icing, but it wasn't strong enough and in the end skipped the net altogether. I used the wafers to cut out hoops, really quite ugly, but completely edible, which was a major target on this project.

I'd saved some of the white coconut Rafaello sweets for the ball. It turned out to be well bigger than the hoop holes, but never mind.

Then I spotted the bag of jelly babies in the larder. Lundulph had bought these for Christmas because I'd never had these. As luck would have it, there were precisely 7 babies in red and green and they became the players. Unfortunately I had to skewer them onto short pieces of bamboo sticks to make them stand on the cake, that was the only non-edible thing, though I'm sure I would have thought of something else if I'd had the time. Of course the Rafaello ball was about the same size as the jelly babies, looked even sillier.

So there you have it, the netball court cake for Falbala:

IMG_4117

2 February 2009

Pork Vindaloo

This is a recipe from the Fat Free Indian Cookery book by Mridula Baljekar and was chosen by Lundulph for his special fancy dinner this week-end. He's had a nasty cold and I thought I'd cheer him up a bit.

IMG_4114

As it turned out we had to do it on Monday, but the severe weather conditions (for the UK) worked in our favour in that we both stayed home and could start cooking at a decent hour.

So first of all be warned - this dish requires marinating, so at least 2-3 h and preferably overnight.

Ingredients

1 kg boneless leg of pork
4 green cardamom pods
5 large dried medium hot chillies
2.5 cm piece of cinnamon stick
4 cloves
0.5 tsp mustard seeds
0.5 tsp fennel seeds
0.5 tsp black pepper corns
1 tsp crushed very hot chillies (optional)
2 tbsp pureed ginger
5 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp cider vinegar
300 ml medium sweet cider
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
220 g onion
400 ml hot water
1 tsp dark soft brown sugar
1 tsp tamarind paste

Method
  1. Remove all the rind from the pork, along with all visible fat and as much of the sinewy bits as possible, then cut into 3 cm cubes and put in a bowl.
  2. Cut up the dried chillies into smallish pieces. Take out the cardamom seeds from their pods, break up the cinnamon stick, then roast on low heat together with the cloves, the mustard seeds and the black pepper corns and additional crushed chillies for about a minute, stirring constantly. The mustard seeds will start popping and jumping out of the pan. Then set aside on a plate to cool.
  3. Grind the cooled down spices in a spice or coffee mill.
  4. Mix the ground spices with the pureed ginger and press in the garlic, then add the cider vinegar. Stir in well, then pour over the pork and coat it thoroughly and leave to marinate.
  5. Place the pork with its marinade in a non-stick large pan and fry on medium heat until the meat is sealed.
  6. Add the cider, bring to the boil and cover up and leave to cook for 35-40 minutes until the liquid has reduced to resemble thin batter. Stir occasionally.
  7. Take off the lid, increase the heat a bit and let the last of the liquid evaporate - about 3-4 minutes.
  8. Stir in the paprika and the salt, then add the onion and 50 ml of the hot water and cook for a further 4-5 minutes.
  9. Add the rest of the water, the sugar and the tamarind paste, cover again and let simmer for another 10-12 minutes.
  10. Serve with brown basmati rice.

I happened to have dried chillies - they were fresh when I bought them... My mistake was that I cut them too coarsely and the same goes for the cinnamon, so I had trouble grinding them - I spent way too much time pushing them into the coffee grinder (used only for spices!) with a chopstick. No way I'll be doing that next time, I'm sure ready ground spice collection will do fine!

I coated the bits of pork and left for some 20 odd hours to marinate in the fridge. A bad mis-calculation on my part, but things turned out OK in the end.

Lundlulph's verdict was that it had good heat, not too much, so that you could taste the other ingredients, but sufficient enough to slow you down so you can enjoy it. He also thought the pork ended up tasting a bit gamey.

My theory is that the leg was from an old-ish or well exercised pig, either of which is good, implying some sort of decent free-range life.

We had Fetzer Syrah Rose wine with it, to match the strong flavours. I bought a whole crate of it a couple of years ago, it's quite intensely flavoured and was very en vogue for a Summer wine then. It worked out rather nice and we're working our way through a second bottle already. I also had some broccoli, but I forgot to steam it in time, so we skipped it. While finishing off the vindaloo, we had some popadoms with sweet chilli dip.

Seems we'll be spending another day at home tomorrow, the snow's settling in, but not showing any signs of melting.

And an interesting thing about vindaloo - it's originally a Portugese dish - vin originating from the word for vinegar and aloo in this case coming from the word for garlic. Heavily transformed in the hands of the Indian cooks, I think this may well be a repeat recipe. I think it would be nice to try with game meat as well, should work out nicely.

1 February 2009

Ye Olde Recipe Collection

We've been having major renovations in our house for most of January. We're half-way through ( I hope), at least the dirty part should be over. And this week-end I've pushed the dishwasher to it's limits in running everything through to get rid of all the dust the plasterers kindly spread all over our house.

And in wiping my cookery books clean, I came across a big batch of Waitrose recipe cards. Flicking through them briefly, they all seemed so very tasty, so I've decided to work my way through them.

This week-end I'd decide to make something really nice for Lundulph, he's had a cold for a few days and still isn't too well.

But all the cleaning we've been doing (interspersed with a lot of computer games and end of the month accounts work) and me not reading the recipe through properly, we'll be having the special meal tomorrow. I've prepared everything though, so should be just add the bits at the right time.

Tune in tomorrow for Pork Vindaloo.